Waxman Hearing Testimony – Oral Remarks

January 30th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Here are my remarks as prepared for delivery at 10AM today at the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. They might still change. They are pretty brief, as I only have 5 minutes. Here is the fully referenced written testimony [pdf], which goes into a lot more detail.

I thank the Chairman and the Committee for the opportunity to offer testimony this morning. I am a professor at the University of Colorado and also director of the university’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. A short biography with more details can be found at the end of my written testimony.

My main point today is that politics and science cannot in practice be separated. Consequently, policies for the production, promotion, and use of information in decision making should be based on the realities of science in politics, and not on the mistaken impression that they can somehow be kept separate. Efforts to separate them will in most case only contribute to the pathological politicization of science.

Imagine the following situation:

The president has in his administration a range of scientific experts on the most important policy issue of the day. However, the president is denied access to that advice by the manipulative actions of one of his primary advisors, who we’ll call “the Admiral.” It turns out that the Admiral has the president’s ear on matters of science but he himself has in fact never had any formal scientific training. He justifies his actions on the belief that United States is engaged in a fundamental religious, political, and economic conflict between good and evil. When two leading government scientists seek to provide advice to the president that differs from that being offered by the Admiral, the Admiral asks the FBI to open investigations of these scientists. One of the scientists subsequently faces hearings to consider his lack of loyalty to the United States and he never again works as a government scientist. The other scientist warns that this case indicated to scientists that

“scientific integrity and frankness in advising government on policy matters of a technical nature can lead to later reprisals against those whose earlier opinions have become unpopular.”

One of the nation’s leading scientist writes that the relationship between government and scientists has been “gravely damaged” because the government has given the impression that it would “exclude anyone who does not conform to the judgment of those who in one way or another have acquired authority.”

The year? 1954
The President? Dwight Eisenhower
The Admiral? Lewis Strauss
The Scientists? Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, and Vannevar Bush

This vignette drawn from Benjamin Green’s excellent new book Eisenhower, Science Advice, and the Nuclear Test-Ban Debate, 1945-1963 (Stanford University Press, 2007), along with the other examples recounted in my written testimony discussing issues of science and politics from presidential administrations from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton, show that science and politics have always been issues of concern for policy makers. And the subject of today’s hearing indicates that today is no different.

There are however reasons why today’s conflicts are receiving more attention from scholars, political advocates, and politicians.

1. There are an increasing number of important issues which are related to science and technology in some way.
2. Policy makers increasingly invoke expertise to justify a course of action that they advocate.
3. Advocacy groups increasingly rely on experts to justify their favored course of action.
4. Congress, at least for the past six years, and perhaps longer has been derelict in its oversight duties, particularly related to issues of science and technology.
5. Many scientists are increasingly engaging in political advocacy.
6. Some issues of science have become increasingly partisan as some politicians sense that there is political gain to be found such as on stem cells, teaching of evolution, and climate change.
7. The Bush Administration has engaged in hyper-controlling strategies for the management of information.

I’ll now give just several very short vignettes which illustrate how fundamentally science and politics are inter-related.

The language of science in public discussions lends itself to politicization. For instance, The New York Times reported last year that scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had complained because they had been instructed to use the phrase “climate change” rather than the phrase “global warming.” A Republican strategy memo did recommend use of the phrase “climate change” over “global warming”” and environmental groups have long had the opposite preference. Another federal scientist, at NOAA, described how he was instructed by superiors not to use the word “Kyoto” or “climate change.”

To cite another example, several years ago the Union of Concerned Scientists, as part of its advocacy campaign on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recommended the use of the word “harbinger” to describe current climate events that may become more frequent with future global warming. Subsequently scientists at NOAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Polar Bear Project began to use the phrase in their public communication in concert with advocacy groups like Greenpeace. The term has also appeared in official government press releases. Policy makers and their staff are of course intimately familiar with these dynamics : we have just recently seen them in practice as Republicans and Democrats have battled over framing President Bush’s proposed troop increases in Iraq as a “surge” or as an “escalation.”

An example of how easy it is to misrepresent science in a political setting, consider the memorandum prepared last week by the majority staff of this Committee to provide background information on this hearing. The memorandum states, quite correctly, that “a consensus has emerged on the basic science of global warming.” It then goes on to assert that:

“. . . recently published studies have suggested that the impacts [of global warming] include increases in the intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms . . ..”

It supports this claim by citing three papers. But what the memorandum does not relate is that authors of each of the three cited studies recently participated with about 120 experts from around the world to prepare a consensus statement under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) which concluded that “no consensus has been reached on this issue.”

The WMO Statement was subsequently endorsed by the Executive Council of the American Meteorological Society. Thus, the science cited in the Committee memo is incomplete and misleading. Such cherry picking and misrepresentations of science are endemic in political discussions involving science.

