White House Posts Climate Change Denialist Misinformation

Published May 12, 2021

What happened: Two White House officials posted a series of debunked scientific reports that deny the existence of human-caused climate change. The posts bear the logo of the executive office of the president and were reported to be the work of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Why it matters: When White House officials openly publish climate change denialist information under the name of OSTP, a well-respected science-based office, it undermines the government’s science-based efforts to combat climate change and its devastating effects.

Two White House officials posted a series of climate change denial papers online that claimed to be the copyright of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and represented “the current state-of-the-science” on climate change. The two officials posted the papers without informing or seeking approval from the OSTP director, Kelvin Droegemeier, and the posts bear the logo of the executive office of the president.

The two White House officials were David Legates, a climate change denialist that was installed by the Trump administration to oversee scientific work on climate change, and Ryan Maue, a senior official at OSTP who has previously questioned the science of climate change and downplayed its effects. Both individuals had previously been assigned to the White House from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and after this incident returned to NOAA. A NOAA spokesman stated that the actions of Legates and Maue will be reviewed under NOAA’s scientific integrity policy.

The discredited papers posted by Legates and Maue included several debunked claims, including that climate change is occurring naturally because of the sun’s activity and that pollution from human sources is not responsible for climate change. Additionally, the papers falsely stated that the impacts of climate change will be nonexistent or minimal.

Legates introduced the papers online, saying “The Office of Science and Technology Policy is pleased to bring you these briefs to further your understanding of climate change by learning from these learned scholars.” Legates described the papers as the “current state-of-the-science on various topics of climate change” from “top scientists from leading institutions.” One of the featured authors was by William Happer, a physicist that worked at the White House and was well known for his climate change denial viewpoints.

OSTP is a science-based office, and its duties are to lead “efforts across the Federal government to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets.” Scientific documents posted under OSTP’s copyright require a science-based review to ensure that it is representing the best available scientific information. By foregoing this review process and publishing climate change denialist reports under its moniker, Legates and Maue damaged the creditability of a well-respected scientific office and undermined the government’s scientific activities to combat the devastating effects of climate change.