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AIP reports "unprecendented" republican bullying
July 25, 2005 7:06 PM   Subscribe

A news release by the american institute of physics details the "unprecedented" bullying by republican senators of scientists studying climate change. The committee's letter asks for private and public sources of Mann's research funding, location of his data, computer codes, and his response to critical reviews of his work, including "Did you calculate the R2 statistic for the temperature reconstruction, particularly for the 15th Century proxy record calculations and what were the results?" The House web site has a collection of related materials and news articles.
posted by about_time (46 comments total)

 
(I'd be very surprised if this senator knew what an R2 statistic was. Here's another interesting article about what Sen. Barton (R-TX) is after.)

It would be nice if the press would go after information on the campaign contributions given by energy corporations to Barton with as much energy as the honorable Senator shows in going after these scientists' personal financial records.
posted by Rothko at 7:16 PM on July 25, 2005


It is just bizaare how people attack the basics of climate change. There are lots of really good questions about where it is going but to question things that are almost certainly correct is weird.

Bjorn Lomborg, someone who has been attacked by some in the scientific establishment like Republicans are now attacking are attacking those doing climate change research states, in The Skeptical Environmentalist, that he accepts quite happily that global warming, due to human C02 emmissions, is occuring. He instead asks the questions of how much change it will occur and what it will cost which are very legitimate questions.

Surely the congressional Republicans would be better served by asking the questions like these and making the point that it would be better to spend money on Research and Development into alternative energy sources than radically altering the economy for a threat that while very real, may well turn out to have relatively benign consequences.

Americans, can't you do something about these Republican cretins? Let us hope that the mid-terms are like 94 in reverse.
posted by sien at 7:27 PM on July 25, 2005


Barton is a member of the US House of Representatives, not the US Senate.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:28 PM on July 25, 2005


About_time, thank you for the link (could you please check the second one?).

Here is some other relevant discussion on the topic.

I wonder what kind of precedence this procedure is going to set. Would scientists dare contradict the Senate's (strong but unscientific) opinions? Or should they fear that their funding can be discontinued?

and, what Rothko said.
posted by carmina at 7:29 PM on July 25, 2005


OK. Space Coyote, I stand corrected.
posted by carmina at 7:30 PM on July 25, 2005


Barton is a member of the US House of Representatives, not the US Senate.

Stand corrected.
posted by Rothko at 7:32 PM on July 25, 2005


Point: Representatives/Senators are bullying Scientists.

Counter Point: Scientists don't believe in God.

Conclusion: Scientists are wrong and must be eliminated like the heathen terrorist supporting bastards that they are.
posted by snsranch at 7:54 PM on July 25, 2005


Actually, in retro, is there any difference between these republicans who jeopardize the earth's future and fundamentalist terrorists? (ideology vs. reality?)

And, if this crap is what Jesus is all about, well then I guess I'm converting to Judaism. Maybe buddist, I don't know yet.
posted by snsranch at 8:08 PM on July 25, 2005


snsranch:
scientist here at a major research institution. Many of us believe in God, just not religion. And especially not Republicans
posted by slapshot57 at 8:43 PM on July 25, 2005


Could we just let the grown-ups get on with it, please? Damn politicians.
posted by hototogisu at 8:51 PM on July 25, 2005


You know, if you really read the quotes from the letters from Barton and Whitfield (I know, I know, how quaint) it doesn't look that horrible or bullying. Here's what I got from the quotes:
  • Questions have been raised, according to a February 14, 2005 article - I'm pretty sure that's true..
  • in recent peer-reviewed articles in Science, Geophysical Research Letters, and Energy & Environment, researchers question the results of this work. - Sounds quite plausible.
  • The concerns surrounding these studies reflect upon the quality and transparency of federally funded research and of the IPCC review process - This might not be their primary point, but it's undeniably true.
  • this dispute surrounding your studies bears directly on important questions about [...] work upon which climate studies rely and [...] analyses used to support the IPCC assessment process - I'm sure this is true.
  • addressing [these] questions [...] are of utmost importance if Congress is eventually going to make policy decisions drawing from this work. - Sure. Congress needs to make laws about all of this, so they would want to be sure of the facts.
  • Did you calculate the R2 statistic... - I must admit, I have no idea what an R2 statistic is, but it seems very possible -- even likely -- that the congressmen have scientists on their advisory staff. Perhaps this issue was raised the in aformentioned Geophys Research Letters or something. Has anyone here actually read the studies in question?
Now, I would never trust a politician at face value, but if you just take the content of this letter, it really doesn't look like bullying to me. Climate change is, you know, a big deal. In an ideal world where government actually worked properly, I'd want them to be asking hard questions of researchers. It doesn't, in this world, but really: they're just questions.
posted by blacklite at 9:21 PM on July 25, 2005


