by Douglas Messier
With the West Coast ablaze with wildfires and rising seas threatening to flood coastlines, the man who called global warming a Chinese hoax is filling two top jobs at the U.S. government’s premiere weather and climate agency with people who don’t believe warming is a problem.
The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump has tapped Ryan Maue to fill the post of chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Maue is a meteorologist and former adjunct scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute who runs weathermodels.com. He has been harshly critical of the scientific consensus that human activity is dangerously warming the planet and leading to more extreme weather.
So, what would Maue do as chief scientist? The Washington Post reported:
The position, pushed forward by the White House pending completion of ethics and security reviews and not requiring Senate confirmation, would put Maue in a leadership position within the agency. As chief scientist, Maue would be tasked with helping establish its oceans and atmosphere research priorities, as well as playing a role in enforcing its Scientific Integrity Policy.
With fires raging across the West, Maue weighed in on Sept. 10 with a since deleted tweet attacking the idea that global warming is causing more severe wildfires.
Seems the Democrats have coordinated their efforts to use the devastating California fires as an opportunity to score political points in the upcoming election by blaming them solely on climate change (and Trump).
The scientific consensus is that human emissions are increasing global temperatures and both worsening and lengthening the wildfire season in California.
Maue would replace acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean, who last year initiated an investigation into NOAA’s response to President Donald Trump’s erroneous tweet about the dangers posed by Hurricane Dorian as it approached the U.S. mainland in September 2019.
Two separate investigations into what became known as Sharpiegate found NOAA had violated its own Scientific Integrity Policy by backing Trump’s tweet and criticizing National Weather Service personnel. The reviews were also sharply critical of NOAA, Commerce and White House officials. (NOAA is part of the Commerce Department.)
The news of Maue’s nomination comes a week after NOAA hired David Legates, a University of Delaware professor who questions the severity and seriousness of climate change, to serve as the agency’s new deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for environmental observation and prediction.
An Erroneous Forecast
The Scientific Integrity Policy that Maue would help enforce has been updated as a result of the investigation into Sharpiegate initiated by McLean, the man he would replace as chief scientist.
Sharpiegate began on Sept. 1, 2019, when Trump tweeted out an erroneous warning that Alabama would be hit much harder than expected by Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm then churning away in the Caribbean.
NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) office in Birmingham, Ala., sent out a tweet 20 minutes later that said Alabama would see no impacts from the storm. Employees in the office later told investigators they were responding to calls from worried Alabama residents and had not seen Trump’s tweet.
Trump was enraged at being contradicted and insisted his forecast was correct. During a press conference in the Oval Office several days later, he displayed a NOAA forecast map on which Dorian’s projected path was extended to include part of Alabama using black ink.
The Washington Post reported that Trump had made the addition using a Sharpie marker. The incident became known as Sharpiegate.
Two days later, NOAA officials issued an unsigned statement saying the president had been correct and criticizing the NWS Birmingham office for its tweet.
Weather forecasters and NOAA employees were angry over the statement, the altered weather map and the White House’s interference in the agency’s operations.
McLean wrote a message to research employees condemning NOAA’s actions as damaging public trust in the agency.
“Unfortunately, the press release of last Friday violated this trust and violated NOAA’s policies of scientific integrity. In my role as Assistant Administrator for Research, and as I continue to administratively serve as Acting Chief Scientist, I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity,” McLean wrote.
NOAA launched two investigations, one external and another internal, that validated McLean’s criticisms.
A panel from the National Academy of Public Administration concluded NOAA Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs and Director of Communications Julie Roberts violated the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy in drafting the statement and failing to allow the Birmingham office to comment on it before its public release.
“The Panel determined that they engaged in the misconduct intentionally, knowingly, or in reckless disregard of the Code of Scientific Conduct or Code of Ethics for Science Supervision and Management in NOAA’s Scientific Integrity Policy,” the report stated.
“The September 6 Statement compromised NOAA’s integrity and reputation as an independent scientific agency and violated Section 7.02 of NOAA’s Scientific Integrity Policy,” the report added.
In comments on NAPA’s draft report, Jacobs and Roberts disputed the findings. Jacobs argued the panel did not apply the proper standards in reviewing the allegations. He also argued that the public statement was accurate.
“NAPA’s analysis is based on the premise that either the President’s tweet or [Birmingham Weather Forecast Office] tweet was right and the statement was choosing between the two. It did not,” Jacobs wrote. “The statement, if read objectively, approaches it from the perspective that both are accurate and reconciles the two approaches – risk and probability – to conveying information.”
NAPA’s report made a series of recommendations concerning how to improve NOAA’s Scientific Integrity Policy and the agency’s procedures for dealing with media. NOAA agreed to implement the changes.
A second investigation into Sharpiegate by the NOAA Office of Inspector General was also sharply critical of the actions taken by Jacobs and Roberts, their bosses at the Commerce Department, and White House officials acting on Trump’s behalf.
The report concluded that Commerce officials led a flawed process in forcing the issuance of a statement that did not further NOAA’s or the National Weather Service’s interests. Officials also failed to take the public safety intent of the Birmingham office’s tweet into account.
Roberts was found to have deleted some relevant emails in violation of department policy. The review also concluded that those policies were outdated, and that they allowed, and even required, the deletion of emails under certain circumstances.
“The broader, longer-term consequence is that NOAA’s rebuke of the NWS Birmingham office could have a chilling effect on NWS forecasters’ future public safety messages, as well as undercut public trust in NWS forecasts,” the report concluded.
Jacobs and Roberts remain on the job today. The NAPA report made a recommendation that NOAA accepted that the pair undergo ethics training in the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy.
The controversy might have hurt Jacobs’ nomination to head NOAA on a permanent rather than an acting basis. In May, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation approved the nomination and forwarded it to full Senate.
It remains before the Senate today. It is not clear when, or if, the full Senate will vote on it.