Climate Change Censorship

Multiple scientists who have received grants from the US Department of Energy (DOE) have been asked to remove references to “global warming” and “climate change” from the descriptions of their research papers.

Ecologist and Northeastern University associate professor Jennifer Bowen was instructed by a DOE official to remove these words from the abstract of her accepted grant proposal. The official cited “the President’s budget language restrictions”for the request. In an statement to the Washington Post, Bowen noted that she was never asked to “change the research scope of [her] project or modify the contents of the proposal”1 but only to remove the specified phrases. Bowen’s proposal studies the effect of environmental stressors, like climate change, on salt marshes and their carbon dioxide release.

Bowen posted the email from August 24 to her Facebook page, causing the message to go viral and drawing accusations of censorship from many. “I’m hoping she just replaced ‘climate change’ with ‘(censored)’,”3 said a Twitter user. Another posited that “‘budget language restrictions’ is the most orwellian thing I’ve read in a while [sic]3.

Bowen herself expressed the difficulties that scientists have faced under the Trump administration, saying in her now-deleted Facebook post, “I found it to be a stark reminder of the ongoing politicization of science.”2A biogeochemist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and co-principal investigator on the marsh project, Jonathan Sanderman speculated to the scientific journal nature that officials at the Washington laboratory “are worried the grant will be zeroed out if someone sees that it lists climate change,”2 implying that the officials were helping climate research fly under the radar of their climate-skeptic superiors.

DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes rejected accusations of censorship, saying “there is no departmental-wide policy banning the term ‘climate change’ from being used in DOE materials.”2

Another DOE grant winner, ecologist Scott Saleska of the University of Arizona, reported receiving a similar email from the Department. His study analyzes the role of climate change in the effects of decomposing plants on permafrost.

“I think it is an unfortunate symptom of the Trump administration’s decisions to use political criteria for funding science,” Saleska told reporters, although he, like Bowen, stressed that the request was “a relatively minor deal” for “already funded projects.”1

Closer to home in Urbana-Champaign, hydroclimatologist Francina Dominguez of the University of Illinois also held concerns for climate research moving forward. The word-change request “adds to the growing uncertainty about the future of climate change research in the United States,” said Dominguez, a colleague of Saleska. “[It adds to] concern that we will lag behind the European Union and China in technological advances to address and adapt to our warming planet.”

The current presidential administration raises questions about how much it values climate science. “Neither [Administrator of the EPA Scott Pruitt nor Secretary of US Energy Rick Perry] believes that humans are the primary control for the rise in near surface temperatures. This is in stark contrast to scientific consensus,” explained Dominguez. This questioning attitude towards the science extends to the top of the American government. President Trump notably announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement in early June, demonstrating a lack of commitment to addressing climate change on a federal level.

Numerous actions like these have created an unwelcoming work environment for climate scientists. “I will now be hesitant to submit climate change related research for possible funding (particularly to DOE),” said Dominguez, “because of the uncertainty related to the future research directions of the current administration.

Article by Zack Fishman


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