Scientific American: A Fix for the Antiscience Attitude in Congress

By The Editors of Scientific American

The White House and Congress have lost their way when it comes to science. Notions unsupported by evidence are informing decisions about environmental policy and other areas of national interest, including public health, food safety, mental health and biomedical research. The president has not asked for much advice from his Office of Science and Technology Policy, evidently.

The congressional committees that craft legislation on these matters do not even have formal designated science advisers. That’s a big problem. Take the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Its leader, Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, clearly misunderstands the scientific process, which includes assessment by independent peer reviewers prior to publication. The result has been a nakedly antiscience agenda. The committee has packed its hearings with industry members as witnesses instead of independent researchers. Democratic members have felt compelled to hold alternative hearings because they feel Smith has not allowed the real experts to speak. Smith’s misinformed leadership has made it clear that congressional science committees need to be guided by genuinely objective experts.

So far this year, Smith and fellow committee member Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma have each introduced bills that would seriously weaken the Environmental Protection Agency. Lucas’s bill would help stack the EPA’s Science Advisory Board with industry representatives and supporters. Smith’s—the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act—would make it harder for the EPA to create rules based on good research. As Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a former representative and a nuclear physicist, said of an earlier version of the bill, this sort of legislation is nothing less than an attempt to “fundamentally substitut[e] a [political] process for the scientific process.”

This is lunacy. We should not allow elected officials—especially the heads of congressional science committees—to interfere with the scientific process, bully researchers or deny facts that fit poorly with their political beliefs. Instead of seeing science as a threat, officials should recognize it as an invaluable tool for improving legislation.

To educate members about the best available research, both the House and Senate science committees should create independent groups of impartial researchers and policy specialists to advise them on science and technology issues, including those related to energy, genetically modified foods, and clean air and water. (Industry representatives would still have a voice, but they would counsel the committees separately.) The advisers could provide counsel without advocating specific courses of action. The scientific community—perhaps the heads of the National Academy of Sciences—could select the advisers, who would serve limited terms. Policy makers would still make the decisions, but with help from experts, those decisions would at least be based on facts.

Congress used to have a body of this kind—the widely respected Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The OTA was an office of Congress: it served members and committees, and a bipartisan board of senators and representatives oversaw it. Until 1995, the OTA created reports on scientific issues ranging from alternative fuels to cancer and presented Congress with options it could pursue to reach different goals. Then the Republican-controlled Congress axed its funding during budget cuts. Many have advocated for the OTA’s return, including Scientific American. Last year Representative Bill Foster of Illinois introduced a resolution calling for its revival.

Whether it comes from a resurrected OTA, a new, dedicated advisory panel or some other body, independent, evidence-based advice on scientific matters would provide a strong counterbalance to the opinions of special interests. Science would get a voice, no matter who was in power. This voice could not force members of Congress to accept scientific truth over alternative “facts.” But at least it would give them the opportunity to do so.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-fix-for-the-antiscience-attitude-in-congress/

Physics World: Serving the public

Taken from the September 2017 issue of Physics World

Particle physicist Bill Foster has served in the US Congress for almost a decade. He calls on more physicists to get involved at all levels of government and politics

It is hard to read the news these days without a degree of trepidation over the future of enlightened democracy. With the rise of Donald Trump in the US, the increase of right-wing parties around the globe as well as the general decline of rational and civil discourse, we need everyone to stand up for rational and fact-based debate. In the US, budget cuts and conservative ideology threaten to undo the progress that decades of scientific research has made in the quality of life and standard of living that we currently enjoy.

Scientific and technical competence is our best defence against these threats, especially from individuals with a scientific background who are willing to serve in elected office. For this reason, I often tell researchers my own story, so that other scientists might consider spending part of their career in public service.

When I was 19, my brother and I started a company in our parents’ basement that now makes most of the stage lighting equipment in the US. I then returned to my first love and entered graduate school at Harvard to study physics. My PhD thesis involved searching for proton decay through the construction, instrumentation and data analysis of the Irvine–Michigan–Brookhaven detector that was located at Fairport mine on the shore of Lake Erie. Although our experiment did not discover proton decay, it scored a significant unanticipated success when it was one of three experiments to observe the burst of neutrinos from SN1987a.

After receiving my PhD in 1983, I spent the next 23 years at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. I spent the first decade designing, building and analysing data from giant particle detectors. I was a member of the team that discovered the top quark – the heaviest known form of matter, and quite possibly the heaviest particle that will ever be discovered. So when we had the Congressional reception celebrating the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, I had the honour of congratulating many of my former colleagues for discovering the second heaviest form of matter.

I spent my second decade at Fermilab designing and building particle accelerators such as the Fermilab Antiproton Recycler Ring, which was used to greatly increase the number of collisions and keep the physics programme at Fermilab’s Tevatron competitive until the end of its lifetime. With a large team of collaborators, I also helped design and build prototype elements of future, large hadron colliders.

