Department of Interior Censors Press Release on USGS Study

What Happened: The Department of Interior demanded that language connecting sea level rise and coastal flooding to climate change be removed from a press release announcing a new publication by scientists working for the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Why It Matters: The decision to delete material may have violated multiple USGS and DOI policies intended to ensure the integrity and accuracy of public communications regarding agency scientific work.

On May 22, the Washington Post reported that the United States Geological Survey deleted a sentence acknowledging the link between climate change and sea level rise from an official agency press release. The press release announced a new scientific paper in Nature Scientific Reports co-authored by two USGS scientists, which finds that coastal flooding frequency could double in the tropics by mid-century because of global warming.

The paper’s abstract leads with the link between climate change and sea level rise: “Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding” reads its first sentence. The press release, however, intentionally omitted this fact–a demand for deletion that reportedly came from the Department of Interior, in which USGS is housed. The changes may violate multiple government policies, including the USGS Scientific Integrity Policy, the DOI Communications Policy, and the DOI Scientific Integrity Policy. These policies were developed and strengthened by the Department of Interior after repeated scandals where science was censored or rewritten by political appointees.

UCS has formally asked the department to investigate the deletion as a violation of departmental policy.

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Last Revised Date: 

May 25, 2017