Report: Trump Admin. Suppressing Media Access of Government Scientists
A new Trump administration protocol requires U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists to run interview requests with the Department of the Interior, its parent agency, before speaking to journalists, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The move is a departure from past media practices that allowed government scientists to quickly respond to journalists' inquiries, according to unnamed USGS employees interviewed by the Times.
The scientists fear the new rule would give taxpayers less exposure to USGS expertise, as journalists would seek scientific comments elsewhere.
"In the 44 years I was with the agency, I was never required to go through anyone for authorization to speak with a reporter," William Ellsworth, a former USGS scientist who is now at Stanford University told the Times. "The USGS is a nonpolitical science agency ... These new roadblocks will not help them fulfill their mission."
Scientists with USGS study the country's landscape, its natural resources and its natural hazards. The department also measures and analyzes natural and man-made factors that contribute to climate change—an issue that has become increasingly partisan since Donald Trump became president.
The LA Times cited a April 25 email from Interior press secretary Heather Swift stating that it is standard procedure for scientists to first obtain approval for interviews with media outlets when the topics are considered "very controversial or ... likely to become a national story."
The new policy also allows Interior's communications office to turn down interview requests on certain topics, the Times reported.
Faith Vander Voort told the newspaper in an email that "the characterization that there is any new policy or that it for some reason targets scientists is completely false," and that Interior had only asked the USGS public affairs office to follow guidelines established in 2012 under President Obama.
However, the guidelines do not say that scientists must get approval before speaking with reporters.
In fact, a 2015 USGS manual on news release and media relations policy states: "The USGS supports and encourages employees to speak on behalf of the USGS to news media representatives about their official work and freely and openly discuss scientific, scholarly, technical information, findings and conclusions based on their official, published work or area of expertise."
A number of senior employees have left the Interior department headed by former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke. Earlier this year, nearly all members of the National Park Service advisory panel abruptly quit in protest of the Trump administration's policies, which they say have neglected science, climate change and environmental protections.
"We resigned because we were deeply disappointed with the department and we were concerned," the former head of the panel, Tony Knowles, told the New York Times. "[Zinke] appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, pursuing the protection of the ecosystem."
EPA Pulls Scientists From Talk on Climate Change, Highlighting Fears Agency Is 'Muzzling' Staff https://t.co/dStkudkw7N @Connect4Climate— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508793906.0
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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