11 current members of Congress have made wrong and/or misleading statements about the Global Warming Petition Project, including Robert Aderholt and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Dana Rohrabacher of California, Steve King of Iowa, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
For other posts in this series: click here for data and debunking, here for GWPP mentions by US politicians, and here for conservative/libertarian media references.
The Global Warming Petition Project (GWPP), organized by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and published most recently in May 2008, is an attempt to counter the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate experts that climate change is occurring, is largely driven by industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, and will be disruptive to ecosystems and human society.
In the previous article of this series, S&R described how two former members of Congress, Representatives John Linder of Georgia and Ron Paul of Texas, made wrong and misleading statements regarding the GWPP that could have been easily fact checked (Linder) or that were overly influenced by personal relationships between the Representative and the GWPP’s organizers (Paul). In this article, S&R investigates five of the 11 current members of Congress who have also referenced the GWPP in congressional hearings and floor speeches, Representative Robert Aderholt and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, Representative Steve King of Iowa, and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
Robert Aderholt, Representative for Alabama
On December 13, 2009, Representative Robert Aderholt of Alabama wrote a commentary for the Daily Mountain Eagle. Aderholt wrote that “opponents” of global warming “believe that the increase in global temperature is not man-made but rather part of a natural cycle….” He placed himself among the opponents along with “many very credible scientists,” and then Aderholt referred to the GWPP as an example of just how many scientists agreed with him. He wrote:
As of today, over 31,000 U.S. scientists and doctors have signed a petition rejecting global warming. According to this 10-year petition, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing, or will in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”
Aderholt made one of the most common errors associated with the GWPP: he implied that each and every one of the GWPP signers is a scientist. As is clear from the GWPP’s own Qualifications of Signers page, this is not the case. Engineers, mathematicians, medical doctors, metallurgists, statisticians, and veterinarians are not scientists, although they may use the scientific method in their field. Instead, the GWPP incorrectly asserts, without proof, that each signer has at least a BSc degree in a field that “suitably qualif[ies] them to evaluate the research data.” The GWPP’s criteria for who is a scientist are so broad that a stay-at-home parent who has never used his or her science degree and never read a single peer-reviewed climate study is granted equal status to an atmospheric scientist who has studied climate as a career for decades. This is clearly unrealistic.
Arthur Robinson, founder of the OISM and the primary organizer of the GWPP, was asked in a comment by the author to
explain to me and anyone else reading this your rationale for including each and every one of the degrees you allege is capable of evaluating climate research. And then please explain why it is you think that merely being capable of evaluating climate research should grant someone the same degree of expertise as someone who actually does so day in and day out.
Robinson did not respond to the author’s comment.
S&R informed Representative Aderholt’s office that his reference to the GWPP was incorrect and misleading and asked for comment. His office did not respond to our request. An example of S&R’s email is available in the Appendix for review.
Jeff Sessions, Senator for Alabama
During confirmation hearings for former Energy Secretary Steven Chu in January, 2009, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama prepared a number of questions for Chu to answer in advance and that were entered into the official record of the hearing on January 13, 2009.
In the preamble to his questions, Sessions wrote that “recently a growing number of scientists are questioning how quickly the warming is happening and whether humans are actually the leading cause,” and he used the GWPP as an example:
More than 31,000 scientists across the world have signed the Global Warming Petition Project, a declaration started by a group of American scientists that states man’s impact on climate change can’t be reasonably proven.
This statement has two significant errors in it. The first error is that the GWPP’s signers are all scientists. While this claim is incorrect, it is at least reasonable given the fact that the GWPP itself makes it. The second error, however, indicates that there was no fact-checking of Sessions’ question. Specifically, Sessions said that the GWPP included scientists from “across the world.” According to the GWPP’s website, the petition was only circulated in the United States, indicating that the signers should all be Americans. This error might be explainable as excessive rhetoric had the GWPP been mentioned during the actual hearing, but making such a basic error suggests that Sessions is either lazy or indifferent to accuracy and facts.
Dana Rohrabacher, Representative for California
Following the publication of the GWPP in May, 2008, Representative Dana Rohrabacher was the first member of Congress to mention the GWPP in either a hearing or a floor speech. On June 5, 2008, Rohrabacher made a speech on the House floor regarding “man-made global warming.” He started by claiming that there had been no “honest debate” on the subject of global warming and that there had been a “brazen attempt to end open discussion” by “dismissing the need to take seriously contrary arguments by anyone, no matter how impressive his or her credentials might be, if that person happened to doubt global warming.”
Rohrabacher went on to say
Just a short time ago, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, the OISM, released the names of some 31,000 scientists who signed a petition rejecting the claims of human-caused global warming. Of the 31,072 Americans who signed, 9,021 had Ph.D.s; many of the 31,000 signers currently work in climatology, meteorology, atmospheric, environmental, and geophysical studies, astronomical studies, as well as the biological fields that directly relate to the climate change controversy. And note, of the 31,000 signatories, these signers are American scientists. [Ed: the OISM organized the GWPP and the number of signers later rose to the current 31,487]
The context is clear – if there are over 31,000 scientists who reject “human-caused global warming,” then arguments against global warming should be entertained.
Rohrabacher referenced the GWPP again in another speech on the House floor on March 18, 2009. In this case, Rohrabacher explicitly used the GWPP to reject the scientific consensus on climate change, saying
just last year the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine released the names of some 31,478 scientists who signed a petition rejecting the claims of human-caused global warming. Of those 31,000, 9,029 have Ph.D.s. Many currently work in climatology, meteorology, atmospheric, environmental and geophysical studies, as well as astronomical studies, as well as the biological fields that directly relate to the climate change controversy.
