February 07, 2007
Should A Scientific Advisor be Evaluated According to Political Criteria?
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics
Consider NASAís James Hansen who complained that he was being interfered with by the Bush Administration which saw Mr. Hansenís 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. Hansenís 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 Stateís 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.
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?Posted on February 7, 2007 02:10 AM
It depends on what these people are paid to do. If Hansen is paid to write climate simulators, and he does that, and he's publishing papers, then his personal views are not vital to his job. There is notthing unprofessional about his work webpage:
If he is paid to be the official NASA spokesman on climate issues, then obviously it's a bit confusing if he is constantly changing his story between official and personal pronouncements.
I have no idea what the job description for the Oregon's state climatologist is, so I can't really comment on that case.
I think that in general, it is a bad thing for employers to punish employees who speak their minds outside of office hours.
Posted by: Lab Lemming at February 7, 2007 12:58 AM
Ah, Roger, Roger, Roger. This is how you get in trouble. Now, repeat after me: Jim Hansen *leads* the consensus. OTOH your suggestion that he be appointed U.S. Climatologist isn't bad!
Oh, and regarding George, one would think that his lack of climatological (as distinct from meteorological) qualifications would be more than enough grounds to look for someone else for the position. Of course they'll leave him in charge of what amounts to the state weather bureau, so what's your problem?
Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 7, 2007 01:44 AM
Roger, I think the answer to your question is clearly no, a scientific advisor's scientific advice should not ďsimply reflect a convenient political litmus test.Ē But that doesnít mean we have no basis to evaluate the content of what they say or of their expertise, unless you are prepared to deny that the very concept of expertise has a basis in anything other than politics!
I donít know anything about the Oregon example you cite, which seems to be a particularly ham-handed example of a political or policy litmus test on the governorís part, but one certainly *could* (and presumably must) evaluate a scientific advisorís advice based on its scientific competence (or an intelligence expertís advice about WMD on its conformance with actual facts about WMD). Somebody who did not understand the basics of climate science would not be a particular good climate science advisor, just as somebody who touted creationism would not be a very good advisor in biological science. Thus one can draw a clear and objective distinction between Hansen, who is clearly one of the worldís most knowledgeable individuals about climate science regardless of what you think of his advocacy for particular policies, and somebody who does not understand climate. And this can be done without relying on double standards or recourse to political litmus tests.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at February 7, 2007 02:34 AM
Here is a concept. How about having scientific advisors who can represent the consensus of the scientists.
A acientific advisor to a politician is someone whose jobs inherintly entails explaining the scientific consensus to the state and to the people. It is not a position to be filled randomly, with any scientist who happens to be available, with the result being you get one particular view, irrespective of how that view represents the rest of the scientific community.
Posted by: drphblue at February 7, 2007 02:40 AM
Thanks all -- the news story clearly referred to _political_ criteria being applied to evaluate Mr. Taylor, and said nothing about any other criteria. It is not clear to me that Oregon actually has any formal criteria to evaluate the position, which is not a particularly good practice. I certainly agree that scientific advisors should be evaluated based on specific substantive qualifications, but that does not appear to be the case here (or if it is they are used to hide the political).
Scott S.- Your suggestion that George Taylor doesn't understand the basics of climate seems at odds with your assertion that you don't know anything about this case. Please do be careful offering such strong personal criticism.
The issue I raise here is not the relative scientific credentials between Jim Hansen and George Taylor (to which I will readily grant that JH is held in higher regard). The issue is whether government advisors should be able to be canned simply because politicians do not like their pronouncements on _policy_ exactly as described by the Oregon governor.
To suggest that there is a threshold of scientific excellence which on one side such political control is allowed and on the other is not, strikes me as pretty arbitrary and unjustifiable.
Steve B.- Since you seem know where the scientific consensus is headed, you might apply for a job with the IPCC. Such clairvoyance would save an awful lot of time and energy among the scientific community;-) On sea level rise estimates at least, Dr. Hansen is far out of the consensus position, a fact that he readily admits.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 7, 2007 07:28 AM
You are confused about the "consensus". Once again, there is qualitative consensus that CO2 forcing tends to warm the surface. There is not *quantitave* consensus about the degree, including feedback, of that warming nor even if it is above the background. Politicians that claim the "science is settled" do not know the difference.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at February 7, 2007 08:01 AM
This is George Taylor's web page at Oregon State
George Taylor would appear to be "a climatologist" by most definitions. Do you have a definition that makes him "not a climatologist"?
