NOAA Chief Violated Ethics and Scientific Integrity in 'Sharpiegate' Scandal
The string of people who have compromised their professional ethics to cow to President Trump's falsehoods now officially includes the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, who was found to have violated its ethics and its scientific integrity policy when he contradicted and silenced a local National Weather Service office about Hurricane Dorian's path last fall, an independent investigation has found, according to The New York Times.
As a reminder of what happened last September, Hurricane Dorian was churning through the Caribbean, heading for Florida. Before it made landfall, Trump tweeted that Alabama would get hit "harder than anticipated."
Knowing how jarring disaster preparation and evacuations can be, the NOAA's Birmingham office issued a tweet stressing that the state "will NOT see any impacts from Dorian." That led to an unsigned letter from NOAA saying that there was actually a 20 percent chance the hurricane would strike Alabama.
Soon after that, internal NOAA emails showed concern from top officials that politics was interfering in scientific matters, which the agency's acting chief scientist called a danger to public health and safety, as Axios reported.
The controversy came to be known as "Sharpiegate," after Trump showed an altered map that included Alabama's southeast corner in the storm's path.
That led to the current independent investigation. The panel of experts found that Neil Jacobs, NOAA's acting administrator, and former NOAA deputy chief of staff and communications director Julie Kay Roberts, "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," as CNN reported.
Official portrait of NOAA acting administrator Neil Jacobs. NOAA
It turned out that the unsigned letter that contradicted NOAA scientists was a clear example of political loyalty interfering with scientific misinformation. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees NOAA, threatened to fire the political staff at the agency unless the contradiction of Mr. Trump was addressed.
The independent panel said that Jacobs and Roberts twice violated codes of the agency's scientific integrity policy amid their involvement in the Sept. 6 statement, according to The Washington Post.
"It will be clear to anyone reviewing the accounts captured in this highly credible, independent Scientific Integrity report that the political leaders who interfered in our emergency response system need to publicly apologize or resign," said Rep. Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat who made an integrity complaint and is the sponsor of a bill that would increase accountability for such violations across federal science agencies, as The Washington Post reported.
The report that was released yesterday was led by Stephen M. Volz, an assistant administrator at NOAA. He called for the agency to guarantee "the right of NOAA scientists to review, comment, and amend any official communication that relies on their scientific analysis," as The New York Times reported.
The report also called for clear delineation between NOAA's scientific arm and the Department of Commerce, "acknowledging the responsibility for NOAA to own the scientific content and allowing for Commerce to weigh in on policy content."
It's worth noting that the report, which is from the National Academy of Public Administration, had limits on its scope. It was not allowed to interview the Commerce Department officials who demanded the unsigned statement be released, as The Washington Post reported.
That omission bothered Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who told The New York Times the report stopped short of providing accountability. "In the immediate term, there are no consequences for the senior leaders who betrayed their scientific staff," Mr. Halpern said.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.