Tackling technical issues

Why did I decide to enter the US Congress? My quick answer is that I tragically fell prey to my family’s recessive gene for adult-onset political activism. My parents met on Capitol Hill in the 1950s when my mother worked for US senator Paul Douglas. Like me, my father was trained as a scientist, and during the Second World War he designed fire-control computers for the navy. During his service, he started receiving reports on how many people were killed each week by the equipment his team built. He became very unhappy at the idea of his scientific skills being used that way. When he came back from the war, he became a civil-rights lawyer and wrote much of the enforcement language behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After he passed away, I began to read his papers, and they prompted me to begin contemplating a question that science cannot really answer: what fraction of your life should you spend in service of your fellow citizens? That is why I decided to run for Congress in the special election to replace Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the US House, in 2008. On the campaign trail I learned that there is a long list of neurons that you have to deaden to convert a scientist’s brain into a politician’s. When you speak with voters, you must lead with conclusions rather than complex analysis of underlying evidence – something that is very unnatural to a scientist.

As a sitting member of Congress, I have been able to lead on important technical issues. On the science, space and technology committee, I have helped bring issues to the committee’s attention that require us to act. For example, the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology discovered in 2012 raises the prospect for cures for diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia, but also has the potential to disrupt society. At my urging, the science committee held a hearing on this topic, and I have been told that it was one of the best attended in the committee’s history.

As the only PhD physicist in Congress, my background became important during the debate of the Iran nuclear deal. During this time, I had more than a dozen classified briefings, many of them individual briefings by the technical experts at the Departments of Energy, State and Treasury, and the intelligence agencies. Because of the technical complexity of the agreement, members of both parties would routinely ask my opinion on aspects of the proposed agreement. Ultimately, my support was based on verification and science, not trust of the Iranian regime.

Defending the science budgets during the annual appropriation cycle is an ongoing challenge. Many members of Congress make the mistake of seeing science as an enterprise that can be stopped and restarted at will – like road construction or equipment purchases. They do not appreciate the damage that can be done to a scientific enterprise in a single budget cycle, where projects and careers that take decades to build can be irreversibly destroyed in a single fiscal year.

In the US and across the world, we need people with strong scientific backgrounds in all levels of government and politics. We need scientists and engineers on our school boards and city councils just as much as we need them in Washington. I hope anyone who reads this will take the time to consider spending a fraction of their life in service to their fellow citizen.

Donald Trump’s War on Scientists Has Had One Big Side Effect

There’s something different about the crop of Democrats running for Congress in 2018. As in previous years, the party has recruited a small army of veterans in high-profile races and in Republican-held districts. There are loads of state legislators, business owners, and government officials.

But the candidates also include a volcanologist who’s worried that her favorite research spot will be opened up for development; an aerospace engineer who’s running against the climate-denying head of the House Science Committee; a pediatrician who spends part of the year treating leprosy patients in Vietnam; and a physicist who worries what budget cuts would mean to the federal research facility where she spent her career.

All told, more than a dozen Democratic candidates with science backgrounds have announced their candidacies for Congress or are expected to in the coming months. The boomlet of STEM-based candidates amounts to a minor seismic event in a community where politics and research have traditionally gone together like sodium and water. Trump has been in office just six months, but he’s already done something remarkable—he’s gotten scientists to run for office.

The surge of science-based candidates has been aided by a new political outfit called 314 Action, launched last summer by Shaughnessy Naughton, a breast cancer researcher from Pennsylvania who ran for Congress in 2014 and 2016 . The group, named for the first three digits of Pi, aims to do for candidates with scientific backgrounds what EMILY’s List has done for pro-choice women—funding, recruiting, and training candidates at every level of government. So far 6,000 scientists have reached out to the group about running for federal, state, and local offices; and 314 plans to also back candidates in three dozen school board races this fall. Washington has plenty of lawyers; maybe it’s time for a fresh experiment.

“Traditionally the attitude has been that science is above politics, and therefore scientists shouldn’t get involved in politics, and what that ignores is the fact that politicians are unashamed to meddle in science,” says Naughton. “The way we push back against that is to hold a seat at the table.”

The ranks of scientists in Congress have been thin in recent years. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) was a high-energy particle physicist at Fermi National Laboratory in the district he now represents. Until recently the dean of the bunch was Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, an astrophysicist who retired in 2014 and now serves as CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The only STEM field that’s well represented in Congress is medicine; there are 14 physicians between the House and the Senate, but most are Republicans who have shown more of a commitment to conservative dogma than scientific best practices. (Former Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun, a doctor, infamously referred to evolutionary biology as a lie “from the pit of hell.”)

One result of the dearth of scientists has been a Congress that is often ignorant of the scientific perspective, not just on obvious issues like climate change—Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the chair of the House Science Committee has called it a myth propagated by “so-called, self-professed climate scientists” and subpoenaed emails from government-funded climatologists—but on virtually every subject that comes up.

“When the Help America Vote Act was passed after the 2000 election, nobody thought that was a science issue—who thought anybody would hack election computers?” Holt says. “Right from the start, I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, you passed a bill that encouraged jurisdictions all over the country to move to electronic voting machines that are simple, easy to use, and completely unverifiable. If you had cleared that with some computer scientists before writing the bill, you would have realized that having unauditable elections is not smart.’”

