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Contents:
Joel Achenbach on Weather Extremes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics August 03, 2008

The New Abortion Politics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker August 01, 2008

Free Enterprise but not Free Speech
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics July 28, 2008

A brief account of an aborted contribution to an ill-conceived debate
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments July 25, 2008

The Swindle Ruling, British Culture, and Freedom of Expression
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics July 22, 2008

Climate Science and National Interests
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | International | Science + Politics July 09, 2008

Governance as Usual: Film at 11
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Journalism, Science & Environment | Science + Politics July 09, 2008

The IPCC, Scientific Advice and Advocacy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments | The Honest Broker July 09, 2008

How much influence should a ‘mega-foundation’ have?
   in Author: Cherney, D. | Science + Politics June 26, 2008

Op-Ed in Financial Post
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Prediction and Forecasting | Science + Politics June 18, 2008

Why Costly Carbon is a House of Cards
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments | Technology Policy June 12, 2008

Who Do National Science Academies Speak For?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker June 10, 2008

Good Intelligence
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker June 05, 2008

Does the IPCC’s Main Conclusion Need to be Revisited?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments May 29, 2008

A Familiar Pattern is Emerging
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics May 25, 2008

Senator Obama's Science and Technology Policies
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics May 23, 2008

Senator McCain's Science and Technology Policies
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics May 22, 2008

IPCC Predictions and Politics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Prediction and Forecasting | Science + Politics May 22, 2008

Senator Clinton's Science and Technology Policies
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics May 21, 2008

The Politicization of Climate Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Prediction and Forecasting | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments May 16, 2008

Comparing Candidate Policies on Science and Technology
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General May 15, 2008

Consistent With, Again
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics May 08, 2008

Teats on a Bull
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Prediction and Forecasting | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics May 08, 2008

Iain Murray on Climate Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy May 08, 2008

The High Cost of Emissions Reduction Symbolism
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Science + Politics May 01, 2008

CSU Silencing Bill Gray?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics April 28, 2008

ScienceDebate2008 - Lessons Learned?
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 26, 2008

Science Advisor Confirms His Existence
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 25, 2008

A Post-Partisan Climate Politics?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy April 21, 2008

Please Tell Me What in the World Joe Romm is Complaining About?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy April 21, 2008

Memo to ScienceDebate Supporters - Don't Fudge Facts
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 18, 2008

Geoengineering: Who Decides?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Democratization of Knowledge | Science + Politics | Technology Policy April 17, 2008

Mission Creep in the War on Science
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 16, 2008

Kudos to Kerry Emanuel
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics April 11, 2008

Ted Nordhaus on the Politics of Personal Destruction
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment | Science + Politics April 09, 2008

Setting a Trap for the Next President
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment | Science + Politics March 29, 2008

LA Times on Adaptation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics March 26, 2008

New Paper on Climate Contrarians by Myanna Lahsen
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Science + Politics March 24, 2008

Fewer Endangered Species
   in Author: Hale, B. | Biodiversity | Biodiversity | Environment | Science + Politics | Sustainability March 22, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Prediction and Forecasting | Science + Politics March 18, 2008

Interview at The Breakthrough Institute
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Environment | Science + Politics | Technology Policy March 04, 2008

R&D Funding - An Investment that Looks Like an Entitlement
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding | Science + Politics February 20, 2008

The Consistent-With Game: On Climate Models and the Scientific Method
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Prediction and Forecasting | Science + Politics February 13, 2008

Technocracy versus Democratic Control
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker February 11, 2008

Science Debate 2008: an incoherent idea at best
   in Author: Meyer, R. | Democratization of Knowledge | Science + Politics | government February 07, 2008

Guest Comment: Sharon Friedman, USDA Forest Service - Change Changes Everything
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Environment | Prediction and Forecasting | Science + Politics February 01, 2008

Climate Experts Debating the Role of Experts in Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments | The Honest Broker January 31, 2008

Witanagemot Justice And Senator Inhofe’s Fancy List
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 30, 2008

The Authoritarianism of Experts
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker January 23, 2008

I'm So Confused
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Education | Science + Politics January 20, 2008

Soylent Green
   in Author: Hale, B. | Environment | Health | Science + Politics January 16, 2008

My Comments to Science on Hillary Clinton's Science Policy Plans
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General | Technology Policy January 05, 2008

On the Political Relevance of Scientific Consensus
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments December 21, 2007

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC, Science and Politics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments | The Honest Broker December 19, 2007

A Question for the Media
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Journalism, Science & Environment | Science + Politics December 14, 2007

Waxman's Whitewash
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker December 12, 2007

Chutzpah
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker December 10, 2007

Neal Lane and Roger Pielke, Jr. on NPR Science Friday
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics November 16, 2007

The Technological Fix
   in Author: Hale, B. | Climate Change | Disasters | Environment | R&D Funding | Science + Politics | Technology Policy November 15, 2007

The Science Advisor at 50
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | R&D Funding | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General November 15, 2007

More Intellectual Disrobing, Please
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General November 13, 2007

An appreciation of Mr. Bloomberg
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Science + Politics November 05, 2007

The Young and the Mindless
   in Author: Hale, B. | Climate Change | Disasters | Journalism, Science & Environment | Science + Politics November 01, 2007

The Problems with Calling for a Science President
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics October 30, 2007

Why James Watson could use a bit of training in ethical theory
   in Author: Hale, B. | Education | Science + Politics | Science + Politics October 18, 2007

Why James Watson could use a bit of training in ethical theory
   in Author: Hale, B. | Education | Science + Politics | Science + Politics October 18, 2007

Chris Mooney in Boulder/Denver
   in Science + Politics July 23, 2007

Bob Ward Responds - Swindle Letter
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics May 02, 2007

The Swindle Letter
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker April 30, 2007

The Battle for U.S. Public Opinion on Climate Change is Over
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics April 26, 2007

Swing State Al
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics April 26, 2007

The Politics of Air Capture
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy April 26, 2007

What does Consensus Mean for IPCC WGIII?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments April 23, 2007

On Framing . . .
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics April 16, 2007

NOAA’s New Media Policy: A Recipe for Conflict
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker April 05, 2007

A Few Comments on Massachusetts vs. EPA
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics April 02, 2007

Why is Climate Change a Partisan Issue in the United States?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics March 28, 2007

So Long as We Are Discussing Congressional Myopia . . .
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics March 28, 2007

Rep. McNerney in Wired
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Science + Politics March 15, 2007

Spinning Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 28, 2007

State Climatologists Redux
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics February 26, 2007

A Defense of Alarmism
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Science + Politics February 22, 2007

Have We Entered a Post-Analysis Phase of the Climate Debate?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics February 21, 2007

Al Gore 2008, Part 3: Washington Post on California Energy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Science + Politics February 20, 2007

Al Gore 2008, Part 2: A Comparison with the 2004 Evangelical Wedge
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics February 18, 2007

Should I Care About Cognitive Misers Fighting Over My Wikipedia Biography?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics February 18, 2007

So This is Interesting
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics February 10, 2007

Quote from Nelson Polsby
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics February 09, 2007

Scientific Integrity and Budget Cuts
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics February 07, 2007

Should A Scientific Advisor be Evaluated According to Political Criteria?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics February 07, 2007

Post-IPCC Political Handicapping: Count the Votes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics February 06, 2007

Loose Ends -- IPCC and Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 05, 2007

Follow Up: IPCC and Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 02, 2007

Report from IPCC Negotiations
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 01, 2007

IPCC on Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 01, 2007

Does the Truth Matter?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker February 01, 2007

The Cherry Pick
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics January 31, 2007

Even More: Mr. Issa’s Confusion and a Comment on Budget Politics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 31, 2007

Additional Reactions – Waxman Hearing
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 31, 2007

Instant Reaction – Waxman Hearing
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 30, 2007

Waxman Hearing Testimony - Oral Remarks
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 30, 2007

Mike Hulme on Avery and Singer
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 29, 2007

Congressional Testimony
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 29, 2007

Science and Politics of Food
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Biotechnology | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics January 29, 2007

IPCC, Policy Neutrality, and Political Advocacy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker January 25, 2007

Pielke’s Comments on Houston Chronicle Story
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 22, 2007

Common Sense in the Climate Debate
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics January 15, 2007

Climate Change Hearings and Policy Issues
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics December 16, 2006

Useable Information for Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments December 15, 2006

Senator Coal and King Coal
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics December 15, 2006

New Bridges Article on 110th Congress
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | R&D Funding | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General December 14, 2006

Dan Sarewitz - Lies We Must Live With
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Religion + Science | Science + Politics December 13, 2006

You Just Can't Say Such Things Redux
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics December 11, 2006

You Just Can’t Say Such Things
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Education | Science + Politics December 11, 2006

That Didn't Take Long -- Misrepresenting Hurricane Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics December 06, 2006

The Future of Climate Policy Debates
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics December 05, 2006

AAAS Report on Standards of Peer Review
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General November 29, 2006

Mugging Little Old Ladies and Reasoning by Analogy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics November 28, 2006

The Benefits of Red Wine and the Politics of Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Health | Science + Politics November 27, 2006

Why don’t you write about __________?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics November 27, 2006

Politicization of Intelligence
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker November 25, 2006

Walter Lippmann (1955) on Misrepresentation and Balance
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker November 21, 2006

What is Wrong with Politically-Motivated Research?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker November 16, 2006

Looking Away from Misrepresentations of Science in Policy Debate Related to Disasters and Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics November 15, 2006

Naomi Oreskes on Consensus
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics November 14, 2006

Some Early Thoughts on the New Congress
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics November 08, 2006

Frank Laird on Teaching of Evolution
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Education | Science + Politics October 20, 2006

Café Scientifique Tonite in Denver
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics October 17, 2006

Facts, Values, and Scientists in Policy Debates
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker October 16, 2006

On Language
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics October 09, 2006

More on Royal Society’s Role in Political Debates
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker October 06, 2006

Follow Up on NOAA Hurricane Fact Sheet
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics October 04, 2006

Bob Ward Comments on Royal Society Letter
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics October 04, 2006

Sizing Up Bush on Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics October 04, 2006

Scientists forming a 527 but will it be relevant?
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Science + Politics September 28, 2006



August 03, 2008

Joel Achenbach on Weather Extremes

In today's Washington Post Joel Achenbach has a smart and nuanced piece on weather extremes and climate change. The attribution of weather events and trends to particular causes is difficult and contested.

Equivocation isn't a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, "Maybe."

For Achenbach's efforts he gets called stupid and a tool of the "deniers". Such complaints are ironic given that Achenbach explains how foolish it is to put too much weight on extreme events in arguments about climate change:

the evidence for man-made climate change is solid enough that it doesn't need to be bolstered by iffy claims. Rigorous science is the best weapon for persuading the public that this is a real problem that requires bold action. "Weather alarmism" gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They're happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don't expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism "leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather."

There's an ancillary issue here: Global warming threatens to suck all the oxygen out of any discussion of the environment. We wind up giving too little attention to habitat destruction, overfishing, invasive species tagging along with global trade and so on. You don't need a climate model to detect that big oil spill in the Mississippi. That "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico -- an oxygen-starved region the size of Massachusetts -- isn't caused by global warming, but by all that fertilizer spread on Midwest cornfields.

Some folks may actually get the notion that the planet will be safe if we all just start driving Priuses. But even if we cured ourselves of our addiction to fossil fuels and stabilized the planet's climate, we'd still have an environmental crisis on our hands. Our fundamental problem is that -- now it's my chance to sound hysterical -- humans are a species out of control. We've been hellbent on wrecking our environment pretty much since the day we figured out how to make fire.

This caused that: It would be nice if climate and weather were that simple.

And the U.S. Climate Change Science Program recently issued a report with the following conclusions:

1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.

2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.

3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation , there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).

4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms.

5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms (ECWS), called Nor’easters.

6. There are no long-term trends in either heat waves or cold spells, though there are trends within shorter time periods in the overall record.

In the climate debate, you would have to be pretty foolish to allow any argument to hinge on claims about the attribution of observed extreme events to the emissions of greenhouse gases. But as we've noted here on many occasions, for some the climate debate is a morality tale that cannot withstand nuance, even if that nuance is perfectly appropriate given the current state of understandings. But given the public relations value of extreme events in the climate debate, don't expect Achenbach's reasoned view to take hold among those calling for action. Like the Bush Administration and Iraqi WMDs, for some folks sometimes the intelligence that you wish existed trumps the facts on the ground.

August 01, 2008

The New Abortion Politics

The deepest pathologies in the climate policy debate can been seen in this comment in today's NYT column by Paul Krugman:

The only way we’re going to get action [on climate change], I’d suggest, is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral.

This strategy of characterizing one's political opponents as immoral is of course is part and parcel of the debate over abortion (which is why I call such politics "abortion politics" in The Honest Broker). In the climate debate the litmus test for having the proper morality (i.e., defined as not "standing in the way of action," by being a "denier" or "delayer" or [insert derisive moral judgment here]) is by holding and expressing (and not questioning) certain acceptable beliefs, such as:

*Not questioning any consensus views of the IPCC (in any working group)

*Not supporting adaptation

*Not emphasizing the importance of significant technological innovation

*Not pointing out that policies to create higher priced energy are a certain losing strategy

Deviation for these beliefs is, blasphemy -- heresy! Or as Paul Krugman recommends . . . immoral.

Climate change is the new locus of the U.S. culture wars. Unlike the abortion issue which was turned into a referendum on morality by the political right, the climate issue is fast becoming a referendum on morality by the political left. You couldn't make this stuff up.

July 28, 2008

Free Enterprise but not Free Speech

The management of the Free Enterprise Action Fund have thrown their hat into the ring seeking to limit what can be said or claimed in the context of climate change. In this case they have asked the U.S. government's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to pass judgment on whether certain claims by companies can be considered false and misleading, and thus in violation of securities laws of the U.S. government.

The fund is run by Steven Milloy (of junkscience.com) and Thomas Borelli, and according to Google Finance the fund seeks to achieve long-term growth "through investments and advocacy that promote the American system of free enterprise." I'm no stockbroker, but it seems like a gussied up market index fund to me. (Isn't any investment in the stock market promoting free enterprise? But I digress . . .) Anyway, here is the full text of their letter to the SEC:

Ms. Florence E. Harmon Acting Secretary U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission 100 F Street, N.E. Washington, D.C. 20549

Re: Petition for Interpretive Guidance on Public Statements Concerning Global Warming and Other Environmental Issues

Dear Ms. Harmon,

We are writing on behalf of the Free Enterprise Action Fund ("FEAOX"), a publicly-traded mutual fund, to petition the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC" or "Commission") to issue interpretive guidance pursuant to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 ("the Act") that would warn registrants against making potentially false and misleading statements pertaining to global warming and other environmental issues.

We believe the Commission should take action immediately to protect investors.

I. Examples of potentially false and misleading statements made by registrants.

Below are but a few examples of the sort of potentially false and misleading statements being made by registrants. The problematic nature of these statements is discussed in Section II.

* Exelon Corp. issued a media release and placed full-page advertisements in major newspapers on July 15, 2008 stating, "The science is overwhelming -- climate change is happening now and human activity is the primary cause."

* Lehman Brothers issued a report on climate change featuring the so-called "hockey stick" graph to support the notion that humans are causing global warming.

* The General Electric Company issued a "Call for Action" to "slow, stop and even reverse the damage of greenhouse gasses."

* Toyota Motor Corp. states in a report, "When we drive a vehicle, it consumes fossil fuels and emits CO2, a major contributor to climate change."

* Goldman Sachs states in a 2007 report, "By now, the dynamics of global warming are widely known, and we find no reason to dispute the scientific assumptions."

* Caterpillar said in a public statement that, "We must take action now [to reduce carbon dioxide emissions] or risk serious harm to our planet."

All these statements are potentially false and/or misleading as recent events show.

II. Recent events that put registrants at risk of making false and misleading statements.

A number of recent developments have tended to expose the above-mentioned registrant statements (and probably many others) as false and/or misleading, including:

* The American Physical Society, the leading professional society for American physicists announced in July 2008 on one of its websites that, "There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution."

* In May 2008, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine released a petition signed by more than 31,000 U.S. scientists stating, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing, or will cause in the future, catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate..."

* India's National Action Plan on Climate Change issued in June 2008 states, "No firm link between the documented [climate] changes described below and warming due to anthropogenic climate change has yet been established." Researchers belonging to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in the science journal Nature (May 1) that, after adjusting their climate model to reflect actual sea surface temperatures of the last 50 years, "global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade," since natural climate variation will drive global climate.

* Climate scientists reported in the December issue of the International Journal of Climatology, published by Britain's Royal Meteorological Society, that observed temperature changes measured over the last 30 years don't match well with temperatures predicted by the mathematical climate models relied on by the IPCC.

* A British judge ruled in October 2007 that Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," contained so many factual errors that a disclaimer was required to be shown to students before they viewed the film.

* A panel of the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2006 that the "hockey stick" graph is not proof that human activity is linked to global warming.

III. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, we request that the Commission immediately inform and remind registrants that:

1. False and/or misleading statements on material matters may violate the anti-fraud provision of the federal securities laws.

2. Statements by registrants on global warming and other environmental issues could be considered material.

3. There is considerable ongoing debate about the science of global warming and its impacts and;

4. Statements to the effect that "the science is conclusive," "the debate is over," and that "human activities are definitely causing harmful global warming" should be avoided.

If you have any questions, please contact the undersigned at 301-258-2852.

Sincerely,

/s/

Steven J. Milloy, MHS, JD, LLM
Thomas J. Borelli, PhD
Managing Partners
Portfolio Managers, Free Enterprise Action Fund

Call me a skeptic -- go ahead, it is OK -- but I don't think this complaint has any chance of succeeding, as the example statements that they have cited are either opinions or puffery. Are these examples really the best that they could come up with?

What is (again) most troubling about this sort of behavior is the recourse to legal methods to limit what can or cannot be claimed about climate change in political debate. And yes, I am viewing the actions of the Free Enterprise Action Fund management as a political act with little relevance to the actual performance of their portfolio of investments. Of course, I see that efforts at moral suasion aren't faring so well so perhaps the thinking -- on both sides of this political debate -- is that if you can't win the debate on the merits, then silencing your opponents via the force of law is the next best thing. A pity, if so.

July 25, 2008

A brief account of an aborted contribution to an ill-conceived debate

A guest post by Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch

The July 2008 newsletter of the American Physical Society (APS) opened a debate concerning the IPCC consensus related to anthropogenic induced climate change. We responded with a brief comment concerning the state and changing state of consensus as indicated by two surveys of climate scientists. Data was presented concerning climate scientists assessments of the understanding of atmospheric physics, climate related processes, climate scientists level of agreement with the IPCC as representative of consensus and of the level of belief in anthropogenic warming. (The full manuscript is available here .) Our comment was summarily dismissed by the editors as polemic, political and unscientific. The following is a brief account of this episode.

The APS Forum on Physics and Society states "The Forum on Physics and Society is a place for discussion and disagreement on scientific and policy matters". The Forum on Physics and Society, Newsletter, July 2008 began a debate "concerning one of the main conclusions" of the IPCC. The intended debate was clearly evident in the statement,

There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming ...

There is no reference as to how this statement was determined or its validity known. It is very probably likely to be primarily ethereal.

The intended debate seemed to be aimed at prompting a discussion, or perhaps as the two papers to date seem to suggest, an evaluation of the methods employed in reaching the IPCC conclusion. Two invited articles were published to set off the debate, one pro and one contra to the IPCC conclusion. Oddly enough, neither paper appears to be authored by a climate scientist per se although both present a detailed discussion of atmospheric physics. Subsequent contributions were invited from the "physics" community for "comments or articles that are scientific in nature."

So here we have two editors (who are themselves not climate scientists) soliciting invited papers from authors who, as far as we know, have never had any peer reviewed publications pertaining to climate science, setting off a debate concerning the consensus in the climate sciences by what appears to be a mere declaration of the current state of the consensus. The editors of the newsletter should be commended however for at least stating that the "correctness or fallacy of that [the IPCC] conclusion has immense implications for public policy."

Our interests were drawn by statements found on the web page: 1. the Forums declaration that it is "a place for discussion and disagreement on scientific and policy matters", and 2. the statement "There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming ...". We have been working for some time in the area of assessing the levels of consensus in the climate science community and therefore decided to submit a brief (and rapidly rejected) comment (PDF.) to the debate.

Our stance concerning "consensus" (on any matter) is:

1. Consensus and certainty are two different concepts, which sometimes are parallel, although often not.

2. Consensus is simply a level of agreement among practitioners and might be subject to change over time.

3. Consensus is a level of agreement in belief of the relevance of the theory to the issue and the casual relationship inherent in the theory

and in particular reference to climate science

4. Climate change science is considered to be multidisciplinary and therefore the knowledge claims comprising the consensus is considered to be multidimensional, that is, not able to be captured in a single statement.

In short, consensus is not as simple as a yes - no response. It is a negotiated outcome of multiple levels of expertise.

Now, returning to our submission, or more precisely, the rejection of our submission, the first rejection arrived in a matter of hours. Short and to the point, it said:

The original invitation was for participation in a scientific debate, not a political one. As your attached piece is not primarily of a scientific nature, we cannot consider it for publication in our newsletter. In my editorial comments for the July 2008 issue, I emphasized that we are not interested in publishing anything of a polemical or political nature.

The "emphasized" points are of interest. The paper was neither polemic nor political, as we invite the readers of the blog to verify, however giving the editors the benefit of the doubt, we asked for clarification. Again the APS response was quite rapid:

Your article [...] is not about technical issues concerning climate research. Instead, it is about the opinions of scientists. I would be glad to consider publication of articles, comments, or letters from you that address specific technical issues connected with climate research.

Now, aren’t the "opinions of scientists" the foundation of consensus? The "opinions of scientists" in our analysis represent not a political statement but a scientific comment. The data is empirical and the paper was deliberately devoid of political or polemic statement. Our paper does definitely not address a specific technical issue but it does provide a collective peer assessment of a number of specific technical issues (such as: representation of hydrodynamics and greenhouse gases). Indeed, our concern was to substantiate quantitatively the loose assertion of an anonymous APS officer:

There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming.

An estimate based on data can be read in our short comment.

July 22, 2008

The Swindle Ruling, British Culture, and Freedom of Expression

If you are paying attention to the latest dust up over climate change then you know that a judgment has been rendered (PDF) by the relevant British authority (OFCOM) on complaints about the airing of a controversial documentary by UK Channel 4 challenging consensus climate science and politics, titled The Great Global Warming Swindle.

The decision has led to a wide range of reactions and commentary (e.g., NYT's Andy Revkin, Climate Audit's Steve McIntyre, former IPCC chairman Bob Watson, and many, many others). Here I'd like to address several points that have nothing to do with the substance of the complaint or UK laws governing the public media, but rather the broader issues raised by the controversy for the role of scientists in seeking to limit freedom of expression.

First off, it is probably hard for many non-British (and perhaps even some Brits) to make sense of what is actually going on. Here is my take on the situation, and any UK politics/media experts who may be reading are invited to weigh in and correct or clarify. I paid my 2007 BBC License Fee so I am of course eminently qualified to opine;-) UK Channel 4 is a public television station, and as such its programming falls under certain legislative requirements (a "broadcasting code"), which are enforced by an independent regulatory agency called the Office of Communication or OFCOM.

The very fact that there is such an "Office of Communication" with a mandate to regulate the details of non-profane programming content may strike many Americans as somewhat strange. In a U.S. context restricting what can be said on broadcast television, even public television, is limited in practice to the profane or indecent, and even here the threshold is fairly high (judging by what I let my children watch), if consistently Puritan. Just this week a U.S. federal court threw out a complaint of indecency regarding the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake, ahem, Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction."

On the British side there is a much longer history of attention to libel in the form of speech but also to the government role in making citizens aware of risks (, e.g., "Mind the Gap"). Academics have called government role in protecting its citizens the "risk society" following the work of Ulrich Beck, and those criticizing such paternalism, from both the ends of the political spectrum, have disparagingly labeled this role as that of a "nanny state." In short, the fact that OFCOM is rendering a decision on the content of a documentary (much less its far more discussed decision on the content of the reality show Big Brother) is an idiosyncratically British situation that raises important questions about the role of the government in overseeing what information is allowed to be presented to its citizens, in this case via a publicly owned, but commercially funded television. As such, understanding this debate has less to do with the issue of climate change than it does with British politics, history, and culture.

On the other hand, because many of the complainants are scientists, some not even British, another important perspective on this debate is the role of scientists and other academics in efforts to limit the freedom of expression. Arguably, the global scientific community shares a set of norms on the free exchange of information that, while shaped by each of our national and cultural settings, also transcends those situational factors. For example, the value of peer review in scientific publishing knows no national boundaries and is a broadly shared value in the scientific community. Freedom of expression would also seem to have broad support, whether that expression is in the form of shared environmental data or the opinions of government scientists that differ from their political bosses.

On climate change however, some in the scientific community have departed quite radically from support for freedom of expression. For example, recently NASA's James Hansen has famously called for trials of those who have provided support for the dissemination of skeptical perspectives on climate change, singling out executives in energy companies. Similarly, Joe Romm, of the Center for American Progress, has called for an editor of a newsletter of the American Physical Society to be fired and his colleagues at the APS to be subject to an email pressure campaign for inviting and publishing an article taking issue with the IPCC consensus. Closer to home, in early 2007, I was told by an official at my own university that some of my academic peers from other institutions had contacted our university administration complaining about the apparently heretical public positions that I had expressed on climate change and warned me to "think of my career" before making such statements in the future. Thankfully, when I complained to a wider circle of administrators this official apologized for the comment (a "misunderstanding," of course) and other CU officials apparently ignored the complaint. These examples of formal and informal sanctions are all used to try to limit the freedom of expression on the subject of climate change.

Should scientists and other academics be working for restrictions on the freedom of expression on climate change, or perhaps sanctions for those expressing or allowing the expression of certain views?

Let me make my position clear -- No.

My views are no doubt shaped (maybe determined) by my cultural upbringing as an American and as an academic, and my inclination as a philosophical pragmatist. Here is what Oliver Wendell Holmes (a famous pragmatist) had to say about free expression (for a review of the history of the First Amendment see Anthony Lewis):

[I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought - not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.

More specific to academia, in 1975 Yale University published a report on freedom of expression (PDF)which was adopted as formal university policy and is often referred to as a authoritative statement in support of freedom of expression. Here is an excerpt of some of its eloquent and forceful prose (emphases added):

The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching. To fulfill this function a free interchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond as well. It follows that the university must do everything possible to ensure within it the fullest degree of intellectual freedom. The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views.

We take a chance, as the First Amendment takes a chance, when we commit ourselves to the idea that the results of free expression are to the general benefit in the long run, however unpleasant they may appear at the time. The validity of such a belief cannot be demonstrated conclusively. It is a belief of recent historical development, even within universities, one embodied in American constitutional doctrine but not widely shared outside the academic world, and denied in theory and in practice by much of the world most of the time.

On the obligations of academics (and I would argue that the responsibility extends to scientists at research institutions that are not universities, such as government labs), the report states:

We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox. Free speech is a barrier to the tyranny of authoritarian or even majority opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of particular doctrines or thoughts.

If the priority assigned to free expression by the nature of a university is to be maintained in practice, clearly the responsibility for maintaining that priority rests with its members. By voluntarily taking up membership in a university and thereby asserting a claim to its rights and privileges, members also acknowledge the existence of certain obligations upon themselves and their fellows. Above all, every member of the university has an obligation to permit free expression in the university. No member has a right to prevent such expression. Every official of the university, moreover, has a special obligation to foster free expression and to ensure that it is not obstructed.

It is troubling to see academics and scientists working hard to sanction certain people because of what they say, rather than taking on the arguments on their merits, as frustrating and difficult a task that might seem to be at times. Some might argue that the threat of climate change is so important that we cannot allow certain voices to be heard. The Yale report says of such perspectives:

We have considered the opposing argument that behavior which violates these social and ethical considerations should be made subject to formal sanctions, and the argument that such behavior entitles others to prevent speech they might regard as offensive. Our conviction that the central purpose of the university is to foster the free access of knowledge compels us to reject both of these arguments. They assert a right to prevent free expression. They rest upon the assumption that speech can be suppressed by anyone who deems it false or offensive. They deny what Justice Holmes termed "freedom for the thought that we hate." They make the majority, or any willful minority, the arbiters of truth for all. If expression may be prevented, censored or punished, because of its content or because of the motives attributed to those who promote it, then it is no longer free. It will be subordinated to other values that we believe to be of lower priority in a university.

The conclusions we draw, then, are these: even when some members of the university community fail to meet their social and ethical responsibilities, the paramount obligation of the university is to protect their right to free expression.

So while I don't really have an informed or relevant position on UK media regulations or even on the substance of the Swindle program, I do feel strongly that the current wave of climate blasphemy that seems to be popular among prominent scientists involved in the climate issue is one day going to be looked back upon as a low point in this debate. Climate change is important, but so too are other values, and freedom of expression is among them.

Posted on July 22, 2008 07:30 AM View this article | Comments (76)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

July 09, 2008

Climate Science and National Interests

The Indian government has put out a climate change action plan (PDF) that places economic development and adaptation ahead of mitigation (sound familiar?). The report was endorsed by IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri:

[Pachauri] said that India has realised the climate change threat. India's climate change action plan recently released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a "good policy document" and needs to be implemented.

Interesting, the report's views of climate science are at odds with that presented by the IPCC.

The Indian climate change action plan states of observed climate changes in India (p. 15):

No firm link between the documented [climate] changes described below and warming due to anthropogenic climate change has yet been established.

For example, the Indian report states of the melting of Himalayan glaciers (p. 15):

The available monitoring data on Himalayan glaciers indicates while some recession of glaciers has occurred in some Himalayan regions in recent years, the trend is not consistent across the entire mountain chain. It is accordingly, too early to establish long-term trends or their causation, in respect of which there are several hypotheses.

By contrast, the IPCC (WG II Ch. 10 p. 493)says of Himalayan glacier melt:

The receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be attributed primarily to the global warming due to increase in anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases.

Imagine the reaction if the U.S. (or British or German or Australian . . .) government put out a report placing economic growth ahead of mitigation while contradicting the science of the IPCC. Dr. Pachauri's endorsement of a report that contradicts the IPCC indicates that issues of science and national interests are apparently universal.

Governance as Usual: Film at 11

I have long considered Andy Revkin of the New York Times to be the dean of reporters covering climate science. But there is one issue that I think he consistently gets wrong, and that is his coverage of the politics of internal bureaucratic-politician conflicts. His story in today's NYT is a good example.

Andy writes, breathlessly:

Vice President Dick Cheney’s office was involved in removing statements on health risks posed by global warming from a draft of a health official’s Senate testimony last year, a former senior government environmental official said on Tuesday.

Watergate this is not. In fact, the editing of testimony probably occurs just about every time that an employee of the executive branch is set to testify before Congress, and this has been standard operating procedure for decades. The more significant the issue the higher up the chain of command the review takes place. The procedure is clearly outlined in OMB Circular-21 (PDF):

Unless a specific exemption is approved by OMB, materials subject to OMB clearance include:

• All budget justifications and budget-related oversight materials;
• Testimony before and letters to congressional committees;
• Written responses to congressional inquiries or other materials for the record; . . .

Now if you or I were in a decision making position in the Executive Branch we might make decisions about what to allow in testimony differently than those in the current administration. But make no mistake, such decisions are under the discretion of the administration. Federal employees who don't like those decisions are free to go public or even resign (both occurred in this case).

A spat between elected and career officials may or may not be significant, as they happen all the time. My problem with the track record of coverage of such disputes on climate change by the NYT is that it they have been very misleading about what the news is in such situations. The headline reads: "Cheney’s Office Said to Edit Draft Testimony" suggesting that there is something improper or perhaps even illegal about the editing of testimony in the Executive Office of the President. There is not.

Revkin and I have disagreed on this same issue before. At the time I called the NYT coverage of Bush officials editing Bush Administration documents a "manufactured controversy" and I think that statement applies to today's revelations as well.

Here are the comments I left on Andy's blog, to which, perhaps understandably, he reacted a bit snippily:

Andy-

This is a "dog bites man" story in the form of "pit bull bites man". It is red meat for those who do not like pit bulls, but at the same time, everyone knows that pit bulls bite.

Can you name a presidential administration in which senior officials did not play a role in shaping testimony on important issues? This is a loaded question, because of course you cannot.

I’m no fan of Bush or Cheney, or their approach to climate, but at the same time I think that it is only appropriate to present to your readers an accurate sense of how policy making actually works. In this case, Marburger’s explanation [cited on Andy's blog] is exactly correct.

It is perfectly fair for people to disagree with the actions taken by the Bush Administration on this testimony, but was it improper or even illegal? No, not even close.

Science does not dictate particular policies, and presidential administration’s have wide latitude in what information they present and how they present it. This is spelled out in OMB Circular 22:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/a11/current_yea r/s22.pdf

Dog bites man is not news.

[ANDY REVKIN says: Roger, maybe you forgot to read the entire 2004 story, which made the points you’re making now.]

— Posted by Roger Pielke, Jr.

The IPCC, Scientific Advice and Advocacy

For some time the leadership of the IPCC have sought to use the institution's authority to promote a specific political agenda in the climate debate. The comments made yesterday by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, place the organization in opposition to the G8 leaders position on climate change:

RK Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on Tuesday slammed developed countries for asking India and China to cut greenhouse gas emissions while they themselves had not taken strong steps to cut down pollution.

"India can not be held for any emission control. They (developed countries) should get off the back of India and China," Pachauri told reporters here.

"We are an expanding economy. How can we levy a cap when millions are living with deprivation? To impose any cap (on India) at a time when others (industrialised countries) are saying that they will reach the 1990 level of emission by 2025 is hazardous," Pachauri said.

He said countries like the US and Canada should accept their responsibilities and show leadership in reducing green house gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

Pachauri said millions of Indian do not have access to electricity and their per capita income is much less. At this point, you cannot ask a country to "stop developing".

Who does Dr. Pachauri speak for as head of the "policy neutral" IPCC?

It is as if the head of the CIA (or any other intelligence agency) decided to publicly criticize the government of Iran (or other country). Such behavior would seriously call into question the ability of the intelligence agency to perform its duties, which depend upon an ability to leave advocacy to other agencies. The United States has a Department of State responsible for international relations. The CIA collects intelligence in support of decision makers. These agencies have different roles in the policy process -- hoenst broker and issue advocate.

The IPCC seems to want to both gather intelligence and decide what to do based on that intelligence. This is not a recipe for effective expert advice. Leaders in many areas would not stand for this conflation of advice and advocacy, so why does it continue to occur in the climate arena with little comment?

June 26, 2008

How much influence should a ‘mega-foundation’ have?

Tomorrow is Bill Gates’ last official day at Microsoft. His energy will now be reoriented toward philanthropic efforts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation’s assets currently exceed $37 billion. In 2006, Warren Buffet pledged roughly $31 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock -- at rate of approximately $1.5 billion per year -- to the Gates Foundation. The exact dollar value of his pledged donation is impossible to calculate, since it is directly tied to the performance of his stock. Regardless, the current assets and pledged donations to the Gates Foundation exceed $60 billion.

As a basis for comparison, The Nonprofit Almanac 2008 (p.102) asserts that the 71,095 active foundations in the United States granted $36.4 billion in 2005 (The most recent year for which data was available to the authors). In 2005, the Gates Foundation granted just over $1.5 billion. Their contribution accounts for more than 4% of the total $36.4 billion foundation dollars granted that year. In 2007, the Gates Foundation donated $2 billion. In short, the Gates Foundation contribution to total foundation giving is likely increasing.

I applaud the extreme generosity of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet. However, their concentrated wealth raises serious democratic and scientific questions. In a June 9th WSJ article, Melinda Gates rightly points out that $20,000 helping “a child who needed a kidney” is “$20,000 that doesn’t go to buy life-saving vaccines” to children in developing countries. These types of decisions can have large social implications, impacting both domestic and foreign policy. For example, if the Gates Foundation were to give $2 billion towards AIDS research, it could potentially shift research efforts away from other worthwhile pursuits. My point is not about effectiveness, which is another important discussion. I am speaking to the influence donors can have.

Who is best suited to make such decisions?

How much influence should one private foundation have? Is it too much for one foundation to control 5%, 10%, 25%, or 50% of total foundation giving?

Is it possible for a single foundation to drive research and programmatic agendas? If so, how much control/influence should a foundation have?

Posted on June 26, 2008 11:16 AM View this article | Comments (11)
Posted to Author: Cherney, D. | Science + Politics

June 18, 2008

Op-Ed in Financial Post

UPDATE: At Dot Earth Andy Revkin labels an excerpt from this op-ed the "quote of the day."

I have an invited op-ed in today's Financial Post (a Canadian newspaper with a skeptical editorial perspective on climate change). I argue that even though many scientists oversell the predictive capabilities of climate models, action on climate change still makes sense. Here is an excerpt:

So in the debate on what to do about climate change, what are we to make of the overstated claims of predictive accuracy offered by many scientists? Not surprisingly, the reason for overstated claims lies in the bitter and contested politics of climate change. Myanna Lahsen, an anthropologist who has studied climate modelers, finds that many of these scientists are acutely aware of the fact that any expressed “caveats, qualifications and other acknowledgements of model limitations can become fodder for the anti-environmental movement.” She documents how, more than a decade ago, a prominent climate scientist warned a group of his colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, home of one of the main U.S. climate modeling efforts that informs the IPCC, to “Choose carefully your adjectives to describe the models. Confidence or lack of confidence in the models is the deciding factor in whether or not there will be policy response on behalf of climate change.”

I witnessed this dynamic in practice while I was waiting to testify on climate policy before the U.S. Congress in 2006. A prominent climate scientist testifying on the panel appearing before mine was asked by a member of Congress about uncertainties in predictions from climate models. The scientist replied, enthusiastically and accurately, that there are a range of important uncertainties coming from scenario inputs and choices in parameterization schemes, instantly overwhelming his congressional audience with technical detail. Much later, and after a long break, the scientist requested an opportunity to clarify his earlier comments, and this time he said, “I would like to give you a little more direct answer to the question on reliability of climate models. I think they are reliable enough to be a very useful guide into the future.”

Lost in the Manichean debate over climate change is the real significance of what climate models really are telling us: We should act on climate mitigation and adaptation not because we are able to predict the future, but because we cannot.

See it all here. Comments and reactions welcomed.

June 12, 2008

Why Costly Carbon is a House of Cards

How can the world achieve economic growth while at the same time decarbonizing the global economy?

This question is important because there is apt to be little public or political support for mitigation policies that increase the costs of energy in ways that are felt in reduced growth. Consider this description of reactions around the world to the recent increasing costs of fuel:

Concerns were growing last night over a summer of coordinated European fuel protests after tens of thousands of Spanish truckers blocked roads and the French border, sparking similar action in Portugal and France, while unions across Europe prepared fresh action over the rising price of petrol and diesel. . .

Protests at rising fuel prices are not confined to Europe. A succession of developing countries have provoked public outcry by ordering fuel price increases. Yesterday Indian police forcibly dispersed hundreds of protesters in Kashmir who were angry at a 10% rise introduced last week. Protests appeared likely to spread to neighbouring Nepal after its government yesterday announced a 25% rise in fuel prices. Truckers in South Korea have vowed strike action over the high cost of diesel. Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia have all raised pump prices. Malaysia's decision last week to increase prices generated such public fury that the government moved yesterday to trim ministers' allowances to appease the public.

Advocates for a response to climate change based on increasing the costs of carbon-based energy skate around the fact that people react very negatively to higher prices by promising that action won’t really cost that much. For instance, our frequent debating partner Joe Romm says of a recent IEA report (emphasis added):

. . . cutting global emissions in half by 2050 is not costly. In fact, the total shift in investment needed to stabilize at 450 ppm is only about 1.1% of GDP per year, and that is not a "cost" or hit to GDP, because much of that investment goes towards saving expensive fuel.

And Joe tells us that even these "not costly" costs are "overestimated."

If action on climate change is indeed "not costly" then it would logically follow the only reasons for anyone to question a strategy based on increasing the costs of energy are complete ignorance and/or a crass willingness to destroy the planet for private gain. Indeed, accusations of "denial" and "delay" are now staples of any debate over climate policy.

There is another view. Specifically that the current ranges of actions at the forefront of the climate debate focused on putting a price on carbon in order to motivate action are misguided and cannot succeed. This argument goes as follows: In order for action to occur costs must be significant enough to change incentives and thus behavior. Without the sugarcoating, pricing carbon (whether via cap-and-trade or a direct tax) is designed to be costly. In this basic principle lies the seed of failure. Policy makers will do (and have done) everything they can to avoid imposing higher costs of energy on their constituents via dodgy offsets, overly generous allowances, safety valves, hot air, and whatever other gimmick they can come up with.

Analysts and advocates allow this house of cards to stand when trying to sell higher costs of energy to a skeptical public they provide analyses that support a conclusion that acting to cut future emissions is "not costly."

The argument of "not costly" based on under-estimating the future growth of emissions so that the resulting challenge does not appear so large. We have discussed such scenarios on many occasions here and explored their implications in a commentary in Nature (PDF).

One widely-know example is the stabilization wedge analysis of Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow (PDF. The stabilization wedge analysis concluded that the challenge of stabilizing emissions was no so challenging.

Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century. A portfolio of technologies now exists to meet the world’s energy needs over the next 50years and limit atmospheric CO2 to a trajectory that avoids a doubling of the preindustrial concentration. . . But it is important not to become beguiled by the possibility of revolutionary technology. Humanity can solve the carbon and climate problem in the first half of this century simply by scaling up what we already know how to do.

In a recent interview the lead author of that paper, Pacala provided a candid and eye-opening explanation of the reason why they wrote the paper (emphases added):

The purpose of the stabilization wedges paper was narrow and simple – we wanted to stop the Bush administration from what we saw as a strategy to stall action on global warming by claiming that we lacked the technology to tackle it. The Secretary of Energy at the time used to give a speech saying that we needed a discovery as fundamental as the discovery of electricity by Faraday in the 19th century.

We also wanted to stop the group of scientists that were writing what I thought were grant proposals masquerading as energy assessments. There was one famous paper published in Science [Hoffert et al. 2002] that went down the list [of available technologies] fighting them one by one but never asked "what if we put them all together?" It was an analysis whose purpose was to show we lacked the technology, with a call at the end for blue sky research.

I saw it as an unhealthy collusion between the scientific community who believed that there was a serious problem and a political movement that didn’t. I wanted that to stop and the paper for me was surprisingly effective at doing that. I’m really happy with how it came out – I wouldn’t change a thing.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things wrong with it and that history won’t prove it false. It would be astonishing if it weren’t false in many ways, but what we said was accurate at the time.

So lets take a second to reflect on what you just read. Pacala is claiming that he wrote a paper to serve a political purpose and he admits that history may very well prove its analysis to be “false.” But he judges the paper was successful not because of its analytical soundness, but because it served its political function by severing relationship between a certain group of scientific experts and decision makers whose views he opposed.

