The hearing, led by Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology Lamar Smith, descended into an old-fashioned bullying of science, with Smith and his peers stepping way out of bounds just to make it seem that scientists have no idea what they’re doing — and they themselves, the politicians, are much better informed.
In the US, anti-science is winning, at least at a political level. Just after President Donald Trump ordered a massive rollback of rules that limited carbon emissions, and a few weeks after he released a budget proposal which aims to slash funding for science and health agencies, the Trump administration made it clear once more that they have no regard for science or the environment. The mock hearing, called “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method,” was basically a series of accusations and name calling, with Lamar Smith especially saying that climate scientists use “alarmist findings that are wrongfully reported as facts.”
“Much of climate science today appears to be based more on exaggerations, personal agendas, and questionable predictions than on the scientific method,” Smith said.
Smith, who has received more than $600,000 from the fossil fuel industry during his career in Congress (like almost all climate change deniers), is well known for conducting “witch hunts” against scientists. In the past, he has threatened to prosecute the NOAA if they don’t release public information about how their studies are conducted — which might not sound that unreasonable if the information wasn’t already public. I guess this just goes to show how well-informed Smith is. But back to the hearing. Michael Mann — a Penn State University professor of atmospheric science who has been repeatedly threatened for his work on climate change — was the only climate scientist participating at the hearing.
Several colleagues have urged Mann to boycott this hearing, as everyone was well-aware that it’s basically a charade.
“In the past, the science community has participated in these hearings, even though questioning the basics of climate change is akin to holding a hearing to examine whether the Earth orbits the sun,” wrote David Titley, a professor in the department of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, in the Washington Post on Tuesday, the eve of the hearing. Enough!”
But in a room stacked with career politicians and lawyers, Mann was the only non-denier scientist, and he felt that injecting some science into a hearing that was “ostensibly supposed to be about science” was necessary.
Judith Curry, a former professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has retired from academia due to what she calls the poisonous nature of the scientific discussion around human-caused global warming, turned to paraphrasing Donald Trump to emphasize her points:
“Let’s make scientific debate about climate change great again,” she said.
When asked about the Antarctic Ice, Curry highlighted the limits of her knowledge, by giving a bizarrely vague answer focusing uncertainties due to past measurement issues and regional differences. Mann was quick to tell her that we now have satellites (called GRACE) that measure ice, so we clearly know we’re losing ice. Another scientist present at the debate, Roger Pielke, who doesn’t currently study climate science, seemed to take a more reasonable position and even argued for a carbon tax at one point, though he is well known for publishing a piece where he states that the price of disasters is rising, but not because of climate change. Criticism of that piece led his editor to respond and publish a rebuttal.
Three out of the four scientists present at the hearing are at the fringe of science, Judith included. Considering that 97% of scientists agree that man-made global warming is a thing, it’s at least strange that 75% (3 out of 4) are climate change deniers. It’s almost like the hearing’s opinions were predetermined and they don’t really care about the science, isn’t it?
“For a balanced panel we would need 96 more Dr. Manns,” said Democrat Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon.
But this was just the beginning, the best was yet to come. Smith objected to Mann quoting articles from Science magazine, stating that Science “is not known as an objective magazine.” I’m surprised he didn’t call it fake news. Not long after that, the name calling began. California Republican Dana Rohrabacher likened the tactics of climate scientists to the those of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, while Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk said of Mann:
“We could say you’re a denier of natural change.”
Mann stood his ground, and he too accused the politicians of being swayed by the money they receive from fossil fuel companies. Basically, he tried to present science and objective facts to some of the biggest climate change deniers in Congress. By the end, it was clear that the scientific reality is not enough for Lamar Smith, who said that scientists have lost their way, and that:
“Their ultimate goal,” he said, “is to promote a personal agenda, even if the evidence doesn’t support it.”
Ironically, despite overwhelming evidence, despite decades and decades of thorough research done by thousands of people, Smith, like EPA chief Scott Pruitt, believes that the science is not in yet. It’s almost like he has a personal agenda that he’s pursuing, even against all the evidence. But hey, who needs facts when you have alternative facts?
At the end of the day, objective observers will easily discern the scientific reality from the bias. But what happens in the US is extremely worrying. The country is the world’s second largest polluter, and any backtrack of environmental issues will have drastic consequences not only for Americans themselves but for the rest of the world as well.