CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Lamar Smith wants politics to overrule scientific merit at the National Science Foundation

According to ScienceInsider, Representative Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) has circulated draft legislation that would change the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant award criteria. Instead of using “intellectual merit” and “broader impacts” criteria, the NSF would be required to consider three vague and politically expedient criteria instead. Specifically, ScienceInsider reports that the criteria would be as follows:

  1. “… in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;
  2. “… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and
  3. “… not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.”

At first blush, these seem reasonable, even if they’re slightly tighter than “the potential to advance knowledge” (aka “intellectual merit”) and “the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes” (aka “broader impacts”).

But ask yourself this – do you want any one political party defining what science qualifies as “in the interests of the United States?” Do you want Congress or the President deciding what is or is not “the finest quality” instead of intellectual peers via the process of peer-review? Do you want the NSF to refuse funding to a single researcher just because the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) or the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) or the National Weather Service (NWS) is funding research on the same topic?

Taking climate research as an example, I don’t want President Obama cutting off Roy Spencer’s global temperature research because the USGCRP is funding similar research. Similarly, I don’t want a Republican representative from Texas refusing to fund the UGSCRP just because its climate disruption findings are politically annoying, while Spencer’s are more ideologically in-line with the Republican Party.

Science must inform politics, but for science to do that job, politics needs to be kept out of science as much as possible. As a funding agency, the NSF’s criteria are broad enough that they enable it to fund research while minimizing political interference. The NSF funds all sorts of things that believers of any particular ideology might find uncomfortable. And that’s the way it should stay.

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Heartland’s Taylor fails to discredit authors of National Climate Assessment

On January 11, 2013, the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) published its draft National Climate Assessment for public comment. The first paragraph of the Executive Summary found that

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

Given these findings, it is not surprising that individuals and organizations who deny that global climate change is “primarily driven by human activity” would attack the report.

Yesterday James Taylor of The Heartland Institute wrote a blog at Forbes attacking the Assessment by questioning the objectivity of seven of the scientists involved in writing the report. However, Taylor’s entire argument is based on the false assertion that being associated with an environmental organization automatically biases the scientists’ judgement. This is known as the “guilt by association” logical fallacy and it’s an attempt by Taylor to defame the character of the scientists.

Taylor asserts, without proof, that scientists James Buizer, Jerry Melillo, Suzanne Moser, Richard Moss, Andrew Rosenberg, Donald J. Wubbles, and Gary Yohe are all supposedly “crooked” because they have current or former associations with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Second Nature. This assertion is absurd. Is Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, inherently biased simply because he works at Princeton? Is commentator David Brooks inherently biased because he writes for the New York Times? Is Richard Lindzen, the contrarian MIT climatologist, inherently biased because he teaches at MIT? Are all registered Democrats inherently biased against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because most environmentalists are Democrats? In every case the answer is clearly “no” – any individual may well be biased, but simple association does not and can not prove bias.

If we applied Taylor’s own poor logic to Taylor himself we could automatically dismiss everything he writes on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because he’s a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute.

When we look at the professional experience and scientific expertise of the seven scientists that Taylor names, the fact that Taylor is attempting to smear their reputations becomes clear.

And most of these seven scientists have also been asked to work on climate reports by the National Academy of Sciences and other expert panels just like the USGCRP itself. These seven scientists have nearly two centuries of cumulative experience in climate-related science and public policy. As such they can legitimately claim to be authorities in their climate-related fields.

Taylor, on the other hand, has a background in law and government, not science. There is no evidence that Taylor has written any peer-reviewed scientific papers or been intimately involved in crafting regulations relating to climate policy in the way that Moss and Rosenberg have. Taylor’s Forbes bio indicates that he “studied” atmospheric science while getting his government degree from Dartmouth, but he certainly hasn’t worked as a scientist or maintained any scientific expertise since.

More damning, however, is that Taylor has a habit of distorting scientific studies and taking other peoples’ words out of context. S&R found in early 2010 that Taylor had incorrectly applied the results of a small small self-selected poll of broadcast meteorologists to all scientists. In February 2011, S&R found that Taylor had incorrectly accused scientist Mark Boslough of lying and criticizing former astronaut Harrison Schmitt when Boslough did neither. S&R found in late 2011 that Taylor had dishonestly claimed that so-called “skeptics” merely question the source of industrial climate disruption – to not know that many of his fellow so-called “skeptics’ would require that Taylor be incompetent. In addition, S&R found in mid-2012 that Taylor deceptively took quotes out of context in ways that dramatically changed their meaning and implications.

Taylor_Heartland_NCA

Percentage of authors of the Assessment affected by Taylor’s fallacious criticism (Climate Nexus)

And Taylor continues his habit of distorting facts in this Forbes blog. While Taylor mentions that there are 13 senior scientists engaged in guiding the report (one chairman, two vice-chairmen, and 10 members of a “secretariat”), he fails to mention that the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee led by these 13 scientists was actually composed of 60 scientists and policy experts. And he fails to mention that the Committee “engaged more than 240 authors in the creation of the report.” As the graph shows, Taylor’s illogical and deceptive criticisms apply to only a small percentage of the report’s authors. Even if they had merit, Taylor’s criticisms would have insignificant impact on the Assessment’s science and data-based conclusions.

Taylor’s Forbes blog is a failed attempt to distract readers from the overwhelming data and objective facts documented in the Assessment. And those facts demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, namely that it is “primarily driven by human activity” and that it is “already affecting the American people.”

Historical context behind the court ruling that the EPA may regulate greenhouse gases

Part one of a series.

On June 26, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against various states and industry groups who had asked the Court to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) greenhouse gas regulations. The 26 petitions specifically asked the Court to do one of two things – either overturn the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases posed a risk to public health and welfare (aka the “Endangerment Finding”), or block enforcement of any regulations based on that Endangerment Finding. A three judge panel led by a Reagan appointee unanimously dismissed the arguments made in the 26 petitions for lack of merit or lack of legal standing. (Ed. Note: Some of the legal terms used in this post are defined at the bottom of the post.)

Over the next several days, S&R will be publishing a series of articles on this opinion, starting with some background on what led up to the June 26 opinion. Continue reading