DENVER â€” Democrats may be flustered after a week of being accused of engineering an anti-science “witch hunt,” but they aren’t backing down from their investigations into the financial backing of climate change researchers who challenge the movement’s doomsday scenarios.
Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, told National Journal this week that he may have been guilty of overreach even as he defended his probe into the funding sources of seven professors, now known as the “Grijalva Seven.”
“I think that us asking for empirical, fact-based science is not trying to stop research,” Mr. Grijalva told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz on Monday night. “Research can be done. If the Koch brothers or Exxon want to fund their research, fine. Just disclose that that’s who’s funding it so the American people can make their own decisions.”
Three Senate Democrats â€” Barbara Boxer of California, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island â€” are conducting their own probe of 100 fossil fuel companies and trade associations funding climate research.
Their objective? To find out whether the organizations “are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists fail to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators.”
The result is that Democrats are facing the kind of criticism usually reserved for Republicans in academic circles, even at left-leaning institutions. Among those under investigation is Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“We stand behind him,” a university official said last week.
The Denver Post declared in a Tuesday editorial, “CU rightly defends Roger Pielke Jr. against political bully.”
“I think the Democrats, anytime you’re trying to enforce group-think or punish a professor for their scientific and legitimate views â€” and if you listen to this professor’s [views], they sound fairly reasonable, frankly â€” I think the Democrats look very bad on this,” Denver political analyst Floyd Ciruli said Sunday on KUSA-TV’s “Between the Lines” with Brandon Rittiman.
Mr. Grijalva said in letters to universities that he wants to ascertain whether the professors have financial conflicts of interest, but his probe has outraged lawmakers, academics and scientists concerned about a potential “chilling effect” on research.
The professors have challenged the theory that climate change is driving extreme weather events such as hurricanes and blizzards.
“Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources â€” and thereby questioning their scientific integrity â€” sends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” Keith L. Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, said in a letter last week to Mr. Grijalva.
Mr. Grijalva argues that the inquiry is necessary to ensure the impartiality of the professors’ past congressional testimony. The dual investigations were launched days after Greenpeace released documents that showed Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics aerospace engineer Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon had received $1.2 million in research funding since 2008 from fossil fuel interests, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
Mr. Soon, who has challenged computer models that predict increases in global temperatures, did not disclose his funding source in at least 11 papers since 2008, according to The New York Times.
Mr. Soon has acknowledged as recently as 2013 that he receives funding from fossil fuel companies and insists that he is not motivated by money.
“Climate Change on Campus: Research for Hire?” says an ominous-looking post on the House Natural Resources Committee minority website overlaying a photo of factory smokestacks.
Mr. Seitter countered that “peer-review is the appropriate mechanism to assess the validity and quality of scientific research, regardless of the funding sources supporting that research as long as those funding sources and any potential conflicts of interest are fully disclosed.”
The White House is pushing for tougher emissions standards in the name of combating climate change even as some scientists, dubbed by critics as “deniers,” question how much impact increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has on specific weather events.
Mr. Pielke and others have described the House investigation as an attempt to discredit those who challenge the climate change movement’s contention that rising levels of carbon dioxide are driving natural disasters such as hurricanes and blizzards.
“Before continuing, let me make one point abundantly clear: I have no funding, declared or undeclared, with any fossil fuel company or interest. I never have,” Mr. Pielke said in a Feb. 25 post on his website The Climate Fix that appeared under a photo of former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
“Representative Grijalva knows this too, because when I have testified before the U.S. Congress, I have disclosed my funding and possible conflicts of interest,” he said. “So I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically-motivated ‘witch hunt’ designed to intimidate me (and others) and to smear my name.”
Meanwhile, Republicans are siding with the scientists.
A spokesman for Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Feb. 27 that Mr. Bishop is focused on reducing carbon emissions through efforts such as forest management reforms and reductions in gas flaring on federal lands.
“This type of political theater is nothing more than a distraction,” spokesman Parish Braden said in an email.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, fired off a letter Feb. 27 signed by the panel’s 11 Republicans to the organizations that received the Senate Democrats’ request, calling it “wholly inappropriate.”
“We ask you to not be afraid of political repercussions or public attacks regardless of how you respond,” said the Inhofe letter. “Above all, we ask that you continue to support scientific inquiry and discovery, and protect academic freedom despite efforts to chill free speech.”
The situation holds more than a little irony for Republicans, who have been accused by Democrats of targeting climate scientists.
Five years ago, Mr. Inhofe came under fire for a report released by his Senate committee’s minority staff on collusion between top climate scientists affiliated with the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.
The British university was at the center of the climate scandal, in which email messages, data files and data processing programs revealed discussions of scientific fraud and data manipulation to buttress claims about catastrophic global warming.
One difference is that the emails and documents used to prepare the February 2010 Senate report, “‘Consensus’ Exposed: The CRU Controversy,” were already available to the public.
Virginia’s attorney general at the time, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, attempted to obtain records from the University of Virginia related to the work of professor Michael Mann, a climate scientist and leading promoter of global-warming theories. The Virginia Supreme Court shut down the effort in 2012.
“McCarthyite attacks on climate scientists were un-American and inappropriate when Republicans practiced them. They are neither less toxic nor more appropriate when initiated by Democrats in the name of saving the planet,” Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, climate and energy policy analysts, said in the Breakthrough journal.
The Grijalva letters to the universities ask for their policies on financial disclosure; all drafts and communications related to the professors’ past congressional testimony; all sources of external funding such as grants and honoraria; financial disclosure forms; and salary dating back to 2007.
Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for the committee’s Democratic delegation, told The Huntsville Times in Alabama that the “whole reason we sent the letter is because we don’t know” about the funding sources for the seven professors, including John Christy, director of the University of Alabama at Huntsville Earth System Science Center.
“The way we chose the list of recipients is who has published widely, who has testified in Congress before, who seems to have the most impact on policy in the scientific community, and he definitely fits that bill,” Mr. Sarvana said.
Judith Curry, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and one of the Grijalva Seven, posted an article Wednesday on Climate Etc. in which she noted that an article on BarackObama.com is headlined, “Call out the climate deniers.”
“It looks like it is ‘open season’ on anyone who deviates even slightly from the consensus. … It is much easier for a scientist just to ‘go along’ with the consensus,” said Ms. Curry, referring to climate “warmists” or “alarmists.”
She said those testifying before congressional committees are asked to disclose whether they have received government funding but added, “There is no disclosure requirement that is relevant to individuals from industry or advocacy groups, or for scientists receiving funding from industry or advocacy groups.”
Steven F. Hayward, who is not a scientist but a public policy professor at Pepperdine University, said he was flattered to be included in what he called the “Magnificent Seven.” The other professors are Robert Balling of Arizona State University, David Legates of the University of Delaware and Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“If I say ‘two plus two equals four,’ does the truth of that proposition depend on whether I’ve received a grant from the Charles G. Koch Foundation? Apparently it does for Rep. Raul Grijalva,” Mr. Hayward said in a post on Powerline.
Mr. Grijalva asks universities to respond no later than March 16. The Senate Democrats’ deadline is April 3.