Catalyst Winter 2018

Announcing 2017's Science Defenders

To take a stand for science is always an act of bravery, but it has special resonance today. The Union of Concerned Scientists is proud to announce our Science Defenders for 2017: five people and groups who have refused to be silent.

Keeping Federal Data Safe
Bethany Wiggin: After last year’s election, Wiggin’s students at the University of Pennsylvania began wondering about whether federal data on climate change might be deleted. Their questions led Wiggin to help launch the DataRefuge project to preserve such data. Wiggin says the project also aims to address larger questions about data preservation and literacy. “It’s about preserving our digital heritage for future knowledge,” she says.

Fighting for His Generation
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: Martinez, 17 years old, is a plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit against the US government filed by a group of children who claim their constitutional rights have been violated by inaction on climate change. “We’re just regular kids,” says Martinez. “But we have stories about how we’re already seeing the effects of climate change.” If the plaintiffs win, the government must implement a climate recovery plan.

“Mr. Pruitt Is Welcome to Fire Me”
Robyn Wilson: Wilson received an impersonal email last fall saying her service on the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board was no longer needed. The reason given: Wilson has an EPA grant. She’s refused to resign. “It makes no sense,” she says. “The policy claims conflict of interest for those who are the least likely to have conflicts of interest. If it’s so appropriate, then Mr. Pruitt should fire me.”

Clearing the Air in Southern California
Beto Lugo-Martinez: Imperial County, California, grows much of the nation’s food—and has some of its most polluted air. One in five children has asthma. To help residents minimize their exposure to pollution, Lugo-Martinez of the nonprofit Comite Civico del Valle has worked to install and maintain 40 low-cost air quality monitors throughout Imperial County—and he teaches residents how to use the data they collect. “They’re community scientists,” says Lugo-Martinez.

Power to the People
Attendees of the Climate March and the March for Science: For two consecutive Saturdays last spring, millions took to the streets to advocate for sound environmental policies, federal funding for science and scientists, and evidence-based policies for the public good. Many participants had never protested, or considered joining a movement to stand up for science. We chose to recognize this mobilization to underscore that each of us has a role in defending science.

UCS Board Chair Emeritus Wins Prestigious Environmental Award

Photo: Pat Raven

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Dr. McCarthy was the first oceanographer to receive the Tyler Prize. The story below has been revised; we regret the error.


James McCarthy, UCS board chair emeritus, has been selected as a 2018 winner of the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, often described as the “Nobel Prize for the environment.”

Dr. McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and former chair of the UCS board of directors from 2010 to 2016, is being recognized for his work communicating the importance and risks of climate change. He will share the $200,000 prize with his corecipient Paul Falkowski. Dr. Falkowski is distinguished professor in the departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, and the founding director of the Rutgers Energy Institute. Drs. McCarthy and Falkowski are the first oceanographers to receive the prize for climate communications. Past recipients include primate expert Jane Goodall and Charles David Keeling, who developed the well-known “Keeling curve” that measures atmospheric carbon dioxide, among many others.

The Tyler Prize committee lauded Dr. McCarthy’s “ability to unite the world’s best environmental researchers with international policy leaders through his role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report and organizations such as UCS.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Dr. McCarthy and Dr. Falkowski will be officially presented with the Tyler Prize in a ceremony in Washington, DC, on May 3.

UCS Ranked among Best Nonprofits

UCS has always been committed to managing your donations wisely, so we are especially pleased to report that Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent evaluator of nonprofits’ financial performance, has validated our efforts by awarding UCS four stars—its highest rating.

Charity Navigator assesses organizations based on the efficiency of their fundraising efforts, the growth of revenue and program expenses over time, and how expenses are divided among fundraising, administrative, and program work.

Because we do not accept government or corporate funding, our programs are funded by you, our donors. You trust UCS to put your donations to the best possible use, so we hope you will share our pride in this important recognition of our performance.

