Senators call on National Science Foundation to investigate climate change grants
Posted June 21, 2018 5:26 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — Four Republican senators have called on National Science Foundation Inspector General Allison Lerner to investigate the foundation's grant-making process, citing a grant charged with enabling television meteorologists to provide viewers with climate change education.
In the June 18 letter, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, both of Oklahoma, express their concern that the National Science Foundation has "issued several grants which seek to influence political and social debate rather than conduct scientific research."
Two of the grants the senators call attention to regard meteorologist education programs on climate science. Both were submitted through a partnership between several universities and Climate Central.
According to its mission, Climate Central is an independent organization of scientists and journalists researching and reporting on climate change. However, the senators take issue with a 2012 Washington Post report where the organization is described as morphing into an "advocacy group." Its mission statement in 2012 stated Climate Central's mission was to "inspire Americans to support action to stabilize the climate, prepare for a hotter world, or some combination of the two."
The letter from the senators expresses concern that the National Science Foundation funded a project "designed to 'recruit' experts to a position they did not come to of their own accord as meteorologists." Primarily, it calls for an investigation into whether the grants violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits agencies from engaging in partisan activity with the use of federal resources.
"Research designed to sway individuals of a various group, be they meteorologists or engineers, to a politically contentious viewpoint is not science," the letter reads, "it is propagandizing."
In response, a spokeswoman for the foundation denied that its process is influenced by bias.
"All NSF awards pass through our merit review process, considered to be the 'gold standard' of scientific review," said Sarah Bates, a public affairs team lead in the National Science Foundation's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.
According to Bates, every proposal submitted is reviewed by a minimum of three independent reviewers, including science and engineering experts and educators.
"It is important to note that the Hatch Act prohibits Federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government building or using government resources," Bates said in a statement. "Political activity is defined as activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group. NSF staff receives annual ethics training, which includes the Hatch Act."