Additional Reactions – Waxman Hearing

January 31st, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Here are a few additional thoughts on yesterday’s hearing and reactions to it.

Here are some impressions – and they are just speculations — on the politics of the issue of “science suppression” and where it might be headed. First, one notable feature of yesterday’s hearing that you only would have noticed if you were there or watched was the reaction of Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican. He seemed pretty ticked off at the hearing at the testimony of Rick Piltz in particular and gave him a brief hard time. Mr. Shays commented that he came to the hearing expecting to hear about science suppression but that he had instead heard minor complaints about report edits in a partisan context. He may have been posturing (always possible), but if he was indeed sincere, then Mr. Waxman may have to engage in a bit of logrolling to maintain/retain any sense of bipartisanship in this area of oversight.

Second, the hearing has received a lot of media attention; it even overshadowed the Senate hearing the same day on climate policy. This is of course good for Mr. Waxman and increases pressures on the Bush Administration. But it also raises the bar for future attention pretty high. What does the committee do next? They could invite a few more agency officials, Jim Hansen comes to mind, but there would be a good chance, from a media perspective, of being the same story, which may not generate the same buzz.

Third, President Bush is a lame (very lame) duck, and the presidential election season is getting closer every day. There is not much time available for oversight investigation of any sort. Meantime, the principle bad guys in the story in the Bush Administration have resigned or moved on (in one case to ExxonMobil). Both NASA and NOAA have changed their media policies (for the better?). The Union of Concerned Scientists continues to release reports indicating that science and politics intermix, but if they don’t watch out, they might do such a good job that people might start thinking that . . . science and politics intermix. The Bush Administration can stonewall Mr. Waxman’s request for documents for a long time, and I wouldn’t bet that Mr. Waxman would issue subpoenas on this issue, since the lack of responsiveness by the Administration is almost certainly just a politically useful as the documents themselves. For all of these reasons it seems like there will be diminishing political returns to the issue of “science suppression” especially in the context of Mr. Waxman’s interest in other areas of oversight with more political traction, like the war in Iraq.

For the above reasons, I speculate – and it is just speculation – that we have seen the high water mark on Congressional attention to the issue of “science suppression.” I hope that I am wrong. It would be very informative and useful for Mr. Waxman to bring in media relations officials from various science agencies to examine what they do and how they do it. But I am not expecting this to happen. It is more likely that some other committee, such as the Science Committee takes up aspects of this issue if only to demonstrate ownership of their own turf. Therefore, for the Waxman committee I will put the over/under on future hearings on science suppression at one (bumped up from 0.5).

Finally, I fully expect that scientists who are exploiting their authority to advance their political views do not appreciate someone pointing out the close relation of science and politics. This also goes for those advocates who argue for their political agenda based on an appeal to objective, impartial authorities. Telling enough is that most public responses to my testimony along these lines have carefully avoided responding to anything that I actually wrote. I expect the loudest public complaints from those scientists most active politically. There is a stark contrast between what I see on the web versus what is in my inbox, which is reassuring.

10 Responses to “Additional Reactions – Waxman Hearing”

  1. Bob Palmer Says:


    Your guess about future Waxman hearings in the climate area is correct, I believe. However, I wouldn’t rule out future hearings involving scientific misconduct/mismanagement in other areas. After all, Waxman authored his report on Bush scientific malfeasance at least 6 months before the UCS report, which actually added very little to what Waxman had already documented. There’s lot of fertile territory there, on contraception, stem cells, etc.

    A lot of folks seem to be missing the fact that yesterday’s climate hearing had more to do with House politics than anything else. Speaker Pelosi wants to set up a Select Committee on Climate and Waxman is trying to demonstrate by his early hearing that the Select Committee is unnecessary. That’s why this hearing was held so early in the session.

    I don’t agree with you on the subpoena issue. Waxman will get the documents. It’s not a useful precedent to back down in your first fight as Chairman.

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  3. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Hi Bob! Thanks for weighing in … you are far better positioned to handicap this than I am!

    I have read somewhere that Waxman has never issued a subpoena in 32 years . . . It would sure be interesting if he does so on this issue.


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  5. Bob Palmer Says:


    I wouldn’t be surprised if Cong. Waxman has never issued a subpoena in 32 years. First of all, he’s never been a full Committee Chairman until this year. And when he was a prominent Subcommittee Chairman (under Chairman Dingell), the Committee Rules and/or relations between the 2 Members may have precluded the Subcommittee Chairman from issuing a subpoena.

    There are different rules on different Committees pertaining to subpoena power. It may take a majority of Committee Members, or just the Full Committee Chairman, or in some cases just the Subcommittee Chairman to issue a subpoena. One of Mr. Waxman’s predecessors as Chairman, Mr. Burton (R-IN), had unilateral authority and issued over 1000 subpoenas to the Clinton Administration, none of which led to anything substantive.

    In most cases, potential subpoena battles are resolved without the actual issuance of one. Negotiations occur between the Committee and the Administration — often over a period of many weeks — and usually an accomodation is reached. For a variety of reasons, administrations are nearly always eager to resolve these issues short of a subpoena actually being issued, and the threat of a subpoena is very strong medicine in itself.

    Sorry to taint you site with this realpolitik discussion, but the subject matter seems to be increasingly relevant to science policy.

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  7. kevin v Says:

    this also highlights a curious difference between paths in the House and Senate. It seems very unlikely that we’ll be going down this road in the Senate, unless Ms. Boxer brings it up during a climate hearing, but if she does it’ll be a side issue rather than the entire focus of a hearing, I suspect. Lieberman and Collins are the ones in Waxman’s position, but they’re not likely to shift from what they were already doing in the last session which is talking about Katrina and very little else.

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  9. Russell Seitz Says:

    You have opened my eyes to new dimensions of Congressional mathematics– some members of the House and Senate evidently believe that science supression may consist either in giving one side in the Climate Wars three billion dollars or allowing the other to receive three million.

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  11. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Bob- Realpolitik is always welcomed … in fact, now that Nature has got Goldston, maybe we might get you under contract here;-)

    We offer great terms and you get all sort of feedback as you can see ;-)

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  13. Lab Lemming Says:

    Hi Roger! Your testimony rated a mention in the NY Times:
    Unfortunately, they seem to have interpreted it as suggesting that science has always had political interference, so why start worrying about it now?

    At least that’s the vibe I got.

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  15. Benny Peiser Says:

    OK, so the climate change hearings in the US go on and on. But here is the thing: is there anyone who is *actually* committed to the Kyoto Protocol? I mean, is any decision maker actually supporting Mr Chirac’s call to action? Any volunteers?

    U.S. risks EU tax unless Kyoto pact is signed,1,4416126.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

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  17. Bill F Says:

    I have to say it is quite ironic to see such an outcry in DC over “scientific suppression” of pro-AGW scientists, while right down the road in Delaware, the governor and much of the legislature are apparently up in arms because their state climatologist won’t toe the party line on the human role in cliamte change. There is a word that begins with an H and ends with an e and has ypocrit in the middle that comes to mind…

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  19. Dan Hughes Says:

    If you Google around looking for info on the Joint Funding Resolution that was passed by the House Jan. 31, you’ll find,

    “Among the trade-offs were cuts to President Bush’s budget requests for NASA, foreign aid and aid for communities affected by the latest round of military base closings.”

    So, this administration’s assault on Science at NASA continues.

    Oh, wait a minute, the House is not controlled by the President’s party, and that article says, ” …cuts to President Bush’s budget requests for NASA … “.