Science Policy & Funding News

Scientists, Legislators Take Off Their Gloves at Climate Hearing

Although scientists bickered about the science, all agreed that cutting federal funding for climate monitoring and associated research is not a good idea.

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The temperature rose at a congressional hearing about climate change on Wednesday during which witnesses and legislators argued not only about the science but also about the politicization of the issue.

The stated focus of the hearing by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology was to look at climate science assumptions, policy implications, and the scientific method. However, the hearing, which at times devolved into accusations and name-calling, played out against a backdrop of the White House’s recent efforts to cut funding for climate-related science through a budget proposal and to roll back the Obama administration’s climate change initiatives in a sweeping executive order.

Bickering at the Hearing

Committee chair Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) opened the hearing by stating, “Before we impose costly government regulations, we should evaluate scientific uncertainties and ascertain the extent to which they make it difficult to quantify humans’ contribution to climate change.”  He added, “Much of climate science today appears to be based more on exaggerations, personal agendas, and questionable predictions than on the scientific method. Those who engage in such actions do a disservice to the American people and to their own profession.”

Democrats countered by issuing a report charging that the hearing is the latest example of efforts by the committee’s majority “to provide a forum for fringe science interests, climate change deniers, and oil and gas industry proxies to spread doubt and disinformation about climate science and the scientific process.”

Ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said that the unwillingness of Republicans to accept the scientific consensus on climate change “has led them to harass scientists who disagree with them.”

At the outset of his testimony, Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, who has been subject to lawsuits and congressional review, noted a broad agreement among scientists on the basic facts of human-caused climate change.

“There is a worthy debate to be had about the solutions to this problem. There is no longer a worthy debate to be had about whether the problem exists,” Mann said.

Criticisms of individual scientists can make them retreat from their research, he added. “The intention of these very public attacks on climate scientists,” he said, “is meant to send a chilling signal to the entire research community: ‘If you, too, publish and speak out about the threat of human-caused climate change, we’re coming after you, too.’”

Later, Mann told Eos that he believes the intent of the hearing is “to provide cover for these efforts to dismantle the funding for climate science and to justify [Rep. Smith’s] continued inquisition against climate scientists.”

He was the one witness invited by Democrats to testify at the hearing. Mann said the other three witnesses “either deny basic science or downplay its significance.”

Accusations of Stalinism and Power Politics

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), however, rebuked Mann for using in his written testimony the label of climate science denier against another witness, Judith Curry,  president and director of the Climate Forecast Applications Network, headquartered in Reno, Nev.

“For scientists on either side to try and call names and try and beat somebody into submission: that’s a Stalinistic tactic. Those using the word ‘denier’ are using a Stalinistic tactic,” he said.

Judith Curry, president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network and professor emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Judith Curry, president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network and professor emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology, testifies at the 29 March hearing. At right are Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, and Roger Pielke Jr., professor in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Colorado. Credit: Randy Showstack

For her part, Curry, professor emeritus of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, said that the “war on science” that she is most concerned about is “the war from within science,” which she characterized as scientists and organizations “playing power politics with their expertise and passing off their naive notions of risk and political opinions as science.”

Curry testified that “the climate community has prematurely elevated a scientific hypothesis on human-caused climate change to a ruling theory through claims of consensus.” She said that among the greatest uncertainties are thermodynamic feedbacks related to clouds and water vapor and how the ocean transports heat and carbon.

Another witness, Roger Pielke Jr., who is a professor in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, argued that there is “little scientific basis in support of claims that extreme weather events” such as hurricanes, floods, drought, and tornadoes and their associated economic damage have increased in recent decades because of the emission of greenhouse gases. Mann took issue with Pielke, however, saying that Pielke was using old data.

Bipartisan Truce Urged

Pielke, who has been targeted for his views on climate change and was the subject of an investigation by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), said that debates over science sometimes serve as “a proxy for debates about policy preferences or political orientation.” When members of Congress participate in those proxy debates, “it contributes to the pathological politicization of science,” he said.

