Guest

Primary tabs

Guest's picture

History Shows That Stacking Federal Science Advisory Committees Doesn't Work

Deepwater Horizon oil rig on fire

By Donald Boesch, University of Maryland

Scientists are busy people, but every year thousands donate many hours of their time without payment to advise Congress and federal government agencies. They provide input on all kinds of issues, from antibiotic resistance to mapping the world’s oceans in three dimensions.

The Trump administration has raised alarms by signaling that it is determined to replace scientific advisers who are not in line with its political philosophy. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is replacing most of the members of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors and, very likely, its Science Advisory Board. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has suspended the activities of numerous advisory panels, including many scientific committees, pending review of their purpose and composition.

Will Trump Cabinet members really be able to shift the scientific advice on which their agencies rely? And how should scientists respond?

Cleaning up Toxic Sites Shouldn't Clear out the Neighbors

San Francisco's Pier 70, a brownfield site, with a smokestack in the background

By Lindsey Dillon, University of California, Santa Cruz

San Francisco has embarked on a project to transform its industrial southeast waterfront into a bike-friendly destination called the Blue Greenway. When completed, the Blue Greenway will be a 13-mile network of parks, bike lanes and trails along the southeastern edge of the city.

Among its many benefits, the project creates green space and waterfront access in the low-income Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. The Blue Greenway is part of a larger transformation of Bayview Hunters Point. This older, neglected neighborhood is still full of vacant lots and a large, abandoned naval base, but it is becoming a landscape of hip townhomes and new coffee shops. Its transformation includes the complicated cleanup of many toxic waste sites — most notoriously, a military radiation lab on the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

The Blue Greenway project cleans up toxic land along its route with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program, which supports the cleanup and reuse of contaminated sites. Brownfield redevelopment projects like the Blue Greenway are intended to bring environmental and economic benefits to run-down urban areas. And yet, as I have found in my own research, they can also contribute to gentrification and economic displacement.

Facts Versus Feelings Isn't the Way to Think About Communicating Science

Army Corps scientist teaching university students about wetlands

By John Cook, George Mason University and Sander van der Linden, University of Cambridge

In a world where “post-truth” was 2016’s word of the year, many people are starting to doubt the efficacy of facts. Can science make sense of anti-science and post-truthism? More generally, how can we understand what drives people’s beliefs, decisions and behaviors?

'Clean Coal' Officially Dead in Mississippi as Southern Company Battered by Kemper Fallout

By Dan Zegart, crossposted from Climate Investigations Center.

Clean coal officially died in Mississippi today as state regulators voted unanimously to issue an official order denying further money for the Kemper coal plant and beginning a settlement process with its builder, Southern Company.

The order provides a legal framework for the state Public Service Commission's June 21st vote proposing the plant continue to operate on natural gas, as it has since August 2014, instead of spend additional money to try to use Kemper's non-functional multi-billion dollar gasifier to generate power from lignite coal.

“The commission today is taking firm steps towards resolving all substantive matters associated with the Kemper Project,” says the 35-page PSC order.

Is Energy 'Dominance' the Right Goal for US Policy?

Oil rig pumpjack
By Daniel Raimi, University of Michigan

In recent weeks, a new energy buzzword has taken flight from Washington, D.C., making stops in Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, Utah and more: “American energy dominance.” Taking a cue from a 2016 speech by then-candidate Donald Trump, top federal officials including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have begun to trumpet the notion of energy “dominance.”

Although no Cabinet official has offered a precise definition, it’s a recurring theme in a set of administration events organized around energy policy, including a speech by Trump emphasizing exports of coal, natural gas, and oil.

So what does this new energy catchphrase mean, and how should we think about it?

Mississippi Regulators Veto Any More Money for Southern Company's Kemper 'Clean Coal' Plant in Stunning Vote

By Dan Zegart, originally published at Climate Investigations Center

In a historic vote this morning, Mississippi state regulators slammed the brakes on the Kemper coal power plant, saying they will refuse to ask utility customers to pay anything for Kemper's non-functional multi-billion dollar “clean coal” gasification technology and will re-designate the plant as a natural gas facility.

