Cantwell wants hearings on political pressure on scientists

By:  Jim Camden
Source: The Spokesman-Review

In the wake of allegations that a federal agency was ordered to back up President Donald Trump’s erroneous claim that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama, the Senate should investigate whether the administration is trying to “undermine science for political reasons,” Sen. Maria Cantwell said Monday.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation should hold an oversight hearing on a range of proposals and actions by the administration, said Cantwell, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee.

“From compromising the spectrum used by weather satellites to political interference with official hurricane advisories, the Trump administration’s attacks on science get more and more harmful and outrageous every day,” she said in a news release. “We cannot allow science to be censored by politics or politicians.”

Cantwell has criticized Federal Communications Commission plans to auction off portions of the 24-gigahertz spectrum for commercial broadband transmissions, which could interfere with the ability of weather satellites to collect data used to forecast the weather. The FCC has said the use of that spectrum won’t cause problems, but NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disagree.

But her request for a hearing comes after a week of back-and-forth over what some in Washington, D.C., are calling “Sharpiegate.” On Sept. 1, Trump warned in a tweet that Alabama was among states “likely to be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian. The National Weather Service sent out a tweet shortly afterward saying Alabama would not see any impacts from Dorian because the storm would stay farther east.

Trump, however, insisted he was correct. On Sept. 4, he held up a map that showed the possible track of the storm, which clearly indicated the track enlarged with a black semicircle, drawn with a Sharpie pen, to include Alabama. The map was from April 29, three days before Trump’s initial tweet. The president claimed he didn’t know where the black semicircle came from.

NOAA issued an unsigned statement late Friday afternoon that the president had received some graphics between Aug. 27 and Sept. 3 saying parts of Alabama had a chance of experiencing tropical-force winds. But Alabama was not among the states or Canadian provinces mentioned in advisories by the National Hurricane Center between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2, the Associated Press reported.

The New York Times reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire NOAA staff who did not back up Trump’s statements about the hurricane.

Over the weekend, a top scientist at NOAA wrote to staffers that the Friday statement wasn’t based on science, but “external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political,” the Washington Post reported.