This is completely disgusting. The bit about Rep. Barton's campaign finances are just too much. In Canada, if this kind of abuse of power and conflict of interest would see any liberal cabinet minister hounded from office immediately. If the Gomery inquiry had something as concretely damning as that letter against, say our current trade minister, he would be gone in a heartbeat, along with the government.

Of course, I am comparing corruption oranges to abuse-of-power apples here, but my point stands. The American press and public should be furious about this. The political independence of the scientific community should not be treated with such contempt, and to be linked so directly to the interests of an industry lobby is outrageous. If this committee chair can get away with such bulling, then the accountability of congress is truly absent.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:22 PM on July 25, 2005


Blacklight is right in the sense that this story has no legs -- it's all about a subtle (but severe) breach of trust between congress and public science. (Ah, american Lysenkoism.)
posted by Tlogmer at 9:30 PM on July 25, 2005


blacklite, I think your attitude is right. However, I would like to see what other opinions Burton's science advicers have on climate. Do they have other opinions? Maybe I would really like to know who these advisors are, wouldn't you? Given earlier bad examples!

Please see my previous post about the realclimate.org where real climatologists address this issue.
posted by carmina at 9:51 PM on July 25, 2005


[ From New Scientist Magazine's interview with Tom Willis, circa 2000 ]

"TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER"

"Tom Willis is one of American creation science's movers and shakers. He heads the Creation Science Association for Mid-America and masterminded the recent school science curriculum controversy in Kansas, where students will no longer be tested on evolution. Today, he believes the Bible to be God's literal words and says scientists believe in evolution for political reasons...."

[ from the interview ]


New Scientist : "Just for the record, do you believe the Sun goes around the Earth or the Earth goes around the Sun?"

Willis : "I'm sure your readers will love this, but I don't know. Every physicist who's looked at it seriously has realised that we don't know for sure."

Mendacity ? Faith ? Or does English lack the descriptive terms ?
posted by troutfishing at 9:53 PM on July 25, 2005


Barton's science advicers... does Burton have science advicers too? Oh, what is wrong with me tonight?
posted by carmina at 9:54 PM on July 25, 2005


blacklite, read the letters again.

Shorn of the verbiage they say:

Your work is probably wrong.
Your data is probably bad.
Additionally, it is claimed you are deliberately hiding data.
Additionally, there is a conflict of interest.

So I'm calling a Congressional Inquiry.

You need to write a long, detailed open-ended report on your possible wrong-doings that will consume many person-weeks of work (and if you don't, I'll subpoena you under Rule XI).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:00 PM on July 25, 2005


advicers? ---I should probably just give up....

Trout, I am trying to get the article you are referring to. Sounds like a masterpiece. /watching the derail unravel....
posted by carmina at 10:00 PM on July 25, 2005


[expletive deleted] - The American Press is always furious - at the Republicans, or the Conservatives, or the Religious Right, or anyone they (the Press) believes might challenge their right to control what is printed and or reported in America. Irrespective of any truth value - or the lack of it.

And if the scientific community wants independence. They can achieve autonomy quite easily, they only need to stop sucking the government teat. Which alsohappens to be MY tax dollars.
posted by garficher at 10:01 PM on July 25, 2005


blacklite: Now, I would never trust a politician at face value, but if you just take the content of this letter, it really doesn't look like bullying to me. Climate change is, you know, a big deal. In an ideal world where government actually worked properly, I'd want them to be asking hard questions of researchers. It doesn't, in this world, but really: they're just questions.