In a joint press release explaining their unanimous decision, the three Mississippi Public Service commissioners said they seek a solution that “eliminates ratepayer risk for unproven technology and assures no rate increase to Mississippi Power customers,” and that they want Mississippi Power, the Southern Company subsidiary that built Kemper, to consider rolling back existing rates.

“I think it's high time we finally turn the corner on this project and also strongly protect our ratepayers, who should only have to pay for what actually delivers electricity,” said PSC chairman Brandon Presley in an interview. Presley was, until recently, the lone opponent of a bloated, runaway project that saw costs jump from $2.3 billion in 2010 when work began to $7.5 billion now. 

PR Firm Behind American Gas Association Front Group also Member, Consultant for Edison Electric Institute

We Stand For Energy Ad cropped

This is a guest post by Matt Kasper crossposted from Energy and Policy Institute.

The nation’s largest electric utilities have been relying on a political consulting shop to portray their efforts to attack rooftop solar as having support from the “grassroots” for at least the past year.

The consulting group, DDC Consulting, has carved out a niche for itself at conjuring up “astroturf” — or faked grassroots efforts. Indeed, the firm’s website says that it specializes in designing, managing, and executing advocacy campaigns that “shape public opinion, sway decision-makers, and affect outcomes in the legislature, the press, the board room, and the public eye.” DDC was just exposed as the PR firm behind an effort to portray imagined support for natural gas pipelines, this time funded by the American Gas Association.

When Politicians Cherry-pick Data and Disregard Facts, What Should Academics Do?

March for Science sign reading 'Science matters bigly'

By Andrew J. Hoffman, University of Michigan

When politicians distort science, academics and scientists tend to watch in shock from the sidelines rather than speak out. But in an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we need to step into the breach and inject scientific literacy into the political discourse.

Nowhere is this obligation more vivid than the debate over climate change. Contrary to the consensus of scientific agencies worldwide, the president has called climate change a “hoax” (though his position may be shifting), while his EPA administrator has denied even the most basic link to carbon dioxide as a cause.

It’s another sign that we, as a society, are drifting away from the use of scientific reasoning to inform public policy. And the outcome is clear: a misinformed voting public and the passage of policies to benefit special interests.

How Sea Ice Can Still Be Thick in Places in a Warming Arctic

Arctic researchers taking an ice core

This post originally appeared on Climate Feedback.

A June 12 Winnipeg Free Press story titled “U of M climate change study postponed due to climate change” describes a climate study delayed by unusual sea ice conditions around Newfoundland that necessitated the reassignment of an icebreaker vessel. (Similar stories were run by CBC NewsThe Guardian, and others.)

It might seem to you that unusually thick local sea ice contradicts scientists’ predictions of declining Arctic sea ice cover, but that would be an overly simplistic and incorrect assumption. That misconception of both climate science and the behavior of sea ice has surfaced in the past when polar research vessels encountered difficulties with sea ice, and this time is (sadly) no exception.

New Denier Study So Bad Even Deniers Are Somewhat Skeptical

Climate March protest sign with polar bear stating 'Let us now pause for a moment of science'

This is a guest post by ClimateDenierRoundup

It goes without saying that peer review is an important safeguard against shoddy pseudoscience. Peer reviewers are so vital to the scientific endeavour that they recently got their own monument!

But peer review is not a perfect process. It’s necessary to ensure quality science, of course. But sometimes peer review goes wrong. For example, a journal whose editor is a climate denier with ties to Heartland recently published a paper claiming to refute the greenhouse theory. The paper is so bad that one scientist told DeSmog it is “laughable,” in part because the paper takes issue with the fact that greenhouses have glass roofs, and the atmosphere does not.

Seriously.

So although deniers try to downplay the importance of the consensus to claim that a vast global conspiracy keeps their work out of peer-reviewed journals, it’s not impossible for their shoddy science to get published.

Pages