UCS Finds Many Science Advisory Committees Now Sit Idle

Photo: sharply_done/iStockphoto

After a year in office, President Trump has notably broken with his modern-day predecessors by failing to appoint a presidential science advisor. Equally troubling, as of December 31, 2017, President Trump had filled just 20 of the 83 government posts designated by the National Academy of Sciences as “scientist appointees.”

Now a new UCS report finds that the problem of science being sidelined under the Trump administration is even more extensive than previously recognized. A UCS investigative team analyzed data from 73 science advisory committees across 24 agencies and interviewed scores of committee members.

Among the report’s findings:

  • In 2017, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of the 73 science advisory committees at the 24 agencies analyzed met less frequently than their charters direct.
  • Science advisory committees at the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have met less often in 2017 than at any time since 1997, when the government began collecting such data.
  • At the Department of Commerce, DOE, and EPA, fewer experts serve on science advisory committees than at any time since 1997.

These figures comport with a wealth of anecdotal data from interviews with committee members who spoke of meetings cancelled (often at the last minute), seats unfilled, committees disbanded, and others stacked with industry representatives instead of independent academic experts.

As the report notes, the government’s system of some 1,000 federal advisory committees plays an important role in alerting federal officials to the policy implications of the latest scientific research, which can have major consequences for Americans’ health and safety—from the outbreak of deadly diseases to environmental and national security threats. “Independent, up-to-date technical advice is essential to the government’s ability to respond to complex challenges,” says Genna Reed, a science and policy analyst in the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and coauthor of the report. “Evidence of widespread sidelining of science across the federal government should be a wake-up call for everyone who cares about our government making smart decisions based on facts and evidence.”

Read the full report, Abandoning Science Advice: One Year in, the Trump Administration Is Sidelining Science Advisory Committees

Electric Vehicles Shown to Be Cheaper to Operate and Maintain

Photo: Anna Vaczi/Shutterstock

Many people know that driving an electric vehicle (EV) is good for the planet. But new UCS analysis has determined that American drivers can also save thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenance costs over the life of their cars by switching from a gasoline-powered vehicle to a new EV.

UCS senior engineer David Reichmuth surveyed standard and off-peak electricity rate plans in more than 50 cities across the country to record annual costs for each one. The savings from driving on electricity ranged from $443 for Houston drivers paying CenterPoint Energy’s standard rate to $1,077 for San Francisco drivers charging their EVs with off-peak power from Clean Power SF.

As the report (Going From Pump to Plug ) explains, these savings are only part of the story. Industry experts predict gasoline prices will rise in 2018. In addition, EV motors don’t require routine maintenance so are likely to spend less time in the repair shop than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles. According to the American Automobile Association, the average EV driven 150,000 miles will save its owner $2,100 in maintenance, repairs, and tires compared with a medium-sized gasoline-powered sedan.

“It’s an opportune time to buy an electric vehicle,” says Reichmuth. “For many Americans, EVs are cheaper to fuel and cheaper to maintain—and they are now becoming cheaper to buy as well.”

UCS Scientist Wins American Physical Society Award

Source: C-SPAN

Last fall, the American Physical Society announced that Edwin Lyman, a UCS senior scientist, had won its annual Leo Szilard Lectureship Award “for using his technical expertise and tireless advocacy to maintain and strengthen U.S. policy on nuclear nonproliferation and reactor safety and security.”

The award, which was established in 1974 in memory of the Hungarian-American physicist Leo Szilard, recognizes “outstanding accomplishments by physicists in promoting the use of physics for the benefit of society in such areas as the environment, arms control, and science policy.”

Since joining the UCS Global Security Program in 2003, Lyman has testified regularly before Congress and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; written articles for many publications, including Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Science; and has been cited in thousands of news stories. Lyman also coauthored the critically acclaimed book Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster (The New Press, 2014).

“Dr. Lyman is the perfect example of someone who successfully brings his scientific expertise to bear on important matters of public policy,” said Lisbeth Gronlund, codirector of the UCS Global Security Program. “His work has truly made the world a better place.”