Cantwell Defends Scientific Integrity in Nomination Hearing of Neil Jacobs

Ranking Member: nominee must protect science, “make sure we don’t have a Sharpie-gate”

March 11, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, emphasized the importance of science when it comes to weather forecasting in a hearing to nominate Dr. Neil Jacobs as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere in the Department of Commerce.

“In addition to supporting our economy, NOAA has been trusted by the public as an authoritative source for weather information and, most critically, to watch the warning information from severe weather threats,” Senator Cantwell said. “But I certainly don’t ever want to see storms politicized and as I mentioned, when you have the threat of a tsunami in the Northwest with earthquakes and tsunami warnings, this becomes critical information that we follow the science.”

Addressing Dr. Jacobs, Ranking Member Cantwell asked, “What can you do to assure that science is always first in weather forecasting and information as it relates to others who might want to change or influence from other agencies?”

In September, the White House shared a video in which President Trump showed a map of Hurricane Dorian’s projected path that appeared to have been altered with a Sharpie pen to include the state of Alabama, which the hurricane was never projected to hit. 

“One of the things that we realized in the scientific integrity policy was it doesn’t address social media. It was mainly geared towards the peer-review process. So we’re working closely with the National Academy of Public Administration to re-examine how we can make our scientific integrity policy more robust,” said Dr. Jacobs.

Senator Cantwell has been a vocal leader in fighting to protect science and weather data. She criticized the Federal Communications Commission for ignoring concerns relating to interference with extreme weather forecasting and highlighted how detrimental this interference is. In May of 2019, Ranking Member Cantwell warned that 5G auction could damage weather forecasting and sent a letter to the FCC urging the Trump administration not to allow wireless companies to operate in 24 GHz spectrum until vital weather forecasting operations are protected.

Video of Ranking Member Cantwell’s opening statement can be found HERE and her Q&A with Dr. Jacobs can be found HERE.