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Trump Administration Suppressed Science, Climate Analyst Charges

A former State Department analyst says that suppressing scientific information weakens the nation.

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A former State Department senior analyst who worked on climate change and national security issues has charged the Trump administration with suppressing science.

The analyst, Rod Schoonover, resigned from the government on 12 July following the administration’s refusal to allow his written testimony at a 5 June congressional hearing to become part of the permanent congressional record.

“The testimony was blocked because of its content of science, and that feels like suppression of science,” Schoonover said in his first public appearance since leaving the government.

Schoonover, who was a senior analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and director of environment and natural resources at the National Intelligence Council, spoke at a 30 July appearance at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organization based in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. intelligence community analyzes a number of issues, including climate change, to understand the evolving threat landscape the United States and its allies face, Schoonover said. For instance, the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, issued on 29 January by outgoing director of national intelligence Daniel Coats, states that “Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.”

Schoonover said that scientific integrity and analytical independence in the intelligence community are important issues and that the implications of suppressing scientific information are far-reaching. “There’s a long history of the foundation of science in national security. Our national security rests on scientific integrity,” he said. “When we weaken our foundational scientific base, we weaken our nation.”

The Blocked Testimony

The blocked written testimony that Schoonover had hoped to present to the House of Representatives’ Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is filled with sharply worded comments by a government reviewer. The comments label parts of the prepared testimony “junk science,” “nonsense,” and “climate alarm propaganda.” One critique states, “A consensus of peer reviewed literature has nothing to do with truth.”

Schoonover, a former professor of chemistry and biochemistry at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, said that he disagreed with comments about the written testimony.

“Some of the suggestions we received I’d never seen in a mainstream climate article over 25 years,” said Schoonover, who was allowed to provide oral testimony at the hearing in which his written testimony was blocked.

“If you are in the intelligence community, where are you going to go when you think about climate change and climate science?” he asked. “Would you go to the peer-reviewed journal articles? Would you go to the scientific assessment of our own federal agencies? Or [would you go to] this other body of experts whose opinions and statements have not survived the scientific peer review process?”

Leaving the government “was excruciating,” Schoonover said, because he “loved working on issues in the intersection of national security and science,” including climate change.

He said that during the Trump administration, many talented civil servants are operating under difficult conditions and may not agree with White House policies. Nonetheless, they are trying to execute the policies while “trying to eke out as many wins for the American people at the same time…. Attacking or suppressing or undermining or muting climate science does not help that situation. It makes an already difficult situation more difficult.”

In an opinion piece by Schoonover that was published by the New York Times on 30 July, he wrote, “In blocking the submission of the written testimony, the White House trampled not only on the scientific integrity of the assessment but also on the analytic independence of an arm of the intelligence community.”

He noted in that opinion piece, “The bottom line of written testimony was this: ‘Climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security over the next 20 years.’”

The aftermath to his testimony being blocked, and the flurry of attention about it, has been “a bit surreal,” Schoonover said at the WRI event. “My hope is that I become less of a story and we return to the substantive issues of climate change [and] national security, because that’s way more important than any individual.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Trump administration suppressed science, climate analyst charges, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO130103. Published on 31 July 2019.
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