Posted by: Margo at February 7, 2007 08:39 AM
While I agree that we should not allow politicians to pick and choose scientific experts based on whether then agree or disagree with current government policy; I think you have chosen a example that is not relevant to your point.
The Governor wants to remove Taylor from his position because he does not agree with the scientific position of the State's policy and yet is not able to offer a scientific argument against it.
The quality you want in a scientific advisor is how well their science can hang together. I would not consider it important to his role as a scientific advisor that George is outside the scientific consensus, but I do consider it fatal that he offers opinions that he is not able to back up with science.
Posted by: John Cross at February 7, 2007 08:59 AM
Out of curiosity, I explored a bit. Turns out The American Association of State Climatologists has a statement on climate change and variability which they wrote in 2001. It's available here: http://www.stateclimate.org/publications/files/aascclimatepolicy.pdf
Posted by: Margo at February 7, 2007 12:04 PM
The title "State Climatologist" was a title given to him by Oregon State University and himself. He was never the State Climatologist, Oregon has no such thing. By taking that title he gives the impression he is speaking for the government and people of Oregon - he is not.
Posted by: Ron In Portland at February 7, 2007 12:12 PM
Ron- Thanks. It is actually a bit more complicated than you suggest -- the "State Climatologist" is a federal designation under NOAA, see:
But to keep this on point. According to the Governor's own comments cited above, this is not about George Taylor's qualifications or federal-state turf. It is, in the governor's own words, about Mr. Taylor's taking a position that differs from that of the governor.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 7, 2007 12:31 PM
Hold on a second. Did you say Salem? That name does ring a bell, doesn't it. I mean, it has got a rather notorious namesake in Massachusetts, hasn't it?
Ah well, I guess my friend George Taylor should be thankful to the Governor of Oregon for his leniency and compassion. Let's not forget that those poor souls in Salem, Mass. were tried for a similar offence: they also denied that the calamity that had befallen the town was man-made -and were subsequently executed. It is reassuring to see that the land of the free and the home of the brave has made real progress since those dark days.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 7, 2007 12:45 PM
As Former State Climatologist of Colorado and Past President of the American Association of State Climatologists, I am familiar with this appointment. The political intervention of the Governors of Delaware and Oregon to seek the removal of two State Climatologists is unprecedented.
To provide background for the certification process, the website for the American Association of State Climatologists (AASC) is http://www.stateclimate.org/.
Both Oregon and Delaware are AASC recognized state climate offices within the national climate services partnership. These State Climate Offices are called ARSCOs.
As written in on the website,
"The National Climatic Data Center, the Regional Climate Centers, and the American Association of State Climatologists are fully committed to supporting the development of the ARSCO program."
Further, as given on the website,
"The ARSCO in each state shall be hosted by a state entity, preferably an agency in the public services sector. Examples of such state agencies or institutions are:
- accredited universities
- environmental agency such as a Department of Natural Resources
- separate state agency at the Governor's staff level
The individual holding the directorship of the ARSCO, usually the State Climatologist, must also be qualified in terms of education and experience. The individual should also have the desire and the "heart" to serve his/her state's need for climatological data and information. The individual should be a willing advocate on behalf of the ARSCO and the other partners. The individual must be able to devote an appropriate amount of time to make the ARSCO successful."
To become an ARSCO, the following rigorous certification process is required,
"To become an ARSCO, a state agency must secure a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the National Climatic Data Center. The MOA shall be between the NCDC and the host institution. The Director of NCDC shall sign on behalf of the government and a senior management official must sign for the state. (See appendix A for a sample MOA.) The MOA may be established once the AASC has officially recognized a state agency as an ARSCO (see below.)