Why is this problematic? NYU’s Marty Hoffert has explained that the Pacala and Socolow paper was simply based on flawed assumptions. Repeating different analyses with similar assumptions doesn’t make the resulting conclusions any more correct. Hoffert says (emphases added):

The problem with the formulation of Pacala and Socolow in their Science paper, and the later paper by Socolow in Scientific American issue that you cite, is that they both indicate that seven "wedges" of carbon emission reducing energy technology (or behavior) -- each of which creates a growing decline in carbon emissions relative to a baseline scenario equal to 25 billion tonnes less carbon over fifty years -- is enough to hold emissions constant over that period. . . .

A table is presented in the wedge papers of 15 "existing technology" wedges, leading virtually all readers to conclude the carbon and climate problem is soluble with near-term technology; and so, by implication, a major ramp-up of research and development investments in alternate energy technology like the "Apollo-like" R&D Program that we call for, is unnecessary. . . .

The actual number of wedges to hold carbon dioxide below 450 ppm is about 18, not 7, for Pacala-Socolow scenario assumptions, as Rob well knows; in which case we're much further from having the technology we need. The problem is actually much worse than that, since the number of emission-reducing wedges needed to avoid greater than two degree Celsius warming explodes after the mid-century mark if world GDP continues to grow three percent per year under a business-as-usual scenario.

The figure below is from a follow-on paper by Socolow in 2006 (PDF) and clearly indicates the need for 11 additional wedges of emissions reductions from 2005 to 2055. These are called "virtual wedges" which is ironic, because their existence is very real and in fact necessary for the stabilization of emissions to actually occur. (Cutting emissions by half would require another 4 wedges, or 22 total).

If Pacala and Socolow admit that we need 18 wedges to stabilize emissions, and 22 wedges to cut them by half, and this is based on an rosy assumption of only 1.5% growth in emissions to 2055, then why would anyone believe that we need less? If it is conceivable that emissions might grow faster than 1.5% per year, then we will need even more than the 22 wedges. Perhaps much more. But analysts seeking to impose a price on carbon won't tell you this. Instead, some will resort to demagoguery, and others will simply repeat over and over again the consequences of assuming rosy scenarios. None of this will make the mitigation challenge any easier. But as Pacala says in the excerpt above, such strategies may keep more sound analyses out of the debate.

Policies based on the argument that putting a price on carbon will be "not costly' are a house of cards, and based on a range of assumptions that could easily be judged very optimistic. Looking around, what you will see is that the minute that energy prices rise high enough to be felt by the public, action will indeed occur, but it will not be the action that is desired by the climate intelligencia. It will be demands for lower priced energy. And policy makers will listen to these demands and respond. Climate policy analysts should listen as well, because there will be no tricking of the public with rosy scenarios built on optimistic assumptions.

Virtual Triangle.png

June 10, 2008

Who Do National Science Academies Speak For?

UPDATED!

Today the national science academies of the G8+5 issued a statement on climate change (PDF) advocating a greater pace of action on adaptation and mitigation in response to climate change. We have discussed advocacy by science academies here on various occasions, and in this post I'd like to highlight two issues endorsed by the Academies that are still being debated among scientists and advocates, and ask, who do the academies speak for?

1. Clean coal. Carbon capture and storage is a contested technology, for example, by various environmental groups. However, the national science academies endorse its development and use.

Technologies should be developed and deployed for carbon capture, storage and sequestration (CCS), particularly for emissions from coal which will continue to be a primary energy source for the next 50 years for power and other industrial processes. G8+5 economies can take the lead globally to further develop CCS technologies. This will involve governments and industry working collaboratively to develop the financial and regulatory conditions needed to move CCS forward and international coordination in the development of demonstration plants.

2. Geoengineering research. Similarly, geoengineering research (as a separate issue from actual geoengineering) is a contested issue, for instance the recent Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity proposed a moratorium (receiving broad international support) on certain geoengineering experiments.. The national science academies endorse geoengineering without such reservations.

There is also an opportunity to promote research on approaches which may contribute towards maintaining a stable climate (including so-called geoengineering technologies and reforestation), which would complement our greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

Separate from the merit of the policy recommendations advanced by the academies (and for the record I support both CCS and geoengineering research) is the question of who the national science academies speak for and the basis for their endorsement of particular actions.

Do they represent the scientific community within their countries? Their members? Their executive bodies and leadership?

What of public concerns and those among members of the scientific community about CCS and geoengineering?

If the science academies claim to represent a special interest, then whose interest? If they claim to represent common interests, then on what basis is their advocacy to be viewed as legitimate (e.g., is democratic, consensual, authoritative, elite, etc.)?

June 05, 2008

Good Intelligence

Chapter 7 of The Honest Broker talks about the role of intelligence in the decision to go to war in Iraq. Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee released two reports (PDF, PDF) documenting how the Bush Administration misled policy makers and the public by politicizing government intelligence. Here is what Senator Jay Rockefeller had to say in a press release:

"Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence," Rockefeller said. "In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed."

"It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qa’ida as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qa’ida as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.

"There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.

"These reports represent the final chapter in our oversight of prewar intelligence. They complete the story of mistakes and failures – both by the Intelligence Community and the Administration – in the lead up to the war. Fundamentally, these reports are about transparency and holding our government accountable, and making sure these mistakes never happen again."

I explain in The Honest Broker there is an important difference between serving as an issue advocate and serving as an honest broker. In this situation, the distinction was lost. The Administration had every right to make whatever case to the public that it wanted to make.

However, as the second report linked about argues, it warped the process of intelligence gathering in order to generate (suppress) information that supported (did not support) its desired outcomes. This represented a pathological politicization of the intelligence community and limited the scope of options available for debate among the public and policy makers.

Protecting the function of honest brokering among relevant experts is hard to do.

May 29, 2008

Does the IPCC’s Main Conclusion Need to be Revisited?

Yesterday Nature published a paper by Thompson et al. which argues that a change in the observational techniques for taking the temperatures of the oceans led to a cold bias in temperatures beginning in the 1940s. The need for the adjustment raises an interesting, and certainly sensitive, question related to the sociology and politics of science: Does the IPCC's main conclusion need to be revisited?

The Nature paper states of the effects of the bias on temperature measurements:

The adjustments immediately after 1945 are expected to be as large as those made to the pre-war data (.0.3 C; Fig. 4), and smaller adjustments are likely to be required in SSTs through at least the mid-1960s.

Thompson et al. do not provide a time series estimate on the effects of the bias on the global temperature record, but Steve McIntyre, who is building an impressive track record of analyses outside the peer-review system, discussed this topic on his weblog long before the paper appeared in Nature, and has proposed an adjustment to the temperature record (based on discussions with participants on his blog). Steve’s adjustment is based on assuming:

that 75% of all measurements from 1942-1945 were done by engine inlets, falling back to business as usual 10% in 1946 where it remained until 1970 when we have a measurement point - 90% of measurements in 1970 were still being made by buckets as indicated by the information in Kent et al 2007- and that the 90% phased down to 0 in 2000 linearly.

The effects of McIntyre’s proposed adjustments (on the UKMET global temperature record) are shown in the following figure.

globaladjnoadj.jpg

Other adjustments are certainly plausible, and will certainly be proposed and debated in the literature and on blogs (McIntyre discusses possible implications of the adjustments in this post.). But given how much research has been based on the existing global temperature record, it seems likely that many studies will be revisited in light of the Nature paper. In a comment in Nature that accompanies Thompson et al., Forest and Reynolds suggest:

The SST adjustment around 1945 is likely to have far-reaching implications for modelling in this period.

In the figure above, the trend in the unadjusted data (1950-present) is 0.11 Deg C per decade (slightly lower than reported by IPCC AR4, due to the recent downturn), and after the adjustments are applied the trend drops by just about half, to 0.06 Deg C per decade.

And this brings us to the IPCC. In 2007 the IPCC (PDF) concluded that:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations

I interpret "mid-20th century" to be 1950, and "most" to be >50%. This means that the 2007 IPCC attributed more than 0.06 Deg per decade of the temperature increase since 1950 to increasing greenhouse gases. But we know now that the trend since 1950 included a spurious factor due to observational discontinuities, which reduces the entire trend to 0.06. So logically, if the proposed adjustment is in the ballpark, it would mean that one of the following statements must be true in order for the IPCC statement to still hold:

A. The entire trend of 0.06 per decade since 1950 should now be attributed to greenhouse gases (the balance of 0.06 per decade)

B. Only >0.03 per decade can be attributed to greenhouse gases (the "most" from the original statement)

C. The proposed adjustment is wildly off (I’d welcome other suggestions for an adjustment)

D. The IPCC statement needs to be fundamentally recast

So which is it?

PS. To ensure that this blog post is not misinterpreted, note that none of the mitigation or adaptation policies that I have advocated are called into question based on the answer that one gives to the question posed in the title.

May 25, 2008

A Familiar Pattern is Emerging

This post provides a good example how some climate bloggers try to shut down debate over policy options by personalizing policy debates.

William Nordhaus, one of the leading economists who has worked on climate change, has a new book coming out, which is good news for anyone interested in the subject. His book was reviewed in The New York Review of books by Freeman Dyson.

But rather than take on the arguments made by Nordhaus, Real Climate and Joseph Romm attack Nordhaus' arguments by proxy. They attack Freeman Dyson for invoking arguments raised by Nordhaus. In the process they ignore the substance of the issues and turn the issue into a referendum on an individual with whom they have policy differences. This tag-team smear job is becoming a bit too familiar.

In Nordhaus' book he discusses five policy approaches, summarized by Freeman Dyson as follows:

Nordhaus examines five kinds of global-warming policy, with many runs of DICE for each kind. The first kind is business-as-usual, with no restriction of carbon dioxide emissions—in which case, he estimates damages to the environment amounting to some $23 trillion in current dollars by the year 2100. The second kind is the "optimal policy," judged by Nordhaus to be the most cost-effective, with a worldwide tax on carbon emissions adjusted each year to give the maximum aggregate economic gain as calculated by DICE. The third kind is the Kyoto Protocol, in operation since 2005 with 175 participating countries, imposing fixed limits to the emissions of economically developed countries only. Nordhaus tests various versions of the Kyoto Protocol, with or without the participation of the United States.

The fourth kind of policy is labeled "ambitious" proposals, with two versions which Nordhaus calls "Stern" and "Gore." "Stern" is the policy advocated by Sir Nicholas Stern in the Stern Review, an economic analysis of global-warming policy sponsored by the British government.[*] "Stern" imposes draconian limits on emissions, similar to the Kyoto limits but much stronger. "Gore" is a policy advocated by Al Gore, with emissions reduced drastically but gradually, the reductions reaching 90 percent of current levels before the year 2050. The fifth and last kind is called "low-cost backstop," a policy based on a hypothetical low-cost technology for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or for producing energy without carbon dioxide emission, assuming that such a technology will become available at some specified future date. According to Nordhaus, this technology might include "low-cost solar power, geothermal energy, some nonintrusive climatic engineering, or genetically engineered carbon-eating trees."

What do Real Climate and Joseph Romm do? Rather than engage the substance of the policy arguments, they go on the attack, with Real Climate using the term "b#ll&hit" and Romm "unmitigated disinformation." Of course the policy issues that they don't like -- discount rates, cost estimates, air capture -- all come from Nordhaus, not Dyson. But rather than engage the substance they viciously attack an individual.

The only apparently original view from Dyson that Real Climate takes issue with is when Dyson notes that (in a second book discussed in the review, by Ernesto Zedillo) chapters by Richard Lindzen and Stefan Rahmstorf (of Real Climate) are both unsatisfactory:

These two chapters give the reader a sad picture of climate science. Rahmstorf represents the majority of scientists who believe fervently that global warming is a grave danger. Lindzen represents the small minority who are skeptical. Their conversation is a dialogue of the deaf. The majority responds to the minority with open contempt.

A sad picture indeed.

May 23, 2008

Senator Obama's Science and Technology Policies

Check out the candidates' science and technology related policies here.

I conclude this series of analyses of candidates' science and technology policies with Senator Obama. If I can take anything from this exercise is that it defies easy surface analysis. Going on what is typically considered science and technology policy will miss things that are relevant and important for science and technology. Education, for instance, underlies a fair amount of science and technology policy, and the two areas are not well connected in federal policies, or candidates' campaigns.

Senator Obama's science and technology policies are not terribly different from those of Senators Clinton and McCain, at least for the big picture. For me, the differences emerge through how Senator Obama presents these issues, and in how he makes a more explicit appeal for using science and technology to achieve policy goals.

For instance, while Senator Obama hits many of the same points as Senator Clinton does in her Innovation Agenda it's placed in his website'sTechnology section among discussion of his proposals on broadband deployment, internet predators, privacy and network neutrality. It's the collection of seemingly disparate issues linked, at least in part, through technology, that strikes me as different and encouraging.

The Senator's science policies are also described in a separate section. They reflect the same basic priorities found in Senator Clinton's Innovation Agenda, but the doubling Senator Obama wants doesn't have the timeframe or specifics that Senator Clintons' plan does. Again, the difference is in presentation. The goals of both Democratic candidates in conventional science and technology policies (such as research funding, more underrepresented groups, visas for scientists and engineers) are essentially the same, though the smaller details differ. While those differences matter in terms of policy and governance, I am not so confident that those small differences will matter politically.

One notable point about Senator Obama's policies is his willingness to use technology in order to achieve other policy goals. To paraphrase the categorization of Harvey Brooks, Senator Obama is interested in technology for policy at least as much as policy for science and technology. Again, the other candidates do this too, primarily in energy, health care, and environmental policy. To offer policies about using technology to open government and improve infrastructure should serve as a reminder that science and technology have many roles to play in public policy and in political campaigns. I think that advocacy groups would be better served in their efforts to increase federal support for science and technology to better engage with the many different roles science and technology can play in these areas.

Posted on May 23, 2008 09:32 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

May 22, 2008

Senator McCain's Science and Technology Policies

Check out the candidates' science and technology related policies here.

In this post I want to assess Senator McCain's science and technology related policies.

Arguably Senator McCain has placed the least emphasis of the three candidates on science and technology policies. To be fair, I don't think any of the candidates have placed a great deal of emphasis on science and technology policies - at least in the same way that the constituent advocacy groups would like. For instance, all three senators have advanced cap-and-trade plans for carbon emissions (McCain's plan is the only one that would issue the carbon credits for free). This is likely considered by most as an environmental policy rather than a science and technology policy (I think the notion that the two policy areas are often considered independent of each other is a problem for those interested in seeing science and technology policies gain more political cachet).

While I don't think Senator McCain would ignore science and technology policy (or has - he did serve as Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over most of the science portfolio), hewing to the traditional Republican line would imply embracing policies that would either leave action to the private sector, or provide incentives for the private sector to invest or take other desired action. Whether or not this is an area of policy where McCain will be a traditional Republican or not is not clear given the lack of statements from the McCain campaign on the traditional areas of science policy. You can infer from the absence of those statements that he would, but the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. For instance, he is of a kind with the Democratic candidates in opposing the stem cell research ban. So it's possible that he might be the least hands-off of the Republicans who ran for President this year, but more hands-off than the two Democratic contenders.

There have been recent events that suggest McCain could disappoint those concerned with science and technology policy.

This past March Senator McCain made a good impression of Senator William Proxmire (noted for awarding the "Golden Fleece" award to government projects he thought were a waste of time). He objected to a study of grizzly bear DNA in a campaign commercial. Such studies are typical low-hanging targets that sound like a big waste when they are usually small dollars - at least in terms of the whole budget. You can read about this incident in this Washington Post article.

In January of this year, I read an article in the Washington Post noting the lack of attention given to technology in the campaign (which I am having trouble finding online). The author quoted McCain about technology, indicating it could be something he would assign to his vice-president. Do note that President Clinton did something similar during his administration, so perhaps Senator McCain's vice-presidential choice could be as relevant to the science and technology policy communities as his choice for science adviser.

There are also concerns over McCain's environmental plans, which have been criticized as not going as far as necessary. Given where I'm posting, I'll leave it for others to plumb those problems.

In short, McCain's science and technology policies are notable as much for what is not said by the campaign as much as what is said. It reflects a conventional Republican perspective, focusing more on technology than science, and more on market solutions than government support. While I suspect most advocates will find him wanting, I suspect that for most voters, there are other issues that will determine whether they support McCain or not. I think the same is true for the other candidates.

Posted on May 22, 2008 10:47 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

IPCC Predictions and Politics

The May 1, 2008 issue of New Scientist magazine has an interesting article that parallels some of the discussions that we’ve had on this site lately. Here is an interesting excerpt:

"Politicians seems to think that the science is a done deal," says Tim Palmer, "I don’t want to undermine the IPCC, but the forecasts, especially for regional climate change, are immensely uncertain".

Palmer is a leading climate modeller at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, UK, and he does not doubt that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has done a good job alerting the world to the problem of global climate change. But he and his fellow climate scientists are acutely aware that the IPCC's predictions of how the global change will affect local climates are little more than guesswork. They fear that if the IPCC's predictions turn out to be wrong, it will provoke a crisis in confidence that undermines the whole climate change debate.

The IPCC's forecasts could be wrong in many different ways, over different time periods and spatial scales, including underestimating future changes. And it is not even clear that scientists involved with the IPCC have a collective view on what it would even mean for the IPCC to be "wrong". As we've argued here often, action on climate change makes sense even if the predictions of the IPCC are not yet perfect. But this is a hard case to make when defenders of those predictions allow no room for imperfections to be seen, or questions to be asked.

May 21, 2008

Senator Clinton's Science and Technology Policies

Check out the candidates' science and technology related policies here.

Of the three candidates, Senator Clinton has made the most visible attempt to publicize her proposals for science and technology policy. This was done in a speech last October, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch. Perhaps consistent with this appeal to history, her policies in S&T appear to be the most conventional of the three candidates. To be sure, this is not an area in which any of the candidates are being particularly innovative, and this is not an area that will swing a number of votes to a particular candidate. But if any of the candidates (or their campaigns) formed their S&T policies from the talking points of the various science and technology advocacy groups, Senator Clinton is the most likely choice.

If you look at the Senator's Innovation Agenda you won't see anything that hasn't already been advanced by one advocacy group or another. In short, more research money, more people (through more fellowships and greater outreach to underrepresented groups), and more incentives for private sector investment (R&D tax credit changes, money for prizes, and various funds for alternative energy and green building). She wants to increase the budgets of both the NIH and (in a separate item/increase) the NSF, DOE Office of Science, and Department of Defense basic research budgets. Oddly enough, the amounts of increase for this group of agencies appears to be less than the doubling stipulated in the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). To be fair, the ACI covers NSF, NIST and the DOE Office of Science, but it would appear that Senator Clinton will favor the biomedical sciences over the physical sciences, when there is some consensus that the physical sciences are in greater need of assistance.

There are some parts of the Innovation Agenda that are different.

Most notable is the last point - Restore Integrity to Science Policy. This is consistent with Senator Clinton's invocation of the war on science, which she has used in a broader sense than Chris Mooney likely intended. Her plan to end this "war" is outlined in another policy statement. While I disagree with the idea that the stem cell research ban is part of the war on science, the rest of the points would be familiar to those who have followed the debates over the politicization of science - banning political appointees from editing scientific documents, allowing career scientists and civil servants to take the lead on agency rule-making, requiring annual reports on the efforts to prevent political pressure on editing scientific reports, and a broader national assessment for climate change (again, not sure that this qualifies as part of the war on science).

Also notable is the required set-aside of 8 percent of an agency's research budget for high-risk research. The policy statement references DARPA and it's high-risk/cutting-edge portfolio, but this also reflects language from draft provisions of the ACI. In an agenda that is relatively safe and conventional in its provisions, this is a welcome exception.

While I find nothing particularly objectionable in the policies advanced by Senator Clinton (there's the tricky question of paying for those policies, but I don't expect her to be alone on this point), there's little here for me to be excited about. As I post about the other two candidates, I don't expect that to change. This leads me to think that had ScienceDebate 2008 happened, the effort would have ended more with a whimper than a bang. It's just not a focus at the Presidential level, so there's little incentive to innovate in this area of policy - at least for Presidential candidates.

Posted on May 21, 2008 10:49 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

May 16, 2008

The Politicization of Climate Science

[Update: The ever helpful David Roberts of Grist Magazine points out that an op-ed in the Washington Times yesterday makes the same logical error that I point out in this post below made by Patrick Michaels -- namely that short-term predictive failures obviate the need for action. The op-ed quotes me and says that I am "not previously a global warming skeptic," which is correct, but implies that somehow I am now . . . sorry, wrong. It also quotes my conclusion that climate models are "useless" without the important qualifiers **for decision making in the short term when specific decisions must be made**. Such models are great exploratory scientific tools, and were helpful in bringing the issue of greenhouse gases to the attention of decision makers. I've emailed the author making these points, asking him to correct his piece.]


Here I'd like to explain why one group of people, which we might call politically active climate scientists and their allies, seek to shut down a useful discussion with intimidation, bluster, and name-calling. It is, as you might expect, a function of the destructive politics of science in the global warming debate.

We've had a lot of interest of late in our efforts to explore what would seem to be a simple question:

What observations of the global climate system (over what time scale, with what certainty, etc.) would be inconsistent with predictions of the IPCC AR4?

The motivation for asking this question is of course the repeated claims by climate scientists that this or that observation is "consistent with" such predictions. For claims of consistency between observations and predictions to have any practical meaning whatsoever, they must be accompanied by knowledge of what observations would be inconsistent with predictions. This is a straightforward logical claim, and should be uncontroversial.

Yet efforts to explore this question have been met with accusations of "denialism," of believing that human-caused global warming is "not a problem," of being a "conspiracy theorist." More constructive responses have claimed that questions of inconsistency cannot really be addressed for 20-30 years (which again raises the question why claims of consistency are appropriate on shorter timescales), have focused attention on the various ways to present uncertainty in predictions from a suite of models and also on uncertainties in observations systems, and have focused attention on the proper statistical tests to apply in such situations. In short, there is a lot of interesting subjects to discuss. Some people think that they have all of the answers, which is not at all problematic, as it makes this issue no different than most any other discussion you'll find on blogs (or in academia for that matter).

But why is it that some practicing climate scientists and their allies in the blogosphere appear to be trying to shut down this discussion? After all, isn't asking and debating interesting questions one of the reasons most of us decided to pursue research as a career in the first place? And in the messy and complicated science/politics of climate change wouldn't more understanding be better than less?

The answer to why some people react so strongly to this subject can be gleaned from an op-ed in today's Washington Times by one Patrick Michaels, a well-known activist skeptical of much of the claims made about the science and politics of climate change. Here is what Pat writes:

On May Day, Noah Keenlyside of Germany's Leipzig Institute of Marine Science, published a paper in Nature forecasting no additional global warming "over the next decade."

Al Gore and his minions continue to chant that "the science is settled" on global warming, but the only thing settled is that there has not been any since 1998. Critics of this view (rightfully) argue that 1998 was the warmest year in modern record, due to a huge El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean, and that it is unfair to start any analysis at a high (or a low) point in a longer history. But starting in 2001 or 1998 yields the same result: no warming.

Michaels is correct in his assertion of no warming starting in these dates, but one would reach a different conclusion starting in 1999 or 2000. He continues,

The Keenlyside team found that natural variability in the Earth's oceans will "temporarily offset" global warming from carbon dioxide. Seventy percent of the Earth's surface is oceanic; hence, what happens there greatly influences global temperature. It is now known that both Atlantic and Pacific temperatures can get "stuck," for a decade or longer, in relatively warm or cool patterns. The North Atlantic is now forecast to be in a cold stage for a decade, which will help put the damper on global warming. Another Pacific temperature pattern is forecast not to push warming, either.

Science no longer provides justification for any rush to pass drastic global warming legislation. The Climate Security Act, sponsored by Joe Lieberman and John Warner, would cut emissions of carbon dioxide — the main "global warming" gas — by 66 percent over the next 42 years. With expected population growth, this means about a 90 percent drop in emissions per capita, to 19th-century levels.

He has laid out the bait, complete with reference to Al Gore, claiming that recent trends of no warming plus a forecast of continued lack of warming mean that there is no scientific basis for action on climate change.

There are several ways that one could respond to these claims.

One very common response to these sort of arguments would be to attack Michaels putative scientific basis for his policy arguments. Some would argue that he has cherrypicked his starting dates for asserting no trend. Other would observe that the recent trends in temperature are in fact consistent with predictions made by the IPCC. This latter strategy is exactly the approach used by the bloggers at Real Climate when I first started comparing 2007 IPCC predictions (from 2000) with temperature observations.

The "consistent with" strategy is a potential double-edged sword because it grants Pat Michaels a large chunk of territory in the debate. Once you attack the scientific basis for political arguments that are justified in those terms, you are accepting Michaels claim that the political arguments are in fact a function of the science. So in this case, by attacking Michaels scientific claims, you would be in effect saying

"Yes while it is true that these policies are justified on scientific conclusions, Pat Michaels has his science wrong. Getting the science right would lead to different political conclusions that Michaels arrives at."

Here at Prometheus for a long time we've observed how this dynamic shifts political debates onto scientific debates. Any I discuss this in detail in my book, The Honest Broker (now on sale;-).

Now, the "consistent with" strategy is a double-edged sword because the future is uncertain. It could very well be the case that there is no additional warming over the next decade or longer, or perhaps a cooling. Given such uncertainty, scientists with an eye on the politics of climate change are quick to define pretty much anything that could be observed in the climate system as "consistent with" IPCC predictions in order to maintain their ability to deflect the sort of claims made by Patrick Michaels. For if everything observed is consistent with IPCC predictions, there is no reason to then call into question the scientific basis used to justify policies.

But this strategy runs a real risk of damaging the credibility of the scientific community. It is certainly possible to claim, as some of our commenters have and the folks at RC have, that 20 years of cooling is "consistent with" IPCC predictions, but I can pretty much guarantee that if the world has experienced cooling for 20 years from the late 1990s to the 2000-teens that the political dynamics of climate change and the standing of skeptics will be vastly different than it is today.

Now I am sure that many scientist/activists are just trying to buy some time (e.g., buy offering a wager on cooling, as RC has done), waiting for a strong warming trend to resume. And it very well might, since this is the central prediction of the IPCC. Blogger /activist/scientist Joe Romm gushed with mock enthusiasm when the March temperatures showed a much higher rate of warming than the previous three months. We'll see what sort of announcement he or others put up for the much cooler April temperatures. But all such celebrations, on any side of the debate, do is set the stage for the acceptance of articles like that by Pat Michaels who point out the opposite when it occurs. One way to buy time is to protest, call others names, and muddy the waters. This strategy can work really well when questions of inconsistency take place over a few months and the real world assumes the pattern of behavior found in the central tendency of the IPCC predictions, but if potential inconsistency goes on any longer than this then you start looking like you are protesting too much.

So what is the alternative for those of us who seek action on climate change? I see two options, both predicated on rejecting the linkage between IPCC predictions and current political actions.

1) Recognize that any successful climate policies must be politically robust. This means that they have to make sense to many constituencies for many reasons. Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have effects, and these effects are largely judged to be negative over the long term. Whether or not scientists can exactly predict these effects over decades is an open question. But the failure to offer accurate decadal predictions would say nothing about the judgment that continued increasing carbon dioxide is not a good idea. Further, for any climate policies to succeed they must make sense for a lot of reasons -- the economy, trade, development, pork, image, etc. etc. -- science is pretty much lost in the noise. So step one is to reject the premise of claims like that made by Pat Michaels. The tendency among activist climate scientists is instead to accept those claims.

2) The climate community should openly engage the issue of falsification of its predictions. By giving the perception that fallibility is not only acceptable, but expected as part of learning,it would go a long way toward backing off of the overselling of climate science that seems to have taken place. If the IPCC does not have things exactly correct, and the world has been led to believe that they do, then an inevitable loss of credibility might ensue. Those who believe that the IPCC is infallible will of course reject this idea.

Who knows? Maybe warming will resume in May, 2008 at a rapid rate, and continue for years or decades. Then this discussion will be moot. But what if it doesn't?

May 15, 2008

Comparing Candidate Policies on Science and Technology

Over the next week I intend to make some posts about the science and technology policies of the three remaining major party candidates. With an eye toward generating discussion, I want to take a moment and note links to the candidates' policies on science and technology. I am focusing on the candidates' own statements or position papers from their websites. There are plenty of comparison websites, and they have their own perspective on the issues (and what 'counts' as science and technology issues).

This is intended as only a starting point. If I'm missing some resource that should be in the list below, please let us know in the comments.

Links after the jump, but two points worth noting. It's rare to see all of a candidate's positions related to science and technology all in one place. It's even more rare to see them categorized as such. You're more likely to see references to innovation and competitiveness or more issue specific areas (such as climate change and economic competitiveness).

Additionally, many campaign speeches and press releases are ill-described in search results or lists of media on these websites. I may very well have missed a relevant speech because the tagline was "Senator X Remarks at Iowa Jefferson-Jackson/Lincoln Day Dinner" and not "Senator X Remarks on Federal Research and Development Budgets"

Warning: Links to main sites for the candidates may redirect to a contribution form. If this happens, look for the skip button.

Senator McCain:
Remarks on climate change
Climate Change Plan
Remarks on energy policy

Senator Clinton:
Hillary Clinton's Innovation Agenda
Innovation Agenda press release
Ending the War on Science
Speech on Scientific Integrity and Innovation
Remarks on energy and the environment
Speech on improving infrastructure
Food Safety Plan

Senator Obama:
Energy and the Environment
Speech on Energy, October 2007
Speech on Energy, May 2007
Speech on Energy Independence, September 2006
Speech on Energy, February 2006
Speech on Energy, September 2005
Speech on Energy and Climate Change
Technology and Innovation
Science
Remarks on Innovation and Education
Transportation

May 08, 2008

Consistent With, Again

On NPR's Fresh Air earlier this week, Al Gore suggests that Typhoon Nargis, which may have killed 100,000 people in Myanmar, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, or does he? He said "we’re seeing consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming."

What could he have meant? If you ask me, I'd say that the "consistent with" chronicles continue . . .

PS. Those wanting to do something positive in the face of this tragedy might visit this site.

Teats on a Bull

Here is a very thoughtful comment sent in by email on the ""consistent with chronicles". I haven't identified the author, since he didn't ask me to post it. But it is worth a read about how climate science is received by one rancher in West Tennessee. I appreciate the feedback.

I am neither an academic nor a scientist. I raise cattle in West Tennessee. I came across your ruminations on the uses and meaning (or lack thereof) of the expression "consistent with" in environmental debates. I enjoyed it very much. You make some very valid, interesting, and to your critics irritating points.

You hear "consistent with" employed in other circumstances as well, as for example when a prosecuting attorney says certain evidence is "consistent with" his or her theory of who committed a crime. However a good defense attorney will almost surely point out that the evidence in question is "consistent with" other explanations as well. Thus, at least in legal dealings, the "consistent with" argument doesn't get one very far.

Which brings me to my point. You're absolutely right to ask what kinds of evidence would be inconsistent with environmental theories, for just the reasons you outline, but of equal or perhaps greater importance is the question "With what other theories or explanations is the same evidence consistent?" It is not so terribly unusual for facts or evidence to be consistent with multiple theories, even ones that contradict one another. I'm clearly not qualified to judge, but could the cited evidence also be "consistent with" environmental theories involving sunspot activity, the Gulf Stream, el Nino, or lord knows what else?

There's another problem I see with the "consistent with" construction: it never addresses the issue of probability. One sees this frequently with the use of "possible." For many folks the claim that something, no matter how implausible, is "possible" is enough to end a discussion. The mere theoretical possibility of something is to their minds proof of its reality. And the truth is it's virtually impossible to prove, especially to such people, that something is impossible. The best one can do is assess probabilities. However, to the true believer, even the highest statistical improbability carries little if any weight. The same, I think, is true for those who offer the "consistent with" argument. Although to their minds they may be equivalent, "consistent with" is not the same thing as "equal to," just as "possible" is not the same thing as "actual."

My personal feeling is that "consistent with" is a hedge term that has about as much meaning, and carries about as much weight, as what we here in West Tennessee call a WAG, or wild ass guess. The number of things a thing can be "consistent with" is so large as to rob the expression of meaning, or communicative value. If my veterinarian looked at one of my cows and informed me that her swollen belly was "consistent with" her being pregnant, I'm not sure I'd find that of much value, as it's also "consistent with" a number of other things, some benign, some fatal.

"Consistent with" doesn't help me make decisions on the farm. With regards to the much more vast and consequential issue of global weather predictions, "consistent with" is to me about as useful as teats on a bull.

Again, you produced a fine article and I enjoyed reading it. Keep pushing environmentalist towards honesty and clarity. A very great deal is at stake, as I'm sure you know.


Iain Murray on Climate Policy

Over at his blog Iain Murray, who is with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has a thoughtful response to my initial post on elements of any successful approach to climate change. I won't try to summarize Iain's lengthy post, so go there read it and come back. (Thanks to BP for the pointer.)

Here are some very quick responses of my own.

1. I appreciate Iain's efforts to "propose an alternative framework that may be more appealing to conservative policy-makers." In the U.S there is a wide gap between Democrats and Republicans on many aspects of climate policy. If this gap is to close in the form of shared agreement on action, it will result from having an open discussion of policies resulting in compromises, and not by the finger-pointing, name calling, and derision that so often accompanies political debates on climate change. As Walter Lippmann once wrote, the goal of politics is not to get people to think alike, but to get people who think differently to act alike.

2. On adaptation Iain and I see to agree more than disagree. I recognize that the concept of "sustainable development" carries with it much symbolic baggage and people read into the concept an awful lot. I don't see a Malthusian perspective in the concept, far from it. I actually see that technological progress that eliminates limits and opens possibilities as key to sustainable development. There is much more to say, but on issues of technology and trade, i see no real significant disagreements here.

3. Iain is correct in pointing out the real costs associated with making carbon-based energy more expensive. This is the main reason that I see that its political prospects are seriously limited. But even so, Iain probably recognizes that what he calls "costs" are viewed by many people as "benefits". That is, many people would like energy to be more pricier, even if it results in costs for some other people . For some, they focus on the non-market costs of carbon-based energy and thus evaluate the costs/benefits with some implicit valuation of the intangibles, but others simply prefer the outcomes associated with pricier energy. I have no expectation that people with vastly different values will come to agreement on costs and benefits associated with pricing carbon, hence, I see its prospects as limited in any case.

4. Iain likes the idea of making carbon-free energy "more affordable" but has some different recommendations than I do on how it might be done. Great. I don't think that anyone has a magic bullet solution, so agreement on the goal ought to be a enormous first step in its achievement. This is one reason why I listed a laundry list of options. I would hope that Iain would agree that the world really hasn't set forth in this direction in any real seriousness, at least not as compared to the intensity of action focused on pricing carbon. But we seem to agree on the goals here.

Iain has some more specific actions described at his blog that are worth a read. If anyone else wants to share their reactions to this discussion they are welcome to do so in the comments or as a guest blog.

May 01, 2008

The High Cost of Emissions Reduction Symbolism

capitolpowerplant.jpg

The U.S. Congress has its own power plant which provides steam and cooled water to the various congressional buildings. This plant is powered powered by coal, which makes it a large obstacle in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) goal of making the Congress carbon neutral. Thus, the power plant has been the subject of some political wrangling that has members of Congress from coal-producing states against those looking to avoid the hypocrisy of Congress calling for emissions limits while operating its own business in a carbon intensive manner.

Today the GAO released a report (PDF) on the costs associated with switching the plant from coal to natural gas. At first glance the costs are not terribly large -- in 2009, the costs would be from $1.0 to $1.8 million, with the difference largely due to uncertainties in the costs of natural gas. GAO estimates that the switch would save 9,970 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the case of no switch.

This equates to $370 to $650 per ton of carbon. This is far higher than the costs of carbon being considered in legislation, found in the market of in the ETS, an in the realm of the costs of simple air capture (PDF).

Now there is surely a lesson here, beyond the fact that members of Congress are willing to pay above market prices for policy outcomes. At these costs, the act of fuel switching at the Capitol power plant would clearly be only of symbolic value, but if emissions reductions can indeed be archived at a low cost, why would the Congress be paying up to $650 per ton of carbon? This doesn't seem like the right message to be sending to the American public, and could potentially backfire.

April 28, 2008

CSU Silencing Bill Gray?

Colorado State is apparently or perhaps will be reducing its media relations support for Bill Gray, as he is simply calling too much attention to the school. Dr. Gray thinks that it has something to do with global warming. I am sure that both the science community and the blogosphere will be rushing to Bill Gray's defense, full of outrage.

Posted on April 28, 2008 07:17 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

April 26, 2008

ScienceDebate2008 - Lessons Learned?

No, it's not officially dead, but with the recent cancellation of a North Carolina debate that wasn't focused on science, and Senator Clinton's challenge today for an unmoderated debate, the likelihood that the event ScienceDebate 2008 first thought would happen in Pennsylvania, then in Oregon, rapidly approaches zero.

ScienceDebate 2008 has already been criticized here for being confusing about the intended purpose. Others have supported the effort, suggesting that at least it got people motivated about the problem. But ScienceDebate isn't the first groups to assemble a collection of dignitaries to prove the value of their message. Between them, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Scientists and Engineers for America, various groups of scientists for past presidential candidates, and the plethora of business and other consortia agitating for attention to science and technology, we haven't gotten very far. Whether they like it or not, ScienceDebate 2008 happened in Boston this past February during the AAAS meeting.

ScienceDebate 2008 is another example of good intentions horribly executed. Some possible reasons after the jump.

Political Debates Are Ideal as Theater, Little More
If you want to watch a show, then I can understand the appeal of the debates. But that is not the goal of ScienceDebate 2008. From the website:

We believe a debate on these issues would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities on the issues.

There's a good reason the League of Women Voters quit the debate game 20 years ago. The debates were already being scripted and molded into carefully crafted theater pieces by the candidates and their advisers. The coverage of these debates is not about comparing candidates priorities on the issues, but how answer A to question B would influence the votes of demographic C. Questions about character are no longer "who is your favorite political philosopher and why?" but opportunities to distance a candidate from disagreeable things said by other people. With apologies to Macbeth debates are full of sound and fury, but often signify nothing. I blame nobody for feeling debate fatigue, least of all the candidates.

One Step at a Time
Why start with a debate? Having sat in a few meetings with campaigns discussing their positions on various issues, I know that campaigns are willing to sit down with interested parties, be they niche or broad-based groups. Certainly the journalists in the organizing groups would have campaign contacts. With the strength of their supporters list, ScienceDebate could have held meetings with the various campaigns to better understand the candidates' perspectives on campaign issues, and to communicate the issues of interest related to science and technology. They may also have had the chance to offer their guidance on scientific or technical issues, helping avoid the situation where all three candidates managed to support the dubious claims that vaccines contributed to the rise in autism.

I suspect the idea to start with a debate was the idea that the public needs to know why these issues matter, but my previous point speaks to why debates are lousy education forums. Yes, the science and technology communities have done poorly in convincing the public of the importance of their work. That's part of the reason why candidates can deal with those issues by crafting their position papers and leaving it be. Most voters don't know or don't care.

Grow Your Base
Everything about ScienceDebate 2008 suggests to me an effort to craft a general purpose debate on science and technology. While that appeals to me as a generalist, it misses something politically. By engaging the various science and technology niches, ScienceDebate 2008 could have transcended the perception of a niche into a larger group worthy of attention. There are plenty of groups - inside and outside of science and technology communities - that have a stake in issues related to science and technology. Open government groups may respond to Senator Obama's position on using technology to open government. Business groups will be interested in Senator McCain's proposal to expense investments in technology. Construction groups will be interested in Senator Clinton's proposed fund to support purchases of environmentally sound homes. And by engaging these groups, the message that science and technology matter can spread.

Should I be proven wrong and there will be a ScienceDebate before the general election, I still believe these criticisms are valid. I'm supportive of the goals. The methods leave much to be desired.

Posted on April 26, 2008 04:12 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 25, 2008

Science Advisor Confirms His Existence

Correcting two Nobel Prize Winners, Science Advisor to the President, Dr. John Marburger responded in today's Wall Street Journal to last week's Op-Ed from Drs. David Baltimore and Ahmed Zewail bemoaning the lack of a science debate. Marburger was generally supportive of the piece until he noted what I did in an earlier post here - that the assertion that there is no science adviser nor science office in the White House is false. He was a good sport about it, which is all the better to him.

While I had much evidence to the contrary, a Google search on "presidential science adviser" reassured me that my office and I do in fact exist in the virtual as well as in the real world.

My thanks to the OSTP Communications Director for letting us know of the letter - and that Prometheus is on their radar.

The original Journal piece has since been amended with a correction - something that can't help the advocacy of Baltimore and Zewail. It's hard to respect the arguments of someone who can't get their facts straight.

Posted on April 25, 2008 01:23 PM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 21, 2008

A Post-Partisan Climate Politics?

Californina Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger provides a positive and optimistic view of of climate policy in a speech yesterday at Yale. You can watch it here. Here is an excerpt:

So I urge you to continue to be open‑minded on our environment. Do not dismiss or do not accept an idea because it has a Republican label or a Democratic label or a conservative label or a liberal label. Think for yourself. This is especially true on environment. So I have great faith in your ability to find new answers and to find new approaches. Don't accept what the old people say. Don't accept the old ways. Don't accept the old ways or the old politics of Democrats and Republicans. Stir things up. Be fresh and new the way you look at things.

Is a post-partisan climate politics possible?

Please Tell Me What in the World Joe Romm is Complaining About?

Joe Romm has continued his hysterical, content-free attacks on me and my colleagues for daring to suggest a view not 100% the same as his own. How dare we. After taking a close look at some of Joe’s writing, it turns out that he seems to agree with just about everything I’ve written on energy policy, and his continued (mis)characterizations of my views simply don’t square with what I’ve actually written.

Here are some examples:

On whether current projections of future emissions growth may possibly underestimate the mitigation challenge, Joe agrees with us that they just might:

[Socolow and Pacala] assume "Our BAU [business as usual] simply continues the 1.5% annual carbon emissions growth of the past 30 years." Oops! Since 2000, we’ve been rising at 3% per year (thank you, China). That means instead of BAU doubling to 16 GtC in 50 years, we would, absent the wedges, double in 25 years. That would mean each wedge needs to occur in half the time, assuming our current China-driven pace is the new norm (which is impossible to know, but I personally doubt it is). . . A similar problem to this is that many of the economic models used by the IPCC assume BAU rates of technology improvement and energy efficiency that are very unlikely to occur absent strong government action, so they are probably overly optimistic.

This last statement is of course exactly what we say in our Nature paper. So our argument about the possibility of understating the magnitude of the mitigation challenge that that Romm has criticized repeatedly (without actually questioning our numbers, but writing a lot of overheated prose), he in fact agrees with. Interesting. Weird.

In addition, I have never written anything against the deployment of existing carbon-free technologies. Quite the opposite. So when Romm says that I have called for an R&D-only approach he is either ignorant or lying, to be blunt. In fact I have argued for a vigorous short-term focus, such as in testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2006 (PDF:

When it comes to effective substantive action on mitigation, I would argue that the available research and experience shows quite clearly that progress is far more likely when such actions align a short-term focus with the longer-term concerns. In practice, this typically means focusing such actions on the short-term, with the longer-term concerns taking a back seat. Examples of such short-term issues related to mitigation include the costs of energy, the benefits of reducing reliance on fossil fuels from the Middle East, the innovation and job-creating possibilities of alternative energy technologies, particulate air pollution, transportation efficiencies, and so on.

