Here's a clean (I hope) version of the CHE article. (Apologies for the
unreadability of the earlier post. I'm away from home at the moment and
my internet access is a little primitive.) --PG
Friday, July 1, 2005
Congressman Demands Complete Records on Climate Research by 3 Scientists
Who Support Theory of Global Warming
By RICHARD MONASTERSKY
<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
In a sign of how climate science has grown increasingly political, the
chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and
Commerce is investigating three professors whose work suggests that the
earth's climate is warmer now than at any time in many centuries and
that increasing levels of greenhouse gases from burning fossils fuels
are largely to blame.
In letters to the three scientists last week, Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas
Republican, demanded detailed documentation about the hundreds of
studies on which they were an author or co-author. Mr. Barton also sent
a letter to the director of the National Science Foundation that
requests information about the work of the three professors, as well as
a list of all grants and awards in the area of climate and paleoclimate
science, which number 2,700 in the past 10 years.
Several climate scientists reached by The Chronicle expressed dismay at
the investigation and described it as harassment.
The investigation focuses on studies by Michael E. Mann, an assistant
professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia;
Raymond S. Bradley, a professor of geosciences at the University of
Massachusetts at Amherst; and Malcolm K. Hughes, a professor in the
Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research of the University of Arizona.
Several independent studies have come to conclusions similar to theirs.
But the work of Mr. Mann and his colleagues has served as a lightning
rod for attacks by skeptics of greenhouse warming, in part because their
early studies in 1998 and 1999 figured prominently in a 2001 report by
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-sponsored group
known as the IPCC.
Mr. Barton says he started the investigation because "this dispute
surrounding your studies bears directly on important questions about the
federally funded work upon which climate studies rely and the quality
and transparency of analyses used to support the IPCC assessment process."
Mr. Mann said he would comply with the congressman's requests, but
because of the legal issues involved, he said he could not comment in
detail. "I am pleased that the U.S. Congress has shown in interest in
the issue of climate change," he told The Chronicle. "I am confident
that when members of Congress take a look at the science, they will join
with the consensus of the world's scientists that the earth is indeed
warming, and that human activity has played a primary role in the
warming observed in recent decades."
But climate scientists in the United States and in Europe said they were
shocked by Mr. Barton's requests.
"It's a technical form of harassment by people in Congress who are
opposed to global warming and basically want to discredit the science so
they don't have to worry about the policy alternatives," said Thomas
Crowley, a professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth
Sciences at Duke University.
Mr. Barton worked in the oil-and-gas industry before being elected to
Congress, in 1984. In the past decade, he has consistently ranked as one
of the top five recipients of campaign contributions from that industry,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research
group that tracks money in politics.
Mr. Barton could not be reached for comment on Thursday. A staff member
in his office said the letters spoke for themselves.
In their first study, published in Nature in 1998, Mr. Mann and his
colleagues examined long-term records of glacial ice layers, coral
growth layers, and tree rings, all of which store information about how
climate has changed, year by year, at specific spots around the globe.
By mathematically combining records from various sites, the researchers
developed a temperature history of the Northern Hemisphere dating back
six centuries. They subsequently extended their analysis to cover the
last two millennia.
In graphical form, the data show temperatures going up and down over the
centuries by small amounts and then shooting upward in the 20th century
-- a shape that has been dubbed "the hockey stick."
In writing its 2001 report, the IPCC considered Mr. Mann's first two
studies and several other separate analyses to draw the conclusion that
the late 20th century was likely to have been warmer than any time in
the past millennium. Mr. Mann was one of 10 lead authors of the chapter
in the report that dealt with such data -- a connection that Mr. Barton
wants to investigate. He wrote a letter to the chairman of the IPCC
asking for clarification concerning Mr. Mann's role in drafting the report.
Mr. Mann's work drew the attention of Steven McIntyre, an independent
researcher who has worked in the mining industry. Over the past several
years, Mr. McIntyre has held long-running correspondences with Mr. Mann
and other climate researchers, requesting data and computer codes in
order to check their work.
Mr. McIntyre, working with Ross McKitrick, an associate professor of
economics at Canada's University of Guelph, has published several papers
accusing Mr. Mann and his co-authors of making errors in their analyses.
In the meantime, the two groups have waged a war over those issues on
two Web sites, RealClimate<http://www.realclimate.org> and Climate
According to Mr. Crowley, the Duke professor, he received repeated
e-mail messages from Mr. McIntyre demanding data and documentation,
which grew increasingly threatening. "I'm usually happy to send people
some stuff," said Mr. Crowley. However, he added, "McIntyre comes back
time and again. He could take up a huge amount of time. It's like you
have nothing better to do in your life than answer questions from Steven
Mr. McIntyre was unavailable on Thursday to talk about his dispute with
Mr. Mann. On his blog, he says that Mr. Mann has released data but not
the computer code from his studies.
According to David Stonner, of the Congressional-affairs office at the
National Science Foundation, Mr. McIntyre contacted the foundation last
year to ask for Mr. Mann's computer code. Mr. Stonner said the agency
had told Mr. McIntyre that the code was the intellectual property of Mr.
Mann and that it was up to him whether to release it.
Critics of the letters said they were clearly intended for political
purposes, not scientific ones. Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of physics
of the oceans at Potsdam University, in Germany, said that "when you
read these letters, it becomes clear this is not a genuine interest in
getting the best scientific information but rather this is an attempt to
intimidate individual scientists."
James E. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies,
in New York City, said "there is something rotten in Washington."
"These requests from Representative Barton," Mr. Hansen said, "seem to
be harassment and a threat to researchers and agencies that deliver
scientific results that displease politicians."
Hans von Storch, a professor of meteorology at the University of Hamburg
and director of the Institute of Coastal Research of the GKSS Research
Center, in Geesthacht, Germany, has published his own report that
criticizes the studies by Mr. Mann and his colleagues. He said Mr. Mann
made some mistakes in his analyses and did not explain his methods well
enough to allow other scientists to independently check his work (The
Chronicle, September 5, 2003).
But Mr. von Storch distinguished between publishing a description of
methodology and releasing computer codes. "If I did get such a letter, I
would become desperate," he said. His colleagues often write the code
for his studies, and he said, "if I asked my colleagues whether they
still had the code, I'm not sure they would."
Copyright © 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education