Truth imitates satire (again) at the Environmental Protection Agency

Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Pruitt after announcing intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emission

“Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner.The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue… [C]lear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.”

These are among the talking points distributed to EPA staffers this week.

Have you seen this kind of language before? Yes, you have indeed, from Pruitt himself almost actually a year ago.  At that time, I pointed out that Pruitt was following the script of BBC’s satire, Yes Minister. I have now tracked down the relevant episode, where UK Cabinet Minister (later Prime Minister) Jim Hacker, asks his trusted Civil Servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby, how to deal with evidence that one would rather ignore. Sir Humphrey’s advice:

Discredit the evidence that you are not publishing. This is, of course, much easier than discrediting evidence that you do publish… You say: (a) that it leaves important questions unanswered (b) that much of the evidence is inconclusive (c) that the figures are open to other interpretations (d) that certain findings are contradictory (e) that some of the main conclusions have been questioned. Points (a) to (d) are bound to be true. In fact, all of these criticisms can be made of a report without even reading it. There are, for instance, always some questions unanswered — such as the ones they haven’t asked. As regards (e), if some of the main conclusions have not been questioned, question them!

That, by the way, was about the safety of a chemical processing by-product.

Jim proving he has elbows

Hacker (L) explaining his dilemma to Sir Humphrey

You might perhaps be concerned about the degree of contact with reality with which the EPA (to quote further talking points distributed this week) “promotes science that helps inform states, municipalities and tribes on how to plan for and respond to extreme events and environmental emergencies, recognizes the challenges that communities face in adapting to a changing climate, [and] will continue to advance its climate adaptation efforts.”

But really there’s no cause to worry, because, according to Reuters, Pruitt has “reaffirmed plans for the EPA to host a public debate on climate science sometime this year that would pit climate change doubters against other climate scientists.” It’s not clear where he’ll find his climate change doubters, but I’m sure he’ll manage, and no doubt the debate will take place with the same level of intellectual content and integrity that we have seen from the Senate Environment Committee, or would expect to see in a debate on evolution organised by Vice President Pence.

So stop making a silly fuss about the Government telling scientists to misrepresent the science.

Image and quotations from EPA talking points via Washington Post, 28 March 2018. Quotation from Yes Minster via http://moksheungming.tripod.com/yes.html. Hacker/Appleby image via yes-minister.com. Temperature image from NASA Goddard via Wikipedia; public domain

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on March 29, 2018, in Climate, Global warming, Politics, Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I adored Sir Humphrey as a kid.

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  2. Michael Fugate

    One can only laugh when columns like this appear in the paper:
    https://www.pe.com/2018/03/27/the-secret-science-that-distorts-air-quality-studies/

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  3. Exposure to Novichok impacts the human body in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what exactly to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue. And what would we Russians know about such an agent (produced by our secretive russophobic imperialist enemies) anyway since we never produced any such agent (and Newsnight are propagandising about Shikhany) since if we had produced it we would have declared it and we didn’t declare it because we never produced it.

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  4. The phase ‘ more research is needed ‘ is like a mantra these days but it is a double – edged sword . It could be used by those who just want to justify their research and keep the money flowing in , or it could be genuine. As a layman , who knows human nature but little science it worries me considerably . How do I , or anyone else know what is important ? To everyone engaged in research their particular endeavours are very important. There is another very strong argument which runs thus : although you may not see the importance of this particular scientific endeavour and it even seems pointless to those engaged in it in time it may well prove vital for mankind ( apologies for not using peoplekind ).
    I must confess that it seems to me very important that we use our scientific knowledge not just for the well being of the few rich western nations but for the wider world population.

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