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GAP and the March for Science: Protecting Science and Truth

Tom Devine Posted by Tom Devine.

Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked to assist thousands of whistleblowers to come forward and has been involved in the all of the campaigns to pass or defend major whistleblower laws over the last two decades.

Science, free from political influence, should be a non-negotiable priority of our government.

Science, free from political influence, should be a non-negotiable priority of our government. Evidence-based, publicly transparent science protects the public and the environment from present harm and is essential to securing the future of our country and planet. But in the past several months, government scientists have faced increasingly restrictive conditions.

Gag orders have been placed on science agencies and their research. A conference on the risks climate change poses to human health, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was cancelled. Before taking office, Trump Administration transition officials demanded names of Department of Energy staffers working on climate issues, opening them up to political retaliation. They have also targeted State Department climate programs for elimination.

The President has attacked climate change with falsehoods. “Global warming was created by… the Chinese,” Trump tweeted in 2012, claiming the country’s motive was to kill American jobs. Top government officials, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all downplayed or challenged climate science, despite the fact that all their jobs involve dealing with the effects of climate change.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has teamed up with the March for Science to fight this anti-science and anti-truth environment. We have a long history of supporting science and helping scientists speak out for truth, justice and reality.

In 2002, a Bush Administration official, Philip Cooney, chief of staff for the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, censored research by government climate scientists. He made hundreds of secret edits to reports, which collectively cast doubt on the science behind human-induced climate change. “Mr. Cooney’s alterations can cause clear shifts in meaning,” wrote The New York Times, which had received documents detailing these edits from GAP.

In one report, “Mr. Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty by adding the word ‘extremely’ to this sentence: ‘The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult,’” reported the Times.

Rick Piltz, a senior associate in the U.S. Climate Science Program, provided the documents to GAP as he quit his job with the government. Cooney had required that Piltz slip his edits into the final versions of government reports. Piltz blew the whistle once he had compiled all the evidence. Later, he would start GAP’s Climate Science Watch program (now Climate Science and Policy Watch).

But Rick Piltz isn’t the only scientist with whom GAP has worked closely to expose censorship or threats to public health, safety or the environment. GAP has represented many scientists, engineers and researchers who have spoken out about the misrepresentation of science for harmful ends. When engineers at the Hanford nuclear site disclosed technical flaws and unsafe practices that threatened workers, public health and groundwater, GAP represented dozens of employees who suffered reprisal for blowing the whistle on flawed science while ensuring their disclosures promoted safe cleanup activities. We’ve represented USDA veterinarians who reported the abuse of animals at slaughterhouses, and that sick livestock were making it into our food supply. We also represented FDA safety researcher David Graham, whose research showed the painkiller Vioxx caused 88,000 to 139,000 heart attacks over the previous five years—his disclosures forced Merck to pull Vioxx off the shelves in 2004. We helped stop the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative program, nicknamed “Star Wars,” after a physicist disclosed fatal flaws in what amounted to a defense boondoggle.

GAP’s partnership with the March for Science makes perfect sense in the context of today’s post-fact environment. The March’s motto, “Science Not Silence,” could just as easily be GAP’s. We’ve protected and empowered hundreds and hundreds of science professionals who spoke up about scientific censorship and threats to the public and our planet. We continue to be committed, now more than ever, to supporting the rights of employees to exercise their professional integrity in service of the public interest.

See you at the March for Science on April 22!

GAP will be presenting at a Teach-In before the march. Find out more about the role whistleblowers play in protecting the public interest, the legal rights and strategies for disclosing evidence of wrongdoing, and how you can show your support for whistleblowers. You can register here

Zack Kopplin