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February 11, 2006

Slouching Toward Scientific McCarthyism

Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change

In the 20 February 2006 issue of The New Republic, John B. Judis has an article about how the issue of hurricanes and global warming has been handled by NOAA. Judis is engaging in scientific McCarthyism by arguing that certain perspectives on science are invalid because they are viewed as politically incorrect by some.

The transformation of this part of climate science into pure politics is fully embraced by those on the political left and the right, and most troubling is that this transformation is being encouraged by some leading scientists who have taken to criticizing the views of other scientists because they happen to work for the federal government. These scientists know full well how such accusations will be received. What ever happened to sticking to the science? Read on for background and analysis.

Judis alleges that scientists and political appointees in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA (pronounced “Noah”) are together conspiring to suppress scientific knowledge about a linkage of hurricanes and global warming,

Many respected climate scientists, including some who work for NOAA, believe the organization's official line on the link between global warming and hurricanes is wrong. What's more, there is reason to believe that NOAA knows as much. In the broader scientific community, there is grumbling that NOAA's top officials have suppressed dissenting views on this subject--contributing to the Bush administration's attempt to downplay the danger of climate change. Says Don Kennedy, the editor-in-chief of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "There are a lot of scientists there who know it is nonsense, what they are putting up on their website, but they are being discouraged from talking to the press about it."

The notion that NOAA has an “official line” on hurricanes put up on their website apparently comes from this press release from 29 November 2005 which includes the following statements:

The nation is now wrapping up the 11th year of a new era of heightened Atlantic hurricane activity. This era has been unfolding in the Atlantic since 1995, and is expected to continue for the next decade or perhaps longer. NOAA attributes this increased activity to natural occurring cycles in tropical climate patterns near the equator. These cycles, called “the tropical multi-decadal signal,” typically last several decades (20 to 30 years or even longer). As a result, the North Atlantic experiences alternating decades long (20 to 30 year periods or even longer) of above normal or below normal hurricane seasons. NOAA research shows that the tropical multi-decadal signal is causing the increased Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995, and is not related to greenhouse warming.
There is consensus among NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters that recent increases in hurricane activity are primarily the result of natural fluctuations in the tropical climate system known as the tropical multi-decadal signal.

Judis argues that the scientific consensus has moved on:

NOAA's official position reflects what used to be the conventional wisdom on the relationship between global warming and hurricanes. Until recently, most empirical climate studies had focused on the frequency of hurricanes; and most researchers concluded that there wasn't a link to global warming--the frequency was connected to cyclical trends. But, in the last year, two important studies have suggested that there is an observable link between global warming and the growing intensity of hurricanes.

The studies that he refers to are familiar to readers of this bog, Emanuel in Nature and Webster et al. in Science, hereafter E05 and W05. What Judis doesn’t tell his readers is that neither E05 nor W05 are attribution papers – that is, neither paper conducted a rigorous analysis to explain the trends that they have documented. Here is what those papers actually say about attribution:

Emanuel et al. 2005 expresses some doubt as to the cause of the trends that he observes: “Whatever the cause, the near doubling of power dissipation over the period of record should be a matter of some concern”

Webster et al. 2005 more explicitly eschew attribution: “attribution of the 30-year trends [in hurricane intensity] to global warming would require a longer global data record and, especially, a deeper understanding of the role of hurricanes in the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, even in the present climate state.”

Now to be fair, Emanuel and the Webster et al. team have stated frequently in public that they firmly believe that the trends that they have documented are in fact caused by global warming. Why is there a difference between the cautious statements these scientists have made in their peer-reviewed publications and what they have said in public? The difference is that between rigorous research and hypotheses about what future research will show. Neither E05 nor W05 fully explain the trends that they see, but as we suggest in or 2005 BAMS review (here in PDF), they are “suggestive” of a linkage. Further peer-reviewed research may indeed demonstrate attribution, but it has not yet, and for those of us without expertise in the science it is probably best to rely on what the peer reviewed literature says rather than picking sides in an unfolding debate yet to appear in the peer-reviewed literature.

