ProPublica’s False Tweet

ProPublica Corrects False Claim EPA Science Board Members Were Fired

By Aly Nielsen

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story was published before ProPublica deleted its tweet and issued a correction. The story has been changed to reflect those updates.

After Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt chose not to renew the contracts of several members of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, ProPublica falsely claimed on May 7, that he fired them. On May 9, ProPublica issued a correction.

“Trump admin fires scientists on EPA review board. And plans to replace them w/ reps from polluting industries,” ProPublica tweeted on May 7. ProPublica cited Coral Davenport’s New York Times article which expressly stated “their three year terms had expired and would not be renewed.”

ProPublica acknowledged the Tweet was false, deleted it, and issued an update at 2:52 p.m. on May 9.

Climatewire reporter Scott Waldman made the same inaccurate claim as ProPublica and as of May 9, had not corrected the statement.

“Agency fires science advisers,” Waldman wrote in a May 6, E&E News report. Science Magazine also republished his story under the false headline “EPA fires members of science advisory board.” Science Magazine’s story was also uncorrected as of the afternoon of May 9.

At least five board members received emails stating their three year terms would not be renewed, Davenport reported. On May 8, Washington Post reporters Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis indicated nine contracts were not being renewed.

“A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast,” Davenport wrote for The Times.

The EPA established the 18-member board in 1996 to evaluate its research. The board also gives advice and recommendations to the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Previously, board members had been told “they would be kept on for another term,” according to The Post. Pruitt’s chief of staff Ryan Jackson told The Post the contracts were not renewed as a way of “opening up the process” to other applicants. But he explained that the board members whose terms were not renewed could still re-apply for the same positions.

Several board members condemned the move as “political” and a “red flag,” according to The Times.

“Today I was Trumped,” Michigan State University environmental ecologist Robert Richardson tweeted after receiving his notice.

“I’ve never heard of any circumstance where someone didn’t serve two consecutive terms,” board member Robert Richardson told The Post.

The Sandler Foundation, Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and Marisla Foundation have given millions to ProPublica.