Well, I don't know about that. I think that singling out researchers for congressional investigation in the form of demanding that they cough up information that has already been published in public seems a bit odd. Couldn't Rep. Barton have just RTFA? (Along with the followup articles.) The Honorable Rep. has had access to this data for several years, and could reproduce the analysis himself if the wanted to.

The responses do an excellent job of making this clear.

The letter certainly seems to imply that this is less about scientific validity, and more about trying to run a smear campaign regarding issues that other government agencies have found perfectly satisfactory. Barton can say, in spite evidence provided by Nature, the National Academy of Sciences, multiple web sites, the IPCC Third Assessment Report, that a handful of researchers cooked their results, set UN policy, and hid their data.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:05 PM on July 25, 2005


Ah, a witch hunt - it has been decades since we have a proper, far-reaching, McCarthy-style witch hunt. First the climatologists, then the evolutionists then maybe the physicists and geologists who supported the two first groups for decades. Yes, in no time at all we can have some real, XII century science being done again.

garficher writes "And if the scientific community wants independence. They can achieve autonomy quite easily, they only need to stop sucking the government teat. Which alsohappens to be MY tax dollars."

Yes, I feel your pain - we should never let something as important as real science in the hands of scientists - we all know that the politicians, the talk-radio hosts and the Christian ministers are the ones who know already all answers.
posted by nkyad at 10:08 PM on July 25, 2005


( to garficher ) Oh boy, business is impartial ? What planet are you from ?

Sure, toxic chemicals are good for you - and especially good for American babies. I've heard it before. Garficher - or whatever you are - I guess you don't believe in community. Or science. Do you believe in anything ?

Do you believe in America ?

Asian economic growth is laughing at your ignorance. Me - I'm, a patriotic American for science.

You ? - No comment.

"Aides to Barton have said previously that the requests were an honest effort to learn about the climate change issue.

In letters mailed last month, Barton requested the records from Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, Malcolm Hughes of the University of Arizona and Raymond Bradley of the University of Massachusetts.

He sought records of "all financial grants" they had received for research, all agreements they had signed in connection with the grants, and all data they had gathered.

He said the committee needed the information in order to have "full and accurate information when considering matters relating to climate change policy." The letters were also signed by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the committee's investigating subcommittee.

The three scientists were authors if a 1998 study that concluded — based on examinations of ancient tree rings, the chemical makeup of air trapped in Greenland ice and other "proxy" data — that the Earth's temperature has started to rise dramatically after centuries of relatively little change......

......"I've never seen anything like this," said Stephen H. Schneider, co-director of the Stanford University Center for Environmental Science and Policy. "Congress is the last place to look for quality peer review. These guys (Barton and Whitfield) are conducting a fishing expedition in hopes they'll find some little thing that can be used to discredit and intimidate science."


Intimidation.

Many on the religious supremacist right believe that the Earth was created 6,000 or so years ago and that dissenters from that dogma should be crushed
posted by troutfishing at 10:11 PM on July 25, 2005


garficher: The American Press is always furious - at the Republicans, or the Conservatives, or the Religious Right, or anyone they (the Press) believes might challenge their right to control what is printed and or reported in America. Irrespective of any truth value - or the lack of it.

Which is why we didn't hear, with hourly updates, about Monica Lewinsky. As a counter example of your "liberal media bias" boo hoo hoo bullshit.

garficher: And if the scientific community wants independence. They can achieve autonomy quite easily, they only need to stop sucking the government teat. Which alsohappens to be MY tax dollars.

Right, damn it. They'll report findings consistent with what they're told or we'll stop funding them. However, if you'd bothered reading the linked to site, you'd see that the House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) (that 'R' means Republican by the way) responded with the observations that:
"Therefore, one has to conclude that there is no legitimate reason for your investigation. The investigation is not needed to gain access to data. The investigation is not needed to get balanced information on a scientific debate. The investigation is not needed to prompt scientific discussion of an important issue.

