Rep. Sensenbrenner projects “fascism” and “fraud” onto scientists, is rebutted at hearing

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Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) channeled the reckless spirit of the late Sen. Joe McCarthy in an effort to lead a December 3 House global warming committee hearing toward a witchhunt based on e-mails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit in the U.K.  Sensenbrenner essentially accused the climate scientists of “fascism” and suggested that a scientific assessment that included the CRU global temperature record among its many sources is part of “a massive international scientific fraud.”  Witnesses John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, leading Administration science representatives, countered with cool reason.  Committee chairman Ed Markey and Rep. Jay Inslee hit back harder.

See our earlier posts:
Holdren and Lubchenco warn Congress of climate disruption, call for emissions cuts and preparedness

Open Letter to Congress from U.S. Scientists on Climate Change and Recently Stolen Emails

IPCC statement on stolen emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia

Ben Santer: Open letter to the climate science community

Nick Sundt, Communications Director for Climate Change at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, DC, has posted on the WWF Climate Blog two valuable entries on the hearing that provide considerable documentation with directly-quoted material, numerous embedded links to additional resources, and video clips.  We take the liberty here of re-posting detailed (and very slightly edited) passages from his December 7 post.  See the original post on the WWF Web site for embedded links and video clips from the hearing.

In Congressional Hearing, Administration Officials Respond to E-Mail Controversy

by Nick Sundt on 12/07/2009

In a hearing last week on the state of climate science, White House science adviser John Holdren addressed Republican assertions that the content of e-mail messages stolen from the University of East Anglia in the U.K. raised fundamental doubts about the strength of climate change science.  “There is and there will remain after the dust settles in this current controversy a very strong scientific consensus on the key characteristics of the [climate change] problem,” countered Holdren.

Holdren said that human wellbeing already was being affected as climate is disrupted by human activities, mostly fossil fuel use and deforestation, and that “continuing with business as usual” in those activities “is highly likely to lead to the growth of the impacts to substantially unmanageable levels.”

The hearing on “The State of Climate Change Science” before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming featured two witnesses:

o John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President
o Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The five Republican committee members who attended the hearing focused both their opening statements and their subsequent questions on the widely publicized theft and subsequent release of emails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) on 17 November 2009.

Leading the effort to shift attention to the emails was the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.  His opening statement, those of his Republican colleagues, and their comments later in the hearing sought to amplify the importance of the incident and capitalize on the circumstances to raise doubts about the entire scientific basis for domestic and international action on climate change.

Before the hearing, the Republican committee members had sent a letter to the committee chairman Ed Markey requesting a day of hearings on the issue.  In his opening statement, Sensenbrenner claimed that a CRU dataset that was the subject of some of the stolen email “is the basis for virtually all peer-reviewed literature.”  He added that “the e-mails show a pattern of suppression, manipulation and secrecy that was inspired by ideology, condescension and profit. They read more like scientific fascism than the scientific process.”

“Hopefully this scandal is the end of declarations that the ‘science is settled’ and a beginning of a transparent scientific debate,” Sensenbrenner acerbically added.

Holdren responded with characteristic clarity to the issues raised by the Republicans on the committee.  His opening statement on the e-mails:

“The e-mails are mainly about a controversy over a particular data set and the ways a particular small group of scientists have interpreted and displayed that data set. It is important to understand that these kinds of controversies and even accusations of bias and improper manipulation are not all that uncommon in science – in all branches of science. The strength of science is that these kinds of controversies get sorted out over time as to who is wrong, who is right, and how much it matters, by the process of peer review, and continued critical scrutiny by the knowledgeable community of scientists.

“Of course openness in sharing of data and methods is very important in this process. And as I think you all know, this administration is a strong proponent of openness in science and in government, and Administrator Lubchenco will have things to say about public access to the climate data maintained by her agency and maintained by other agencies in the United States.”

