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Trump Picks Climate Denier to Decide National Medal of Science

President Donald Trump golfs at Trump National Golf Club on Nov. 21, 2020.

President Donald Trump golfs at Trump National Golf Club on Nov. 21, 2020.
Photo: Tasos Katopodis (Getty Images)

The president took a break from his grifty attempt to blow up democracy under a cloud of flatulence to do more damage in the job he has for another month and a half. The White House announced this week that President Donald Trump was appointing a climate denier to serve on the committee that chooses recipients of the National Medal of Science.

That person is David Legates, who in the span of a few months has gone from the crank circuit of climate denial to a role in shaping the most important climate report the federal government puts out. Now, he’ll also be on a committee for the most prestigious science award the government hands out.

Legates’ appointment, announced Thursday, is part of dozens of other appointees to various councils, committees, and boards the president stocks with people of his choosing. There were some outlandish and insular choices on the list. They include Pamella DeVos, sister-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Heidi Stirrup, a Trump loyalist who was reportedly escorted out of the Justice Department after trying to pressure career staff into giving her information on federal voter fraud investigations. But even among this group, Legates stands out for just how much he flies in the face of the committee on which he’s been drafted to serve.

At least with someone like DeVos, there’s some sense in appointing her to the Kennedy Center board since she and her husband have a foundation that deals with art. Legates, though, is just a walking middle finger to science. He denies climate change. Yet he has referred to people debunking his work as “a bunch of thugs,” all while accepting an award from the Heartland Institute and Texas Public Policy Foundation, two huge purveyors of climate change denial. But really, how can you not call out a man who uses his platform to say more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is fine because it will lead to bigger crabs? This is not a serious statement worthy of engagement. It’s some laughable idea your uncle brings up after one-too-many gimlets on Zoom Christmas.

Despite his completely unserious approach to climate change, Legates was hired for a position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in September. And just last month, he moved to overseeing the National Climate Assessment, a massive federal climate report on the state of the science. Now, he’ll also serve on a committee of 12 scientists who choose to award the National Medal of Science to researchers “deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences.”

Legates’ denial flies in the face of Medal of Science recipients such as Jacob Bjerknes, Roger Revelle, Lonnie Thompson, and Warren Washington, all scientists who won for pioneering climate research, to say nothing of Wally Broecker who is considered the “grandfather of global warming” or Charles Keeling, who created the most important measure of carbon dioxide in the world. Now, Legates will be tasked with choosing who else wins the award. It’s the equivalent of appointing an anti-vaxxer or a Flat Earther to the committee.

Appointments last two years so he’ll be there to potentially throw a wrench into any climate scientist up for the award into the Biden years—years during which climate change must sit at the forefront of the executive branch. The award hasn’t been given out since 2014, so it’s possible Legates won’t get to play spoiler, but it sucks for climate researchers worthy of consideration who may not get a fair shake. And it’s definitely fitting with the ethos of the Trump administration to trash as much as it can on the way out.


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