GOP senators wanted to stop climate change training for weathercasters. It backfired

climate
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In the long and fraught battle to persuade Americans that the Earth's climate is changing, scientists increasingly have relied on a stalwart ally—television weather forecasters.

TV weather people increasingly have been connecting hotter days and nights, extreme weather events, even increases in poison ivy and pollen, to the planet's slow and steady warming. Many of those reports have been informed and powered by a nonprofit educational organization, Climate Central.

While TV meteorologists have been gobbling up reports and camera-ready graphics on , the work of the New Jersey-based group has alarmed those who seek to cast doubt on the that defines global warming. Last year, four skeptics in the U.S. Senate demanded an investigation of the $4 million in provided for the Climate Central program, saying it "is not science—it is propagandizing."

After a nearly yearlong review, however, the National Science Foundation's inspector general has rejected the claim by the four Republicans—Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and James M. Inhofe and James Lankford, both of Oklahoma. The inspector general's review "did not reveal any evidence that limitations on political activity ... were violated," a memorandum summarizing the investigation said.

Ben Strauss, chief executive and chief scientist at Climate Central, said he was pleased but not surprised by the conclusions of the science foundation's inspector general.

"We were always confident what we were doing was legitimate public education on science, with nothing political about it," Strauss said.

"Weather people are probably the closest thing that millions of Americans have in terms of daily contact with a person with science training," added Strauss, a Princeton-trained biologist. "It's obvious that our weather has been behaving in strange and new ways, and we are simply helping weathercasters to help their audiences understand why."

A growing number of meteorologists have signed up to receive Climate Central briefings and graphics, which they often use on the air. The program started with 197 weathercasters in 2014 and jumped to 644 last year. A little more than halfway into 2019, about 750 meteorologists have requested Climate Central materials, the group said. (An additional 250 journalists also have received the information.)

Climate Central information or graphics appeared in 1,771 television news reports around the country in 2018 and in 1,196 TV reports through May of this year. The effect of that information has been magnified by social media, creating more than 9,000 total "impressions" in 2018, Climate Central says.

Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist at the CBS affiliate in Columbia, S.C., said the Climate Central reports help "take something happening globally and bring it right down to the local level. People experience these changes in their local community."

He said one report that particularly resonated with his viewers described how a change in the chemistry of the air—higher levels of carbon dioxide—spurred the growth of more poison ivy. The higher CO2 levels had also more than doubled the toxicity of the shrub from the 1950s to the present.

"It was one of the first examples I used of how climate change has been causing these changes now, and through our whole lifetime," said Gandy, who recently retired.

The four GOP senators wrote their letter of protest to the National Science Foundation in June 2018. It charged that the agency had "issued several grants which seek to influence political and social debate rather than conduct scientific research." Addressed to NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner, the letter suggested the agency had strayed from its mission to support science and possibly violated the Hatch Act, the federal law that prohibits federal employees from taking public political positions.

The senators said they found it suspicious that Climate Central targeted TV meteorologists, a group once shown in some surveys to have mixed views on the reality of human-caused climate change. The science foundation's oversight of Climate Central was "egregious," the senators said, because it supported work "designed to 'recruit' experts to a position they did not come to of their own accord as meteorologists."

To the contrary, the NSF inspector general's office concluded that the agency's grant makers followed internal policy, which requires independent scientists, engineers and educators to review all requests for funding. Climate Central submitted to, and passed, a thorough review, the inspector general's office found.

In making its determination, the inspector general cited a prior ruling from the Government Accountability Office that U.S. government spending for a range of different programs is improper if it is "completely devoid of any connection with official functions or so political in nature that it is not in furtherance of the purpose for which the funds were appropriated." That was not the case with the $4 million the National Science Foundation spent to back Climate Central's program for weathercasters, the inspector general concluded.

The review also found that the Hatch Act had not been violated. That law attempts to prevent "activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group."

Because it found no violations, the inspector general's office decided it did not need to proceed with a full audit of the Climate Central funding, its letter said.

Steve LaPointe, a weatherman in upstate New York, said it was the Republican senators who were engaging in politics, not Climate Central.

"Climate Central provides high-quality information. It's all scientifically based, extremely well researched and well vetted," said LaPointe of WRGB in Albany. "This is a group of senators that deny science, for whatever reason. I am gratified to know that the National Science Foundation defined this as science and supported it."

The senators did not respond to the findings from . They also did not answer inquiries from the Los Angeles Times.


Explore further

What Weathermen Know About Climate Change

©2019 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Citation: GOP senators wanted to stop climate change training for weathercasters. It backfired (2019, July 25) retrieved 15 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-07-gop-senators-climate-weathercasters-backfired.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
97 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jul 25, 2019
"Training." Or indoctrination, or what the Nazis called it: coordination. Whatever you call it, it's telling when scientists are being told what to think.

Jul 25, 2019
@Anonym

You must have read a different article. It seems quite clear that material/information was simply made available to meteorologists who decided on their own whether they wished to use it in their weather segments. No one was told what to think. The meterologists were free to go on their air after receiving the information and rail against AGW/climate change all they wanted.

Your biases are showing.

Jul 25, 2019
It really does not matter what the MSM tries to tell everyone. Most smart people know about the only thing that you can trust from their reports are the baseball scores.

Pretty much every other segment is pure agenda driven propaganda.

Jul 25, 2019
Oh, gee, a bunch of liar denier Senators got pwnt. And caught playing politics with science. Who'da thunk it?

These Senators are morally and logically bankrupt.

So much for the Greedy Obnoxious Perverts.

Jul 26, 2019
What the media does not realize is that their obvious partisan agenda is driving away people of reason. Thus as their audience narrows in view they wind up preaching to the choir so to speak. You can tell the choir anything and they will always respond with Praise Be and Alleluia but that is not really helping your cause.

Jul 26, 2019
Many all time temperature records are being set around the world this year and any legitimate debate about Global Warming is long over. The four Republican Senators have sold their responsibilities to the American people and the world for money. Whatever the Republican Party was in the past, they are a criminal organization today.

Jul 26, 2019
The Mark ThomASS, brays again.
This is the jackass who boasted about his wasteful joyriding in his Tesla, even when he knew that most of its electricity came from fossil fuels.
Keep braying at the heretics, you jackass. That's how you'll save the world.

Jul 26, 2019
"Many all time temperature records are being set around the world this year "

Only in paved parking lots and airports. And only if you totally discount the 1930s.

Then of course there is the Medieval Warming Period which climate science is doing its best to cool.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more