Signs and Portents: Rumors of Energy Dept. Gutting and Basic Science Tweets Deleted

Rick Perry answering questions at his Jan. 19, 2017 confirmation hearing for Secretary of Energy (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). Perry may have been auditioning for the role of “King Nothing” if rumors of a Dept. of Energy gutting prove true.

In a continuing look at the signs and portents regarding science policy and spending from the Trump administration, let’s look at a few headlines that made the rounds in the past day. These concern the possible gutting of the Energy Dept. under the guise of “cutting the deficit” and the deletion of tweets from the Badlands National Park Twitter account, tweets that contained basic climate science information.

Broken Moon

Gov. Perry’s confirmation hearing for Energy Secretary left Jodi and me feeling uneasy, not because he took a stand against science (he didn’t) but because he seemed to demur to every Senator that asked a question. This made him feel fake – uneasily auditioning for a role he might not even understand – and in the end he came off as a “yes-man” willing to agree to anybody’s point just to get the job. Such deference in the face of authority (a sign of someone who has no practice in science), coupled with his extremely weak background in science and engineering, bodes ill for a key agency like the Department of Energy. That department oversees a great deal of the nation’s basic science research, in addition to its primary role as steward of the nuclear stockpile of the U.S. A deferential Secretary of Energy could easily fiddle while Rome burned. A Secretary without the mettle to stand up to authority might agree to have an agency cut to pieces, feeling no sense of loyalty to the men and women who, daily, commit their lives to better scientific research through their work at and with the Department of Energy.

So it was no surprise that, as reported by “The Hill” [1], the Trump administration may be looking to gut the Energy Department under the guise of “cost-cutting to reduce the deficit.” The placement of the cuts is telling; if true, it paints a picture of an administration hell-bent on white-washing 150 years of climate science straight out of government policies. If Trump behaves the same way with medical science, it suggest that we will all be fully covered for an annual bloodletting and leeching when “Trumpcare” rolls out.

Here is a quote from The Hill’s article on the subject:

At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. [1]

Of course, Congress has the power of the purse. This could all setup a fight with Congress, which is home to many ardent defenders of the Department of Energy (thanks to its resources being spread over many states in the union). But the next quote paints a worrying picture, though, where opposition may not be enough to block the President’s vision,

Moderate Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations Committee are likely to push back at some of the cuts being considered by Trump.

But they seem likely to have the support of Mulvaney, a conservative budget hawk who backed the RSC budget. [1]

Basic Science Deleted – Bad Science Tweeted

In another worrying sign, tweets containing basic climate science facts disappeared from the Twitter account of the Badlands National Park [2]. The agency claimed that a rogue employee without authorization made the original tweets, and so they deleted them. But the tweets were harmless, stating quite easily verified and obvious facts about carbon-rich fuels and their impact on the atmosphere, as well as the impact of carbon on climate.

Image captures of the deleted tweets, taken from the article by “The Hill.”

Even if the deletion was innocent, it’s in-line with the down-the-line denialism exhibited by Trump and his closest aids. They’ve seemed willing in every other forum to discard sound scientific assessments, so this really comes as no surprise . . . even if it really did happen for reasons unconnected to science denialism. This may or may not be the opening volley in their war on science, but sometimes wars start with a gun accidentally going off . . . the war was going to happen whether the gun fired or not. Scientists and state agencies should be gearing up for a fight with the Administration and Congress over a campaign of science white-washing that started on the White House website and may be propagating to individual agency Twitter accounts.

This, also, follows a pattern started by the person or persons tweeting from the House Science Committee who recently spouted pseudoscientific nonsense about climate and climate change [3], nonsense sources from fake news sites like Breitbart.com.

[1] http://thehill.com/policy/finance/314991-trump-team-prepares-dramatic-cuts

[2] http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/315961-national-park-service-deletes-tweets-about-climate-science

[3] https://eos.org/articles/house-science-committees-climate-tweets-rile-scientists

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