Trump's nominee for science advisor pledges to protect scientists from political meddling

Nominee says he'll urge Trump to have a more positive attitude toward science.

August 23, 2018, 2:13 PM

President Trump's nominee to lead the office that advises the president on science said he agrees that the administration has shown a "lack of appreciation" for keeping science independent from politics and that, if confirmed, he will lobby the administration to reverse some of its policies.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked President Trump's nominee to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology, Kelvin Droegemeier, if he would advocate for scientific integrity and against the administration "undermining the role of science in public policy, withdrawing from the climate accord, giving industry undue influence in certain decision making, challenges creating a hostile environment for some federal scientists" and reducing public access to scientific information.

Droegemeier said he agreed that everything Blumenthal mentioned are challenges and problems in the administration.

"I agree that all of the things you mentioned are challenges and problems," Droegemeier said. "Science has to be done with integrity so I would either advocate that they be undone or advocate for the positive. Maybe one is the same as the other, but to me, integrity in science is everything. We owe that to the American taxpayer, we owe it to science, and we owe it to the future of our country to be honest and to conduct science in the absolute most honest way, and full of integrity and without being encumbered by political influence."

PHOTO: Participants in the Science March on Washington march along Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, April 22, 2017.
Participants in the Science March on Washington march along Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, April 22, 2017.
Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE

He said he will present unbiased scientific information to the president and work to make sure that politics does not play a role in government research.

Federal agencies have scientific integrity policies that prohibit political appointees from interfering with scientific researchers, but advocacy groups and lawmakers have raised concerns that the Trump administration was stifling research into topics like climate change.

In a survey of scientists working at federal agencies, conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, some researchers, such as those from the Environmental Protection Agency, said that political or business interests were interfering with science-based decisions.

Droegemeier is a meteorologist who currently holds the position of Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology and until recently was vice president of research at the University of Oklahoma. His research focuses on predicting severe storms and tornadoes, and he co-founded a center for storm research at the National Science Foundation in 1994.

As a meteorology student in 1978, he even appeared in an episode of the science Leonard Nimoy-narrated show "In Search Of..." about tornadoes.

Droegemeier said he became interested in meteorology after he witnessed a tornado in Texas when he was 19. In Oklahoma, he focused on improving early warning systems for severe weather — work that Sen. James Inhofe has credited with saving lives in the tornado-prone state.

He told the Senate Commerce Committee that he wants to use his background as a weather forecaster to bring the weather and climate communities together so that they can improve climate forecasts and address climate change, including improving cities' resilience to extreme weather.

"I'm really focused as sort of a guy that does weather modeling at predicting the future. I'm really looking at what we do in the future. So absolutely I'm very excited to work on that. I think we need improvements in climate models. We need lots of things going forward," he said.

Droegemeier has previously been nominated to the National Science Board by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was confirmed both times.

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