Only Science

This was the worst day so far. No one in Los Angeles, or in the rest of California or in Oregon or Washington, can step outside for more than minute or two. The smoke is that thick. The entire West Coast is on fire. Years of drought followed by a few weeks of the hottest temperatures ever recorded out here, in one more successive “hottest year ever” of course, and these things happen. It seems like it’s the end of the world. Maybe it is. Something is up. Out east it was this:

Hurricane Sally continued to gather strength as it meandered off the Gulf Coast, an oaf of a storm that could linger with hard rain and 100-mph winds threatening to shove massive amounts of storm water onto the shores of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana….

In yet another sign of a dangerous and troubling time, Sally is one of at least five tropical systems that swirled across the Atlantic on Monday, the most since 1971, when there were six. In an era of human-caused climate change and warming waters, September has set a record for the most named storms to date in the Atlantic, said Colorado State tropical weather researcher Phil Klotzbach.

The season has seen a record year for tropical activity in the Atlantic, with 20 named storms forming and obliterating the typical average of 11.

Someone needs to explain what’s going on. Have we screwed up everything? Have we finally made our own planet uninhabitable? But this is the Age of Trump. Don’t believe any of that. That’s only science. Donald Trump has an answer to that nonsense:

The Trump administration has tapped David Legates, an academic who has long questioned the scientific consensus that human activity is causing global warming, to help run the agency that produces much of the climate research funded by the U.S. government.

Legates, a University of Delaware professor who was forced out of his role as that state’s climatologist because of his controversial views, has taken a senior leadership role at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Trump has found his man to shut down the last of the science crowd:

The agency, which oversees weather forecasting, climate research and fisheries, has until now continued its climate research and communications activities unfettered by political influence. For that, NOAA stands in stark contrast to the Environmental Protection Agency and science agencies at the Interior Department, where the Trump administration has dismissed and sidelined climate scientists or altered their work before publication.

Trump has found his man to claim that there is no Hurricane Sally at all, or to say, if Trump whips out his Sharpie and marks up another forecast and map and shows that Sally will make a direct hit on Iowa, that Trump is right and all the scientific modelling was wrong after all, as it always is. And it was a surprise:

The new hire came as a surprise to a NOAA official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the appointment.

“I knew nothing about this and here it comes as a midnight hire over the weekend,” the official said. “NOAA was being run reasonably well and the need for any new talent coming into this organization at this point is really not needed.”

Trump would disagree about what’s needed:

Legates was formerly Delaware’s state climatologist, a position from which he stepped down in 2011. He had come under pressure from then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D), because of his fossil fuel industry-funded research casting doubt on the science showing that burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels is the main factor behind heating the planet and would lead to dangerous effects such as sea level rise and extreme weather events.

Legates is affiliated with the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank funded in part by the fossil fuel industry that supports research arguing that human-caused climate change is not a serious threat.

And it seems that he’s both a hero and a martyr to folks on that side of things:

At the organization’s 10th International Conference on Climate Change in 2015, he was presented with the Courage in Defense of Science Award. In his acceptance speech, he said he saw it as recognizing him for surviving having been “beaten over the head by a bunch of thugs,” referring to mainstream climate scientists and politicians who have criticized his work.

Legates’s views on climate change line up squarely with those of President Trump, who has denied the existence of human-caused global warming, and blamed the ongoing climate change-fueled wildfire disaster in the West on forest mismanagement.

Legates also has questioned scientists’ approach to the coronavirus pandemic, having co-written a commentary published on Heartland’s website on April 13 that compared the modeling of the virus’s spread to climate modeling, blasting both as inaccurate because of the assumptions the modelers made.

Trump finally found someone to tell the world that Donald Trump is right on both counts, and to keep telling Donald Trump that Donald Trump is right about both. He does have a fragile ego.

And there were the usual objections:

Watchdogs such as Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a research and advocacy group, said they fear that Legates’s appointment signals a new level of interference in the agency’s scientific work.

“This is a disappointing move. It is a slap in the face to NOAA scientists who work daily to conduct and communicate climate science to the public and decision makers,” Goldman said in an email. “Until now, NOAA has largely evaded the kind of anti-science political appointees that have devastated the EPA and Interior. With Dr. Legates we risk seeing the same kind of politicization of science and corruption of ethics. At the same time, NOAA has a strong culture of scientific integrity; Dr Legates must be ready to uphold it.”

Yeah, right, loser. And there was this:

Jane Lubchenco, a marine scientist at Oregon State University who served as President Barack Obama’s NOAA administrator during his first term, said Legates is far outside the scientific mainstream and could harm the agency’s work.

“The juxtaposition of the apocalyptic wildfires with the announcement of David Legates’ appointment is mind-boggling,” she said in an email.

“Just at the time when we need continued truth from the nation’s lead climate agency, a climate denier is hired. This is a travesty. Even during this administration, NOAA has continued to provide accurate climate information, data, and products to help citizens, decision and policy makers know what is happening and evaluate options for action,” Lubchenco said.