In some sense scientists were victims of their own success. The growth of government-funded science over the last half century through everything from the National Institutes of Health to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has helped thousands of researchers carve out careers. But it has also incentivized scientists to put their heads down and keep quiet, lest they jeopardize that funding.

“On average, scientists are not particularly outgoing and are psychologically not conditioned for this sort of thing,” Holt says. But just as importantly, “the entire rewards system of science doesn’t encourage social or political involvement.” Getting more scientists in the House requires knocking down their preconceptions about how people in STEM should approach public life.

One reason for the political awakening is Trump himself. Even before taking office his transition staff roiled the scientific community when it asked the Department of Energy for a list of staffers who had worked on global warming; the anticipated purge never materialized, but the Trump DOE has issued guidelines instructing employees not to use terms like “emissions reductions” and even brags on its agency Twitter account that Secretary Rick Perry is winning the “fight” with climate scientists. Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt has jettisoned dozens of members of his agency’s scientific advisory board.

Trump has defied scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and placed unqualified friends and allies in charge of departments responsible for doling out billions in funding. His proposed travel ban would bring the hammer down on international researchers. And he has called for steep budget cuts that would more than decimate research budgets and send scientists looking for new sources of funding or risk abandoning their projects. And all that is just six months in.

Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist seeking the Democratic nomination in the Southern California district represented by Republican Steve Knight, decided to run when she saw that the public lands where she’s done much of her research were at risk of losing their protections in the Trump era.

Phoenix has traveled around the world studying lava flows, but “it’s fair to say the Mojave is where I fell in love with science,” she says. Her first research project was in Death Valley National Park, and she runs an educational nonprofit for grade-school students that’s based in the Mojave National Preserve. The newly created Mojave Desert National Monument was among several dozen sites being reviewed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for delisting or possible downsizing.

Like Phoenix, many of the science candidates are running in districts with a high percentage of voters with college degrees. Elaine DiMasi, a physicist who is on leave from Brookhaven National Laboratory, is preparing to run against Long Island Republican Lee Zeldin. Jason Westin, an oncologist and researcher at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, is running against Texas Republican Rep. John Culberson in part because he’s worried about what NIH cuts would mean for him and his colleagues. Stem-cell scientist Hans Keirstead is the leading challenger to take on longtime Orange County Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, whose district was carried by Hillary Clinton last fall. Joseph Kosper, an aerospace engineer and Army veteran, is one of eight Democrats running against Lamar Smith in a district that includes the University of Texas. All four of those challengers have been in talks with 314 PAC.

In June, not long after her Republican congressman, Ed Royce, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, California pediatrician Mai-Khanh Tran switched her office hours to part-time and announced she was running for his Orange County seat.

“I felt like my heart was gripped by this overwhelming pain,” says Tran, who spends part of her year treating lepers in her native Vietnam. “But I went to work and one of the first patients I saw in the office was a patient with a very severe illness—she had a brain tumor.” The girl’s mother, who worked at a nail salon, had been able to get health insurance through a subsidy provided by the Affordable Care Act. “We were hugging each other, crying—we really thought that our lives and a lot of our patients would be affected very soon. I didn’t realize how soon.”

Trump’s election was an energizing moment for Tran not just because of her place in the health care system, but because in addition to being a pediatrician and leprosy researcher, Tran is also a refugee.

She left Vietnam when she was nine on one of last “Orphan airlift” flights out of the country before the United States evacuated Saigon. Her father had dropped Tran and two siblings off at an orphanage because it offered the best chance of survival. (They would later reunite in Oregon.) “I kept thinking, ‘What on Earth is he wearing sunglasses for?’” she said of their parting. “’He’s such a proper man, why is he wearing sunglasses?’ And it dawned on me years later that he didn’t want us to see him cry.”

Tran’s flight was filled with orphans and handicapped children. When they finally landed she remembers being carried off the plane by a Marine; the nature of her arrival in the country was formative in her decision to get into medicine but also in her political outlook.

“When I see that picture of that little Syrian boy, I remember thinking I was just as scared as he was once,” she said, referring to the now-iconic photo of Omran Daqneesh sitting dazed and bloodied in the back of an Aleppo ambulance. “I don’t know why I was any more deserving of being in this country.”

Tran has a head of steam in Royce’s Southern California district. In July, she picked up the endorsement of EMILY’s List. But in a sign of the changing currents in her field, she isn’t even the only scientist in the Democratic primary to take on Royce. To get to the general election, she first has to get past a group of challengers that includes Phil Janowicz, a former Cal State Fullerton chemistry professor who left his job at the education company McGraw-Hill the morning after the election to begin planning for his campaign. Like Tran, Janowicz has been in touch with 314; he flew to DC in April for the group’s first candidate training. His slogan: “Solutions for Congress.”

First fake news, now EPA-funded fake science

The explosive admission that fake science was used in EPA-funded air pollution studies by Duke University researchers bolsters an effort by Republicans to bring honesty and transparency to the agency’s regulations.

Duke University acknowledged a scientist used fake experimental data in research studies on air pollution and lung function. Numerous published studies were retracted because of data manipulation that was either fabricated or falsified.

The scientific scandal was revealed by a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Thomas Joseph — a former research colleague of biologist Erin Potts-Kant. Joseph claimed Potts-Kant manipulated data and the information was included in published scientific reports and grant applications.