Judging by a quote in the Judis article, Donald Kennedy of Science thinks that this issue is important enough to violate his own magazines embargo policy when he says that, “According to Kennedy, forthcoming papers by Emanuel and by Kevin Trenberth of NCAR could strengthen the case for a link between hurricanes and global warming.” Of course it seems obvious that even if such papers are soon to appear, it makes no sense for scientists who are unaware of them to reflect what they say. [My guess is that these papers will offer competing theories to explain recent trends.] But I suppose that the logic here is that such studies merely confirm what those evil NOAA scientists should have known in the first place.

TNR’s Judis appears to acknowledge a “scientific debate” but then writes as if the previous scientific paradigm has been overturned and anyone who says differently must be in cahoots with the Bush Administration’s spin machine or conservative commentators. Bizarrely, Judis criticizes NOAA scientists for making statements fully supportable by peer-reviewed science, and in some cases work that those scientists have published.

NOAA officials have sometimes included carefully crafted caveats designed to deflect criticism from scientists who know about the controversy. But, because they don't acknowledge the debate explicitly, the general public is likely to miss the caveats' significance. Appearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee on September 20, for instance, Max Mayfield, the director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, said, "The increased activity since 1995 is due to natural fluctuations and cycles of hurricane activity, driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming." NOAA officials also resort to clever ambiguities that elude the public.”

If there is a scientific debate as Judis suggests, should Mayfield have the right to express his views on the science? Didn’t we just go through this with James Hansen? Is it that Mayfiled’s views are not politically correct and so therefore he must be lying to the public? Judis is encouraging scientific McCarthyism.

Judis continues to pile on NOAA administrators and scientists for making statements that are either consistent with existing science or their own personal views on the science,

They deny, for instance, any link between global warming and hurricane "activity"--a term that glosses over the distinction between frequency and intensity. The November issue of NOAA's online magazine declares that "NOAA attributes recent increase in hurricane activity to naturally occurring multi-decadal climate variability" (italics added). In settings where scientists are not likely to be listening, NOAA officials have even dropped the hedged and ambiguous language. On August 30, Conrad Lautenbacher, the head of NOAA, said in Weldon Spring, Missouri, "We have no direct link between the number of storms and intensity versus global temperature rise." The next month, when CBS's "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer asked Mayfield whether the hurricanes had "something to do with global warming," he replied unequivocally, "Bob, hurricanes, and especially major hurricanes, are cyclical." And, at the NOAA press conference, Bell said simply of hurricane intensity: "It's not related to greenhouse warming."

Bell has an impressive record of scientific research. Is he not allowed to speak to his conclusions and hypotheses, or are only certain perspectives allowed in today’s politics of the climate debate? If we are going to advocate that James Hansen can speak his views on climate science, which are not universally shared, on what basis is Judis criticizing Bell for expressing his views?

Judis even endorses scientific McCarthyism by associating the views of certain scientists with conservative commentators, suggesting that certain views should be evaluated by who refers to them,

As expected, Rush Limbaugh, Rich Lowry of National Review, The Washington Times, and other conservative voices have cited NOAA to attack what Limbaugh has called "the global warming crowd." But NOAA's and Mayfield's statements have also influenced mainstream commentators. Citing Mayfield, USA Today editorialized against "global warming activists" who were turning the "storms into spin." CNN correspondent Ann O'Neill counseled against attributing hurricanes becoming "bigger and meaner" to global warming. "Don't rush to blame it on global warming, experts warn," she wrote. And two of the experts she quoted were Mayfield and Chris Landsea, Mayfield's colleague at the National Hurricane Center. Citing Mayfield, a Chicago Tribune editorial issued a similar admonition against linking hurricanes with global warming.

