Republicans accused of witch-hunt against climate change scientists

Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Tuesday August 30, 2005
The Guardian

Some of America's leading scientists have accused Republican politicians of intimidating climate-change experts by placing them under unprecedented scrutiny.

A far-reaching inquiry into the careers of three of the US's most senior climate specialists has been launched by Joe Barton, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on energy and commerce. He has demanded details of all their sources of funding, methods and everything they have ever published.

Mr Barton, a Texan closely associated with the fossil-fuel lobby, has spent his 11 years as chairman opposing every piece of legislation designed to combat climate change.

He is using the wide powers of his committee to force the scientists to produce great quantities of material after alleging flaws and lack of transparency in their research. He is working with Ed Whitfield, the chairman of the sub-committee on oversight and investigations.

The scientific work they are investigating was important in establishing that man-made carbon emissions were at least partly responsible for global warming, and formed part of the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which convinced most world leaders - George Bush was a notable exception - that urgent action was needed to curb greenhouse gases.

The demands in letters sent to the scientists have been compared by some US media commentators to the anti-communist "witch-hunts" pursued by Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.

The three US climate scientists - Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Centre at Pennsylvania State University; Raymond Bradley, the director of the Climate System Research Centre at the University of Massachusetts; and Malcolm Hughes, the former director of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona - have been told to send large volumes of material.

A letter demanding information on the three and their work has also gone to Arden Bement, the director of the US National Science Foundation.

Mr Barton's inquiry was launched after an article in the Wall Street Journal quoted an economist and a statistician, neither of them from a climate science background, saying there were methodological flaws and data errors in the three scientists' calculations. It accused the trio of refusing to make their original material available to be cross-checked.

Mr Barton then asked for everything the scientists had ever published and all baseline data. He said the information was necessary because Congress was going to make policy decisions drawing on their work, and his committee needed to check its validity.

There followed a demand for details of everything they had done since their careers began, funding received and procedures for data disclosure.

The inquiry has sent shockwaves through the US scientific establishment, already under pressure from the Bush administration, which links funding to policy objectives.

Eighteen of the country's most influential scientists from Princeton and Harvard have written to Mr Barton and Mr Whitfield expressing "deep concern". Their letter says much of the information requested is unrelated to climate science.

It says: "Requests to provide all working materials related to hundreds of publications stretching back decades can be seen as intimidation - intentional or not - and thereby risks compromising the independence of scientific opinion that is vital to the pre-eminence of American science as well as to the flow of objective science to the government."

Alan Leshner protested on behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, expressing "deep concern" about the inquiry, which appeared to be "a search for a basis to discredit the particular scientists rather than a search for understanding".

Political reaction has been stronger. Henry Waxman, a senior Californian Democrat, wrote complaining that this was a "dubious" inquiry which many viewed as a "transparent effort to bully and harass climate-change experts who have reached conclusions with which you disagree".

But the strongest language came from another Republican, Sherwood Boehlert, the chairman of the house science committee. He wrote to "express my strenuous objections to what I see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation".

He said it was pernicious to substitute political review for scientific peer review and the precedent was "truly chilling". He said the inquiry "seeks to erase the line between science and politics" and should be reconsidered.

A spokeswoman for Mr Barton said yesterday that all the required written evidence had been collected.

"The committee will review everything we have and decided how best to proceed. No decision has yet been made whether to have public hearings to investigate the validity of the scientists' findings, but that could be the next step for this autumn," she said.


Falcon Love

My football team gets a little love from Sports Illustrated. Dr. B (yes, you, Samantha)--go to the story and notice what is peeking out from under the hat of the Heisman Hopeful. Tell your coach to fear the dreds (and yes, this is the only team that beat Purdue AT Purdue a few years ago).


Detroit Getting an Ounce of Help

I posted a bit about Toledo's industry-funded high school. Looks like Apple is going to do something similar with Detroit. The story has a bit of a breathless tone:
Gov. Jennifer Granholm will announce Tuesday that the California computer maker and master of the red-hot iPod will help finance, equip and advise a small top-quality high school for Detroit students at most risk of being left behind.

The goal is intensely ambitious to not only graduate these students, but also to prepare them for college and careers.

If successful -- and Apple has had success with similar efforts in other states -- the school will teach all of Michigan how to move from public high schools that churn out graduates unprepared for either work or college, to nimble academies that serve as launching pads for college or advanced training.

Teach ALL of Michigan how to move from boring/hopeless/incompetent schools to "nimble academies"? BS. I'm glad to see Apple stepping into a difficult situation to put their two-cents worth in. In fact, I'm currently showing my Online Docs class Robert Cringley's "The Triumph of the Nerds", complete with over-the top narration like "This man is richer than God...and Bill Gates is richer than him" and pronouncements of Apple's failure. I show it to my class, despite it's obvious misogyny and econo-fetishism for two reasons: 1. it shows the guts of the microcomputer and Internet marketing revolution. The interviews, location shots of Silicon Valley and Albuqueruque, and hyperbolic narration all capture the time perfectly 2. The interviews with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates captures two approaches to manufacturing. Bill Gates understands working in a commodified environment and Steve Jobs understands production innovation. Apple's production innovation DNA is what intrigues me about this school. It works for changing industry, but I have my doubts as to how far it can change social institutions that aren't cranking out pieces of plastic or metal. Our public school system needs good ideas, to be sure, but I believe the answer doesn't lie in changing everything into a corporate metaphor. Just ask Brent Faber how that works.


