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Bipartisan Report Says Trump’s Abuse Has Pushed Federal Science to a ‘Crisis’

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Bipartisan Report Says Trump’s Abuse Has Pushed Federal Science to a ‘Crisis’

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WASHINGTON – In a single month in 2017, the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency prevented scientists from speaking at a climate change conference, its Interior Department sent a policy letter to US Customs and Border Protection only after excluding Biologists' concerns about the effects of a border wall. wildlife and the FBI issued a crime report that omitted dozens of tables of homicide and arrest data.

In October, it was quite typical for the Trump administration, according to a new report from New York University, led by Preet Bharara, a former US lawyer, and Christine Todd Whitman, who led E.P.A. to George W. Bush.

Every president over the past two decades has, to some extent, undermined research and injected politics into science, according to the report. But he concluded: "Now we are in a time of crisis, with almost weekly safeguards violations previously respected." The report calls for rigorous new standards to establish scientific independence.

The study, to be formally released on Thursday, follows reports that President Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, pressured the secretary of commerce to reprimand meteorologists who appeared to contradict the president after he erroneously claimed a hurricane. This could affect Alabama. Earlier this summer, a State Department intelligence analyst resigned in protest after the White House tried to edit scientific evidence on climate change and then prevented it from being entered in the permanent Congressional Register. For months, the White House debated a plan to publicly question established scientific conclusions about the severity of climate change.

"Although the threat to the independence of scientific data did not begin with this government, it has certainly accelerated in recent times," said Whitman, a Republican who also served as governor of New Jersey, in an e-mail statement.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the report's findings.

The report It is the second in a series of studies published by a democracy task force launched last year at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Both Bharara and Whitman criticized Trump, but emphasized that stronger laws against financial conflict, political interference with law enforcement, and the suppression of science were necessary to reduce the impulses of any president of any party.

On October 13, 2017, the Interior Department sent a letter of support to border patrol officers regarding Trump's proposed wall along the southwest border, but suppressed scientists' concerns about the damage a physical structure could cause to rare cat habitats and other wildlife in the area, according to the report. A few days later, E.P.A. banned three agency scientists from speaking at a conference in Rhode Island about the effects of climate change on Narragansett Bay. A week after that, F.B.I. issued its annual crime data report with 70% fewer data tables. The changes, according to a report at the time, did not go through the normal review process.

"Policies that govern the health and well-being of the public and our shared environment must be based on independent and credible science," Whitman said in an e-mail comment. "For the public to lose faith in this process, they will be asked everything that has been done to make our medicines and foods safe and our environment healthier."

The authors argue that without congressional action, future administrations of either party could further erode the independence of federal scientific data. Among the recommended changes was legislation requiring all federal agencies conducting scientific research to articulate clear standards and to report on how political officials interact with career scientists.

While this sounds like a long shot in the current Congress, where even the definition of scientific integrity is up for grabs, the authors said they were optimistic that the rules governing scientific advisory bodies could gain bipartisan support. New York Democrat Rep. Paul Tonko's legislation to develop standards of scientific integrity has 217 co-sponsors, but none is Republican.

"There is truth and science, and it should not be influenced by whether someone is liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican," Bharara said in an interview.

For more climate and environmental news, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.


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