President Donald Trump fell for an internet hoax and popular right-wing myth about global cooling, and that has Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology worried.
"We are concerned about the process by which you receive information," seven committee Democrats wrote in a May 18 letter to Trump, first reported by Popular Science. "Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration."
The letter cited an anecdote from a May 15 Politico story: Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland put a printout on the president's desk with two Time magazine covers, one from the 1970s about a "coming ice age" and one from 2006 about climate change. "Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy," Politico reported. "But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years." The hoax and the broader global cooling myth have been thoroughly discredited.
That's what you get when you take a Fox News analyst and give her a job she's not qualified for, as was the case with McFarland. "That views on climate change at the highest level of government are being shaped by this nonsense is . . . horrific," wrote David Roberts at Vox.
McFarland, who spouted numerous misleading and bizarre comments during her time at Fox, is so unsuited for her deputy national security adviser position that retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, an accomplished and decorated Navy vet, refused Trump's offer to serve as national security adviser because he didn't want her on his team. McFarland is now slated to be ousted from the National Security Council and nominated as ambassador to Singapore; she has already been "largely sidelined" at the agency, Politico reported, as she waits for a successor to be put in place.
The committee members' letter also cited examples of Trump "peddling fake news" promoted by right-wing media, like when he charged that there was massive voter fraud in the November 2016 election "after reading about subsequently-debunked 'research' pushed by alt-right websites."
The representatives offered a suggestion to help Trump avoid being influenced by fake science news: "If you appoint a qualified [Office of Science and Technology Policy] Director, you will have a reliable source of policy advice for matters related to science and technology, which forms the bedrock of our national security and economic power."
Don't hold your breath. Trump has been removing qualified science advisers, not hiring them.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency dismissed several members of a major scientific review board; administrator Scott Pruitt is considering replacing them with industry representatives. Also, the Interior Department recently froze the work being done by more than 200 advisory boards, committees, and subcommittees, about a third of which work on scientific issues. Meanwhile, dozens of science and technology positions in the administration remain unfilled, and the Trump cabinet is stacked with officials who reject or distort mainstream climate science.
When the Trump administration does hire science advisers, it prefers the unqualified kind -- like Sam Clovis, a climate-denying radio talk show host with no scientific background, who is Trump's reported pick to serve as chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture. That post is traditionally filled by a scientist with a background in agricultural research.