The Intersection

Report from the Waxman Hearing

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Well, I got off jury duty and managed to get over to the Hill after all. As I write this, the Waxman hearing is still ongoing, and you can watch it here. I have it on good authority from three people that in the opening statements, Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat, actually waved a copy of The Republican War on Science around. I’ll be looking for that on the replay. [Never mind, here's an image of it. - ed]

As I rode cabs to and from the hearing, I heard radio news coverage both times talking about it–and that itself is a big achievement, it seems to me. Finally, Democrats can set the agenda, and in so doing can force attention to this long-simmering politics and science issue. The Union of Concerned Scientists have led the way on this front, and they have just released a report (PDF) documenting new evidence of political interference with the dissemination of information about climate science by the administration. I haven’t extensively perused the report yet, but it was a central focus of the hearing.

Roger Pielke, Jr., was also on hand testifying (PDF) about how to some extent, everyone must selectively use scientific information in order to make a persuasive argument. And indeed, that was on full display as Rep. Dennis Kucinich made wildly incautious remarks about the relationship between hurricanes and global warming in his opening statements at the hearing. Unfortunately I did not transcribe Kucinich’s exact remarks–I’ll find them later–but they made me groan when I heard them.

Kucinich’s words were proof positive that to some extent, both sides bend science. But nevertheless, the Waxman hearing in general presented overwhelming evidence that there is something uniquely troubling about the Bush administration in this regard, chiefly because the misbehavior is now apparently institutionalized and pervades our own taxpayer-funded federal government.

Anyone can cite examples of politics rubbing up against science at previous moments in American history, or under different administrations. But as have previous reports, the new Union of Concerned Scientists/Government Accountability Project report (PDF) demonstrates with actual data that this is a systematic problem within the Bush administration. That’s fundamentally different from coming up with a few anecodotes from prior administrations; and it can’t be rebutted with a few anecdotes either. Allow me to quote from the UCS report, which describes the results of a survey of 1,600 federal climate scientists that had a 19 percent response rate:

Nearly half of all respondents (46 percent of all respondents to the question) perceived or
personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words “climate change,” “global warming,” or other similar terms from a variety of communications.

Two in five (43 percent) perceived or personally experienced changes or edits during review that changed the meaning of scientific findings.

More than one-third (37 percent) perceived or personally experienced statements by officials at their agencies that misrepresented scientists’ findings.

Nearly two in five (38 percent) perceived or personally experienced the disappearance or unusual delay of websites, reports, or other science-based materials relating to climate.

Nearly half (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate related work.

One-quarter (25 percent) perceived or personally experienced situations in which scientists have actively objected to, resigned from, or removed themselves from a project because of pressure to change scientific
findings.

Asked to quantify the number of incidents of interference of all types, 150 scientists (58 percent) said they had personally experienced one or more such incidents within the past five years, for a total of at least 435 incidents of political interference.

Rep. Darell Issa, a Republican from California, was attacking the UCS report at the hearing because of the low response rate in the survey. But of course that completely misses the point. The UCS has successfully proven that hundreds of federal climate scientists are experiencing this problem of political interference. So what if that’s only about 10 percent of them or less (depending on the question asked). It’s still a huge number, and Issa ought to be doing his job and looking into why it is that this is happening, rather than trying to undermine the messenger.

The hearing also featured testimony from Drew Shindell of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who was willing to go on the record (PDF) with his complaints about interference with the dissemination of his research findings by NASA politicos, and Rick Piltz (PDF), the whistleblower who has exposed wrongdoing in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, particularly when it comes to undermining the U.S. National Assessment (for much more detail see Chapter 7 of The Republican War on Science).

The White House Council on Environmental Quality was a repeated target in the hearings, and it is apparently delaying (PDF) on the delivery of documents requested by Waxman’s committee. But never fear, this is just the beginning of a longstanding investigation, and Waxman has a lot of power in his hands now. CEQ will not be able to stall forever.

All in all, the upshot is that it is indeed a new day in Washington for the politics and science issue, and I can’t express how glad I am to see this finally come to pass.

P.S.: Rep. Cooper also pointed out something else revealing in his talk, besides apparently citing RWOS….see here.

Comments

  1. #1 donna
    January 30, 2007

    Issa is a jerk who wouldn’t know how to do his job if he tried. He’s just a Republican shill.

  2. #2 Kate
    January 31, 2007

    thanks for the links, chris.
    as i finally saw ‘an inconvenient truth’ tonight (yes i realize that i’m the last person in the world), i guess today i joined Congress in finally starting to make a little progress toward understanding what’s going on w/ climate change
    hope the hearing produced some meaningful ripples…