For the AASC to officially recognize a state agency as an ARSCO, three basic documents must be submitted to the AASC President:
2. A letter of support from the state's Regional Climate Center Director (See Appendix B for a sample letter.)
3. A letter of support from at least one National Weather Service Forecast Office serving the state. (See Appendix C for a sample letter.)
Once the documents have been received and approved, the AASC President will notify the state agency and the NCDC.
As stated earlier, Delaware and Oregon are ARSCOs, and David Legates and George Taylor are both recognized as the ARSCO State Climatologists. They are both well qualified to communicate on climate issues, including the human role in altering the climate.
Posted by: Roger A. Pielke Sr. at February 7, 2007 02:03 PM
There is something interesting about the intersection of politics and science here. What is left out above is whether the "State Climatologist" position is titled in the state legislative codes, or by executive order, or within the state constitution? If none of those are true (and I get a sense for Oregon that that is the case, but I don't have the time or energy to pour through the OR state codes right now) then the *political* question arises: where does the Oregon "State Climatologist" get his legal legitimacy from *within* the state? It almost seems as if Taylor gets his legitimacy as "State Climatologist" from entities outside the state, not from entities within the state. Just being picked by OSU to hold the title isn't enough if OSU wasn't vested by the state with the power to make the appointment.
If it's true that Taylor is not appointed either directly or by an entity (like OSU) given the power from the legislature to appoint him, then in the eyes of the state's political apparatus (who guard their power zealously, obviously) he is not a legit spokesman for the state. And if Guv Ted believes that, then Guv Ted has every right to say "he's not my man."
Of course, Guv Ted would have been better served by hiring his own science advisor and ignoring the "State Climatologist" completely, without resorting to what looks like suppression.
Posted by: kevin v at February 7, 2007 02:41 PM
Just to clarify, the state climatologist was a federal position until 1973, when it was a victim of budget cuts. Afterwards, states where left to pick up the position if they so desired. In many cases, the position ended up being hosted by a state university or state agency. A person was appointed "state climatologist" to provide climate data and services to the citizens of the state. In the early years, that person had a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Climatic Data Center to have generally free access to the climate archives to carry out their duties. Later, the American Association of State Climatologist embarked on a program to evaluate and certify state climatologist programs based exclusively on their ability to provide climate services in their state.
Being state climatologist is less glamorous than the title implies. Most of my time in Illinois is spent monitoring climate conditions, providing climate data, writing reports, keeping the web site updated, etc. Only a small fraction of my time is spent on future climate change. I am not a line item in the state budget and I am not appointed by the Governor. My home agency, the Illinois State Water Survey, agreed to host the position back in 1973 and it has remained there ever since.
To the best of my knowledge, I don't think a state climatologist has ever been appointed by the Governor of a state with the primary intention of being a science advisor to the Governor. Beside, why not create an advisory committee if you want advice on climate change issues?
In George's case, I've known him for several years and I would say that he knows more about the climate of Oregon than just about anybody. Besides providing climate services for many years, he has written books on both the weather and climate of the state. He was one of the first to be certified by the American Association of State Climatologist and his program (like all others) is reviewed annually.
BTW, I've served under both Republican and Democrat Governors during my tenure without any problems (knock on wood).
Posted by: Jim Angel at February 7, 2007 03:07 PM
Kevin- The state climatologist is a federal position. I agree 100% that the Gov. has every right to pick his own advisors and this would have made more sense in this case.
The realities are that state's rarely have resources to devote to climate activities (there are exceptions like OK) and so welcome the federal and university support for such extension activities. Generally the issue is completely noncontroversial. Climate change politics have a way of changing all that . . .
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 7, 2007 03:33 PM
Quick search of the Oregon Revised Statutes and the Oregon Constitution (http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/) has no mention of a state climatologist. Given what both Pielkes have said, it seems that kind of arrangement would be the norm.
I think it's still an open question how much of a problem or issue this actually is. There is some concern on my part about how they represent themselves more than about how they are appointed. If any state climatologist is speaking as though they are representing the state, but don't have such authority (by whatever granting mechanism), that is a problem.
On the state side of things, it would be a problem to restrict Taylor's utterances based on his affiliation with a public university. Then we get into some academic freedom issues (among other things).
