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Obama official urges scientists to ‘fight disinformation’ under Trump

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell tours the Acoma Pueblo Indian reservation west of Albuquerque on Dec. 8. (Mary Hudetz/AP)

Researchers must “fight disinformation” about science during the Trump administration, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in an address before hundreds of scientists on Wednesday.

“Make your voices heard and make them relevant to the people you are talking to,” she said at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco — the largest gathering of Earth scientists in the world and the first major meeting of climate researchers since Donald Trump's election as president last month.

Speaking to reporters just after the speech, Jewell made her call even clearer: “I encourage people to speak up and to talk about the importance of scientific integrity, and if they see that being undermined to say something about it,” she said.

Jewell never mentioned Trump by name in her speech, but everyone in the room knew what she was talking about. On Sunday, the president-elect said that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real. Many of his picks for Cabinet positions have strong ties to the oil and gas industry and are hostile to the scientific consensus on climate change. Last week, news emerged that Trump's transition team had asked the Energy Department to supply names of employees who do climate research — a request the agency denied.

Jewell called climate change “the most pressing issue of our time” and lauded the work of government scientists in helping the nation deal with the effects of global warming.

“Your science matters,” she told her audience, many of whom work for government organizations like the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service.  “We would hope that we would not still have to be making the case that climate change is real. . . . but I urge you to stay the course and keep up your commitment to your work.”

She suggested that scientists could make a business case for climate change research to members of the new administration.

“Nobody wants to build a building in harm's way,” she said. “We cannot make smart investments without sound science, and business people will understand that.”

Introducing Jewell, AGU Executive Director Christine McEntee obliquely acknowledged that the group's members are worried that the Trump administration won't respect scientific integrity or rigorous research. On Tuesday, several hundred conference attendees had joined a rally to “stand up for science,” at which they pledged to speak out if the new administration suppressed or ignored climate research.

“During times of uncertainty and change, science and U.S. scientists must not hide,” McEntee said.

Jewell noted that the Interior Department had established a scientific integrity policy in 2011 to ensure that research meets rigorous standards.

“My successor would be crazy to say, 'Oh, never mind'” about that policy, she said. “That work will help ensure that science remains in its rightful place at the table, not just now but for years to come.”