If scientists and journalists want the politicization of science to stop, they have to be part of the solution, even if a guy they didn't vote for is in power. But now that he is, all the talk about "depoliticizing science" has been exposed as the farce that we always knew it was.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is run by a lawyer, Scott Pruitt, who in Oklahoma successfully challenged one of the sillier agendas during the Obama administration: the effort to support President Obama's tens of billions of dollars in solar and wind subsidies by penalizing natural gas. The president did it using the EPA, which engaged in acts like blaming hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for earthquakes and bad water without doing any studies. A court literally had to force them to agree to do a study before engaging in calls for bans on fracking due to poor water quality..

That was clear politicization of science. With Dr. Alex Berezow, I wrote a whole book on the issue called Science Left Behind.

EPA also claimed that we need Draconian emissions cuts yet again, with no evidence that the new moving target - small micron particulate matter (PM2.5) - was causing any deaths or health effects at all (1), or that a swimming pool in your backyard needed to be considered a navigable water of the United States, so EPA or one of its "consultants" can demand a cleanup and stick you with the bill.

All of those had to be challenged in court because EPA had refused to listen to challenges in the science. Instead of looking for real answers to complex questions, EPA manufactured its own consensus; when people who did not play along with the agenda retired, they were replaced by environmentalists. Now activists rule and when there is no biological or toxicological evidence for whatever they want to ban, they find an epidemiology paper and, thanks to a flawed Supreme Court decision in 1984, get to legislate to America without holding a Congressional vote.

Again, clear politicization of science. Pruitt didn't invent it, he isn't even particularly aggressive in doing it compared to predecessors like Lisa Jackson or Gina McCarthy, but regardless of whose name is on the most important door in the Reagan building, it needs to stop.

Credit: NYU

On the issues above, EPA has halted politicization of science, primarily because they were political pet projects of the previous administration. Yet critics who never complained about McCarthy or Jackson are now worried Pruitt is putting politics ahead of science about global warming. 

That's not new at EPA, on plenty of science issues. But journalists are making it sound like it is.

The newest reason is because EPA canceled talks by employees at a conference put on by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, which EPA funds.  They still were allowed to attend but they were not speaking because, EPA said, it is not an EPA conference. The EPA people giving the talks were all contributors to a report saying that climate change was harming the estuary and they were all alumni of the same school in Rhode Island. The New York Times predictably wore its politics on its sleeve. Journalist Lisa Friedman couldn't even write about the press statement without mentioning that the person who made the statement was "a former Trump campaign operative in Florida". How many times did Friedman dismiss a government official in the prior administration as being "a former Obama operative"? A LexisNexis search showed zero. Many other corporate news outlets followed a similar pattern.

Politicization of science happens in the halls of government, folks, but it is a way of life in mainstream media.

The employees who were going to the talk are exactly who I would expect to be working in (half of) EPA. Dr. Autumn Oczkowski is a climate change ecologist who graduated from the University of Rhode Island oceanography program. Dr. Rose Martin is an environmentalist who got her Ph.D. from the same school and did fine work, she participated in an interesting study finding that Phragmites australis, an invasive grass that often inundates salt marshes, took up more carbon dioxide and at a higher rate than native vegetation marshes. Dr. Emily Shumchenia is not an EPA employee, they list her as a communications consultant. I wouldn't hire someone who was going to tell me how to communicate if their company didn't even have a website, but they did with her. Even the Facebook page for her consulting company is empty. So let's assume she did not go through the usual process you or I would have to go through to get money out of EPA. 

For someone who has been hired for her expertise in communication, and is not an employee, she shows a real lack of communications tact about the guy running EPA. Here is just one example:

His security costs are so high because so many environmentalists have sent death threats. Scientists sure never did that to Obama-era EPA heads. 

And she could practically co-brand Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and his vitriol about Pruitt. The retweet above tells her new bosses something, because climate change is just about the only science Think Progress accepts, and they only accept it for a simple reason: it gives them a chance to complain about Republicans and it is a doomsday narrative. That may have helped in the Obama administration but it hurts her today. If such simple diplomacy about the boss is politicization of science now, we have to recognize it was then as well.

They share in common the University of Rhode Island, which seems to be absolutely unhinged about Trump and politicizing global warming. An academic there believes Pruitt is in an elaborate chess match with him for the soul of science and this is another salvo. It reads like the Obama birther stuff, except it is people claiming the conspiracy is against science. It is unlikely that kind of rhetoric just started happening last weekend.

EPA said they were still allowed to go, which was left out of a lot of media accounts. "EPA scientists are attending, they simply are not presenting; it is not an EPA conference," agency spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said. The report just came out and it's 500 pages, so it's unclear yet if it's valid or just another doomsday narrative, like the recent air pollution is killing millions study that was really an op-ed with 400 other papers in a bibliography and designed to be a slap at the administration. It may be that these three have been really vocal in their disgust for Pruitt and Trump and that is catching up to them. Obviously the paper could be terrific, I am not talking about the science, I am talking about hating a boss so much you can't do your job and getting scrutinized due to that.  

Your employment does get impacted by how you deal with people. Ask Harvey Weinstein. But no one in corporate media is going to ask these three if they were engaging in any corrosive behavior about the new administration that they never did with the old. If they were not partisan journalists enabling politicization of science, though, they would.


(1) Why, exactly, did the previous administration insist air quality was killing people? There were no acute deaths attributable to air quality and our air is obviously really clean:

Credit: WHO

Hank Campbell is the President of the American Council on Science and Health, a pro-science consumer advocacy group founded in 1978, and the founder of Science 2.0. He did not receive any funding from descendants of Draco, or anyone else, to write this article.