Judis goes on to discuss the state of public relations in NOAA, a subject on which I too have heard rumors of a clamp down. As I understand things the alleged clamp down affects all NOAA employees, not just those who want to assert a linkage between global warming and hurricanes (Who are these folks? Judis does not name names.). This is indeed an important subject and it would benefit from some hard evidence (muzzled NOAA employees contact me:!). But to suggest that any such clamp down on media interactions has contributed to a stifling of discussion of hurricanes and global warming is absurd. This subject has received far more attention than is warranted by its policy significance. The great irony here is that Judis is trying to stifle the voices of those who he disagrees with.

For its part, NOAA should never put out an official agency position on a scientific subject, unless it has some formal mechanism for arriving at such a position (as does the FDA, for instance). Individual scientists, whether they are in NOAA and NASA, should be able to voice their views on science in which they have expertise. If many scientists within NOAA happen to think that the linkage of hurricanes and global warming is overstated by others, there is no need to ascribe this to the politics of the Bush Administration or to lying or deceit. Every NOAA scientist quoted in the Judis story has had a career that began long before Bush took office. Each is an accomplished scientist. They are deserving of our respect, even if their views are not received as politically correct.

The reality is that the last word on the science of hurricanes and climate change has yet to be written. And as far as the peer-reviewed literature is concerned, the debate really hasn’t even begun. There are differing expectations from very smart people about what future research will say. This is a recipe for an increase in our collective uncertainty. For the foreseeable future there will be conflicting statements made by qualified scientists. How people choose sides in this debate is likely to be much more a function of politics and ideology than anything else. Expect to see more scientific McCarthyism.

Posted on February 11, 2006 08:58 AM


So, where is the attribution anaysis to support "recent increases in hurricane activity are primarily the result of natural fluctuations in the tropical climate system known as the tropical multi-decadal signal."?

Posted by: William Connolley at February 11, 2006 11:24 AM

Presumably it is to be found in these two papers cited in the NOAA press release:

Goldenberg, Stanley B., Christopher W. Landsea, Alberto M. Mestas-Nunez, William M. Gray. July 20, 2001. The Recent Increase in Atlantic Hurricane Activity: Causes and Implications. Science, Vol. 293. no. 5529, pp. 474 - 479.

Leading Tropical Modes Associated with Interannual and Multidecadal Fluctuations in North Atlantic Hurricane Activity (Year/Month Received at AMS: 2005-10), Gerald D. Bell and Muthuvel Chelliah, in press, Journal of Climate

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 11, 2006 11:43 AM

One might presume that, but then one might actually read the paper... you'll forgive me if I don't have the In Press one, but G et al say "The possibility exists that the unprecedented activity since 1995 is the result of a combination of the multidecadal-scale changes in Atlantic SSTs (and vertical shear) along with the additional increase in SSTs resulting from the long-term warming trend. It is, however, equally possible that the current active period (1995-2000) only appears more active than the previous active period (1926-1970) due to the better observational network now in place. During the previous active period, only 1966-1970 had continual satellite coverage (33, 50). Further study is essential to separate any actual increase from an apparent one due to more complete observations."

Which doesn't sound like a definitive attribution to Natural causes to me.

Posted by: William Connolley at February 11, 2006 12:21 PM

William- Your interpretation sounds reasonable to me, but of course none of that makes the NOAA scientists cited in the Judis piece mindless or decietful Bush Administration drones that we can consequently dismiss. Judis would have been better served by focusing on the very troubling allegations of NOAA supression, rather than using such allegations to score points in a scientific debate that has only really just been joined.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 11, 2006 12:27 PM

I've heard this very question was debated live in Atlanta at the national meeting for American meterologists, between William Gray and Chris Landsea, and that Landsea had a tough time defending the "tropical multi-decadal signal" position. Unfortunately, no transcripts seem to be available. Any comment from attendees?