"The only conceivable explanation for the investigation is to attempt to intimidate a prominent scientist and to have Congress put its thumbs on the scales of a scientific debate. This is at best foolhardy; when it comes to scientific debates, Congress is ‘all thumbs.'

"The precedent your investigation sets is truly chilling. Are scientists now supposed to look over their shoulders to determine if their conclusions might prompt a Congressional inquiry no matter how legitimate their work? If Congress wants public policy to be informed by scientific research, then it has to allow that research to operate outside the political realm. Your inquiry seeks to erase that line between science and politics.
In fact, you can read the entirety of his reponse to their attempted shenangians as a pdf here. Or wait until tomorrow and Rush will tell you all that you're going to need to (not) know.
posted by jperkins at 10:13 PM on July 25, 2005


nykad - That seems an overly far reaching extrapolation from my statement, and my statement stands. If the scientific community - at any level wants autonomy they need to develop their own funding sources.
When I find a problem in my field (Energy Efficiency) I don't go to the government. I look for industry types who might have similar interests.
Do you suppose in this case their is absolutely no corporate entity interested in making money on the solutions to Global Warming? whether from natural causes or through human intervention and human generated greenhouse gasses?
posted by garficher at 10:18 PM on July 25, 2005


I'm getting the feeling that this is about trying to set up some Monkey-Trial show hearings. Rep. Barton will claim that Bradley-Mann-Hughes cooked their research, rigged the TAR, hid their data and misused government funds.

The fact that the 1998 study has been replicated by independent teams will not matter.

The fact that the TAR cited several lines of evidence supported by dozens of studies will not matter.

The fact that all of their data is available through public archives (many of them through NOAA) will not matter.

The fact that Primary Investigators actually don't have a huge say in how grant funds are spent at a University will not matter.

Barton et. al. can make their claims loudly and boldly and get their pet science fiction author on for balance.

garficher: That seems an overly far reaching extrapolation from my statement, and my statement stands. If the scientific community - at any level wants autonomy they need to develop their own funding sources.

I don't think the funding source has much to do with why this investigation is being held.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:28 PM on July 25, 2005


Garfincher - so what you're saying is that scientists have to expect that scientific funding is contingent upon arriving at the answers the politicians expect? It's not really science, then, is it?

Scientists "sucking at the teat of government." YOUR tax dollars. Hmmm.

Dear Lewis and Clark -

Since you were unsuccessful at finding a water route to the Pacific, we'll subject you to a Congressional Inquiry. You're just ungrateful bastards sucking at the teat of government, anyway.

- T. Jefferson

posted by Chanther at 10:33 PM on July 25, 2005


garficher writes "That seems an overly far reaching extrapolation from my statement, and my statement stands."

What you propose is not only ridiculous, it is quite dangerous. You propose not only to let the Government meddle with scientific results they dislike (since you apparently agree with the Congressman action here), but you also propose to kill all pure science research in order to...in order to what exactly? Science as a whole has been a project willingly supported by most societies for the benefits it brings - from the clear material benefits to the less concrete satisfaction knowledge about the structure of the Universe and the Evolution of species brings. You are proposing to abandon this project, let all research be "applied research" and, probably, let Reason take a nap for some centuries while we enjoy our nice new Middle Ages.
posted by nkyad at 10:36 PM on July 25, 2005


Garfincher: The NSF and NIH grant processes are based on scientific peer review (ie a panel of active researchers in the field review grant applications), and the funded researchers practice science pretty much independently of the politicians and high-level administration.

You're painting with broad strokes here, when you refer to the 'scientific community' becuase that encompasses a wide range of groups--basic science folks and the applied, lets-put-it-into-practice folks.

It seems to me that these climate scientists who are being hounded by Barton, are doing basic science--they're trying to determine if there has been climate change and by how much.

What is chilling is that Barton himself is getting involved in verifying the veracity of the climate scientists' findings, and I doubt that Barton, his committee, and their staff scientists have the ability to make a scientific judgement that will change the scientific status quo. The political status quo--that's another matter.

Also, the fact that Barton and his committee are trying to obtain the researchers working materials (raw data, programs, etc.) and their background info (funding sources, grant administration information), seems to point to some kind of fishing expedition for political witch-hunt material to attack the credibility of these scientists.

