Sharpiegate takes yet another turn, illustrating the threat to both science and reality under the Trump administration

Remember how we were talking a few days ago about Trump and his sharpie, and how, instead of just owning up to his misstatement about the path of Hurricane Dorian, he’d doubled down, restating the lie that he’d been told that the hurricane was headed for Alabama, and holding up a crudely doctored weather map to bolster his case? Well, a few things have happened since then that I think are worthy of discussion, as they demonstrate the extent to which science has been politicized under the rule of of Donald Trump.

First, it’s being reported by the Washington Post today that administrators within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an internal directive on September 1, warning members of their staff not to contradict President Trump. This, for those of you might not remember the sequence of events, would have happened immediately after the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, issued a statement saying that, contrary to what the people of Alabama may have heard, their state would “not see any impacts from Dorian”, as the hurricane would remain on the east coast.

As you’ll recall, Trump started all of this in motion last Sunday morning when he tweeted out that Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Dorian, even though no forecasts at the time showed the storm system moving in that direction. And then he continued to talk about the threat posed to Alabama throughout the day, both online and in comments to the press. This, as you might expect, led several people to contact the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, which, in turn, led to the statement being issued about how Alabama would “not see any impacts from Dorian”. And that led to the NOAA internal missive being sent to about how our all-knowing leader should not be contradicted.

A NOAA meteorologist, who spoke with the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, said, “This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast.” This meteorologist then added, “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors, and ultimately that is what was occurring — ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet. That is what they get paid to do.”

So, now we know that, after all of this transpired, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instructed employees of the National Weather Service to remain silent in instances where the President might be wrong about forecasts… a policy which could, if you think about it, theoretically lead to the loss of life.

And, second, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a public statement this past Friday, disavowing the National Weather Service tweet from earlier in the week, which told the people of Alabama that they were not in the path of the hurricane… Here’s that statement.

While the above document wasn’t credited to any one person at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it would appear to have been authored by the agency’s Director of Communications, Julie Kay Roberts, who just happens to have served on Trump’s Inaugural Committee before securing the job at NOAA.

And that’s where we are today. Our weather agencies are being told by Trump appointees within their organizations not to share facts with the American people when they contradict statements made by Donald Trump. And those that do are being attacked.

Here are three of the best quotes I’ve found on this situation thus far.

This looks like classic politically motivated obfuscation to justify inaccurate statements made by the boss. It is truly sad to see political appointees undermining the superb, lifesaving work of NOAA’s talented and dedicated career servant.” -Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator under President Barack Obama

It makes me speechless that the leadership would put [Trump’s] feelings and ego ahead of putting out weather information accurately. If we’re politicizing the weather, what is there left to politicize? We’re seeing this kind of clamp down of scientists across the government, and it’s been an escalating trend.” – Michael Halpern, Union of Concerned Scientists deputy director

I have never been so embarrassed by NOAA. What they did is just disgusting. Let me assure you the hard working employees of the NWS had nothing to do with the utterly disgusting and disingenuous tweet sent out by NOAA management tonight.” – Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service’s labor union

Is any of this surprising? Not really… We’ve known that Trumpism was having a corrosive effect on reality. And we’ve known that science, under the Trump administration, was being politicized. [If you’ll recall, in 2018, there was a survey of scientists working within 16 federal agencies, and it demonstrated, the words of the Washington Post, “a culture of fear and self-censorship in an administration that has sidelined scientific evidence, especially as it related to climate change, in favor of political expediency.”] But this, at least in so far as I can remember, is the first really tangible example we have of federal scientists being ordered en masse to stand down as the President of the United States lies about non-existent threats, and that, I think, deserves to be noted… And the fact that all of this happened just because President Trump couldn’t accept responsibility for making mistake, is absolutely insane.

Oh, and it should be noted that, if this is happening to meteorologists, you can be damn sure it’s also happening to government economists.