Posted by: Kit Stolz at February 11, 2006 01:18 PM

Roger: OK, so that puts us back in the original position: no attribution either way. So why aren't you chiding the official NASA folk for "NOAA attributes this increased activity to natural occurring cycles in tropical climate patterns near the equator..."?

Posted by: William Connolley at February 11, 2006 01:52 PM


Even the Judis article correctly observes that in the hurricane community the status quo ante has been that a global warming signal would not be detectable in the behavior of hurricanes. See our BAMS paper for an up-to-date summary of this literature. This was also reflected in the TAR of the IPCC.

As you well know much of science works through hypothesis - falsification. Across climate science the null hypothesis used toguide research has been that a human signal is NOT present, and research is then done to falsify this hypothesis. In some cases such research has been done allowing attribution of climate effects to an anthropogenic forcing. This null hypothesis is chosen because of Occam's razor, it is a simpler explanation for what is observed.

Hurricane science should be no different. For non-experts in hurricane science, like you and me, we are best guided by the peer reviewed literature, which for better or worse, today contains no statements of attribution to GHGs. Based on the public statements of widely respected scientists, this may soon change, and if the balance of opinion changes in the community our views should change accordingly. Until that time a deicsion to depart from the status quo ante requires that we either reject Occam's razor for this case only or place our bets based on non-scientific factors like politics or personalities.

NOAA and NASA officials, as well as commentators on science like Judis, would do well to recognize these fundamental properties of science, rather than casting the world as black-white, good-evil.


Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 11, 2006 03:43 PM

The problem being that the status quo ante on attribution is rapidly changing. For example

Quoting the abstracts, I believe accurately captures the nature of the controversy.

From Wm Gray:
This recent Science paper by Webster, Holland, Currie and Chang indicates that the global number of Category 4-5 hurricanes have increased in the last 15 years (1990-2004) in comparison with the prior 15-year period of 1975-1989. Global mean surface temperature in the later period has been about 0.3oC higher than in the earlier period. The authors’ imply that their observed rise in global Category 4-5 hurricanes are related to higher global temperatures which may have an anthropogenic greenhouse gas component. I do not agree that global Category 4-5 tropical cyclone activity has been rising, except in the Atlantic over the last 11 years. The recent Atlantic upsurge in Category 4-5 hurricanes is not found in the other global basins and is due to processes other than global surface temperature increase.

From Webster, Holland, Curry and Chang
Gray (1: hereafter referred to as Gray) raises a number of issues regarding our study of the global statistics of hurricanes (2: referred to henceforth as WHCC) as compiled for the satellite era (1970-2004). We find all of the issues raised by Gray to be without substance and easily refuted. We show that the WHCC conclusion is robust to an analysis that allows for uncertainty in the discrimination between category 3 and category 4+5 hurricanes and that much of Gray’s analysis is misleading. The issues that Gray raises regarding the treatment of the data during the period prior to 1985 do not introduce any spurious trends or jumps in the data set. The data set that Gray does use for the period 1985-2004 does not agree with the WHCC data set, and he does not document his data set in any way. In spite of his concerns about data between 1970 and 1984 in the WHCC analysis, Gray nevertheless uses data from 1950 to bolster his arguments. Gray presents an alternative hypothesis for variations of hurricane characteristics in the North Atlantic that involves salinity variations; this hypothesis is not substantiated either in his paper or in the published literature. His analysis of the impact of warmer sea surface temperature on the stability of the lower troposphere contains basic errors in thermodynamics. In summary, there is no credence to any of the issues that Gray raises.

Posted by: Rabett at February 11, 2006 10:24 PM


One of the most important tests for any theory is how it predicts the future. The theory of natural, multi-decadel cycles in Atlantic Hurricanes was developed and proposed long before 1995.

Since the 1980's, Professor Gray has been a regular speaker at the annual National Hurricane Conferences and his theme was always the same: The United States will see a significant increase in destructive hurricanes, likely beginning before 2000, and will continue for 20 to 40 years. He cited the massive development along the Coastal US during the 'quiet' decades and said that we would be faced with a huge increase in damage amounts.