And last year Dan Sarewitz and I wrote more specifically of how such a challenge would be met in practice (PDF. After reading Romm's writings, I cannot figure out at all what in the world Joe Romm would disagree with in the following:

Nevertheless, the broad and diverse portfolio of policies and programs necessary to catalyze a long-term technological transformation to a low-carbon energy system is reasonably well understood, even if the path and timing of the transition cannot be precisely engineered. These measures include robust public funding for research spanning the gamut from exploratory to applied; pilot programs to test and demonstrate promising new technologies; public-private partnerships to incentivize private sector participation in high risk ventures (such as those now used to induce pharmaceutical companies to develop tropical disease vaccines); training programs to expand the number of scientists and engineers working on a wide variety of energy R&D projects; government procurement programs that can provide a predictable market for promising new technologies; prizes for the achievement of important technological thresholds; multilateral funds for collaborative international research; international research centers to help build a global innovation capacity (such as the agricultural research institutes at the heart of the Green Revolution); as well as policy incentives to encourage adoption of existing and new energy-efficient technologies, which in turn fosters incremental learning and innovation that often leads to rapidly improving performance and declining costs.

In fact, significant aspects of such a portfolio were proposed and modestly funded during the Clinton Administration in the mid 1990s (Holdren and Baldwin, 2002), but they were politically doomed from the outset because they were too narrowly promoted as climate change policies, rather than as advancing a broad set of national interests and public goals and goods. They did not survive into the Bush Administration; nor did they significantly find their way into the international climate regime. Indeed, the Kyoto approach is a disincentive to implementing many of the sorts of measures listed above because they will not contribute to a nation’s ability to meet its short-term targets.

So Joe Romm’s continued, overheated, and plain weird attacks are difficult to interpret given that that he (a) has written that he agrees with our analysis of the possibility that current baseline expectations for future energy use may underestimate the challenge of mitigation, and (b) he completely ignores the fact that I have consistently supported a broad approach to innovation, including a focus on R&D, but much more. It is true that Joe Romm and I disagree about the value of adaptation, but his complaints of late have been about mitigation. But even if we disagree a bit on the specifics of climate policy, so what? Is his energy really best spent attacking others trying to address this challenge in good faith?

I certainly can’t figure out his incessant attacks and name-calling, but it looks increasingly like they have nothing to do with the merits of our views on mitigation, since they appear to be pretty compatible. Should Joe continue to play the mischaracterization and attack game, I will respond as needed, but I am hoping that he can instead focus on making positive arguments for particular policies, and leave the junior high school chest thumping where it belongs.

April 18, 2008

Memo to ScienceDebate Supporters - Don't Fudge Facts

Today was the scheduled date for the simultaneously quixotic and pragmatic ScienceDebate 2008. Since it won't be happening, at least in Philadelphia (the organizers are going to try for another date in Portland, Oregon shortly before that state's May 20th primary), there have been some pieces in the blogosphere (particulary scienceblogs.com) bemoaning the absence of interest from the candidates in the debate.

While the non-event of ScienceDebate 2008 is worth analyzing (which I hope to do next week), I wish to take to task two authors of an Op-Ed in the April 17 edition of the Wall Street Journal advocating increased support of science and of ScienceDebate 2008.

Two Nobel Prize winners, David Baltimore (Biology 1975) and Ahmed Zewail (Chemistry 1999) manage the impressive feat of making Dr. John Marburger, the Presidential science adviser, disappear.

The piece is novel perhaps only in its location in the Wall Street Journal. The arguments are standard, and include appeals for increased science support due to economic impact, increased foreign competition (Rising Above the Gathering Storm is referenced, almost de rigueur in such pieces), and decreased opportunities for young scientists. But the authors undercut their arguments with some clear factual errors. To wit:

Today we do not have a presidential science adviser and there is no office of science in the White House.

I suspect the authors were trying to criticize President Bush for appointing Dr. Marburger at a lower level (Science Adviser to the President) than prior science advisers (which were formally titled Assistant to the President). But it reads as though we were back in the Nixon administration, when the science adviser position and the Office of Science and Technology Policy were shuttered.

So Baltimore and Zewail misrepresent the state of science advice, and go on to misrepresent the state of science initiatives.

Last year things seemed hopeful, at least for the physical sciences. The National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," that helped drive Congress to pass legislation – the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) – aimed at bolstering the sciences. It was supposed to beef up the study of science in high school. In the end, no money was found to fund the initiative. It was a commitment made, but not kept.

This paragraph is missing a critical adjective in front of funding. The ACI has not been fully funded. Some money has been found to fund parts of the initiative. It still is a setback, but not the catastrophe that no funding would be.

Putting aside the value of their arguments, by fudging the facts Baltimore and Zewail undercut their cause. At the very least they are misleading the public. Should the public figure it out, their reputations - and by extension their arguments - will be discredited. A reasonable response to this would be 'Why should we listen to them if they can't get their facts right?' Baltimore already has enough borderline questionable activity (look into the Baltimore Affair for more information) in his past that he should both know better and be more careful when he makes pronouncements. So should we all.

Posted on April 18, 2008 06:43 PM View this article | Comments (5)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 17, 2008

Geoengineering: Who Decides?

An April 16 interview on the BBC (mp3) on the topic of geoengineering by Sarah Montague with Ken Caldeira of Stanford and David Keith from the University of Calgary raises some interesting issues about how the climate science community seeks to influence political outcomes through its decisions about what research to conduct and discuss in public.

Dr. Keith was first asked if geoengineering offers a "realistic prospect for a solution to global warming":

Keith: I think that "solution" is much too big a word. The sort of things we are talking about are not solutions in the sense that they would not compensate for the environmental damage of all of the carbon dioxide we’re putting in the air, but they might still be things that in some bad circumstances we’d want to do to limit the worst damage of that carbon dioxide. So I think of these more as band aids, but band aid is a pejorative word, but it is also something that we use.

Sarah M: And could contribute?

Keith: Yes

After Ken Caldeira recommends doing more research to evaluate the potential effectiveness of geoengineering he is asked whether such strategies could indeed provide "part of the solution";

Caldeira: Yes, none of these solutions will completely reverse the effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but as David points out it looks as if many of these schemes have the potential to reduce the consequences of carbon dioxide emissions. . .

The conversation next turned to the political implications of geoengineering, and specifically its effects on what options are considered in debate on climate change.

Sarah M: I suppose the problem with any idea like this [geoengineering] Professor Keith is that you are possibly distracting from the business of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

David Keith: Absolutely, I think that this has been people’s biggest fear in talking about this at all, that the idea that some of this risk management or band aid solutions are out there might make people less committed to cutting carbon dioxide emissions and I think that was a sort of universal fear that you heard at the conference [of the European Geosciences Union] and among various people who work on these technologies is exactly that.

So, to recap: scientists think that geoengineering has the potential "to reduce some of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions" but some scientists think that scientists should not discuss the prospects for geoengineering because it will distract from other approaches to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, decisions about what research to conduct and what is appropriate to discuss is shaped by the political preferences of scientists. This won’t be news to scholars of science in society, but it should be troubling because it is unfortunately characteristic of the climate science community. I personally have seen this dynamic at work when engaging in discussions of adaptation and also the true magnitude of the mitigation challenge.

Of course, neither Caldeira or Keith are among those who want to limit research or talk about geoengineering, but they obviously are well aware of those people among their colleagues (as am I). The interview ends with an rather glib policy recommendation by Caldeira:

Caldeira: . . . The question of which is better to do, which is more environmentally sensitive, to let the polar bears go extinct or put some dust in the upper atmosphere? And I think that it is not clear that choosing the extinction of polar bears is the more environmentally friendly choice.

Perhaps this question was meant to provoke an intellectual "thought experiment," but since it wasn’t presented as such, I’d be interested in hearing from Ken or anyone else about any available research that might suggest that geoengineering offers the prospect of altering the probabilities of future polar bear extinction. It is exactly this sort of imprecise, scientifically unsupportable discussion of policy alternatives that the scientific community should avoid.

Finally, let me make my own position clear. I prefer that both research and discussion of geoengineering take place. I am confident that the vast majority of such technologies can be shown to be a very bad idea on the merits of the policy arguments for and against. The one exception I'd suggest is the direct air capture of carbon dioxide, which some people don’t even include as a geoengineering technology. One thing I am sure of is that scientists should encourage political debate over policy options for responding to accumulating greenhouse gases to take place out in the open, involving policy makers and the public, and resist the urge to try to tilt the political playing field by altering what they allow their colleagues to work on or discuss in public. The climate debate has too much of this behavior already.

April 16, 2008

Mission Creep in the War on Science

While reviewing the policy statements of the remaining presidential candidates with respect to science and technology, I noted what is to me an unfortunate use of the phrase "War on Science."

Before I get into the details, a couple of necessary statements.

I am commenting strictly on the use of language. No endorsement, pro or con, is implied of the particular candidate.

While I welcome comments about what Chris Mooney and others mean for the phrase interpretations of what the "War on Science" is or should be are strictly my own. So are any misinterpretations.

A recent press release on aerospace and aviation funding from Sen. Clinton's campaign appears to expand the meaning of the War on Science.

Most of the press release concerns traditional red meat for the scientific and technical communities. More funding for all the things those communities desire (additional federal research money, more fellowships, more incentives for R&D investment). Nothing objective, nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary. But one sentence caught my eye.

From the press release (specifically from part of a paragraph on initiatives for aerospace research and NASA activities):

Hillary will double NASA’s and FAA's aeronautics R&D budgets as part of her plan to reverse the Bush administration’s war on science.

Sen. Clinton has consistently noted the various efforts of the Bush administration to willfully ignore or squash scientific evidence, as have Prometheus readers. That kind of activity is consistent with how I read Mooney's formulation of the War on Science.

What is new to me is associating increased research budgets with this War on Science. This mission creep is misguided, and if others pick up on this and run with it, what power a War on Science may have will be undercut.

First, while individual areas of research may have suffered a drop in funding, research funding overall has not suffered cuts in overall dollars. Yes, there have been reductions in the rate of growth, but if there really was a battle in the War on Science over research funding, I would expect to see cuts in budgets.

You may be thinking "While the actual dollars may not have been cut, stagnant funding actually restricts the research enterprise." But the value in the War on Science is in perception as much as anything. If the strength of your argument is in the details, it doesn't have the quick punch of big numbers.

Second, and perhaps more important for those with an ideological stake in the conflict, limited research budgets have been a perennial complaint that crosses party lines and presidential administrations. It's not a war when everyone's against you - it's a siege. While I've never thought the War on Science argument held a lot of sway outside of scientific communities, I know arguments for more money don't hold much sway outside of scientific communities, since they compete with other arguments for more money.

This particular use of the War on Science appears to be isolated, but should Senator Clinton become the Democratic nominee, I will keep an eye out for more of this mission creep.

Posted on April 16, 2008 08:27 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 11, 2008

Kudos to Kerry Emanuel

I have always held Kerry Emanuel in high regard, because he calls things like he sees them, but he also listens to others who might not share his views. He is, in short, a great scientist.

So it was not too surprising to see that Kerry's views have evolved on the issue of hurricanes and climate change, as science has progressed. A Houston Chronicle story reports today the following:

One of the most influential scientists behind the theory that global warming has intensified recent hurricane activity says he will reconsider his stand.

The hurricane expert, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this week unveiled a novel technique for predicting hurricane activity. The new work suggests that, even in a dramatically warming world, hurricane frequency and intensity may not substantially rise during the next two centuries.

The research, appearing in the March issue of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is all the more remarkable coming from Emanuel, a highly visible leader in his field and long an ardent proponent of a link between global warming and much stronger hurricanes.

His changing views could influence other scientists.

"The results surprised me," Emanuel said of his work, adding that global warming may still play a role in raising the intensity of hurricanes but what that role is remains far from certain.

I emailed Kerry to ask if the story accurately reflected his views. He replied that it was a bit exaggerated, but basically OK. Those engaged in the political debate over climate change who are skeptical of a link between hurricanes and climate change might try to make some hay from this news report. But here at Prometheus we'd suggest viewing Kerry's evolving view in the much broader context, which we have shared on multiple occasions, namely:

there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.

So don't get to excited about the latest paper in hurricane climatology, the field evolves slowly, and the views of of our best scientists evolve with it.

April 09, 2008

Ted Nordhaus on the Politics of Personal Destruction

Ted Nordhaus eloquently characterizes a disturbing pattern in debate among those calling for action climate change -- avoid debating the merits of policies, and instead smear the character of those making arguments that you disagree with.

Here is an excerpt:

The assumption among environmental leaders was that once the scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change was occurring was established, this consensus would translate into a consensus as to what to do about it -- a consensus that would embrace the policies long advocated by the national environmental movement, namely the Kyoto framework at the international level and cap and trade legislation at the domestic level.

But a funny thing has happened over the last several years, as opinion about the reality and urgency of the climate crisis has "tipped." The consensus that would allegedly result once broad public acceptance of anthropogenic climate change was achieved has fractured. Efforts to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Accord at the international level have stalled, as developing economies, led by China and India, have balked at any framework that would constrain carbon emissions and slow economic development in the developing world, where most of the growth of carbon emissions over the next century will come from. The fragile coalition of businesses, some segments of the energy industry, and environmentalists that appeared ready to support a domestic cap and trade system has frayed, as the environmental movement has demanded that all carbon allowances be auctioned and business interests have balked at the increasing costs of the regulations. . .

Unfortunately, the response to these developments from some environmentalists has been to attempt to tar those who have challenged the efficacy of the dominant environmental policy framework to address climate change with the same brush that they used to discredit those who denied the existence of anthropogenic climate change back in the 90's, only this time they are attacking respected climate scientists, energy experts, and activists who have no connection to the fossil fuel industry and have long and well documented track records of advocating for strong action to address climate change.

This effort is not entirely unusual in modern American politics. Any observer of recent national elections can attest that it has become par for the course among partisans of both political parties, with the political Right having proven to be particularly adept at such tactics, and most would agree that it has not changed American democracy for the better nor aided the effort to address the great challenges that the nation today is faced with. So it is particularly unseemly for prominent environmentalists, having spent the last decade demanding that policy to address climate change conform to the reality of climate science, are now attempting to destroy, quash, and otherwise discredit good science and important scientific and policy debate because it challenges the immediate political and policy objectives of the movement.

Read the whole thing here.

March 29, 2008

Setting a Trap for the Next President

An editorial in todays New York Times reports that the Bush Administration (and specifically the U.S. EPA) is considering some action on climate change:

On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act clearly empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to address greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The ruling instructed the agency to determine whether global warming pollution endangers public health and welfare — an "endangerment finding" — and, if so, to devise emissions standards for motor vehicles.

One year has passed, and despite repeated promises from President Bush and the E.P.A. administrator, Stephen Johnson, nothing has happened. And it seems increasingly likely that nothing will happen while Mr. Bush remains in office. Last week, Mr. Johnson notified Congress that he had discovered new regulatory complexities and decided against immediate action. Instead, he planned to offer an "advanced notice of proposed rule-making," which requires a lengthy comment period and a laborious bureaucratic process that would almost certainly stretch beyond the end of Mr. Bush’s term.

The NYT fails to see one important aspect of this strategy. Issuing an "Advanced Notice of Proposed Regulation" (ANPR) is in fact a significant step in the regulatory process. Importantly, in the regulatory process it turns the burden of of proof around from the need to show harm in order for regulation to occur, to the need to show safety for the regulation not to occur. Proving that a substance is safe, under the assumption that it is harmful, is a much more difficult challenge than the opposite.

So if the Bush Administration were in fact to issue an ANPR it would be a fairly significant act, especially for this administration. It would signal that greenhouse gas regulations are in fact coming.

But the important question is when. The Times notes correctly that the regulatory process would stretch beyond Bush's term. And of course this might be precisely the point of issuing an ANPR. It would saddle the next Administration with the challenge of figuring out how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from autos. As we have recently seen in Europe, creating and implementing such regulations is a messy affair.

Not long ago I wrote of this possibility in my column for Bridges (PDF):

So if a Democrat is elected in November 2008, which appears likely, it seems eminently plausible that the Bush Administration would help the new administration get off to a running start by leaving them with a proposed rule, under the EPA, for the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. Even the possibility of such a late-hour action is probably enough for the declared Democratic presidential candidates to be very careful about calling for dramatic action on climate change, lest – if elected – they find themselves getting what they asked for.

Because no one really yet knows how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by any significant amount, a strong proposed rule on climate change issued in the final months of the Bush Administration would create all sorts of political difficulties for the next president, just as those late-hour rules proposed by President Clinton did for President Bush. If reducing emissions indeed proves to be easy, as some have suggested, President Bush would get credit for taking decisive action. If it proves difficult and costly, as many suggest, then the next administration would bear the political backlash.

Common wisdom that the Bush Administration will not act meaningfully on climate change may in the end prove to be correct. But, at the same time, remember that lame ducks are unpredictable creatures.

My guess -- and it is nothing more than a guess -- is that the announcement of an ANPR on automobile emissions will occur -- if it is to occur at all -- after the November election, and only if a Democrat is elected. Of course, if McCain wins the election and the Bush Administration still announces the ANPR, then you can assume that there is still little love lost between the two, as the ANPR would saddle McCain with some sure problems during his presidency.

Finally, if you'd like to read the story of how Jimmy Carter's late-hour ANPR on stratospheric ozone eventually paved the way for domestic regulations and then international accords, please have a look at the following paper:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and M. M. Betsill, 1997: Policy for Science for Policy: Ozone Depletion and Acid Rain Revisited. Research Policy, 26, 157-168. (PDF)

March 26, 2008

LA Times on Adaptation

Pielke LA Times.gif

The image above is from a LA Times story by Alan Zarembo and is based on some of our reserach on future hurricane damages under changes in both climate and society. Zarembo provides a perspective on a group of scholars and advocates that I once called "nonskeptical heretics." Nonskeptical because they accept the science presented by the IPCC (as noted by Zarembo), and heretics because they take strong issue with many of the closely held assumptions that have come to frame the debate over climate policies.

Zarembo characterizes one of the most insidious assumptions -- that support for adaptation necessarily means a loss of support for mitigation:

Other scientists say that time is running out to control carbon dioxide emissions and that the call to adapt is providing a potentially dangerous excuse to delay. . . Although most scientists agree that adaptation should play a major role in absorbing the effects of climate change, they say that buying into the heretics' arguments will dig the world into a deeper hole by putting off greenhouse gas reductions until it is too late.

Well, no. It is a strawman to argue that strong support for adaptation means that one cannot also provide strong support for mitigation. A problem arises for mitigation-first proponents when they invoke things like hurricanes, malaria, and drought as justification for mitigation when clearly adaptive responses will be far more effective. Those who persist in linking mitigation to reducing such climate impacts will always find themselves on the wrong side of what research has shown -- namely, climate change is a much smaller factor in such impacts than societal factors (compare the graph above). It is true. Get over it.

The best arguments for mitigation were presented by Zarembo coming from Steve Schneider, who rightly pointed to the uncertain but highly consequential impacts of human-caused climate change:

"You can't adapt to melting the Greenland ice sheet," said Stephen H. Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University. "You can't adapt to species that have gone extinct."

If advocacy for action on mitigation emphasized these very large scale long-term impacts, rather than disasters, disease, etc., then there would be no need for adaptation and mitigation to be presented as opposing approaches. Consider that none of the people quoted in the Zarembo story who I know (including me) have suggested that adaptation can replace mitigation, particularly for issues like sea level rise and specifies extinction. So the argument that adaptation can't deal with sea level rise over a century or more is somewhat of a strawman as well.

The reality is that whatever the world decides to do on mitigation, we will have no choice but to improve our adaptation to climate. Humans have been improving their adaptation to climate forever and will continue to do so. Since we are going to adapt, we should do it wisely. And this means rejecting bad policy arguments when offered in the way of substitutes for adaptation, like the tired old view that today's disaster losses are somehow a justification for changes to energy policies. Misleading policy arguments and should be pointed out as such, because they hurt both the cause of adaptation, but ironically the cause of mitigation as well.

If mitigation advocates do not like being told that their misleading arguments poorly serve policy debate, well, they should probably try to come up with a more robust set of arguments. Arguing that support for adaptation undercuts support for mitigation is a little like making the argument that support for eating healthy and getting exercise (adapting one's lifestyle) undercuts support for heart surgery research (mitigating the effects of heart disease). Obviously we should seek both adaptation and mitigation in the context of heart disease.

If the case for action on energy policy is so overwhelmingly strong (and again, I think that it is), then there should be no reason to resort to misleading arguments completely detached from the conclusions of a wide range of analyses. Misleading arguments may be politically expedient in the short term, but cannot help the mitigation cause in the long run. And dealing with the emissions of greenhouse gases will take place over the long run. Meantime, we'll adapt.

March 24, 2008

New Paper on Climate Contrarians by Myanna Lahsen

I'd like to alert readers of this blog to an article of mine just out
in this issue of Global Environmental Change. It analyzes a prominent
subset of US climate contrarians, providing a more multi-faceted and
complex account than generally available of why they chose to join the
anti-environmental backlash. One of them, Frederick Seitz, died recently, making this a poignant time to examine him as well as his
similarly influential colleagues in historical perspective, as I do in
this article. Below is the reference and the abstract of the article:

Lahsen, Myanna. "Experiences of Modernity in the Greenhouse: A Cultural Analysis of a Physicist 'Trio' Supporting the Conservative Backlash Against Global Warming." Global Environmental Change (2008), Vol. 18/1 pp 204-219. (PDF)

In the context of President George W. Bush's rejection of the Kyoto
Protocol intended to combat human-induced climate change, it appears
important to improve understanding of powerful efforts to reframe
global climate change as a non-problem. This paper draws on
ethnographic research among U.S. scientists involved with climate
science and politics to improve understanding of the U.S. controversy
over global climate change by attending to structuring cultural and
historical dimensions. The paper explores why a key subset of
scientists – the physicist founders and leaders of the George C.
Marshall Institute – chose to lend their scientific authority to the
"environmental backlash," the counter-movement that has mobilized to
defuse widespread concern about perceived environmental threats,
including human-induced climate change. The paper suggests that the
physicists joined the backlash to stem changing tides in science and
society and to defend their preferred understandings of science,
modernity, and of themselves as a physicist elite – understandings
challenged by recent transformations in American science and society
that express themselves, among other places, in the widespread concern
about human-induced climate change.

Posted on March 24, 2008 09:34 AM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Others | Climate Change | Science + Politics

March 22, 2008

Fewer Endangered Species

Hey, amazing. The world is getting safer for critters. Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, hasn't declared a single animal or plant species endangered or threatened since he took office in 2006. What a relief! Just eight years ago, animals and plants were going down like bowling pins. Now they're thriving. Maybe all that development wasn't so bad after all.

Bridge, anyone?

March 18, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Now according to Grist Magazine's Joe Romm I am a "delayer/denier" because I've asked what data would be inconsistent with IPCC predictions. Revealed truths are not to be questioned lest we take you to the gallows. And people wonder why some people see the more enthusiastic climate advocates akin to religious zealots.

I am happy to report that it is quite possible to believe in strong action on mitigation and adaptation while at the same time ask probing questions of our scientific understandings.

March 04, 2008

Interview at The Breakthrough Institute

I've gladly accepted an invitation to join The Breakthrough Institute as a 2008 Senior Fellow. They have an interview with me up on their blog here. And I'll be blogging over there regularly.

If you are not familiar with their advocacy efforts, check them out and add their blog to your blogroll.

February 20, 2008

R&D Funding - An Investment that Looks Like an Entitlement

This post is prompted by the following quote from Raymond Orbach. Dr. Orbach is the head of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, one of the casualties of the government's inability (or unwillingness) to fully fund the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). The ACI was announced in 2006, and, among other things, would double federal funding for the physical sciences at DOE, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The quote is taken from Dr. Orbach's January 30 remarks at the Universities Research Association. (Hat tip from the American Institute of Physics' FYI Bulletin. His remarks focused on the challenges facing the research community with the recent budget problems. I want to focus on the following quote for a particular idea.

"Compounding this danger is that we scientists tend to regard the proposed increases for the physical sciences under the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act as an entitlement. That attitude has failed us."

Research funding as an entitlement? I'm guessing Orbach was hoping to get a rise out of people, but the idea is worth examining.

What are the other entitlements in American politics? Where the budget is concerned, there is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Before the welfare reform legislation of 1996, welfare would have made that list. There are no doubt other programs that are also considered entitlements - programs with set amounts assigned to it, which increase with the cost of inflation, or some other regular process.

Well, federal research and development funding has certainly not increased in regular increments, tied to inflation or any other measure. There have been attempts - successful and not - to double the budgets for the research agencies. But there's is no benefit formula attached to these considerations. Social Security and Medicare benefits are connected to specific formulas, but doubling the NIH budget wasn't connected to any particular scientific output or outcome (aside from presumed improvements in health). So on the face of it, research and development funding does not resemble federal entitlements.

But the science community (certainly the science advocacy community) can appear like it wants regular increases to the science budgets (and I suspect you can find statements to that effect on various organizations' web sites). Without an effective communication strategy for why the community wants these increases, it can appear that scientists are just another group with a hand out. Given the public perception that scientists are disconnected, part of the elite, out of touch; and combine that with the difficulty of effectively capturing the outputs and outcomes of that research funding, I certainly understand where people could get this idea. I would certainly understand that people would express disdain at current attempts to double NIH funding, because it was already doubled within the last few years.

So, let me put these questions out there - how can we make R&D funding - and the associated campaigns for it - look less like asking for an entitlement? If you don't think the requests for R&D funding *look like* asking for an entitlement, how would you defuse that criticism? Remember, in policy and politics it's often as much about how things look than how they are (just burrow into the current Presidential campaign for examples).

Posted on February 20, 2008 08:35 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding | Science + Politics

February 13, 2008

The Consistent-With Game: On Climate Models and the Scientific Method

I have been intrigued by the frequent postings over at Real Climate in defense of the predictive ability of climate models. The subtext of course is political – specifically that criticisms of climate models are an unwarranted basis for criticizing climate policies that are justified or defended in terms of the results of climate models. But this defensive stance risks turning climate modeling from a scientific endeavor to a pseudo-scientific exercise in the politics of climate change.

In a post now up, Real Climate explains that cooling of Antarctica is consistent with the predictions of climate models:

A cold Antarctica and Southern Ocean do not contradict our models of global warming.

And we have learned from Real Climate that all possible temperature trends of 8 years in length are consistent with climate models, so too are just about any possible observed temperature trends in the tropics, so too is a broad range of behavior of mid-latitude storms, as is the behavior of tropical sea surface temperatures, so too is a wide range of behaviors of the tropical climate, including ENSO events, and the list goes on.

In fact, there are an infinite number of things that are not inconsistent with the predictions of climate models (or if you prefer, conditional projections). This is one reason why a central element of the scientific method focuses on the falsifiability of hypotheses. According to Wikipedia (emphasis added):

Falsifiability (or refutability or testability) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment. That something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is false; rather, it means that it is capable of being criticized by observational reports. Falsifiability is an important concept in science and the philosophy of science. Some philosophers and scientists, most notably Karl Popper, have asserted that a hypothesis, proposition or theory is scientific only if it is falsifiable.

Are climate models falsifiable?

I am not sure. Over at Real Climate I asked the following question on its current thread:

There are a vast number of behaviors of the climate system that are consistent with climate model predictions, along the lines of your conclusion:
"A cold Antarctica and Southern Ocean do not contradict our models of global warming."

I have asked many times and never received an answer here: What behavior of the climate system would contradict models of global warming? Specifically what behavior of what variables over what time scales? This should be a simple question to answer.

Thanks!

As often is the case, Real Climate lets their commenters provide the easy answers to difficult questions. Here are a few choice responses that Real Climate viewed as contributing to the scientific discussion:

If Pielke wants to contribute constructively to this area of science, he should become a climate modeler himself and discuss such questions in the scientific literature. Otherwise, unless he can present some strong reason for doubting the competence or objectivity of people who do such work, he should listen to people who do work in the area.


. . .
Roger, your question is rather broad and vague. What aspect of the science are you seeking to falsify? See, that is precisely the problem when you have a theory that draws support from such a broad range of phenomena and studies as does the current theory of climate. It is rather like saying, "How would we falsify the theory of evolution?" When a theory has made many predictions and explained many diverse phenomena, it is quite difficult to falsify as a whole. You may be able to look at pieces of it and add to the understanding. Climate science is quite a mature field; future revolutions are quite unlikely. Changes will come but will likely be incremental. It is very hard to envision a development that would significantly alter our understanding of greenhouse forcing unless our whole understanding of climate is radically wrong, and that seems unlikely.

The good news is that there are a range of serious scholars working on the predictive skill of climate models. And there are some folks, myself included, who think that climate models are largely of exploratory or heuristic value, rather than predictive (or consolidative). (And perhaps a post on why this distinction is of crucial importantce may be a good idea here.) But you won’t hear about them at Real Climate.

Once you start playing the "consistent with" or "not inconsistent with" game, you have firmly placed yourself into a Popperian view of models as hypotheses to be falsified. And out of fear that legitimate efforts at falsifiability will be used as ammunition by skeptics (and make no mistake, they will) in the politics of climate change, issues of falsification are simply ignored or avoided. A defensive posture is adopted instead. And as Naomi Oreskes and colleagues have observed, this is a good way to mislead with models.

One of the risks of playing the politics game through science is that you risk turning your science – or at least impressions of it – into pseudo-science. If policy makers and the public begin to believe that climate models are truth machines -- i.e., nothing that has been, will be, or could be observed could possibly contradict what they say -- then a loss of credibility is sure to follow at some point when experience shows them not to be (and they are not). This doesn’t mean that humans don’t affect the climate or that we shouldn’t be taking aggressive action, only that accurate prediction of the future is really difficult. (For the new reader I am an advocate for strong action on both adaptation and mitigation, despite what you might read in the comments at RC.)

So beware the "consistent with" game being played with climate models by activist scientists, it is every bit as misleading as the worst arguments offered by climate skeptics and a distraction from the challenge of effective policy making on climate change.

For Further Reading:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2003: The role of models in prediction for decision, Chapter 7, pp. 113-137 in C. Canham and W. Lauenroth (eds.), Understanding Ecosystems: The Role of Quantitative Models in Observations, Synthesis, and Prediction, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. (PDF)

Sarewitz, D., R.A. Pielke, Jr., and R. Byerly, Jr., (eds.) 2000: Prediction: Science, decision making and the future of nature, Island Press, Washington, DC.

February 11, 2008

Technocracy versus Democratic Control

In a recent commentary (PDF) NASA’s James Hansen has called for reform in how the government treats scientists, and the creation of special rules for how government scientists communicate with Congress and the public. Hansen’s commentary raises important general questions about democratic governance and the role of scientists in government. Should government scientists somehow be exempt from democratic accountability? Especially on a subject as important as climate change, where (in the words of Jim Hansen) the future of the planet is at stake?

Hansen recommends that presidential candidates be asked the following:

Do you pledge, if elected, to allow government scientists to communicate scientific results without political interference by (1) having Public Affairs Offices of science agencies headed by career professionals with civil service protections, and (2) terminating the practice of White House OMB filtering testimony by government scientists to Congress?

Hansen does not like the political control of government communications, regardless of who has been elected into power:

The Public Affairs Offices (PAOs) of science agencies have become mouthpieces for the Administration in power. This, too, is a bi-partisan problem. Top people in the Headquarters Offices of Public Affairs can and often are thrown out in a heart-beat when an election changes the party in control of the Executive Branch. The Executive Branch has learned that the PAOs can be effective political instruments and, with some success, they are attempting to turn them into Offices of Propaganda, masters of double-speak ("clean coal", "clear skies", "healthy forests"…) that would make Orwell envious. Again it is a bi-partisan problem, the control of PAOs being exercised by top political appointees who are replaced rapidly with a change of administration. It is these political appointees that are the problem – the career civil servants at the NASA Centers, e.g., are professionals of high integrity, as are most people at Headquarters.

The solution, in Hansen’s view, is to take power away from politically appointed officials and place it into the hands of the career civil service – not a surprising view coming from a career civil servant. Hugh Heclo, a famous scholar of the federal bureaucracy, has written in some depth on the complex tensions between political officials and bureaucrats, and recognizes that there are no easy answers. But he does recognize that bureaucracies cannot be allowed free reign in democracies. He writes in his classic book A Government of Strangers (1977, The Brookings Institution):

If democracy is to work, political representatives must not only be formally installed in government posts but must in some sense gain control of large-scale bureaucracies that constitute the modern state. (p. 4)

A commitment to the orderly transition of governmental control via elections necessarily means that those in charge will change (p. 109):

Any commitment to democratic values necessarily means accepting a measure of instability in the top governing levels.

With his proposal to empower civil service scientists and their colleagues, Hansen seeks to wrest control away from democratically elected governments. This form of government is called technocracy and can be a form of authoritarian rule. Hansen recognizes this point when he writes,

"Politicians do not give up instruments of political power AFTER an election that they have won, unless they made an unambiguous promise before the election."

While, as Hugh Heclo observes the appropriate balance of control between political officials and bureaucrats is worth some discussion, it seems rather odd to suggest that democratic governance will be better served by empowering technocrats who are largely unaccountable to the public. Let us imagine what might have happened if rather than a political appointee of the Bush Administration who had refused James Hansen’s request to be interviewed by the media, it was instead a career civil servant. One might argue that the very fact that it was a political appointee hastened that individual’s loss of his job when Jim Hansen complained publicly about the Administration’s efforts to manage his ability to speak to the media. Had that person been a career civil servant removing him from that position would have been immeasurably more difficult, due to the career protections offered to civil servants. Democratic accountability is enhanced when there are clear lines of responsibility. In the case of Jim Hansen’s complaints, it was obvious that the Bush Administration's ham-handed efforts to keep him from speaking were politically motivated and indefensible. Hence, the system worked as it should have and in the end accountability was served.

As an indication of the "success" (cough, cough) of the Bush Administration’s efforts to manage Jim Hansen’s media appearances, consider the following graph (produced from data gathered on Google News) which shows the number of news stories that mentioned James Hansen from 1996-2007. In 2007 Jim Hansen appeared in an average of 25 news stories per day for the entire year! If the Bush Administration was trying to muzzle Jim Hansen, then they failed miserably (which given their track record in a range of areas is probably not surprising).

Hansen in the news.png

Jim Hansen also complains about the coordination of testimony (which includes editing) given by government officials to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget, which resides in the Executive Office of the President. Hansen thinks that government scientists should be exempt from such administrative oversight.

OMB’s editing of the scientific content is invariably designed to make the testimony fit better with the position of the political party in power (yes, it is a bi-partisan problem). Where is it stated or implied in the Constitution that the Executive Branch should have such authority?

While it seems fairly obvious that government officials have an obligation to support the elected officials for whom they work, the specific answer to Hansen’s question can be found in Section 22 of OMB Circular A-11 (PDF), which discusses agency communications with Congress. It says that once the President transmits to Congress his budget -- which represents the Administration’s priorities and policies -- a number of ground rules govern communication with Congress, among them a requirement that the testimony be reviewed by OMB for conformance to Administration policies. It states:

Witnesses will avoid volunteering personal opinions that reflect positions inconsistent with the President's program or appropriation request.

Now what if the president’s official policy for Program X is justified based on the "fact" that 2 + 2 = 5. Does the testifying official have to accept that 2 + 2 = 5 if asked by a member of Congress whether s/he in fact believes that 2 + 2 = 5? No, of course not. They can say the 2 + 2 = 4, and perhaps this will get them in the news for saying something at odds with the Administration, as recently happened when a State Department official contradicted official government policy on North Korea. The government official – whether civil servant or political appointee -- then accepts the consequences of his or her actions, and ultimately, if they feel that they cannot support the government, then they always have the option of resigning. As political scientist J. D. Sobel writes:

All senior leaders, whether appointed or career, serve in an administration and for a principal with broader responsibilities. These officials have special obligations to protect and support their principal and administration as the mechanism of democratic accountability in government. They have strong implicit obligations to stay within the policy framework of their administration and not undermine their principal.

Jim Hansen argues that "trying to make government science submit to political command and control, is a threat to our democracy, and, as a result, a threat to the planet." I have a different view. Those who would argue that government scientists are somehow exempt from democratic accountability are the real threat to democracy, and encourage technocratic decision making if not outright authoritarianism. Democracy and science are compatible, and so too is democracy and effective action on climate change.

If Jim Hansen can’t support the officials of the United States who are elected by the people and for whom he works and takes a paycheck, then he might consider another line of work. University professors can say all sorts of things, and even testify before Congress. Many advocacy groups would jump at an opportunity to have him on their staff, and I have no doubt that his Congressional appearances would continue. And of course, he could always run for office. But should we redesign the government to give more power to experts at the expense of democratic accountability? I don’t think so.

February 07, 2008

Science Debate 2008: an incoherent idea at best

A blogosphere movement/proposal for a “Science Debate” among presidential candidates has picked up considerable steam, gathering the support of institutions and individuals throughout the science community, and spilling onto the pages of Science (here) and Nature (here and here) this week. It’s worth looking at just what this group is calling for:

“Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.”

I won’t go into the various arguments for and against this idea, but I think it’s worth contrasting the title of this effort -- “Science Debate 2008” – with what is actually being proposed in the above quotation. The issues listed span a political and cultural landscape of which science occupies only a very small piece. On the other hand, there are far more issues in which science plays a part (e.g. space, transportation, agriculture, …) that somehow did not make the cut. Why these issues in this particular debate? What is the goal of holding this debate?

Despite the title of this movement, what is advocated here is not a “science debate,” and as Goldston pointed out in Nature, applying such a name to it potentially does a great disservice to whatever discourse might emerge. One need only look at Kennedy’s suggested questions in Science to see why this is true. Some of these questions are about politics and values, others are about budgetary aspects of science policy, and still others are about criteria of scientific merit. While a sitting president could take a position on any of these example questions, few of them are high profile enough to reach that status.

Others are misleadingly framed to begin with. For example, no single person or entity determines the balance between “major-program project research and investigator-initiated basic research grants” and it is doubtful that it would be possible (let alone desirable) to alter this reality. (And I’ll leave aside the question of whether anyone at all in the general public would find this question interesting.)

It seems that the agenda of this movement is to raise the profile of a very specific set of issues. Why these issues should represented as inherently “scientific” is mystery to me. What should be clarified is the reasoning behind selecting these issues, and the overall goals of the proposed debate. Maybe then the supporters could make some progress in dealing with the issues raised by Goldston and others, and perhaps even make headway toward a truly useful event.

February 01, 2008

Guest Comment: Sharon Friedman, USDA Forest Service - Change Changes Everything

It is true that the calculus of environmental tradeoffs will be inevitably and irretrievably changed due to consideration of climate change. Ideas that were convenient (convenient untruths) like “the world worked fine without humans, if we remove their influence it will go back to what it should be” have continued to provide the implicit underpinning for much scientific effort. In short, people gravitated to the concept that "if we studied how things used to be" (pre- European settlement) we would know how they "should" be, with no need for discussions of values or involving non-scientists. This despite excellent work such as the book Discordant Harmonies by Dan Botkin, that displayed the scientific flaws in this reasoning (in 1992).

What's interesting to me in the recent article, "The Preservation Predicament", by Cornelia Dean in The New York Times
is the implicit assumption that conservationists and biologists will be the ones who determine whether investing in conservation in the Everglades compared to somewhere else, given climate change, is a good idea - perhaps implying that sciences like decision science or economics have little to contribute to the dialog. Not to speak of communities and their elected officials.

I like to quote the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) governance principles:

Indigenous and local communities are rightful primary partners in the development and implementation of conservation strategies that affect their lands, waters, and other resources, and in particular in the establishment and management of protected areas.

Is it more important for scientists to "devise theoretical frameworks for deciding when, how or whether to act" (sounds like decision science) or for folks in a given community, or interested in a given species, to talk about what they think needs to be done and why? There are implicit assumptions about what sciences are the relevant ones and the relationship between science and democracy, which in my opinion need to be debated in the light of day rather than assumed.

Sharon Friedman
Director, Strategic Planning
Rocky Mountain Region
USDA Forest Service

January 31, 2008

Climate Experts Debating the Role of Experts in Policy

In Spring, 1997 a group called Ozone Action issued a statement signed by six prominent scientists calling for action on climate change. The letter prompted an interesting public exchange among leading scientists about who has the authority and credentials to call for political action on issues involving science, and whether or not the IPCC is the sole legitimate voice. The exchange is worth reviewing and considering, and I've reproduced parts of it below..

The Six Scientists letter was criticized by a leading climate scientist, Tom Wigley, who wrote:

I thought I should tell you that, for a number of reasons, I am not willing to sign the "6 scientists" statement you distributed. To the contrary, I strongly oppose it.

While I hold the individuals in high regard, I do not consider them authorities on the climate change issue. From memory, none were lead authors of the recent IPCC reports. While this may be an advantage from some points of view, it is not sufficient to overcome the criticism implied by my first sentence. Their endorsement of IPCC is useful, but their statement goes beyond what IPCC says. This can only be damaging to the IPCC process.

Phrases like (my emphasis) "climate DISRUPTION is under way" have no scientific basis, and the claimed need for "greenhouse gas emissions (reductions) beginning immediately" is contrary to the careful assessment of this issue that is given in the IPCC reports.

No matter how well meaning they may be, inexpert views and opinions will not help. In this issue, given that a comprehensive EXPERT document exists, it is exceedingly unwise for highly regarded scientists to step outside their areas of expertise. This is not good scientific practice.

I urge the authors of the statement to endorse IPCC, but go no further. I further recommend that any other scientist considering endorsement of the present statement think very carefully before so doing. In my view, endorsing any statement that goes beyond IPCC, or which is in any way inconsistent with IPCC publications, will potentially label the individual as an advocate and reduce their credibility as an informed and dispassionate scientist.

John Holdren, an energy policy expert now at Harvard, responded strongly to these comments:

Dr. Wigley's critique of the "6 scientists' statement" on global climatic disruption is surprising and, in all of its principal contentions, completely unconvincing.

Consider first his apparent contention that, the IPCC having rendered its authoritative judgment on the causes, consequences, and implications of climate change, no other scientist or group of scientists now has any business offering a supplemental opinion on any part of the matter. Or perhaps he is saying that no scientists other than _climatologists_ should be offering such opinions. (More about that below.) Either way, it is a disturbing proposition, not least for being so contrary to soundly based and solidly established traditions of both scientific and policy discourse.

Assessments of complex science-and-society problems by interdisciplinary panels can make valuable contributions to consensus-building in the scientific community, to shaping research agendas, and to illuminating policy options (among other benefits), as the IPCC admirably has done. I myself have put a good deal of my professional life, over the last quarter of a century, into participating in and leading such assessments on a wide range of topics in the energy, environment, and international-security fields. But I would never have asserted that the product of any of them was sacrosanct -- not to be commented or expanded upon, never mind criticized, by any group other than the original authors -- as Dr. Wigley appears to be asserting for the product of the IPCC. Does he really think that truth, wisdom, and insight are now to be regarded as the exclusive franchise of giant international panels, and anybody not so empaneled (or even those who are but might wish to speak through another channel) must be quiet?

