Let’s start by acknowledging that the position of “State Climatologist” is problematic simply because it is federally designated role and not an official state government position. So there is ample room for confusion as to who the person in the position actually speaks for, and NOAA should indeed address this — which could easily be done by changing the title to “NOAA-designated climate services extension officer” or something inscrutable like that. Even so, a statement like the following should concern anyone, regardless of their views on climate change:
Your views on climate change, as I understand them, are not aligned with those of my my administration.
. . . from a 13 February 2007 letter (PDF) from Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner to Delaware’s State Climatologist, as designated by the federal government and approved by the State of Delaware (PDF), David Legates.
It seems fairly obvious to me that if Governor Minner is truly concerned about the confusion between the federal designation and the Delaware executive branch, then she should be discussing with NOAA options for changing its use of the designation “State Climatologist” rather than telling Mr. Legates not to use the federal designation, which the state has previously approved under her own signature. The letter she has written to Mr. Legates makes it look like her concern is in fact not possible confusion about the designation, but instead the fact that David Legates holds different views on policy than those of her administration. If she wants to have advisers on climate change determined by political criteria, that is of course her right.
I can imagine that if the Bush Administration sent the exact same letter to Jim Hansen, there might be some greater reaction than we have seen to Ms. Minner’s letter.
My reactions to this letter, and (non) reactions to it, echo my concerns with the approach that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has take to overseeing the issue of the politicization of science. If the concern is really procedural — that is, who gets to speak what information under what designation — then the response should be focused on improving those procedures. The selective focus on certain individuals and certain perspectives instead makes these complaints about the “politicization of science” themselves politicized. While this might work to the short-term advantage of certain agendas in political debate, what won’t be addressed by this approach are those processes that foster the pathological politicization of science.