A Safe Space for Triggered Scientists?


Wednesday’s meeting of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, a debate on climate change, consisted of testimony and questioning of four witnesses deemed to have expertise on the issue. The hearing was heated and contentious.

“That’s a Stalinist tactic!” said an animated Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), not in response to anything, but rather during the time allotted for him to introduce his questions, “Those who would use the word ‘denier’ are using a Stalinist tactic!”

The comment referred to the possibility that Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University, might have used the term “climate change denier,” to describe the other three witnesses, all of whom mentioned skepticism of main stream science in their testimony, although their main focus was on allegations of persecution by scientists who do not deny climate change.

“I realized that the premature consensus on human-caused climate change was harming scientific progress because of the questions that don’t get asked, and the investigations that aren’t made,” testified Dr. Judith Curry, President and co-owner of Climate Forecast Applications Network. “Owing to these pressures, and the gutter tactics of the academic debate on climate change, I recently resigned my tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech.”

The committee has 20 Republican members, not including Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas and Vice Chair Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, both of whom are Republicans. On the other side of the aisle, the committee has 16 Democrats.

The choice of witnesses was similarly disproportionate, as three out of four of them are skeptical that there is a significant human influence on warming temperatures. Only one of the witnesses, Dr. Mann, represented the overwhelming 97% of scientists that, according to nasa.gov, agree that Climate Change is a pressing and man-made issue.

This imbalance did not go unnoticed by the committee’s democratic members. Taking note of this fact, Susan Bonamici (D-Oregon) said “we need 96 more Dr. Manns” to reach an honest representation of the scientific community.

At the hearing, the idealogical divide between the two dominant American political parties was evident. The Democrats and Republicans each stuck to their own general argument throughout the hearing.

“What is the hottest year on record?” asked Ami Bera (D-California) “2016, second 2015, third 2014, fourth 2010 so we see this trend. Even Dr. Christy’s graphs show, while there’s variation, show a warming temperature.”

Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama gave testimony about his satellite models, which suggest that the atmosphere is cooling rather than warming. According to Dr. Mann, this can be accounted for based on the fact that part of the Troposhphere’s warming process involves stratospheric cooling, which causes discrepancies in satellite data.

The Democratic argument relied primarily on the overwhelming scientific consensus, with a push to dedicate resources for climate reform. They argued that while climate scientists do have varying results, the vast majority of evidence suggests that policy should be created to create an insurance policy against a changing climate.

The Republicans repeatedly accused Dr. Mann of being a bully, and argued that the three percent of scientists outside of the mainstream are an oppressed minority whose brave reluctance to conform has been endlessly persecuted by the bullying majority.

“I’m sorry that you’ve been demonized and that it’s in the congressional record that you’ve been called a denier,” said Randy K. Weber (R-Texas) to Dr. Curry, “Nobody should have to endure that.”

Despite the Republican representatives’ prolific accusations of bullying from Dr. Mann, they did not address the fact, introduced by Dr. Mann, that one of the pro-energy industry witnesses, Dr. Roger Pielke, had his involvement with the agency 538 terminated due to the release of emails in which he had been personally threatening Dr. Mann.

Later on during the hearing, Dr. Mann referenced a statement Dr. Pielke made, in which he said “I am not a climate scientist.” Dr. Pielke had no response.

“Does anybody think that cutting climate funding for research should happen now, given the robust disagreement on this panel?” Elizabeth H. Etsy (D-Connecticut) asked the witnesses, “Because there are proposals on the table right now to cut planetary science funding, to stop NOAA from looking at it, to stop NASA from looking at this because of disagreement about how to interpret and prioritize those results.”

None of the witnesses voiced an objection. Dr. Curry said she would like to see the priorities of climate research to be reprioritized, to which Ms. Etsy replied “Those are precisely the programs that are being cut.”

Scientific integrity was not necessarily the focus of the committee’s leadership. At one point Chairman Smith attacked the widely-respected journal Science, saying “That is not known as an objective writer or magazine.”  He was referring to a piece by Jeffrey Mervis, who described a speech Chairman Smith gave at the Koch Brothers funded Heartland Institute on March 24, saying “he sees his role in this committee as a tool to advance his political agenda rather than a forum to examine important issues facing the US research community”

According to the article, Chairman Smith said he was looking forward to Wednesday’s hearing. The crowd at the Heartland Institute reportedly cheered the names of the three skeptics, and booed the mention of Dr. Mann.




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