NPR apparently used misleading and exaggerated data in a report Wednesday to claim scientists are nixing words like “climate change” to appease the Trump administration.
Scientists scared of President Donald Trump are self-censoring loaded terms to obtain government grants, according to NPR’s analysis. But the data appear to show use of the word “climate change” on grant applications decreased significantly during the Obama administration.
“The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration’s open hostility to the topic of climate change,” NPR’s Rebecca Hersher wrote before mentioning Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate deal and nix the so-called Clean Power Plan.
Grants about climate change dropped 40 percent in 2017, according to data Hersher analyzed from the National Science Foundation, a government agency responsible for financing various research projects. The data also show grants tumbled by the same amount between the 2010 and 2012.
The number of grants about global warming plummeted during former President Barack Obama’s eight years in office – those containing the term “climate change” fell from 783 in 2009 to 520 in 2016.
Hersher’s analysis also suggested alternative terms like “extreme weather” increased as scientists began shying away from politically loaded terms. But the data are more complicated than NPR’s report indicates – the number of alternative terms, in fact, fell during Trump’s first full year in the White House.
Some of the scientists who said they avoid the terms say they haven’t seen evidence of direct political meddling in the NSF process for determining who wins funding.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that the Trump administration has issued any specific guidance to NSF,” Mitch Ambrose, a policy analyst for the American Institute of Physics, told reporters.
NPR’s treatment of the data could further fire up environmentalists who believe Trump is systematically deleting government data on global warming.
Their fears were piqued earlier this year after the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay website dropped the terms “climate change” and “greenhouse gas emissions” from a paragraph describing the environmental effects of freight transport.
The agency wiped out one section in the program that noted, “The science is clear — greenhouse gas emissions from all sources must decrease.” SmartWay was constructed in 2004 to help transporting businesses limit their impact on the environment.
During the first few months of the Trump administration, people who visited the website were told: “many companies monitor their carbon emissions and establish inventories or overall ‘carbon footprint’ to help decision makers identify the best strategies for reducing climate impacts.”
EPA officials announced in April that the agency would overhaul content on the website that included a review of “content related to climate and regulation.” Reports showing that climate scientist are succumbing to pressure from Trump could stoke more concern from people worried about the wording academics use.
Altering language about global warming could lead to a more fractured scientific community, according to NPR’s analysis. Shared terminology allows climate scientists to collaborate, either through interagency groups or through university departments.
“If we all have to go off in different directions to keep the science moving forward, we lose that community,” Michael Dietze, a climate scientist at Boston University, told reporters. “We won’t gather and work together.”
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