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New ‘Sharpie-gate’ Emails Show Gov’t Scientists Railing Against ‘Unconscionable’ Politicization of Agency 


Newly released emails show several of the federal government’s top scientists were aghast after political appointees from the Trump administration released an unsigned statement criticizing the National Weather Service (NWS) for correcting the President Donald Trump’s false claim that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama in 2019.

The emails, released for the first time Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by BuzzFeed News and reporter Jason Leopold, also revealed a pervasive sense of panic throughout NOAA, as scientists feared the administration would retaliate against them if they refused to politicize the agency.

The administration’s decision to emphasize politics over science left the agencies’ scientists fuming.

“For an agency founded upon and recognized for determining scientific truths, trusted by the public, and responsible in law to put forward important science information, I find it unconscionable that an anonymous voice inside of NOAA would be found to castigate a dutiful, correct, and loyal NWS Forecaster who spoke the truth,” former NOAA assistant administrator Craig McLean wrote in a Sept. 7 email to other top-level government officials that he called, “an alarm bell.”

“What concerns me most is that this administration is eroding the public trust in NOAA for an apparent political recovery from an ill-timed and imprecise comment from the President. I hope that NOAA’s trust in the public eye will outlast this Administration, but until then I harbor a great concern for all scientists, science missions, and the quality of our public communications about our research in that a spurious press release may accompany any future scientific conclusion.”

A Sept. 8 email from NWS Chief Operating Officer John Murphy illustrated the dread the political intervention spread throughout the agency, saying some employees had “lost their minds.”

Following NOAA’s correction and several days of widespread criticism about his incorrect assertion, Trump unveiled a map purporting to forecast the path of the hurricane which had been conspicuously doctored with a black sharpie marker to include Alabama.

The emails appear to confirm that a Sharpie marker was indeed an integral component of “Sharpie-gate.”

“Apparently the President is convinced that Alabama was in the path of Dorian and someone altered a NOAA map (with a sharpie) to convince folks,” NOAA congressional affairs specialist Makeda Okolo wrote.

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.