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Science Technology and Environment

Former OU Researcher Defends Scientific Freedom While Facing Climate Change Questions

Kelvin Droegemeier responds to questions from senators during the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on August 23.
Megan Ross
/
Gaylord News
Kelvin Droegemeier responds to questions from senators during the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on August 23.

Calling himself a scientist, stormchaser and educator, former OU vice president Kelvin Droegemeier adamantly defended freedom of scientific inquiry from political influence while facing questions on climate change from a Senate panel during a Thursday nomination hearing for a White House position.

“The ethical conduct of research with integrity, without political interference...is absolutely without question important, and to me there is no other way to do it,” Droegemeier told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee considering his nomination as President Trump’s director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Droegemeier stepped down as OU vice president for research August 20 to accept Trump’s nomination to fill the post, which has been vacant since the end of the Obama administration. While previous presidents have also named their Office of Science and Technology Policy directors as their personal science advisers, it is unclear whether Trump will tap Droegemeier for that position as well.

Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford introduced Droegemeier to the committee, both emphasizing his experience, his extensive work in Oklahoma and his character.

Droegemeier has served under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as a member of the National Science Board, and under Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin as the state’s secretary of science and technology and chair of the Science and Technology Council’s academic research and development subcommittee.

“I think all we need to know about Kelvin Droegemeier is that he’s the one responsible for saving so many lives in Oklahoma,” Inhofe said of Droegemeier’s work with extreme weather in the state.

Droegemeier, alongside nominees for two other positions, also answered multiple questions on America’s scientific and technological competition with Russia and China. He told senators he is committed to helping the United States “rise to the challenge” of competitively pursuing artificial intelligence technology and quantum research on a global scale.

Droegemeier also faced questions concerning how this office would handle issues of sexual harassment in the scientific workplace, and told senators he is committed to taking a strong stance against the issues and making that workplace safer for women especially.

Repeatedly questioned about his stance on issues of global warming, climate change and political agendas in science, Droegemeier emphasized his view that “science should be conducted without political influence or political interference.”

When asked whether he believes there is “only one acceptable and permissible view” concerning climate, Droegemeier told Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a noted climate-change skeptic, that he is open to considering multiple opinions on the subject.

“I welcome all points of view...science rarely provides immutable answers about anything,” Droegemeier said. “...I think science is the loser when we tend to vilify and marginalize other voices, and I think we have to have everyone at the table talking about these things and let science take us where it takes us.”

While Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass, directly questioned NASA deputy director nominee James Morhard about whether he agreed “with the overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is the dominant driver in the warming of the planet,” no senator directly questioned Droegemeier in the same way.

With the Trump administration’s record of silencing scientists on global warming, Markey asked Droegemeier if he is committed to protecting scientists in the administration who believe humans are the dominant cause of global warming.

Droegemeier immediately answered “yes,” reiterating his stance on unbiased science.

Droegemeier’s nomination has garnered praise from leaders across scientific and political organizations. France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, said in a statement that those with the foundation “know him to be a thoughtful advocate for all aspects of science,” and that she is “grateful that such a champion of basic research has been selected for this important role.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, told Droegemeier while welcoming him before the committee, “Dr. Droegemeier, there is no question in my mind as to your qualifications,” and noted that Neal Lane, a former OSTP director, and Norman Augustine, a former member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, have called Droegemeier “an outstanding science advisor in any administration.”

With no obvious dissent from committee members, Droegemeier’s nomination should sail through further confirmation. Committee chairman Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, said at the hearing’s end that the committee could move forward with the nominations as soon as next week.

Gaylord News is a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

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