DOI Official Embedded Misinformation in Scientific Reports

On March 2, 2020, the New York Times reported that an official at the Interior Department had inserted misleading language about climate change into the agency’s scientific reports. According to documents reviewed by the Times, the language appeared in at least nine different reports including environmental studies and impacts statements on watersheds in the American West that could be used to justify allocating scarce water to farmers at the expense of wildlife conservation and fisheries.

The official, Indur M. Goklany, who worked the office of the deputy secretary, pushed language that inaccurately claimed there is a lack of consensus among scientists that the earth is warming. Mr. Goklany also instructed scientists to add that rising carbon dioxide is beneficial to agriculture due to increased plant water use efficiency and a longer growing season, statements that contradict the scientific consensus that climate change will result in severe disruptions to agriculture.

While Mr. Goklany has been employed by the Interior Department since the 1980s, in the early months of the Trump administration he was promoted by Trump appointees to a position guiding the Interior Department’s climate policy, a rise that others at Interior said was abrupt and unexpected. Once in that role, Mr. Goklany started directing scientists to add climate uncertainty language in agency reports and also gave a presentation at the Interior Department promoting the benefits of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide to human and environmental well-being.