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Hundreds of Scientists Rally to Protect Climate Science

AGU Scientists Rally
Hundreds of scientists rallied in support of science at the American Geophysical Union meeting on Dec. 13, 2016. (Image credit: Tia Ghose/Live Science)

SAN FRANCISCO – For a few hours at least, throngs of scientists stepped out from behind their PowerPoint slides about sea ice extent and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to make a more political statement.

The scientists, who were attending the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, rallied here in downtown San Francisco on Tuesday (Dec. 13) to support climate science and to reject government meddling with scientific facts.

"I know you're here because you understand just how essential science and evidence are to our democracy," Peter Frumhoff, the science and policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the crowd of more than 200 geologists, climate scientists and Earth scientists. "The science and evidence that we all get is at risk of being deeply interfered with by this incoming administration." [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]

Concrete steps

The rally, called Stand Up for Science, was organized by, and other activist organizations that support policies to limit carbon emissions. A few hundred geologists, climate scientists and Earth scientists donned lab coats, chanted slogans and carried signs with messages like "Go science!" and "Ice has no agenda, it just melts."

On Sunday (Dec. 11), President-elect Donald Trump claimed that "nobody knows if climate change is real." (Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that the climate is changing and that humans are causing it, though there is some uncertainty about how to best tackle the problem.) And last week, a letter from Trump's transition team to the U.S. Department of Energy asked for the individual names of scientists who were involved in climate research.

At the rally, Frumhoff said that he had been fielding calls from spooked scientists in federal agencies.

Researchers gathered to voice support for science at the American Geophysical Union meeting on Dec. 13, 2016. (Image credit: Tia Ghose/Live Science)

"They are deeply discouraged about their own well-being, about their own ability to do their science," Frumhoff said. "Many of the federal scientists I've talked to have talked about polishing up their resumes, looing for ways to duck and cover."

While that is an understandable response, it was important for scientists to stand up for their work and hold politicians accountable for misusing or ignoring the science, he said.

For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists has already sent a letter to the incoming administration, signed by 3,000 scientists, urging the president to respect scientific evidence.

They are also setting up an anonymous portal through which federal scientists working in government agencies can anonymously report efforts to distribute misinformation, he said.

Uphill battle

For a few of the scientists Live Science spoke with, attending a political or protest rally was a decidedly unusual event. However, the current political environment made it seem important to attend, said Dan Jaffe, a geologist at the University of Washington.

In particular, Jaffe said that he was concerned about several of the political appointeestapped by Trump, such as Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state or Scott Pruitt, a vocal foe of climate science, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Those nominations provided strong indications that the incoming Trump administration does not respect the scientific process, Jaffe said.

"If you don't use science to make decisions, then it's all politics," Jaffe told Live Science. [Science is]"the only way we can make objective decisions."

Hege-Beate Fredriksen, a statistician at the University of Tromsøin Norway, was driven to attend because "Trump does not acknowledge that climate change is man-made," she told Live Science. "Also, people don't believe in science in general, facts do not matter anymore. It's very scary."

James Kubicki, who is chair of geological sciences and environmental sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, thought that things had reached a tipping point with the new political situation.

"I think for a long time a lot of our science — especially in geosciences — has been under attack. I felt it was time to really do something about that," Kubicki told Live Science. "It's critical at this point."

The AGU's annual meeting, which convenes an average of 26,000 scientists every year, is one of the largest scientific conferences in the world.

Original article on Live Science.

Tia Ghose

Tia is the assistant managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.