Possibly inspired by this event, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Arizona Raúl M. Grijalva (Dem) has requested information on funding of seven mitigation sceptical scientists that have testified before the US congress. Next to funding also the drafts of the testimonies and any correspondence about them are requested. The seven letters went to the employers of: David Legates, John Christy, Judith Curry, Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Roger Pielke and Steven Hayward.
This is harassment of scientists for their politically inconvenient positions. That is wrong and should not happen. This is a violation of the freedom of research.
Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Jr. are on twitter and I was happy to see that basically everyone agreed that targeting scientists for political aims is wrong. There was a lot of support for them from all sides of this weird US climate "debate".
Looks like I am up next in this 'witch hunt' http://t.co/nBrw3T7DXy— Judith Curry (@curryja) February 24, 2015
@RogerPielkeJr Welcome to the new McCarthyism. Congress should not be able to investigate on a whim. You have my *unequivocal* support.— Eric Steig (@ericsteig) February 24, 2015
[UPDATE. The American Meteorological Society also sees these letters are wrong: "Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers... We encourage the Committee to rely on the full corpus of peer-reviewed literature on climate science as the most reliable source for knowledge and understanding that can be applied to the policy options before you."]
After these signs of solidarity, maybe this is the right moment to agree that all harassment of all scientists is wrong and change the rules. I would personally prefer that the Freedom of Science gets constitutional rank everywhere, like it already has in Germany having learned from the meddling in science during the Third Reich. At least we should change the law and stop the harassment, especially by the governments and politicians.
Next to the affair around Willie Soon, the open record requests by Democrat Rep. Grijalva may also have been inspired by the plans of Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe and California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. They announced this week their plans to investigate the politically inconvenient temperature record of NASA-GISS. This not too long after a congressional audit which kept the scientists of the National Climate Data Centre (NOAA-NCDN) from their important work.
@caerbannog666 expect there to be congressional hearings into NASA altering weather station data to falsely indicate warming￼ & sea rise— Dana Rohrabacher (@DanaRohrabacher) February 20, 2015
The new investigation of GISS is all the more ironic as the GISS dataset is nowadays basically the NCDC dataset, but with a reduced trend due to an additional attempt to reduce the effect of urbanization. Probably these two mitigation sceptical politician do not even know that they will investigate an institution that makes the trend smaller. Just like most mitigation sceptics do not seem to know that the net effect of all adjustments for non-climatic changes is a reduction in global warming.
It is not as if this was the first harassment of inconvenient climate scientists. As the Union of Concerned Scientists writes:
Notably, the requests from Rep. Grijalva are considerably less invasive than a request made in 2005 by Rep. Joe Barton for materials from Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. Rep. Barton’s request sought not only funding information but also data, computer code, research methods, information related to his participation in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (including report reviewers), and detailed justifications of several of his scientific calculations. The Barton requests were roundly condemned by scientists, and were part of a long history of harassment of Dr. Mann and his colleagues.
Then we did not yet mention the report in which Republican Senator James Inhofe called for the persecution of 17 named inconvenient climate scientists and more not named scientists. We did not yet mention the political attack of the Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Michael Mann, which the Virginia Supreme Court halted after costing the university nearly $600,000 for legal fees.
The harassment is not limited to the USA. There was an action of the mitigation sceptics to ask Phil Jones of the UK Climate Research Unit (CRU) for the data and contracts with the weather services for five random countries. The same Phil Jones of the politically inconvenient CRUT global temperature curve whose emails were stolen and widely distributed by the mitigation sceptics. Emails which did not contain any evidence of wrongdoings, but spreading them is an efficient way to punish Jones for his inconvenient work by hurting his professional network.
In New Zealand, the Member of Parliament Mr. Hide filed 80 parliamentary questions to the the maintainers of the temperature record of New Zealand. As a result the minister requested an audit by the Australian Weather Service, which costed the researchers several months of work. The mitigation sceptics in New Zealand have on started a foundation for juridical attacks. When the judge ordered these mitigation sceptics to pay the costs of the trail, NZ$89,000, the foundation filed for bankruptcy, leaving the tax payers with the costs.
Open records lawsOpen records does not help to check a scientific consensus. Scientists judge the evidence collectively, as historian of science Naomi Orekes states. Chris Mooney writes, in a beautiful piece on motivated reasoning, explains that this means that individual scientists are not important:
We should trust the scientific community as a whole but not necessarily any individual scientist. Individual scientists will have many biases, to be sure. But the community of scientists contains many voices, many different agendas, many different skill sets. The more diverse, the better.This may come as a surprise to people who get their science from blogs or mass media. Mitigation sceptical blogs like to single out a small number of public scientists. Possibly not to make it visible how many scientists stand behind our understanding of climate change, possibly to dissuade other scientists from speaking in public.
Journalists like to focus on people and tell stories about how single persons revolutionised entire scientific fields. Even in the most medially hyped examples of clearly brilliant scientists such as Einstein and Feynman this is not true. If other scientists had not checked the consequences of their claims, these claims would have been a cry in deep vacuum. Journalists also tend to exaggerate the importance of single (new) scientific articles with spectacular and thus make the huge number of less sexy articles invisible.
