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Scientists 'Self-Censor' Climate Change Language to Protect Funding

hot earth, global warming, climate change

It's no secret that Donald Trump is less than friendly toward climate change scientists and their conclusions. As a result, research labs and institutions that specialize in studying climate change are feeling the budget pinch. In order to protect their funding, climate change scientists used to unfettered access to the government teat under the Obama administration are adopting new tactics. One such tactic is watching the words they use in grant requests.

In a new report, NPR refers to the tactic as "self-censoring by omitting the term 'climate change' in public grant summaries." The report claimed: "An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase 'climate change' in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term's use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternate terms such as 'extreme weather' appears to be rising slightly."

NPR said the language change "appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration's open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the President's 2018 budget proposal single out climate change research programs for elimination."

With both Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and EPA head Scott Pruitt denying that climate change is caused by humans, there has been a noticeable sea change in the way the government interacts with climate change. For example, the EPA's website has been scrubbed of references to climate change.

NPR states that because of the ideological change of the Trump administration, "Many scientists find themselves in an uncomfortable position. They are caught between environmental advocates looking to recruit allies and right-wing activists who demonize researchers and denigrate their work."

Speaking to NPR, director of Texas Tech's Climate Science Center Katharine Hayhoe confessed, "We tend to be quite averse to notoriety and conflict, so I absolutely have seen self-censorship among my colleagues. [They'll say] 'Well, maybe I shouldn't say it that way, because whatever funding organizations or politician or agency won't appreciate it.'"

If NPR is correct that the federal government is withholding funding to climate change research, I can't help but wonder how Hayhoe's colleagues who self-censor feel about having their ruse exposed. Even if climate change is primarily caused by humans, that doesn't mean that those who disagree can't read. I feel quite confident that staff members in the White House as well as in Pruitt's and Perry's offices have read the NPR article and have filled their collective bosses in on the self-censorship. One piece of information that the aids probably took special note of is the revelation that, "while the number of grants with the term 'climate change' in the public summary has dropped, the number of grants with the terms 'environmental change' or 'extreme weather' has increased slightly." NPR continued: "That suggests that, even if research topics remain the same, the words scientists use to describe them may change."