What has occurred in the preparation of this memorandum is in microcosm exactly the same sort of thing that we have seen with heavy-handed Bush administration information management strategies which include editing government reports and overbearing management of agency press releases and media contacts with scientists. Inevitably, such ham-handed information management will backfire, because people will notice and demand accountability. This oversight hearing today is good evidence for that.

My written testimony goes into far more detail on issues of press releases, agency media policies, empanelment of federal advisory committees, and other subjects which I would be happy to discuss with you further,

Thank you.

18 Responses to “Waxman Hearing Testimony – Oral Remarks”

  1. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    My substance must be pretty good – Over at Gristmill Dave Roberts asserts that I am – gasp – associated with the Republicans:


    We should be so lucky if Republicans accept my views on science policy. Even better if Democrats do also. ;-)

    For some, politics is not about convincing people of the merits of ideas, but instead simply about dividing the world into “good people” and “bad people.” Dave Roberts and Rush Limbaugh are birds of a feather it seems. This hyper-political arm of the environmental movement does more harm to their own interests then they realize.

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  3. Timo Hämeranta Says:


    actually you only refer to the well-known feature how (all?) the politicians use science to promote their own ambitions, lust for power.

    When you refer to the scientific ‘consensus’ you fail to mention that in politics and in other public debates it’s used for the same purposes, to suppress and silence other views.

    Like many others I’ll concentrate in Science and try to keep it apart from Politics.

    Very recommendable and not “contribute to the pathological politicization of science”.

    All the best


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  5. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Thanks Timo for your comments. As far as, “I’ll concentrate in Science and try to keep it apart from Politics.” — good luck! ;-)

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  7. jax Says:

    Do you have some examples of the “heavy-handed Bush administration information management strategies which include editing government reports and overbearing management of agency press releases”?

    Is there access to your full written report to the committee?


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  9. Benny Peiser Says:


    I hope your testimony went well. Sorry to hear about the ad hominem. Why this rage? There seems to be a serious problem faced by political activists: what to do when Stephen Harper, John Howard and even President Bush and Exxonmobil turn green? What do you do when almost everyone has joined your camp?

    Now that every comapny in the world, all CEOs and most political leaders around the world have accepted anthropogenic global warming and are vying for popular support, campaigners are starring at a world devoid of arch-enemies.

    As Peter Brown put it quite succinctly in his op-ed: “With the existence of global warming no longer an issue, it is likely the political debate will shift to what steps and what resulting economic costs are reasonable. It is not hard to see the political debate over the existence of global warming translating into the age-old dispute between the parties about the wisdom of taxes and regulation. That is a much more complicated political discussion than whether the global climate is getting warmer…. And, it is one on which the political edge is not nearly as clear.”

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  11. hank Says:

    Live, streaming, online, now:

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  13. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Roger I’ve read through your post a couple of times and I’m still struggling to understand exactly what point it is that you are trying to make.

    1. That politicians use science to their own ends?

    2. That scientists use science to their own ends (and that these sometimes stray into politics)?

    3. That scientists are sometimes advocates?

    4. That politicians should be wary of the consensus statements?

    5. That consensus statements don’t exist?

    6. That we should avoid the “pathological politicization of science”?

    Speaking of which why is politicization of science a bad thing, and when did it start? Is it worse now than before? What are the alternatives?

    As always I struggle to understand what your overall position is in this debate and what contribution you are trying to make. Hopefully your book will do a better job explaiing things than your blog :) .

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  15. hank Says:

    The witnesses have sworn to present “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” — in five minutes.

    It’s a challenge.

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  17. Paul Biggs Says:

    Scientific consensus should arrive at the same time as a proven scientific fact. Otherwise the consensus can be wrong, as it has often been in the past.

    Political consensus is a tool of dictatorship, rather than democracy. Democracy requires an electable alternative.

    The reputation of science and scientists is at stake. Given the daily media hype and If, as I suspect, we are heading for a period of solar induced ‘global cooling,’ no-one is going to believe a damn word scientists say ever again.

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  19. Francis Massen Says:

    Politization is not the only “danger” lurking around, available money is in my opinion a much stronger incentive to join a politically correct bandwaggon, whatever its scientific merits. New Scientist (27th Jan07) has several pages on jobs in Climate Change, and shows that the NERC funding in CC increased nearly 2.5 fold (from 47 to 113 million pounds) in just 8 years. Knowing that only alarm pays, how do you wonder that an ever increasing flood of doom and gloom papers is silencing the few voices asking for more sober (= “scientific”) work?

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  21. Pinko Punko Says:


    You have a low and useless bar for confidence in science.

