Brief by Kip Hansen
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has apologized for emailing out a fund-raising promotion that was misleading and apparently politically motivated — that is, they have apologized to me, personally, when I contacted them with an email questioning the content of the email. In case you have forgotten, the AAAS is the publisher [
ed] of the journal Science, widely considered to be one of the world’s top academic journals.
The membership-drive email contained an image similar to the one at the beginning of this article — “Tomorrow’s Science Needs You Today. Now more than ever, science needs supporters like you”. The email version I received was this:
The text of the message read:
You’ve read the headlines. You know scientific institutions are being stifled. Scientists and engineers are regarded with suspicion in the very institutions that should be a safe haven for them.
So our work is cut out for us in 2018. But the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is fighting back. Become a member to help us:
Defend evidence-based policies, Advocate for government funding in research, Educate policymakers, Champion the public benefits of science, and more!
“Good heaven’s!” I thought, “Science is being undermined…scientific institutions are being stifled. Not only that, but scientists and engineers are regarded with suspicion in the very institutions that should be a safe haven for them.” “That’s serious!” I concluded, “Why don’t I know about this?”
Readers here know that I write about science news and can correctly assume that I follow current events concerning science, and general science news, pretty closely. How did this situation develop and escape my attention?
I wrote to the AAAS, using their “Media Inquiry” button on their website:
I am a science essayist — and I am puzzled over an email I received from the AAAS — apparently fund-raising — with this text:
“You’ve read the headlines. You know scientific institutions are being stifled. Scientists and engineers are regarded with suspicion in the very institutions that should be a safe haven for them.”
Science is my field — I follow science news carefully daily — it is my bread and butter — and I haven’t the slightest idea what the AAAS is going on about.
Can you have someone contact me either by telephone or email to give me details of “scientific institutions … being stifled” and how individuals donating to AAAS would remedy it?
Much to my surprise, I received an almost immediate reply from the AAAS’ Chief Information & Engagement Officer – Director of Membership. Adding to my surprise, the reply was this:
Thank you for contacting AAAS. I appreciate that brought to our attention the distracting and fiery sentences in the email you received from AAAS. I believe the copywriters of this email were trying somehow to generalize this event: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/22/climate/epa-scientists.html?src=twr&_r=0.
Unfortunately, we missed the mark badly. The AAAS Marketing team failed at many levels here and for that I take full responsibility. I have taken steps to stop future sends of this email as well instituting stronger review processes in our development of marketing material.
I do hope you see this [as] an isolated failure by a few people within AAAS and not indicative of AAAS as a whole.
Thank you again for bringing this to our attention, [signature]
I found this reply very encouraging — at least when asked by the media [and WUWT is a media outlet, being among the world’s most viewed science, climate, and weather websites], one person at the AAAS realized that they were doing “alarm bells promotion” — ringing the alarm calling for public help to fight some public menace. Unfortunately, the “public menace” in this case is imaginary, existing only in the minds of those, like this journalist at the NY Times, can see only through the tainted lens of US two-party politics and whose every printed word is biased by their party-affiliation and cultural leaning — writing Party Talking Points as if they were somehow connected to reality.
In this case, the “AAAS Marketing team copywriters” — apparently in agreement with the bias of the NY Times’ Lisa Friedman — took their “story”, according to the AAAS’ Information Officer, from this NY Times article: E.P.A. Cancels Talk on Climate Change by Agency Scientists. The story is that just prior to the State of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed conference in Oct 2017, the EPA cancelled the appearance of three EPA associated speakers who were to address the meeting on the subject of Climate Change. The conference was designed to draw attention to the health of Narragansett Bay, the largest estuary in New England and a key to the region’s tourism and fishing industries. The article in the Times reports that the US EPA partially funds the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and that the three scientists did not speak at the event which was held to release a 400-page report on the state of the Narragansett Bay, to which they had contributed substantial material.
Autumn Oczkowski, a research ecologist at the E.P.A.’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory Atlantic Ecology Division in Rhode Island, was scheduled to give the keynote address. [according to the Times, her speech intended to address climate change and other factors affecting the health of the estuary] Rose Martin, a postdoctoral fellow at the same E.P.A. laboratory [Rose Marin studies
march marsh grasses] and Emily Shumchenia, an E.P.A. consultant, were scheduled to speak on an afternoon panel entitled “The Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change.”
The Times further reports “Rhode Island’s entire congressional delegation, all Democrats, will attend a morning news conference. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, an outspoken critic of Mr. Pruitt [current Director of the EPA], will be among the speakers.”
I suggest reading the NY Times’ article — it is an interesting example of Editorial Narrative being translated into a news item. Lisa Friedman is a reporter on the Times’ climate beat — she reports to the Science Editor, who sets, in conjunction with the paper’s senior editors and owners, the Editorial Narratives on science topics including climate. In this piece she manages to get in several of the Times’ overall Narratives — anti-Trumpism, “Republicans are anti-science”, “Scientists are being censored [by Republicans or Conservatives or ‘people we don’t like’], “The EPA is being dismantled”, and several other misrepresentations of reality. Regardless of one’s position on any of the details, the political-party bias could not be more blatant — and the odd anti-Anti-Science spin makes my head spin!