According to Joseph, the fake data was used to obtain $200 million in federal grants. The revelation that fake data was used in air pollution research supports the public policy objective of transparent science led by Representative Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

For years, Smith questioned environmental research results on issues ranging from climate change to air pollution, and his quest to obtain the data from studies met significant resistance from the EPA and government-funded scientists.

In 2013, Smith led the effort for the House Science Committee to subpoena the EPA for the underlying data from studies that serve as the foundation of the agency’s air pollution regulations. The Science Committee also issued a subpoena to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for documents and emails relating to a study it published that challenged the finding of a pause in global warming.

Smith is leading the charge to ensure that EPA regulations are based on science that is transparent and reproducible, even going so far as to introduce H.R. 1430, the “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017,” which passed the House of Representatives 228-194 in March.

The HONEST Act prevents the EPA from “proposing, finalizing, or disseminating” regulations unless the underlying scientific information is publicly available. The bill would provide transparency to scientific research and allow other scientists to examine and validate the studies before the EPA could issue regulations.

A similar bill called the “Secret Science Reform Act of 2014,” passed the House in 2014 and unsurprisingly faced strong opposition from the Obama administration.

Since EPA-funded health effects studies are used to support the agency regulations that cost the industry hundreds of billions of dollars in compliance costs, it makes perfect sense to make sure the research is reproducible and most certainly not fake.

As Smith noted in the Wall Street Journal, new ozone standards being discussed at the time could cost “up to $90 billion per year in compliance costs.” Despite the enormous cost, the EPA would not reveal the underlying science that supported the regulation. Of note, the retracted studies from Duke University included research on the health effects of ozone.

But despite the common sense of supporting legislation that would ensure the accuracy and integrity of science used to justify regulations, the bill was slammed by scientists, Democrats, and their allies in the left-wing media.

A former EPA assistant administrator said the bill should be called the “(dis)Honest Act because, ‘The true goal is to pay consultants to nitpick among study details to find meaningless blemishes which can then be exaggerated into allegedly fatal scars.’”

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy commented, “They’re really designed to prevent us from getting the information we need to protect public health.”

Representative Bill Foster, D-Ill., also a physicist, said, “Scientists should set the standards for research. Not politicians.”

The media went all out in attacking Smith’s effort to bring sound science to the EPA. Mother Jones called the bill an “inquisition,” and the New Republic went so far as to call it a “war on science.”

The whining from the Left must not deter Republicans from supporting President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda, and The HONEST Act must go to the top of the list for Senate action.

Regulations must be based on real science, not fake science.

While there are no easy fixes for fake news, the solution for tackling fake science is making sure the underlying data is publicly available. It’s that simple.

https://www.conservativereview.com/articles/first-fake-news-now-epa-funded-fake-science

APS: What Life is like as a Scientist in Congress

Every politician develops a narrative about why they turned to public service. As the only Ph.D. physical scientist remaining in the U.S. Congress, I spend a fair amount of time trying to recruit my future replacement(s). The following is drawn from a presentation—really a recruiting talk—that I have given everywhere from the Yale Physics Department to junior high schools in my district. It is a personal narrative of my well-trodden path from theatrical stage lighting, to high-energy particle physics, to the U.S. Congress. Its aim is to plant a seed that may someday germinate to convince a few good scientists, after enjoying the career possibilities in science, technology, and business, to spend part of their lives in public service.

My story starts when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate studying physics at the University of Wisconsin, when my brother and I started a company in our basement to build computerized theater lighting controls. This was at the dawn of the microprocessor era, when the name of the game was to squeeze every ounce of performance out of 1 MHz microprocessors with 8-bit data paths. After many near-death experiences, and thanks to decades of wise leadership from my brother, our company is now the most successful lighting company in the country. Today, it employs nearly a thousand people and manufactures in the Midwest. Our technology has been used on Broadway shows, Rolling Stones tours, Olympic ceremonies, and at hundreds of churches, schools, and community theatres across the country. In many audiences, though, I have found that all of these accomplishments are eclipsed by the fact that in the early 1980s, I designed and programmed the control system for the Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade.

As my attention span in business seemed to be limited to less than 10 years, I soon returned to my first love and entered graduate school to study physics. At Harvard, I studied under Professor Larry Sulak, the inventor of the large ring-imaging water Cerenkov detectors and their use for studying neutrino oscillations and proton decay. My Ph.D. thesis involved the construction, instrumentation, and data analysis of the IMB (Irvine-Michigan-Brookhaven) Detector, and the (non)discovery of proton decay through the channel P → e+ + π0 predicted by the SU(5) Grand Unified Theories favored at the time. Although our experiment did not discover proton decay, it scored a significant unanticipated success when it was one of three experiments to observe the burst of neutrinos from SN1987a, a supernova that occurred 158,000 years ago in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

After receiving my Ph.D., I spent the next 23 years at Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Illinois, then the highest-energy particle accelerator in the world. The first decade was spent designing, building, and analyzing the data from giant particle detectors used to observe the debris from proton-antiproton collisions to observe particles which had not been in existence since the Big Bang. I was a member of the team that discovered the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter, and quite possibly the heaviest particle that will ever be discovered. So in Congress, when we had the Congressional reception celebrating the discovery of the Higgs Boson, I had the honor of congratulating many of my former colleagues at having discovered the second heaviest form of matter!