“Legates would be in a position to squelch the free flow of accurate scientific information to the public, to distort or manipulate scientific findings, curtail monitoring and research, and create an overall chilling atmosphere for the high-quality science and scientists that the nation needs. It seems clear that NOAA’s truth and information were a threat to this administration. If this appointment goes ahead, the nation and the world will lose.”

And there was this too:

On Monday, the American Geophysical Union, which is the world’s largest scientific society representing Earth and space sciences, publicly urged that Legates’ appointment be rescinded. “With climate change producing raging wildfires in the western United States and devastating hurricanes in the Atlantic, our nation – and the world – cannot afford to have our federal government undermining the important work of climate scientists,” wrote Randy Fiser, the group’s executive director and CEO.

It was a bit late for that:

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden excoriated President Trump on Monday over his environmental record as wildfires continued to burn through much of the West and as the president used a trip to California to question the scientific consensus that climate change is a leading cause of the devastating blazes.

Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Del., that the “undeniable, accelerating, punishing reality” of global warming was playing out in the wildfires and hurricanes that have marked the end of summer, arguing it is a problem that “requires action, not denial.”

Across the country in California, Trump sought to pin the blame for the fires on another culprit – forest management – while shrugging off warnings that human-caused climate warming will continue to make Western states a tinderbox with annual fires that destroy communities.

“It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he said during a briefing with state and local leaders in McClellan Park, Calif.

He was smirking. He just doesn’t buy what everyone else is selling:

The warming of the planet and its impact on daily life are now difficult to ignore, with millions of acres burning in California, Oregon and Washington state, leading to dozens of deaths, tens of thousands displaced and skies filled with a smoky, dangerous haze that blocks out the sun.

Biden called Trump a “climate arsonist” who had belittled the factors worsening the wildfires, and he likened the president’s stewardship of natural disasters to his handling of the pandemic and racial tensions across the country that flared this summer following police shootings of Black people.

Trump shrugged:

Not long after Biden’s remarks in Delaware, California leaders focused on climate change during their briefing with Trump. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) made it clear that he wasn’t seeking a confrontation with the president on the topic but said that “we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in, and observed evidence is self-evident, that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this.”

Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency, pushed the issue more aggressively after the president dismissed concerns that temperatures were on the rise, telling Trump, “I wish science agreed with you.”

The president responded: “Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.”

He has no use for science. He prefers anecdotes:

Trump’s dismissal was consistent with his past remarks calling climate change a “hoax.”

The president has also continued to solely blame mismanaged forests in the Western states for the intensifying wildfires. He claimed Monday that he had spoken to a foreign leader – whom he did not name – who insisted that his or her country has “trees that are more explosive [than] they have in California, and we don’t have any problem because we manage our forests.”

“When trees fall down, after a short period of time they become very dry – about 18 months – they become very dry. They become, really, like a matchstick,” Trump said. “And they get up – you know, there’s no more water pouring through, and they become very, very – well, they just explode.”

So get out your brooms, you fools! Sweep up under those trees out there! It’s that simple! Go ask David Legates about that. He’ll tell you. But don’t ask this guy:

Fire ecologists say no amount of “clearing” in the forests could have prevented this year’s disasters. In many cases, research shows, management practices such as salvage logging actually exacerbate fire susceptibility.

Tim Ingalsbee, a retired wildland firefighter and a certified fire ecologist, pointed to the Holiday Farm Fire, a blaze near his home in Eugene, Ore., that has burned through thousands of acres of an industrial tree plantation. “This area has experienced the maximum timber management possible,” he said, “and has made these lands even more flammable than the native forests.”

David Legates may have to have that man arrested. NOAA doesn’t have the authority to do that, but he can ask Trump to ask Attorney General Barr to look into that.

This is getting strange, but not unusual:

Political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services have repeatedly asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise, delay, and even scuttle weekly reports on the coronavirus that they believed were unflattering to President Trump.

Current and former senior health officials with direct knowledge of phone calls, emails and other communication between the agencies said on Saturday that meddling from Washington was turning widely-followed and otherwise apolitical guidance on infectious disease, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, into a political loyalty test, with career scientists framed as adversaries of the administration.

They confirmed an article in Politico Friday night that the CDC’s public morbidity reports, which one former top health official described on Saturday as the “holiest of the holy” in agency literature, have been targeted for months by senior officials in the health department’s communications office.

The reports are written largely for scientists and public health experts, updating them on trends in all infectious diseases, Covid-19 included. They are guarded so closely by agency staff members that political appointees only see them just before they are published. Health department officials have typically only received notice of the titles of the reports.

Those days are gone now:

Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official installed by the White House in April as the top department spokesman, said in a brief interview on Saturday that the person most involved in reshaping the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports was Paul Alexander, an assistant professor of health research methods, evidence and impact at McMaster University in Canada and an adviser Mr. Caputo hired to help with him on the science of the pandemic.

