NOAA chief: Agency likely broke science integrity rules

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jay Reeves and Seth Borenstein

HUNTSVILLE, ALA. » The act­ing chief sci­en­tist at the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion said his agency likely vi­o­lated its sci­en­tific integrity rules last week when it pub­licly chas­tised a weather of­fice that con­tra­dicted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claim that Hur­ri­cane Do­rian threat­ened Alabama.

Two top NOAA civil ser­vants not so qui­etly re­volted against an un­signed agency press re­lease is­sued late Fri­day re­buk­ing the Birm­ing­ham weather of­fice for say­ing Alabama was safe. The agency’s top sci­en­tist called Fri­day’s re­lease “po­lit­i­cal” and the

head of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said the Alabama of­fice “did what any of­fice would do to pro­tect the pub­lic.”

“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,” act­ing chief sci­en­tist and as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor for ocean and at­mo­spheric re­search Craig McLean wrote to staffers Sun­day.

In the email, first re­ported by The Wash­ing­ton Post, McLean said he is “pur­su­ing the po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions” of the agency’s science integrity pol­icy.

NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen said Mon­day, “NOAA’s poli­cies on sci­en­tific integrity and com­mu­ni­ca­tions are among the strong­est in the fed­eral govern­ment, and get high marks from third party ob­servers. The agency’s se­nior ca­reer lead­ers are free to ex­press their opin­ions about mat­ters of agency op­er­a­tions and science. The agency will not be pro­vid­ing fur­ther of­fi­cial com­ment, and will not spec­u­late on in­ter­nal re­views.”

Mean­while, another ca­reer civil ser­vant, Na­tional Weather Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Louis Uc­cellini, said fore­cast­ers in Birm­ing­ham did the right thing Sept. 1 when they tried to com­bat pub­lic panic and ru­mors that Do­rian posed a threat to Alabama.

“They did that with one thing in mind: pub­lic safety,” said Uc­cellini, who prompted a stand­ing ova­tion at a meet­ing of the Na­tional Weather As­so­ci­a­tion by ask­ing mem­bers of the Birm­ing­ham weather staff to stand.

“Only later, when the retweets and po­lit­i­cally based com­ments started com­ing to their of­fice, did they learn the sources of this in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

Kevin Laws, science and op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer for the weather ser­vice in Birm­ing­ham, de­clined com­ment on Uc­cellini’s re­marks.

“I think the speech speaks for it­self,” Laws said.

McLean in his let­ter said the Birm­ing­ham staff “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.”

McLean said that the NOAA Sci­en­tific Integrity Pol­icy tells all agency em­ploy­ees to “ap­proach all sci­en­tific ac­tiv­i­ties with hon­esty, ob­jec­tively, and com­pletely, with­out al­le­giance to in­di­vid­u­als, or­ga­ni­za­tions, or ide­ol­ogy.”

He said the Fri­day NOAA press re­lease “com­pro­mises the abil­ity of NOAA to con­vey life­sav­ing in­for­ma­tion” and “vi­o­lated NOAA’s poli­cies of sci­en­tific integrity.”

The pol­icy said em­ploy­ees should not “in­tim­i­date or co­erce em­ploy­ees, con­trac­tors, re­cip­i­ents of fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance awards, or oth­ers to al­ter or cen­sor sci­en­tific find­ings.”

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