I spent my second decade at Fermilab designing and building particle accelerators. With my collaborator Gerry Jackson, we invented and designed the Fermilab Antiproton Recycler Ring, which was used to greatly increase the number of collisions and keep the physics program at Fermilab’s Tevatron competitive until the end of its lifetime. With a large team of collaborators, I also helped design and build prototype elements of future, large Hadron colliders.

At this point in my presentation, I almost always get asked the following question: After a reasonably successful career as a businessman and scientist, why, on God’s green Earth, would I decide to enter politics, especially as it is practiced in the United States today?

My quick answer is that I tragically fell prey to my family’s recessive gene for adult onset political activism. My parents met on Capitol Hill in the 1950s when my mother worked for Senator Paul Douglas, known to economists as the co-inventor of the Cobb-Douglas production function. Like me, my father was trained as a scientist, and during World War II he designed fire control computers for the Navy. During his service, he started getting reports on how many people were killed each week by the equipment his team built. He became very unhappy at the idea of his scientific skills being used that way. When he came back from the war, he decided to spend part of his life in service to his fellow man. He became a civil rights lawyer and went on to write much of the enforcement language behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the greatest steps forward for human rights in the history of our country.

After my father passed away, I began to read his papers, and they prompted me to begin contemplating a question that science cannot really answer for you: What fraction of your life should you spend in service of your fellow man?

For me, the idea of not spending a significant fraction of my life in service to my fellow man did not feel right. And that’s why I decided to run for Congress in the special election to replace former Speaker of the U.S. House, Dennis Hastert, in 2008. Before I committed to running, I volunteered on candidate Patrick Murphy’s campaign and then served as a 51-year-old intern in newly-elected Congressman Patrick Murphy’s office. So I like to say that I started the 110th Congress as an intern and ended it as a sitting Congressman. (So no one should think that an internship won’t get you anywhere.)

On the campaign trail, I learned that there is a long list of neurons that you have to deaden to convert a scientist’s brain into a politician’s. When you speak with voters, you must lead with conclusions rather than complex analysis of underlying evidence—something that is very unnatural to a scientist. You also have to repeat your main campaign message over and over again, since you will be lucky if a typical voter will hear you speak for a few seconds—and those few seconds have to include your campaign message.

Life as a Member of Congress requires dedication and a heavily scheduled day. In Washington, DC, I attend committee hearings, meet with constituents, and, of course, evaluate and vote on legislation. It requires a huge amount of reading. I serve on two committees—the Financial Services Committee and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Almost every weekend, I return to Illinois for meetings with constituents and to attend public events.

When I entered Congress in 2008, our country was reeling from the Great Recession. Millions of families had lost their homes, jobs, and economic security. As a Member of the Financial Services Committee, I was proud to help craft the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill, because competent regulation is essential to prevent another crisis.

On the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I’ve helped bring issues to the committee’s attention that I think require us to act. One example is the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology discovered in 2012. This technology raises the prospect for cures for diseases like sickle-cell anemia, but also has the potential to disrupt society. At my urging, the Science Committee held a hearing on this topic, and I have been told that it was one of the best-attended hearings in the committee’s history.

As the only Ph.D. physicist in Congress, my background became important during the debate of the Iran Nuclear Deal. During this time, I had over a dozen classified briefings, many of them individual briefing by the technical experts at the Departments of Energy, State, and Treasury, and intelligence agencies. Because of the technical complexity of the agreement, members of both parties would routinely ask my opinion on aspects of the proposed agreement. Ultimately, my support was based on verification and science, not trust of the Iranian regime.

Defending the science budgets during the annual appropriation cycle is an ongoing challenge. Many members of Congress make the mistake of seeing science as an enterprise that can be stopped and restarted at will—like road construction or equipment purchases. They do not appreciate the damage that can be done to a scientific enterprise in a single budget cycle, where projects and careers that take decades to build can be irreversibly destroyed in a single fiscal year.

I want to close by emphasizing that we need people with strong scientific backgrounds, not just in Congress, but at all levels of elected office as well as our federal agencies. We need scientists and engineers on our school boards and city councils just as much as we need them in Washington. No matter what party you lean towards, if you have any interest in starting down this path, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Congressman Bill Foster represents the 11th District in Illinois.

https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201706/backpage.cfm

Breitbart: Dems Agree with Putin, Communist China on Paris Climate Change Agreement

President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the United States will not comply with the Paris Climate Change Agreement agreed to by former President Barack Obama in 2015 without the consent of Congress. Not everyone agrees with the decision, including Democrats, Vladimir Putin and the communist Chinese government.

“The Russian Government has said it supports the Paris Agreement on climate change ahead of Donald Trump’s expected announcement that he will withdraw the US from the landmark accord,” the UK Independent reported on Thursday.

The Kremlin said the deal, which seeks to limit global warming to as close to a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase as possible, would be less effective without the participation of major countries, Reuters reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters that “President (Vladimir) Putin signed this convention in Paris. Russia attaches great significance to it.