Dr. Wigley has written that he does not consider the signers of the "6 scientists' statement" to be "authorities on the climate change issue" and that "Inexpert opinions do not help". Since he is a climatologist, one supposes that he would have been at least somewhat less distressed if a statement of this sort had been issued by members of that profession. Do they hold the only relevant "expertise"? What part of "the climate change issue" is he talking about here?

The IPCC process engaged not only climatologists but also atmospheric chemists, soil scientists, foresters, ecologists, energy technologists, economists, statisticians, and a good many other kinds of specialists as well -- and for good reason. Even the relatively narrow question of how much climate change has taken place so far is not the province of climatologists alone (since, for example, the insights of atmospheric chemists, geochemists, glaciologists, geographers, and more are needed to help understand what the climate was like before humans started messing with it).

Understanding how the climate may change in the future, of course, depends on insights not only from climatologists but also from soil scientists, oceanographers, and biologists who study the carbon cycle; from energy analysts who study how much fossil fuel is likely to be burned in the future and with what technologies; from foresters and geographers who study the race between deforestation and reforestation; and so on. Understanding the likely and possible responses of terrestrial and marine ecosystems to climate change -- and the consequences for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, biodiversity, and the distribution and abundance of human-disease vectors and pathogens -- is the province of another whole panoply of types of biologists, as well as agronomists, foresters, epidemiologists, and more.

Understanding what technical and policy options are available for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and how fast and with what costs these options might be implemented, is the province of energy technologists, economists, and policy analysts, among others. And the decision about what measures governments should take to prepare for and/or implement some suitable subset of these options is necessarily a political choice, inasmuch as it entails a value-laden set of trade-offs among costs, risks, and benefits of incommensurable types. Of course people's thinking about these trade-offs ought to be informed by as complete a portrayal as possible of what is known and not known about the climatological, geochemical, biological, techno- logical, economic, and other characteristics of the problem. But to believe that this portrayal will be understood in exactly the same way by any two individuals -- or that, if it were, its ingredients would be weighed by those individuals in exactly the same way, so as to lead them to identical policy preferences -- would be naive in the extreme.

Luckily, society has worked out a way to reach conclusions about what to do in the face of multifaceted, uncertainty-laden choices about problems affecting the common good, and it involves not only science and policy analysis but also, ultimately and appropriately, politics. Neither the science part of this mix nor the policy-analysis part -- not to speak of the political part -- works by designating a single individual or group (no matter how distinguished) as the single arbiter of what is right, what is reasonable, or what is helpful in public discourse. . .

Thanks to folks at Carnegie Mellon University the full exchange is preserved here.

January 30, 2008

Witanagemot Justice And Senator Inhofe’s Fancy List

Witan_hexateuch.jpg

Anyone interested in the intersection of science and politics has to be watching with some amusement and more than a little dismay at the spectacle of professional immolation that the climate science community has engaged in following the release of Senator James Inhofe’s list of 400+ climate skeptics.

The amusement comes from the fact that everyone involved in this tempest in a teapot seems to be working as hard as possible in ways contrary to their political interests.

From the perspective of Senator Inhofe, by producing such a list he has raised the stakes associated with any scientist going public with any concerns about the scientific consensus on climate change. Not only would announcement of such concerns lead one to risk being associated with one of the most despised politicians in the climate science community, but several climate scientists have taken on as their personal responsibility the chore of personally attacking people who happen to find themselves on the Senator’s list. What young scholar would want to face the climate science attack dogs? Of course, those sharing the Senator’s political views may not mind being on such a list, but this does nothing more than further politicize climate science.

And this leads to the repugnant behavior of the attack dog climate scientists who otherwise would like to be taken seriously. By engaging in the character assassination of people who happen to find themselves on Senator Inhofe’s list they reinforce the absurd notion that scientific claims can be adjudicated solely by head counts and a narrow view of professional qualifications. They can’t. (See this enlightening and amusing discussion by Dan Sarewitz of leading experts arguing over who is qualified to comment on climate issues.) But by suggesting that knowledge claims can be judged by credentials the attack dog scientists reinforce an anti-democratic authoritarian streak found in the activist wing of the climate science community. Of course, from the perspective of the activist scientists such attacks may be effective if they dissuade other challenges to orthodoxy, but surely climate scientists deserving of the designation should be encouraging challenges to knowledge claims, rather than excoriating anyone who dares to challenge their beliefs.

I recently chatted with Steve Rayner and Gwyn Prins, authors of the brilliant and provocative essay The Wrong Trousers (PDF), who found themselves , somewhat bizarrely, on Senator Inhofe’s list. Neither has expressed anything resembling views challenging claims of human-caused climate change, however they are (rightly) critical of the political approach to climate change embodied by Kyoto. I asked them what they thought about being on the Senator’s list. Steve Rayner asked if there was some way to sue the Senator for defamation, tongue only partly in cheek. Gwyn Prins offered the following gem:

I think that pointing out that the mere fact of this funny headcounting is worthy of note: In the Anglo-Saxon witanagemot justice was achieved by oath-swearing so the number and the status of your oath-swearers mattered more than the facts of the matter; and this issue is being adjudicated on both sides – denialists and climate puritans – in just such a manner.

He is right of course, and this brings us to the dismay. The climate science community – or at least its most publicly visible activist wing – seems to be working as hard as possible to undercut the legitimacy and the precarious trust than society provides in support of activities of the broader scientific community. Senator Inhofe is a politician, and plays politics. If activist climate scientists wish to play the Senator’s game, then don’t be surprised to see common wisdom viewing these activists more as political players than trustworthy experts. If this is correct then maybe the Senator is a bit more astute than given credit for.

Ultimately, the mainstream climate science community might share with their activist colleagues the same sort of advice Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC) offered to former President Bill Clinton – "chill."

January 23, 2008

The Authoritarianism of Experts

Have you ever heard anyone make the argument that we must take a certain course of action because the experts tell us we must? The issue might be the threat of another country or an environmental risk, but increasingly we see appeals to authority used as the basis for arguing for this or that action.

In a new book, David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith take the appeal to experts somewhat further and argue that in order to deal with climate change we need to replace liberal democracy with an authoritarianism of scientific expertise. They write in a recent op-ed:

Liberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the USA, unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens. . .

There must be open minds to look critically at liberal democracy. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties. . .

We are going to have to look how authoritarian decisions based on consensus science can be implemented to contain greenhouse emissions.

On their book page they write:

[T]he authors conclude that an authoritarian form of government is necessary, but this will be governance by experts and not by those who seek power.

So whenever you hear (or invoke) an argument from expertise (i.e., "the experts tell us that we must ...") ask if we should listen to the experts in just this one case, or if we should turn over all decisions to experts. If just this one case, why this one and not others? If a general prescription, should we do away with democracy in favor of an authoritarianism of expertise?

January 20, 2008

I'm So Confused

Last week I received an email from our Chancellor, Bud Peterson, warning me and my CU colleagues of the perils of engaging in political advocacy activities as a university employee. Here is an excerpt:

TO: Boulder Campus Teaching & Research Faculty, Staff, Deans, Directors, Dept Chairs

FROM: Office of the Chancellor

SENDER: Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson

DATE: January 18, 2008

SUBJECT: Guidelines on Campaign-Related Activities by Members of the University Community

Dear Colleagues:

In light of the many political campaigns currently, or soon to be, underway at the national, state and local levels, I would like to provide you with a set of guidelines we, as members of the University community, should keep in mind as we consider our own activities and level of involvement. The guidelines were developed by the Office of the University Counsel, and if you have questions, I urge you to contact Counsel's office at 303-492-7481.

GUIDELINES ON CAMPAIGN-RELATED ACTIVITIES BY MEMBERS OF THE UNIVERSITY
COMMUNITY

IN GENERAL, UNIVERSITY EMPLOYEES MAY NOT:

* Engage in any activity during working hours designed to urge electors to vote for or against any campaign issues, which include campaigns for public office, state-wide campaign issues or referred measures, and local campaign issues or levies.

* Employees wishing to participate in a campaign activity should take personal leave.

* Use office supplies or equipment, including computers, telephones, printers or facsimile machines to create materials urging electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.

* Use their University email accounts to urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue, or to forward materials that urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.

* Use University-hosted websites to urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.

At the same time Chancellor Peterson has endorsed faculty participation in a January 31 political advocacy effort called "Focus the Nation," which seeks to motivate action on climate change.

Here is how The Colorado Daily describes the activity:

There's also a hint of politics involved: the teach-in is scheduled for Jan. 31, shortly before statewide primaries and caucuses, and is timed to place pressure on political candidates. [Colorado's caucus is Feb. 5].

"We wanted to do it right in the height of the early primaries to ensure that climate change is at the forefront of the issues," [Garrett] Brennan [media director for Focus the Nation] said.

After all, raising awareness about climate change is one thing, he said. Actually solving it is another.

"The solutions are pretty cut and dry," Brennan said. "You're not going to create an art installation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Raising awareness - making it personal to people - is multidisciplinary. The solutions are policies that are going to get passed."

That could be one reason that voter-registration group New Era Colorado will be on campus that day, displaying poster-board profiles that detail each candidate's stance on environmental issues.

The website for Focus the Nation lists the policy actions that it wishes to focus our nation's attention on and for me to discuss in the classroom, and here are a few of the options that I am supposed to provide to my students:

To stabilize global warming at the low end of the possible range (3-4 degrees F) will require deep cuts in global warming pollution beginning in about 2020. In the US, reductions in emissions of roughly 15%-20% per decade will be needed.

Place a tax on each ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) embodied in fossil fuels. Set the tax high enough to initially stabilize nationwide emissions, and then have the tax rise over time, generating steady cuts in pollution. Use tax revenue to (1) compensate lower income Americans for higher energy prices, and (2) to assist impacted workers, especially in coal mining.

To the extent that coal use is unavoidable, only allow coal plants that capture and permanently sequester their emissions in geologic formations.

Cap total carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution emitted in the US through a system of a fixed number of permits; auction the permits to emitters; use auction revenue to (1) compensate lower income Americans for higher energy prices, and (2) to assist impacted workers, especially in coal mining.

By 2030, require by law that all new buildings in the US be "carbon neutral" (no net emissions of global warming pollution from fossil fuel combustion).

Set the emerging biofuels sector on a sustainable basis through: (1) A Low Carbon Fuel Standard that sets a goal for reducing carbon intensity in the total light and heavy duty vehicles fuels mix by10 percent by 2020, and (2) Mount a major effort to research, develop, demonstrate and deploy sustainable biofuels feedstocks and technologies.

Prevent CO2 emissions and remove atmospheric CO2 through forest conservation, management and restoration. Include forests in cap & auction system, allowing the trade of forest emissions reductions that are real, additional, verifiable, and permanent.

For the United States as a whole, adopt California’s standards requiring a 23% reduction in global warming pollution from new vehicles sold by 2012, and a 30% reduction in global warming pollution from new vehicles sold by 2016.

I am so confused.

Focus the Nation is unadulterated political advocacy. But my campus forbids me to use my official time, paid for by taxpayers, to advocate for particular campaign issues. But global warming is so important. But my Chancellor forbids me to engage in political advocacy as part of my job. But my Chancellor is the keynote speaker for our Focus the Nation activities. But my job is to teach not indoctrinate. But I actually agree with many of the proposed policies. But it is not my job to use my platform as a professor to tell students what to think; I am supposed to teach them how to think and come to their own conclusions. But if I don't go along I'll be castigated as one of those bad guys, like a Holocaust denier or slave owner. But doing the right thing is so obvious.

Thank goodness I am on sabbatical.

January 16, 2008

Soylent Green

This was too rich not to mention, though it doesn't have all that much to do with science and technology. Evidently, the House cafeteria has just gone green. They now offer a wider selection of vegetarian options, cage free eggs, and hormone free milk. This has some lobby groups (namely, the egg and milk lobbies) in a twist.

Read the NY Times article.

The lobbyists seem to think that the restaurant operators are "hooked by propaganda of animal rights groups." So this raises a question: What's the grub? Either it's the case that industry eggs and cage free eggs, or industry milk and hormone free milk are absolutely, categorically equivalent, on both moral and non-moral grounds; or it's not. If there is absolutely, categorically no moral distinction between the two, then there's always the possibility that the two options are distinct on, say, preference grounds. In either case, the important observation is that there is some difference relevant to the decision-making of the restaurant operators: whether it be that the offerings come from American or Chinese chickens, wild or farmed fish, or (yes) fat or skinny farmers.

The last issue, you might reply, smacks of irrelevance. Who cares if the farmer is fat or skinny? Maybe there are even justice issues here: if, say, a restaurant operator chooses chickens from the fat farmer, on grounds that the farmer is fat, maybe this is due to a deeply embedded anti-skinny bias; or perhaps an affirmative action-laced agriculture bill. But these considerations are no more irrelevant to the restaurant operator's decision than any other considerations. They're all factors; and they need to be argued for. Positively. Not negatively.

Lobbyists who argue against the practice of greening one's food options once the decision has already been made are stuck with the hard line: that there is no difference whatsoever. That's plainly false, just as it is false that there is no difference whatsoever between food brands or between food that comes from Guatamala or Iowa. Now that the decision has been made, the burden of proof is on the lobbyists to demonstrate that there is absolutely, categorically no relevant difference between the several options. By my reckoning, that'll be mighty hard, since differences like the living conditions of chickens plainly matter, even if not morally, at least to some people. Maybe that's why someone would revert to inane strategies like suggesting that cafeteria operators are "hooked by propaganda."

Foodfights like this can only be made of people.

Posted on January 16, 2008 02:50 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Hale, B. | Environment | Health | Science + Politics

January 05, 2008

My Comments to Science on Hillary Clinton's Science Policy Plans

I was recently asked by Eli Kintisch at Science to comment on Hillary Clinton's recent discussion of science policies. Eli quotes a few of my comments in this week's Science, which has a special focus on the presidential candidates. My full reaction to Eli is below:

Hi Eli-

The document seems typical for this early stage of the campaign -- that is, it blends a heavy dose of political red meat, with the entirely vacuous, with hints of some innovative and perhaps even revolutionary new ideas, accompanied with a range of budget promises that almost certainly can't be met. But most significantly is the fact that she has put some science policy ideas forward to be discussed, which is far more than most other candidates of either party have done related to science.

*The red meat is all of the "I'm not George Bush" type statements, such as the stem cell proposal and re-elevation of the science advisor position.

*The vacuous includes the comment that you starred on political appointees. The meaning of this statement depends entirely on the definition of "legitimate basis" and "unwarranted supression" -- well, what is "legitimate" and "unwarranted"? -- as written it is a political Rorschach test, which can be good politics but certainly does nothing to clarify the specific science policies she would enact. Also, the idea that civil servants and scientists are free from politics in regulatory decision making probably needs more thinking through -- but balancing accountability and expertise probably requires more wonky discussion than a campaign sound bite can provide.

*The most innovative idea is the $50 billion strategic energy fund, which is short on details, but promises real money to an area desperately in need of support. This stands out as something really new and potentially very exciting.

*The promises that probably can't be met include keeping the Shuttle contractors in business while pursuing a new human spaceflight program, while at the same time fully funding earth sciences research and a new space-based climate research program, while putting NIH on a doubling trajectory over the next 10 years, not to mention a bit for aeronautics and the $50 billion for energy research. Good luck finding room in the R&D budget for all of that. But again, more politics than science policy, this time aimed at more specific constituencies looking to see that their concerns get some play.

The biggest criticism I have is the comment about the NIH budget, which her husband set on a doubling trajectory and which was completed under Bush. To suggest that NIH has suffered a lack of support is not a great argument. Also, a minor criticism, the part about the U.S. national assessment on climate change says that Bush hasn't released one for 6.5 years, but Clinton/Gore took more than 7 years to release theirs. The national assessment is more political red meat, and probably tangential to where the action is on climate issues anyway.

Hope this helps, please follow up if clarification is needed . . .

Best regards,

Roger

Roger Pielke, Jr.
University of Colorado


December 21, 2007

On the Political Relevance of Scientific Consensus

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has released a report in which he has identified some hundreds of scientists who disagree with the IPCC consensus. Yawn. In the comments of Andy Revkin's blog post on the report you can get a sense of why I often claim that arguing about the science of climate change is endlessly entertaining but hardly productive, and confirming Andy's assertion that "A lot of us live in intellectual silos."

In 2005 I had an exchange with Naomi Oreskes in Science on the significance of a scientific consensus in climate politics. Here is what I said then (PDF):

IN HER ESSAY "THE SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS on climate change" (3 Dec. 2004, p. 1686), N. Oreskes asserts that the consensus reflected in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) appears to reflect, well, a consensus. Although Oreskes found unanimity in the 928 articles with key words "global climate change," we should not be surprised if a broader review were to find conclusions at odds with the IPCC consensus, as "consensus" does not mean uniformity of perspective. In the discussion motivated by Oreskes’ Essay, I have seen one claim made that there are more than 11,000 articles on "climate change" in the ISI database and suggestions that about 10% somehow contradict the IPCC consensus position.

But so what? If that number is 1% or 40%, it does not make any difference whatsoever from the standpoint of policy action. Of course, one has to be careful, because people tend to read into the phrase "policy action" a particular course of action that they themselves advocate. But in the IPCC, one can find statements to use in arguing for or against support of the Kyoto Protocol. The same is true for any other specific course of policy action on climate change. The IPCC maintains that its assessments do not advocate any single course of action.

So in addition to arguing about the science of climate change as a proxy for political debate on climate policy, we now can add arguments about the notion of consensus itself. These proxy debates are both a distraction from progress on climate change and a reflection of the tendency of all involved to politicize climate science.

The actions that we take on climate change should be robust to (i) the diversity of scientific perspectives, and thus also to (ii) the diversity of perspectives of the nature of the consensus. A consensus is a measure of a central tendency and, as such, it necessarily has a distribution of perspectives around that central measure (1). On climate change, almost all of this distribution is well within the bounds of legitimate scientific debate and reflected within the full text of the IPCC reports. Our policies should not be optimized to reflect a single measure of the central tendency or, worse yet, caricatures of that measure, but instead they should be robust enough to accommodate the distribution of perspectives around that
central measure, thus providing a buffer against the possibility that we might learn more in the future (2).

ROGER A. PIELKE JR.
Center for Science and Technology Policy Research,
University of Colorado, UCB 488, Boulder, CO
80309–0488, USA.

References
1 D. Bray,H. von Storch, Bull.Am.Meteorol. Soc. 80, 439 (1999).
2. R. Lempert, M. Schlesinger, Clim. Change 45, 387 (2000).

December 19, 2007

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC, Science and Politics

The current issue of Nature has a lengthy profile of Rajendra Pachauri, its "Newsmaker of the Year." In the profile Dr. Pachauri discusses his personal views on the politics of climate change and his responsibilities as IPCC chair. Here is how he characterizes his own efforts, as quoted in the Nature profile:

We have been so drunk with this desire to produce and consume more and more whatever the cost to the environment that we're on a totally unsustainable path. I am not going to rest easy until I have articulated in every possible forum the need to bring about major structural changes in economic growth and development.

AP Pachauri Gore.jpg

In recent weeks and months, Dr. Pachauri, and other representatives of the IPCC, have certainly not been shy in advocating specific actions on climate change, using their role as IPCC leaders as a pulpit to advance those agendas. For instance, in a recent interview with CNN on the occasion of representing the IPCC at the Nobel Prize ceremony, Dr. Pachauri downplayed the role of geoengineering as a possible response to climate change, suggested that people eat less meat, called for lifestyle changes, suggested that all the needed technologies to deal with climate change are in the marketplace or soon to be commercialized, endorsed the Kyoto Protocol approach, criticized via allusion U.S. non-participation, and defended the right of developing countries to be exempt from limits on future emissions.

Dr. Pachauri has every right to these personal opinions, but each of the actions called for above are contested by some thoughtful people who believe that climate change is a problem requiring action, and accept the science as reported by the IPCC. These policies are not advocated by the IPCC because the formal mandate of the IPCC is to be "policy neutral." But with its recent higher profile, it seems that the IPCC leadership believes that it can flout this stance with impunity. The Nature profile discusses this issue:

The IPCC's mandate is to be 'neutral with respect to policy' — to set out the options and let policy-makers decide how to act. The reports themselves reflect this. Every word is checked and double-checked by scientists, reviewers and then government representatives — "sanitized", as Pachauri puts it. But Pachauri is the face of the IPCC, and he often can't resist speaking out, despite a few "raps on the knuckles" for his comments. He insists that he always makes it clear he is speaking on his own behalf and not for the IPCC. "It's one thing to make sure that our reports are sanitized. It's another for me as an individual to talk about policies that might work. I feel I have responsibility far beyond being a spokesman for the IPCC. If I feel there are certain actions that can help us meet this challenge, I feel I should articulate them."

"I think Patchy needs to be careful," says Bert Metz, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in Bilthoven, who is one of the co-chairs of the IPCC's working group on greenhouse-gas mitigation. "One of the things about the IPCC is that it lays down the facts. If you start mixing [that] with your own views that's not very wise. But he gets away with it because of his charm." Steve Rayner, director of the James Martin Institute at the University of Oxford, UK, and a senior author with the same working group, feels that Pachauri's personal statements place too much stress on lifestyles and not enough on technologies. But he also concedes that a certain amount of outspokenness is an essential part of the job. "I don't think you can provide inspirational leadership in an enterprise like this unless you are passionate. That's something Bob [Watson] and Patchy have in common. They are both very passionate about the issue and I think that's appropriate."

In general, those who agree with the political agenda advanced by Dr. Pachauri will see no problem with his advocacy, and those opposed will find it to be problematic. And this is precisely the problem. By using his platform as a scientific advisor to advance a political agenda, Dr. Pachauri risks politicizing the IPCC and turning it (or perceptions of it) into simply another advocacy group on climate change, threatening its legitimacy and ultimately, its ability to serve as a trusted arbiter of science.

On this point reasonable people will disagree. However, before you decide how you feel about this subject, consider how you would feel if the head of the International Atomic Energy Association responsible for evaluating nuclear weapons programs were to be an outspoken advocate for bombing the very country he was assessing, or if the head of the CIA with responsibility to bring intelligence to policy makers also was at the same time waging a public campaign on certain foreign policies directly related to his intelligence responsibilities. For many people the conflation of providing advice and seeking to achieve political ends would seem to be a dangerous mix for both the quality of advice and the quality of decision making.

The IPCC is riding high these days, but as Burt Metz says, they need to be very careful. Saying that your organization is "policy neutral" while behaving quite differently does not seem to be a sustainable practice. Policy makers will need science advice on climate change for a long time. The IPCC politicizes its efforts with some risk.

December 14, 2007

A Question for the Media

I've generally thought that the media has done a nice job on covering the climate issue over the past 20 years. There are of course leaders and laggards, but overall, I think that the community of journalists has done a nice job on a very tough issue. However, there are times when I am less impressed. Here is one example.

news.stories.png

Nature magazine, arguably the leading scientific journal in the world, published a paper this week by two widely-respected scholars -- Gabriel Vecchi and Brian Soden -- suggesting that global warming may have a minimal effect on hurricanes. Over two days the media -- as measured by Google News -- published a grand total of 3 news stories on this paper. Now contrast this with a paper published in July in a fairly obscure journal by two other respected scholars -- Peter Webster and Greg Holland -- suggesting that global warming has a huge effect on hurricanes. That paper resulted in 79 news stories stories over two days.

What accounts for the 26 to 1 ratio in news stories?

December 12, 2007

Waxman's Whitewash

One of the themes that I have tried to develop on this blog is that policy arguments should be well founded. So along these lines I have on a number of occasions taken issue with the approach of Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) to issues associated with how the Bush Administration manages scientific information and scientists in pursuit of its political agenda.

In my view Mr. Waxman's investigative approach has been sloppy and unsophisticated, meaning that in some respects his investigation has come to embody those very same characteristics that he has complained about in the Bush Administration, namely, cherry picking of information, selective reliance on friendly experts, and misrepresenting facts. Some people who have heard my complaints naively assume that I am defending the Bush Administration. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I am a strong critic of many (or more likely most) Bush Administration policies, including how they have handled issues of science communication. My critique of Mr. Waxman's efforts stems from my frustration that it has fallen far short of its potential to improve policies involving science, and instead, represents only so much political red meat, furthering partisan differences and serving to reduce that very small space in political discussions for policy analyses.

Here is a perfect example of Mr. Waxman's sloppiness.

In his report he points to a few emails -- including those from Republican staffer in the Senate, and political appointees in NOAA -- expressing an interest in making FEMA look bad and also "killing" the hurricane-climate issue. From this Mr. Waxman sees that then-director of the National Hurricane Center Max Mayfield (with whom I have collaborated on the issue of hurricanes and global warming) testifies before Congress that he see no evidence of linkage of hurricanes and climate change and thus assumes that natural variability still dominates. Mr. Waxman assumes correlation-is-causation and writes in his report, "this political motivation seems to have impacted NOAA testimony and talking points."

Well, it turns out that they did not talk to Max Mayfield to ask his views, but ABC news did:

For example, Mayfield's written testimony read in part: "the increased activity since 1995 is due to natural fluctuations/cycles of hurricane activity driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming."

Mayfield, however, denies that anyone told him to alter his testimony as the Waxman report suggests.

"I want the record to show that no one forced me to say anything on the subject of climate change and tropical cyclones that I didn't believe at the time," Mayfield told ABC News.

"I accept the fact that global warming is real," Mayfield said. "Most meteorologists with knowledge of tropical cyclones think that there will be some impact from global warming on hurricanes. The debate is over how much of an impact."

He says he never heard from anyone on the committee about the incident. "No one ever asked me about the context in which my testimony was given. No one from this committee or any other Congressional committee ever asked me if I was improperly pressured to change my testimony," Mayfield said.

What does Mr. Waxman's committee do? They went back and quietly re-wrote the report after it was released and incorporated Max Mayfield's comments to ABC news. (Link to most recent version in here in PDF.) On the one hand, it is good to see that Mr. Waxman's Committee has corrected the factual record. But on the other hand it is sloppy, at best, to try to cover up your mistakes by rewriting history, which included removing the false claims by the Oversight Committee in the original release of its report. A more appropriate approach would have been to issue a correction or a new press release.

Is the bumbling by the Waxman Committee proportionate to the missteps by the Bush Administration? Certainly not. But they embody the exact same dynamics of manipulating information for political gain. If Congressional oversight is only about scoring political points, then it will do little to improve actual decision making in government. And on that basis, Mr. Waxman has let slip a perfect opportunity to improve science policies. And that is why I am so critical.

December 10, 2007

Chutzpah

This comment from former Bush Administration official John Bolton is telling, reported in the LA Times,

U.S. intelligence services attempted to influence political policy by releasing their assessment that concludes Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, said John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Der Spiegel magazine quoted Bolton on Saturday as alleging that the aim of the National Intelligence Estimate, which contradicts his and President Bush's position, was not to provide the latest intelligence on Iran.

"This is politics disguised as intelligence," Bolton was quoted as saying in an article appearing in this week's edition.

When new information does not provide support for policy justifications that you have been making, it simply must be politicized. When it provides support for your arguments, of course, it is free from political influence. It was not long ago that intelligence, according to Mr. Bolton's standards, was apparently unpoliticized (ahem). From the archive of The New York Times:

Now John R. Bolton, nominated as United Nations ambassador, has emerged as a new lightning rod for those who saw a pattern of political pressure on intelligence analysts. And this time, current and former officials are complaining more publicly than before. . .

Some of them are prompted by antipathy to Mr. Bolton, some by lingering guilt about Iraq. Some, perhaps, are nervous about the quality of current intelligence assessments at a time of new uncertainties about North Korea's nuclear program, and ambiguous evidence about whether it is moving toward a nuclear test.

One of those critics, Robert L. Hutchings, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, made the point in an e-mail message, even as he declined to discuss Mr. Bolton in specific detail. "This is not just about the behavior of a few individuals but about a culture that permitted them to continue trying to skew the intelligence to suit their policy agenda - even after it became clear that we as a government had so badly missed the call on Iraqi W.M.D.," Mr. Hutchings said. The most recent criticism of Mr. Bolton to emerge comes from John E. McLaughlin, the former deputy director of central intelligence, who has told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Mr. Bolton's effort to oust a top Central Intelligence Agency analyst from his position in 2002 breached what should be a barrier between policy makers and intelligence analysts.

Now I have no idea whether the newest National Intelligence Estimate from the U.S. on Iran is politicized or not, but I do know that its reception reflects a disturbing tendency to substitute criteria of political efficacy for information quality in making judgments about the quality of guidance provided by experts, an argument I develop in The Honest Broker.

It is of course one thing for a die-hard partisan like John Bolton to engage in such behavior, but it is quite another, and of greater concern, when the experts themselves start playing that game.

November 16, 2007

Neal Lane and Roger Pielke, Jr. on NPR Science Friday

Presidential Science Advisors (broadcast Friday, November 16th, 2007)

How important are a president's advisors when it comes to making decisions that deal with science and technology? Scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. interviewed seven of the fourteen most recent Presidential Science Advisors, who served under presidents from Lyndon Johnson to George W Bush. In this segment, Ira talks with Pielke about what he learned from the interviews, and about how future administrations might try to manage the massive amounts of scientific advice available.

3PM EST on NPR!!!

Posted on November 16, 2007 08:38 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

November 15, 2007

The Technological Fix

On Monday we had Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus kindly give a lecture on their new book Break Through. It was great to have them stop by, and nice to have an opportunity to get answers to questions about their book. Turnout was in the 100 range, judging by the size of the room. If you haven't read the book yet, you can either buy it, camp out in Borders with a cup of joe, or check out a three minute overview given by Geoff McGhee and Andrew Revkin of the NY Times covering the "New Environmental Centrists."

I want to respond to at least one of their claims, as well as a claim that appears to be circulating in the blogo-ether as what Revkin is calling the "Centrist" position, regarding the thought that we should encourage technological fixes to our problems. The reason I want to respond to this claim is both because I think it's right; and because I think it's, well, not right.

So let's talk about technological fixes.

I'm something of a technology buff. I like gadgets. I like science. And I like what technology does for me and the world. I also like what came about as a result of the ramped up R&D funds during the nineties. Moreover, I've never been totally enthusiastic about some of the neo-luddite language that once passed as environmentalist, so I agree with Shellenberger and Nordhaus (S&N) that we should all be encouraging, funding, supporting, and promoting technologies that help our civilization and our country advance. In fact, I also agree that environmentalists should be considerably more aspirational than desperational.

S&N argue persuasively that the "politics of limits" -- which is, roughly, the idea that regulation can serve as a cure-all to the world's environmental problems -- ought to be replaced with a "politics of possibility" -- which is kind of hopeful thinking about new possible worlds. Their argument runs primarily along political strategy lines and is buttressed by many studies that show that Americans don't respond well to the pessimism and "scare tactics" of environmentalism. The book's central idea should be familiar to anyone who has read their earlier work, Death of Environmentalism. In the end, it hangs on this dichotomy of political orientations: limits versus possibility.

And in this dichotomy lies the problem. It's a false concretism, supported mainly by S&N's choices of what counts as an environmental issue. Much of their book is geared to address concerns that relate to climate change. That's fine and well, of course, because climate change is one of the major hurdles that has been motivating the environmental movement for the past ten years or so. But it is also true that environmentalists have been dealing with many more problems than climate change for quite some time now. To declare the death of environmentalism, or to suggest that the positive panacea to the chicken-little environmental frame of mind is through technological and economic fixes, and that these fixes run contrary to the politics of limits, is to undermine a critical ethical thread that runs through environmental thinking altogether.

The greatest real-world instance of this thread is the relatively wide range of environmental issues that don't fall under the category of climate change; that were, prior to Al Gore and the Prius, central environmental issues. Here I'm thinking of issues like deforestation, desertification, extinction, habitat encroachment, water depletion, and so on. Environmental issues span the gamut, and many of them deal with human activities in and around nature. These issues can never be handled by technological or economic fixes, precisely because they are not problems of technical or economic failure. Some issues, for instance, relate to the problem of urban sprawl or to overconsumption, which cannot possibly be solved by appeal to technological or economic fixes. The "over" in 'overconsumption' isn't determined by what other people don't have (though that, surely, is part of it); it's determined by how much a person is entitled to and how much a person can reasonably use. Even Locke recognizes prohibitions against spoilage. These are primarily ethical and philosophical notions.

A second problem is that many of the classic environmental issues, among which climate change is only one, are best characterized as conflicts of interest, not just between two actors, but also between one actor and the environment. I want a cherry dining set, you want a cherry dining set, and there ain't enough cherry growing fast enough to give us both what we want. Moreover, when I take that cherry for my cherry dining set, I deprive the world of that cherry tree. In this case, it's not just any cherry tree; it's that cherry tree; that cherry tree under which Harold kissed Maude, under which Abe told his truth, under which Erma held her bowl. So too for many environmental problems: I want a ski slope, so I take that mountain. I want a fountain, so I take that reservoir. I want a McMansion development, so I take that open space. Taking specific features of nature yields particularized conflicts of interest; but even more than this, particularized clashes over what is and what is not permissible. Again, permissibility is an ethical issue, only loosely and tangentially related to the so-called "politics of limits."

What I'm expressing here isn't at all pessimism about technology. Far from it. As I've said, I like and support technological innovation. I'd even root for a budget that included a lot of it. I'm hoping to point out that S&N's "politics of limits vs politics of possibility" dichotomy has many rough edges; inattention to which heralds a premature call for the death of environmentalism.

For more on this, my colleague Michael Zimmerman, Professor in the Philosophy Department and the Environmental Studies Program, as well as an outspoken advocate of an expansively multidisciplinary approach to environmental issues, Integral Ecology, has his own new blog and has further comments on S&N here: http://integralecology-michaelz.blogspot.com/

The Science Advisor at 50

I've got a Commentary in this week's Nature on the President's science advisor. Here is a link to the PDF.

Tomorrow I'll be appearing on NPR's Science Friday to discuss the piece and the past 50 years of presidential science advice. Please tune in at 3PM EST!

November 13, 2007

More Intellectual Disrobing, Please

No calls for burlesque here…the phrase is a quote from John Dewey in his book Experience and Nature (1925, Chicago: Open Court):

"An empirical philosophy…is an intellectual disrobing. We cannot permanently divest ourselves of the intellectual habits we take on and wear when we assimilate the culture of our own time and place. But intelligent furthering of culture demands that we take some of them off, that we inspect them critically."
In my last post, and some of my others on Prometheus, I have – if only implicitly – been encouraging such periodic, if not perpetual, divestiture and inspection. I want to do the same with this post. Instead of a call to rethink the perpetual appeals for a president that pays attention to science, I want to look at calls for revisiting science policy. I am in favor, but I think such proposals are, ironically, in need of the very intellectual disrobing they are advocating.

As an example, I point out this New York Times profile of former National Academy of Engineering President Bill Wulf on the occasion of his departure from that post earlier this year. (I should note that I did work for the National Academies, and staffed two different panels Dr. Wulf participated in.) While much of his comments focus on what he calls the ecology of innovation (something I may visit in a subsequent post), I want to point out some of his complaints about technology policy that could use some intellectual disrobing. That they take place in the midst of calls for essentially the same thing is not unique in policy.

Wulf is interested in revisiting various innovation policies, and while it may not be the intellectual disrobing Dewey had in mind, acknowledging changing times and circumstances should be encouraged, even more generally than in the following:

"At least every once in a while we should stand back and say what was the intent of intellectual property protection, what was the intent of the export control regime, what was the intent of antitrust? And in the light of today’s technology, what’s the best way to achieve that?"

Great questions, and my experience and study with each of these policies demonstrates that the intents behind these policies can change over time. Their consequences certainly do. We see some skin here. But we're only going from t-shirt and long pants to tank top and board shorts (or a evening gown to a blouse and pencil skirt). Another Wulf quote shows an intellectual habit worth examining.

"Or take what he called “the idiocy” of enacting short-term tax credits for research and development. “R and D takes many years,” he said. “If companies invested this year to take advantage of the R and D credit and then the next year it went away, they would have to stop the research and they would have wasted money.”

He says this is why corporate leaders tell him “with near unanimity” that tax credits have little influence on their decisions."

The habit here is the tendency to presume that policies that affect science and technology were designed, developed or implemented with science and technology in mind. This is tax policy, and while no more of a rational area than any other part of policy, it does not necessarily follow that encouraging research is the first or only intention of such a policy. If the last sentence of this quote is any indication, the R and D tax credit does not influence corporate R and D policy. That seems unlikely (and groups such as the Business Roundtable would take issue), but it does not make such policies "idiocy."

What Wulf, and all of us, ought to do to properly disrobe - intellectually, of course - is not only to ask about the intent, consequences and outcomes of science and technology policies, but of interests that would influence relevant policies. This influence isn't always obvious, because it is often indirect - the policy is designed for goals outside of science and technology.

When I write interests I am thinking a bit differently than when Roger spoke of values when he suggested that we ask "So What?" in a recent Bridges column. He was writing about political disputes involving science, but particularly where appeals to truth were involved. The interests I speak of can include contested values, but also disputes about the purpose of various policies and the consequences of policy choices. Unintended consequences don't have to connect to any particular values to affect the outcomes of science, technology, or innovation. But our intellectual habits often presume intention or purpose where there may be none. To better understand those circumstances we need to question our presumptions, interests and values, to shed our intellectual clothes and scrutinize the surroundings.

Anybody know a good tailor?

November 05, 2007

An appreciation of Mr. Bloomberg

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now out in favor of a carbon tax (see also this post by Charlie Komanoff). This is significant because it makes him one of the very few nationally-prominent (or at least nationally-known) politicians to stake out for a C tax over cap-and-trade.

Bloomberg's support for a C tax is important both because he is seen as a technocrat's technocrat and because he presides over eight million carbon consumers. Unfortunately, as Redburn illustrates well in his article, carbon tax proponents have more than an uphill battle to get their way on climate mitigation legislation.

It's not that the carbon tax or cap-and-trade? debate is over already (which, really, would be before it even began), it's that there is a strong perception in the community that it is over. Wonky types (which in my usage are political realists, not optimists), especially those with some influence on the policy development process, have been telling me personally and conference crowds (like this one) that it's all over and cap-and-trade is a done deal. This perception might be more important than (the way I see) reality, which is that nobody wants to deal with this problem and because of this, all options are still on the table. It's not that I am full bore on the C-tax train either, but I would like to see an honest, complete national debate on the two approaches before the "elites" declare the policy problem solved. In particular, I would love to see this issue come out during primary debates for both parties, to at least introduce the average Joe to the issue. Of course, the vagaries of carbon economics will be viewed by party handlers as too nuanced and difficult to explain during debate, but I'll preemptively call bullshit on that line. Try us.

Speaking of Mr. Bloomberg, I was flying back from NYC on Halloween and, caught in the captive state of the miserable United economy passenger, had nothing better to do but read deep into the nether regions of the NY Times metro section. There I found this article about a public stumble between the mayyuh and a deceased NYPD officer, James Zadroga, who had worked long hours at the World Trade Center site. Zadroga passed away a few years later and his family wanted the cause of his death to be declared working at the WTC site.

Before going further, I should explain this: there is emotion involved in the environmental problem of the WTC site that goes beyond the attacks. I lived in NY during the WTC attacks and the smell of the burning pile was strong for at least two weeks and was noticeable even far uptown (north) when the prevailing winds are westerly. My recollection is that near the site the smell was strong even a month after the attacks. Everybody in that city knows the smell of the WTC site, and I think that experience triggers an immediate sympathy in citizens for the workers (many of whom stayed on the site for weeks without going home) and what they were exposed to. The EPA debacle with air quality testing and the public relations of it didn't help. So the fact that a family claims that one of their sons was killed by WTC air after working on the site is bound to garner immediate sympathy for the claim.

Bloomberg perhaps forgot this context when he addressed Zadroga's case. A pathologist had declared Zadroga's death a direct result of WTC air, but NYC's medical examiner recently rejected that finding. In a clear case of dueling experts, Bloomberg picked his. Despite this strong statement from the NYC employee:

"Our evaluation of your son’s lung abnormality is markedly different than that given you by others," Dr. Hirsch wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday and also signed by Dr. Michele S. Stone, another medical examiner. "It is our unequivocal opinion, with certainty beyond doubt, that the foreign material in your son’s lungs did not get there as the result of inhaling dust at the World Trade Center or elsewhere."
the excess of objectivity problem is clear. The family's response:
"We knew the city was going to say this," Mr. Zadroga said. "They’ve been lying since Jimmy got sick. They've been lying about all these W.T.C. people getting sick. They would never admit that Jimmy got sick. They treated him like a dog all those years."

Instead of recognizing the excess of objectivity problem, and forgetting all of the other political context to this case, Bloomberg simply said Zadroga was "not a hero." Oops.

All of this isn't really what caught my eye, though. It was the way Bloomberg handled the backlash:

The tone of Mr. Bloomberg's comments yesterday veered sharply from statements he made on Monday after receiving an award from the Harvard School of Public Health. Asked why science could be unpopular, he said that it sometimes provided answers that people did not want to hear, as in the case of Mr. Zadroga. Referring to Dr. Hirsch’s finding, he said, "Nobody wanted to hear that."

"We wanted to have a hero, and there are plenty of heroes," he said. "It's just in this case, science says this was not a hero."

Yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg described Detective Zadroga as "a dedicated police officer" with an impressive record who "volunteered to work downtown, and I think that the odds are that he clearly got sick because of breathing the air — but that's up to the doctors."

So he doesn't exactly grasp that the word "hero" is loaded and dripping with emotion, especially in this case, and especially in NY where the tabloids use the word as an interchangeable synonym for police officers and firefighters. But at least he gets why he's being attacked for his statements and what science and the popular perception and acceptance of science has to do with it.

November 01, 2007

The Young and the Mindless

As virtually anybody who has flipped on the news in the past ten days knows, residents of Southern California have experienced something not unlike Dante’s fiery sixth circle of hell. Short story: Big fire, at least fourteen dead, 138 injured, a million displaced, and billions of dollars in property damage. Shorter story: pretty awful. As usual, speculations about causal origin immediately spread (like wildfire) throughout the modern mess media. Fox news reported several times, presumably non-speculatively, that the fires might have been deliberately set by Al Qaeda. Scary stuff. On the other end of the spectrum, Matt Drudge slung the mud that some high-level producer at CNN had circulated a memo that commentators should use the fires to “push” the Planet in Peril series, but that they shouldn’t do so “irresponsibly.” Here’s an illuminating series of comments from the ever-entertaining Free Republic. Today, as a matter of fact, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is holding a hearing on the intensity and frequency of forest fires as tied to global warming. Coincidence? Probably not.

Sigh. It would appear from the shenanigans that nothing is immune from politics.

It came to light yesterday that a young boy, age uncertain, in what can only be described either as a child’s act of pyro-curiosity or as a defiant act against an overly paternalistic Smokey the Bear, has claimed responsibility for -- wait for it -- playing with matches. Denying Smokey’s sage advice, the boy was being a boy; and playing with matches. As most kids with scout badges know, playing with matches can cause forest fires. So here we have our cause of the fire. Or at least we have one cause of one of the fires.

