Special interests are given improper influence over federal scientific agencies and scientists are targeted for ideological reasons, according to a report released on Thursday by the National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy.
Every US president over the past two decades has, to some degree, undermined research and injected politics into science, according to the task force, formed under the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.
However, the mistreatment of science under recent administrations has reached a dangerous level under Trump. The study calls for stringent new standards to enshrine scientific independence.
“Now, we are at a crisis point, with almost weekly violations of previously respected safeguards,” the report said.
The report was led by Preet Bharara, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Christine Todd Whitman, who led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
“Politics is driving decisions and has been for some time,” Whitman said. “Right now, any finding that seems to be restricting business, especially the energy industry, appears to be destined for elimination.”
The report echoes complaints by a number of former US government officials who claim their work on areas such as global warming and air pollution standards was either sidelined or subverted by the Trump administration as part of its eagerness for environmental deregulation.
The study cites the recent “sharpiegate” scandal, in which Trump erroneously claimed Hurricane Dorian would hit the state of Alabama. Trump showed reporters a weather map which had been altered with a Sharpie pen to falsely show the hurricane’s track threatening Alabama.
In another case, economists at the Department of Agriculture were relocated after they published findings showing the Trump administration’s trade policies would harm farmers.
Meanwhile, the Department of Interior reassigned a climate scientist to an accounting role after he warned about the impact of global heating on Arctic communities.
“Let’s face it, without credible science the fundamental responsibilities of our government are threatened,” said Thomas Burke, who was a senior official in the EPA’s office of research and development during the Obama administration. “I fear the public has lost faith in our agencies, and our best and brightest are being discouraged and blocked from federal service.
The report calls for stringent new standards, better public access to government data, and new rules to eliminate manipulation or suppression of research in order to preserve scientific independence.