Scientific intimidation

by Henry Farrell on August 29, 2005

John McCain and Peter Likins (president of the University of Arizona) write an “op-ed”: for the _Chronicle_ on efforts by Republicans in Congress to intimidate scientists doing research on global warming.

bq. the government cannot craft sound policy unless it can count on scientists to provide accurate data on which to base its actions. (The consequences of spinning or withholding facts can be seen in the lives lost to disease because tobacco companies withheld evidence from Congress and the Food and Drug Administration.) When members of Congress recently began pressuring scientists who have offered evidence of global warming, they broke that crucial covenant. The chairman and another member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in an apparent effort to discredit the findings reported by three distinguished scientists from respected universities, demanded that the scientists send Congress all of the scientific data they have gathered in their entire careers, even data on studies unrelated to their publications on global warming. … The message sent by the Congressional committee to the three scientists was not subtle: Publish politically unpalatable scientific results and brace yourself for political retribution, which might include denial of the opportunity to compete for federal funds. Statements that such requests are routine ring hollow: Asking for scientific information may be routine, but asking for all of the data produced in a scientist’s career is highly irregular. It represents a kind of intimidation, which threatens the relationship between science and public policy. That behavior must not be tolerated.

I know that McCain has disappointed on a variety of fronts, but I’m still very happy to see him issuing a vigorous and unambiguous denunciation of his colleagues in the House. I’ll have more to say about these issues in my review of Chris Mooney’s book.



chris 08.29.05 at 11:59 am

this is very heartening, esp. after the recent department of justice demotion.


Al Hill 08.29.05 at 12:19 pm

is this not the guy who just stood up in AZ. and pledged support for the Protect Marrage thing and who has said the Creative Design needs a fair hearing in schools?


dipnut 08.29.05 at 12:36 pm

McCain is the chief supporter of an amendment to the NAGPRA which would effectively end the study of prehistoric human remains in the USA. Yes, it’s bad to harrass scientists by arbitrarily demanding large volumes of irrelevant data. But if McCain has his way, large volumes of highly-relevant data will be prevented from coming into existence. That’s beyond harrassment; that is the castration of science.

Refer to Moira Breen.


Eric 08.29.05 at 1:06 pm

McCain has also has endorsed intelligent design…


Henry 08.29.05 at 1:23 pm

As noted, “I know that McCain has disappointed on a variety of fronts.”


Donald Johnson 08.29.05 at 2:23 pm

Well, as a self-proclaimed Chomskyite let me come to McCain’s defense. What do you expect from a politician, especially these days? I’m more surprised when one of them does something honest and honorable and in this case, at odds with their party than I am when they do this or that horrible hypocritical thing.

McCain is someone who is easily tempted to virtue (I forget where that phrase comes from). Lots of politicians seem totally immune to such seductions.

Not that he shouldn’t be bashed most of the time, of course.


Nigel Sedgwick 08.29.05 at 3:07 pm

You will find a different view here:

This is from someone informed in the field, who has found personally, and reports of others finding, that their view (somewhat sceptical of strong conclusions in favour of AGW) has led to their scientific papers and letters being rejected, despite being evidence based, containing sound science and being politely and objectively worded.

Scientists whose evidence, analysis and conclusions are challenged by other scieintists should be more open to critical review. Without that, it is hardly surprising that their funders ask difficult questions.

Best regards


Matt Daws 08.29.05 at 4:57 pm

And one should perhaps look at:

SEPP Key Issues

To decide if you think that site might be, ahem, a touch biased in such matters.


Al Hill 08.29.05 at 5:04 pm

Did you think no one would read all that?


dipnut 08.29.05 at 5:17 pm

“I know that McCain has disappointed on a variety of fronts.”

Acknowledged. My own feelings about McCain are somewhat stronger than disappointment.


Matt Weiner 08.29.05 at 5:27 pm

That (Sedgwick’s link) refers to “the formidable McIntyre -McKitrick audit.”

That would be the McIntyre and McKitrick who mix up degrees and radians.

Stephen Schneider, a Stanford climatologist, has what looks to be an informative site dealing with this and similar stuff. He’s the Former Department Director and Head of Advanced Study Project at the National Center for Atmospheric Research Boulder.