Getting back to your statement of scientists wanting autonomy and independence. Basic science research usually isn't funded by corporate entities, because that stuff usually doesn't have any value to a profit-generating organization. It's the non-profits and the US Government that funds the bulk of basic research in the US.
posted by scalespace at 10:40 PM on July 25, 2005


Well, I don't know. I get the point that as long as there is public science and research, there is going to be a potential for conflict of interest. That just goes along with the territory for funding. The Bush Administration in particular has been rather zealous about stacking the deck to promote research that is likely to favor its agenda.

I don't think the solution is to abandon public research entirely. In fact, I think the primary advantage that public research has over private research is that when Bush tries to stack the panel or Barton tries to pull the strings, it becomes a matter of public record. We don't really have access to this when it happens with a Monsanto or Pfizer.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:50 PM on July 25, 2005


And, to finish my discussion: research funded by the US Government and most non-profits that are published in peer-reviewed journals are done in the public interest--that is, the findings contribute to a public body of knowledge that is used for further research.

Any kind of ideological or political meddling with the findings render them invalid, essentially, and is of no use to other researchers in the field. Sure, intrinsic and extrinsic biases exist in all research studies, but when you start having some ideologue telling you what to do, what to expect, and that you're going to be canned if you don't get what's expected, then it really doesn't make sense to do the study anymore.
posted by scalespace at 10:50 PM on July 25, 2005


[From a physician researcher]

This certainly isn't the first time that Congress has tried to get their say about research that isn't politically palatable to them. The New England Journal of Medicine in December 2003 (sorry, it's a subscription only link) reported on a bill that missed passing in the House by just a few votes that would have allowed Congress to rescind funding for projects that were "politically unacceptable."

Around the same time, a group called The Traditional Values Coalition (www.traditionalvalues.org) posted a list of over 200 NIH grants that they found objectionable. Things like using government money to study HIV transmission among men who have sex with men. Because, you know, how does HIV possibly affect good christian tax-payers?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:51 PM on July 25, 2005


I'm tired of being reasonable.

Let those who would seek to dismantle and discredit science find it unavailable to them. Go live in the stone age. Electromagnetism is a theory. Turn off the lights when you leave.
posted by dreamsign at 11:25 PM on July 25, 2005


I'm with dreamsign, evolution requires "selection." We need to abandon the insipid help everyone holdover from the days when we mistakenly believed in Marx. We should leave stagnant businesses models (and Christians) behind.

In this case, these climate models can be used to try to predict the climate of various regions. Great! Try to make a good prediction for the progressive costs of the U.S. Try to give the costs good advice on agriculture research. Hopefully, states like NY and CA will come out with a stronger economy. Furthermore, If you do figure out what crops will be produced in the conservative parts of the country, figure out what other parts of the world might end up growing the same things, and advise them to look into growing it. Maybe Spain could go in for some of the same things which the mid west will need to be growing in 50 years, and majorly weaken the political power of the midwest int he process.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:05 AM on July 26, 2005


BTW, A Nature survey of 517 members of the National Academy of Sciences, with half responding, shows that only 7% of scientists express a believe in a "personal god" (down from 40% in 1916) with 72.2% reporting "personal disbelief" and 20.8% being agnostic. Only 7.9% believe in life after death.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:06 AM on July 26, 2005


US President George W.?Bush made four assertions: there are large uncertainties about the science and the economics; the Kyoto agreement would involve large costs and negligible benefits for the US; proposals to deal with greenhouse gas emissions that exclude developing countries are ineffective; and that research and development on new technologies should take priority over expenditure for meeting emissions reduction targets. It pains me to say it but on all points Mr Bush is right.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:02 AM on July 26, 2005


Did you calculate the R2 statistic for the temperature reconstruction? Did you? Particularly for the 15th Century? Then what the hell temperature reconstruction are you calculating? Well, it's the only temperature reconstruction here. What the fuck do you think you're calculating? Oh yeah? [*pulls out HP calculator*] Huh?
posted by sfenders at 7:02 AM on July 26, 2005


Let's be logical here. Who would be more likely to want to modify the truth in order to serve a political agenda: a scientist, or a politician? Hmm?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:39 AM on July 26, 2005


research and development on new technologies should take priority over expenditure for meeting emissions reduction targets.

