My latest Science Progress column just went up–and just in time, as I have been repeatedly asked to comment on recent allegations that the Obama Environmental Protection Agency quashed a dissenting report on the science of global warming. So to all those who want me to condemn the current administration on this score, just as I condemned the previous one, here’s the thing: You just don’t get it. Moreover, the way in which you just don’t get it underscores how right-wingers managed to become such unrepentant abusers of science in the first place.
The “war on science” argument that I made in my 2005 book crucially hinged on matters of scientific substance. Not only was the Bush administration interfering with science conducted at federal agencies, but moreover, the agency scientists were right, and the administration was wrong–or at least, the agency scientists had strong arguments that should have been taken very seriously.
That is not remotely what we have in the present case. Let’s recap, from my column:
The saga began on June 26, when CBSNews.com’s Declan McCullagh—the journalist responsible for launching the infamous Al Gore/Internet story—breathily reported that the Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency “may have suppressed” a scientific report skeptical of human-caused global warming. Based on internal emails provided by the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, McCullagh’s story highlighted the work of a longtime EPA employee named Alan Carlin, an economist at the agency’s National Center for Environmental Economics. Carlin, it turned out, had prepared a 98 page report questioning the mainstream scientific understanding of climate change on multiple fronts. The scandal, McCullagh suggested, was that Carlin’s dissent was not adequately considered in the process leading up to the agency’s recent proposed endangerment finding on greenhouse gases.
At this point, conservatives thought they had a real scandal on their hands. Problem is, they didn’t pick a winner–Carlin’s report is scientific hogwash. As I write:
Climate researcher Gavin Schmidt of NASA….has written a very devastating analysis of the claims made in Carlin’s paper, calling it “a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at.” For instance, much like Washington Post columnist George Will notoriously did earlier this year, Carlin’s report claims the globe is in a cooling trend. This is an egregious misreading of the last 10 or so years of global temperatures, and is based quite literally on a trick: If you begin with the hottest year on record—1998—then of course it looks like we’ve been cooling since then.
And of course there are many other problems with Carlin’s claims–and with the claims of conservatives who have trumpeted them.
Does any of this mean the Obama administration is impervious from scientific criticism? Of course not:
I rather doubt it will happen on global warming, but surely there could be a scientific issue where a dissenter within the administration advances scientific claims with quite a great deal of merit to them, only to find these claims disregarded or, worse, interfered with in some way. If that happens, I and many others will criticize the administration for it. But first there will have to be some scientific substance to the whistleblower’s case; the claims should be, at minimum, seriously arguable based on the latest and best science. That’s something conservatives have flagrantly failed to understand in the present instance.
It’s precisely that disregard for scientific substance, of course, which explains why they could perpetrate a “war on science” in the first place.