The investigation of individual researchers, Pielke said, “is not an appropriate role for Congress,” and he called for an immediate “bipartisan truce” to end those types of inquiries, something that Mann also supported.

Shared Support for Observation Systems

Another point of agreement among the witnesses was their support for continued funding for climate-related observation systems.

“The most important thing to me is the observing systems that we have—ocean, atmosphere, and so on,” witness John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama state climatologist, told Eos after the hearing. “Keep those vital [and] resilient. Keep them going because it’s long time series that really gives us information about how the variations occur and gives us a hint as to why the variations occur.”

High Stakes Bring on the Heat

At the hearing, committee member Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) commented about the vitriol he had observed. “I was trying to think, why can’t we all just get along, and realized it’s because the stakes are so high” with the possibility of millions of people displaced by rising waters, for instance, “if the vast majority of scientists are correct about the human impact of global warming,” he remarked.

Christy noted to Eos that the economic stakes over climate change are also high. “When it comes down to regulating a gas that is vital and related to energy, then there’s going to be fights. I think those from states that produce the carbon and produce the electrons—Alabama is a net exporter of electrons—it touches peoples’ wallets, their livelihoods, and so on. That’s a bigger issue than the scientists can handle.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), Scientists, legislators take off their gloves at climate hearing, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO070921. Published on 31 March 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • cshorey

    To anyone gullible enough to buy the “Dr. Mann told two lies” false meme. I have put transcripts of the parts of the hearing in question so you can see this is definitely not true. On the other hand we saw Dr. Pielke using out of date information and Dr. Curry only able to speak of uncertainties enough to say that water vapor and cloud feedbacks are so unknown their sign might be negative, and that the amount that human contribute to climate change may be less than 50%. Please if you bought the lie that Dr. Mann lied, look into this more deeply and realize there was one respectable climate scientist on the panel that day. Well done Dr. Mann!

    Mann testimony

    1:28:50

    Senator Higgins: Dr. Mann, are you affiliated or associated with an organization called the Union of Concerned Scientists?

    Dr. Mann: (Surprised) Uh, um . . . no. I correspond with people. (Hard to hear end as Higgins talks over end of answer)

    Senator Higgins: You’re not affiliated or associated with them?

    Dr. Mann: Am I associated with them? I know people who are (members? inaudible due to below), yes.

    Senator Higgins: (talking over last part of Dr. Mann’s answer to him as if he didn’t care about it, and making it hard to hear Mann’s response ) Yes sir. Are you affiliated or associated with an organization called the Climate Accountability Institute?

    Dr. Mann: Uh . . . no. I mean, I may certainly correspond with some of . . .

    Senator Higgins: (talking over Dr. Mann again) You’re not affiliated or associated with them?

    Dr. Mann: I can provide you . . . I’ve submitted my C.V.. You can see who I’m associated with or not (inaudible due to below)

    Senator Higgins: (talking over Dr. Mann again) These two organizations; are they connected directly to organized efforts to prosecute man influenced climate skeptics via RICO statutes?

    Dr. Mann: The way you’ve phrased it, I would find it extremely surprising if what you said were true.

    Senator Higgins: (Actually let Mann finish that last answer then moves immediately to Dr. Pielke Jr.. Coming back to Dr. Mann later) Dr. Mann, would you be able to at some future date provide to this committee evidence of your lack of association with the organization Union of Concerned Scientists, and lack of your association with the organization called Climate Accountability Institute? Can you provide that documentation to this committee sir?

    Dr. Mann: Yeah, so, you haven’t defined what association even means here, but it’s all in my C.V. which has already been provided to committee.

    Senator Higgins: Will you provide evidence of your assertion?

    Dr. Mann: I will send it again.

    1:46:30

    Senator Higgins asks for a website from CAI showing Dr. Mann as an “advisor” be entered in the record. If he were intelligent and unbiased he would have heard Dr. Mann say it depends on what is meant by “associated”.