That strikes me as a rather odd position for a member of the Republican party to take. Aren't those guys supposed to be all about market-driven solutions? Give the market an incentive (such as emissions targets), and they'll build it? Instead he talks about the importance of doing more research. And then we see repeated stories of how people who are actually doing some relevant research are encouraged to stop it when they don't come up with the desired results. And where is all this centrally-planned research into new technology, anyway? Why did they stall for so long on ITER if it's so important? Actually we don't need any new technology. For example in automobile emissions, a solution that's good enough to make a big difference, the "plug-in hybrid", is already pretty easy to build with current technology. At the present rate of progress, maybe it will make it to production on a large enough scale to make a difference in about thirty years, if we're lucky enough to see continued high oil prices. It would be very easy to do better.
posted by sfenders at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2005


"Let those who would seek to dismantle and discredit science find it unavailable to them. Go live in the stone age. Electromagnetism is a theory. Turn off the lights when you leave."

I've been thinking lately that there should probably be some kind of mass intellectual worker strike--because I'm pretty sure the people who actually make meaningful contributions in technical fields in this country are all similarly frustrated by the recent anti-scientific shift in the culture. If these glib overconfident, executive types (and let's face it; that's really who we're up against) think they can run the world without science (or even reason), then why not let them try? Once all the communication networks start breaking down because no one who actually understands them is left to keep them running, once the TV sets all go black, and doctors go back to drilling holes in people's heads to treat them for demonic possession, maybe they'll put the pieces together and remember, "Oh yeah--we needed science after all."
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:07 AM on July 26, 2005


Does anyone else remember the hooplah over the Rind study that was condemned by congress for suggesting that survivors of sexual abuse might be more resiliant than normally believed?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:44 AM on July 26, 2005


all-seeing eye dog, you're sort of calling for the plot of Atlas Shrugged with slightly different motivations. Awesome. Who gets to deliver the 70-page speech after the strike really causes things to crumble?
posted by COBRA! at 9:06 AM on July 26, 2005


Mann's response [pdf] is good reading. He manages to take the high road, which I'm sure must have been difficult. Via, which also links to several other related letters.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:06 AM on July 26, 2005


Oh, and in his response Mann suggests that the "R2" statistic Barton mentions should actually be r2. If Barton had competent science advisors, you'd think they would have caught that before the letter went out.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:10 AM on July 26, 2005


Aren't those guys supposed to be all about market-driven solutions?

That's just talk to them. They say they want free markets, and then turn around and enact policies that literally do nothing but restrict trade for the benefit of already-established corporations and cartels.

The Republicans have become such hypocrites it makes me want to spit.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:23 AM on July 26, 2005


Kwantsar, I'm with you on the Kyoto agreement perhaps for different reasons, but Bush has his head up his ass on this. He’s not a scientist. He doesn’t recieve accurate feedback on political issues, how do you expect him to be advised accurately on something that affects business?

But why worry about any of this? Clearly we’re living in the End Time, when the Son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire. Environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed — even hastened — as a sign of the coming Apocalypse.
(note - I refrained from reiterating that quote attributed to James Watt)

Science is about reality, not belief. Shout “inconclusive” all you want. Even Thomas Jefferson had a hard time believing huge rocks could fall from the sky. It doesn’t mean they don’t
posted by Smedleyman at 11:34 AM on July 26, 2005


Sounds like McIntyre and McKitrick had a bone to pick, and they got a congressman to do their bullying for them. Mann's rebuttal is comprehensive.

To summarize in the manner of lupus_yonderboy above:

Point 1: You don't know what you're talking about, and neither do McIntyre and McKitrick, so kindly fuck off and leave the science to the scientists.

Point 2: It's R^2, not R2, and no I didn't calculate it, because it's crap for what we do and everybody knows it.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:58 PM on July 27, 2005


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