His theory was developed through long and painstaking research, piecing together 600 years of Atlantic Hurricane and related weather information. He is an old fashioned scientist, meaning that he likes to gather data and look for patterns, unlike some of today's scientists who like to come up with theory's and then try to find the data that seems to support them.

Since the theory of a multi-decadel cycle in Atlantic Hurricanes appears to be unfolding exactly as predicted, one must give the theory some credit. Certainly, most hurricane climatologists do, and have said so publically.

It is a scientific consensus based on observation, unlike AGW, which is a scientific consensus based on theory. Amazingly, some believe the former has no merit and must be the product of political pressure, while the latter is free from such influence, even though it is nothing, if not a political football.

Sometimes this stuff reads like a Lewis Carrol story!

Posted by: Jim Clarke at February 12, 2006 07:48 PM

Jim Clarke makes a useful point, but not quite the one he is trying to make. Looking for patterns in data is cladistics. Your observations may help you make predictions but has little explicative power and does not help you much if you want to effect the system under observation. Like neural nets, you learn very little from your predictions and are easily mislead.

It is not a bad thing to do if you have no theoretical underpinnings to your field, but as soon as such a theory appears it becomes a dead end in light of something that is both explicative and predictive.

That is the dead end that Gray and the classical biologists find themselves in. Of course a theory that is neither predictive nor explicative is useless, which is why no ethical scientist believes in string theory.

Posted by: Rabett at February 12, 2006 08:23 PM

So, Jim, as Dr. Gray seems unable to, please explain for us the scientific case for favoring "natural cycles" over AGW-driven SST increases as the more likely cause of the current upswing in hurricane intensity found by Emanuel and Webster et al. To underline the point, of course there is no such theory (noting that the paper Roger cited as containing one didn't, nor does any other as far as I know). There is a *hypothesis*, and we'll see if Bell and Chelliah can come up with a solid argument for it.

While we're on the subject, please explain why it is that the 2005 North Atlantic season involved so few of the Cape Verde tropical storms that (as far as I can tell) were far more typical during the prior period of recorded high activity.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 12, 2006 08:32 PM

Roger, given your known relationship with Chris Landsea, do you think there's any chance any of the dissenting NOAA scientists would risk revealing their identities to you?

On the general tone of your post, having carefully read both it and the Judis article, I'm not sure as to your basis for the charge of "McCarthyism." If I recall my history correctly, McCarthy used his position within the government to sometimes accurately but more often falsely accuse government employees of hiding their affiliations with the Communist Party. Many of the falsely accused not only lost their jobs but were placed on "black lists" that subsequently made it difficult for them to make a living. There do appear to be people in fear of losing their jobs here, but they're not any of the folks Judis criticizes.

Judis is accusing NOAA of something quite different, which is to muzzle employees who disagree with the Bush administration line on the hurricane-global warming connection. Nowhere in the article did he imply that the NOAA employees he named in the article did not honestly believe their stated views of the science, but rather that they overtly or by implication argued for the existence of a consensus that they had to know doesn't even exist within their own agency, let alone the wider world of hurricane researchers. Obviously my argument here is completely dependent on the existence of the alleged dissenting NOAA scientists. I don't necessarily take Don Kennedy's word for that, as he likely isn't personally acquainted with the dissenters, but I do take Kerry Emanuel's word for it. I notice you didn't quote that part of the article.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 12, 2006 09:03 PM


Thanks for your comments. FYI my institutional home at the University of Colorado is in a NOAA joint institute (CIRES) and I probably know hundreds of NOAA employees around the country. And yes, I've indeed heard from many folks as a result of my query.

Chris Landsea is a widely respected scientist inside and outside of NOAA, despite your attempt to imply that he is "blacklisted" (hence the analogy I used!).