Michael Caputo knows nothing about science or health or any of this, so he hired a guy from Canada, to work with him to change all the data the CDC publishes:

Mr. Caputo and Dr. Alexander appeared to view the reports, which have presented dire new findings about the spread of the virus, as incompatible with the Trump administration’s push to move beyond the pandemic and present the country as on the upswing, officials said…

In an email obtained by Politico and confirmed by a person with direct knowledge of the message, Dr. Alexander accused CDC scientists of trying to “hurt the president” with the reports, which he referred to as “hit pieces on the administration.” Dr. Alexander asked Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the CDC director, to edit reports that had already been published, which he believed overstated the risks of the virus for children and undermined the administration’s efforts to encourage schools to reopen.

Mr. Caputo and Dr. Alexander also tried to stop the publication of a report – issued last week after a delay – on use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment that Mr. Trump and conservative allies have heralded and used as a kind of litmus test of resistance to scientific consensus. In discussions with the CDC, they questioned the political beliefs of the report’s authors.

They wanted to know if any of these doctors and scientists and statisticians doing this work had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and if they still hated Donald Trump and America after all these years. Caputo is there to clean up the place:

Mr. Caputo, who is known to promote conspiracy theories, occupies a job at the health department typically conducted in an apolitical way, coordinating the messaging of an 80,000-person department that functions as the center of the American public health bureaucracy.

But since his arrival, during the biggest health crisis the department has ever faced, he has turned his office into what current and former senior administration officials have referred to as a bullying operation. Mr. Caputo still uses social media to attack reporters and Democratic politicians.

Mr. Caputo has also helped install allies in other communications positions at health agencies under the Health and Human Services Department, and even an interim chief of staff at CDC

This was going well, until this weekend. The New York Times’ Sharon LaFraniere tells that odd tale:

The top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus made outlandish and false accusations on Sunday that career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

But this was a man for whom nothing is outlandish or false:

Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump, even if that opposition bolsters the Covid-19 death toll.

Mr. Caputo, who has faced intense criticism for leading efforts to warp CDC weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative, suggested that he personally could be in danger from opponents of the administration. “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get,” he urged his followers.

He went further, saying his physical health was in question, and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Mr. Caputo said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”

He knows he’s losing it and he knows why:

He also said the mounting number of Covid-19 deaths was taking a toll on him, telling his viewers, “You are not waking up every morning and talking about dead Americans.”

But it is what it is:

To a certain extent, Mr. Caputo’s comments in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page were simply an amplified version of remarks that the president himself has made. Both men have singled out government scientists and health officials as disloyal, suggested that the election will not be fairly decided, and insinuated that left-wing groups are secretly plotting to incite violence across the United States.

But Mr. Caputo’s attacks were more direct, and they came from one of the officials most responsible for shaping communications around the coronavirus…

CDC scientists “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump next,” Mr. Caputo said. “There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president.”

It seems he’s moved beyond his original mandate:

A longtime Trump loyalist with no background in health care, Mr. Caputo, 58, was appointed by the White House to his post in April, at a time when the president’s aides suspected the health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, of protecting his public image instead of Mr. Trump’s.

He’s moved way beyond that:

Mr. Caputo’s 26-minute broadside on Facebook against scientists, the news media and Democrats was another example of a senior administration official stoking public anxiety about the election and conspiracy theories about the “deep state” – the label Mr. Trump often attaches to the federal Civil Service bureaucracy.

Mr. Caputo predicted that the president would win re-election in November, but that his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., would refuse to concede, leading to violence. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.”

Mr. Caputo’s remarks dovetailed in part with those of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime confidant of both Mr. Caputo and Mr. Trump. Mr. Stone, whose 40-month prison sentence for lying to Congress was commuted by the president in July, told the conspiracy website Infowars on Friday that Mr. Trump should consider declaring martial law if he lost re-election.

Grant Smith, a lawyer for Mr. Stone, was among the followers who had joined Mr. Caputo’s talk on Sunday. Mr. Caputo has 5,000 Facebook friends, and his video was viewed more than 850 times. He has now shut down his account.

That was a good idea:

Over all, his tone was deeply ominous: He warned, again without evidence, that “there are hit squads being trained all over this country” to mount armed opposition to a second term for Mr. Trump. “You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Mr. Caputo added.

Who wants to kill him? Who cares? He’s simply a strange man:

Mr. Caputo charged that scientists “deep in the bowels of the CDC” walked “around like they are monks” and “holy men” but engaged in “rotten science.”

He fiercely defended his scientific adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, who was heavily involved in the effort to reshape the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. Mr. Caputo described Dr. Alexander, an assistant professor at McMaster University in Canada, as “a genius.”

“To allow people to die so that you can replace the president” is a “grievous sin,” Mr. Caputo said. “And these people are all going to hell.”

And then it was over:

A public relations specialist, Mr. Caputo has repeatedly claimed that his family and his business suffered hugely because of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Caputo was a minor figure in that inquiry, but he was of interest partly because he had once lived in Russia, had worked for Russian politicians and was contacted in 2016 by a Russian who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

So this is the guy who will control what the public and all the scientists and researchers are allowed to know about this Covid pandemic and any future pandemics that come along. David Legates will assure the world that climate change is a hoax. There will be more massive fires and even more hurricanes, and Donald Trump will sit in the corner and grin – “Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.”

That’s what we chose four years ago. It might be time to rethink this.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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