House Hearing Set for Tomorrow; Report Analyzes Scientific Agency Media Policies and Practices

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is releasing a comprehensive report detailing the findings of a year-long investigation into political interference at federal climate science agencies. The report demonstrates how policies and practices have increasingly restricted the flow of scientific information emerging from publicly-funded climate change research. This has negatively affected the media’s ability to report objectively on scientific issues, public officials’ capacity to respond with appropriate policies, and full public understanding of environmental concerns.

The report, entitled Redacting the Science of Climate Change, is available here.

Tomorrow, March 28, the Investigation and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee will hold a hearing entitled Shaping the Message, Distorting the Science: Media Strategies to Influence Public Policy at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2318, from 2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. GAP Staff Attorney Tarek Maassarani, the author of the report, will testify.

“The government has failed to provide any justifications for these increasingly restrictive policies and practices, which seem to kick in whenever there is politically-inconvenient science,” stated Maassarani.

While the investigation focused primarily on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the report also analyzes practices at NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Agriculture, and the Climate Change Science Program.

One primary aspect of the report’s findings illustrates objectionable and possibly illegal restrictions on the communication of scientific information to the media. Interference with media-scientist communications include the delaying, monitoring, screening, and denying of interviews, as well as the delay, denial, and inappropriate editing of press releases.

The report’s examples of government interference in scientists’ communication with Congress and the public include the inappropriate editing, delay, and suppression of reports and other printed and online material.

In response to the report’s finding, GAP urges numerous recommendations for the executive branch and federal agencies that support climate change research to immediate adopt concerning their media policies. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Implementing a clear and transparent media policy in which federal scientists are only required to give their respective public affairs department the prior notification and a subsequent follow-up regarding any media communication. This would eliminate mandatory pre-approvals for media contacts, selective routing of media requests, and drafting of anticipated questions and answers by scientists prior to interviews.
  • Educating federal employees about their right to express their personal views (explicitly stated) on any subject without using government time and resources.
  • Ensuring the timely and pro-active coordination of press releases and media contacts so as to promote rather than limit the flow of information.
  • Ensuring that content-editing and scientific quality-control remains with qualified scientists and the peer review process.
  • Establishing accountability procedures that allow for transparency and a scientist’s internal reporting of undue interference, without fear of retaliation.

“This hearing and others held earlier this year on political interference with climate science communication are important steps forward in bringing long-overdue congressional attention to this urgent problem,” said Rick Piltz, Director of GAP’s Climate Science Watch program. “We need Congress to move forward with investigation and legislative action to ensure freedom of scientific communication.”

The investigation incorporated dozens of interviews and a comprehensive review of thousands of Freedom of Information Act disclosures, internal documents, and public records. This report is more in-depth than the coverage of GAP’s investigation in the report released by GAP and the Union of Concerned Scientists in January entitled Atmosphere of Pressure. That report included a condensed version of Redacting the Science of Climate Change.