Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Suppression of Views on Climate Change

A lot of attention was given to yesterday's hearing in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, regarding the purported attempt of the Bush administration to silence those who believe in global warming. A lot of attention has been given to James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who claims the administration tried to shut him up.

Check for example, the NYT:

The hearing also produced the first sworn statements from George C. Deutsch III, who moved in 2005 from the Bush re-election campaign to public affairs jobs at NASA. There he warned career press officers to exert more control over James E. Hansen, the top climate expert at the space agency.

Testifying at the hearing, Dr. Hansen said editing like that of Mr. Cooney and efforts to limit scientists’ access to the news media and the public amounted to censorship and muddied the public debate over a pressing environmental issue. “If public affairs offices are left under the control of political appointees,” he said, “it seems to me that inherently they become offices of propaganda.”

Republicans criticized Dr. Hansen for what they described as taking political stances, for spending increasing amounts of time on public speaking and for accepting a $250,000 Heinz Award for environmental achievement from the Heinz Family Philanthropies, run by Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, proposed that Dr. Hansen, by complaining about efforts to present two sides on global warming research, had become an advocate for limiting the debate.

Dr. Hansen replied, “What I’m an advocate for is the scientific method.”

It's interesting that the Times did not find space for the must-read statement of Roy Spencer, the former Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Mr. Spencer had this to say (although you can't find it at Chairman Waxman's site):

During my fifteen years as a NASA employee, I was well aware that any interaction between scientists and the press was to be coordinated through NASA management and public affairs. Understandably, NASA managers do not appreciate first reading of their scientists opinions in the morning newspaper. I understood that my position as a NASA employee was a privilege, not a right, and that there were rules I was expected to abide by. Partly because of those limits on what I could and couldn’t say to the press on the subject of global warming, I voluntarily resigned from the government in the fall of 2001.

Some level of political influence on government-funded climate science has always existed, and likely always will exist. The influence began many years ago when the government climate research programs were first established. For instance, I once heard a high-level government official say that his success at helping to formulate the Montreal Protocol restricting the manufacture of ozone-depleting chemicals was an example of the kind of success that global warming research could achieve to help restrict fossil fuel use. This is clearly a case of political and policy biases driving a scientific research agenda...

Government agencies and their managers have a long history of requiring employees to coordinate research results with management and public affairs officials before talking to the press. As a NASA employee of fifteen years I accepted this as part of my responsibility to support NASA’s mission as a “team player” in support of overarching agency goals, and I believe there are good reasons for maintaining such a practice.

A much bigger political influence problem is the governmental bias towards a specific type of climate research that supports specific political or policy outcomes. This research is almost always biased toward the finding of climate destabilizing mechanisms, rather than climate stabilizing mechanisms. Because it takes a higher level of complexity in any physical system to produce self-regulation and stabilization, such findings do not naturally flow out of the existing research. An active effort, analogous to the Department of Defense “Red Team” approach, could be utilized to alleviate this inequity. Given the immense cost (especially to the poor) of proposed carbon control policies that most economists foresee, it is not helpful for tax dollars to be funneled in a research direction that unfairly favors certain political or policy outcomes.
Mr. Spencer is exactly right. It's a shame that Waxman's Committee is giving his point of view such short shrift. That's not a surprise though; real science always suffers when it's sacrificed to a political agenda.

9 comments:

R. E. Swanson said...

Spencer's comments are interesting. So, he retired in 2001? Back then, his work indicated that there was little or no global warming. That work has since been shown to contain flaws and has undergone several corrections since. It's probably a good thing that he retired, as his work was wrong. It may well still contain errors, which he and his partner, John Christy, refuse to publicly admit.

The Editor at IP said...

But you make no argument with his views that it's normal for NASA scientists to have to get approval for their interactions with the media, or that government funding tends to favor those who produce alarmist findings?

To me, those are the important parts of his testimony; thats why I excerpted that, rather than other portions. It all supports the conclusion that the climate change debate is too politicized.

Spencer may be wrong on the merits, but it's pretty much impossible to get an honest debate.

R. E. Swanson said...

NASA is not a normal scientific organization. Much of NASA's work is involved with human space flight, which is a real waste of resources from a scientific point of view. The ISS is a money pit and is unlikely to ever produce any real science, certainly not anything like that which was claimed when the project was originally proposed. The cost overruns for the Shuttle and the ISS have cut the funding for many worthy science missions.

It's not normal to have scientific results edited by politically appointed supervisors before they are released to the world. Science can only operate in a realm with free and open information flow. That said, I wonder why you would ever expect to have an "honest" debate in the political arena, where the cost of entry, i.e., an national election campaign, is far beyond that which any normal citizen could afford to pay.

BTW, there is almost no scientific debate left, if one is to believe the findings of the IPCC. I don't expect the editor of this anonymous blog to agree, but that's what the scientific efforts over the last 35 years have produced.

The Editor at IP said...

I don't question the conclusion of the IPCC that man generates greenhouse gases which contribute to the warming of the globe. I do question whether the warming we are experiencing is out of the historical norm, to what degree it is caused by factors other than man, and whether the science is so certain and the matter so urgent that it requires an immediate and radical change in our way of life.

On these questions, I believe we could benefit from an informed debate. And I believe that the enormous attention given to global warming and the questions surrounding it demonstrates that the primary barrier to an honest debate is not money. In my view, the primary barrier is the refusal of the 'global warming community' (for lack of a better term) to state other than that the matter is concluded. And it is also the inability of some to accept that people like me - who can remember when a next global ice age was the threat of the day - need more convincing that this time the consensus wisdom is accurate.

R. E. Swanson said...

While I think there are still many uncertain issues, I also think the "informed" debate is essentially over. For example, your mention of the claims of an impending ice age back in the 1970's was not true then and has been rather completely debunked.

http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/

Of course, you (the anonymous mouthpiece) can write what ever pack of lies and disinformation you want. You are repeating the denialist party line, inspite of the fact that most of it has been debunked. That's not an "informed debate".

Another example is your comment about Spencer's testimony not being available, which is not true, as it is available on the hearing web page.

http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1214

See what I mean?

Philo-Junius said...

"For example, your mention of the claims of an impending ice age back in the 1970's was not true then and has been rather completely debunked."

Let the weaseling begin!

The link above concedes that the "minor global cooling hysteria" of the mid 20th-century existed, it only maintains that it was not a concern of peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Regarding Spencer's testimony: review of the links will show that Spencer's testimony went online a day after everyone else's. It is in fact online now, but I couldn't say whether it was or not when The Editor posted.

But it's so much more fun to impugn the character of the opposition than merely make one's case, isn't it?

Philo-Junius said...

"You are repeating the denialist party line, inspite of the fact that most of it has been debunked."

This merely repeats the Maoist party line, which has been debunked, you Trotskyite wrecker, you.

Namecalling is fun!

The Editor at IP said...

Your approach to this is a perfect demonstration of why you are having problems winning this argument. You find someone that agrees with you 50 percent, and attack him rather than try to convince.

And if you want logic to work for you, you should not assume that a fact which was true Monday is necessarily true Thursday. When I wrote my post 3 days ago, Mr. Waxman's staff had not posted Spencer's testimony. Why they waited to post that testimony (and not the others), I do not know.

The Editor at IP said...

And for what it's worth, while you've complained twice about the fact that you are arguing with an 'anonymous blog,' I have provided more information about myself in my profile than you have chosen to provide about yourself.