    ON CALLING DR. CURRY A “DENIER”

    2:19:50

    In response to Senator Lahood:

    Dr. Mann: So, I’m not going to talk about the suit (libel suit which Dr. Mann is winning in court). But I do want to clarify, that there are a number of statements that have been attributed to me that are not correct. I don’t believe I called anybody here a denier and yet that’s been stated over and over again, so I’ve been misrepresented quite a bit today by several people .

    Dr. Curry: It’s in your written testimony. Go read it again.

    Dr. Mann: What I talked . . . in the written statement I described scientists who either deny the science or who reject its impacts. Something to that effect. I did not call you a climate change denier. And so that’s just a misstatement that’s been repeated here. (Curry cackles) But let me state that there’s a difference between disagreeing with people, which is not only appropriate, but critical in science to have honest and frank discussions of uncertainty to disagree, to call out those statements that you don’t believe to be supportable. That is completely appropriate. That’s very different, for example, from an accusation of misconduct or fraud. Those are two complete different things, and it’s unfortunate that in that in your question you are conflating those two groups of things.

    Senator Lahood:

    That’s your opinion Dr. Mann, but are you denying that as it relates to . . . (attempt to discredit Dr. Mann through quote mining on Dr. Peilke)

    Later Senator Smith: I’ll put into the record if it’s not already part of the record on Dr. page 6 of Dr. Mann’s written testimony today where, Dr. Curry, he says “Climate Science Denier Judith Curry” I assume that is you he is wrongfully referring to.

    Dr. Mann: That is “climate science” not “climate change” so that’s different.

    Dr. Curry: Climate science denier Judith Curry (with laughter)

    Dr. Mann: And I’ve described the science she’s denying.

    Dr. Curry: (continues to laugh)

    Senator Smith: And that clearly contradicts what Dr, Mann’s been saying.

    Dr. Mann. I’ve described the science that she’s denying.

    2:25:35 In response to Senator Foster’s question and Curry’s response:

    Dr. Mann: I just want to say, this is exactly what I’m talking about. I did not call Judith Curry a climate change denier here today. There is a statement in the written statement that she’s a science . . . climate science denier. And that is precisely what I’m talking about. She has argued that we might be responsible for less than 50% of the warming that we have seen. IPCC has assessed that. They’ve actually estimated the likelihood that that could be true. It’s one in ten thousand. One in ten thousand is the likelihood of something she claims to be true. That’s a rejection of basic science.

  • DennisHorne

    You can’t win with evidence and science against liars and deniers. Most of them are only useful idiots manipulated by psychopaths.

  • D4tune

    Not surprising, threaten the slush fund and the “climate experts”get concerned.

  • FreedomFan

    Isn’t lying to Congress a felony? Shame on Mikey.

    • cshorey

      He didn’t lie. He said he didn’t call her a denier, he called her a science denier. As for the CAI, he blatantly said he did communicate with them, but was not associated with them. No lie there either. The CAI website only calls him an “advisor” which is different from “member”. Now when Judith Curry said that no warming in 10 years disproved climate science, that was a lie. When she said satellites are the best data we have, that was a lie. When John Cristy doesn’t note how many time his data sets have had to be corrected, that’s a lie of omission. Where is your bilateral concern?

    • Krishna Padmanabhan

      See cshorey below – apparently he didn’t lie. He just told some untruths but in the lingua of climate change evangelism, that is not lying. Climate Change Evangelism 101 – when you lie in the cause, you are telling the truth, facts notwithstanding.

      • cshorey

        Oh, this is crap analysis too. Here is the first “lie”. Do tell me exactly where you see the lie in the first charge. I’m still working on the transcript for the second false “lie”. Whoever you heard these were lies from, you should be taking them to task for such terrible reporting. Your term “climate change evangelism” speaks of a confusion to the science btw.