Posted by: David Bruggeman at February 7, 2007 03:49 PM
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 7, 2007 04:27 PM
I do not see the rationality in the above arguments legitimizing this movement by launching personal attacks on George Taylor. Even if these attacks were true, they would be irrelevant. Of course, those with more knowledge have already come forth and refuted those attacks on Mr. Taylor.
What I find more interesting is the Governor's take on all of this:
"Kulongoski said the state needs a consistent message on reducing greenhouse gases to combat climate change."
I think we can all agree that if the State of Oregon was evacuated by 3:00 pm this afternoon, and no human set foot in the state for 100 years, it would make absolutely no measurable difference in global climate 100 years from now. If the governor truly thinks that a consistant climate change message in Oregon is vital for the wellbeing of the state or the planet, he is delusional and should be removed from office!
It is pretty obvious that this movement is stricly political and results from George being a thorn in the Governor's side. I am sure that some people in Oregon have pointed out that Mr. Taylor knows more about climate change than the Governor and have used that fact to resist the Governor's attempts to further regulate the citizens. That is politics in the USA. Using the power of the state to effectively silence political thorns is more like politics in the USSR and blatantly unconstitutional!
Posted by: Jim Clarke at February 8, 2007 08:49 AM
Roger, it's a side issue, but the 'intelligence shenanigans' to which you refer led to exactly the same conclusion as was made by the Clinton administration (viz the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act and the emphatic and enthusiastic evaluation by Tenet, the Clinton-appointed DCI.)
I recognize the rhetorical advantage of associating this position with the Evil One, but even so....
Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at February 8, 2007 10:57 AM
I had a post last night that was rejected for content (possibly multiple URLs). Hopefully it will appear today.
I have a question for George's supporters: Is Oregon State Climatologist in effect a lifetime appointment? Who (or what agency) makes the appointment? Is there a tenure provision of some sort associated with the job? (Again, I'm speaking here of the climatologist job, which I guess is really just a title, as distinct from George's position with the Oregon Climate Service. The latter, I would assume, would fall under OSU employment rules.)
Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 8, 2007 12:09 PM
Steve- I don't see your earlier post on this thread anywhere ... please resubmit .. Thanks!
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 8, 2007 12:48 PM
So, as I understand it
Posted by: rmark at February 8, 2007 01:57 PM
Well, according to this 2005 article http://www.wweek.com/story.php?story=6655&page=1 George's colleagues seem to think he's a distinct problem:
Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 8, 2007 03:12 PM
Thanks Steve, on the general principle I put you down as being for politically-appointed science advisors, except when appointed by politicians with whom you disagree! ;-)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 8, 2007 03:23 PM
Roger, I agree that "one should have concern about scientific advisory positions being determined by purely political criteria" and "whether government advisors should be able to be canned simply because politicians do not like their pronouncements on _policy."
However, in the case of George Taylor, it appears that you have not established your premises that he serves in a "scientific advisory position" or is a "government advisor".
Rather, since it appears very clearly that Taylor is NOT a government scientific advisor, the question in his case is whether the state government has the right to dissociate itself from his positions that others may mistakenly assume to be official positions of the state.
What is your view on THAT question?
Posted by: TokyoTom at February 9, 2007 01:56 AM
Given that the position of state climatologist is designated by a government agency (NOAA-NCDC) and functions in an extension role (like US agricultural extension), it seems fairly straightforward to conclude that the SC is a "science advisory position" created by government. I don't think we need to split hairs over this.
The SC is not, in many, cases an official "state" position, and the state officials are stakeholders like farmers, business, local gov't, etc. The state government has whatever right to set up whatever advisory apparatus that it chooses, including a parallel advisor on climate issues.
In the case of Oregon, the governor has made very clear that such advice should be determined according to its political expediency. I have pointed out that if such means of getting advice are OK for this particular chief executive, why not another chief executive with a different political agenda?
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 9, 2007 04:26 AM
Roger: Continuing from your statement that "it seems fairly straightforward to conclude that the SC is a "science advisory position" created by government." will you accept that someone in a "science advisory position" should advise based on science?
This of course leads to the question - should they advise on the "best science available"?