Innovation or Emotion

J.D. Bullington, an Albuquerque columnist that I don't particularly like or agree with met with Dan Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind - Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age." Pink is the former chief speechwriter for former Vice President Al Gore and writes about employee-management relations and emerging societal trends in the workplace.

In his column, Bullington discusses Pink's thesis about where innovation is going:

His argument is that our modern U.S. economy is soon going to be driven by a new set of personal abilities and traits that have been undervalued. Pink says we are "moving from spreadsheet SATs to a world of artistry and empathy."

Pink's three core pieces of evidence are the "abundance" of goods we have individually amassed in this country, which shows our standard of living is breathtaking; the continuous "automation" of our society and "Asia." Pink correctly asserts that U.S. workers are engaged in a search for meaning and purpose in their lives and seeking transcendence, more so than ever before, which is "a result that this abundant and automated society has liberated."

Now, I haven't read this book, so I don't know where this is going, but my first reaction is to agree with this assessment. I think that we are a highly successful country--at least in terms of good. I think that the "automation" is really another way of admitting that we have entered a cyborg, or systems, era. Johndan Johnson-Eilola's "symbolic analyst" is more akin to an artist than an analyst. Much in the same way that an artist needs to get past the need for minute control to make graceful and bold moves, the symbolic analyst must get past mechanistic and atomistic notions of control to carve and shape the systems that shape our lives. An example? A blogger like DailyKos or a political player like Rush Limbaugh. As much as people may disagee with one, the other, or both, these analysts/actors use communication networks/systems to move create massive shifts.


Good Idea in Toledo

Toledo has a Technology High School.
Toledo Technology Academy seems to eschew the digital associations most have with the term "technology," and instead focuses upon industrial and manufacturing engineering. It takes a decidedly more blue-collar approach to technology (not a surprise considering the sponsorship by Dana corp. and Plastics companies). I would love to convince a few of these students to come to Bowling Green and share their passion and expertise in the Scientific and Technical Communication program (any students or parents out there interested?).


Welcome Back BGers

Thought experiment for today:

How might your life be different today if technical writing didn't exist? No instructions, maps, reports, manuals, help functions, help books (including self-help books), pilot training materials, automobile manufacturing instruction reports, engineering feasibility reports, cookbooks, proposals, etc.


Homeslices Win Slam

My hometown Albuquerque poets won the National Poetry Slam. Charlotte, NC came in a close second (and not without controversy--it WAS held in the 'Burque after all). Of course, it was the first time ever for the home team to win (and Albuquerque has won it before a few times). I'm awed that the Slam sold out the Kiva for a night of spoken word. Nicely done, homeslices.


Richard Florida at George Mason

Well, my favorite *pop fizz* author, Richard Florida is a public policy professor at George Mason University. People like Dr. Rice HATE this guy (at least on the surface), I think because he's been a pretty good stadium-tax prop for every mayor looking to move downtown dirt. I think Richard Florida has recieved his fair beating for being opportunistic, but I don't think sweeping dismissals of his earlier economics analysis (ahem, Dr. Rice) is fair or accurate. He's been looking at the connection between the ephemeral "tolerance of new ideas" and "innovation" and sees a correlation (and not necessarily a causation--which is what his conservative critics misread into his analysis). By looking at immigrant and gay couple population density, he sketches a rough portrait of where "new thinking" is tolerated. I don't see the problem or controversy here. Now that he is a public policy prof., maybe he can better pick and choose the kinds of political appearances he justifies with his smiling presence. No more faux "renovations" or fake "commons" projects please. Stick to pushing the grassroots innovation your studies advocate.

*Correction--Dr. Rice DOESN'T HATE Richard Florida. He and I disagree on what Florida is articulating, but he's got a more nuanced read on him than I'm giving him credit for. Give his comments below a read. Or, better yet, go see what he's writing at Yellow Dog.*


Farmer's Market in Findlay

Findlay finally gets a Farmer's Market

I'm wrapping up my second year here in Findlay, and the city FINALLY gets a Farmer's market going. The bad news is that there are only four Thursdays for the market to run and this is only a test. This place is surrounded by oceans of farms, and there are a fair number of folks around here who remember what good produce actually tastes like--so this seems like a no-brainer. When I finally went over to the market, there was a pretty big crowd of people of all ages and political persuasions (if their conversations were any indication). I overheard people saying "it's about time we had one of these" at least a dozen times...

What did I buy? Some green chile (Anaheim chile peppers, for those who aren't in the know); a blue bell pepper; some very fragrant heirloom tomatoes at about $1 per pound; yellow squash (WAY better looking than what counts for squash at Kroger or sprawl Mart); and a half-dozen ears of corn from a guy selling corn out of the back of his pickup.

After the trip to the market, we walked over to the local Dietsch Ice Cream store for a Coke Float (with Rum Raisin ice cream). Last night, we made a dinner of fresh corn on the cob (with lime and salt) and sliced heirloom tomatoes. We also made a fresh cornbread with some of the corn we bought. Just about brought us to tears it was so good...