Trump Finally Picks a Science Adviser. And Scientists? They Seem Relieved.


Kelvin Droegemeier, a well-regarded meteorologist, has a long research record. But his views on climate change are not well known.

Carl Zimmer

President Trump will nominate Kelvin Droegemeier, a well-regarded meteorologist who studies severe storms, to be director of the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The director acts as the president’s chief adviser on science. The post has been vacant since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, by far the longest the office has been without a director since the position was created in 1976.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected by President Trump to serve the nation as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and I look forward to the Senate confirmation process,” Dr. Droegemeier, 59, said in a statement.

Through a spokeswoman, he referred inquiries to the White House science office.

If he is confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Droegemeier will join an administration roundly criticized by scientists as dismissive of their work.

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Mr. Trump entered into negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear armaments without counsel from a senior nuclear physicist, for example. He withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement over the objections of most climate scientists.

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Kelvin Droegemeier is a meteorologist and Oklahoma’s secretary of science and technology.CreditSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

“The dismissal of scientific evidence in policy formulation has affected wide areas of the social, biological, environmental and physical sciences,” said a statement signed by more than 1,000 members of the National Academy of Sciences in April.

“The real question is, will he be listened to?” said Phillip Larson, assistant dean of the engineering school at the University of Colorado Boulder, who served as adviser on space exploration during the Obama administration.

Meteorologists praised Dr. Droegemeier for his distinguished research career.

“Kelvin is an excellent choice — a highly qualified scientist,” said William B. Gale, chief technology officer of the Global Weather Corporation and a former president of the American Meteorological Society.

In the 1990s, Dr. Droegemeier recognized that new advances in radar technology and computers might make it possible to predict the development of thunderstorms.

“Other people were saying thunderstorms are too random and unpredictable,” said Keith Brewster, a senior research scientist at the University of Oklahoma who first worked with Dr. Droegemeier as a graduate student. “People were saying, you’re crazy for even trying this.”

Dr. Droegemeier went ahead anyway, devising new computer models that improved storm predictions. He became the director of the university’s Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms. He went on to co-found the National Science Foundation’s Science and Technology Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, as well as the N.S.F.’s Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere.

Dr. Droegemeier is now vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma and the state’s secretary of science and technology.

Under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, he served on the National Science Board, which sets the priorities for the National Science Foundation and advises Congress and the president.

“He has demonstrated many years of public service at the interface of science and policy,” Rush Holt, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement.

If approved by the Senate, Dr. Droegemeier would advise the president on a daunting range of scientific challenges, from preparing for epidemics to responding to natural disasters.

Dr. Larson said the long delay in nominating a director would make the job harder. “He’s starting way behind unfortunately,” Dr. Larson said. “His science savvy would have been useful in the current and previous budget cycles.”

Dr. Droegemeier will also have to contend with a boss who has called climate change a Chinese hoax.

As a meteorologist studying short-term weather patterns, Dr. Droegemeier’s thoughts on climate change are not widely known, and his name is not familiar to many researchers in the field.

“No clue,” said Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution, said he only knew of Dr. Droegemeier from a few comments about climate change he had made to the media.

“His statements make him sound extraordinarily sensible, compared to other Trump nominees,” said Dr. Caldeira.

J. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist at the University of Georgia, said that Dr. Droegemeier had a firm grasp of climate change and how it can supercharge extreme weather.

“Just having a voice in the room on climate that understands the equations, the scientific process and what is at stake is a huge win for science and the earth,” he said.

Kenneth Chang contributed to this article.



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