Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Could you at least chew before regurgitating the talking points?

The Bush Administration has muzzled scientists who believe something about global warming. It’s been proven scientifically in a scientific study by a reputable group, with no axes to grind, the Union of Concerned Scientists. So John Cole’s co-blogger Tim tells us. His commenters really illuminate the problem, informing us we conservatives, libertarians, republicans and so forth are a bunch of snake worshipping luddites who fear anybody in a white jacket.

Okay, no more editorializing. Just (mostly) some facts.

The study being cited as proving Bush interference in scientific studies of global warming – it is based on questionable methodology, including:
– a self-reporting mail-in questionnaire
– sent to “more than 1600 climate scientists at seven federal agencies”
– the response sample was only 279 government scientists (response rate of 19% of self-selected respondents)
– the list of scientists was generated from published papers and staff names listed on publicly available web sites (full report at 15)
– percentages stated in the report were generated only from those returned questionnaires that also had those questions answered. (id.)
– of the 40 individuals interviewed, the sample included government whistle blowers, non-government climate experts, and U.S. and international media members. International media members?

The results of the survey don’t match up with the splashy results that Rep. Waxman was brandishing in Congress today, including:
– 35% of respondents “strongly agreed” with the statement “federal climate science research is of excellent quality, and another 53% agreed. In other words, 88% thought it was excellent. 5% disagreed or strongly disagreed. (full report at 49)
– 17% strongly agreed that Federal climate research was “independent and impartial”, another 54% agreed and 9% had no opinion. (full report at 50). That means 71% think it is independent in nature, and fully 80% do not support the reading many are giving this report, that the Administration is just makin’ up science as it goes along.
– As to whether the “agency leadership” – that means political appointees and those closest to them – “expect[] a high level of professionalism,” 30% strongly agree, 53% agree, and 9% have no opinion. That implies that 89% of those who responded to the survey do not support the idea that politics is dictating outcome, i.e compromising professionalism and scientific integrity.
– As to whether the agency supports scientists who reach controversial opinions – keep in mind “controversial” isn’t defined, it could be a whack job who just invented a perpetual motion machine – 9% strongly agreed, 40% agreed, and 23% didn’t have an opinion one way or the other. That means that 72% of those who responded didn’t see agency ostracizing of scientists who make controversial findings – with “controversial” not actually defined. (id)
– As to whether the agency takes action on scientific findings, the study asked, “documents, reports, and recommendations from my agency rely on the best available science.” 24% said always, 54% said frequently, 21% said occasionally, and 1% said seldom. (id). Keeping in mind that government action is generally discretionary, that means the 78% of the respondents believe their agencies always or frequently take the action dictated by the best available science, the technocratic approach that doesn’t allow for other political considerations – surprising when you consider that science isn’t the only thing the government has to consider when setting public policy.

The really subjective questions are at the end of the government questionnaire.
– 84% indicate they have never actually experienced pressure to eliminate or change the words “global warming” or “climate change,” though 33% reported that they perceived that there was pressure – though they were never pressured to do so. (54% never pressured, 33% not actually pressured but perceived such pressure) (full report at 51)
– As to whether there was ever self-induced pressure to alter conclusions to conform them to policy, 69% said never, 21% said that they perceived such pressure (what the hell does that mean, to not experience self-pressure but to perceive it?) but only 14% ever said they experienced such pressure. (id)
– As to whether there was fear to express a belief in climate change, the results were similar – 69% said they never experienced that kind of pressure, 22% said they hadn’t experienced it but thought it existed. (id)
– Here’s the big one that Tim has his panties in a wad over, I think. As to whether Officials had ever made a request that the scientists provide “incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information to the public,” 89% said they had never experienced, 4% said they had never experienced it but perceived such things happened (that means 93% said no, it hasn’t happened to them) and 7% said yes they had experienced it.* (full report at 52). Pretty weak jihad on science, but I guess you could chalk it up to another Bush war failure. (Sorry for the editorializing).

It is worth noting that in the non-governmental agency surveyed, 28% perceived pressure and 7% actually received pressure to change controversial terms like “global warming” and “climate change,” 14% perceived and 7% actually received pressure to not voice concerns about global warming internally, 7% perceived and 3% experienced pressure to provide incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading information to the public.

