Holdren, Lubchenco On Defensive About ClimateGate at Hearing

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

Two key Obama Administration scientists were grilled this morning about Climategate at a hearing of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming this morning. The hearing, originally meant to be a review of climate science before Copenhagen, got personal. The hearing suggests that the release of some 1000 e-mails among scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) could have long-lasting political implications, as political foes of greenhouse gas controls are citing them as evidence that the science behind the campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is rigged.

Ranking member James Sensenbrenner (R–WI) led the assault, attacking John Holdren, the president's science adviser. Sensenbrenner, a former chair of the House Science committee, quoted an e-mail from 2003 in which Holdren called scientists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas "amateurs" at interpreting climate data and said that their findings are "flawed."

"How can you be objective on this?" said Sensenbrenner, pointing to the exchange. Holdren said he had come to his views by careful analysis, and his only "bias" was that he had read the Soon and Baliunas paper and found its findings wanting.

Politicians at the hearing used Climategate to suggest that the state of climate science is fundamentally rotten.

Representative Candice Miller (R–MI) quoted from this e-mail from Michael Mann about the quality of a journal, Climate Research:

I think we have to stop considering "Climate Research" as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board...

"How unfortunate," said Miller, that scientists would work together to undermine a journal whose findings they disagreed with. (Here is Mann's explanation.) Sensenbrenner called it one example of  "scientific fascism" that the e-mails revealed.

The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, did not at first defend the CRU scientists in her appearance before the committee. Instead, she told members that she did not "believe these e-mails are typical" of the scientific community's behavior. But Holdren said that the facts were still out on what the e-mails meant, and he questioned whether the e-mails, as critics allege, are evidence of a larger, more sinister effort.

"If there was manipulation of data that was not scientifically legitimate, yes, I regard that as a problem and I would denounce it," Holdren said. Representative John Sullivan (R–OK) asked Holdren if he thought that improper "manipulation" of science would warrant an investigation. Holdren said that a congressional investigation would be the wrong choice, since the scientific community "has a process" in place for finding truth when questions about the legitimacy of data arise.

Other lines of questioning allowed members to take decidedly cheap shots at the scientific establishment. Given that only 4% of carbon emissions are from man-made sources, said Sullivan, "Isn't it arrogant to think we can manipulate the whole [atmospheric] process?"

"We have manipulated the whole process," said Lubchenco, meaning that man-made emissions had led to warmer temperatures by putting the natural system out of balance.

But Sullivan's rejoinder was that she meant manipulation of the science. "I know you have, changing the numbers," he said, to chuckles in the room. "These are not numbers taken out of the air," protested Lubchenco.

At the end of the hearing chairman Representative Edward Markey (D–MA) delivered an impassioned plea for the public to listen to the bulk of scientific results on climate change. "It would be better to accept the science," he said. "A few e-mails," he added, won't undermine a "century of science."

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