“At the same time, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of this convention is likely to be reduced without its key participants,” Peskov said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said there was an “international responsibility” for countries to take action over climate change during a trip to Europe for talks with European Union officials.

The communist leader also claimed there is a “global consensus” on the need to fight climate change.

“In an unprecedented step, the European Union and China are to release a joint statement in a sign of the increasing closeness between Brussels and Beijing – and the widening divide between Brussels and Washington under Mr Trump,” the Independent reported.

Meanwhile, Democrats have launched a war of words since the moment Trump made the announcement, including former President Barack Obama.

“Even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got,” Obama said in a statement.

In a statement, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said the decision “could go down as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history.”

Rep. Bill Foster (D-ILL), told the Mic website it will be devastating for the country and the environment.

“If you’re a scientist and you stand up and say something you know is not true, it is a career-ending move,” Foster said. “I lost count of the number of objectively false statements the president made … the fact-checkers will have a field day.”

“President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is a catastrophic mistake that puts the short-sighted interests of his friends in the fossil fuel industry ahead of the safety and security of American people and the future of our planet,” Sen Al Franken (D-MN) said.

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/06/02/dems-agree-with-putin-communist-china-on-paris-climate-change-agreement/

Foster Statement on President Trump Withdrawing From Paris Climate Accord

Naperville, IL – Today, Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) released the following statement on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord:

“Earlier today, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, the multinational environmental agreement aimed at addressing climate change. The agreement is currently signed by almost 200 nations around the globe.

This decision is further proof that President only believes alternative facts. The world looks to the United States in times of crisis, and President Trump’s leadership not only undermines this country’s ability to be a responsible leader, but endangers the future of our planet.

As the last Ph.D. Scientist in Congress, I can attest to the fact that the science is clear – climate change is real, and largely man made. I will do everything I can as a member of the United States House of Representatives to hold both the President and his Republican Congressional allies accountable for this reckless gamble to our planet’s future.”

Popular Science: House Science Committee members just sent a letter to President Trump insisting he stop relying on fake news

Members of the House of Representative Committee on Science, Space & Technology—including representative Don Beyer (VA), Jacky Rosen (NV), Mark Takano (CA), and a number of other Democrats—have signed and submitted a letter to President Trump expressing concern over the President’s methods of receiving scientific information. The letter states that by failing to appoint a qualified director to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy or adequately staff the department, the President has left himself vulnerable to “misinformation and fake news,” noting that Trump has, “a tool at your disposal in this regard, should you wish to make use of it, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which, under your administration, has been left largely unstaffed and without a director.”

Congress created the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act in 1976 with the goal of providing the President and those within the Executive Office quality advice on the creation and modification of policies that directly affect science and technology. The role was first created informally under President Kennedy, whose staff recognized a need for scientific expertise to guide his decision making on issues like the NASA moon mission and evolving medical and military technologies.

“The Trump Administration has been defined by chaos and alternate facts, but it has also consistently shown total disregard for science,” Beyer told Popular Science. “Trump himself famously called climate change a Chinese hoax, so it’s not surprising that he has been repeatedly taken in by false stories that may reinforce his worldview but bear no resemblance to the truth. We are urging him to appoint reliable staff informed by sound science, including a Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, so that he can at least give himself better access to accurate information which we hope will lead to better policies.”

The letter is not the first time that the administration has received criticism over its apparent disregard for science and the scientific process. The President’s rumored choice for the role of lead scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture is Sam Clovis, a talk show host with a doctorate degree in public administration—not in a scientific field. Previous undersecretaries have been experts in nutrition or public health, or held degrees in biochemistry or plant physiology.

In addition, earlier this month the EPA dismissed several members of its science advisory board while the Department of the Interior placed its own “under review”. Although members typically serve for two to three years, many of these members were dismissed after having served only one. Statements made by members of the administration suggest that they will be replaced by scientists that are more closely tied to industry, which has many concerned that the board will act in the best interest of corporations and not of the American people.

The actions are alarming enough that on Thursday, 70 members of Congress led by Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Bill Foster (D-IL) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt concerning the recent dismissal of several members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors. The letter states that, “We are alarmed at the signal this sends about both the priorities of the EPA and about its willingness to protect the environment.”

“There have always been a few industry folks on the science advisory board,” says Granger Morgan. Morgan is the Hamerschlag University Professor of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and a former chair of the EPA Science Advisory Board. “The selection criteria have always been to find the people with the very best science. And you need a diversity of science expertise because the agency works across a whole wide range of things, but informally staff has always tried to make sure they balance in other respects as well, with folks in industry.”

Members of the science advisory board include academic scientists as well as researchers for corporations, including Proctor and Gamble and Exxon Mobil. You can get a taste of what these panels are like by reading a transcript.

