BAN #189: Sharpiegate showed Trump is a direct threat to Americans, The heart of Startorialist

03 February 2020   Issue #189

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

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As Dave Barry said, “Poli” = many and “tics” = blood-sucking parasites

I have said many times that right now, the biggest immediate threat to our national security is Trump himself. He blurts out secrets, he coddles to dictators, he abandons allies and supports enemies… and domestically, he also threatens the lives of our own citizens on a daily basis.

And sometimes he stomps on science to do so.

Remember Sharpiegate? In September 2019, Trump said that Hurricane Dorian was threatening Alabama. Of course, that was wrong; the forecast tracks put it hitting Florida and moving north, missing Alabama by hundreds of kilometers.

But his ego demanded he cannot be wrong, so a few days later he sat in the Oval Office and showed a forehead-slappingly blatantly defaced NOAA hurricane forecast map, showing the predicted course… with a circle added to the end using what looked like a Sharpie pen to include a teeny bit of Alabama. All done so he could claim he was right, as opposed to simply stating that he misspoke, as any normal human would have done.

This was pointed out by my pal and atmospheric scientist Kait Parker at the time:

I put my own two cents in:

It got worse, as a National Weather Service forecaster publicly claimed that Trump was wrong, and then the NOAA disavowed the forecaster’s statement.

This quickly went from absurd to terrifying; science agencies are supposed to serve the truth above all, and not change it to appease a wanna-be dictator.

And while I’m a scientist, I wasn’t directly involved with any of that. So I very much wondered at the time what scientists at NOAA were thinking when they saw this. Outrage? Frustration? Fear?

Well, now we know: Buzzfeed has an article with emails from the scientists at the time. Their reactions were what you’d expect. You should click through and read that article; it’s outrageous. You can also see the emails for yourself, if your blood pressure can take it.

The NOAA’s mission is “To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts [and] to share that knowledge and information with others”. For them to falsely back a climate science denier — a science in general denier — is galling and in direct conflict with their mission. It was disgraceful.

This is what happens when you allow someone like Trump to fill positions in the government. It’s not just the grand theft, the racist policies, the misogyny. It’s also an immediate and direct threat to human lives. For the NOAA to in any way misstate the path of a hurricane on purpose for purely political reasons is a huge violation of their mission, and in my opinion a criminal one. Did Alabama have to react to this, moving emergency services around for a phantom threat? What about FEMA?

More terrifyingly, what’s next? We’ve seen Trump get bolder with time, and the lickspittle quisling Senate GOP is falling all over themselves in obeisance, about to acquit him of what is obviously a crime, one he admitted to publicly. What will he feel free to claim next? What science will he trample to further his own agenda?

Lives depend on these questions. My life, your life, everyone you know, everywhere. There is literally no way to downplay the importance of this threat. And our only recourse, it seems, is to vote, and to do so in numbers that the GOP efforts to suppress cannot stem.

Americans: If you have a soapbox, no matter how small, remind people to register to vote. I literally set my calendar to remind me to check my own registration on the first of every month:

Twitter avatar for @BadAstronomerPhil Plait @BadAstronomer
It’s the first of the month! Time to check to see if I’m still registered to vote.… Yup! The GOP still hasn’t managed to suppress my vote yet. But you should check yours. Mark your calendar like I do and you won’t forget! Image

In November, we can start the process to fix all this. Or we can continue to slide into dystopia. The choice is ours.

I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

My pal Summer Ash is an astronomer and science communicator. Along with Emily Rice she curates the Startorialist blog and Twitter feed, where they talk about science-based fashion. It’s a lot of fun, and you’d probably enjoy following them.

A few years back, after the terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they posted a tribute to the victims, using a heart symbol. Inside the symbol was a rainbow, the symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. But it’s not just any rainbow, it’s actually a spectrum of the Sun. It’s an iconic image, taken by a Sun-observing telescope at Kitt Peak, Arizona.

[Credit: Startorialist]

The moment I saw it I knew I wanted it on a t-shirt. I wasn’t the only one, as they got many emails asking about it. This prompted them to set up a Redbubble shop where you can the spectral heart on shirts, phone cases, pillows, mug, and more. I bought one on a black t-shirt and I love it. I wore it to the Women’s March in Denver in 2017 and got a lot of comments on it, too.

If you like it, throw some filthy lucre their way.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[After 16 years of observing the sky in infrared, the Spitzer Space Telescope has been decommissioned. From Friday’s article. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)]

Monday 27 January, 2020: In dwarf galaxies, a black hole wind is rising

Tuesday 28 January, 2020: NASA will build and fly an observatory to look for killer asteroids

Wednesday 29 January, 2020: Tracing a bright fireball back to its parent: the potentially hazardous asteroid 2003 YT1

Thursday 30 January, 2020: The Sun, up close and *very* personal: First light for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope

Friday 31 January, 2020: Good night, Spitzer Space Telescope

Et alia

You can email me at (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!