NOAA's policy, put into place or enforced apparently after many of the statements referred to by Judis, apparently applies to all employees, though on some topics there is a blanket waver. If you or Judis or anyone else has hard information about selective muzzling a la NASA, lets hear it. I haven't.

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at February 12, 2006 09:42 PM


Your comment is a good one. In an era when no one was predicting a dramatic increase in hurricane activity, Bill Gray was a consistent and responsible voice. And he turned out to be right. History may show that he didn't have all of the science exactly right, or maybe it will show that he was right on -- I'll leave it to the hurricane community to sort that out. But everyone in the hurricane science community -- even those who disagree with his curent views -- agrees that he has been a giant in the science of hurricanes.

It is therefore a shame to see people who know little about hurricane science or the history of the field demeaning Bill Gray for obvious political reasons. But such is the state of science and commentary today.

Your post highlights the almost complete lack of statements being made by leading scientists about hurricane behavior in coming years. All of the debate is focused on 2004 and 2005. This itself may be worth a follow up. Thanks for your comment.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 12, 2006 10:45 PM

Roger, I didn't say that Chris Landsea had been black-listed. Quite the contrary: It appears that Mayfield, Landsea, and Bell have been "white-listed" (which is probably a pithier way of noting the inaptness of your McCarthyism charge). But you seem to be saying that based on some new NOAA policy even they are no longer allowed to speak, although some (or some subjects) are exempted. Do you have any particulars on that? I'm actually glad to hear you're sufficiently trusted for NOAA employees to feel they can contact you, and I'll look forward to your assessment of the situation.

Regarding Bill Gray, I will certainly acknowledge his past contributions, but wouldn't you say his recent entry into the broader political arena makes it fair to consider whether his current contributions to the science might have a political spin? I think Judy Curry et al would have been a little nicer to him had he not done so. Also, BTW, while I'm certainly an amateur I don't think it's fair for you to say I don't know much about the science or the history of the field.

As for future predictions, the difficulty is that there are too many unknowns in hurricane science to be able to say much more than we should expect hurricanes to continue to strengthen consistent with increasing SSTS *all else being equal*. It could so easily turn out that all else is not equal if, e.g., it turns out that more warming strengthens shear winds and retards formation. OTOH some of the new round of papers may add to the basis for prediction. The one thing we can guarantee is that absent a cluster of damaging U.S.-landfalling storms in the next few years, policy-makers will continue to ignore the advice of all hurricane scientists that continuing to build up vulnerable coastal areas is an exceptionally bad idea. In any case the next few seasons should be very interesting.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 13, 2006 02:16 AM


Thanks for the follow up. My apologies if you thought I was referring to you in my response to Jim, I was not. I was actually refering to some of Gray's colleagues.

Regarding "white-listing" -- again, everything I have learned from NOAA folks suggests that the NOAA policy on media contacts was put into place after the quotes used by Judis in his article. Its not like Mayfield, Bell, Landsea were brought selectively out in 2005 from some dark corner of NOAA to rebut global warming claims. Since the NOAA policy came out my understanding is that it covers these three individuals as well. When is the last time you saw Bell quoted in the press?

My essay argued that Juids was engaging in scientific McCarthyism -- that he was indeed pushing us towards a scientific blacklist of people whose views on science were not to be trusted for political reasons. No analogy works perfectly of course, but from where I sit I'm satisfied that this one fits in this case.

Your last paragraph is a pretty good summary of our review of the science found in our BAMS paper! ;-)


Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 13, 2006 07:22 AM

Roger-- I think NOAA has squashed the work of Tom Knutson at GFDL who has done modeling studies suggesting increases in hurricane intensity for doubling CO2. Knutson also has an attribution paper in press (Journal of Climate) that concludes an anthropogenic signal in Atlantic sea surface temperatures has emerged. You never hear Knutson quoted and his/GFDL's work is never referenced by the politicals or NOAA public affairs. And this is intentional.