Smokey the Bear Now that we know that a careless young boy was the cause of so much heartache, we are left with the undesirable question of how to make sense of this news. There are plenty of ways to think about kids who play with matches. Discussion in many circles (probably not far from the sixth circle) has already shifted to arguments about whether the boy should get the gallows or the guillotine. That’s a point for a different but not unrelated discussion. For some reason, however, it appears that many are inclined to view this revelation as one that confirms the absurdity of whatever offensive political view was brought to bear on explanatory accounts of the event. Progressives are calling foul on terror-mongers and reactionaries are calling foul on chicken-littles.

Let’s talk about causes below the fold.

Start with a bit of cocktail party name-dropping: our homeboy Aristotle. As his Physics is one of the mainstay texts in your library -- it is in your library, isn’t it? -- you’ll probably recall that Aristotle identifies four causes: the material, the formal, the efficient, and the final cause. For those sad souls who’ve lost their copy of Aristotle in the fire, you can read philosopher Marc Cohen’s notes on the causes here. (They’re pretty good.) These causes are more or less each supposed to provide answers to the question: What causes X? You don’t really need to understand all four causes in order to get the point I’m going to make, just that they each provide plausible answers to the question “what causes X” and that they don’t necessarily run at odds with one another.

What caused the fire? Good question. Fire is kind of tricky, but let’s aim for a plausible answer. It has come to our attention that what caused the fire was a little boy who was playing with matches. That answers some questions, but it doesn’t answer all of our questions. For instance, we know that a boy caused the fire, so it appears that a human was behind the event. That’s our efficient cause. We also know that matches caused the fire, so somehow there was some material causal chain unrelated to humans. That’s our material cause. Along with this, we know that there was low-lying brush and some high branchy-trees, creating a nice little furnace for our fire. So there we have our formal cause as well. What we also know is that what caused the fire was a lot of dry branches and stuff, all of which ‘likes to burn’, which is a natural cycle of any forest. That sounds pretty reasonable too: our final cause. A quartet of causes leading to a cacophony of disaster.

If we stop at the beginning, with the efficient cause, we see that our questions quickly open up along the axis of responsibility. Was the boy really aware of what he was doing? Did he have intent? Could he have done otherwise? Was the boy trained by Al Qaeda? And so on, and so on. We could go on for quite a long time down this road. I say, spare him the gallows. It’s likely that he’s just a normal kid.

Those questions, I daresay, are a pretty divergent distraction from the much more central question that readers of this blog will likely seek an answer for. What readers here probably want to know is the underlying formal cause, the reason that Southern California went up like Bambi’s bedroom. Joseph Romm has a pretty informative essay suggesting that global warming may be partly responsible. I’m not qualified to judge Romm’s science, but I find his argument plausible. Just as with the axis of responsibility, we could go on for quite a long time down that road too. Formal causes are pretty hard to nail down.

What strikes me as important here is not which of the many different kinds of causes are responsible for the fire. We can come up with several explanations, none of which are contradictory. No, what’s important is that we recognize that we can’t just wipe other causal explanations off our list when we’ve identified a single causal explanation like, say, a child with a matchbook. Setting aside the thought that the fires could have been set by a single young boy or several young terrorists-in-training, there is the important question about what formal arrangement facilitated the event. These formal causal explanations run independently of efficient causal explanations (not to mention material causal explanations or, gads, final causal explanations). Formal causal explanations are what are at issue when people point the finger at climate change.

Though Aristotle’s taxonomy of causes is pretty outdated -- okay, very outdated -- what I like about it is that it clarifies the multidimensionality of causes, pulling us in a direction away from searching for the elusive “root cause.” All ye who embark on that search, as they say, might as well abandon hope.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program: http://www.smokeybear.com/

October 30, 2007

The Problems with Calling for a Science President

The cover article in the current (October 2007) issue of Seed magazine is titled "Dr. President." It's the clearest example of what I see as a fair amount of optimistic thinking about the intersection of science and presidential politics. Written by Chris Mooney, who tread a lot of similar - but more partisan - ground in his book The Republican War on Science, the article reads like many laundry lists of policy prescriptions for the next president that tend to appear (and are typically ignored) in the months leading to a Presidential election. I helped put together one such list while working at the National Academies. Carl Zimmer, writing in The Loom, noted a similarly idealistic call for a Presidential debate on science issues. (And like he said, why is it in a section called "On Faith"? Because Matthew Chapman - the one making the appeal - is an atheist? A science debate will be narrow enough without restricting it by framing it with religion)

Working in Washington, I'm encouraged by the optimism (due to its scarcity here), but really feel the need to temper this optimism about having a 'science president' or a public debate on science issues by critiquing some of the underlying assumptions common to the arguments, and others, that often come with calls for a science president, or presidential leadership on science. Mooney and Chapman aren't the first, nor will they be the last, to make these arguments. But they will fall on deaf ears, much like Senator Clinton's recent outline of her science and technology policy goals (note what ended up dead last).

Here are a few notions that need a re-assessment:

Good science underlies sound policy, so it should matter politically

It's been at least two presidential election cycles since any serious discussions of policy choices were a significant part of political campaigns. Watch a Sunday morning news show. It's never about what would be best for the country, but what is best for whichever campaign is the topic of conversation. If the importance of science policy choices is to be made part of a presidential campaign, the question, or dare I say it, the framing, should be how to make science something that gains valuable endorsements (nobody is going to care who Scientist and Engineers for America will endorse, if for no better reason than maybe 200 people know of the group, much less who leads it). So the arguments for "reason, logic, a consideration of fact, and healthy skepticism" Mooney makes may guide someone to better governance, but they won't do a thing for political accomplishments, absent some demonstration that it will increase political capital or poll numbers. Candidates need to be convinced of how science and technology policy can get them the job before they can be bothered with how they can help them perform the job.

The President makes a lot of difference in science and technology policy

In "Dr. President" we are told that "The next President of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates and the energy landscape of the 21st Century." Given the diffuse nature of the national research enterprise, with many agencies administering various buckets of money and groups of scientists, the notion that the President can control the bench scientist in the same way that they can control their science adviser doesn't hold (nor would it be welcome in most scientific communities). Assuming that we had a science friendly President (or at least one who wasn't science hostile or science indifferent), there are plenty of other people that influence the research enterprise to assume that wholesale changes could be made by one person. Anyone who has followed the various campaigns for doubling the budgets of various science agencies should remember the time and political support required to make that happen.

While this can be frustrating, it does allow for a relative lack of government oversight that scientists have traditionally welcomed and encouraged. They don't want to be micromanaged, which makes things like the stem cell research moratorium a particular problem for many scientists. But no policy issue is going to be decided solely on the science - nor should it be. After all, this is a democracy, not a peer-reviewed elite community seeking to better understand the world. This leads into my next presumption.

Science is democratic

While the sociologist of science Robert Merton wrote of a natural affinity between science and democracy ("A Note on Science and Democracy." Journal of Legal and Political Sociology 1, 115-126, 1942.) because democracy allows for greater scientific freedom, that democratic affinity runs only one way. When arguing for science to inform policy, very often there is a presumption that the science dictates a particular policy outcome. This leads to frustration when the chosen policy outcome is different from the one 'dictated' by the science. If we are to really encourage the discussion of science and its implications that Mooney writes of in his Seed article in order to re-energize democracy, we must be willing to acknowledge that sometimes the decisions may not match what the science suggests (putting aside how many arguments can be had over what exactly the science suggests). To ignore the science is not the same as to obstruct, redact or suppress it. The crux of a democracy is not to make good choices, but for the people to make those choices.


Both Mooney and Chapman make good arguments for their goals, and describe situations that would be welcome in a political campaign (though I am chronically fatigued by the debates - and I've only watched the coverage). But policy discussions are not what makes a difference in political campaigns (though I think they should), and they write as though they do. Policy discussions don't attract media coverage, and the debates are ridiculously meta- about particular policies - focusing not on the policies, but on what they mean to the campaigns. Science and technology policies don't matter politically, and addressing this should be the focus of those who want a "Dr. President" before they fill out that president's prescription pad.

Posted on October 30, 2007 09:54 PM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

October 18, 2007

Why James Watson could use a bit of training in ethical theory

I'll make this short, but check this out:

Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners

Celebrated scientist attacked for race comments: "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really"

Yep. You read that correctly. What James Watson doesn't understand is that "all of our social policies" are expressly not "based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours."

Almost none of our social policies are based on intelligence, and they would smack of absurdity if they were. Many of our social policies are based on the protection of individiually held and eventually satisfied or thwarted preferences, which are somehow interpreted as indications of individual welfare; or, and this is a big 'or', respect for persons; both of which have little to do with intelligence. Respect for persons applies to all people, regardless of intelligence -- precisely because intelligence, like height, eye color, hair length, gender, and so on, is irrelevant to the overarching moral concern of human dignity.

In some rare cases, as when one must operate heavy machinery like an automobile or a jumbo jet, or as when one holds another person's health in her hands, we require licensing; but even licensing requirements are not structured around intelligence so much as they are structured around a capacity to fulfill a given set of tasks, like driving a bulldozer.

Why James Watson could use a bit of training in ethical theory

I'll make this short, but check this out:

Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners

Celebrated scientist attacked for race comments: "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really"

Yep. You read that correctly. What James Watson doesn't understand is that "all of our social policies" are expressly not "based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours."

Almost none of our social policies are based on intelligence, and they would smack of absurdity if they were. Many of our social policies are based on the protection of individiually held and eventually satisfied or thwarted preferences, which are somehow interpreted as indications of individual welfare; or, and this is a big 'or', respect for persons; both of which have little to do with intelligence. Respect for persons applies to all people, regardless of intelligence -- precisely because intelligence, like height, eye color, hair length, gender, and so on, is irrelevant to the overarching moral concern of human dignity.

In some rare cases, as when one must operate heavy machinery like an automobile or a jumbo jet, or as when one holds another person's health in her hands, we require licensing; but even licensing requirements are not structured around intelligence so much as they are structured around a capacity to fulfill a given set of tasks, like driving a bulldozer.

July 23, 2007

Chris Mooney in Boulder/Denver

For you localites Chris Mooney will be in Boulder (NCAR) and Denver (Tattered Cover) tomorrow to talk about his new book Storm World. Get his schedule here and check him out.

Posted on July 23, 2007 07:52 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Science + Politics

May 02, 2007

Bob Ward Responds - Swindle Letter

In fairness to Bob Ward, lead author of the "Swindle Letter" we thought it important to highlight comments that he submitted under that thread. -Ed.]

Click through for his comments . . .

Some interesting comments here about the letter. I thought it might be helpful to clarify a few points.

First, I would encourage Russell Seitz not to continue to spread the entirely false rumour that I was sacked by the Royal Society. It is a shame that he is using Prometheus as a platform for his personal smear campaign against me - or perhaps this is an example of him exercising his cherished right to "freedom of speech"?

Some have tried to characterise the letter as a violation of the right to free speech. It is not. The UK's Broadcasting Code specifies that "Views and facts must not be misrepresented". When 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' was broadcast on Channel Four on 8 March, and subsequently repeated on More 4, I believe it violated the Broadcasting Code because it contained major misrepresentations of views and facts. I have submitted a complaint to both the broadcaster and to Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator.

Ofcom and Channel Four have yet to rule on the complaints from me and about 200 other people. However, Wag TV, the programme's producers are not obliged to reflect that ruling at all in the DVD version of the programme, and indeed it is being marketed partly on the basis that it was broadcast on Channel Four.

It seems to me and the other 36 signatories that viewers are just as likely to be misled by the misrepresentations within the programme regardless of whether it is watched on DVD or on a TV channel. We wrote to ask the programme-maker to remove the misrepresentations before distributing the DVD. He has so far admitted just one of the seven major misrepresentations, but has steadfastly refused to make any changes.

Free speech comes with responsibilities, and in the UK at least there are regulations that are designed to ensure that the media do not knowingly mislead the public. The letter does not complain about the the airing of different opinions on climate change, and I'm not arguing that the programme-maker shouldn't be able to tell porky pies at dinner parties with his mates from the media. But I do think that programme-makers should take their responsibilities seriously and to consider the public interest.

It remains to be seen whether the confident predictions that the letter will have the opposite effect to that intended will be right. To me, success would be for everybody who is exposed to the misrepresentations in the programme to at least be aware of them.

Posted on May 2, 2007 02:43 PM View this article | Comments (28)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

April 30, 2007

The Swindle Letter

Some of you will be aware that a TV film entitled "The Great Global Warming Swindle" was produced by a company called Wag TV and shown on UK TV. The show, which I have not seen, purportedly debunks the science behind climate change. When aired it generated the sort of tempest in a teapot reaction that so often characterizes these sorts of things.

But subsequently, Bob Ward, formerly a spokesperson for the Royal Society and now in a similar role for a catastrophe modeling firm, RMS, Inc., organized a open letter calling for Wag TV, and the film's producer Martin Durkin, to cease and desist plans to disseminate the show via DVD. The letter has stirred up a debate about free speech and the role of scientists in political debates. Mr. Ward explained the letter as follows:

"Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements. Somebody has to stand up for the public interest here."

This episode is similar in some ways to Mr. Ward's efforts when employed by the Royal Society to silence ExxonMobil using the same strategy.

I have a different reaction to this episode than I did to the Royal Society letter to ExxonMobil. Then I argued that the Royal Society was acting inappropriately, given its mission. In this case I take no issue with the appropriateness of Mr. Ward's actions, I just think that they are wrongheaded. The difference is that the scientists organized by Mr. Ward in this case are speaking on their own with the support of a number of advocacy groups. They are not using the authority of the Royal Society, or any other public interest group, to advance their special interests. This is power politics pure and simple in the public arena.

And from that standpoint, I think that Mr. Ward's letter will prove ineffective with respect to the goals that he seeks, and most likely will have the opposite effect to that intended. In such circumstances, I recall how sales of Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist quadrupled after it was criticized by scientists. A link in the comments here in a previous thread from Francis Sedgemore, who I have not met perviously, points to some of his strong, but on target comments, which I stitch together from his two relevant blog posts:

You can take it that I have little time for Mr Durkin or his junk science film, and there should be no need for me to rehash the arguments against it. . .

Ward’s open letter is a very bad mistake, in my opinion. As well as indicating a contempt for free speech, the signitories display a lack of political nous, and I fear that Durkin will run rings around them. . . what annoys me most about all this is how public scientific discourse on climate change is fast degenerating to a level set by the worst elements of the scientifically-illiterate media. . .

What we need is not calls for censorship, but more scientists and science communicators aggressively putting the case for good science. Stern letters and articles in the broadsheets make us all look ridiculous by association. . . if this is to be our response to inaccurate material in the public domain, and the ravings of lunatics, where do we start? How about the bible? "See you in court, Dr Ratzinger. We have ways of making you shut up!"

This is spot on. When members of the scientific community call for silencing of others in political debates, at best it demonstrates that they believe that they cannot win arguments on their merits, and at worst is demonstrates a complete disregard for democracy and the ability of the public to participate in important political debates. Positioning oneself n opposition to fundamental principles of democracy is always a losing proposition.

April 26, 2007

The Battle for U.S. Public Opinion on Climate Change is Over

We've argued here that it has been over for a while, but this survey from the New York Times should make it obvious:

Americans in large bipartisan numbers say the heating of the earth’s atmosphere is having serious effects on the environment now or will soon and think that it is necessary to take immediate steps to reduce its effects, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.

Ninety percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans said immediate action was required to curb the warming of the atmosphere and deal with its effects on the global climate. Nineteen percent said it was not necessary to act now, and 1 percent said no steps were needed.

Recent international reports have said with near certainty that human activities are the main cause of global warming since 1950. The poll found that 84 percent of Americans see human activity as at least contributing to warming.

The poll also found that Americans want the United States to support conservation and to be a global leader in addressing environmental problems and developing alternative energy sources to reduce reliance on fossil fuels like oil and coal.

For those still looking to play the skeptic game there is also good news as there are still a few left: 4% said recent strange weather was caused by "God/end of world/bible" and 2% said "space junk." ;-) In all seriousness, I don't expect the skeptic game to end any time soon, despite the overwhelming consensus of public opinion.

Swing State Al

This 2008 presidential race poll by Quinnipac University provides some evidence in support of our hypothesis that climate change can prove to be a powerful wedge issue for Al Gore in the 2008 election. Key point:

But former Vice President Al Gore, who is not yet a candidate, runs better against Republican challengers in most Swing State matchups than Sen. Clinton or Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. . . "Mayor Rudolph Giuliani remains the front-runner, but he and the entire Democratic field should wonder if Al Gore will become an inconvenient truth in the 2008 presidential race and go for the biggest Oscar of them all," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Posted on April 26, 2007 01:23 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

The Politics of Air Capture

A while back we prepped our readers to get ready for air capture. This article from a New Jersey newspaper, the Star-Ledger, describes how one air capture technology is progressing and how different interests are already taking political positions on its merits:

Klaus Lackner's invention has been called many things -- a wind scrubber, a synthetic tree, a carbon vacuum, even a giant fly swatter.

The energy guru, inventor and professor at Columbia University prefers to call it an "air extractor." By any name, however, Lackner predicts that the giant machines he is building will one day stop global warming in its tracks.

After three years of intensive experiments, Lackner and scientists at Global Research Technologies LLC, in Arizona, have produced a working model of the device, which can sop up carbon dioxide, the dreaded greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

"Look, it's one arrow in the quiver," said Lackner, reached by telephone. "This begins to offer a solution to an overwhelming problem."

Others were more expansive.

"This significant achievement holds incredible promise in the fight against climate change," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. "The world may, sooner rather than later, have an important tool in this fight."

Here is one reaction to the technology:

"There's no magic bullet to save us from the problem of global warming," said Kert Davies, an energy expert for Greenpeace USA in Washington, D.C. Removing greenhouse gases so readily will not encourage people to develop alternate, renewable technologies, he said, and strive for energy efficiency.

Such techno-fixes also miss the point of the environmental degradation brought on by the use of fossil fuels, he said.

Carbon scrubbers won't stop oil spills, habitat-destroying strip mining and ozone, he said. "It's like having cancer and putting a Band-Aid on it," he added.

Besides, Davies said, the devices, which will in principle be larger than the prototype, will be eyesores. "Can you imagine thousands of acres of giant fly swatters across the land?"

If reducing fossil fuels is not really about carbon dioxde, as the Greenpeace spokesman suggests but also about many other benefits, then why shouldn't these benefits play a more central role in energy policy debates? And being so quick to abandon the carbon dioxide argument is not an effective strategy for compelling action on carbon dioxide. Greenpeace has come out in favor of wind power and the required acres of windmills across the land. This is hard to square with CO2-removal technologies as eyesores, unless one recognizes that the aesthetics of a technology appear to be a function of its political role.

I have no idea if Professor Lackner's ideas will prove to have technical merit or not. However, I do believe that all options should be on the table, and we should resist efforts to limit choice prematurely.

April 23, 2007

What does Consensus Mean for IPCC WGIII?

The IPCC assessment process is widely referred to as reflecting a consensus of the scientific community. An AP news story reports on a leaked copy of the forthcoming Working Group III report on mitigation.

"Governments, businesses and individuals all need to be pulling in the same direction," said British researcher Rachel Warren, one of the report's authors.

For one thing, the governments of such major emitters as the United States, China and India will have to join the Kyoto Protocol countries of Europe and Japan in imposing cutbacks in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases emitted by industry, power plants and other sources.

The Bush administration rejected the protocol's mandatory cuts, contending they would slow U.S. economic growth too much. China and other poorer developing countries were exempted from the 1997 pact, but most expected growth in greenhouse emissions will come from the developing world.

The draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose final version is to be issued in Bangkok on May 4, says emissions can be cut below current levels if the world shifts away from carbon-heavy fuels like coal, embraces energy efficiency and significantly reduces deforestation.

"The opportunities, the technology are there and now it's a case of encouraging the increased use of these technologies," said International Energy Agency analyst Ralph Sims, another of the 33 scientists who drafted the report.

As we've often discussed here, human-caused climate change is a serious problem requiring attention to both mitigation and adaptation. While I can make sense of a consensus among Working Group I scientists on causes and consequences of climate change, and even a consensus among Working Group II on impacts, how should we interpret a "consensus" among 33 authors recommending specific political actions? All of the movement toward the "democratization of science" and "stakeholder involvement" and "public participation" that characterizes science and technology issues ranging from GMOs to nanotechnology to nuclear waste disposal seems oddly absent in the climate issue in favor of a far more technocratic model of decision making. Is climate change somehow different?

April 16, 2007

On Framing . . .

Recent discussion of Nisbet/Mooney's presentation of "framing" in the blogosphere has been interesting, to say the least. I completely agree with the basic theoretical propositions being shared by Matt and Chris, though perhaps in framing framing in terms of a political battle over religion in modern society they may have misframed their argument -- at least if selling scientists on the inescapable reality of framing dynamics in public discourse was their goal.

In 1997 I wrote the following on the subject:

The characterization of a particular set of circumstances as a "problem" requires attention to who is claiming that a problem exists, their perspectives, and their ability to act (cf. Lasswell 1971). From the standpoint of effective practical action, it is important that a problem be appropriately framed and presented to those with authority and ability to act. There are many examples of modern-day Cassandras who identify important problems that fail to either reach or be understood by decision makers. Hence, the existence of information related to a problem is not a sufficient condition for addressing the problem; attention to a healthy process that actively links that information with a decision maker’s needs is also necessary.

For the full context, have a look at this paper, especially beginning at page 258:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 1997: Asking the Right Questions: Atmospheric Sciences Research and Societal Needs. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78:255-264. (PDF)

Posted on April 16, 2007 07:30 PM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

April 05, 2007

NOAA’s New Media Policy: A Recipe for Conflict

The Department of Commerce, the parent agency of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has released a new media policy for its employees (thanks to an alert Prometheus reader for pointing us to it). The new policy was prepared in response to criticisms levied against the agency for its media policies related to agency scientists which some viewed as over-bearing and too politicized. Unfortunately, the new policy does little to address the challenges of public communication in highly politicized contexts, and probably makes things worse.

The new media policy can be found here in PDF. It seeks to draw dark lines between different activities and information. For instance, the policy seeks to distinguish a "Fundamental Research Communication" from an "Official Communication." A FRC is defined as:

means a Public Communication that relates to the Department's programs, policies, or operations and takes place or is prepared officially (i.e., under Section 6.03a. 1-4) and that deals with the products of basic or applied research in science or engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, so long as the communication does not contain information that is proprietary, classified, or restricted by federal statute. If a communication also includes matters of policy, budget, or management, then it is not a Fundamental Research Communication.

By Contrast, an OC is defined as:

any Public Communication by an employee that relates to the Department's programs, policies, or operations and takes place or is prepared:

1. At the direction of a superior of the employee;

2. Substantially during the official working hours of the employee;

3. With the substantial use of U.S. Government resource(s); or

4. With substantial assistance of U.S. Government employee(s) on official duty. All news releases and similar documents are Official Communications.

This effort to distinguish research from other activities sets up a first point of inevitable conflict:

Although, by definition, an Official Communication is not a Fundamental Research Communication, for an Official Communication that deals with the products of basic or applied research in science or engineering, the role of the public affairs office is to assist with presentation, style, and logistics of the science or engineering information, not to alter its substance in any way.

It is impossible to preserve the precise substance of a scientific paper in a press release, unless one simply reprints the entire scientific paper. Even the choice of what to present and what not to present will alter the meaning in some manner, and the job of a press release is to simplify. In this circumstance, if a scientist does not like how their work has been presented, they need only cry that their work has been altered in some way, which of course will be true. If the Public Affairs official complains, then the dispute could wind up on the pages of the New York Times. This may or may not be desired, but NOAA should recognize that conflict is the inevitable result.

Or consider a research paper on NOAA's forecast process in the National Weather Service, is this an FRC or an OC? And who decides? There will be considerable overlap between the two, setting the stage for conflict.

Another inevitable point of conflict is found in the description of how communications are to be approved:

Based on the operating unit's internal procedures, all written and audiovisual materials that are, or are prepared in connection with, a Fundamental Research Communication must be submitted by the researcher, before the communication occurs, to the head of the operating unit, or his or her designee(s), for approval in a timely manner. These procedures may not permit approval or non-approval to be based on the policy, budget, or management implications of the research.

The guidelines do not explain how the agency will enforce the prohibition against using criteria of policy, budget, or management as criteria for approval or nonapproval. This is because this directive in unenforceable. Consider the simple example of a scholar doing work on the policy implications of hurricane evacuation planning. If the policy research element of this work is flawed – say, it doesn’t reflect the realities of interagency communication -- does this directive prohibit using criteria of “policy” to request that the author rethink his/her work?

The guidelines then have an odd passage suggesting that individual units within the agency will have accepted scientific positions:

Department researchers may draw scientific conclusions based on research related to their jobs, and may, subject to Section 7.01, communicate those conclusions to the public and the media in a Fundamental Research Communication. However, if such a conclusion could reasonably be construed as representing the view of the Department or an operating unit when it does not, then the researcher must make clear that he or she is presenting his or her individual conclusion and not the views of the Department or an operating unit.

Scientists always have their individual views, which they publish in the literature. Whether or not they conform with an agency perspective would seem to be irrelevant. In fact, while agencies do have to have clear views on policies, why should an agency even have its own views on scientific conclusions?

The following passage might have been the core of a more sensible media policy:

Only spokespeople designated by the Appropriate Public Affairs Office are authorized to speak for the Department or its operating units in an official capacity regarding matters of policy, budget, or management.

The following is bizarre:

If, in the course of the Official Communication, an unexpected topic arises that is not the intended subject matter, the employee shall promptly notify the head of the operating unit or Secretarial office, or their designee(s).

In the FAQ explaining the policy, DOC makes matters worse when they try to cleanly separate fact from opinion:

It is not acceptable for government employees to use government resources to promote personal activities or opinions. Department researchers may draw scientific conclusions based on fundamental research related to their jobs and may communicate such information. Personal opinions that go beyond scientific conclusions based on fundamental research related to their jobs are personal communications. If employees wish to publicize their personal opinions, they may do so on their own time, as long as it doesn’t violate federal law.

This is simply unenforceable. Consider that several NOAA scientists signed a joint statement last year on hurricane policies. Their views certainly included their personal opinions. Had they provided their views from their office, on their phone, or identified as a government employee, they would be in violation of the policy. This is nonsense.

I could go on. DOC will, in my opinion, inevitably have to revisit this fundamentally flawed policy. When they do, they should take another look at NASA’s communication policy for some guidance (PDF). When creating such policies, sometimes less is more. The key distinctions to be made are not about what can be said, as drawing bright lines between science and policy, fact and opinion, which are doomed to fail in practice. The key distinctions are to be made between those who are authorized to represent agency policies and those who are not. And any government employee who feels that they cannot support the policies of the agency has opportunities to motivate change from within, and ultimately if they feel strongly enough the chance to resign and seek change from the outside.

Any government employee who uses their position to subvert government performance risks their job. If they lose their job for such a reason, then their supervisor, politically appointed or not, will experience public and political scrutiny. Recent goings on in the Department of Justice speak to this issue.

DOC and NOAA should let the mechanisms of the U.S. government work, rather than trying to over-proceduralize the communications process. Their efforts have likely created the conditions for more not less conflict.

Disclaimer: I am a fellow of CIRES here at University of Colorado. CIRES is a NOAA joint institute. I have benefited from NOAA support of my research over the past 15 years.

April 02, 2007

A Few Comments on Massachusetts vs. EPA

We discussed the lawsuit in depth here at Prometheus not long ago (here and here). Now the Supreme Court has rendered a judgment. The outcome is along the lines that we anticipated (see Office Pool 2007), with the Supreme Court deciding 5-4 that EPA has authority to regulate carbon dioxide, but seemingly withholding judgment on whether EPA must regulate CO2. But a close reading of the majority opinion (warning: by this non-expert) suggests that the ruling in fact leaves EPA little alternative other than to promulgate regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

First there is a science error in the majority opinion, though it seems clear that it would not change their judgment of injury. It states:

. . . global sea levels rose somewhere between 10 and 20 centimeters over the 20th century as a result of global warming.

According to the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report this value is more like 3 to 5.5 centimeters (from figure 11.10b here) with the rest of the 10 to 20 centimeters total due to natural causes. The Supreme Court has attributed all sea level rise to global warming which is incorrect. I had argued in earlier discussions that missing from this case, in arguments by both sides, was some evidence that the 3 to 5.5 centimeters of increase over the 20th century due to human-caused climate change can be related to some injury. However, given the line of argument taken by the majority opinion it appears that what would matter is that this number is quantifiable at all, not its relative magnitude, hence my opinion that an accurate reporting of actual 20th century sea level rise due to global warming would not have affected the reasoning. In footnote 21 the majority opinion explains this point as follows:

Yet the likelihood that Massachusetts’ coastline will recede has nothing to do with whether petitioners have determined the precise metes and bounds of their soon-to-be-flooded land. Petitioners maintain that the seas are rising and will continue to rise, and have alleged that such a rise will lead to the loss of Massachusetts’ sovereign territory. No one, save perhaps the dissenters, disputes those allegations. Our cases require nothing more.

The majority opinion also notes that redressability of harms also does not need to be precisely quantified or large:

That a first step might be tentative does not by itself support the notion that federal courts lack jurisdiction to determine whether that step conforms to law.

The bottom line?

Here is the SC take home message:

We need not and do not reach the question whether on remand EPA must make an endangerment finding, or whether policy concerns can inform EPA’s actions in the event that it makes such a finding. . . We hold only that EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.

In other words, if EPA wants to continue to avoid promulgating regulations on greenhouse gases, then it needs to come up with a better excuse than than those used so far under the Bush Administration. However, it seems clear from the text of the opinion that the majority does in fact render an opinion on whether EPA must make an endangerment finding. I am not an expert on Supreme Court rulings, but the following passage goes pretty far down the path of prescribing exactly what regulatory action EPA should take:

The alternative basis for EPA’s decision—that even if it does have statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gases, it would be unwise to do so at this time—rests on reasoning divorced from the statutory text. While the statute does condition the exercise of EPA’s authority on its formation of a “judgment,” 42 U. S. C. §7521(a)(1), that judgment must relate to whether an air pollutant “cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” ibid. Put another way, the use of the word “judgment” is not a roving license to ignore the statutory text. It is but a direction to exercise discretion within defined statutory limits. If EPA makes a finding of endangerment, the Clean Air Act requires the agency to regulate emissions of the deleterious pollutant from new motor vehicles. Ibid. (statingthat “[EPA] shall by regulation prescribe . . . standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class of new motor vehicles”). EPA no doubt has significant latitude as to the manner, timing, content, and coordination of its regulations with those of other agencies. But once EPA has responded to a petition for rulemaking, its reasons for action or inaction must conform to the authorizing statute. Under the clear terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do.

EPA has refused to comply with this clear statutory command. Instead, it has offered a laundry list of reasons not to regulate. For example, EPA said that a number of voluntary executive branch programs already provide an effective response to the threat of global warming, 68 Fed. Reg. 52932, that regulating greenhouse gases might impair the President’s ability to negotiate with “key developing nations” to reduce emissions, id., at 52931, and that curtailing motor-vehicle emissions would reflect "an inefficient, piecemeal approach to address the climate change issue," ibid.

Although we have neither the expertise nor the authority to evaluate these policy judgments, it is evident they have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change. [emphasis added]

The language here suggests that if greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, then EPA has no other choice other than to regulate. The majority opinion states that they have neither expertise not authority to make policy judgments, but do so anyway. I’d welcome Supreme Court experts weighing in on this. Is this sort of prescriptive language common? Is it actionable in future lawsuits?

If my interpretation is correct (big if) then regardless of what excuse for inaction that EPA under President Bush comes up with, the language of this opinion gives considerable latitude for a subsequent lawsuit suing EPA for its failure to regulate. I doubt that there is enough time left in the Bush Administration for this to occur. Nonetheless it will be a trump card to hold over the next president, Democrat or Republican. A similar lawsuit helped break the gridlock over ozone depletion leading to a negotiated settlement resulting is U.S. participation in the Vienna Convention (details here in PDF). Would there be a similar agreement possible on climate change? If so, what would petitioners ask for and what would a president agree to? Could all of this be trumped by Congress?

March 28, 2007

Why is Climate Change a Partisan Issue in the United States?

Several people asked me to comment on this Jonathan Chait essay from the L.A. Times last week in which he sought to explain the partisan nature of the climate issue. While I think there are some elements of truth in Chait's perspective, I think that he misses the elephant in the room.

Climate change is indeed a partisan issue. This is confirmed time and again by opinion polls, most recently this poll released last week.

Chait seeks to explain this partisanship as follows:

How did it get this way? The easy answer is that Republicans are just tools of the energy industry. It's certainly true that many of them are. Leading global warming skeptic Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), for instance, was the subject of a fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago. The bottom line is that his relationship to the energy industry is as puppet relates to hand.

But the financial relationship doesn't quite explain the entirety of GOP skepticism on global warming. For one thing, the energy industry has dramatically softened its opposition to global warming over the last year, even as Republicans have stiffened theirs.

The truth is more complicated — and more depressing: A small number of hard-core ideologues (some, but not all, industry shills) have led the thinking for the whole conservative movement.

Your typical conservative has little interest in the issue. Of course, neither does the average nonconservative. But we nonconservatives tend to defer to mainstream scientific wisdom. Conservatives defer to a tiny handful of renegade scientists who reject the overwhelming professional consensus.

National Review magazine, with its popular website, is a perfect example. It has a blog dedicated to casting doubt on global warming, or solutions to global warming, or anybody who advocates a solution. Its title is "Planet Gore." The psychology at work here is pretty clear: Your average conservative may not know anything about climate science, but conservatives do know they hate Al Gore. So, hold up Gore as a hate figure and conservatives will let that dictate their thinking on the issue.

Chait's suggestion that non-conservatives defer to the scientific mainstream while conservatives do not gets the cart and horse mixed up. Chait falls victim to the idea that for some people -- those rational beings in the reality-based community -- political perspectives flow from a fountain of facts. And if one's entire view of the relationship of science and politics is grounded in very recent Republican-Democrat conflict it is easy to see how this perspective might be reinforced. On the very hot-button issues of climate change and the teaching of evolution, Republican political agendas require confronting current scientific consensus.

But a broader look at science and politics shows that challenges to a current scientific consensus occurs across the ideological spectrum. Consider genetically modified agricultural products and the European Union. The EU has strongly opposed these products for political and cultural reasons (sound familiar?) in the face of a scientific consensus that indicates little risks. Consider also smoking, where a robust scientific consensus exists, yet far more people smoke in left-leaning Europe than in the United States. When I testified before Congress last February I pointed out that the Democrats organizing the hearing had decided not to invoke a recent consensus statement on hurricanes and global warming in favor of relying on a few selected studies most convenient to their political agenda. The reality is that we all filter facts through our pre-existing values and biases, and each of use is perfectly capable of ignoring or selectively interpreting facts as is convenient. Those who stubbornly refuse to accept the previous sentence would be a good example of these dynamics.

The blindingly obvious and somewhat banal answer to the question why climate change is a partisan issue is that climate change is a partisan issue because it has evolved as a partisan issue. The fact that at some point the issue took on partisan characteristics has led to a reinforcement of the partisanship. The important question to ask is how it is that climate change became a partisan issue. There are several answers to this question.

1. George W. Bush. Everything George Bush touches becomes a partisan issue (and seems to break). George Bush squandered an opportunity to become a great president in the aftermath of 9/11 and instead will be remembered as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. In this context, his early-2001 decision to unceremoniously abandon the Kyoto process and flip the bird at Europe more than anything fed the partisan nature of the climate debate. In the 1992 presidential election climate change first became a high-level partisan issue as Al Gore and George H. W. Bush used the issue to score political points, with GHWB calling Gore "ozone man" and promising to counter the greenhouse effect with the "White House effect." Of course the deeper history, back to the 1970s, involves the Republicans as the party of the extractive resources industries and the Democrats as the party of alternative energy. These debates conveniently mapped right onto the 1980s emergence of climate change as Dan Sarewitz and I documented in 2000 in the Atlantic Monthly. Of course, if one were to go back to the 1950s and 1960s these partisan roles were somewhat reversed, as Frank Laird documents in his excellent book on the history of solar energy.

2. Al Gore. Long before George W. Bush was in politics Al Gore was in the business of politicizing the climate issue. I have no doubt that he feels strongly about climate change, but his actions for several decades bely his oft-stated claim that climate change is not a partisan issue. Today Al Gore's leadership on this issue is by its very nature a partisan issue:

Appearing before a Congressional Committee, Gore said that Global Warming is "not a partisan issue; it’s a moral issue." However, polling data suggests that among the general public it’s a very partisan issue. By a 65% to 9% margin, Democrats say that Gore knows what he’s talking about. By a 57% to 11%, Republicans say he does not. Those not affiliated with either party are evenly divided.

So long as the main protagonists in the U.S. climate issue are the opponents from the overwhelmingly partisan 2000 presidential election, how in the world can the climate issue be anything other than partisan?

3. The Chorus. Given the dynamics described above, it is entirely natural that the climate debate attracts participants ranging from experts to the lay public, who together I call the chorus. And people are attracted to the issue because of its partisan nature, and the nature of blogs and media coverage amplify the voice of the chorus. And in turn the chorus reinforces the partisan nature of the debate through several forms of dynamics.

First, climate change is a perfect issue for the scientization of politics. This refers to the tendency to characterize political debates in terms of technical disputes -- remember the Hockey Stick? There is an endless supply of climate science to debate and discuss and always the presence of irritating skeptics who challenge the current consensus (see discussion at RealClimate). This situation elevates the authority of subject matter experts in political debates, which makes it appealing for some experts, but also inevitably politicizes the expert community as they self-segregate according to political perspectives.

Second, self-segregation is not unique to experts. A short tour around the web reveals the truth of Cass Sunstein's notion of internet-based "echo chambers" in which people talk only with those who share their views and lambaste as evil subhumans those who they disagree with. It is a rare discussion on climate change that involves a thoughtful exchange of ideas from people who hold fundamentally different political views. The self-segregation has the effect of increasing the partisan nature of the debate as people come to believe more strongly of the absolute truth in their views and the absolute lack of morals in their opponents.

Third, forced segregation. For those who do not fit easily into the partisan nature of the climate debate, partisans go to great effort to force these perspectives into a partisan framework. For instance, here at Prometheus we've consistently advanced views on climate policy (held long before George Bush came around) that emphasize the importance of adaptation and immediate, no-regrets mitigation to occur in parallel (see my 2006 Congressional testimony for the full spiel), and we've experienced a steady effort by some to frame our views as "right-leaning" simply because they are not "left-leaning." The repeated attacks on us from the environmental Gristmill blog are a case in point, despite the fact that there appears to be an enormous substantive agreement in our views. Of course, if the political right actually accepted the views on policy that we have been advocating then those on the political left would probably be rejoicing! On the climate issue, because the chorus has little stomach for perspectives that deviate in any sense from the partisan framing, it is any surprise that the partisan framing dominates?

The bottom line is that climate change is a partisan issue. It will likely remain so in the United States for a long time. Political action will happen nonetheless simply because the Democrats have succeeded in making it a political issue during a time of their ascendancy. If Al Gore runs for president, as I suspect he will, it will further increase the partisan nature of the debate. To the extent that Democrats continue to raise expectations that climate change is central to their agenda, action will inevitably occur. Republicans will eventually accept that action will occur and will do the best to use it as a vehicle to advance their own interests, as typically occurs in all political situations. For those interested in effective policy action, as opposed to scoring political points real or symbolic, there will be a continuing need to keep a focus on policy options and their likely consequences. Die hard partisans will do there best to make that task difficult as discussion of options requires the sort of nuance not present in political horse races.

Soon climate politics in the United States will come to resemble the current dynamics in the EU, in which the issues will be messier and more complicated. When that occurs, like old Cold Warriors the climate partisans will long for the days of good guys and bad guys, and will likely hang on too long to the past.

So Long as We Are Discussing Congressional Myopia . . .

I had a chance to meet Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) last year at an informal dinner at the home of Thomas Lovejoy, head of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. In my conversations with Mr. Gilchrest I found him to be extremely thoughtful and exactly the sort of person that anyone would welcome representing them in Congress, Republican or Democrat. My views were reinforced when I saw Mr. Gilchrest sitting with Congressional committees looking into global warming even though he wasn’t on those committees but was attending simply to educate himself, one time when I was testifying.

So it was with some surprise that I read the following about Mr. Gilchrest in a news story last week:

House Republican Leader John Boehner would have appointed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest to the bipartisan Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming — but only if the Maryland Republican would say humans are not causing climate change, Gilchrest said.

"I said, 'John, I can't do that,'" Gilchrest said in an interview.

Gilchrest didn't make the committee. Neither did other Republican moderates or science-minded members, whose guidance centrist GOP members usually seek on the issue. Republican moderates, called the Tuesday Group, invited Boehner to this week's meeting to push for different representation.
. . .
Gilchrest expressed his interest in the committee several times to Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, telling them the best thing they could do for Republican credibility was to appoint members familiar with the scientific data.

"Roy Blunt said he didn't think there was enough evidence to suggest that humans are causing global warming," Gilchrest said. "Right there, holy cow, there's like 9,000 scientists to three on that one."

The fact that the Republican leadership seeks to ensure political unanimity via a litmus test on the science of climate change should be a surprise to no one. More troubling is the fact that the participation of one of our most thoughtful public servants on an important select committee is a casualty of such political myopia. Not only will policy discussions be impoverished by such actions, but it is also hard to see how it works in the favor of the Republican political agenda.

March 15, 2007

Rep. McNerney in Wired

Here's a brief interview in the March issue of Wired with Rep. Jerry McNerney, the wind engineer who pulled off a huge upset over Dick "I hate endangered animals" Pombo in California's 11th District. (My sister lives in that district and a good friend knows somebody on McNerney's staff, so we're tight.)

McNerney's ascension to a nice little office in Cannon is noteworthy for us science policy and politics types because he becomes only the third Hill resident with a science Ph.D. (well, his is in math, but close enough), along with Rep. Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Ehlers (R-MI).

The interview is short, but the best part is this:

What's the biggest difference between science and politics? Science is all about truth. You gather your evidence and logically prove your claims. Congress is all about people, relationships, and rules. There are a lot of rules.

[cough cough ahem] That's what a lot of pure scientists want to think, anyway. The STS and SSS people find that ... well ... not really the way science works.

More to the pure politics:

You don’t have any political experience. Isn't that a liability? It's an asset. People are looking to me for help on certain issues, and I'm getting a lot of respect for what I bring to the table. It would be even better to bring in scientists when they're 29 years old — they’d know the science but would have time to learn all the rules.

I don't disagree with that, but I've always found it interesting that darkhorse, politically inexperienced candidates (Ross Perot?) always run on how it's good to have no experience. Then once they've been there of course they have to run on how it is good that they do have political experience. Good for the constituents, good for the process, the nation, etc... The incumbent will always run on how you need an incumbent in Washington who knows how the system works and how to get things done so (s)he can bring home the bacon.