Posted by: John Cross at February 9, 2007 06:08 AM
What do "political criteria" have to do with anything? Hansen is right on the science, and Kulongoski is wrong. It's just that simple. If the Surgeon General started advising people to use leeches to cure cancer, I think we'd want him to shut up too.
Posted by: Liberal Chris at February 9, 2007 12:52 PM
Liberal Chris- Thanks for your participation. For the reference to "political criteria" please read the original newspaper article and the Oregon governor's comments.
John- Thanks, I'm sure we can all agree that we want advisors to use the best available science.
But what science? Lets take for discussion as given Jim Angel's assertion that no one knows more about Oregon's climate that Taylor. Lets also take as given that he is out of the mainstream on climate change. OK, how do you decide which areas of science to privilege? Do you want an SC who is not the best on Oregon's climate but reflects the IPCC on global issues? Or vice versa?
I don't think appealing to the "best science available" gets you anywhere until you specify exactly what you mean by that phrase with respect to the science advisory position.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 9, 2007 02:07 PM
Roger -- it's not that central, really, but the splitting of hairs *is* important to the political situation from the perspective of the Guv's office. An elected has the right (and should) hire/appoint a science advisor of their choosing, not have one imposed upon them from some other level of government. So to define Taylor's position as "a 'science advisory position' created by government" --- in the context of this case --- is to ignore that the "government" is the federal government, not the Oregon government. Guv Ted has a mess on his hands because Taylor's title implies state-sanctioned legitimacy to speak to an issue that the Guv has deemed important, and Taylor has an agenda orthogonal to the Guv's. That the appearance of state-sanctioned legitimacy comes from a federal program obviously kills the Guv ("He is Oregon State University's climatologist. He is not the state of Oregon's climatologist," Kulongoski said.).
I can't fully agree with this:
"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."
It's up to the elected to determine whether he/she wants an honest broker advisor or a yes-man.
Posted by: kevin v at February 9, 2007 03:45 PM
Roger, thanks for the reply. I am very happy to accept Jim's statement that Taylor knows more about Oregon weather than anyone else (I also trust William Grey for hurricane forecasting for that matter).
In regards to the best science available there are a couple of things that we can rule out. For example I don't think that anyone could disagree with the statement that taking opinions for which there is no scientific evidence is not the best science available.
As far as I can see this boils down to an issue of science. If a scientific adviser presents a scientific case that goes against a consensus view but is able to support that viewpoint through the peer review process, then your point becomes valid and I can accept such an example. But if he is not able to do that then the Governor should be allowed to appoint someone who will provide opinions backed by science. After all if we are not going to have opinions backed by science then what is to prevent us from having augures as scientific advisers.
Posted by: John Cross at February 9, 2007 06:31 PM
Whther you think it's out of bounds or not depends on your definition of science. If it includes corruption by politics for whatever reason (the end *includes* the means), it is the slippery slope.
If science is to remain science in terms of reality, scientists can not become yes men to people seeking votes.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at February 9, 2007 08:11 PM
Hi Kevin- You write:
"It's up to the elected to determine whether he/she wants an honest broker advisor or a yes-man. "
OK, I don't disagree, but are you willing to apply this to GWB as well? (Phil Cooney comes to mind ...;-)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at February 9, 2007 09:05 PM
Roger, while I agree with you on significant points here, I object to your efforts to establish any sort of equivalency to the gross political manipulation of climate science that has taken place under the Bush administration and the efforts by a few states to clarify that their federally-designated "state climatologists" in no way have been sanctioned by the state to act as a public spokesman for the state on policy issues.
You have acknowledged that Oregon has not designated Taylor as its "state climatologist", and it is clear that while Taylor may be a liaison to the NCDC and the AASC, that the state government has the "right to set up whatever advisory apparatus that it chooses", including a parallel advisor on climate issues.
I presume you would also agree that Oregon has the right to designate besides Taylor as its "state climatologist" (or to have none at all), and that simply a tussle over the conditions that go with the job title does not itself amount to or imply a squelching of science or public debate or of the ability of Taylor, sans title, to say whatever he wishes.
Posted by: TokyoTom at February 13, 2007 01:38 AM