“In this particular case, the data set in question and the way it was interpreted and presented by these particular scientists constitute a very small part of the immense body of data and analysis on which our understanding of climate change rests. The question being addressed by these data was have there been natural periods of warming in the last one or two thousand years in particular, that have been stronger than the episode now being experienced.

“That is an interesting question and because of the controversy around it at the time most of these emails were written, that is in the early 2000s, the National Academy of Sciences undertook a thorough review of all of the relevant datasets, and all of the methods of analysis not just the dataset used by these particular authors or the methods used by these particular authors. The National Academies report on this matter [Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years] was published in 2006 and it concluded that the preponderance of available evidence points to the conclusion that the last 50 years have been the warmest half century in at least the last 1,000 years and probably much longer.

“There is and there will remain after the dust settles in this current controversy a very strong scientific consensus on the key characteristics of the problem. Global climate is changing in highly unusual ways compared to long experienced and expected natural variations. The unusual changes match what theory and models tell us would be expected to result from the very changes in the atmosphere that we know have been caused by human activities, above all burning fossil fuels and tropical deforestation.

“Significant impacts on human wellbeing from these changes in climate are already being experienced and continuing with business as usual in the fossil fuel burning and the tropical deforestation activities that are the largest contributors to these changes in the atmosphere is highly likely to lead to the growth of the impacts to substantially unmanageable levels.”

Following Sensenbrenner’s lead, the other committee Republicans focused their opening statements on the CRU emails. Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona said “…you have to understand that …the entire credibility of the theory is placed on the line.”  He claimed that “the evidence we are supposed to be basing our decisions upon has been clearly politicized” and that “there is a grave question about its credibility.”  He concluded that until the issue is resolved “it is impossible for this Congress to set public policy in this area.”

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Michigan) asserted that “the central arguments about manmade – ‘manmade’ – climate change is certainly in question. I think the science is not settled and the debate is raging around the United States and around the globe, particularly on the eve of Copenhagen.”

After Holdren and Lubchenco presented their prepared testimony, the Republicans on the committee used the question and answer portion of the hearing in a focused attack that used the CRU emails as a basis for questioning the scientific basis for action.  Sensenbrenner specifically raised doubts about the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007) and the report released in June this year by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.

Lubchenco had introduced the IPCC reports in her testimony as “the gold standard for authoritative scientific information on climate change because of the rigorous way in which they are prepared, reviewed, and approved.”  Lubchenco said the USGCRP report, which was initiated under the Bush administration and later submitted to Congress by Lubchenco and Holdren, “provides concrete scientific evidence that demonstrates unequivocally that the climate is changing, and we are seeing its impacts in our own backyards in every region in the country.”

Each of the committee members had been given a copy of the USGCRP report along with a brochure summarizing its findings. Sensenbrenner charged that because CRU data were among the evidence used by the USGCRP, “these two books that were passed out this morning, you know, at best need to have a thorough review in the light of this information that has been disclosed and at worst it is junk science and is part of a massive international scientific fraud.”  Sensenbrenner also said the CRU emails “ end up putting into question all of the science of climate change.”

When Holdren responded by saying “with respect, I would disagree with you that this current uproar calls into question all of climate science; I do not believe that it remotely…,” Sensenbrenner interrupted: “Well, sir, I did not say that. I said it ought to be looked at again, and you know there is increasing evidence of scientific fascism that is going on.”

Holdren replied:

“I very much agree that we need to resolve the current issue. I think it is important to understand what has really gone on here, to get to the bottom of it. As I indicated before, that’s been one of the strengths of science over the years, the capacity to get to the bottom of the controversy that emerged, and I believe we’ll get to the bottom of this one. But the key point is however this particular controversy comes out, the result will not call into question the bulk of our understanding of how the climate works or of how humans are affecting it.”

