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Hundreds of government scientists barred from conference

Cap meant staff from US Geological Survey refused entry to biggest meeting in their field

Hundreds of US government scientists have been ‘prevented from doing their jobs’ after a cap was put on the number of those allowed to attend the biggest conference in their field recently.

Around 450 researchers from US Geological Survey typically attend the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth, space and climate scientists.

But ahead of this year's conference, the Interior Department — which oversees the USGS — said no more than 199 employees from the department could travel to the meeting, and expenditures could not exceed $399,000, according to a report in the Washington Post.

In the end just 178 USGS researchers were present at the New Orleans meeting in December -   a 60 percent drop from last year - and 30 abstracts were withdrawn by USGS scientists unable to attend.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department said the decision to limit the number of employees saved hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and the larger number of employees who attended the meeting in past years were an example of the Obama administration's ‘addiction to spending’.

But one USGS scientist who was denied approval to attend the AGU conference told the Washington Post the crackdown on attendance meant the Interior Department, ‘telling us we can’t do our jobs’.

“It's in my position description that I am to conduct research and disseminate that research,” said the scientist. When I had legitimate science and I had a budget to attend the meeting and I’m told I can’t go, that’s harassment,” he said.

The annual AGU meeting is the biggest geoscience conference of the year, attracting more than 22,000 scientists from all over the world. Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, called the drop in this year's USGS attendance ‘troubling’.


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