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  23. Judith Curry Says:

    Roger, the most irritating part of your testimony, to which I provided a clarification to waxman, is your cherry picking of the statement from the WMO assessment. You omit the first part of the relevant paragraph, here is the paragraph in its entirety:

    “The scientific debate concerning the Webster et al and Emanuel papers is not as to whether global warming can cause a trend in tropical cyclone intensities. The more relevant question is how large a change: a relatively small one several decades into the future or large changes occurring today? Currently published theory and numerical modeling results suggest the former, which is inconsistent with the observational studies of Emanuel (2005) and Webster et al. (2005) by a factor of 5 to 8 (for the Emanuel study). The debate is on this important quantification as to whether such a signal can be detected in the historical data base, and whether it is possible to isolate the forced response of the climate system in the presence of substantial decadal and multi-decadal natural variability. This is still hotly debated area for which we can provide no definitive conclusion.”

    By the way, the factor of 5 to 8 in this statement is incorrect; it is a factor of 2 to 3.

    This was the part I found most irritating. I’ve posted previously to rebut many of your other statements, I won’t repeat myself here. But I was surprised by your testimony, since i found it to miss the mark in terms of being relevant to the topic of the hearing. I don’t think anyone is buying your “science as politics” schtick, other than a few academic policy wonk types (and wishful thinking by some advocacy groups). The scientists don’t buy it, and neither apparently do the policy makers.

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  25. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Your interesting comments are also welcome. With all due respect, in regards to your latest — Huh??

    I asserted in my testimony that citing Emanuel (2005), Webster et al (2005) and Mann and Emanuel (2005) represented a selective presentation of the literature on hurricanes and global warming, especially in the context of the recent consensus statement from the WMO endorsed by the AMS (how could that be neglected?!?), which said of the debate over the trends documented in the first two of these papers:

    “This is still hotly debated area for which we can provide no definitive conclusion.”

    Here is what WMO says about Mann/Emanuel:

    “The possibility that greenhouse gas induced global warming may have already caused a substantial increase in some tropical cyclone indices has been raised (e.g. Mann and Emanuel, 2006), but no consensus has been reached on this issue.”

    No consensus. Hotly debated. Seems quite clear. Why anyone would go to the mat on this point is beyond me. There is a debate ongoing in the community. It is not necessary to assess certainty. In fact assessing such certainty misrepresents the science. So why do it?

    [5 to 8, 2 to 3?? Not at all relevant to my point!]


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  27. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Judy- Care to share your email to the Committee today? Thanks;-)

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  29. TokyoTom Says:

    Roger, judging solely from what you’ve reported here, it sounds like you used the opportunity to play both ends off of each other, without trying to make any suggestions on either how to move the policy discussion to substance, values and interests or how government should manage information flows.

    It seems to me that the “both sides do it” theme by itself sidesteps the responsibility of the administration, and is an encouragement for Dems to do the same thing when they have the opportunity.

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  31. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Tom- Thanks, I did make the case at the hearing as I have here that if Congress has concerns about federal agency media communication policies, then they should focus on those policies, e.g., by getting on the record agency experiences.

    In other words Mr. Waxman might do policy oversight, not just political oversight. This theme came up several times in the hearing. It is in my view the only way that Congress will change agency communication practices, if that is indeed the intent.


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  33. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Another RC comment, responding to Judy Curry . . .


    You ask: “Surely Waxman’s letter is not expected to be a complete literature review?”

    No, this is exactly what the WMO Statement does and why it should be cited, even if it suggests that there is not yet complete certainty on this issue. On climate science generally one should cite the IPCC, not Soon and Baliunas. Why not the same standards for the other area of science? Why you would see fit to debate this point is beyond me. Your exploration of my motives, while interesting and I suppose fair here at RC, may be appropriate behavior for anonymous public commenters, but do they really present you as a leadings scientist in the best light?

    Lets agree that you disagree that the WMO consensus is actually a consensus. Any other substantive disagreements with my testimony (aside from me personally)?

    Citing scientific consensus statements only when politically convenient is not good if one wants to assert the authority of consensus.

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  35. TokyoTom Says:


    What rage and ad hominems are you referring to? When a polarized debate is underway, fence-sitters are often viewed with suspicion. I suspect that Roger understand very well that it comes with the “non-skeptical heretic” territory he has tried to stake out. Suspecting Roger of being a closet Republican is hardly an ad hominem, and though it may represent a tribal suspicion, it is hardly rage.

    Your puzzlement about what “political activists” now will do as AGW is acknwoledged is itself puzzling – they are aware that the devil is in the details, as the Peter Brown article you pointed to describes so well, and will now focus on influencing the developing legislative agenda, both directly and through trying to maintain public pressure.

    Likewise, those pundits who once strongly supported the view that the climate was not changing, or if it is that humans play no role, can be expected (if they wish to retain their credibility) to vociferously adopt the position that we should do nothing about (other than to half-heartedly support “adaptation” aid to the developing world) and to mock all who advocate any new rules, while encouraging continued denials by the willfully misinformed.

    Industry groups will of course battle for advantage and pork.