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Rick Perry, climate change skeptic, soon to oversee U.S. supercomputing

Patrick Thibodeau | Dec. 14, 2016
Former Texas governor has called for closing the Energy Department he's been tapped to run

Perry may be unable to wipe out the work of the Energy Department, but he could erase publicly accessible data hosted on energy websites.

There’s already an effort under way to save environmental data “in danger of disappearing during the Trump administration.”

Just who is Perry? He graduated from Texas A&M University with a BS in animal science. Although not all previous DOE secretaries have been scientists, President Barack Obama’s two appointments were: Ernest Moniz, the current secretary, was a professor of physics and engineering systems at MIT. He succeeded Steven Chu, who won the Nobel Prize in physics. One of President George W. Bush's two appointments to the post, Samuel Bodman, earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT.

In 2007, on release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, Bodman said: "The Administration welcomes the ... report, which was developed through thousands of hours of research by leading U.S. and international scientists and informed by significant U.S. investments in advancing climate science research.”

But in 2009, Perry challenged the report and Environmental Protection Agency efforts to limit carbon emissions, alleging the study was built on falsified data and with “uncertain and highly questionable science.”

Perry has supported renewable energy and his state ranks first in wind energy production, another area studied by researchers on supercomputers. He has supported supercomputer use in storm prediction, and has praised NASA, a big employer in his state, for its role in “technological advancement.”

Supercomputing's role in American competitiveness will be an issue for Perry to address. China plans to have an exascale system ready by 2020, about three years before the U.S. Europe and Japan are also at work on their own systems.

But it remains unclear how Trump, Perry or Congress will approach science funding generally, and whether their skepticism will lead to cuts.

The demand for supercomputing -- the ability to test prototypes in virtual environments -- is growing, as is the need for scientists involved in supercomputer development. The DOE is a major employer of this research talent, talent that the private sector would like to hire.

 

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