July 20, 2005

Boehlert takes on colleague over global warming

Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, House Science Committee Chairman (and representing Dryden) challenged a colleague of his, Joe Barton of Texas, after Barton's House Committee on Energy and Commerce opened an inquiry into a 1998 study of temperatures and climate.

As the New York Times puts it:

The study, published in 1998 and 1999, meshed data from modern thermometers and evidence of past warmth or cold, like variations in tree rings. The result was a curve showing little variation for nearly 1,000 years and then a sharp upward hook in recent decades.

The inquiry was initiated by Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas, who heads the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, after two Canadians with no expertise in climate change published academic papers and opinion articles challenging the study's methods.

Boehlert responded to this unhappily, to say the least:

My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would be pernicious....

one has to conclude that there is no legitimate reason for your investigation. The investigation is not needed to gain access to data. The investigation is not needed to get balanced information on a scientific debate. The investigation is not needed to prompt scientific discussion of an important issue.

The only conceivable explanation for the investigation is to attempt to intimidate a prominent scientist and to have Congress put its thumbs on the scales of a scientific debate. This is at best foolhardy; when it comes to scientific debates, Congress is "all thumbs."

The precedent your investigation sets is truly chilling. Are scientists now supposed to look over their shoulders to determine if their conclusions might prompt a Congressional inquiry no matter how legitimate their work? If Congress wants public policy to be informed by scientific research, then it has to allow that research to operate outside the political realm. Your inquiry seeks to erase that line between science and politics.

I have to congratulate Congressman Boehlert, Republican though he may be, for recognizing that science proceeds better by peer review than by Congressional review. As Boehlert concludes, "Seeking scientific truth is too important to be impeded by political expediency."

(If you'd like to see what the two groups in the argument have to say, the creators of the original report have a site, as do the people questioning their results.)

Posted by simon at July 20, 2005 9:37 PM in
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