One more thing… While many of us here in America are understandably obsessed by Sharpiegate, and what it tells us about both Trump’s incredibly fragile ego and the stranglehold he has on our government, the bigger story today is that thousands of human beings have lost their lives in the Bahamas. If you’re in a position to make a contribution, to help in the recovery efforts, here is a link to the America Red Cross.

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16 Comments

  1. iRobert
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m taking bets on which of our resident Trump supporters jumps ship first. How many folks think it will be HW? Who thinks FF will bail first? Does anyone think EOS ever would?

  2. Dan Pfeiffer by proxy
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    When the agency that tracks hurricanes is forced to lie about a hurricane track because of a Presidential temper tantrum, we are reaching the point of no return.

    https://twitter.com/danpfeiffer/status/1170344462746189825?s=20

  3. Frosted Flakes
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    There were multiple news sources reporting that Alabama might get hit on the day before Trump erroneously claimed that Alabama was predicted (at that time) to be in the path. At the time of Mark’s first post about this it took me about 20 seconds to find day old Alabama news sources claiming they might get hit and that they were predicted to get hit by SOME models. This is a simple fact. This was an easily discoverable fact. I did not say anything because the thread was pretty humorous even though the humor depended upon ignoring a basic fact.

    Does anybody dispute this fact? I don’t see how you can incorporate that fact and still go into full-on gaslight mode like this, so I am assuming people like Mark are ignoring that key fact. Do I have that right?

    http://s.al.com/eNTATTg

  4. Frosted Flakes
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    For what its worth I do think Trump is not handling this situation well. The sharpie thing was a bit crazy. The insecurity/ pettiness on display was kind of crazy. But ignoring basic facts is loco too… Does anybody find anything I just said controversial? I have not invested more than 5 minutes on this and yet I feel like I know more **KEY** info than Mark. Correct me where I am wrong guys….

  5. iRobert
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Well FF, Mark seems to be emphasizing his concern that we have a guy in the White House who has stayed focused on this very trivial detail in the way that a really mentally fucked up person might. Still, I’m hoping it’s HW that jumps ship first.

  6. iRobert
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think EOS can let go. Trump could go on live TV wearing a WWII Nazi officer’s uniform while fucking a goat and eating aborted fetuses and EOS would find a way to stick with him.

  7. iRobert
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Can you imagine waking up one morning in Ann alternate reality where JH was President? That’s kind of how this feels to the rest of us.

  8. Frosted Flakes
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    There is an army of JH’s,MM’s, Lynne’s and JB’s out there…Trump is just the natural, necessary, and inevitable counterbalance to their mode of existence. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that these people actually exist in significant number.

    I haven’t followed this at all really…I got 20 seconds in and thought it was just another fake troll job. Correctly me if I am wrong:

    Fact: Alabama was showing up as an area that might get hit the day prior got Trump’s statement.

    Do we all agree on that simple fact? I am not sure.

  9. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Funny shit: Sharpiegate!!! It’s a big deal!

  10. iRobert
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Oh yes, Alabama was mentioned as potentially in the path, at least that’s how I experienced it in the particular universe from which I am posting comments here. But I’m writing from a bizarro universe where MLK is a respected historic figure, White guys aren’t credited with inventing hate, and the earth is widely believed to be a sphere.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted September 8, 2019 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    From Time magazine: “According to the Associated Press, the National Hurricane Center was reporting [at the time when Trump made his comments about Alabama being in the path of the storm] that parts of Alabama only had a 5% to 10% chance of getting tropical storm level winds.”

    LINK: https://time.com/5671606/trump-hurricane-dorian-alabama/

  12. iRobert
    Posted September 9, 2019 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Now, if only we can keep Trump hyper-focused on this Alabama-Dorian detail for another 16 months, we won’t have to all die in a nuclear war.

