Politicizing Science

I’ve followed along these last few years as case after case of the White House politicizing global warming data has come to light. And I’ve also written of other cases where religion and religious beliefs have colored the science that the government disseminates to the public.

But to say only one side is guilty of allowing a particular political agenda to intrude into scientific inquiry is demonstrably false and ignores the fact that both sides now are engaged in an ideological struggle that is doing enormous damage to the credibility of science done in the public interest.

The taxpaying public must be reasonably certain that science being done by the government or funded with our tax dollars is above the political fray, that the conclusions reached by experts are free of partisan political taint and instead reflect empirical data discovered using the tried and true scientific method of inquiry. It should also be a given that this data should be open to full examination and criticism by other scientists, recognizing that vetting the work done in the laboratory in this manner is an important part of the scientific process.

Instead, both sides have been guilty of bending and twisting scientific observations to fit a preconceived political construct. i.e. global warming is a crock or, from the other side, global warming will kill us all. This occurs even when new discoveries and new data either buttresses or calls into question certain conclusions.

For example, we see this phenomena when models predicting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere are shown to be consistently off target – sometimes wildly so. For global warming skeptics, this is “proof” that climate change is a figment of the imagination. Global warming advocates simply ignore these models and point to other evidence.

Lost in the political debate is the fact that modeling is part of the scientific process and that we learn something every time scientists are wrong. Of course, this doesn’t stop global warming advocates from using other models as their own “proof” that global warming is happening and that we must radically alter our societies to combat it.

One of the most respected climate modelers, Roger A. Pielke, Sr. who is currently a Senior Research Associate at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (PAOS) and whose work has been cited by both skeptics and advocates lays out the difficulties that climate modellers and ultimately, global warming advocates face in predicting future climate change:
Humans are significantly altering the global climate, but in a variety of diverse ways beyond the radiative effect of carbon dioxide. The IPCC assessments have been too conservative in recognizing the importance of these human climate forcings as they alter regional and global climate. These assessments have also not communicated the inability of the models to accurately forecast the spread of possibilities of future climate. The forecasts, therefore, do not provide any skill in quantifying the impact of different mitigation strategies on the actual climate response that would occur.
And just recently, University of Copenhagen Professor Bjarne Andresen, an expert in thermodynamics, made a similar point about the difficulty in assessing the rise in global temperatures:
“It is impossible to talk about a single temperature for something as complicated as the climate of Earth,” said Andresen, an expert on thermodynamics. “A temperature can be defined only for a homogeneous system. Furthermore, the climate is not governed by a single temperature. Rather, differences of temperatures drive the processes and create the storms, sea currents, thunder, etc. which make up the climate”.
He says the currently used method of determining the global temperature—and any conclusion drawn from it—is more political than scientific.
Indeed, the entire global warming debate has become so politicized that the actual science being done – good and bad – takes a back seat to how either side can use scientific conclusions to win an argument.

If this kind of politicization were going on over an issue like answering the question of whether we’ve been visited by space aliens it wouldn’t matter very much. But the ramifications of the global warming debate affect every living thing on this planet not to mention the economic well being of America and the west. And the damage being done to the cause of free scientific inquiry cannot be underestimated. In short, the credibility of science is called into question when advocates and skeptics cherry pick facts and analyses to make their case.

Beyond using science as a political weapon, advocates of global warming regularly smear those on the other side by calling into question their motives. Dismissing skeptics as tools of the oil and gas industry is also damaging to scientific inquiry – especially since it isn’t true. Criticizing their conclusions by positing alternative theories based on sound logic and scientific principles is one thing. But character assassination has become the major weapon of climate change advocates. Calling skeptics “Nazis” and worse does nothing to advance scientific debate.

And censoring the facts about global warming is just as bad. There have been many examples over the past six years where the Bush Administration has excised references to climate change from official government reports. This is unconscionable. The perpetrator of this scientific fraud was Phil Cooney, a former lobbyist for the petroleum industry who was put in charge of the Council on Environmental Quality. Mr Cooney now works for Exxon Mobil. In one instance, Mr Cooney personally edited out a key section of an Environmental Protection Agency report to Congress on the dangers of climate change. “He called it speculative musing.”

At the same time, some global warming advocates in government are crying wolf. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, claimed the Administration was muzzling him by preventing him from being interviewed about global warming by various media outlets.

The problem for Mr. Hansen is that his charges are demonstrably false:
“We have over 1,400 opportunities that you’ve availed yourself to, and yet you call it, you know, being stifled,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican.

Mr. Hansen responded: “For the sake of the taxpayers, they should be availed of my expertise. I shouldn’t be required to parrot some company line…”

Mr. Deutsch, who was 23 at the time (sic), said Mr. Hansen was prohibited from doing the interview because of his prior refusal to notify NASA officials when he was granting interviews, not for political reasons.

Citing what he called his “constitutional right” to give interviews, Mr. Hansen admitted violating NASA’s press policy but defended his actions.

Someone who gives 1400 interviews and makes the charge that he’s being muzzled with a straight face should not be taken seriously – especially since he saw fit not to denounce earlier comments he made referring to the White House as a “propaganda office,” and saying, “It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States.”

And Mr. Hansen’s political connections should raise a few eyebrows:

Mr. Hansen received a $250,000 grant from the Heinz foundation, which is controlled by Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. Mr. Hansen was a vocal supporter of Mr. Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

“As far as I know, there’s no political connection to this award,” said Mr. Hansen, who has donated several thousand dollars to past presidential campaigns for Mr. Kerry and Mr. Gore. “It’s an environmental award.”


I doubt very much whether the collision of science and politics can be avoided when it comes to global warming – not when the solutions called for by advocates involve hundreds of billions of dollars in tax money and threaten the existence of some industries. But surely efforts can be made by both sides to lessen the impact of politics in formulating policy based on science. If not, I fear we face a future where the credibility of all science is called into question by the people footing the bill much to the detriment of both science and society at large.

Rick Moran is a frequent contributor and is proprietor of the blog Right Wing Nuthouse.