Matt Weiner 08.29.05 at 6:33 pm

Oops, it looks like McIntyre wasn’t involved in mixing up degrees and radians–that was McKitrick and Michaels. Still, it’s pretty clear who’s the hack here.


RedWolf 08.29.05 at 8:38 pm

The issue is not global warming or even John McCain. It is censorship of science by hoodlums, the efforts of the American Baath party, better known as the religious right, to run this country despite being a tiny minority, behind the times, and above all immoral, unethical, rude, intolerant, and faithless.


jonathan 08.29.05 at 9:35 pm

“I’m still very happy to see him issuing a vigorous and unambiguous denunciation of his colleagues in the House.”

I’m sorry, but how is this vigorous and unambiguous?
This is polite, civil and nice. If the Scientific world wants to win the public (and the money) they must be much more firm on key-issues like this.

This is not about global warming, scientific debate or the sending of large quantities of paper. This is about scientific method and about democracy. Politicians must understand they are serving the public and they must understand that it is a civil liberty to do research, as it is a civil liberty to discuss and express views.
To intimidate and express anger at a community that does research and expresses views in a method that is considered unbiased, across the entire globe, is weak and pathetic. This politician of yours needs a good asskicking, preferebly by the so-called vigorous McCain-guy

…im sorry, but im from Holland and i cannot memorise the names of your politicians (as you cannot memorize our capitals ;))


dr ngo 08.29.05 at 10:53 pm

“…im sorry, but im from Holland and i cannot memorise the names of your politicians (as you cannot memorize our capitals ;))”

Hey, come on! Whaddya take us for, illiterates? We all know that the capital of Holland is “H”!!


Thomas 08.29.05 at 10:54 pm

Ah, so now we find the opponents of the Baath party, though the connection between the Baathists and those motivated by religious ideology remains controverted…

Really, if you can’t stray from the topic intelligently, then don’t bother.


jonathan 08.29.05 at 11:46 pm

intelligence intimidation?


Jimmy 08.29.05 at 11:57 pm

I do not see Barton’s request as intimidation. Sure, Barton may use it for political purposes; he is, after all, a politician.

But the faux victimization of “distinguished scientists from respected universities” is really over the top.


Jeff Gannon 08.30.05 at 9:24 am

Sure…it’s not intimidation to get a demand from federal republicans requiring you to produce everything you have ever done on any subject as well as personal data and records having nothing to do with the government if you are a cheeto stained denizen of Mom’s basement like Jimmy; but for people who have actually dealt with the real world it’s a bit of a stretch. And I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that the “request” is directed to people whose scientific peer reviewed findings don’t help bush’s oil industry cronies; as opposed to say, Exxon, whose man Philip Cooney was altering climate change documents at Bush’s white house.


james 08.30.05 at 12:58 pm

If you want someone to give you money, sometimes you have to kiss a little a… Federal funds are not a right.


mikep 08.31.05 at 4:37 am

Re 11 ands 12 in particualr. McCitrick knows the difference between degrees and radians perfectly well. His mistake was to suppose that Shazam, the statistical package he was using, required degrees as input when it required radians. Since he had published his data and methods so that they were reproducible the mistake was spotted. As soon as it was pointed out he corrected it. This seems a good example of science working properly. In contrast the underlying data and methods for the famous MBH paper – a paper that was widely quoted as a key study in the claim that the 1990s were the warmest decade for 1,000 years – have never been available in full, though some parts have been given out. In particular the study used, without initially saying, what at best can be described as an idiosyncratic version of principal components analysis which had the effect, compared to standard principal components, of playing up indicators which deviated from the mean in the very recent past. In experimental science results can always be checked by repeating experiments. In non-experimental sciences that is not possible. Therefore to ask for data and source code to be in the public domain does not seem to me unreasonable. Indeed journals such as the American Economic Review require it.


Antoni Jaume 08.31.05 at 8:13 am

“If you want someone to give you money, sometimes you have to kiss a little a… Federal funds are not a right.”

I can understand the need for results, but if these funds are not a right, much less they are a tool to impose one’s own agenda.


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