There are several important issues here:
1: The contributions of the EPA staffers (one is actually a propaganda science-communications consultant), include such [utterly nonsensical] wisdom as this from the executive summary of the report:
“Sea level in Rhode Island rose nine inches as measured at the tide gauge in Newport from 1930 to 2015 and 6.6 inches at Providence from 1938 to 2015. NOAA projects that sea level at Newport could rise as much as 3.4 feet by 2050 and eleven feet by 2100, considering factors such as rapid melting of land-based polar ice.”
Reality Intervenes — At tide station 8452660 Newport, Rhode Island, according to NOAA Tides and Currents, “The mean sea level trend is 2.73 millimeters/year with a 95% confidence interval of +/- 0.16 mm/yr based on monthly mean sea level data from 1930 to 2016 which is equivalent to a change of 0.90 feet in 100 years.”
[NB: Newport, RI station does not have a same-structure co-located CORS station — so this data may or may not be accurate, even locally. There is a CORS station mounted on a hill at the Naval Station — which has a vertical velocity of (downwards) of 1.3 mm/yr to 2.2 mm/yr — depending on the reference epoch used. ]
2: The United States Environmental Protection Agency does not have a mission to track, measure, or make regulations or policy regarding Climate Change. It is not their remit [definition: “the task or area of activity officially assigned to an individual or organization.”]. The EPA’s core mission (2018 draft document) is:
EPA’s Mission: To Protect Human Health and the Environment
Goal 1 – Core Mission: Deliver real results to provide Americans with clean air, land, and water.
Goal 2 – Cooperative Federalism: Rebalance the power between Washington and the states to create tangible environmental results for the American people.
Goal 3 – Rule of Law and Process: Administer the law, as Congress intended, to refocus the Agency on its statutory obligations under the law.
There is no mention of Climate Change in their mission statement; as a result, the current EPA website page (still the same since January 2017) for Climate Change is this:
3: Lisa Friedman, at the NY Times, fails to mention that EPA staff and contractors are not being paid to junket and deliver political speeches about Climate Change. The EPA staffers could/should have been there to talk about water pollution and how the EPA is going to improve the situation but have no business whatever talking about Climate Change — particularly events that are primarily political events featuring prominent Democrats and anti-Administration figures.
There seems to be some rather strange idea floating around that public employees, such as those of the governments various alphabet agencies (NOAA, NASA, EPA, FDA, CDC…..), ought to be allowed to travel about on the public’s dime and on public time, delivering speeches and presentations composed of their personal opinions on topics that may or may not be part of their professional work at these agencies. This idea is categorically incorrect. The topic is covered generally at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics website. Public employees are allowed to speak as individuals and may express their opinions freely — however, they may not appear in any official capacity as E.P.A. employees (administrative, regulatory, enforcement or scientific) on government time and make presentations without prior approval from the agency. Such appearances are work assignments — not personal choices. The same rules apply in most corporations.
Pulling the speakers from the State of the Bay conference (news conference) at the last minute was probably rude — ill-mannered even. But the actions of employees and how they spend their work time is under the direction of their employer — in this case the EPA — which had been in a year-long re-focusing phase attempting to meet the third of three mission goals: Mission: Goal 3 – Rule of Law and Process: Administer the law, as Congress intended, to refocus the Agency on its statutory obligations under the law.
Governmental executive-branch agencies have been widely accused in the last decade of over-reaching their original purposes, operating out-of-bounds, wandering off-mission, grabbing power without legal basis and over-regulating the country. The E.P.A. most of all.
A new administration has been in power for the last year — one with very different ideas about how government should be conducted and what the proper roles of executive branch agencies should be. It is a positive step that the EPA has begun to rein in the advocacy actions of its employees and re-direct them to the areas of responsibility laid out for them in acts of Congress and other federal law.
I support the AAAS in its attempt to attract bright young minds to the study and practice of Science — and to help bring the benefits Science has brought us to the attention of the general public. I applaud their Chief Information Officer for pulling back the politically-motivated and inflammatory membership ad — and for his sincere apology.
I would like to see the AAAS more involved in the area of correcting science communications — fact-checking public announcements that misrepresent new “breakthroughs” in science and medicine; calling out scientists that distort their scientific fields in the name of advocacy; setting up a strict Code of Ethics for scientists speaking to the press and public so that personal opinions are clearly noted and differentiated from scientific fact; rein in some of the outrageous grandstanding that substitutes for science communications; support the likes of Mike Rowe, Judith Curry, Susan Crockford, Roger Pielke Jr. and others who have been attacked for communicating science accurately. . . . . . There is more to be added to this list.
I’d like to hear from scientists of all types on this topic in the comments. How could the AAAS actually help save Science from its run-way practitioners, such as those who told the State of the Narragansett Bay program that “NOAA projects that sea level at Newport could rise as much as 3.4 feet by 2050 and eleven feet by 2100, considering factors such as rapid melting of land-based polar ice.”
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Author’s Comment Policy:
Glad to answer your questions, provide extra links and defend my own opinions. Always interested in reading what you have to say.
I try to answer all comments addressed specifically to me — by beginning them with: “Kip…”
I will not engage in any sort of two-party political squabbles in comments — in my opinion, the US system of two-party politics is what is wrong with this country. (Actually, I won’t discuss this opinion here either, sorry.)
Let’s hear what everyone has to say about how the AAAS could save science from itself.
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