Presidents have taken steps to breakdown the integrity of the science federal agencies produce, according to a new report. Under President Donald Trump, however, the situation has gotten a whole lot worse, reaching what the report calls “a crisis point.”
New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice published the 72-page report Thursday, offering proposals for how the government can better safeguard federal scientific research and democracy itself, which is feeling fragile at the moment. Two main problems are threatening democracy: The politicization of science and failing to appoint senior government officials. All this is especially relevant under Trump, who denies climate science and has appointed individuals to high-ranking positions who do the same.
With the climate crisis hitting overdrive, the public needs reliable science to help guide and shape policy over the next couple of decades. Yet the Trump administration has taken a series of missteps when it comes to science.
Just last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supported Trump’s false claims about Hurricane Dorian’s forecast. Trump’s attack on science also includes banning scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency from presenting research on climate change in October 2017, barring National Park Service employees from using the word “climate change” in project proposals, and publishing a faulty environmental review for a proposed Alaskan mine that could threaten salmon, among other incidents. The administration has also gone as far as to punish employees who speak out or formally complain about such anti-science directives through termination and job reassignment.
Unfortunately, Trump is only exacerbating a problem that had been growing long before his presidency. Former presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, also took steps to downplay the reality of climate change or the environmental impacts of extractive processes. Bush supported opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and misrepresented or ignored science that didn’t support their case. Under Obama, the EPA downplayed the risk fracking could have on drinking water resources in a report.
To help prevent democracy—and the integrity of science—from falling apart further, the report authors recommend reducing the flow of money in politics. This proposal stands out because it’s in line with a growing rally cry from the progressive left, especially from Democratic presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The authors also call on Congress to step up and re-establish its role in the American system of checks and balances. It’s up to Congress members to make the necessary reforms—be it restructuring the nomination and confirmation process or writing regulation to protect the public’s access to government science and data.
The federal government is supposed to serve the interests of the American public. Nowadays, that’s no longer the case, especially as it fails to act on the climate crisis that threatens humanity as a whole. Democracy is at stake here, and so is the future of the climate.