NOAA has been selective in touting the work done by researchers at CPC (Bell) and HRD (Landsea) that suggests multi-decadal natural variability and says nothing about Knutson's work, or the work done outside NOAA that may not be consistent with its "position."

So, I would conclude NOAA is not being an honest broker. Do you agree?

Posted by: OnTheInside at February 13, 2006 10:03 AM


Thanks for your comments.

When you say "squashed the work" are you suggesting that they interfered with the research itself, or simply has chosen not to publicize it through agency channels?

Lets be realistic, not every NOAA-authored peer reviewed study gets a press release, and the decision to promote some and not other papers is of course entirely a political decision (maybe not left-right political, but political in the sense of using press releases as a means to some other goal, like publicity for the agency, etc.). It would not at all surprise me that NOAA would not promote Knutson's work in the current political environment, but that is their right, no? If they are misrepresenting his work, or, worse yet, interfering with his research, then that is a different story.

Selectively touting some research and not others is indeed cherry picking -- I complained about this here:

But cherry picking is not an abuse of science. See the discussion here:

Again, let me repeat, NOAA should not be in the position of having an official agency position onf the science of hurricanes and global warming unless it has a transparent process for arriving at such a position a la FDA. As far as I can tell it does not.

Finally, just to be clear your use of the term "honest broker" is not how I've been using the term, which I mean to describe the "honest broker of policy options". As far as I can see there is not much discussion of policy in this at all. But to get to the spirit of your point, it is clear that NOAA is being selective in its presentation of information, yes, and not being comprehensive. In this case, this is called politics. People with a different political orientation would be selective in a different way, but selective nonetheless.

Thanks for your comments!!

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at February 13, 2006 10:46 AM

I hadn't noticed this when it came out over the weekend, but Lautenberger was quoted in the WaPo as saying people are free to speak and Hansen as saying he knows otherwise. Note that a possible interpretation of Lautenberger's remarks is that scientists are free to speak out through the venue of peer-reviewed research only. If true, this would raise the question of how free of a choice there is as to the subject matter for the research. What's your feedback on this from NOAA scientists, Roger?


(full article at )

James E. Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who sparked an uproar last month by accusing the Bush administration of keeping scientific information from reaching the public, said Friday that officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also muzzling researchers who study global warming.

Hansen, speaking in a panel discussion about science and the environment before a packed audience at the New School university, said that while he hopes his own agency will soon adopt a more open policy, NOAA insists on having "a minder" monitor its scientists when they discuss their findings with journalists.

James E. Hansen, NASA's leading climate scientist, told a New York audience that NOAA scientists are being censored on global warming.

"It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," said Hansen, prompting a round of applause from the audience. He added that while NOAA officials said they maintain the policy for their scientists' protection, "if you buy that one please see me at the break, because there's a bridge down the street I'd like to sell you."

NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher denied Hansen's charges, saying his agency requires its scientists to tell its press office about contacts with journalists but does not monitor their communications.

"My policy since I've been here is to have a free and open organization," Lautenbacher said. "I encourage scientists to conduct peer-reviewed research and provide the honest results of those findings. I stand up for their right to say what they want."

Hansen prefaced his speech, which focused largely on how quickly humans must act in order to prevent irreversible climate change, by saying he was speaking as an individual. "I'm not speaking for the agency or the government," he said.

Most scientists who study climate change have concluded that Earth's current warming is being driven by the burning of fossil fuels. The administration does not question the link between human activity and climate change, but it has called for more research and supports solutions other than mandatory limits on carbon emissions.

After the panel discussion -- which also featured Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, American Enterprise Institute fellow Steven Hayward and Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich -- Hansen said he knows of NOAA scientists who are chafing at the administration's restrictions but are afraid to speak out.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 13, 2006 12:12 PM

A quick googling:

Mayfield in the press on 2/10/06:

Ed O'Lenic (from NOAA CPC) in the press 2/3/06:

Landsea in the press 2/1/06:

And finally, Landsea in the press on 2/2/06 (reprint from WSJ, so date of original article may be different):

Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 13, 2006 01:32 PM

Roger. Your response seems reasonable. There was no alteration of Knutson's research as far as I know, but just a choice not to promote/mention it in certain circumstances. You're correct, this is an example of cherry-picking and playing politics.