So, there is no consensus.
As this series has demonstrated, the counter-consensus claims of the GWPP are a false narrative created both by an incorrect assertion that people with no climate expertise should be considered climate experts and by the false impression that 31,000+ signers matter more than a smaller number of legitimate climate experts. S&R has shown that, even giving the GWPP the greatest possible benefit of the doubt, the number of signers represent only one quarter of one percent (0.25%) of the people who could have signed, less than one half of one percent (0.44%) of the people who were working in the GWPP’s defined fields, and only small minorities of the major professional science and engineering organizations.
And as with both Aderholt and Sessions, Rohrabacher incorrectly identified the GWPP signers as scientists.
Steven A. King, Representative for Iowa
We know that there has been a long debate since [Dr. Hansen testified in 1988] and that the foundation for [global warming] science is in question. There are some 31,000 trained scientists who have signed off on a petition that says, “We don’t buy the science of global warming.”
King returned to the subject of the GWPP three times in 2009, once in January following Climategate and twice in June during debate on the Waxman-Markey climate change legislation.
On January 27, 2009, King invoked the GWPP in a hearing on the District of Columbia Voting Rights Act of 2009, using the GWPP to denigrate the Constitutional scholars who supported voting rights in the sam way that climate scientists were supposedly outweighed by the GWPP. On June 11, 2009, King referenced the GWPP in a discussion with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsac during a hearing on Waxman-Markey, saying
We have 31,000 scientists that have signed on and said that they don’t accept the science. We have a whole group of others that have shifted their positions. And yet, when I trace the dollars, almost 100 percent of the dollars that are going into the research are the dollars that support the advocacy for addressing this as a global warming issue, or now it has been changed to a climate change issue.
In this case, King implies that the scientists who want the world to address climate change have been corrupted by their financial interests in the subject.
Four days after the House hearing, King again referenced the GWPP, this time on the floor of the House. He said
Even if [climate change activists] could make the case on the science—and they haven’t and can’t. And 31,000 scientists have signed a petition saying they can’t support the conclusions of these climate change models, and we’re getting more and more that will step forward and say, I can’t take you there, I can’t be with you. And these are topnotch experts: meteorologists, physicists, people that really understand these issues in a scientific way.
Each time he mentioned the GWPP, King incorrectly identified the signers as scientists. And on June 15, he went so far as to say that the signers were “topnotch experts.” King should have known that medical doctors and metallurgists and veterinarians don’t qualify as “topnotch” climate experts, yet he said so anyway. Furthermore, there is much more money available to scientists in various fossil fuel-related industries (extraction, transportation, and industrial consumption of fossil fuels) than there is in climate research. An S&R investigation in 2010 found that there was approximately 2500x more money in fossil fuels than there is in climate science. If King truly wants us to “follow the money,” then there is far greater opportunity for corruption by fossil fuel-related industries than by government grants for scientific research.
Roger Wicker, Senator for Mississippi
On July 23, 2014, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held a hearing on the EPA’s pending climate regulations. During the hearing, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi entered the bulk of the GWPP’s website into the Congressional Record. While a transcript of this hearing is not yet available via the official records at the Government Publishing Office, the following video starts at the spot where Wicker begins referring to the GWPP.
In the video, Wicker refers to “31,487 American scientists” and reads most of the position statement available at the home page of the GWPP’s website. He claims that he’s doing this because “the other side of the aisle” (the Democrats) thinks that global warming is “settled science” and that anyone who disagrees is “a quack.”
Furthermore, on January 21, 2015, Wicker was the lone dissenting vote on a non-binding Senate resolution that climate change is real. In a response to Mashable, Wicker wrote that he agrees “with the more than 31,000 American scientists who do not believe the science on this matter is settled.”
From the video it appears that Wicker is reading a printout of the GWPP website, and he repeated the incorrect claim that all the GWPP signers are scientists. With respect to the question of settled science, a 2010 study by Shwed and Bearman found that new scientific ideas follow a standard trajectory that can be broadly described as follows:
- A new hypothesis is proposed
- The hypothesis is challenged in the peer-reviewed literature, generating lots of citations and explicit mentions of the hypothesis in follow-up studies.
- Evidence builds and crosses a threshold where the hypothesis becomes widely accepted as correct and both citations and mentions of the hypothesis in literature peak.
- Mentions of the hypothesis drop off rapidly as scientists move on to addressing derivative questions and the original hypothesis becomes accepted as “fact.”
Using this approach, Shwed and Bearman found that the scientific consensus about climate change formed around 1991. So the core concepts of climate change – that it’s happening and that it’s largely a result of industrial emissions of greenhouse gases – have essentially been settled science for nearly a quarter-century.
S&R informed Senator Wicker’s office that he did not accurately portray the GWPP’s signers and asked for comment. His office did not respond to S&R’s request.
Since May 2008, Rep. Aderholt, Sen. Sessions, Rep Rohrabacher, Rep. King, and Sen. Wicker have referenced or invoked the Global Warming Petition project a total of ten times, eight of which were in the official records of Congress. And each time they made serious errors that could have been avoided if they been more interested in facts and less interested in spreading a false, anti-consensus narrative. While S&R is a small website, the fact that not one of these members of Congress bothered to respond to S&R’s request for comment indicates that they have no interest in either correcting their errors or in explaining themselves to the public at large. Either way, their constituents and the wider public are not well served by members of Congress who are unwilling or unable to engage with their critics, especially when the facts are so clearly in opposition to what the Representatives and Senators said.
The following is a screenshot of a request for comment that S&R sent to XXXX on November XX, 2015 asking for comment on his GWPP remarks.