Lubchenco later echoed Holdren’s conclusion, saying that in her view “the emails really do nothing to undermine the very strong scientific consensus and the independent scientific analyses of thousands of scientists around the world that tell us that the earth is warming and that the warming is largely a result of human activities.”

Sensenbrenner ironically charged that “there is an awful lot of scientific McCarthyism” going on, referring to the bullying tactics of another Wisconsin legislator, Senator Joseph McCarthy over 50 years ago. (According to Wikipedia, the term “McCarthyism” is used “generally to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries.”)

Responding to Sensenbrenner’s suggestion that the CRU emails suggest a “massive international scientific fraud,” Congressman Jay Inslee (D-Washington) asked if Holdren were “part of that massive international conspiracy.”  Holdren replied:

“… I do not believe that there is a conspiracy. It would be an amazing thing indeed if the academies of science of virtually every country in the world that had one, and if the earth and planetary sciences departments in every major university that had one around the world, were all engaged together with the United Nations Environment Programme, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and all the other bodies that have reviewed this matter, in a conspiracy. That really defies imagination, that the great bulk of scientific community all around the world looking at these matters has come to the same conclusion.”

Rep. Inslee also asked Holdren about evidence in NASA of what Congressman Sensenbrenner called “scientific fascism.”  “I’m not even sure exactly what that term would mean,” Holdren said, “but I’m not aware of any cabals, conspiracies, misbehavior in the characterization and use of data in NASA or NOAA.”

Rep. John Sullivan (R-Oklahoma) asserted that there “seems to be a culture of corruption in the scientific community right now.” He asked the witnesses: “Do you see that as a problem: yes or no?” Lubchenco responded that “I don’t believe that the exchanges that you saw are typical of the broader scientific community.” Holdren added:  “I would add that I too do not believe that these emails are remotely sufficient to demonstrate a culture of corruption in the scientific community. They are emails from a relatively few people involved in a particular controversy that was attended by a good deal of frustration and anger.”
In his closing remarks, Rep. Inslee said:

“Well I’ll tell you it is troublesome to me, the people who put man on the moon, the people who discovered water on the moon, the people who are doing great research figuring out how the oceans are becoming acidic – some of whom are my constituents – it is disturbing to me that people would come to this chamber and call them fascists. I’ve got to tell you I have a problem with that. I don’t think that is right. These men and women are doing the best they can to provide us data and conclusions through the best of their ability. And they through their professional work have reached a very, very strong consensus on these scientific issues, who are working for Uncle Sam.”

In his spirited closing statement, Chairman Markey challenged efforts by the committee’s Republicans to use the emails to challenge the overall scientific consensus on climate change.  Referring to a chart showing how global temperatures have increased as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the Atmosphere, Markey said:

“The consensus of the science in the world, the national academies of sciences of every country in the world is that this spike in CO2 is manmade and it is causing dramatic changes in our oceans, to our glaciers, in the Arctic, in the Villages of Alaska that see their permafrost melting and their villages falling into the ocean, and droughts being created around the world. And all of this evidence is basically so massive that there is no way to avoid it. And so what the [Republican] minority has decided to do, what the deniers have decided to do, what the oil and coal industries have decided to do is to use the few emails of a few people ... as a way of trying to cast doubt… We can continue this pretense and we can use a small number of emails I suppose to have a larger debate, but I think that it would be better for us to accept the science, to accept this curve, to basically deal with the reality ... They sit over here using a couple of emails as a reason why we should stop all efforts to deal with this catastrophic threat to our planet.”

Addressing the committee’s Republicans, Markey asked:

“What is the answer? Again, we keep saying: what are you saying is the answer to why this is spiking so dramatically? Where is your evidence? Just by casting doubt with a few emails on a consensus globally and a century-wide study of this subject… is not going to deal with this issue.”

Pointing to Holdren and Lubchenco, Markey continued:

“These scientists are our best people in our country and they are joined by thousands of others not only here but across the world in ... There is no alternative theory that the minority is proposing.”

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