“No scientific advisory body I know has ever been anti-industry, and I’ve studied quite a number of these bodies over the years,” echoes Sheila Jasanoff a Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard University who literally wrote the book on science advisory panels. “Even in the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, there’s always a balance, and the federal advisory committee act says that there should be a fair balance in terms of the interests represented.” Science advisory boards were created in recognition of the fact that scientific outcomes aren’t black and white. Scientists can reach a consensus on issues they’ve thoroughly investigated, but the policies that should follow aren’t always cut and dry. A drug with a laundry list of side effects, for example, may be intolerable for treating a cold but perfectly acceptable for treating life threatening diseases. The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, for example, was created by Congress in 1978, after a generation of American wildlife was systematically poisoned by herbicides and pesticides that were supposed to make life better for Americans. Those organochloride pesticides still persist in the environment. “The [EPA] Science advisory board does basically two things,” says Morgan. “First, it reviews major agency products—if the agency does a piece of analysis for a new regulation or something like that, then the science advisory board is typically asked to look at it and provide commentary on whether they’ve got the science right, whether the analysis was done correctly. It doesn’t make policy prescriptions.”

Science advisory boards tackle the question of, “how do you bridge uncertainty in a complex society where you can’t know everything?” says Jasanoff. “For that you need balance.” “What we’re seeing right now are things that are pathological and problematic,” she adds. “One is targeting specific individuals, which is always a bit suspect in the science world. And two, a replacement of one type of stakeholder with another, instead of recognizing that it’s the multiplicity of the stakeholders that produces the reliability of the knowledge.”

Without this kind of balanced, outside perspective, misinformation thrives.

The House letter states that “Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration,” pointing to a May 15, 2017 Politico article which notes that Trump’s “Deputy National Security Advisor passed along printouts of two Time magazine cover stories—one, a previously identified and debunked internet hoax purporting to be from the 1970s warning of a coming ice age, and the other, from 2008, a special report on global warming, with the intention of undermining concern about climate change.”

Of course, the representatives responsible for the letter don’t speak for all members of the committee. In fact, the committee’s official Twitter account often disseminates the sort of anti-science news Beyer and co. are trying to get off of the President’s desk.

Here’s the full text obtained by PopSci:

Dear President Trump:

We are concerned about the process by which you receive information. According to a story reported by Politico on May 15, 2017, your Deputy National Security Advisor passed along printouts of two Time magazine cover stories – one, a previously identified and debunked internet hoax purporting to be from the 1970s warning of a coming ice age, and the other, from 2008, a special report on global warming, with the intention of undermining concern about climate change.

Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration. You previously made the false claim that President Obama ordered your phones to be “tapped” based on false reports which have subsequently been contradicted by senior U.S. intelligence officials. You also falsely stated that millions of votes were cast against you “illegally” after reading about subsequently-debunked “research” pushed by alt-right websites. This, by no means, is a comprehensive list of your activities peddling fake news.

Where scientific policy is concerned, the White House should make use of the latest, most broadly-supported science. You have a tool at your disposal in this regard, should you wish to make use of it, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which, under your administration, has been left largely unstaffed and without a director. If you appoint a qualified OSTP Director, you will have a reliable source of policy advice for matters related to science and technology, which forms the bedrock of our national security and economic power.

Until the OSTP is adequately staffed and the director position filled by a qualified, objective scientist who understands the difference between alternative news peddled on alt-right websites and legitimate well-vetted scientific facts, we fear that you will continue to be vulnerable to misinformation and fake news. Relying on factual technical and scientific data has helped make America the greatest nation in the world. We therefore urge you to quickly appoint a qualified, widely-respected candidate to direct OSTP. Furthermore, it’s critical that anyone you nominate represent the views of the broader scientific community, as was the case for both Presidents Bush and Obama.

http://www.popsci.com/house-science-committee-letter

STAT: Science committee Dems to Trump: Stop with the fake news and get a science adviser

WASHINGTON — Several Democrats on the House Science Committee are scolding President Trump for his belief in fake news stories, tying that belief to the lack of scientific leadership in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Until the OSTP is adequately staffed and the director position filled by a qualified, objective scientist who understands the difference between alternative news peddled on alt-right websites and legitimate well-vetted scientific facts, we fear that you will continue to be vulnerable to misinformation and fake news,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the White House on Thursday.

The group of seven Democrats was led by Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, one of two members of Congress to attend the March for Science in Washington last month and an outspoken voice against the Trump administration’s climate policies. Representatives Bill Foster of Illinois and Jerry McNerney of California, who hold PhDs in physics and mathematics, respectively, also signed the letter.

“Where scientific policy is concerned, the White House should make use of the latest, most broadly-supported science,” the letter continues. “You have a tool at your disposal in this regard, should you wish to make use of it, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.”

The office has been without a head and mostly unstaffed for months.

The letter is illustrative of the deep partisan divide within the science committee, chaired by Representative Lamar Smith of Texas. In the last congress, Smith championed legislation to codify a “national interest” requirement for grants awarded by the National Science Foundation. While the science committee does not oversee the National Institutes of Health, Smith also commended Trump’s budget blueprint in May, which suggested a $5.8 billion reduction in NIH funding.

The President has yet to appoint a top science advisor and has made no announcements regarding the selection process. The White House, nonetheless, has continued science-centered discussions, hosting NIH Director Francis Collins and a number of biomedical researchers for a meeting last week. It also announced last month that it would continue the White House Science Fair, a tradition that former President Barack Obama started in his first term.

