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.