President Trump’s alarming assault on science and truth-telling continues unabated. The Environmental Protection Agency barred three scientists from participating in a conference about the effects of climate change on the Narragansett Bay. Trump’s Department of Energy spearheaded “Every Leak Makes Us Weak” campaigns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented a word ban prohibiting analysts from using specific terms such as “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based” in budget documents. Department of Interior senior policy advisor Joel Clement was reassigned to a post collecting oil royalty checks after speaking out about the dangerous impacts of climate change on Alaskan Native communities.
Taken together, these efforts have fostered a chilling environment wherein those who witness fraud, abuse, mismanagement, censorship and the blatant disregard for science-based policy-making are discouraged or outright prevented from speaking truth to power.
Fortunately, as these anti-science crackdowns have proliferated, so have pockets of resistance, comprising groups of individuals committed to the principles of truth, justice, and scientific integrity. Roughly one year ago on April 22, 2017, this collective outrage culminated in the March for Science. Over 1,000,000 people worldwide celebrated science and evidence-based policymaking and simultaneously railed against hazardous efforts to censor it. Approximately 100,000 marchers took to the streets of Washington, DC, alone.
This year, the March for Science is returning in full force. The Government Accountability Project (GAP) will attend as a proud partner and sponsor, as it did last year during the March’s inauguration, and advocate for whistleblowers in the scientific community who put their personal and professional reputations on the line on behalf of the public interest. For the past 40 years, GAP has represented 8,000 whistleblowers spanning the public and private sectors, many of whom have come from the scientific community.
Working in collaboration with GAP and The New York Times, whistleblower Rick Piltz, who served as a senior associate in the U.S. Global Change Research Program during the George W. Bush Administration, revealed that White House officials with former ties to the oil industry were censoring climate change reports intended for Congress and the public. Nuclear Regulatory Commission engineer and risk analyst Larry Criscione blew the whistle on the fact that nearly three dozen nuclear power plants are inadequately protected against major flooding from predictable upstream dam failures – flooding that could lead to an accident or meltdown on the scale of the 2011 nuclear power disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Food and Drug Administration truth-teller Dr. David Graham published research that showed Vioxx, a painkiller, had caused upwards of 139,000 heart attacks in patients taking the drug. These represent just a handful of GAP clients who have spoken truth to power, and served as examples for subsequent whistleblowers who were emboldened to speak out.
In addition to offering legal support to whistleblowers, GAP also takes the initiative to inform the broader public about whistleblowing, which is often perceived pejoratively (and incorrectly) as a traitorous act done by disillusioned “snitches” or “tattle-tales.” This could not be further from the truth. Whistleblowers are often the most passionate employees within a given public agency or private institution. Almost all of them report their concerns internally first before going public with their concerns of wrongdoing. Their actions inject necessary accountability in organizations, facilitate agency and congressional oversight, and empower the public by instigating reform and promoting transparency.
GAP’s Director of Education Dana Gold will again be leading a teach-in at the March for Science on Saturday, April 14, 2018. The event, entitled “Speaking Up for Science: Whistleblowing,” will explain the crucial role science whistleblowers play in protecting consumers, workers, and the environment. Dana will also describe the rights of and risks to science employees who disclose violations of law, gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, and serious threats to public health and safety.
Teach-in participants will receive GAP’s newly available guides to whistleblowing for journalists, public interest organizations, and federal employees in science agencies – resources all developed in response to the Trump Administration’s escalating assault on science.