Finally,

So we should be combing university labs for political prospects? Sure. But you’d have to teach them to be nice to people. That’s not part of the job description in science.

(or in blogging.....?) I went from a Ph.D. program in the physical sciences straight into the DC world and I was fascinated by how both universes are extremely adversarial, but in very different ways. You really don't have to be nice in science, but the stakes of getting an equation slightly wrong or interpreting a figure incorrectly aren't really that high. The stakes in writing a tax bill, or negotiating an amendment on a public works bill that will create 1000 jobs in one state and take them away in another, or sending the military overseas are something else, but these things must be negotiated calmly. I often think about that when I'm sitting in an academic talk that gets heated between the presenter and a questioner.

Posted on March 15, 2007 10:30 AM View this article | Comments (39)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Science + Politics

February 28, 2007

Spinning Science

We have had a lot of discussion here about the process of producing press releases. Last month, I participated in a congressional hearing in which several scientists argued strongly that official press releases should be faithful to the science being reported. A press release put out by the University of Wisconsin today is a case of a press release completely misrepresenting the science in the paper that it is presenting. I am going to speculate that because the press release errs on the side of emphasizing a global warming connection where there is in fact none indicated in the paper that there will be little concern expressed by the scientific community about its inaccuracies.

UPDATE: NSF issues its own release "New Information Links Atlantic Ocean Warming to Stronger Hurricanes" compounding the misrepresentation. The NSF release (like the UW version) contradicts its own headline:

The Atlantic is also unique in that the physical variables that converge to form hurricanes--including wind speeds, wind directions and temperatures--mysteriously feed off each other to make conditions ripe for a storm. But scientists don't understand why, Kossin adds.

The press release is titled: "New evidence that global warming fuels stronger Atlantic hurricanes." The first paragraph of the release says:

Atmospheric scientists have uncovered fresh evidence to support the hotly debated theory that global warming has contributed to the emergence of stronger hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

The paper, by Jim Kossin and colleagues appears in today's Geophysical Research Letters and actually says nothing like this (paper here in PDF). It does say the following:

**Over the past 23 years there are no global trends in tropical cyclone activity in any basin except the Atlantic. This is an important finding because it contradicts the findings presented in 2005 by Webster et al. that there have been global trends. Kossin et al. call into question a straightforward relationship of SST and tropical cyclone activity. This is news.

**The paper does find the Atlantic to be more active over the past 23 years. No one in the world has ever questioned whether or not the Atlantic has been more active over the past 3 decades. Any assertion that the Atlantic has become more active is hardly "fresh evidence." This is not news.

*The paper does not engage in attribution, and openly admits that a 23-year record is too short for attribution studies (i.e., that indicate causes of trends).

Here is what Kossin et al. say in their conclusion:

Efforts are presently underway to maximize the length of our new homogeneous data record but at most we can add another 6–7 years, and whether meaningful trends can be measured or inferred in a 30-year data record remains very much an open question. Given these limitations of the data, the question of whether hurricane intensity is globally trending upwards in a warming climate will likely remain a point of debate in the foreseeable future. Still, the very real and dangerous increases in recent Atlantic hurricane activity will no doubt continue to provide a heightened sense of purpose to research addressing how hurricane behavior might change in our changing climate, and further efforts toward improvement of archival data quality are expected to continue in parallel with efforts to better reconcile the physical processes involved. If our 23-year record is in fact representative of the longer record, then we need to better understand why hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin is varying in a fundamentally different way than the rest of the world despite similar upward trends of SST in each basin.

The University of Wisconsin press release is either a cheap publicity grab or a deliberate attempt to spin the paper's results 180 degrees from what it actually says.

February 26, 2007

State Climatologists Redux

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.

Posted on February 26, 2007 07:24 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

February 22, 2007

A Defense of Alarmism

[The thoughtful comment below is from David Adam, Environment correspondent for The Guardian was made in response to Mike Hulme's letter to Nature on press coverage of the IPCC report in the UK media. -RP]

Alarmist and proud of it
(Alarm: to fill with apprehension; to warn about danger, alert)

David Adam
Environment correspondent
The Guardian

Some definitions from the Collins English dictionary

Catastrophic: a sudden, extensive disaster or misfortune

Shocking: Causing shock

Terrifying: extremely frightening

Devastating: to confound or overwhelm

Can anyone explain to me why any of those are inappropriate for a report than said human society will 'most likely' raise temperatures by 4C by 2100 unless it takes drastic action (my words, but how else would you desribe a complete overhaul of the lifestyles of millions, if not billions of people) to cut emissions?

here's another:

news: interesting or important information not previously known.

attacking newspapers for picking out the bits of the report that appear to take the debate forwards (the effects of carbon cycle feedbacks for example, which only seem to be shifting the estimates in one direction) is as pointless and idiotic as complaining that a library won't sell you fish.

does the 2006 report not paint a picture that is "worse" than the 2001 report?

again, to the dictionary:

worse: the comparative of bad

Mike accuses us of "appealling to fear to generate a sense of urgency"

Guilty as charged. Is it not frightening? Is it not urgent?

Alarmist and proud of it
(Alarm: to fill with apprehension; to warn about danger, alert)

Posted on February 22, 2007 07:03 AM View this article | Comments (28)
Posted to Author: Others | Climate Change | Science + Politics

February 21, 2007

Have We Entered a Post-Analysis Phase of the Climate Debate?

The New York Times today has an interesting summary of a debate between Sir Nicolas Stern and Professor William Nordhaus of Yale University on the economics of climate change. The article raises the question, for me at least, at what point do policy analyses cease to matter? In the language of my forthcoming book -- The Honest Broker -- has climate politics become "abortion politics"? The answer to my own question is that, yes, we may indeed be in a situation where analysis is viewed as being more useful as a tool of persuasion than clarifying the consequences of a wide range of alternative courses of action. In such a situation policy analyses will be far less important than the political dynamics.

A recent example of such a situation that will be familiar to most readers is when the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq and then fixed the intelligence to meet the policy. Any analysis that supported invasion, regardless of its intellectual merits, then became "right" even if for the "wrong reasons." Sure, some policy analyses were still needed after that decision, for instance, to determine whether 110,000 versus 130,000 troops would be needed. But I view this as a far different sort of analysis than focusing analytical attention on the broad question of what might have been done about Saddam Hussein. In that situation, once the politics were settled, then such wide-ranging analyses became completely irrelevant. But arguably that is exactly the sort of analysis that mattered most of all and for the lack of which were are suffering today Climate change, of course some will say, is different.

Here is an excerpt from the Times article, which describes these dynamics:

Technically, then, Sir Nicholas’s opponents win the debate. But in practical terms, their argument has a weak link. They are assuming that the economic gains from, say, education will make future generations rich enough to make up for any damage caused by climate change. Sea walls will be able to protect cities; technology can allow crops to grow in new ways; better medicines can stop the spread of disease.

No one knows whether this is true, let alone desirable, because no one knows what life will be like on a planet that is five degrees hotter. "If ever there was an example where there was uncertainty, this is it," said Martin L. Weitzman, a Harvard economist who attended the debate.

While sitting there, I was reminded of the speeches that Alan Greenspan gave a few years ago about the risks of deflation. It wasn’t the most likely outcome, he said, but the consequences of it could be so bad that policy makers had to take steps to prevent it. Focusing attention on this point — the catastrophic risks of climate change — is Sir Nicholas’s biggest accomplishment, whatever you think of his math.

As Mr. Weitzman puts it, the Stern Review is "right for the wrong reasons."

Even its critics seem open to this idea. When Mr. Nordhaus and Sir Nicholas were exchanging e-mail messages before the debate — to their credit, some academics keep their arguments from becoming personal — Mr. Nordhaus sent a note that summed up his view. “I think it’s a great study, but it’s 50 years ahead of its time,” he recalled writing. "Since everybody else is 50 years behind the times, if you average the two, you might come out just right."

In other words, it’s time for a tax on carbon emissions.

Once your have the political answer in hand, analysis then ceases to be a tool that provides insight on alternatives and then becomes a tool of marketing, and sometimes a way to limit debate. Harvard's Martin Weitzman acknowledges this explicitly in the review paper (here in PDF) on Stern cited in the Times article:

The Stern Review is a political document –in Keynes’s phrase an essay in persuasion –as much as it is an economic analysis, and in fairness it needs ultimately to be judged by both standards. To its great credit the Review supports very strongly the politically- unpalatable idea, which no politician planning to remain in office anywhere wants to hear, that the world needs desperately to start confronting the reality that burning carbon has a significant externality cost that should be taken into account by being charged full-freight for doing it. (This should have been, but of course was not, the most central “inconvenient truth”of all in Al Gore'’s tale about inconvenient climate-change truths.) As the Review puts it, “establishing a carbon price, through tax, trading, or regulation, is an essential foundation for climate-change policy.” One can only wish that U.S. political leaders might have the wisdom to understand and the courage to act upon the breathtakingly-simple relatively-market-friendly idea that the right carbon tax could do much more to unleash the decentralized power of greedy, self seeking, capitalistic American inventive genius on the problem of developing commercially-feasible carbon-avoiding alternative technologies than all of the command-and-control schemes and patchwork subsidies making the rounds in Washington these days. As I have made clear here, a generous interpretation might also credit the Stern Review with intuiting the greater significance of insuring against catastrophic uncertainty than of consumption smoothing for the climate problem, even if this intuition remains subliminal and does not formally enter the analysis through the front door.

To be honest about the economic-analysis side, the Stern Review predetermines the outcome in favor of strong immediate action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions by creating a very low value of r ~1.4% via the indirect route of picking parameter values   p ~ 0 and n~ 1   1that are more like theoretically-reasoned extreme lower bounds than empirically-plausible estimates of representative tastes. In this sense, it must be said staightforwardly that the subconsiously-reverse-engineered output of PAGE and the goal-oriented formal economic analysis of the Review are not worth a great deal. But we have also seen that a fair recognition of the truth that we are genuinely uncertain about what interest rate should be used to discount costs and benefits of climate changes a century from now brings discounting rates down from conventional values r  6% to much lower values of perhaps r ~  2-3%, which would create a more intermediate sense of urgency somewhere between what the Stern
Review is advocating and the more modest measures to slow global warming advocated by its mainstream critics. The important remaining caveat is that such an intermediate position is still grounded in a conventional deterministic consumption-smoothing approach to the
economic analysis of climate change that, at least formally, ignores the issue of what to do about catastrophe insurance against the possibility of rare disasters.

On the political side of the Stern Review, my most charitable interpretation of its urgent tone is that the report is an essay in persuasion that is more about gut instincts regarding the horrors of uncertain rare disasters whose probabilities we do not know than it is about economic analysis as that term is conventionally understood. Although it is difficult enough to analyze people’s motives, much less the motives of a 600-page document, I can’'t help but think after reading it that the strong tone of morality and alarm is mostly reflecting a fear of what is potentially out there with greenhouse warming in (using ponderous terminology here to make sure the thought is exact) “the inherently-thick left tail of the reduced-form posterior-predictive probability distribution of the growth rate of a comprehensive measure of consumption that includes the natural environment.” I have argued that this inherently- thick left tail of g is an important aspect of the economics of climate change that every analyst –Stern and the critics of Stern –might do well to try to address more directly. History will judge whether the economic analysis of the Stern Review was more wrong or more right, and, if it was more right, whether as pure economic analysis it was right for the right reasons or it was right for the wrong reasons.

February 20, 2007

Al Gore 2008, Part 3: Washington Post on California Energy

The Washington Post has an excellent article on California’s energy policies (Thanks BK!), which adds some context to our ongoing analysis explaining why Al Gore will be the next president of the United States. Here are several key excerpts:

Do 2004 Blue states in fact have higher energy costs?

The reason for California's success is no secret: Electricity there is expensive, so people use less of it. Thanks to its use of pricey renewables and natural gas and its spurning of cheap coal, California's rates are almost 13 cents a kilowatt hour, according to the Energy Information Administration. The other most-energy-frugal states, such as New Jersey and New Hampshire, charge about 12 cents and 14 cents a kilowatt hour, respectively. Hawaii, which relies on oil-fired plants, tops EIA's list at about 21 cents.

"If the history of energy consumption in the U.S. has taught us anything, it is that cost drives conservation," says Chris Cooper, executive director of the Network for New Energy Choices.

Three of the nation's most profligate users of energy -- Wyoming, Kentucky and Alabama -- have one thing in common: low prices. Their electricity prices range from 5.25 cents a kilowatt hour to 7.06 cents, according to the EIA.

"What's dirt cheap tends to get treated like dirt," Rosenfeld says.

The District, also a wasteful user of energy, has a rate of 10.70 cents a kilowatt hour, only after recent rate increases. Virginia charges average 6.78 cents, and Maryland is at 10.03 cents.

Answer: Yes, consider:

CA, NJ, NH, HI, MD = Blue
WY, KY, VA, AL = Red

What are some of the effects of increasing energy prices?

Many manufacturers complain that the high electricity prices make the state an unappealing place to do business. Since 2001, California has lost 375,000 manufacturing jobs, a 19.9 percent drop that slightly exceeded the nationwide decline of 17 percent. Some firms -- such as Buck Knives, with 250 jobs, or bottle manufacturer Bomatic, with 100 jobs -- moved to states such as Idaho or Utah, where they said expenses, including energy, were lower.

Gino DiCaro, a spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, says manufacturing investment is also "stalled" because of uncertainty about how the new legislation authorizing limits on greenhouse gases will affect energy costs.

"We've lost a lot of manufacturing jobs and we can't replace them," says DiCaro. While it's hard to blame the state's high energy costs alone, he says, "we know that . . . energy is one of the largest portions of a manufacturer's operating budget."

But at some point do high prices become a virtue?

But for those homeowners and businesses staying in California, the high prices have provided a big incentive for greater efficiency.

Laura Scher, chief executive of Working Assets, a wireless, long distance and credit card company that donates part of its revenue to socially progressive organizations, said she checked her home's meter every week during the electricity crisis in the summer of 2001 and unplugged her family's second refrigerator. "Part of it is our prices got really high," she said. But she added that California's habits go back much further. "It's sort of a culture to be an energy conserver here," she said.


February 18, 2007

Al Gore 2008, Part 2: A Comparison with the 2004 Evangelical Wedge

Last Friday I speculated that Al Gore will win the 2008 presidency in no small part due to the emergence of climate change as a wedge issue. A wedge issue well used in a political campaign will serve to split your opposition's base and lead to a turn-out advantage among those motivated to vote. As a Pew Research analysis explained:

In electoral politics, however, what often matters most in measuring an issue's potential impact is not whether a great many people care about it, but whether even a relatively small number care about it enough to base their vote on it. Indeed, the classic "wedge issue" is one that draws more of one kind of partisan than another to the polls.

So to explore this issue further I thought I'd compare the climate issue to evangelicals in the population. In the 2004 election the mobilization of evangelical voters was widely attributed as a successful strategy for George W. Bush. Here is what I found.

First, I gathered data on the self-described proportion of voters who call themselves 'evangelical" from a poll taken in 2003-200 by the Annenberg Center (here in PDF). The following graph, left panel, compares the ranking of Evangelical voters with rank in percentage of 2004 presidential vote received by George W. Bush. Note that data was available for only 34 states. The right panel repeats the graph I presented in the earlier Gore post comparing the ranking of per capita CO2 emissions with rank in percentage of 2004 presidential vote received by George W. Bush.

redblue3.png

The rank correlation between evangelicals and Bush vote is 0.69. Recall that it was 0.67 between per capita CO2 and Bush vote. Very interesting! (Note Ohio and Florida in that swing-state zone.)

Now compare the distribution of states in the following chart, color coded to represent the vote outcome in the 2004 election.

redblue4.png

So what should you take from this comparison? If evangelical issues did indeed serve as a "wedge issue" in 2004 to the benefit the Republicans and George W. Bush, then the baseline conditions for the climate issue leading to 2008 suggest that it is equally amenable to exploitation for political gain among the Democrats, but particularly (and perhaps uniquely) for Al Gore.

Posted on February 18, 2007 10:10 AM View this article | Comments (14)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

Should I Care About Cognitive Misers Fighting Over My Wikipedia Biography?

Some time ago a few of my students emailed me (from a bar somewhere I believe) to alert me to the fact that I had a Wikipedia biography page. I had known this already because one of the site administrators had emailed me for a photo. I never though much of it, but my students seemed to think it was cool (or maybe they were laughing at me, it is sometimes hard to tell;-).

It has recently come to my attention that over the past few months some folks are engaged in a minor skirmish over my biography, something I assume is fairly common on biographies, and elsewhere in Wikipedia (Politicization of knowledge? Go figure). It appears that some anonymous people are using the biography to try to paint me as a . . . Republican (cue breaking glass!;-). (Perhaps they are some of the less thoughtful Grist readers, as opposed to most who comment there, where character assassination in mainline posts appears to be accepted behavior.)

First, let’s state for the record that such insinuations are simply wrong. I suppose they are advanced by the disingenuous for the benefit of a small set of cognitive misers for whom such labels are useful shortcuts that help to avoid actually engaging in the substance of my academic policy work. Apparently some feel threatened enough by my work enough to try to influence how I am publicly perceived. To get a sense of the sort of juvenile editorial changes taking place over there, one recent edit removed references to liberal-leaning groups who had favorably cited my work.

I typically don’t pay much attention to such things because the folks who care only about assigning political labels in litmus-test fashion are probably not the ones who are going to be too interested in policy analyses anyway. After all, why spend the time understanding nuances of a complex topic when a pejorative political label is available as a convenient mental shortcut? We saw some of this from the rabid right in the (mostly deleted) comments here on my recent post about Al Gore.

I have also recently learned that Wikipedia frowns upon an individual editing their own biography, which seems fair, so rather than seek to create a more accurate page myself, I have decided to ask Prometheus readers if this is an issue I should even be concerned about, and if so, what to do about it.

I don’t have much quibble about the details of the specific facts presented in the current entry. But the facts selected for highlighting do cherry pick one of literally hundreds of media appearances (i.e., Fox News) and one of hundreds of articles (i.e, Regulation), I suppose the selectivity is to make the point that I have at times interacted with people on the political right. (Shock! Horror!) For the record, I was happy to accept an interview with Fox News (as I do with most all requests from the media) as their viewers (in my opinion) would benefit from hearing about the stuff we do, just like CNN viewers (for whom I have also appeared). And I also happily accepted an invitation to rework one of my peer-reviewed articles for Regulation (published by the libertarian Cato Institute) as their readers (in my opinion) would also benefit from hearing about the stuff we do, just like The New Republic readers (for whom I’ve also published).

To be absolutely clear, as a policy scholar I am happy to have people from any political persuasion show in interest in our work, and I’ll continue to write for and speak with people who are interested that come from a range of perspectives -- Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Republican, Socialist, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative, etc. etc.. I won't give in to efforts to intimidate by casting perjorative political labels. Ideally, members of all of these political parties will see the inescapable wisdom is our work, though I won't hold my breath;-) And for the most part I’ll also continue to ignore the more inane criticisms.

So my question, Prometheus readers, is: should I care about the Wikipedia biography?

Posted on February 18, 2007 01:50 AM View this article | Comments (34)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

February 10, 2007

So This is Interesting

Bjorn Lomborg writing in The Guardian 7 February 2007:

Imagine if the director of the CIA published a new assessment of Iran, saying: "I hope this report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action."

We wrote here on Prometheus 25 January 2007:

Imagine, by contrast, if the Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, another organization with an agenda to be "policy neutral," were reported in the media to say of the agency’s latest assessment on Iran, "I hope that the report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action."

Not a huge deal, and maybe just a simple coincidence, but we academics tend to notice and be a bit prickly about such things . . .

February 09, 2007

Quote from Nelson Polsby

Nelson Polsby, a political scientist widely respected for his pioneering studies of Congress and political parties, died earlier this week. This interesting quote is from an interview with Prof. Polsby in his obituary in

"There are often too many facts and not infrequently too many different versions of the facts. Rather than speaking for themselves, various facts have what we have come to refer to as spokespersons."
Posted on February 9, 2007 02:08 PM View this article | Comments (8)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

February 07, 2007

Scientific Integrity and Budget Cuts

I am watching the Senate Commerce Committee's hearing this morning on "Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity." I note in this hearing a conflation of allegations of Bush Administration interference in science communication with research budgets for climate scientists. Both Rick Piltz's testimony and that of Rick Anthes emphasized science budgets. Seems to me that such claims are crassly opportunistic. Here are some actual climate science budget facts that should give some pause to such arguments:

From 1995 to 2001:

Climate science funding was cut from $2.234B to $1.886B (constant dollars), representing a cut of 15.6%. With respect to climate science funding as a proportion of domestic discretionary spending the cut is 23%.

From 2002 to 2006:

Climate science funding was cut from $1.792B to $1.674B (constant dollars), representing a cut of 6.6%. With respect to climate science funding as a proportion of domestic discretionary spending the cut is 20%.

Data from Rick Piltz's testimony and the Congressional Budget Office. Note that funding in 2000 and 2001 are virtually identical.

If the Bush Administration's cuts represent an assault on scientific integrity, then why wouldn't the larger cuts by the Clinton Administration also fall under that same category?

In my mind, conflating research budgets with heavy-handed Bush Administration communication policies is a mistake.

Should A Scientific Advisor be Evaluated According to Political Criteria?

Consider NASA’s James Hansen who complained that he was being interfered with by the Bush Administration which saw Mr. Hansen’s views as inconvenient with respect to their policies on climate change. Dr. Hansen is, by his own admission, outside of the scientific consensus on climate change, as reflected by the IPCC. Should Dr. Hansen’s ability to speak or even hold his job be a function of the political views of the officials who happen to be in office? Hold on to your answer for a moment and click through . . .

Now consider the State of Oregon and its state climatologist:

In an exclusive interview with KGW-TV, Governor Ted Kulongoski confirmed he wants to take that title [of state climatologist] from Oregon State’s George] Taylor. The governor said Taylor's contradictions interfere with the state's stated goals to reduce greenhouse gases, the accepted cause of global warming in the eyes of a vast majority of scientists.

"He is Oregon State University's climatologist. He is not the state of Oregon's climatologist," Kulongoski said.

Taylor declined to comment on the proposal other than to say he was a "bit shocked" by the news. He recently engaged in a debate at O.M.S.I. and repeated his doubts about accepted science.

In an interview he told KGW, "There are a lot of people saying the bulk of the warming of the last 50 years is due to human activities and I don't believe that's true." He believes natural cycles explain most of the changes the earth has seen.

A bill will be introduced in Salem soon on the matter.

Sen. Brad Avakian, (D) Washington County, is sponsoring the bill. He said global warming is so important to state policy it's important to have a climatologist as a consultant to the governor. He denied this is targeted personally at Taylor. "Absolutely not," Avakian said, "I've never met Mr. Taylor and if he's got opinions I hope he comes to the hearing and testifies."

Kulongoski said the state needs a consistent message on reducing greenhouse gases to combat climate change.

The Governor says, "I just think there has to be somebody that says, 'this is the state position on this.'" [emphasis added]

Whatever one thinks about the science of climate change, one should have concern about scientific advisory positions being determined by purely political criteria, as described in the interview with Oregon's governor. Imagine if George Bush said what the Oregon governor said above in regards to James Hansen -- "I just think there has to be somebody that says, 'this is the U.S. position on this.'" We saw exactly this sort of treatment of intelligence expertise with the Bush Administration's shenanigans leading to the Iraq War.

One should also be concerned about double standards among observers. Both Hansen and Taylor are admittedly outside the IPCC's scientific consensus on climate change and both are inconvenient for the elected officials for whom they serve. Do we really want to go down a path where politicians are able to manipulate governmental advisors to suit their policy preferences? Do the rest of us need any semblance of intellectual coherence on this issue? Or should we instead have of scientific advice simply reflect a convenient political litmus test?

February 06, 2007

Post-IPCC Political Handicapping: Count the Votes

The National Journal has updated its poll of opinions on climate change among members of the U.S. Congress, which it first presented last April. The results, with a few exceptions, are much the same. What the poll indicates are that while there are indeed partisan differences on how members of congress view the science of climate change, there is nonetheless a strong majority of members who accept that "it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made pollution." Given this finding, one might wonder what marginal value exists in continuing to debate the science (one answer found below). Here are a few further details.

In its February 3, 2007 issue the National Journal finds (PDF) that 97% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans answered yes (or "consensus" or "part of cause") to the question: "Do you think it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made problems?"

Let’s assume, for the present discussion, that "beyond a reasonable doubt" is interpreted identically to the IPCC’s "very likely" (meaning >90% certainty, the NJ poll was taken before IPCC's release last week). Let’s also assume that the poll of 72 members is in fact representative of the 535 total. Finally, let’s set aside the debate of whether partisanship drives views on science or vice-versa.

What does this poll signify?

It means that in the Senate there are 57 members who believe that there is no "reasonable doubt" on the cause of global warming, and in the House this number is 258. These are strong majorities.

With respect to the policy questions asked by the National Journal here is how the numbers break out for those favoring various policies:

Mandatory CO2 Limits:

House 243
Senate 54

Carbon Tax

House 123
Senate 27

Cap and Trade

House 290
Senate 65

These counts (again, if an accurate reflection of members’ positions) suggest a few important conclusions.

1. The issue of science is no longer relevant to debate in Congress. A majority in both chambers accepts the human role in climate change, and further a majority accepts the need for action, including mandatory caps on carbon dioxide.

2. A carbon tax is largely unrelated to debate over the science. Even if the entire House were to be comprised of members who accept the science of climate change, as this factor alone drove voting behavior, the vote would be even. However, among Democrats only 50% favor a carbon tax, indicating that there are significant factors at play beyond just views of the science. If one posits that Republican views on a carbon tax are different than Democrats (big stretch), let’s say half as favorable (to be generous) with respect to their views of the science, then this would mean that Congress would have to be at least 75% Democratic to get a majority favoring a carbon tax. Under the present political landscape – not gonna happen.

Bottom line – the votes for action appear to be there. So too is broad public acceptance of the reality of climate change and a need for action. Why then is not action happening more quickly?

There are probably a few answers:

1. When push comes to shove. It may be the case that among many people global warming is an issue with more emotional affect than implications for action. In the U.K. for instance, where climate change is squarely on the agenda, only 11% of respondents to a recent poll indicated that they would fly less to reduce their emissions. The current debate in Europe reflects the difficulties of actually reducing emissions even in the context of apparent strong political and public support.

2. Political overreach. Some who want action on climate change have suggested that it might be best for the 110th Congress not to act in order to wait for a Democratic president to be elected in 2009 (or a least someone who is not GWB). The thinking is that even stronger legislation will be possible under those conditions. This might be wishful thinking. A good rule in politics is to take what you can when you can get it.

3. Those skeptics. Just when you thought that we’d seen the end of the debate over climate skeptics, it turns out that some scientists are busy trying to keep them in the limelight. Yes, you read that right. Consider that immediately upon release of the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers the RealClimate blog immediately followed up its 1,280 word review of the IPCC SPM with a 1,585 word essay on some anti-IPCC statement from a group of self-appointed climate skeptics. Without RealClimate’s generous lavishing of attention and imputed significance, the anti-IPCC document would probably have gone unnoticed by most folks. Like old Cold Warriors longing for the Soviet Union the complete and utter domination of the IPCC consensus view seems difficult for some to accept. This issue runs far deeper than bloggers worried about being out of a job, as it will no doubt manifest itself in debates over climate change research budgets. A strong case can be made that now that the science is settled, at least from the standpoint of justifying mitigation, that there is ample room to downsize significant aspects of the climate research enterprise. After all, plate tectonics is not a big area of research.

4. Fighting is more fun than winning. The dynamics of debate over climate change in the blogoshpere might be a good indication of the broader political dynamics for many. It is easy to transform the issue into skeptic vs. nonskeptic in order to debate science, or Republican vs. Democract to debate politics, or environmentalist vs. capitalist to debate the economy/environment, or any of a number of wedge issues that people find fun and exciting to discuss. We see that achieving pragmatic action on real issues -- which might involve moving beyond the science or reaching a political compromise with one's sworn enemies seems pretty tame and unexciting for many. I have little doubt that for some people, climate change is all about the fight, not the victory, so preserving conflict is paramount.

Bottom line from this post: The votes are there. What is lacking, as I’ve often asserted, are a wide range of policy options to exploit the current political receptivity. In the absence of good options, it is likely that we’ll continue see symbolic action (at best) and loud exhortations, as the battle over climate change continues.

February 05, 2007

Loose Ends -- IPCC and Hurricanes

Just a few loose ends that may be of interest to those following this issue:

1. The International Institute for Sustainable Development continues their invaluable tradition of providing a window into the negotiations with first-hand reports. Here is what their report says about the negotiations over hurricanes in the IPCC:

Regarding tropical cyclones, the US drew attention to a consensus statement produced at a recent WMO cyclone workshop about the difficulties of detecting cyclone trends, and cautioned that using the terms "global" and "trend" to describe an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones could open the IPCC to criticism. The Netherlands and the Philippines agreed that the proposed language, "satellite records suggest a global trend toward more intense tropical cyclones since about 1970, correlated with observed warming of tropical sea surfaces temperatures," was too strong. Germany and Kenya disagreed, deferring to the judgment of the Coordinating Lead Authors in assessing the scientific literature. The Coordinating Lead Authors clarified that the WMO workshop participants were hurricane scientists and not climate scientists, and that this statement, released six months after the WGI AR4 underlying report was submitted, was not peer-reviewed or open to comment. The issue was referred to a contact group, where participants discussed variability in the data and shortcomings in the modeling approaches, highlighted the importance of reflecting the main conclusions of the underlying chapter, and noted recent studies in support of both sides. As there was common ground on the robustness of evidence within the North Atlantic, the agreed text focused on the “observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic” and included a more detailed discussion of the factors that complicate identification of long-term patterns. A row in the table on extreme weather events (Table SPM-1) on "intense tropical cyclone activity increases" was modified to reflect the text agreed in the contact group, adding "in some regions." [emphasis added]

Of all groups I would think the IPCC Coordinating lead Authors could do better than offer a critique suggesting that the relevant experts were not "climate scientists." (Close readers will recall that we've seen that argument made here at times.) In any case, the team that wrote the WMO statement was populated by many leading researchers who by any definition are indeed "climate scientists," including luminaries like Tom Knutson and Kerry Emanuel.

2. Randy Dole, a member of the U.S. delegation to the IPCC sent in this nice comment referencing my interpretation of the SPM statements on tropical cyclones:

Thank you for your thoughtful and balanced assessment of what the IPCC SPM says. You have got it right. Your careful analysis on what the report says and how it compares to the WMO consensus statement is most appreciated.

Thanks Randy!

February 02, 2007

Follow Up: IPCC and Hurricanes

The IPCC report is out (PDF) and here is what it says about hurricanes (tropical cyclones). Kudos to the scientists involved. Despite the pressures, on tropical cyclones they figured out a way to maintain consistency with the actual balance of opinion(s) in the community of relevant experts.

Here is the discussion of observed changes:

There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There are also suggestions of increased intense tropical cyclone activity in some other regions where concerns over data quality are greater. Multi-decadal variability and the quality of the tropical cyclone records prior to routine satellite observations in about 1970 complicate the detection of long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity. There is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones.

Interestingly, in a table that discusses attribution of trends to anthropogenic causes it reports that there are some trends observed in some regions in tropical cyclone behavior, writing that these trends "more likely than not" represent the "likelihood of a human contribution to observed trend." But then this statement is footnoted with the following qualification:

Magnitude of anthropogenic contributions not assessed. Attribution for these phenomena based on expert judgement rather than formal attribution studies.

So there might be a human contribution (and presumably this is just to the observed upwards trends observed in some basins, and not to downward trends observed in others, but this is unclear) but the human contribution itself has not been quantitatively assessed, yet the experts, using their judgment, expect it to be there. In plain English this is what is called a "hypothesis" and not a "conclusion." And it is a fair representation of the issue.

The projections for the future are as frequently represented in the literature:

Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period.

This comment on the process was offered by Australia's Neville Nicholls, who was one of the authors responsible for drafting the language on tropical cyclones:

"I was disappointed that after more than two years carefully analysing the literature on possible links between tropical cyclones and global warming that even before the report was approved it was being misreported and misrepresented. We concluded that the question of whether there was a greenhouse-cyclone link was pretty much a toss of a coin at the present state of the science, with just a slight leaning towards the likelihood of such a link. But the premature reports suggested that we were asserting the existence of much stronger evidence. I hope that when people read the real report they will see that it is a careful and balanced assessment of all the evidence."

The open atmosphere of negotiations in the IPCC is probably something that should be revised. How anyone can deny that political factors were everpresent in the negotiations isn't paying attention.

February 01, 2007

Report from IPCC Negotiations

From NOAA's Randy Dole in Paris, lifted from the comments:

Roger and all,

I generally stay out of blogs, but as a member of the US delegation here I would strongly counsel against premature judgment. Once the final document is out, I hope that you and others will fairly compare what the final report says with the WMO consensus statement. I suspect that an objective analyst who carefully reads both the IPCC and WMO documents - that is, does not cherry pick - will find far more common ground than might now be anticipated.

The two reports are not identical of course, nor should they be, but in the end the careful reader will see far more areas of agreement than current reports might suggest. For those who are relying on press reports or any earlier drafts of the IPCC SPM, you will simply be misled.

In short, wait for the report, look carefully at what it says, and then evaluate and critique. This would be the fair process.

See you back in Boulder,

Randy Dole

P.S.: A little after midnight here in Paris, still at UNESCO, but the final draft has been approved. Just waiting for one final review to ensure all agreed upon changes have been made.

IPCC on Hurricanes

The IPCC Summary for Policy Makers is not out yet, but if this report in the Washington Post is in fact true, then we are in store for some controversy:

Global warming has made stronger hurricanes, including those in the Atlantic such as Katrina, an authoritative panel on climate change has concluded for the first time, participants in the deliberations said Thursday.

This will be controversial for several reasons. First, the WMO consensus was written by a range of scientists, including Kerry Emanuel and Greg Holland, who have argued that there is a strong global warming signal, but who have also accepted that their colleagues have valid arguments as well. Second, the IPCC cannot consider recent studies since it has a publication deadline (exactly what that is I don’t know but it was spring-ish 2006). Thus, the IPCC is a bit like a time machine telling us what the literature said about a year ago. The WMO statement incorporates more recent literature. However the IPCC is being presented as new. Third, the IPCC’s lead man on hurricanes and climate change is a fervent partisan in the debate itself. Whether his views are correct or not, it does not help the legitimacy of the process to see a carefully constructed consensus statement among 120 scientists with diverse views overturned by a very (very) narrow set of participants that may be only a few people.

This issue no doubt will become even more politicized than before, with partisans on both sides rejoicing or attacking. For my part, the IPCC overturns the WMO statement with some considerable risk to its own credibility. Of course, we’ll have to wait until May to actually find out the basis for this rejection.

Does the Truth Matter?

Here are seven paragraphs from the conclusion to Alan Mazur’s excellent book True Warnings and False Alarms: Evaluating Fears about the Health Risks of Technology, 1948-1971 (Resources for the Future, 2004, pp. 107-109, buy a copy here)-- the concluding subsection is titled "Does the Truth Matter?" .

Mazur distinguishes between a "knowledge model" and a "politics model" for understanding public debates involving science. These distinctions are somewhat (but not entirely) related to the concepts of the "linear model" and "interest group pluralism" that I discuss in my forthcoming book, which is really about how to reconcile the fact that there are elements of both models in the reality of decision making. Neither of Mazur’s models accurately describes how the world works, we need both. Some of the more useful debates and discussions following my testimony his week reflected a paradigm clash between those who view the world through the lens pf the "knowledge model" and those – like me – who accept that the "politics model" also reflects some fundamental realities as well. Here is the excerpt:

In a democracy, the people or their representatives are free to spend public money as they see fit. Interest groups compete to channel funding to their favorite causes. If U.S. society chooses to allot far more money to cleaning up toxic waste sites, which harm few people, than to prevent teenagers from smoking, which creates an enormous health burden, that is our privilege as a nation.

Still, many risk analysts are disturbed when we fail to maximize the number of lives save per dollar of risk remediation. They point out that actions taken by government to avoid the consequences of an alleged hazard are often unrelated to the severity or scientific validity of the hazard (EPA 1982; Breyer 1993; Graham and Wiener 1995; Mazur 1998). The inference is that policy should be better aligned with science, and that irrational or inefficient elements of policymaking should be eliminated (but see Mazur 1995 and Driesen 2001 for limitations on this positions).

Yet public policy does not always flow directly from scientific knowledge. A value-laden subject decision is always involved, one that requires weighing pros and cons, costs and benefits, winners and losers. A wise policy choice for one party with certain interest may not be the wisest choice for a party with different interests. These considerations raise a question: does scientific evaluation of a warning matter at all?

Essentially two models show how science is applied to public policy. The first – call it the "knowledge model" – assumes that scientists can obtain approximately true answers to their research questions with methods that are fairly objective. This knowledge is used to inform public policy. For example, scientists can determine the health risks from exposure to fluoride at levels adequate to prevent cavities. Policy makers then use this finding as one factor in deciding whether to add fluoride to community drinking water. Such decisions cannot follow from facts alone, but facts ought to influence outcomes. If health risk is high, that should help shift the decision against fluoridation; if low, that should encourage fluoridation. The model makes no sense to anyone who denies that science can find correct answers.

The second model – the "politics model" – can be applied whatever one’s view concerning the objectivity of science. Here partisans use scientific findings as political capital to sway policy in the direction they prefer. If such partisans favor fluoridation, they will claim there is little health risk; if they oppose it, they claim a high health risk. I makes no difference if the findings are correct, objective, or honest as long as they are persuasive. The actors bury findings that work against their position, or attack them as invalid or inapplicable. In the politics model, scientific claims are used polemically, just like any other kind of political argumentation (Mazur 1998; Brown 1991).

The politics model has many proponents. Partisans in a particular controversy often see their goal as sufficiently important to justify any interpretation of scientific data that is favorable to their cause. During breaks from writing this final chapter, I am reading John McPhee’s (1971) laudable biography of David Brower, a major environmentalist of the postwar period. McPhee repeatedly describes Brower’s habit of making up “facts” to support his arguments against industrialists and developers. The biographer seems to regard this as an endearing tactic of the "archdruid" in his advocacy for wilderness preservation. Like McPhee, we sympathize with those who fight the good fight, accepting their argumentation when in other contexts it would be vexing.

But the politics model loses its appeal if applied to the entire array of technical controversies affecting policy. Science that is sufficiently malleable to serve any position in one controversy can serve any position in all controversies, and in that event science does not matter at all. The famous parable of “the tragedy of the commons” tells how each shepherd maximized his own herd’s grazing on the village green until no grass remained for anyone (Hardin 1968). In the same way, if each technical expert interprets data for his or her own convenience, with no attempt at objectivity, there will be no experts left with unimpeachable credibility, and we will all suffer for it. [emphasis added]


January 31, 2007

The Cherry Pick

I am doing a lot of travel this week, and that means lots of time in airports with a wireless connection. So apologies for the bloggarea . . . all this discussion of cherry picking has led me to think it would be worth pointing to an earlier essay on this topic:

The Cherry Pick, May, 2004

Do note that this essay was written almost three years ago before I really figured out the language of "honest brokers of policy alternatives" that you'll see in my new book.

Posted on January 31, 2007 12:14 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

Even More: Mr. Issa’s Confusion and a Comment on Budget Politics

At the Waxman hearing yesterday one of the more unproductive exchanges was between Mr. Issa and Dr. Brifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The UCS released a report chronicling responses to a request for information from climate scientists about their perceptions about politics and science. Mr. Issa focused on the statistical power of the survey, which is the wrong way to look at it. The responses were the responses. They are not evidence of a larger population – the responses ARE the population. That being said the UCS supports my own contention that politics and science are inherently intermixed.

The UCS survey does have its own problems. For instance it lumped in budget issues as political interference. Dr. Shindell also did this at the end of the hearing. If not giving scientists enough money is evidence of political interference then what isn’t? Here are some representative examples cited in the UCS report about how to improve climate science “integrity” (p. 22):

”I believe that climate research at NASA is being undermined by the current administration. This is accomplished not through direct threats of intimidation, but through lack of funding. . .”

“The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has not received sufficient funding . . .”

“Problems with climate research in the federal government mainly have to do with funding . . .”

“I have not worked directly on climate change since funding was eliminated in my area. Other areas of much less importance have been emphasized as a result.”

“Funding for climate research is a factor of 5-10 below critical mass to develop a designed climate observing system.”

[This last one is my favorite - $10-$20 billion, right!]

By adding the politics of the budget process into the mix the UCS has revealed that climate science is indeed very political indeed.

Additional Reactions – Waxman Hearing

Here are a few additional thoughts on yesterday’s hearing and reactions to it.

Here are some impressions – and they are just speculations -- on the politics of the issue of "science suppression" and where it might be headed. First, one notable feature of yesterday’s hearing that you only would have noticed if you were there or watched was the reaction of Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican. He seemed pretty ticked off at the hearing at the testimony of Rick Piltz in particular and gave him a brief hard time. Mr. Shays commented that he came to the hearing expecting to hear about science suppression but that he had instead heard minor complaints about report edits in a partisan context. He may have been posturing (always possible), but if he was indeed sincere, then Mr. Waxman may have to engage in a bit of logrolling to maintain/retain any sense of bipartisanship in this area of oversight.

Second, the hearing has received a lot of media attention; it even overshadowed the Senate hearing the same day on climate policy. This is of course good for Mr. Waxman and increases pressures on the Bush Administration. But it also raises the bar for future attention pretty high. What does the committee do next? They could invite a few more agency officials, Jim Hansen comes to mind, but there would be a good chance, from a media perspective, of being the same story, which may not generate the same buzz.

Third, President Bush is a lame (very lame) duck, and the presidential election season is getting closer every day. There is not much time available for oversight investigation of any sort. Meantime, the principle bad guys in the story in the Bush Administration have resigned or moved on (in one case to ExxonMobil). Both NASA and NOAA have changed their media policies (for the better?). The Union of Concerned Scientists continues to release reports indicating that science and politics intermix, but if they don’t watch out, they might do such a good job that people might start thinking that . . . science and politics intermix. The Bush Administration can stonewall Mr. Waxman’s request for documents for a long time, and I wouldn’t bet that Mr. Waxman would issue subpoenas on this issue, since the lack of responsiveness by the Administration is almost certainly just a politically useful as the documents themselves. For all of these reasons it seems like there will be diminishing political returns to the issue of "science suppression" especially in the context of Mr. Waxman’s interest in other areas of oversight with more political traction, like the war in Iraq.

For the above reasons, I speculate – and it is just speculation – that we have seen the high water mark on Congressional attention to the issue of “science suppression.” I hope that I am wrong. It would be very informative and useful for Mr. Waxman to bring in media relations officials from various science agencies to examine what they do and how they do it. But I am not expecting this to happen. It is more likely that some other committee, such as the Science Committee takes up aspects of this issue if only to demonstrate ownership of their own turf. Therefore, for the Waxman committee I will put the over/under on future hearings on science suppression at one (bumped up from 0.5).