And so on.

The upshot is the methodology is shaky – 19% of self-selected respondents is sketchy at best – and while the self-reporters who responded to the poll report somewhat worse political pressures on science within the government than scientists at NGOs, the actual findings don’t appear to support the drastic scenario Rep. Waxman and the talking points re-mouthers paint, that there is some internal Bush Administration jihad on science. Go read the damn thing for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

It’s worth considering that the Union of Concerned Scientists – a doctrinaire left wing group** if ever there was one – make a much more modest claim in their report, than do those brandishing it for effect. While they frame the report as discussing a jihad on science, the actual conclusion of the report appears to be that the Administration doesn’t report climate change study results to the public very well. That’s kind of having their cake and eating it too, but since the executive report and their press release on the study is the least abusive bit of information in this whole media blitz, it gets a pass for now.

Straight up opinion

*For my part, given the nature of government service and the inevitable presence of political stakeholders at every table, and the earnestness and viciousness of internal policy debates, I’m surprised the numbers of people who feel pressured to alter results or issue what they believe to be inaccurate conclusions is that low. There are brutal bureaucratic fights over even minor fact findings and the shades of words – I can’t imagine the scientific process produces perfect unanimity under the best of circumstances. Keep in mind, science is a process – theories are proposed, tested until failure, then modified. The process is not static, nor are the theories, and those who say that the global cooling theory – with its billions of variable inputs – is a settled thing, are full of it, and that’s putting it kindly. Yep, there is global warming, and probably global cooling too. It’s a little early to take apocalyptic action based on the “settled” science of global warming, and anybody who follows Sen. McCain’s statement today, that everybody who disagrees needs to shut up because the debate is over, is practicing religion, not science.

**Union of Concerned Scientists a doctrinaire left wing group? Oh yes. No nukes. No missile defense either. Broadly against genetically engineered food – requesting heavy federal regulation of the industry that would probably render it an impossibility, much like their one-issue position on nuclear power – “more safety” – sounds good but which has been taken to the extreme and resulted in the destruction of that industry. In short, they mouth a lot of pretty good platitudes but it amounts to a fairly clear left wing agenda when you get down to it.


15 thoughts on “Could you at least chew before regurgitating the talking points?

  1. Al, somethings seriously wrong with the “Would you like to know more?”/”Close it up” tag. If’n I were you, I’d just throw it all out there on the front page until Mike can sort things.

    I left them a comment, but it’s still in moderation. Given that Tim F is posting there, I seriously doubt the little pussy will let it out in the open, so I’ll share it here.

    First, if you believe anything a government paid “scientist” says, you deserve to look like exactly the idiot you do. You can have government grants, or you can have real science. Pick one and only one.

    Secondly, real science is doubt, or rather, the process of doubting superstitious belief to the point that you begin conducting actual experiments to determine the nature of whatever subset of reality you happened to be investigating. I personally haven’t seen much of that from the environmental “sciences”. I have seen a shitload of superstitious twaddle that makes astronomy look positively grounded in empirical, verifiable, and repeatable proof.

    Third, in the 1300’s, England was producing such good grape crops that French (spit!) merchants were begging the King for laws limiting the import of English wine. Around the same time, Siberia (!) was under cultivation, and a major agricultural center. When those same things happen again, let me know. Personally, I can’t fucking wait. French wine sucks, much like any asshole who Chicken Little’s all over any newspaper article claiming that the sky is about to fall. Or be a little warmer. Or, heaven forfend, warm up enough to end the little Ice Age we’ve been in since around 1400 AD or so.

    Finally, as Rich Lowry points out, George Bush, bless his pointy little head, has only been supporting the man made global warming theory since 2001. Now, I’d hate to think that Tim F. is just another lying partisan Bush-bashing shitweasel, but seriously, given the evidence, what else am I supposed to think?

    You kids play smart, now.

  2. I’m not exactly down with you on the ad… are they ad hominems if you don’t name the target? Yeah, I’m not with you on the ad hominems about government scientists. Most government employees try to do a good job. I don’t think they’d be different from any other employees anywhere else – some great guys, some shitheads, most in between somewhere, probably leaning toward “good guys”. There were a couple questions in that survey that were bogus due to obvious self-interest, amounting to “do you feel your program is funded enough.” Other than that, I have no reason to doubt the integrity of the scientists answering the survey, I believe they definitely said what they believe – but that self-selected group is posing as a statistical sample from which objective conclusions can be drawn. The conclusion I draw is that the self-selected group feels a bit more political pressure than some NGO scientists, but it’s not clear it’s the disaster Henry Waxman is trying to make it out to be – even if the study was reliable.

