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White House climate official sanctioned by prestigious science body

The National Academy of Sciences said Jane Lubchenco violated its code of conduct before joining the Biden administration

A view of the north entrance of the White House on Aug. 5. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The nation’s most prestigious scientific body said Tuesday that it has barred a key White House official focused on climate change, Jane Lubchenco, from participating in its publications and activities for five years.

The decision by the National Academy of Sciences marks a rare rebuke of Lubchenco, a marine ecologist who serves as deputy director for climate and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The NAS said Lubchenco violated its code of conduct before joining the Biden administration last year.

While serving as an editor for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lubchenco accepted an article for publication that was later retracted because it relied on outdated data, and because she has a personal relationship with one of the authors, who is her brother-in-law.

“I accept these sanctions for my error in judgment in editing a paper authored by some of my research collaborators — an error for which I have publicly stated my regret,” Lubchenco said in a statement.

An NAS spokeswoman confirmed that the sanctions were related to the retraction. A spokeswoman for the White House science office declined to comment further.

Axios first reported the move Tuesday.

Congressional Republicans had previously voiced concern about the incident, saying Lubchenco’s actions appeared to violate the administration’s scientific integrity principles.

“As an editor at PNAS, Dr. Lubchenco demonstrated a clear disregard for rules meant to prevent conflicts of interest in publishing peer-reviewed studies,” Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee wrote in a February letter to President Biden. “Now, Dr. Lubchenco is playing a leading role in developing and overseeing this Administration’s best practices for scientific integrity.”

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The Office of Science and Technology Policy was established in 1976 and is responsible for overseeing the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates climate research across 13 federal agencies. Every four years, this program produces the federal government’s most definitive and comprehensive report on climate science, known as the National Climate Assessment. The fifth such report is expected next year.

Lubchenco, who ran the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during President Barack Obama’s first term, presided in February over a first-of-its-kind roundtable with some of the nation’s leading climate scientists. The discussion centered on the urgent need to combat global warming and to counter arguments for delaying climate action.

“Clearly, we see tangible evidence of climate change all around us with sea-level rise, increases in extreme heat, increases in drought, wildfires, ocean acidification [and] floods,” Lubchenco told The Washington Post at the time.

“What we’re seeing now is a result of past inaction,” she said. “That past inaction is haunting us. And so the question is, how do we accelerate effective action?”

The White House science office was rocked by scandal earlier this year when Eric Lander, Biden’s top science adviser, resigned as director after an internal review found that he bullied and demeaned staffers. Lander apologized for mistreating subordinates in a note to staff. Biden in June announced his intent to nominate Arati Prabhakar to lead that office.

If confirmed by the Senate, Prabhakar would be the first woman, immigrant or person of color to head the office.

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