Finally, I fully expect that scientists who are exploiting their authority to advance their political views do not appreciate someone pointing out the close relation of science and politics. This also goes for those advocates who argue for their political agenda based on an appeal to objective, impartial authorities. Telling enough is that most public responses to my testimony along these lines have carefully avoided responding to anything that I actually wrote. I expect the loudest public complaints from those scientists most active politically. There is a stark contrast between what I see on the web versus what is in my inbox, which is reassuring.

January 30, 2007

Instant Reaction – Waxman Hearing

There is much I could say about the hearing today. Apparently parts of it were on C-Span and will be replayed, and I think the streaming video is available for anyone who wants to subject themselves to four hours inside the sausage factory . . . .

For me the most interesting set of exchanges illustrated exactly the dynamics I discussed in my prepared testimony (available here in PDF). First, Representative McCollum spent some time getting NASA’s Drew Shindell on record explaining that the views of Soon and Baliunas (two scientists who wrote a controversial paper cited by the White House in opposition to the findings of the IPCC) did not and could not overturn the IPCC consensus. (I completely agree with this point.) Dr. Shidell gave in far to easy (and contributed) to the discussion that because the scientists in question had the wrong degrees, that they need not be taken seriously. (I disagree with that – science should be judged on its merits.)

Then, Rep. Welch, apparently not even appreciating the irony, took issue with my invocation in my testimony of the WMO consensus statement on tropical cyclones, which has recently been endorsed by the AMS Executive Council. I pointed out that the Committee's background memo was highly selective in its presentation of hurricane science, which seems fairly obvious, but which they apparently did not like me doing. He claimed that they had just emailed Judy Curry and Michael Mann, and they had written back, apparently both taking issue with the WMO Consensus! In fact, according to Mr. Welch Dr. CUrry's and Dr. Mann's views are more representative of the state of the science than that expressed by the WMO. (Judy and Mike are welcome to share their emails to the Committee here if they’d like.) Surprise, surprise – they could find some experts who disagreed with the WMO consensus!

Did he not see that he was doing the exact same thing that Rep. McCollum was criticizing the White House for? I tried to point out this irony, not sure if I made the point very well. (Dr. Shindell illustrated that he doesn’t know much about the hurricane community when he asserted that Michael Mann is a leading hurricane/climate scientist whose views should be taken over the WMO, but maybe he misspoke or I misheard.) I stick to my views, as if there is any area of science I know well it is the hurricane/climate debate.

Henry Waxman tried to salvage the exchange by pointing out that I am in fact a "political scientist" so what the hell do I know about hurricanes anyway;-) Hey, if you can’t win on the facts attack the man. I believe that strategy speaks for itself quite loudly.

I am not sure what Mr. Waxman thinks he accomplished with this hearing other further politicizing the issue of science politicization. The whole exercise seems to prove that the politicization of science is endemic, as I argued in my testimony. If Mr. Waxman was interested in actually improving policies governing science he’d haul down agency press officers and those responsible for the process of approving government reports to focus on actual processes. The repeated calls for science and politics to be separate are just empty exhortations without discussion of actual policies.

Waxman Hearing Testimony - Oral Remarks

Here are my remarks as prepared for delivery at 10AM today at the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. They might still change. They are pretty brief, as I only have 5 minutes. Here is the fully referenced written testimony [pdf], which goes into a lot more detail.

I thank the Chairman and the Committee for the opportunity to offer testimony this morning. I am a professor at the University of Colorado and also director of the university’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. A short biography with more details can be found at the end of my written testimony.

My main point today is that politics and science cannot in practice be separated. Consequently, policies for the production, promotion, and use of information in decision making should be based on the realities of science in politics, and not on the mistaken impression that they can somehow be kept separate. Efforts to separate them will in most case only contribute to the pathological politicization of science.

Imagine the following situation:

The president has in his administration a range of scientific experts on the most important policy issue of the day. However, the president is denied access to that advice by the manipulative actions of one of his primary advisors, who we’ll call "the Admiral." It turns out that the Admiral has the president’s ear on matters of science but he himself has in fact never had any formal scientific training. He justifies his actions on the belief that United States is engaged in a fundamental religious, political, and economic conflict between good and evil. When two leading government scientists seek to provide advice to the president that differs from that being offered by the Admiral, the Admiral asks the FBI to open investigations of these scientists. One of the scientists subsequently faces hearings to consider his lack of loyalty to the United States and he never again works as a government scientist. The other scientist warns that this case indicated to scientists that

"scientific integrity and frankness in advising government on policy matters of a technical nature can lead to later reprisals against those whose earlier opinions have become unpopular."

One of the nation’s leading scientist writes that the relationship between government and scientists has been "gravely damaged" because the government has given the impression that it would "exclude anyone who does not conform to the judgment of those who in one way or another have acquired authority."

The year? 1954
The President? Dwight Eisenhower
The Admiral? Lewis Strauss
The Scientists? Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, and Vannevar Bush

This vignette drawn from Benjamin Green’s excellent new book Eisenhower, Science Advice, and the Nuclear Test-Ban Debate, 1945-1963 (Stanford University Press, 2007), along with the other examples recounted in my written testimony discussing issues of science and politics from presidential administrations from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton, show that science and politics have always been issues of concern for policy makers. And the subject of today’s hearing indicates that today is no different.

There are however reasons why today’s conflicts are receiving more attention from scholars, political advocates, and politicians.

1. There are an increasing number of important issues which are related to science and technology in some way.
2. Policy makers increasingly invoke expertise to justify a course of action that they advocate.
3. Advocacy groups increasingly rely on experts to justify their favored course of action.
4. Congress, at least for the past six years, and perhaps longer has been derelict in its oversight duties, particularly related to issues of science and technology.
5. Many scientists are increasingly engaging in political advocacy.
6. Some issues of science have become increasingly partisan as some politicians sense that there is political gain to be found such as on stem cells, teaching of evolution, and climate change.
7. The Bush Administration has engaged in hyper-controlling strategies for the management of information.

I’ll now give just several very short vignettes which illustrate how fundamentally science and politics are inter-related.

The language of science in public discussions lends itself to politicization. For instance, The New York Times reported last year that scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had complained because they had been instructed to use the phrase "climate change" rather than the phrase "global warming." A Republican strategy memo did recommend use of the phrase "climate change" over "global warming”" and environmental groups have long had the opposite preference. Another federal scientist, at NOAA, described how he was instructed by superiors not to use the word "Kyoto" or "climate change."

To cite another example, several years ago the Union of Concerned Scientists, as part of its advocacy campaign on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recommended the use of the word "harbinger" to describe current climate events that may become more frequent with future global warming. Subsequently scientists at NOAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Fish and Wildlife Service's Polar Bear Project began to use the phrase in their public communication in concert with advocacy groups like Greenpeace. The term has also appeared in official government press releases. Policy makers and their staff are of course intimately familiar with these dynamics : we have just recently seen them in practice as Republicans and Democrats have battled over framing President Bush’s proposed troop increases in Iraq as a "surge" or as an "escalation."

An example of how easy it is to misrepresent science in a political setting, consider the memorandum prepared last week by the majority staff of this Committee to provide background information on this hearing. The memorandum states, quite correctly, that "a consensus has emerged on the basic science of global warming." It then goes on to assert that:

". . . recently published studies have suggested that the impacts [of global warming] include increases in the intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms . . .."

It supports this claim by citing three papers. But what the memorandum does not relate is that authors of each of the three cited studies recently participated with about 120 experts from around the world to prepare a consensus statement under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) which concluded that "no consensus has been reached on this issue."

The WMO Statement was subsequently endorsed by the Executive Council of the American Meteorological Society. Thus, the science cited in the Committee memo is incomplete and misleading. Such cherry picking and misrepresentations of science are endemic in political discussions involving science.

What has occurred in the preparation of this memorandum is in microcosm exactly the same sort of thing that we have seen with heavy-handed Bush administration information management strategies which include editing government reports and overbearing management of agency press releases and media contacts with scientists. Inevitably, such ham-handed information management will backfire, because people will notice and demand accountability. This oversight hearing today is good evidence for that.

My written testimony goes into far more detail on issues of press releases, agency media policies, empanelment of federal advisory committees, and other subjects which I would be happy to discuss with you further,

Thank you.

January 29, 2007

Mike Hulme on Avery and Singer

Over at Post-Normal Times the Tyndall Centre's Mike Hulme has a thought-provoking review of a recent book by Dennis Avery and Fred Singer. Here is an excerpt:

Too often the reasons we disagree about what to do about climate change are framed in this way, as disputes about the truth claims of some aspect of biogeophysical science – is the world warming; are greenhouse gases responsible; will this ice-sheet collapse? This reflects one view of science, the conventional Enlightenment view of science as an objective, disinterested endeavour incrementally leading us closer and closer to a universal and immutable view of reality … past, present and future. This is ‘normal’ science.

But for many years now, around 25 at least, philosophers and practitioners of science have identified a different mode of scientific activity, a mode where stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken. This is what Silvio Funtowicz labelled in 1993 ‘post-normal’ science. Disputes in post-normal science focus as often on the process of science – who gets funded, who evaluates quality, who has the ear of policy - as on the facts of science. The IPCC is a classic example of a post-normal scientific activity. The IPCC is a large procedural assessment activity involving first of all scientists, but then later entraining a broad range of other experts from government, business, civil society to evaluate the quality of the assessment, before the modified text is presented to government representatives for their amendment and approval.

But there is also a third way of interpreting contemporary science, which is yet one further step removed from the binary truth-falsehood view of Singer and Avery. This third way of seeing science pays more attention to the social and cultural context in which science works and speaks than to the phenomena being studied. Who are the scientists, what are their values, motives and preferences, why are they being asked to study this particular problem rather than some other problem, and who funds them? This understanding of science is what sociologists have termed its social construction.

Read the whole thing.

Congressional Testimony

I am scheduled to testify at this hearing tomorrow on "political interference in the work of government climate change scientists." Should be interesting. My testimony will be posted here tomorrow morning. If we come across a link to the streaming video, we'll post in the comments. Stay tuned . . .

Science and Politics of Food

The New York Times Sunday Magazine has an excellent and provocative article on the science and politics of food by Michael Pollan. Here is an excerpt, but read the whole thing:

Most nutritional science involves studying one nutrient at a time, an approach that even nutritionists who do it will tell you is deeply flawed. “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, the New York University nutritionist, "is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle."

If nutritional scientists know this, why do they do it anyway? Because a nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another. So if you’re a nutritional scientist, you do the only thing you can do, given the tools at your disposal: break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring complex interactions and contexts, as well as the fact that the whole may be more than, or just different from, the sum of its parts. This is what we mean by reductionist science.

Scientific reductionism is an undeniably powerful tool, but it can mislead us too, especially when applied to something as complex as, on the one side, a food, and on the other, a human eater. It encourages us to take a mechanistic view of that transaction: put in this nutrient; get out that physiological result. Yet people differ in important ways. Some populations can metabolize sugars better than others; depending on your evolutionary heritage, you may or may not be able to digest the lactose in milk. The specific ecology of your intestines helps determine how efficiently you digest what you eat, so that the same input of 100 calories may yield more or less energy depending on the proportion of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes living in your gut. There is nothing very machinelike about the human eater, and so to think of food as simply fuel is wrong.

Also, people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain. Researchers have long believed, based on epidemiological comparisons of different populations, that a diet high in fruits and vegetables confers some protection against cancer. So naturally they ask, What nutrients in those plant foods are responsible for that effect? One hypothesis is that the antioxidants in fresh produce — compounds like beta carotene, lycopene, vitamin E, etc. — are the X factor. It makes good sense: these molecules (which plants produce to protect themselves from the highly reactive oxygen atoms produced in photosynthesis) vanquish the free radicals in our bodies, which can damage DNA and initiate cancers. At least that’s how it seems to work in the test tube. Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the whole foods they’re found in, as we’ve done in creating antioxidant supplements, they don’t work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Big oops.

January 25, 2007

IPCC, Policy Neutrality, and Political Advocacy

We have commented in the past here about how the leadership of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has flouted its own guidance to be "policy neutral" by engaging in overt political advocacy on climate change. The comments by its Director Rajendra Pachauri reported today again highlight this issue:

I hope this [forthcoming IPCC] report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action as you really can't get a more authentic and a more credible piece of scientific work.

Imagine, by contrast, if the Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, another organization with an agenda to be "policy neutral," were reported in the media to say of the agency’s latest assessment on Iran, "I hope that the report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action." He would be looking for a new job in no time, I am sure. Why should climate change be treated differently?

The past reaction to my comments on political advocacy by IPCC leadership has been mixed. Some who share the IPCC's advocated agenda see no problem in the IPCC leadership engaging in such advocacy. Who wouldn’t want such a group perceived as authoritative and legitimate on their side? (Similarly, I am sure neo-cons would welcome a CIA Director advocating action on Iran!) By contrast some opposed to the advocated agenda have seized upon the obvious inconsistency in the IPCC’s views on "neutrality" to try to impinge the credibility of the organization. From my perspective, while both of these perspectives are to be expected (and I am sure will make their views known in response), there is a third view that matters most -- and that is the question of the appropriate role of organized expertise in decision making, whether it is the CIA or IPCC. This last view is quite independent of (or it should be) what one thinks about the issues of climate policy.

It seems obvious that if the IPCC leadership is inconsistent in its statements on "policy neutrality" then it does risk becoming perceived as an organized interest, not unlike an NGO, which will eat away at its own authority and independence, which derives in no small part from its claims to "neutrality." The IPCC could correct this perception (or reality) of inconsistent behavior by removing its goal of being "policy neutral" and openly admit a political agenda that it is advocating. Alternatively, the IPCC's leaders could eschew public discussions of what they prefer for political outcomes. Neither of these options seems particularly realistic. A formal departure from stated "neutrality" would harm the IPCC’s credibility, so it won’t do that. And the temptation to use scientific authority as a tool of politics is very strong, and won’t stop unless scientific leaders in the IPCC suggest that it should stop.

The best option of all, and which I recognize is fanciful dreaming on my part, would be for the IPCC to present decision makers with a wide range of policy options and their consequences, recognizing that the IPCC is an advisory body, not an advocacy group. There should be room in public discourse on climate change for an authoritative group to comprehensively assess options and their consequences, recognizing that advisors advise and decision makers decide. The tension between the IPCC's stated objective of "policy neutrality" and behavior by its leaders that is decided "non-neutral" is unlikely be sustainable. The IPCC should come to grips with what it means by "policy neutral."

January 22, 2007

Pielke’s Comments on Houston Chronicle Story

Kevin Vranes and I are quoted in a Houston Chronicle story today on the "overselling" of climate science. Kevin just posted his reactions. I have a few reactions as well.

First, I was surprised to see the following quote from NAS President Ralph Cicerone, which I had not seen before:

I think we understand the mechanisms of CO2 and climate better than we do of what causes lung cancer. ... In fact, it is fair to say that global warming may be the most carefully and fully studied scientific topic in human history.

Not only is this absurd on its face, it is politically dangerous for those wanting action on climate change. Consider another similar statement along these lines from RealClimate’s Ray Pierrehumbert:

On the subject of controversy and evidence for evolution vs. evidence for CO2-induced global warming, I'd say both are well supported but that in some ways the case for anthropogenic global warming is a bit more straightforward. That's because its mostly physical science rather than biology. We have quantitative mathematical representations of far more of the process, and ways of testing individual bits in a more straightforward way (as in laboratory measurements of infrared absorption by CO2). Evolution proceeds slowly, and while there are definitely cases where it can be observed in action, reading the fossil record presents difficulties that are in some ways more challenging than reading the paleoclimate record. There are cases where the difficulties are comparable (e.g. figuring out Cretaceous CO2 levels, or making sense of satellite measurements of tropical lapse rate trends) but on the whole, we know how to take a reductionist approach to climate better than we know how to take a reductionist approach to biology. [Emphasis added. -Ed.]

The comparisons by Drs. Cicerone and Pierrehumbert to smoking and evolution are of course political comments in the guise of science. The thinking appears to be that if you accept certain political action on smoking and evolution, then you necessarily must accept certain political action on climate change because the scientific cases in smoking and evolution are weaker than in climate change yet we take certain actions in those cases. Talk about overselling . . .

The political danger is of course that it is quite appropriate to take issue with the fundamental premise of these statements and use that to argue that we shouldn't be taking action on climate change until the science is as certain as smoking or evolution. Then one is caught up debating . . . guess what . . . the science of climate change in relation to evolution and smoking, and not policy actions in the face of fundamental uncertainties. I don't care if climate science is or is not more certain than evolution or smoking, it doesn;t matter one bit for the case for action.

Second, it is interesting to see Judy Curry, a frequent commenter here, offering some support for Kevin Vranes’ views about their being some tension in the community. Of course, she is well positioned to know given that the hurricane community has seen more than its fair share of such tensions.

Finally, I’m quoted at the end of the story as follows:

"I can understand how a scientist without tenure can feel the community pressures," says environmental scientist Roger Pielke Jr., a colleague of Vranes' at the University of Colorado.

Pielke says he has felt pressure from his peers: A prominent scientist angrily accused him of being a skeptic, and a scientific journal editor asked him to "dampen" the message of a peer-reviewed paper to derail skeptics and business interests.

"The case for action on climate science, both for energy policy and adaptation, is overwhelming," Pielke says. "But if we oversell the science, our credibility is at stake."

For those wanting more details about pressures I’ve personally experienced, please have a look at this post.

January 15, 2007

Common Sense in the Climate Debate

Here is a column by Cathy Young in the Boston Globe that (obviously) I think is pretty much on target.

Ms. Young cites a blog post by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy studies at UCLA and a blogger (two appealing characteristics, if I say so myself) which can be found here.

December 16, 2006

Climate Change Hearings and Policy Issues

Ryan Meyer, a PhD student at ASU's Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes and collaborator in our SPARC project, has a letter in the current issue of Science.

Here is Ryan's letter:

The Random Samples item "As earth warms, Congress listens" (6 Oct., p. 29) ends with a proclamation by the National Resources Defense Council's David Doniger that climate change hearings "don't do anything." Although Doniger's frustrations are understandable, his lament misses a crucial point: In fact, it is precisely what climate hearings actually do that so badly hinders policy progress.

Climate change hearings are held because the issue is deeply divisive. As Nobelist Herbert Simon reminded us, "when an issue becomes highly controversial--when it is surrounded by uncertainties and conflicting values--then expertness is very hard to come by, and it is no longer easy to legitimate the experts" (1). Studies of discourse in these settings, including my own analysis of examples from the last 15 years (2-4), show, for example, that discussions of uncertainty have had the dual effect of justifying increased research funding while delaying policy decisions--a win for both the scientists and the politicians!

Scientists must recognize that when they testify at such hearings, they are participating in a political event, not a scientific one. When issues are highly polarized, a hearing may be a useful tool for adding to the public record or building support for a particular policy position, but it should not be seen as a way to impose scientific rationality on politics.

Ryan M. Meyer
Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-4401, USA

References

1. H. A. Simon, Reason in Human Affairs (Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA, 1983), p. 97.
2. S. Shackley, P. Young, S. Parkinson, B. Wynne, Clim. Change 38, 159 (1998).
3. J. van der Sluijs, J. van Eijndhoven, S. Shackley, B. Wynne, Social Stud. Sci. 28, 291 (Apr. 1998).
4. R. Meyer, Perspect. Public Affairs 3, 85 (Spring 2006).

The article of Ryan's that he refers to is titled, "Intractable Debate: Why Congressional hearings on climate fail to advance policy" and can be found here in PDF. Do pay attention. Ryan is someone I expect that we'll be hearing much more from.

December 15, 2006

Useable Information for Policy

Twenty-two members of Congress have written a letter to the head of the Climate Change Science Program observing that the program is failing to fulfill its mandate under Public Law 101-606 to deliver useable information for policy makers. This is good news.

The letter observes that the Bush Administration has failed to produce an assessment as required by the law, which is supposed to be delivered every four years. This situation is analogous to the behavior of the Clinton Administration which produced a single assessment in 2000, which was six years overdue. The assessment produced by the Clinton Administration was produced within OSTP under the nominal leadership of Al Gore which – rightly or wrongly – put a partisan tint on the product. Some – both on the right and the left -- continue to use the 2000 assessment six years later as a political wedge device.

The letter from the members of Congress observes:

. . . the current CCSP [Climate Change Science Program] website acknowledges that the law directs the agencies to "produce information readily useable by policy makers attempting to formulate effective strategies for preventing, mitigating, and adapting to the effects of global change," . . . The failure of the CCSP to produce a National Assessment report within the time frame required by law has made it more difficult for Congress to develop a comprehensive policy response to the challenge of global climate change.

The CCSP is currently producing 20 different assessment reports but according to the program’s previous direction, the CCSP does not engage in discussion of policy options. It is pretty difficult to produce usable information for policy makers without discussing policy options.

Does the Bush Administration want to avoid disucssion of policy options on climate change? Yes. Did the Clinton Administration also want to avoid discussion of policy options on climate change? Yes. Has much of the scientific community also wanted to avoid discussion of policy options on climate change? Yes. Sounds like a perfect situation for congressional oversight.

The policy failures of the CCSP have nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans, and everything to do with the structure of scientific advice implemented under the CCSP and its predecessor organization. Why do I say this? Because in 1994 I defended my doctoral dissertation on implementation of the climate science program under Public Law 101-606, and the exact same issues involving "usable information for policy" identified by the current letter from the 22 members of Congress existed at that time as well.

It is good to see Congress finally invoking the language in P.L 101-606 calling for usable information for policy makers. This is a matter of the effective governance of science in support of decision making, and it should not be dragged into partisan political bickering. The bipartisan letter from 22 members of Congress is a good place to start.

For details see:

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1995: Usable Information for Policy: An Appraisal of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Policy Sciences, 38, 39-77. (PDF)

Letter from 22 members of Congress to CCSP, courtesy of E&E Daily (PDF)

Senator Coal and King Coal

A few items on my desk related to coal are worth mentioning.

First, there has been some recent discussion about a letter from Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to Exxon-Mobil. I saw it and didn’t think much of it. Politicians politicize. I don’t see the letter as an affront to free speech, quashing Exxon’s right to speech, or having much at all to do with science. What I did find interesting however was Senator Rockefeller’s response to a hometown newspaper taking him to task for writing the letter. In the letter Senator Rockefeller makes the following comment:

We didn't "attempt to squelch debate," as the Daily Mail suggested. Rather, our letter was, in fact, an attempt to create and foster greater debate.

And part of that debate, I believe, requires calling attention to Exxon-Mobil's funding of a pseudoscientific community whose purpose is to prevent us from tackling global climate change.

ExxonMobil is out of step even with its own industry. Other oil companies have explicitly acknowledged global climate change and are moving to develop and support new energy technologies and solutions.

Thankfully for West Virginia, clean coal technology is at the heart of these solutions. And I don't intend to allow deliberate misinformation to undermine our push for major national investments in the clean coal research and facilities that can help solve this problem.

The reality is that we need to have a free and honest debate about how we're going to address a problem that threatens to be of epic proportions.

So Mr. Rockefeller is using the issue of scientific integrity as a means to advance the interests of the coal industry over the oil and gas industry. In other words, he is politicizing the politicization of science. Presumably, Exxon doesn’t have too many jobs in West Virginia. Politics makes strange bedfellows, of course, but I do wonder how Mr. Rockefeller’s views play with those who don’t buy into the idea of "clean coal" such as Dave Roberts at Grist Magazine who keeps telling us that "Coal is the enemy of the human race." It seems like the strongest political consensus on climate change these days is that Exxon is bad; after that, it all breaks down.

This brings me to my second point on coal. I have sitting on my desk yet-to-be-read a book titled Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy (Cambridge, 2007) by Marc Jaccard of Simon Fraser University. The book’s blurbs include positive statements from a crowd of people as varied as Bill Hare (formerly Greenpeace, now PIK) who recommends the book but "remains unconvinced," David Hawkins (NRDC), and the CEO of the World Coal Institute. Spiked-Online has a short essay from Prof. Jaccard, and here is an excerpt:

Some argue that fossil fuels should be abandoned because there are superior alternatives - energy efficiency, nuclear power and renewables such as wind, solar and hydropower. The aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency is desirable. But around the world, humans continue to crave ever-greater access to energy. The global energy system was 16 times larger in 2000 than in 1900. Two billion people today are without electricity and modern fuels, and by 2100 their offspring will be four billion. These people use less than one gigajoule of energy per year while a typical American uses over 300. Even with dramatic energy efficiency gains in wealthier countries, a subsistence level of 30 gigajoules for the planet’s poorer people will still require a three-fold expansion of the energy system during this century. Scale-up is the major challenge for nuclear power and renewable energy. Fossil fuels currently account for 84 per cent of the global energy system. Nuclear is at two per cent and renewables - mostly burning of wood and agricultural residues - at 14 per cent.

The wholesale replacement of fossil fuels in just one century will require a phenomenal expansion. The nuclear industry should grow, but its pace is limited by challenges in siting new facilities, storing radioactive waste and preventing nuclear weapons proliferation. Most renewable energy has low energy density and variable production, which increases land-use conflicts and capital costs.

An essential effort in research and development will decrease the costs of renewables. But zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least this century. Acceptance of this economic reality means admitting that fossil fuels should be not be regarded as a foe, but rather humanity’s best friend in its quest for a clean, enduring and affordable energy system. Long live the king!

I’ll have more comments after I’ve read his book, but it is safe to say that we’ll be with fossil fuels for a long while.

December 14, 2006

New Bridges Article on 110th Congress

The December issue of Bridges is out, and it includes my column, this time on what we might expect on science and technology policy from the 110th Congress.

But do read the whole issue. Bridges is one of the top publications you'll find anywhere on science and technology policy.

December 13, 2006

Dan Sarewitz - Lies We Must Live With

Dan Sarewitz, a professor at ASU and faculty affiliate at the CU Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, has penned a thought-provoking essay on science and religion in the latest CSPO Newsletter. Here is an excerpt, but do read the whole thing (and bring your thinking cap).

Now the most serious conflicts among humans are all, at root, conflicts about how to balance a variety of moral concerns such as justice, equality, and liberty. So, when scientists argue that the world would be better off without religion, then they are also arguing that humans would be better able to solve their deepest and most vexing problems in the absence of religion. A slightly different way to make the scientific claim is this: Moral discourse among those who don’t believe in ultimate meaning will yield more satisfactory results for society than if such discourse also includes believers.

But what difference does it make if you trace your morals and values to a non-existent supernatural authority, or if you trace them to biochemically and culturally determined cognitive processes? There may be a psychological difference—the difference between delusion and realism—but neither position, according to the scientific perspective, can make a claim to moral authority; both are irrational in the scientific sense. So the key point here cannot be the fact that believers are delusional about the source of their beliefs, rather it must be that, in being delusional, believers’ beliefs are less good than nonbelievers’ beliefs.

Why, then, should scientists expect that the world would be a better place if moral discourse was dominated by people who don’t believe in god than if it was dominated by believers? The answer is obvious: because the scientists making this argument are people who don’t believe in god! So of course they think that if they made all the important choices the world would be better!! They’d be making the choices!!! In other words, this is a political claim, not an a priori statement about rationality. This must be the case because there is, from the serious scientific perspective, no authoritatively rational solution to moral dilemmas, there are only political solutions. Put somewhat differently, science’s claim to ultimate knowledge is precisely what robs it of any legitimate claim to special privilege in public, and moral, discourse.

Dan ends the piece as follows:

The challenge here to scientism is as profound as the challenge to fundamentalism. From a scientific perspective, views rooted in supernatural explanations are views rooted in lies. This may be factually correct, but the rigors of pluralistic discourse demand that these lies have a seat at the table, right along side the neurologically and evolutionarily contingent preferences of the highly rational. This is not a matter of principle but of logic tempered by experience. There is no reason to believe that good moral reasoning derives from the scientific rigor of one’s views of ultimate causation. There are some lies that society cannot do without.

The antidote to irrationality is not its contrary, but its plural. It’s about inclusiveness, pluralism, democracy, not about rationality versus irrationality. The problem with fundamentalists is not God but fundamentalism. Conflating fundamentalism with all of religion is like conflating particle physics with all of science. Fundamentalists and physicists might like to claim that they alone occupy the solid ground of ultimate authority, but the rest of us know differently. A world run by like-thinking scientists is as horrific to contemplate as one run by like-thinking evangelicals.

The only questions I have is, when is this guy going to get a MacArthur Grant already?

Read the whole thing.

December 11, 2006

You Just Can't Say Such Things Redux

From today's Rocky Mountain News still more evidence that the climate debate is spiraling out of control:

A federal climate scientist in Boulder says his boss told him never to utter the word Kyoto and tried to bar him from using the phrase climate change at a conference.

The allegations come as federal investigators probe whether Bush administration officials tried to block government scientists from speaking freely about global warming and attempted to censor their research.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement - never ratified by the United States and opposed by the Bush administration - that requires nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming.

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Boulder laboratory, said the ban on using the word Kyoto was issued about four years ago.

"We were under instructions not to use the word Kyoto, which of course is absurd," said Tans, who measures levels of carbon dioxide at NOAA's Global Monitoring Division. He has worked for the agency since 1990.

Tans said the order was issued verbally by his boss, David Hofmann, the division director. Another senior researcher at the Boulder laboratory, NOAA physicist James Elkins, said Hofmann told him the same thing.

Elkins studies greenhouse gases and has worked at NOAA for more than 20 years. He said he can't remember when the directive was issued, but it was "probably in 2000 or 2001."

"When I asked why we weren't supposed to use Kyoto, I was told that we're not supposed to use it in the policy context," Elkins said. "I'm not supposed to be talking about policy."

Hofmann, however, called the allegations "nonsense" and said there was no ban on using the word Kyoto.

"I never said it specifically in those words," Hofmann said. "I probably said that since the Kyoto Protocol is not ratified - is not part of the U.S. program - stay away from talking about Kyoto when you give a presentation."

"It has nothing to do with the science we're doing here," Hofmann said of Kyoto.

The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 and went into effect in February 2005, following ratification by Russia.

Elkins said the prohibition against using the word was lifted after Russia ratified the protocol.

"Once Russia signed Kyoto, it was a done deal," he said.

You Just Can’t Say Such Things

Larry Summers learned the hard way that there are some things that you just don’t do in a university setting. Nancy Greene Raine, Chancellor of Thompson River University in Canada who also was a gold medalist skier in the 1960s, is learning the same lessons.

From the Kamloops Daily News last Saturday via a weblog:

University professors outraged by comments from TRU chancellor Nancy Greene Raine, who expressed doubt on climate change in a national media broadcast, met with her in a hastily called session Friday afternoon.

The meeting was arranged by senior administration at Thompson Rivers University following a cascade of e-mails among faculty concerned that her opinion reflects poorly on the university.

Penny Powers, a professor in the school of nursing confirmed earlier Friday she had been called to the meeting with Raine.

'One of the most important goals of a university is to instill in the students an ability to assess the evidence for and against claims of any kind,' she wrote in an e-mail to faculty.

'What kind of role model do we put in place when the chancellor herself gives poorly-considered credence to widely discredited extremist opinions such as these?' . . .

Charles Hays a professor of journalism at TRU, wrote in a message to colleagues that Greene Raine cannot be the symbolic head of the university and make statements that run counter to the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion.

'And as chancellor, she has accepted a role as the symbolic head of the university. In that role, she owes it to the university not to make statements of opinion and expect that they will be perceived as merely the words of a private citizen.'

The Daily News was unable to reach anyone for comment on what took place during the meeting between faculty and Greene Raine.

What was it that the Chancellor said that set off this firestorm?

. . . another big name in Canadian skiing cautioned that people shouldn't push the panic button.

"I am very suspicious now when I see people make blanket statements because there are two sides to every issue," said Nancy Greene Raine, an Olympic gold medallist in the 1960s who has helped develop some of the top skiing resorts in British Columbia since her retirement.

"And in science there's almost never black and white. We don't know what next week's weather going to be. To say in 50 or 100 years, the temperature is going to do this, is a bit of a stretch for me."


December 06, 2006

That Didn't Take Long -- Misrepresenting Hurricane Science

Now that the WMO has issued a consensus statement on the state of climate science, scientists should be careful in how they characterize the overall state of the science. I have complete respect for scientists who have strong views on what the data, models, and theory shows, and fully expect them to make their case to their colleagues and others. However, scientists also should be careful not to represent their own views as in fact representing a consensus of the community when they do not, especially when making arguments for political action.

Here is an example of a scientist involved in the hurricane debate, Michael Mann of Penn State, making a demonstrably incorrect statement about the state of understanding of hurricanes and climate change six days after the WMO issued its consensus statement on tropical cyclones and climate change:

It is the increasingly widespread belief by researchers that increasing sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are leading to increases in various measures of Hurricane activity over time, both globally, and for the tropical North Atlantic region whose storms influence the Gulf coast and East Coast of the U.S..

Here is what the WMO says:

The possibility that greenhouse gas induced global warming may have already caused a substantial increase in some tropical cyclone indices has been raised (e.g. Mann and Emanuel, 2006), but no consensus has been reached on this issue.

And on the existence of trends in storm intensity the WMO says:

This is still hotly debated area for which we can provide no definitive conclusion.

This is a situation that Dr. Mann should understand well, as he has argued strongly for adherence to scientific consensus on his weblog, RealClimate. Dr. Mann's characterization about what researchers increasingly believe about hurricanes and climate change is not backed up by what the researchers themselves are saying. Why does this matter? Because Dr. Mann is using his characterization of the community's views on hurricanes and climate change as a basis for arguing for particular policy actions. As Dr. Mann writes:

We are likely to see only increased warming and increased Hurricane activity, if we continue to increase atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations through fossil fuel burning.

To be clear -- I take no issue with Dr. Mann making an argument that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will reduce hurricane intensity. That is what he believes, and as a scientist conducting research in this area he is someone we should listen to. But when he characterizes the community's views as "widespread" and "increasingly" supporting his perspective, he has engaged in a mischaracterization. Mischaracterizations of science, by themselves, are perhaps of only scholarly interest. But when the mischaracterizations are used as tools of political advocacy they are no longer simply mischaracterizations of science, but instead, they are bad policy arguments.

For scientists wanting to use the notion of consensus as a tool of political advocacy, they risk being perceived as inconsistent when their actions change when they are the ones on the outside looking in.

December 05, 2006

The Future of Climate Policy Debates

How about this comment from George Monbiot today, a columnist for The Guardian:

[E]very time someone dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned.

Or this not long ago from NASA Scientist James Hansen (PDF):

. . . a certain shock treatment is needed, but it would best be delivered with a two-by-four as a solid whack to the head of politicians who remain oblivious to fundamental physical facts.

Allusions to murder and beatings kind of puts a chill on discussing options for climate policy, doesn't it? Maybe that is the point. It certainly makes me think.

In my view people who fashion themselves as public intellectuals have an even greater obligation than everyone else to encourage civil debate and discussion. This applies to people on all sides of political debates. It is all too easy for leaders to incite people to actual violence on issues that they are passionate about. Mr. Monbiot and Dr. Hansen (and others, again on all sides) may not have that outcome in mind as they write such statements, but if they don't watch out, that may be what they get.

So how about we all encourage some common civility in public discussions of climate change, especially from (but not limited to) our public intellectuals?

November 29, 2006

AAAS Report on Standards of Peer Review

The AAAS has released a report motivated by several recent fraudulent papers that have been published in Science. The report suggests tightening the review process for certain types of papers. Here is an excerpt from the report (available here in PDF):

Science (and Nature) have reached a special status. Publication in Science has a significance that goes beyond that of 'normal' publication. Consequently, the value to some authors of publishing in Science, including enhanced reputation, visibility, position or cash rewards, is sufficiently high that some may not adhere to the usual scientific standards in order to achieve publication. Thus, the cachet of publishing in Science can be an incentive not to follow the rules. This problem has a significant impact on all of science, since trust in the system is essential, and since Science and Nature are seen to speak for the best in science. Furthermore, false information in the literature leads to an enormous waste of time and money in an effort to correct and clarify the science.

Science as a journal tries to select papers that will have high impact on both science and society. Some papers will be highly visible and attract considerable attention. Many of these papers purport to be major breakthroughs and claim to change fields in a significant way. However, because the content is so new or startling, it is often more difficult to evaluate the quality or veracity of the work than would be the case for a more conventional paper.

Papers in this class, particularly those that will receive public attention, can influence public policy or contribute to personal or institutional financial gain and thus warrant special scrutiny. In the immediate future, examples will likely come from the areas of climate change, human health, and particular issues in commercial biomedicine and nanotechnology. Progress in science depends on breakthroughs and in taking risks, both in research and in publishing. Nevertheless, it is essential to develop a process by which papers that have the likelihood of attracting attention are examined particularly closely for errors, misrepresentation, deception, or outright fraud. This examination should include especially high standards for providing primary data, a clear understanding of all of the authors' and coauthors’ contributions to the paper and a careful examination of data presented in the papers.

There is a major issue in the report left unaddressed, and this has to do with the following statement– "Science as a journal tries to select papers that will have high impact on both science and society." How does this selection process work? What are the criteria of “high impact”? What is the relationship of political positions taken by the Science editorial staff and the selection of papers for peer review and publication? If greater transparency makes sense for authors, then does greater transparency make sense for editors as well?

November 28, 2006

Mugging Little Old Ladies and Reasoning by Analogy

[Updated 21:52 28 Nov 06]

Stanford’s Ken Caldeira provides an interesting, and I think unhelpful, analogy for how we might think about climate policy in the 20 November 2006 issue of the New Yorker in an article by Elizabeth Kolbert on carbon dioxide uptake by the oceans:

The term "ocean acidification" was coined in 2003 by two climate scientists, Ken Caldeira and Michael Wickett, who were working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in Northern California. . . Caldeira told me that he had chosen the term "ocean acidification" quite deliberately, for its shock value. . . [According to Calderia, Kolbert has misquoted him. See comments. RP]

Caldeira said that he had recently gone to Washington to brief some members of Congress. "I was asked, 'What is the appropriate stabilization target for atmospheric CO2?' he recalled. "And I said, 'Well, I think it's inappropriate to think in terms of stabilization targets. I think we should think in terms of emissions targets.' And they said, 'O.K., what's the appropriate emissions target?' And I said, 'Zero.'

"If you’re talking about mugging little old ladies, you don’t say, 'What’s our target for the rate of mugging little old ladies?' You say, 'Mugging little old ladies is bad, and we’re going to try to eliminate it.' You recognize you might not be a hundred per cent successful, but your goal is to eliminate the mugging of little old ladies. And I think we need to eventually come around to looking at carbon-dioxide emissions the same way."

Analogies matter in policy debate. For instance, should we think of Iraq like the Vietnam War, the French in Algeria, or is the situation now a "civil war"? Public debate over contested policy issues often involves different interests seeking to define the policy problem in different ways – and hence limit the scope of acceptable alternatives in response. Analogical reasoning is central to battles over the framing of a policy problem.

For several reasons, Prof. Caldeira’s choice of analogies is less-than-helpful for the cause for which he is advocating. (And for the record, I support action on climate policy, as discussed in my summer, 2006 congressional testimony -- PDF.) Most significantly from the standpoint of framing of the climate problem, mugging little old ladies is a criminal activity while emitting greenhouse gases is not a criminal activity. Juxtaposing the two only adds to the perception of extremism among advocates of action on energy policies.

As an example, of these dynamics, it was not long after the phrase "climate change denier" became in vogue (and also adopted by activist scientists) that we heard an analogy -- which easily followed from the parallel construction to "Holocaust deniers" -- suggesting trials and executions for the climate change deniers. Surely this sort of analogical reasoning did not advance the political cause of those advocating rapid reductions in emissions.

Prof. Caldeira also explains that he seeks to "shock" with his terminology of "ocean acidification." Seeking to motivate particular policy actions with scientific results – or a dramatic presentation of scientific results – is rarely effective or good for science, as we discussed last week. As Hans von Storch and Nico Stehr have written,

The costs of stirring up fear are high. It sacrifices the otherwise so highly valued principle of sustainability. A scarce resource - public attention and trust in the reliability of science - is used up without being renewed by the practice of positive examples.

The truth is that the uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans is something that should capture our attention – whether we call it "ocean acidification" or not. But for the vast majority of people and policy makers there are far more immediate and compelling justifications to provide policy makers for beginning the decades-long challenge of reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Some of these reasons include saving money, increasing efficiency, reducing particulate air pollution, and reducing reliance on foreign sources of energy. Framing problems in terms of what actually matters to people is going to make action more likely that offering up scary science or misleading analogies.

November 27, 2006

The Benefits of Red Wine and the Politics of Science

Saturday’s New York Times had an interesting article (registration required) about scientific stuides finding possible health benefits of red wine, and the political constraints on the wine industry to advertise those benefits. Here is an excerpt from the article:

The wine industry certainly has welcomed the recent disclosures that a compound in red wine improves the health and endurance of laboratory mice. So why isn't the industry crowing about it?

Because it can’t. The industry has long been handcuffed by state and federal laws that discourage promoting the benefits of wine, with some of those restrictions dating back to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

"Yes, we’d all like to make hay of this, and we’ll do what we can, but we are very constrained," said Michael Mondavi, founder and president of Folio Fine Wine Partners, a producer and importer of wines here.

As an industry that is closely regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Mr. Mondavi said, "it is blatantly against the law for any alcoholic beverage producers to make any health claim regardless of the facts or the accuracy."

"Until that regulation is changed or modified in some way so that we can talk about the positive health aspects that are proven," said Mr. Mondavi, the older son of famed winemaker Robert Mondavi, "we have to sit on our hands and wait for others to pick up the story."

Government regulation of alcohol advertising has a long history steeped in American cultural attitudes about drinking. In this regard this issue shares some obvious similarities with, say, medical marijuana or even differences in male-female aptitude (e.g., as raised by Harvard’s Larry Summers not long ago). In other words, political issues involving science are immersed in rich stew of societal values and preferences. It is only when these values are strongly contested in society that issues of science in political debate actually come to the fore -- creating conditions for the pathological politicization of science. We tend to see these issues more starkly when political conflict exists and overlook them when conflict does not. Consisder the brouhaha over federal funding of stem research, yet there isn't similar controversy on federal funding for human cloning research.

When values are widely shared, aspects of science in politics that raise hackles in other contexts go overlooked or are treated as amusing side notes, such as in the NYT article on the potential benefits of red wine. That all issues of science in politics are not treated equally should make the obvious inescapable – when science and politics meet, the values context always matters. There is no such thing as decisions driven by science. Decisions are always driven by values. How, if, and when we wish to consider science in making those decisions is of course where much of the action lies. But we should not pretend that science makes decisions. People make decisions.

Posted on November 27, 2006 07:15 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Health | Science + Politics

Why don’t you write about __________?

Over the past week I have received the following two juxtaposed comments about what we focus on here at Prometheus. They are pretty typical of the sort of comments that I have received in the past, hence this response.

What still amazes me is that you can so clearly see [misrepresentations in policy arguments] going on in the area of your expertise and seemingly not recognize the same mischief in other areas of the science, from glaciers to solar variability. If the same people get it so terribly wrong here, why not there?

And also:

Why do you attack [Al Gore] on your site but not climate change deniers Fred Singer or Pat Michaels? Perhaps this tells us something about your own biases. Al Gore may have made a few mistakes but he is far more accurate than the oil industry shills that you seem to conveniently overlook.