    As for Tim, I completely disagree with the guy on politics but don’t think it’s right to call him a shitweasel. He strikes me as pretty easily gulled by talking points that resonate with him, kinda the mirror image of a lot of the Red State guys, and a more diligent blogger would have checked out the statistical basis for the report, but he’s not a bad guy and sometimes even admits error when he’s shown to be wrong. That’s decent of him. Now Duncan Black and the Media Matters guys, they are fecalferrets for sure – they know they’re spreading disinformation and don’t care. Different story.

  3. Well turnabout is fair play…or at least they think that way. The pro-climate change agenda lot are doing everything they can to stifle debate whether it comes from Bjorn Lomborg or ordinary citizens. There is a campaign to say that anyone who does not agree with their agenda should not be listened to because they are either an idiot or evil.

  4. Re: the “More” tags: they work, just not in quite the same way as they used to. They’re Ajax-powered now, so instead of using the More|inline tag like we were, y’all should just use the standard WP one instead, which should be the only one available in the posting CP anyway. Thought I sent out a mass e-mail on that, but maybe I forgot.

  5. Oh, and btw, I’m with Lileks here:

    I’m not saying the planet isn’t warming; probably is. I’m not saying man has no role; quite possible. But I’m stupid enough to believe that natural climate cycles and/or solar influence cannot be ruled out, and that the complex mysteries of the global climate cannot be influenced by a handful of Gauls foreswearing machine-made espresso-foam for a 300 seconds.

    If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I have more pressing concerns, to be honest. I’m all scared out when it comes to Imminent Planet Death Scenarios.

    Cue the angry anonymous emailer using an identity-shielding proxy to accuse me of fearing Islamic terrorists, who never posed a threat to anyone.

    And then cue me dumping the resultant waste of effort post haste.

  6. Hey Randy, you really tossed a rock into the cesspool, huh?

    Like I said, I’m not down with your reflexive approach, but the reaction to it is pretty funny. My favorite screaming rebuttal over there, from the always rational, never overwrought Andrew:

    Get with the program, drone. We’re only impressed by Al Maviva-length diatribes against science that veer into platitudinous sanctimony about Hillary Clinton.

    Yeah – that was a diatribe I wrote there, huh?

    Translated into English: “It hurt my head to read all those citations to the report, and I’m damn sure not going to read the whole thing, my ears would be bleeding. So you’re a poopy-head! There, I win the argument! I don’t want facts, I want emotional satisfaction. Poopyhead! Yeay!”

    Stuff like that is why I’m increasingly less kneejerk – man, it looks stupid when people I disagree with do it, so I try to censor myself when I have the same initial reaction, figuring it prolly undercuts my arguments. Yep, that’s me… putting the “Deliberative” in “Cold Fury” since 2005…

  7. I always thought “Cold Fury” was deliberative. As in “I am going to hurt you, but I’m not going to waste one more ounce of strength or one extra second of time than I must.”

  8. Um, yeah Mikey. I think the word you are looking for there is actually “deliberate,” not “deliberative.” As in “I am going to deliberately hurt you, without wasting an ounce of strength or one extra second of time more than I must.”

    Yeah, deliberate works much better there.

  9. Now if we can just get Sean & Chrissie to comment, we’ll have all of CF deliberating in this thread.


  10. Al, I’m not really meaning what I think you’re taking from my comments about “government science”. Given a private sector exploration of a certain subject, I’m sure the scientists in question could be at least honest with their employer, if that employer was in the habit of paying for honest science. The U.S. Government has a record of doing anything but. Grants are offered not for science, but for studies which support policy positions.

    Is the globe warming? Lord, I hope so. I hate the cold. Given all past climate trends, we should be entering another mini Ice Age right about now. Instead, we’re leaving one. Did we do that? I sincerely doubt it, but if so, yay us.

    As for Tim F, I’m glad you think well of him. Lord knows he needs somebody to.

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