These journalists would like to be allowed to do almost anything for a juicy story. In the Columbia Journalism Review, a journalist complained that exemptions for science “made it difficult for journalists to look into (Penn State’s) football sex abuse scandal.” I fail to see why journalists should have extra rights to investigate sex scandals, when they happen at public institutions. If they want more rights, then everyone should be affected, also private universities, companies and journalists. Personally I am not sure if I want to live in such a post-privacy world.
This kind of invasion of privacy has real consequences. I notice that colleagues in countries with Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) harassment write short and formal mails, whereas they are just as talkative at conferences or on the telephone. That is only natural, when you write for the front page of the New York Times you put in more effort to make sure that every detail is right and clear. If you have to put in that amount of effort for every mail to a colleague, you naturally write less. This hinders scholarly communication.
Mitigation sceptics that are convinced that top scientists control science and determine what is acceptable for publication should welcome strong confidentiality even more. That allows the honest scientists to build a coalition and get rid of these supposedly dishonest scientists. More realistically, scientists need to be able to warn their colleagues about errors in the work or character of other people.
Finally, scientists are also humans and write about private things. That is important to keep networks strong. The more so because for many science is not just a profession, but a vocation. Thus boundaries between private and work can be vague.
Thus I would argue that scientific findings should be checked by scientists. That includes everyone who invested the time to make himself an expert, not just the professionals. However, that is not the role of journalists and certainly not of politicians.
In my view, scientists should stand together against political intimidation from any side. We'll sort out scientific disagreements ourselves— Richard Betts (@richardabetts) February 25, 2015
OpennessThere are naturally cases where the public may want to know more about what is happening at academic institutions. The funding of science is a good example. It has been shown that the funding source influences the results of medical research. This should thus be disclosed.
Industry funding of science is welcome, but it should happen openly. Representatives of industry have complained that that would make it impossible for them to collaborate with universities, because that would give competing firms strategic information and would allow them to copy the ideas. I would argue that when the research is that straightforward, it is not something for a university.
At some universities in Switzerland and at the University of Cologne there have recently been protests against companies funding large amounts of research and about contractual conditions that limit scientists in their work. This can also limit the freedom of science and we need rules for this. It should not lead to a situation where industry research is sold as independent academic research.
It should never be possible to firms to stop the publication of results. A contract with Willie Soon stated that he was not allowed to disclose his funding. I feel such conditions should not be allowed. Some people complained about contractual obligations or scientists to inform the firms of their work. I would feel that that is still okay, it is natural that the firms are interested in a transfer the knowledge. Also in case of larger joint projects, scientists are expected to show up at general meetings of the project.
Sometimes replication of scientific work is hard, for example in case of large dietary studies or clinical trails. This makes it hard for scientists to check such research without access to the original data. Also in climatology it would be very beneficial if the governments around the world would allow a free transfer of observational data. Climate data is often withheld for commercial and military reasons. While climate data is valuable, the number of people willing to pay for them is small and the fees minimal. The military value of climate data is disappearing due to the accuracy of modern global weather predictions.
In all the above cases and maybe more, we should not work with open record laws, but make the information open for everyone for every case. In this way these laws cannot be abused for attacks on scientists doing politically inconvenient work. Criminal investigations should naturally be possible, scientists are humans, but should never, ever be ordered by politicians, such as in the case of Senator Inhofe. We should protect the separation of powers, such political orders should be illegal.
Related readingAn insider’s story of the global attack on climate science.
Jim Salinger, who produced a temperature dataset for New Zealand, talks about how he and this employer were harassed by politicians and mitigation sceptics.
What Kinds of Scrutiny of Scientists are Legitimate?
Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists argues that the information requests send to the 7 mitigation sceptics go too far: the funding requests are appropriate, but communication between researchers should be protected.
He is also the author of a detailed report: Freedom to Bully: How Laws Intended to Free Information Are Used to Harass Researchers.
No Scientist Should Face Harassment. Period.
Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists want to limit open records requests: "Science is an iterative process and researchers should be free to discuss, challenge, and develop ideas with a certain level of privacy."
Stoat: Raúl M. Grijalva is an idiot. He’s a politician and be relying on his own ability to evaluate what’s said. Or in the case of climate science, just read the IPCC report, its what its here for.
My Depressing Day With A Famous Climate Skeptic
Astrophysics professor Adam Frank: "What I had seen was a scientist whose work, in my opinion, was simply not very good. ... But Soon's little string of papers were being heralded in the highest courts of public opinion as a significant blow to everyone else's understanding of Earth's climate."
Why scientists often hate records requests, The shadow side of sunlight laws
Anna Clark of the Columbia Journalism Review writes about open records requests from the side of journalists and advocates teaching people how to make the requests not too intrusive.
Why all we believe our own favorite scientific ‘experts’ — and why they believe themselves
Chris Mooney on motivated reasoning. Great, clear exposition.
Democrats on climate 'witch hunt', conservatives say
politico reports on the 7 letters and lists several mitigation sceptics that complain now, but did not see any problems with attacks against climate scientists in the past.