Question: Why don’t I write about glaciers, solar variability, Fred Singer, or Pat Michaels?

Answer: I don’t know anything special about glaciers, solar variability, or the issues which are often discussed by Fred Singer or Pat Michaels. By contrast, I do know something about disasters and climate change. In fact, I know a lot, perhaps as much as only a few dozen people.

On disasters and climate change I can speak with authority, because I know the literature deeply and I have conducted a wide range of original studies in this area. When I am asked to comment on other topics my expertise drops off – precipitously. By commenting on these issues I would in effect simply be witnessing to who it is that I trust. So instead of offering inexpert commentary (which can be found in abundance elsewhere on blogs) we often rely on solicited and unsolicited guest weblogs, such as provided by Richard Tol on the Stern Report, and we sometimes invite competing perspectives to share their views here, as we did last year on the policy significance of the "hockey stick" debate. We are also have discussed plans for turning Prometheus into a more consistently multi-authored site with a range of expertise and perspectives on tap.

So lets cut to the chase -- do I trust those wacked alarmists or those nefarious skeptics? By answering this question, some might think, it would be far easier to classify me in a tribal category – "is he with us, or them"?

Truth is, based on my front-row seat view of the science of climate change, I don’t much trust the alarmists or the skeptics and by this I mean both (a) those political advocates couching their arguments in terms of science and (b) those scientists who have taken on the role of political advocates. I have been for many years convinced based on my own academic training and a "dinner table" degree in aspects of climate science that we should indeed be concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and other human influences on climate. But what I have also observed in my years inside the climate community is that it is deeply politicized throughout. This doesn’t mean that we need not be concerned about the human effects on climate. But what it does mean is that we need to take far more care with the relationship of climate science and climate policy, a responsibility that I believe requires the attention of the scientific community.

Question: Who is it then that I do trust?

Answer: Well, many of the non-skeptic heretics. And you should too. When the politics of climate change settles out over coming years and decades, these are the folks whose intellectual policy arguments will be left standing.

Meantime, if you are in fact looking for commentary from me on issues of climate change outside my own expertise, there will undoubtedly continue to be a few such musings that slip through on occasion – such is the nature of blogs. But for the most part (on climate change at least) I plan on generally sticking to what I know. Some of you may wish to see a political signal in this focus (as the two commenters that I opened with did, ironically enough in diffeent directions), which is perhaps unavoidable. As far as those of you interested in my own political leanings, here you go.

November 25, 2006

Politicization of Intelligence

The role of military intelligence in policy making is not unlike the role of science in policy making, a point I make in my forthcoming book. In the Los Angeles Times last week Jennifer Glaudmans has an excellent op-ed about the politicization of intelligence under Robert Gates, former CIA director and current nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld. Her piece provides an interesting lens through which to think about the pathological politicization of science. Here are a few relevant excerpts (emphases added):

. . . we were asked, in 1985, to contribute to the National Intelligence Estimate on the subject of Iran.

Later, when we received the draft NIE, we were shocked to find that our contribution on Soviet relations with Iran had been completely reversed. Rather than stating that the prospects for improved Soviet-Iranian relations were negligible, the document indicated that Moscow assessed those prospects as quite good. What's more, the national intelligence officer responsible for coordinating the estimate had already sent a personal memo to the White House stating that the race between the U.S. and USSR "for Tehran is on, and whoever gets there first wins all."

No one in my office believed this Cold War hyperbole. There was simply no evidence to support the notion that Moscow was optimistic about its prospects for improved relations with Iran. All of our published analysis had consistently been pessimistic about Soviet-Iranian relations as long as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was alive.

We protested the conclusions of the NIE, citing evidence such as the Iranian government's repression of the communist Tudeh Party, the expulsion of all Soviet economic advisors and a number of Soviet diplomats who were KGB officers, and a continuing public rhetoric that chastised the "godless" communist regime as the "Second Satan" after the United States.

Despite overwhelming evidence, our analysis was suppressed. At a coordinating meeting, we were told that Gates wanted the language to stay in as it was, presumably to help justify "improving" our strained relations with Tehran through the Iran-Contra weapons sales.

This is another example of ends-justify-the-means thinking that seem to be behind just about every pathological politicization of science. If your desired policy actions are virtuous, then it shouldn't matter how you cause those actions to occur, right? In the end we will all be better off, right? Glaudmans indicates that this was the thinking on intelligence behind Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra effort, it was also the thinking behind the neo-conservatives push in Iraq, and it is behind those pushing for immediate and drastic action on curtailing emissions of greenhouse gases such as described in the Stern Review (which we have discussed at some length).

Glaudmans continues:

It's possible that the Reagan administration would have gone ahead and made its overtures to Iran regardless of what was said in the NIE, but having the coordinated assessment of the intelligence community support its views certainly added legitimacy to its rationale. What's more, if the policymakers had received better and more accurate intelligence, perhaps someone would at least have questioned the false sense of urgency. Instead, our intelligence was used as expensive intra-government propaganda. . .

During those years, the government was clearly dominated by people who had a strong ideological view of the Soviet Union. But their conflict was not with people who were "soft" on communism, it was with people who looked at all the available evidence, without much bias one way or another, and who had been to the USSR and witnessed its hollow political and social structure, seeing not an omnipotent superpower but a clumsy, oafish regime often stumbling over its own feet.

What is interesting about this passage is Glaudmans' description of how those people seeking to provide good intelligence found themselves in conflict with the ideologues. This conflict occurs because those seeking to politicize intelligence beyond its limits are not necesarily threatened by their ideological opponents -- indeed such stark contrasts actually make the ideological differences more apparent and thus serve more effectively as a political "wedge." Instead the greatest threat to ideologues seeking to pathologuically politicize intelligence comes from those presenting solid analyses, which have a stubborn tendency to win out in the long run. On such conflicts, see for example a few of my own experiences described here.

Glaudmans concludes:

Is all this ancient history relevant today? It is if you believe that policymakers are poorly served when analysis is concocted to support their preexisting positions. It is relevant if you believe that the failure to learn the lessons from the 1991 Gates hearings harmed U.S. foreign policy when, a decade later, we went to war on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It is relevant if you believe that Congress should take its oversight responsibilities seriously.

It is certainly the case that the current Bush Administration has contributed to the pathological politicization of intelligence, economics, and science across a range of areas. Of this there is no doubt. Fortunately, these issues are suffering from no lack of attention. The concern that I have and discuss frequently on this blog, which I see almost every day, is the contributions by scientists (and other experts) to the pathological politicization of science. Once you lose the capability to provide solid policy analyses, pathologically politicized information is all that remains.

November 21, 2006

Walter Lippmann (1955) on Misrepresentation and Balance

Some things don't grow stale with age. The writings of Walter Lippmann are among them. Here are a few excerpts from Lippmann’s 1955 book The Public Philosophy that remind us that the politicization of information is far from a new concern and the importance of open debate in response.

. . . when the decision is critical and urgent, the public will not be told the whole truth. What can be told to the great public it will not hear in the complicated and qualified concreteness that is needed for a practical decision. When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often a radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into the absolute. Even when there is no deliberate distortion by censorship and propaganda, which is unlikely in time of war, the public opinion of masses cannot be counted upon to apprehend regularly and promptly the reality of things. There is an inherent tendency in opinion to feed upon rumors excited by our own wishes and fears. [p. 27]

On balance in the media and in public debates Lippmann is quite clear about maintaining conditions that foster debate and the exchange of perspectives.

. . . when the chaff of silliness, baseness, and deception is so voluminous that it submerges the kernels of truth, freedom of speech may produce such frivolity, or such mischief, that it cannot be preserved against the demand for a restoration of order or of decency. If there is a dividing line between liberty and license, it is where freedom of speech is no longer respected as a procedure of the truth and becomes the unrestricted right to exploit the ignorance, and incite the passions, of the people. The freedom is such a hullabaloo of sophistry, propaganda, special pleading, lobbying, and salesmanship that it is difficult to remember why freedom of speech is worth the pain and trouble of defending it.

What has been lost in the tumult is the meaning of the obligation which is involved in the right to speak freely. It is the obligation to subject the utterance to criticism and debate. Because the dialectical debate is a procedure for attaining moral and political truth, the right to speak is protected by a willingness to debate. . . .

And because the purpose of the confrontation is to discern truth, there are rules of evidence and of parliamentary procedure, there are codes of fair dealing and fair comment, by which a loyal man will consider himself bound when he exercises the right to publish opinions. For the right to freedom of speech is no license to deceive, and willful misrepresentation is a violation of its principles. It is sophistry to pretend that in a free country a man has some sort of inalienable or constitutional right to deceive his fellow men. There is no more right to deceive that there is a right to swindle, to cheat, or to pick pockets. It may be inexpedient to arraign every public liar, as we try to arraign other swindlers. It may be a poor policy to have too many laws which encourage litigation about matters of opinion. But, in principle, there can be no immunity for lying in any of its protean forms.

In our time the application of these fundamental principles poses many unsolved practical problems. For the modern media of mass communication do not lend themselves easily to a confrontation of opinions. The dialectical process for finding truth works best when the same audience hears all the sides of a disputation. . . Rarely, and on very few public issues, does the mass audience have the benefit of the process by which truth is sifted from error – the dialectic of debate in which there is immediate challenge, reply, cross-examination, and rebuttal.

Yet when genuine debate is lacking, freedom of speech does not work as it is meant to work. It has lost the principle which regulates and justifies it – that is to say, dialectic conducted according to logic and the rules of evidence. If there is not effective debate, the unrestricted right to speak will unloose so many propagandists, procurers, and panders upon the public that sooner or later in self-defense the people will turn to censors to protect them. An unrestricted and unregulated right to speak cannot be maintained. It will be curtailed for all manner of reasons and pretexts, and to serve all kinds of good, foolish, or sinister ends.

For in the absence of debate unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion. By a kind of Gresham’s law the more rational is overcome by the less rational, and the opinions that will prevail will be those which are held most ardently by those with the most passionate will. For that reason the freedom to speak can never be maintained merely by objecting to interference with the liberty of the press, of printing, of broadcasting, of the screen. It can be maintained only by promoting debate.

In the end what men will most ardently desire is to suppress those who disagree with them and, therefore, stand in the way of the realization of their desires. Thus, once confrontation in debate is no longer necessary, the toleration of all opinions leads to intolerance. Freedom of speech, separated from its essential principle, leads through a short transitional chaos to the destruction of freedom of speech. [pp. 96-101]

November 16, 2006

What is Wrong with Politically-Motivated Research?

This quote from Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen provides a clear example of seeking political ends through science:

Prominent scientists, among them a Nobel laureate, said a layer of pollution deliberately spewed into the atmosphere could act as a "shade" from the sun's rays and help cool the planet.

Reaction to the proposal here at the annual U.N. conference on climate change is a mix of caution, curiosity and some resignation to such "massive and drastic" operations, as the chief U.N. climatologist describes them.

The Nobel Prize-winning scientist who first made the proposal is himself "not enthusiastic about it."

"It was meant to startle the policymakers," said Paul J. Crutzen, of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. "If they don't take action much more strongly than they have in the past, then in the end we have to do experiments like this." [Emphasis added. RP]

In 2004 I characterized (in PDF) the "politicization of science by scientists" as "the use of science by scientists as a means of negotiating for desired political outcomes." Dr. Crutzen's description of his work clearly fits this definition.

I characterized the problem with such a strategy as follws, "many scientists encourage the mapping of established interests from across the political spectrum onto science and then use science as a proxy for political battle over these interests."

Why does this matter? "when politics is played out through science with the acquiescence and even facilitation of scientists, the results can serve to foster political gridlock to the detriment of science and policy alike because science alone is incapable of forcing a political consensus."

Starting with a desired political outcome and then generating the science to support that outcome is not the most effective way for science to support policy, even coming from a Nobel laureate.

November 15, 2006

Looking Away from Misrepresentations of Science in Policy Debate Related to Disasters and Climate Change

For me the most amazing aspect of the repeated misrepresentation of science related to disasters and climate change is not that political advocates look to cherry pick science or go beyond the state of the science. What is most amazing is that in the face of incontrovertible and repeated misrepresentation that the overwhelming majority of scientists, the media, and responsible advocacy groups have remained mute (with a few notable exceptions such as Hans von Storch).

More than anything else, even the misrepresentations themselves, the collective willingness to overlook bad policy arguments unsupported (or even contradicted) by the current state of science while at the same time trumpeting the importance of scientific consensus is evidence of the comprehensive and pathological politicization of science in the policy debate over global warming. If climate scientists ever wonder why they are looked upon with suspicion among some people in society, they need look no further in their willingness to compromise their own intellectual standards in policy debate on the issue of disasters and climate change.

Here are just some of the misrepresentations of science in policy discussions related to disasters and climate change from the Prometheus archives:

Misrepresentation by ABI of UK Foresight flood assessment

Misrepresentation by UNEP of disaster loss trends

Misrepresentation by former head of IPCC of disaster loss trends

Misrepresentation by New York Times of trends in disaster losses

Misrepresentation by editor of Science of detection and attribution of trends in extreme events

Misrepresentation by editor of Science of attribution of Katrina to greenhouse gas emissions

Misrepresentation of literature of disaster trends and climate in article in Science

Misrepresentation by lead IPCC author responsible for hurricane chapter of attribution of Katrina to greenhouse gas emissions

Misrepresentation of ABI report on future tropical cyclone losses

Misrepresentation by Al Gore of state of hurricane science and attribution of Katrina

Misrepresentation by Time of science of hurricanes and attribution of Katrina

Misrepresentation by IPCC WG II of storm surge impacts research

Misrepresentation by AGU of science of seasonal hurricane forecast skill

Misrepresentation by Environmental Defense of attribution of Katrina to greenhouse gases and prospects for avoiding future hurricanes

Misrepresentation in the Washington Post of the science of disaster trends and future impacts

Misrepresentation in Stern report of trends in disaster losses and projections of future costs

Misrepresentation by UNEP of trends and projections in disaster losses

November 14, 2006

Naomi Oreskes on Consensus

Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California-San Diego and a leading scholar of the history of science, wrote an excellent article on scientific consensus a few years ago as part of a special issue of Environmental Science & Policy which critiqued the debate over Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist. This is of course the same Naomi Oreskes famous for her short essay reviewing abstracts on "global climate change" in Science (a subject I do not wish to discuss in this thread, thanks!). Below I have reproduced a few lengthy excerpts from Naomi’s paper relevant to recent discussions here, though I encourage you to read the whole paper, especially the three cases that she describes. You can find the entire set of papers in the special issue here.

Oreskes, N., 2004. Science and public policy: what's proof got to do with it? Environmental Science & Policy, 7:369-383 (PDF).

In recent years it has become common for informed defenders of the status quo to argue that the scientific information pertinent to an environmental claim is uncertain, unreliable, and, fundamentally, unproven. Lack of proof is then used to deny demands for action. But the idea that science ever could provide proof upon which to base policy is a misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of science, and therefore of the role that science ever could play in policy. In all but the most trivial cases, science does not produce logically indisputable proofs about the natural world. At best it produces a robust consensus based on a process of inquiry that allows for continued scrutiny, re-examination, and revision. . .

Most of us realize that proof—at least in an absolute sense—is a theoretical ideal, available in geometry class but not in real life. Nevertheless, many of us still cling to the idea that some set of facts—some body of knowledge—will resolve our problems and make clear how we should proceed. History suggests otherwise: earlier scientific wisdom has been overturned, earlier generations of experts have made mistakes. This is as true in physics and chemistry as in biology and geology. The criteria that are typically invoked in defense of the reliability of scientific knowledge—quantification, replicability, falsifiability—have proved no guarantee. Moreover, experts do not always agree. Even when there is no transparent political, social, or religious dimension to a debate, honest and intelligent people may come to different conclusions in the face of the "same" evidence, because they have focused their sights on different dimensions of that evidence, emphasizing different elements of the evidentiary landscape. Even when a scientific community reaches consensus on a previously contested issue—as earth scientists did in the 1960s over moving continents—there are always dimensions that remain unexplained. In the future, plate tectonics no doubt will be modified, perhaps overturned entirely. Indeed, there are a handful of scientists today who advocate Earth expansion to explain continental separation, and they are of course eager to detail the limitations of plate tectonics theory (e.g. Shieds, 2003). Nevertheless, for now plate tectonics remains the consensus of most Earth scientists: our best basis for understanding the Earth. . .

Scientific consensus is a complex process—involving a matrix of social, political, economic, historical considerations along with the epistemic—and history shows that its achievement typically requires a long time: years, decades, even centuries. But even when a stable consensus is achieved, scientific uncertainty is not eliminated. Rather, once we have deemed the remaining problems as "minor"—which is to say, insufficiently great as to warrant further concern—we simply live with them (Engelhardt and Caplan, 1987). Moreover, the grounds on which scientific communities have concluded that evidence is "good enough" to warrant living with the uncertainties have varied enormously throughout the course of history. A determined individual may choose to pursue these uncertainties, and that determination may successfully destabilize the prior consensus. In a "purely" scientific debate, that determination would, ideally, arise solely from the demands of empirical evidence, but no debate is ever "purely" scientific, given that, at minimum, credibility, reputation, and, perhaps future funding are at stake.

November 08, 2006

Some Early Thoughts on the New Congress

These are just a few random thoughts on the morning after a historic U.S. midterm election about the possible consequences for science and technology policies. In an effort to be fair, I should add a disclaimer to note that I had the opportunity to work for the Democrats in 1991 in the House Science Committee under Congressman George Brown (D-CA). Seeing what happened to many of my friends and former colleagues when control of the House changed over in 1994 left a sour taste with me, and not just for the Gingrich Republicans, but more generally for the arrogance of political partisanship. I believe that the seeds of the current Republican loss are found not just in the policies of the Bush Administration (but to be sure, this plays a big part), but more deeply in how Republicans have managed their control over Congress since 1994. So I will admit to some personal satisfaction in seeing the tide turn once again. With that out of the way, here are some thoughts about the 110th Congress.

When I was in graduate school in the early 1990s getting a PhD in political science, it was all the rage to talk about the consequences of "divided government" referring to control of Congress by one party and the presidency by another. For some political scientists, governance under divided government was not only inelegant but also considered to be inefficient. I recall reading many articles emphasizing the importance of united government. Since 2002, with united Republican control of Congress and the Presidency (for the first time since 1953-1955) discussion among political scientists (although I am not as close to these discussions as I once was) of the perils of divided government appears to have been replaced with concerns over the perils of unified government.

As the United States once again enters a period of divided government, what consequences might we expect on issues of science and technology policy?

First and foremost, expect more oversight. One of the greatest challenges of unified government is that there are fewer incentives for effective oversight of the executive branch by congress. Oversight is challenging in the best of circumstances, and this is made worse when political incentives are added to the mix. If there is one thing that we might expect from the 110th Congress it will be greater oversight.

Greater oversight will be a welcome change, as recent Congresses have been derelict in their oversight duties. Much of the Congressional oversight will be directed to U.S. policies related to Iraq, and appropriately so. But there are also areas of science and technology policy where greater oversight should occur, including issues such as the the future of the Space Station, Space Shuttle, and NASA, Administration stem cell policy, energy policy, climate policy, state science policies and federalism, academic earmarking, technology transfer, management of the NPOESS project, drug approval processes, government science advice, K-12 on up through post-graduate education, workforce issues, and the list goes on.

In fact, there is such a need for congressional oversight that it will be very easy for the Democrats to lose focus and completely waste the next two years. The 2008 election will compress the time available to the 100th Congress to conduct effective oversight, creating incentives for more politically-motivated oversight, such as on stem cell policy, to the exclusion of wonky-behind-the-scenes-run-of-the-mill oversight in an effort to create advantage in the 2008 election. A little of this posturing should be expected, but too much will be a wasteful distraction. Arguably the Republicans lost sight of governance during their run in Congress – the Democrats should not do the same.

In the first year of the new Congress there will be those who seek vengeance for the past 12 years of Republican rule (particularly in the House). The transition that followed the 1994 Gingrich revolution left bad feelings with many Democrats, who had ruled continuously for decades (of course creating pent up demands for revenge among Republicans). Acting like the Gingrich Republicans may be emotionally satisfying to the Democrats, but won’t contribute to effective policy making or the future prospects for the Democratic Party in Congress (see, e.g., 2006 midterm elections).

More speculatively, I do not expect to see dramatic changes in specific science and technology policies, or even much progressive legislation emerge from the House or Senate. Both chambers are only narrowly controlled by the Democrats (assuming current Senate results hold), and thus will be governed by the middle, not the extreme. This diminishes the likelihood of significant policy change. On the other hand, it may be that a few pieces of novel legislation emerge simply with the goal of forcing a veto by President Bush – it is never too early to be thinking about the 2008 campaign commercials. Stem cell policy and energy policies are two issues that might fit into this latter category. I would expect that climate change will get a lot of talk, and there likely will be considerable debate over the issue, but I doubt there will be any significant action or realignment on the issue in Congress, and of course the presidential veto precludes significant departure from business-as-usual in any case.

As far as funding for research and development, I do not expect to see much if any change. R&D has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support and this won’t change. The macro-budgetary constraints have not changed, so don’t expect the funding picture to change.

Comments/critiques/other views are welcomed!

Posted on November 8, 2006 06:55 AM View this article | Comments (19)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

October 20, 2006

Frank Laird on Teaching of Evolution

Frank Laird, of the University of Denver and a faculty affiliate of our Center, has a thought-provoking essay on the teaching of evolution over at the CSPO website titled, "Total Truth and the Ongoing Controversy Over the Teaching of Evolution." Here is how he starts:

The 2005 legal decision in Dover, PA, and the elections for the Kansas State Board of Education, are only the most visible recent skirmishes in the controversy over teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools. Discussions of this controversy mix and sometimes confuse three distinct and separate, though related, processes: what teachers teach, what students learn, and what citizens believe. In a recent Pew poll (2005, pp. 1-2), 42% of Americans said they believed “that life on earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time.” Proponents of teaching evolution often point to such data as evidence that evolution needs stronger support in the classroom to ward off anti-science trends in society.

However, thinking that you can change what citizens believe by changing what teachers teach is too big a conceptual leap. While there is certainly a relationship between teaching, learning, and belief, it is by no means simple or linear. By separating those processes out we can better understand them. The study of what citizens believe is a huge social question. Scholars have compiled huge amounts of polling data on what citizens believe, though interpreting that data comes with problems, such as assuming that belief is measured by response to questions instead of processes that get citizens to reflect and deliberate on questions. But in any case we know more about what people believe that why they believe it. While formal high school education may have some influence, so will family background, religious affiliation, occupation, race, income, and a host of unquantifiable cultural beliefs and ways of sorting true from false claims, what Sheila Jasanoff has called civic epistemology (Jasanoff 2005).

The second process, what students learn in biology class is a pedagogical question, one that those who study science teaching and learning are most qualified to answer. Anyone who teaches knows that there is not a simple relationship between what teachers teach and what students learn. Does discussing intelligent design (ID) lead to students learning less or more about evolution?

This Perspective focuses on what teachers teach. This in fact is the nub of the evolution controversy and viewing it as an institutional question can help to clarify the issues surrounding it. Strengthening the institutions that govern what teachers teach is both politically more feasible and ethically more defensible than trying to change what citizens believe.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted on October 20, 2006 11:46 AM View this article | Comments (5)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Education | Science + Politics

October 17, 2006

Café Scientifique Tonite in Denver

Café Scientifique
Tuesday 17 October 2006 6:30PM
Wynkoop Brewery Mercantile Room
1634 18th Street Denver, CO 80202

–SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS IN POLITICIZED DEBATES –
details

Roger A. Pielke, Jr. , Professor of Environmental Studies and Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, CU, Boulder

Scientists have choices about the roles that they play in today's controversial political debates such as on global warming, genetically modified foods, and the Plan B emergency contraception just to name a few. Should scientists ever become advocates for certain policy choices? Is it possible to separate personal moral beliefs from professional scientific findings? Where can politicians get unbiased scientific information? Is the current administration any worse than others in 'cherry-picking' scientific facts? A recent article in the National Journal went so far as to suggest that far from being victims of politicization, the scientific community "is itself contributing to the polarization that afflicts America's political culture." Is this really true? Roger Pielke, Jr. will discuss these questions and more, which are addressed in his forthcoming book on the choices scientists have in policy and politics and how they impact the scientific enterprise as whole.

Posted on October 17, 2006 06:42 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

October 16, 2006

Facts, Values, and Scientists in Policy Debates

Politics, according to famed political scientist David Easton, is about “the authoritative allocation of social values.” Values refer to desired outcomes which include both the substance of policy and the procedures used to achieve outcomes. For instance, good health is an example of valued substantive outcome. Public participation in the making of policy is and example of a valued procedural outcome. Politics is necessary because people, as individuals and collections of individuals, have different conceptions about what substantive and procedural outcomes, or what rankings of outcomes, are desirable in society.

From this perspective consider this view of the relationship of science and values, written last week by Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Credible scientists never contradict or go beyond the available data. We should never insert our personal values into discussions with the public about scientific issues. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that the rest of society is not constrained in that way and can mix facts and values at will.

That is another principle scientists find hard to accept, as they often have strong moral values. When a scientist brings personal views on, say, the beginning of life into a supposedly scientific discussion on the use of embryonic stem cells in research, his or her credibility as a source of neutral facts is automatically diminished. No matter what a scientist believes about moral issues, if an opponent in a debate introduces values or beliefs, the scientist should disclaim any ability to comment on those issues as outside the scientific realm.

Leshner’s perspective has been called the "fact-value distinction," which holds that facts and values can be cleanly separated. Scientists, the argument goes, focus only on facts, and not values. There are of course some situations in which it makes good sense for scientists to focus on narrow technical questions, like “Where is the tornado heading?” But scholars who have studied the roles of science in society have come to a robust consensus that the situations in which policy making is best served by the scientific arbitration of facts are limited to some very unique circumstances.

From the perspective of theory, scholars of science in policy and politics have for many years understood that the fact-value distinction doesn’t hold up. As an example of this research, consider the following excerpts from Shelia Jasanoff's excellent book, "The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers" (1990), (at pp. 230-31). Jasanoff, a leading voice in the discipline of science, technology, and society, focuses on science advisory bodies and organizations that bring science to decision makers and the public,:

Although pleas for maintaining a strict separation between science and politics continue to run like a leitmotif through the policy literature, the artificiality of this position can no longer be doubted. Studies of scientific advising leave in tatters the notion that it is possible, in practice, to restrict the advisory practice to technical issues or that the subjective values of scientists are irrelevant to decision making.

She also writes (at p. 249),

The notion that scientific advisors can or do limit themselves to addressing purely scientific issues, in particular, seems fundamentally misconceived ... the advisory process seems increasingly important as a locus for negotiating scientific differences that have political weight.

In practice, scientists are always introducing their values into public debate. In fact, any effort at public communication is necessarily an expression of a scientist’s values – the procedural value that the public would be better off with whatever information that the scientist is sharing. And in many cases scientists go well beyond procedural values and make public statements to advocate for specific political outcomes. For example, Leshner (along with AAAS president John Holdren) recently wrote (in PDF):

There is a clear message in the growing torrent of studies revealing that impacts of global climate change are already occurring: It is time to muster the political will for serious evasive action. . . The United States -- the largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet -- needs to become a leader instead of a laggard in developing and deploying serious solutions.

Leshner may believe that the substantive (action on energy policy) and procedural (U.S. leadership) values that he is expressing are not just his own personal values, but also in support of common interests, but they are an expression of values nonetheless. If Leshner stuck to his own advice about not expressing values "beyond the scientific realm" he would have refrained from calling for certain types of policy action. In fact, if scientists generally followed Leshner’s advice there would be essentially no public views expressed by scientists. This of course is neither realistic nor desirable. Effective policy making requires the integration of science and values, not their separation.

Leshner’s views on facts and values is contradicted by the AAAS, ironically enough in a story on its home page right next to Leshner’s Chronicle piece, containing calls for more scientists to play a role in overt political advocacy.

The important distinction to be made is not whether or not scientists should express values in their public statements. It is how they express those values. They can chose to serve as political advocates by seeking to reduce the scope of choice to some preferred outcomes, or they can seek to expand or clarify choice. In all but the most simple of decision contexts there is simply no option to "disclaim any ability to comment on those issues as outside the scientific realm." Those who give scientists such advice far out of step with robust knowledge of the roles of science in society only contribute to the pathological politicization of science.

October 09, 2006

On Language

Let's be blunt. The phrase "climate change denier" is meant to be evocative of the phrase "holocaust denier". As such the phrase conjurs up a symbolic allusion fully intended to equate questioning of climate change with questioning of the Holocaust.

Let's be blunt. This allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Let those who would make such an allusion instead be absolutely explicit about their assertion of moral equivalency between Holocaust deniers and those that they criticize.

This allusion has no place in the discourse on climate change. I say this as someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system.

Let's declare a moratorium on the phrases "climate change denier" and "climate change denial." Let's invoke the equivalent of Godwin's Law in discourse on climate policy. Maybe call it the Prometheus Principle.

No more invocation of "climate change deniers."

October 06, 2006

More on Royal Society’s Role in Political Debates

In various comment threads I have sought to identify clear criteria that the Royal Society applied when deciding to target Exxon and its funding of advocacy groups. I have asserted that this decision was political. Several readers and Bob Ward have suggested that the decision was based solely an effort to police misrepresentations of science by Exxon and groups that it funds. In this lengthy comment I explore this issue a bit further. Please read on if you are interested.

Why does this issue matter? I have often made the case that there is absolutely no problem with interests organizing to advance their agendas. Organized interests are an important part of how democracy works. What I have frequently objected to is the hiding of political agendas behind the notion of scientific objectivity or facts. Such action leads to a pathological politicization of science where debates about "what should we do?" are transformed into "whose science is right?" losing sight of the first question. This is even more problematic when institutions like the Royal Society participate in such pathological politicization, because such institutions have a unique and valuable role to play as what I have called "honest brokers of policy options." Such honest brokering is jeopardized when institutions take on the characteristics and behavior of an interest group, like for instance, Exxon.

What do I mean by "political"? I mean that the Royal Society is acting in a manner that seeks to gain advantage over others in debates over what society should do about climate change. In my opinion, the Royal Society letter was about far more than policing (mis)representations of science in public debate. If the Royal Society was in fact interested in the misrepresentation of science, and not political action on climate change, then presumably it would have developed general, unambiguous criteria to identify how one knows a "misrepresentation of science" when one sees it and then applied these criteria indiscriminately across organizations and issue areas. From Mr. Ward’s letter it appears that he started with Exxon’s Annual Report, which suggests that the Royal Society decided to start with Exxon based on some other criteria, which I would assume resulted from identification of Exxon as a strong interest against action on climate change. Action that the Royal Society favors, and has openly said so, such as in its joint statement prior to the G8 last year.

Further evidence for the political nature of the Royal Society’s action appears in the substance of Mr. Ward’s identification of a misrepresentation by Exxon in one of its reports. As shown below, the alleged misrepresentation is pretty weak stuff and I don’t even think that it rises to the level of misrepresentation. Certainly Exxon has engaged in cherrypicking to advance its perceived self-interest. Would the Royal Society suggest that any organization that cherrypicks information should not receive funding? If so that would likely lead to the end all public debate on all subjects!

Let’s take a look at the complaint and examine whether it is in fact a misrepresentation of science. Here is what Mr. Ward wrote to Exxon (link):

Thank-you for your recent letter and accompanying copies of the 2005 ExxonMobil 'Corporate Citizenship Report' and the 'UK and Ireland Corporate Citizenship' brochure. I have read both with interest, but I am writing to express my disappointment at the inaccurate and misleading view of the science of climate change that these documents present.

In particular, I was very surprised to read the following passage from the section on Environmental performance under the sub-heading of 'Uncertainty and risk' (p.23) in the 'Corporate Citizenship Report':

"While assessments such as those of the IPCC have expressed growing confidence that recent warming can be attributed to increases in greenhouse gases, these conclusions rely on expert judgment rather than objective, reproducible statistical methods. Taken together, gaps in the scientific basis for theoretical climate models and the interplay of significant natural variability make it very difficult to determine objectively the extent to which recent climate changes might be the result of human actions."

These statements also appear, of course, in the Exxon Mobil document on 'Tomorrow’s Energy', which was published in February. As I mentioned during our meeting in July, these statements are very misleading. The "expert judgment" of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was actually based on objective and quantitative analyses and methods, including advanced statistical appraisals, which carefully accounted for the interplay of natural variability, and which have been independently reproduced.

Furthermore, these statements in your documents are not consistent with the scientific literature that has been published on this issue.

Let’s take the claims one-by-one. For those interested in the original Exxon Mobil report itself, the relevant text cited in the Royal Society letter can be found here.

Does the IPCC rely on expert judgment?

Answer = YES.

According to the IPCC instructions for preparation of reports: "Be prepared to make expert judgments and explain those by providing a traceable account of the steps used to arrive at estimates of uncertainty or confidence for key findings . . ." (PDF)

Does the IPCC distinguish between expert judgment and objective methods?

Answer = YES

From an IPCC report on presentations of uncertainty in its reports: "The [IPCC] text should distinguish between confidence statements based on well-established, "objective" findings versus those based on subjective judgments."(PDF)

Does determination of the recent warming that can be attributed to increases in greenhouse gases require expert judgment?

Answer = YES

According to Real Climate:

In public discussions there is often an emphasis on seemingly simple questions (e.g. the percentage of the current greenhouse effect associated with water vapour) that, at first sight, appear to have profound importance to the question of human effects on climate change. In the scientific community however, discussions about these 'simple' questions are often not, and have subtleties that rarely get publicly addressed.

One such question is the percentage of 20th Century warming that can be attributed to CO2 increases. This appears straightforward, but it might be rather surprising to readers that this has neither an obvious definition, nor a precise answer. I will therefore try to explain why. . . In summary, I hope I've shown that there is too much ambiguity in any exact percentage attribution for it to be particularly relevant.

Thus, was there anything factually inaccurate or inconsistent with the IPCC in the Exxon statement objected to by the Royal Society?

Answer = NO

But let’s also not overlook the obvious, was Exxon selectively presenting information from the IPCC to imply that there are uncertainties in climate science in order to sow doubt about the need for action?

Answer = YES, OF COURSE

Is the Royal Society trying to exert influence in the political process to counter Exxon’s potential influence in the political process?

Answer = YES, OF COURSE

The Royal Society’s action is thus the very essence of political behavior. This leads to two final questions.

Should the actions of the Royal Society be characterized as political actions?

Answer = YES. LET’S JUST BE OPEN ABOUT IT.

Should the Royal Society seek to "call out" Exxon for its cherrypicking?

Answer = This depends upon the role one sees for a science academy in public debate.

I personally believe that science academies should not seek to replicate the characteristics of organized interest groups for two reasons. One is that the special expertise and legitimacy of science academies give them unique potential to serve as honest brokers of policy alternatives, which are all too few in policy debates. The other is that science academies are typically funded almost entirely by public money and yet pretty much outside the political system of democratic accountability. Any particular decision on what issues to advocate for and against by such an institution will be warmly received by like-minded advocates, but in the end, such decisions represent the parochial interests of those in the organization and not necessarily reflective of broader interests. This then will have the effect of turning an institution that was meant to serve common interests into just another special interest group.

In closing, I do recognize that reasonable people can disagree on the role of science academies in public debate. But we should all be able to agree that hiding an advocacy agenda behind assertions of scientific purity is not good for either science or policy.

October 04, 2006

Follow Up on NOAA Hurricane Fact Sheet

Thanks very much to those who sent me the "Dear Colleague" letter from NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher discussing the now-released NOAA fact sheet on hurricanes and climate change (here in PDF). The full letter can be seen below.

Message From the Under Secretary
October 3, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

Many of you have probably seen the latest reports concerning a document on Atlantic hurricanes and climate. I do not make it a practice to comment on every mischaracterization and falsehood in media reports.

However, reports that deal with the agency’s scientific integrity strike directly at NOAA’s mission and everything the agency does. Therefore, I believe strongly that we must confront them directly and correct them quickly.

Without the foundation of sound science, every decision, policy, and action at the agency can be called into question. Unfortunately, the mere perception of scientific stifling has the same damaging effect. As someone who believes wholeheartedly in NOAA’s mission, its people and its work, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that NOAA stands for scientific integrity. As I’ve stated previously, peer-reviewed science speaks for itself and doesn’t need me or anyone else to interpret or modify the results. For those of you who know me personally, you realize that I encourage and actively pursue vigorous debate on all topics, particularly including science related to NOAA’s mission.

The latest round of news reports focus on an information sheet that was being prepared for this year’s hurricane season rollout. The information sheet detailed the current state of the science on the recent increase in hurricane activity. There is currently a healthy debate in the scientific community inside and outside NOAA about whether recent increases are the result of natural cycles, climate change, or other circumstances. The information sheet was prepared and reviewed in a highly collaborative fashion by nearly 50 scientists across the entire spectrum of the debate and aimed to highlight this debate in an easy-to-understand public document.

Media reports have alleged that the document was blocked because it made a reference to work by NOAA scientists that found climate change may have an impact on increased hurricane activity. This charge is inaccurate. The information sheet summarized existing scientific research and findings and contained no new science. In fact, all the studies cited for the information sheet are publicly available on the NOAA website, making the charge that they would somehow now be suppressed all the more unfounded.

The information sheet in question has been posted on our website (PDF
document:
http://hurricanes.noaa.gov/pdf/hurricanes-and-climate-change-09-2006.pdf).
I urge you to read the document so you can judge for yourself. As I tried to make clear to the media, my hope was that this process would be an exercise in scientists with different views coming together to answer important questions. While I fear an official science policy issued by the agency might have the effect of stifling this important debate, I completely support making the public aware of the state of the science.
We have established a process for encouraging further scientific debate and developing similar information sheets and we look forward to others coming out in the near future.

I reiterate my call to you to let me know personally if you ever feel like NOAA or DOC processes are not supporting the free flow of your or your colleagues’ scientific research. Scientific integrity is critical to NOAA’s credibility.

Sincerely,

Conrad Lautenbacher's Signature
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator

Bob Ward Comments on Royal Society Letter

{I am very pleased that Bob Ward, formerly of the Royal Society, has sent in the following comment which we are happy to post. Thanks very much! RP]

I've enjoyed reading this exchange of views, particularly the discussion over the Royal Society's contribution to the debate. I thought it might help to set out some of my views, although rather belatedly. I should explain that my employment at the Royal Society ceased on 22 September - not, as some have suggested, because I was sacked but because I am moving on to a new job and had agreed my departure date about three months ago.

I'd like to give a bit of background about the ExxonMobil sag, but start with an explanation of how the Royal Society sees its role (writing as an ex-employee).

[continued]


As you probably know, the Society was founded in 1660 to promote the 'new experimental philosophy' ie that our understanding of the natural world should be based on experiment and observation rather than merely speculating about the nature of things. The Society's motto 'nullius in verba' has been translated in various ways (eg trust not in words alone, etc), but is today generally regarded as meaning that statements about science should be assessed against evidence. The Society (technically the Council of the Royal Society) has spoken out frequently, on many issues and throughout its history, when the scientific evidence is being ignored or misrepresented. It promotes debate within the scientific community and outside, but it does challenge attempts to misrepresent the evidence, for whatever reasons.

As many have pointed out, the climate change debate is not merely one of science. The question of what to do in light of the scientific evidence is essentially a societal and political one in which scientists might be able to identify the options, but have no special role in deciding which options to pursue. However, the Society has taken the view that the debate about the options should be based on authoritative and reliable assessments of the scientific evidence, as documented in the peer-reviewed literature. It is for this reason that the IPCC has the support of the Royal Society, and indeed of many of the world's other scientific academies, such as the US National Academy of Science.

Our understanding of climate change continues to develop, and this is reflected in the work of the IPCC. The Fourth Assessment Report, due for publication next year, will be able to draw on information not available for the Third Assessment, such as probabilistic assessments of future temperature changes. And of course there are some scientists who don't agree with the IPCC's assessments. But the IPCC does an excellent job of summarising the state of knowledge, taking into account the uncertainties and differences of opinion. I recommend the NAS report published in 2001 as a critical examination of the work of the IPCC.

The saga with ExxonMobil began back in April when I gave 'The Guardian' newspaper a document I had drafted about the way in which the coverage of climate change was being covered by the UK media. 'The Guardian' correctly reported that the document had, among other things, been critical of both ExxonMobil and Greenpeace for releasing information into the public domain, via their websites, that was inconsistent with the scientific evidence, as summarised by the IPCC. Both organsiations complained about being singled out. Greenpeace made changes to their website. ExxonMobil requested a meeting with me.

I met with a couple of members of the Esso UK corporate affairs team in early July. They gave me a presentation about the company's views on energy and climate change. I told them that the Society was concerned about statements in a report published in February that we considered misleading.

I also pointed out that ExxonMobil also appeared to be funding a lot of organisations that were also making misleading public statements about climate change. They then said to me that they were planning to stop such funding.

The meeting ended and nothing further happened until the end of August, when one of the people I had met with in July sent me a copy of a new report from ExxonMobil, containing almost verbatim the statements I had complained about at the meeting. So I wrote a letter pointing out why the statements were inaccurate and misleading.

I also asked about progress towards the pledge they had made about stopping funding for organisations that were providing misleading information about climate change. I went through the list of organisations that ExxonMobil listed in their 2005 contributions report and found, of those organisations with websites that included information about climate change, 25 appeared to provide information that was more or less consistent with the evidence documented in the scientific literature, but 39 did not. I also asked for a list of organsiations that they were funding in the UK and rest of Europe, since they were not listed in the ExxonMobil contributions report.

I hope this account shows that my actions weren't really hectoring or bullying anybody. All I did was challenge the statements that ExxonMobil have been promoting, directly and indirectly through its sponsorship, to the public about the scientific evidence for climate change. Surely that is a legitimate activity for an academy of science?

Sizing Up Bush on Science

Here is an interesting article in The Scientist on the Bush Administration.

Posted on October 4, 2006 12:54 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics

September 28, 2006

Scientists forming a 527 but will it be relevant?

"A number of America's leading scientists" have started a 527 called Scientists & Engineers for America which was covered by the NY Times today.

Their raison d'entrée is, "...electing public officials who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy."

Good: a group of concerned citizens banding together to advocate their issue.

Bad: Despite a stated aim to be nonpartisan, the group's very birth is a response to partisan politics, which makes it political by default.

The bad doesn't necessarily outweigh the good for SEforA, but it does illustrate what will be its biggest challenge. The challenge won't be affecting races or having an impact on the process, but on becoming staunchly nonpartisan and burnishing time and again its nonpartisan credentials. If it can successfully manage that, then SEforA can become relevant and salient, partnering with politicians from both parties. If not, then SEforA will become a de facto Democrat advocacy group, ignored by the Republicans whenever they are in power. Unfortunately the origins of SEforA speak to its partisan upbringing by using two Clinton Administration science advisors as headliners and using language that sounds like it came straight from Chris Mooney's book and the UCS report: "...when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interests ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research."

Here's hoping that SEforA works immediately toward nonpartisanship, realizing that they will have some work to do in convincing Republicans that their early, seemingly inherent links to the Democratic Party are nonbinding.

Posted on September 28, 2006 09:57 AM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Science + Politics



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