  13. Meta
    Posted September 9, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Washington Post: “NOAA’s chief scientist will investigate why agency backed Trump over its experts on Dorian, email shows”

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting chief scientist said in an email to colleagues Sunday that he is investigating whether the agency’s response to President Trump’s Hurricane Dorian tweets constituted a violation of NOAA policies and ethics. Also on Monday, the director of the National Weather Service broke with NOAA leadership over its handling of Trump’s Dorian tweets and statements.

    In an email to NOAA staff that was obtained by The Washington Post, NOAA’s Craig McLean, called the agency’s response “political” and a “danger to public health and safety.”

    Read more:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/09/09/noaas-chief-scientist-will-investigate-why-agency-backed-trump-over-its-experts-dorian-email-shows/

  14. dogmatic dolt
    Posted September 9, 2019 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Aloha, What a racist piece of shit we have for a President. The Andros Islands and Grand Bahama Island are completely devastated. Andros has a population about equal to Ypsi. Nearly every structure on the islands are damaged. Most are uninhabitable. Infrastructure smashed, drinkable water is probably already being rationed. The whole Commonwealth of the Bahamas has population roughly equal to Washtenaw County. Many Bahamians live and travel to Florida constantly. Now when the people need help more than ever, he decides to make it more difficult for them. Read where they were forcing people off evacuation ships because no papers–there houses just got washed away, oh yeah I don’t have my passport.
    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-bahamas-hurricane-dorian-refugees-press-conference-today-a9098391.html

  15. Frosted Flakes
    Posted September 9, 2019 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Which comedian is officially funnier according to the mm.com-humor-detector-authority?

    Chapelle or Joel Kim Booster?

  16. John Brown
    Posted September 10, 2019 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    A friend sent me the full email sent to all NOAA employees by acting Chief Scientist and long time Deputy Administrator Craig McLean. Decent people will never let ruskie stooge fascist liars ruin the country. I presume this is who ruskie money laundering Wilbur suggested should be fired for insisting on scientific integrity.

    “Dear Colleagues,

    The fierce storm we know as Hurricane Dorian has concluded its ferocious path through the Bahamas and along the US East Coast. Many of you have contributed to the excellent science that has underpinned the forecasts and current understanding of storms such as this one, which accelerated quite rapidly in intensity. The storm also presented challenges in track which improved with enhanced observations. We know that our collective work, from the scientists in the aircraft penetrating the storm, to the scientists deploying the glider picket line, to the modelers and folks working the physics of the storms, across OAR and in our CI’s, and across all NOAA Lines, we are working the problem in order to give the NWS forecasters the best tools we possibly can to keep America and our neighbors safe. Thank you.

    During the course of the storm, as I am sure you are aware, there were routine and exceptional expert forecasts, the best possible, issued by the NWS Forecasters. These are remarkable colleagues of ours, who receive our products, use them well, and provide the benefit of their own experience in announcing accurate forecasts accompanied by the distinction of all credible scientists — they sign their work. As I’m sure you also know, there was a complex issue involving the President commenting on the path of the hurricane. The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should. There followed, last Friday, an unsigned press release from “NOAA” that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster. My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political. Our NOAA Scientific Integrity Policy and Code of Scientific Conduct make clear that all NOAA employees shall approach all scientific activities with honesty, objectively, and completely, without allegiance to individuals, organizations, or ideology. The content of this press release is very concerning as it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises.

    You know that the value of our science is in the complexity of our understanding, our ability to convey that understanding to a wide audience of users of this information, and to establish and sustain the public trust in the truth and legitimacy of that information. Unfortunately, the press release of last Friday violated this trust and violated NOAA’s policies of scientific integrity. In my role as Assistant Administrator for Research, and as I continue to administratively serve as Acting Chief Scientist, I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity. Thankfully, we have such policies that are independently cited as among the best in the federal community, if not the best. Your NOAA and OAR management and leadership team believes in these policies and principles. I have a responsibility to pursue these truths. I will.

    Thank you for your continued excellent work, and your trust. Carry on.

    Craig “

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