Trump’s Pick for Science Advisor Dodges Climate Change Question

In a hearing with Senators, meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier avoided climate change questions by saying it wasn’t his expertise.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst
Aug 24, 2018
Kelvin Droegemeier

Update (January 3, 2019): Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Kelvin Droegemeier as the White House science advisor, Nature reports.

Kelvin Droegemeier, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, didn’t get into the controversy of climate change skepticism yesterday (August 23). At his nomination hearing with a Senate committee, the expert of extreme weather events skirted questions pertaining to climate change, saying that he didn’t study climate. 

Andy Dressler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, was disappointed by Droegemeier’s answers, but not surprised. “This administration was never going to pick someone like John Holdren”—former head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) who was outspoken about the realities of climate change—“to be the president’s science adviser,” Dressler tells Science. “They want someone who is going to toe the line [on climate policy].” 

Meteorologist David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State, agrees, telling Science that he could understand why Droegemeier chose to avoid the issue when prompted by vocal climate change denier Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). “The purpose of a confirmation hearing is to say as little as is humanly possible and still get confirmed,” Titley says. “And that’s what Kelvin did.”

Other researchers reacted more positively to Droegemeier’s responses. “I thought in related questions about climate, Kelvin handled them very well,” physicist Neal Lane, who served as science adviser to former US president Bill Clinton, tells Nature.

Droegemeier emphasized that research should be free of political influence. “I am absolutely firm on the point,” Droegemeier told the senators. He also gave his support for a new National Science Foundation (NSF) policy requiring universities to report sexual harassment. “We owe all scientists a safe place to work,” Droegemeier said. 

The committee will vote next week on whether Droegemeier’s nomination will go to the full Senate.