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A Bid to Chill Thinking, Behind Joe Barton's Assault on Climate Scientists

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  • mtneuman@juno.com
    A Bid to Chill Thinking, Behind Joe Barton s Assault on Climate Scientists Washington Post July 22, 2005 In today s partisan political climate, science has
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 24, 2005
      A Bid to Chill Thinking, Behind Joe Barton's Assault on Climate
      Washington Post
      July 22, 2005

      In today's partisan political climate, science has inevitably become a
      political football. But I can't remember anything quite as nasty -- or as
      politically skewed -- as Rep. Joe Barton's recent attack on scientists
      whose views on global warming he doesn't like.

      Barton, an 11-term Republican from Texas, is chairman of the House Energy
      and Commerce Committee and one of the oil lobby's best friends on Capitol
      Hill. Late last month he fired off letters to professor Michael Mann of
      the University of Virginia and two other scientists demanding information
      about what he claimed were "methodological flaws and data errors" in
      studies of global warming.

      Barton's letters to the scientists had a peremptory,
      when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife tone. Mann was told that within less
      than three weeks, he must list "all financial support you have received
      related to your research," provide "the location of all data archives
      relating to each published study for which you were an author," "provide
      all agreements relating to . . . underlying grants or funding," and
      deliver similarly detailed information in five other categories.

      The scientists' offense was that they had authored a controversial study
      that reported a sharp rise in global temperatures during the 20th
      based on an analysis of tree rings, glacial ice and coral layers. The
      study was an important source for a 2001 report by the U.N.
      Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that argued the 1990s had been
      the hottest decade in 1,000 years. A graph summarizing the sharp upturn
      last century after hundreds of years of flat temperatures became known as
      the "hockey stick," and it has been derided ever since by skeptics.

      There's certainly room for scientific debate about Mann's research. A
      front-page article in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 14 cited a rebuttal
      by two Canadian scientists, focusing on Mann's alleged mathematical
      mistakes. But other scientists have noted that there is so much other
      evidence of global warming that even if Mann did make serious mistakes in
      his statistical calculations, it wouldn't change the scientific picture
      very much. "[I]ndependent groups, with different analysis methods, have
      arrived at similar results for the last millennium," climatologists Gavin
      Schmidt and Stefan Rahmstorf argue in a post on their Web site,

      Barton's goal wasn't scientific clarity but political intimidation. That
      was the conclusion of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican who
      chairs the House Committee on Science, which also claims jurisdiction on
      climate change issues. He wrote a blistering July 14 letter to Barton:
      primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be
      to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to
      Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would be
      pernicious." He added that the precedent set by this effort "to have
      Congress put its thumbs on the scales of a scientific debate" was "truly

      The political mischief in Barton's probe is that it tries to fuzz the
      climate debate when a consensus is finally emerging that climate change
      a serious global problem and one that is man-made. The national academies
      of science of 11 leading countries, including the United States and
      Britain, issued a joint declaration this year that "there is now strong
      evidence that significant global warming is occurring" and that the
      "scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to
      justify nations taking prompt action."

      This growing scientific consensus prompted a "sense of the Senate"
      resolution last month that "greenhouse gases accumulating in the
      atmosphere are causing average temperatures to rise at a rate outside the
      range of natural variability," and that the problem is caused by "human
      activity." Another sign of the scientific clarity on the issue came
      yesterday when the Senate energy committee met with top climatologists
      then expressed bipartisan support for taking action. Even President Bush
      agreed that the scientific evidence is solid by endorsing a Group of
      communique this month that described climate change as "a serious and
      long-term challenge" and warning that human activities "contribute in
      large part to increases in greenhouse gases associated with the warming
      our Earth's surface."

      The strategy of Exxon Mobil and other business interests that resist
      action on global warming has been to maintain the notion that the
      scientific evidence is shaky. That strategy was outlined in a remarkable
      1998 "Action Plan" prepared by business opponents of the Kyoto treaty,
      which argued: "Victory will be achieved when . . . average citizens
      'understand' (recognize) uncertainties in climate science."

      Barton's investigation may be a last roundhouse swing in this
      bash-the-science strategy. Perhaps it pleased energy and natural resource
      interests, which gave Barton $523,099 in his 2004 congressional race, and
      Exxon Mobil, which has given him $17,500 since 2001. But this battle is
      ending. A consensus is emerging among responsible Republicans and
      Democrats. The basic science on climate change isn't in doubt any more.
      The question is what to do about it.
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