Understood on your definition of honest broker. I was extending the term (perhaps inappropriately) to within the context of science to mean communicating a full range of (published, legitimate) perspectives (which, ideally, would help foster expanded policy options).

Posted by: OnTheInside at February 13, 2006 01:44 PM


The official NOAA media policy can be seen here:

Several interesting sections:


.01 The following shall be referred to the servicing PAO:

a. proposed news conferences, whether for the specialized press or for the general press, radio, or television;

b. proposed contacts with major news media and radio and television stations or networks for coverage of news features involving NOAA programs or activities; and

c. official and non-official scientific and technical papers authored or co-authored by NOAA employees that may result in media interest.

.02 NOAA employees must notify the servicing PAO or OPCIA before responding to news media inquiries whenever the inquiries:

a. are of national news interest;

b. concern regulatory actions or issues;

c. concern controversial issues;

d. pertain to science or research having known or potential policy implications;

e. involve the release of scientific or technical papers that may have policy implications or are controversial; or

f. involve a crisis or a potential crisis situation.

And also:

The following is intended to serve as general guidance for individuals who will be in contact with members of the media as a result of their work with NOAA.

a. Discussions should focus on science and fact, not speculation.

b. Limit discussions to matters for which you are responsible and of which you have direct knowledge.

c. Whether in person, on camera, or over the phone, when speaking to a reporter you represent and speak for the entire agency.

According to this news story starting last September this policy was enforced with renewed vigor and perhaps even modified to require approval further up the agency hierarchy :

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at February 13, 2006 02:19 PM

Item number one: NOAA's website presents Mann et al's Hockey Stick as irrefutable "truth" in multiple places.

Item number two: No one in their right mind would use Bristlecone Pines, known to be well adapted to wide swings in temperature, and growing in response to spring and summer moisture, as a proxy for temperature.

Posted by: Steve Sadlov at February 13, 2006 04:10 PM

(Reposted -- my original try somehow ended up in the wrong thread.)

Well, Roger, if that policy doesn't amount to a gag I'm not sure what would. Interestingly, *I* just heard from a NOAA scientist (who very much wishes to remain anonymous, not surprisingly). She/he doesn't work directly on hurricanes, but is close enough to some of those who do to affirm that many of them do think a GW-hurricane connection has been clearly established, but are afraid to speak out about it.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 13, 2006 05:50 PM

Roger, probably you were already aware of this, but the problem at NOAA may be larger than the hurricane-global warming issue: . Also, the correspondent I mentioned states she/he has had some similar experiences, although not as bad, working in an unrelated area.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 15, 2006 02:31 PM


O.K. Let's hear it for the chicken little theory of global warming...

Hey! Anyone hear of Montserrat volcano? Ever wonder what the amounts of CO2 coming out of that hell hole?

Posted by: juandos at February 17, 2006 03:59 PM

Dear Double Juan,

In short yes, and it is small compared to the amount of CO2 from burning fossil fuel. See, for example
about 2/3 the way down the page

"Comparison of CO2 emissions from volcanoes vs. human activities.
Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1992). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 22 billion tonnes per year (24 billion tons) [ ( Marland, et al., 1998) - The reference gives the amount of released carbon (C), rather than CO2.]. Human activities release more than 150 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes--the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes like Kilauea (Kilauea emits about 13.2 million tonnes/year)!"

Posted by: Rabett at February 18, 2006 10:21 PM

Hmmm... no one has refuted or even debated my two items. Interesting .... defeaning silence.

Posted by: Steve Sadlov at February 21, 2006 09:20 PM

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