John Holdren, who held the office under Obama, wrote in an op-ed last month that without a director, “OSTP has been limping along with a skeleton crew of career civil servants and exactly one member of the Trump ‘landing team’ in residence.”

New York Times: Under Fire, Climate Scientists Unite With Lawyers to Fight Back

Lawyers and scientists do not always get along, but some are now finding common cause in an effort to defend the integrity of science — especially climate science — in government and academia.

Climate scientists are feeling the heat as Republicans cement control of the executive branch and Congress. The Trump administration has already rolled back about two dozen environmental laws and regulations, dismissed members of an important science panel and taken down web pages giving information on climate change. Republicans in Congress have also brought pressure to bear on climate scientists.

Now scientists and lawyers are fighting back, with well-attended public demonstrations and legal action. The push included a recent conference that brought law professors from across the United States to New York for training to protect scientists who come under scrutiny.

Scientists have found themselves the targets of investigations from those who deny the evidence of climate change — most notably in the 2009 scandal known as Climategate, when hackers stole and released internal research discussions. Global warming denialists took comments out of context to allege widespread scientific fraud.

Subsequent efforts to mine internal emails have been undertaken by conservative organizations like the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute and Judicial Watch, as well as conservative public officials like Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a former Virginia attorney general.

When the Environmental Protection Agency removed the climate-related web pages, it announced that it was reviewing and revising portions of its website in ways “that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt.”

Judith Enck, a former top E.P.A. official who is critical of the agency’s new direction, said its online presence “now looks like the National Mining Association website.”

In Congress this month, two Republican representatives, Rob Bishop of Utah and Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke saying they would review climate change adaptation programs at his agency to examine the “effectiveness, management and levels of oversight” of the programs.

Other conservatives in Congress took aim at climate researchers well before the 2016 election. Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Science Committee, last year subpoenaed federal climate scientists whose work supporting the evidence of a warming planet shows what he has called a “suspect climate agenda.”

Actions by the Trump administration have been met with anger, lawsuits and friend-of-the-court briefs. A group of former Obama administration lawyers has filed lawsuits seeking information about charges of bullying of civil servants and scientists who work on climate issues.

David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former top prosecutor of environmental crimes at the Justice Department, has taken part in several such efforts, including briefs filed before Mr. Trump took office. He said the work was important both as an attempt to preserve environmental progress and as a message to his students.

In November, many of his students expressed dismay over the election results “and their concern that everything they came to law school for no longer mattered,” Professor Uhlmann said. “My message to them was, ‘Everything you came to law school for matters more than ever before.’”

Other lawyers are stepping up to protect dozens of climate scientists who have been targeted by private conservative groups demanding their personal emails and other documents. The groups, which dispute the powerful evidence underlying climate change science, use the tactic to unearth embarrassing and inartful language in private correspondence and then publicize it.

Those filing the document requests say they are trying to ferret out politicized, sloppy science and fraud. David Schnare, an official at the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute, said, “The legislatures give the citizens a right to know, and for good reasons — and there are good reasons for citizens to find out what’s going on.” Mr. Schnare, who was a longtime E.P.A. employee, briefly served in the Trump administration’s transition team at the agency; the group receives funding from the fossil fuel industry.

The tactic can be “a P.R. home run,” said Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University who received one such demand in 2012. He said he recognized the filing as “a fishing expedition” intended to “find anything that makes climate scientists look foolish, or corrupt, or biased or stupid — anything that can cast doubt on climate science.”

Dr. Dessler cited the Climategate emails, which included discussion of the work of Michael E. Mann, now a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, with phrases like “Mike’s Nature trick” and a technique to “hide the decline,” which conservative commentators publicized as proof of fraud in climate science.

The phrases, which were taken out of context, did not involve fraud, and several investigations have cleared the scientists of allegations that they manipulated research to meet their predetermined expectations. Still, Climategate was used to smear the scientists; President Trump has cited the “horrible emails” as a reason for doubting the threat of climate change.

The law professors who came to New York for training attended classes taught by the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.

The fund was created in 2012 in response to litigation by Mr. Cuccinelli that also involved Dr. Mann’s emails. Dr. Mann would eventually win that case, but by then, the burdensome litigation had run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills for Dr. Mann and the University of Virginia, his employer at the time.

In light of those costs, the defense fund got its start. What had been an informal referral network for scientists facing legal pressure took on structure and financing. Mr. Trump’s election has provided a boost to the defense fund, said Joshua Wolfe, a founder.

“We’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the number of checks that came in postelection,” he said. And while he noted that “we didn’t build the organization for the Trump era,” the previous cases “really prepared the organization for the current set of challenges.”

The New York conference kicked off an effort to build a nationwide network of legal aid providers. Participants heard lectures on open records laws and were warned that the climate fight could be brutal, with online harassment and death threats common for researchers.

One law professor attending the conference, Myanna Dellinger of the University of South Dakota, said her own environmental legal scholarship had prompted attacks from conservatives, so “if I could help others who might be in the same situation, I would like to do so.”

Emphasizing that she spoke only for herself and not for her institution, she added: “It would be easy to sit and do nothing and write about tax law. But some of us have to do something.”