        Mann testimony

        1:28:50

        Senator Higgins: Dr. Mann, are you affiliated or associated with an organization called the Union of Concerned Scientists?

        Dr. Mann: (Surprised) Uh, um . . . no. I correspond with people. (Hard to hear end as Higgins talks over end of answer)

        Senator Higgins: You’re not affiliated or associated with them?

        Dr. Mann: Am I associated with them? I know people who are (members? inaudible due to below), yes.

        Senator Higgins: (talking over last part of Dr. Mann’s answer to him as if he didn’t care about it, and making it hard to hear Mann’s response ) Yes sir. Are you affiliated or associated with an organization called the Climate Accountability Institute?

        Dr. Mann: Uh . . . no. I mean, I may certainly correspond with some of . . .

        Senator Higgins: (talking over Dr. Mann again) You’re not affiliated or associated with them?

        Dr. Mann: I can provide you . . . I’ve submitted my C.V.. You can see who I’m associated with or not (inaudible due to below)

        Senator Higgins: (talking over Dr. Mann again) These two organizations; are they connected directly to organized efforts to prosecute man influenced climate skeptics via RICO statutes?

        Dr. Mann: The way you’ve phrased it, I would find it extremely surprising if what you said were true.

        Senator Higgins: (Actually let Mann finish that last answer then moves immediately to Dr. Pielke Jr.. Coming back to Dr. Mann later) Dr. Mann, would you be able to at some future date provide to this committee evidence of your lack of association with the organization Union of Concerned Scientists, and lack of your association with the organization called Climate Accountability Institute? Can you provide that documentation to this committee sir?

        Dr. Mann: Yeah, so, you haven’t defined what association even means here, but it’s all in my C.V. which has already been provided to committee.

        Senator Higgins: Will you provide evidence of your assertion?

        Dr. Mann: I will send it again.

  • Rob

    “Subject to lawsuits”, eh!

    But, it’s a good write up.

  • Krishna Padmanabhan

    Mann lied twice, and was abusive. Mark Steyn must have been there, he would have ripped Mann to pieces. The crucial point is that climate change is not deniable, it is the hysteria and the evangelism around the idea that is unacceptable. That hysteria is preventing development of science and technology in power generation from progressing except in quixotic directions such as wind. Let us have those Red Teams that Judith Curry mentions in her blog to bring some balance into the debate. Much as I admire Obama for many things, I think he was dogmatic or deluded or both when it came to energy. At least now, we are able to hear some opposing views.

    • Tom Devine

      Spot on.

      • cshorey

        You might look at my reply to see how spot off it was.

    • cshorey

      The “two lies” aren’t really. He said he didn’t call her a denier, he called her a science denier. That’s not a lie but it was a clarification. The lie is you saying it is a lie. As for the CAI, he blatantly said he did communicate with them, but was not associated with them. That is true. Their CAI website only calls him an “advisor” which is different from “member”. Mark Steyn is a radio shock jock with no climate expertise. What is wrong with your view that you came to these conclusions?

      • Krishna Padmanabhan

        I have watched the entire hearing. To me it is clear that hockey stick Mann lied. You are free to believe otherwise, even accept that the man is a Nobel laureate as he once claimed; honestly your acceptance or otherwise of what I see as facts is pretty much irrelevant to me.I am a qualified and experienced power engineer, and while I do not deny climate change, I denigrate green evangelism and the climate change mafia that do not allow dissent.

  • Mann was caught in two blatant lies — saying he didn’t call Judith Curry a denier and saying he was not associated with the Climate Accountability Institute.

    • cshorey

      He said he didn’t call her a denier, he called her a science denier. So not a blatant lie at all. As for the CAI, he blatantly said he did communicate with them, but was not associated with them. That is true. Their CAI website only calls him an “advisor” which is different from “member”. Devil’s in the details Canman. Now take an equal interest in why Judith Curry would say that satellite is the best data we have.