Caught in a Lie

September 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

There is an old political maxim that it is not the event but the cover-up that gets politicians in trouble. The issue of a two-page NOAA fact sheet and the decision by leadership in NOAA and/or its parent agency, Department of Commerce, to prevent its release is yet another lesson in Politics 101.

The figure below shows a recent version of the NOAA “fact sheet.” (Note that I have received multiple copies from independent sources, several of whom — but not all — who asked me not to post. Several, but not all, of the documents have different dates, but the differences are not substantive. I present a screen shot of a version so as not to inadvertantly reveal where it came from.)


The document is clearly prepared for public dissemination. It includes the following text that I have circled:

The purpose of this document is to respond to frequently asked questions on the topic of Atlantic hurricanes and climate. This document reflects the current state of the science, which is based on official data sets and results presented in peer-reviewed publications. It does not contain any statements of policy or positions of NOAA, the Department of Commerce or the U.S. Government.

This is obviously not a statment one would find on an internal document. The second page includes the statement at the bottom “Visit us on the web at” Surely not a request made to employees.

Compare this to how Nature yesterday (here) reported NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher’s description of the document.

When asked about the document, NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told Nature that it was simply an internal exercise designed to get researchers to respect each other’s points of view. He said it could not be released because the agency cannot take an official position on a field of science that is changing so rapidly.

An internal exercise? Bush Administration appointees it seems can make plenty of smoke appear even when there is no fire.

7 Responses to “Caught in a Lie”

  1. Judith Curry Says:

    Roger, I refer you and prometheus bloggers to Rick Piltz’s post on Climate Science Watch, which provides the broader context for why this memo (and its suppression) is significant.

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  3. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Thanks Judy for the link. I said much the same here:

    However, it is worth pointing out that Piltz neglects to tell his readers that there is no reason to believe that mitigation policy cannot have a discernible effect on hurricane impacts, subtlely suggesting the opposite. Ironic in a post about scientific integrity, huh?

    The lack of connection between climate mitigation and future hurricane impacts is what makes the Administration’s actions so completely bone-headed. Dave Roberts at Grist explains this very well:



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  5. Rick Piltz Says:

    The point of my post was to explain the politics of why the administration gatekeepers would not want to publicize the scientists’ statement — something you said you didn’t understand when you posted the fact sheet. My post was not about the relationship between hurricane impacts and climate mitigation, and just because I didn’t take up your agenda and reiterate your analysis on this Climate Science Watch post does not make it legitimate for you to insinuate that Climate Science Watch has an integrity problem. There’s nothing “ironic” about your intellectually sneaky tendency to argue by innuendo and you really should stop.

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  7. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Thanks for weighing in!

    You accuse me of “arguing by innuendo” and here I thought I was being quite explicit;-)

    Let me put the point another way and as direct as I can. You are criticizing NOAA, appropriately in my view, for not sharing what you consider to be policy relevant scientific information. Yet, when I assert that you are not sharing policy relevant scientific information, it becomes “my agenda”? By this logic is it fair then for NOAA to respond to your claims of its censorship that they simply do not share “your agenda”? Of course not!

    NOAA cherrypicks information for the same reason that you or I do — to advance an agenda. And being called on it is perfectly fair. For NOAA, for you, for me.


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  9. Jim Clarke Says:


    I agree that it was totally bone-headed to lie about why the document was not released, but I think Plitz demonstrates what the bureaucrats were afraid of and what you alluded to in your post.

    The document correctly points out that according to some recent research, global warming (whatever the reason) MAY have an impact on hurricane intensity and COULD extend the current active period longer. Both statements are speculative, unquantified and future oriented. This in no way suggests that Katrina happened because of man-made global warming or that restricting CO2 emissions would be an effective way of reducing future hurricane damage.

    Yet, Plitz writes…”That (the statements) is a linkage the administration has taken pains to keep the public from making, for reasons having to do with the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and the administration’s desire to fend off public pressure for a stronger global warming mitigation policy.”

    That linkage does not exist, yet the administration knew it would be spun that way. They also knew that any attempt to clarify the science would be further spun as back-pedaling and/or obfuscation.

    Lying about why the document was not released only made it worse, for now Conrad Lautenbacher has been caught, the rather bland statements have been spun anyway, and the spinners are spinning the lie as an attempt to hide scientific truth.

    In reality, withholding the document looks like an attempt to prevent the misuse of science! A noble goal, but stupid execution.

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  11. hank Says:

    Roger … Editor! Editor! Editor!

    Roger writes above:
    ” Piltz neglects to tell …
    …there is no reason to believe
    …policy cannot have a discernible effect …
    …subtlely suggesting the opposite.
    Ironic in a post about scientific integrity, huh?”

    Roger, this sort of terribly confused sentence construction is why people puzzle over whether your meaning is so convoluted, wondering if you’re trying to spin your opinion into what you write while claiming to be providing clear scientific fact.

    “neglects … no … cannnot … discernible … subtley [sic] suggesting … opposite …. Ironic … integrity.”

    As you conclude — “huh?”

    You could have written:

    “Pilz should have written, as I do whenever “hurricane” is mentioned, that the problem is the low lying construction, not the hurricane intensity. Everyone should mention this in any sentence that includes the word ‘hurricane’ — huh?”

    Be direct. Don’t use triple and quadruple negatives — in writing, as in infrastructure, stay away from low lying construction.

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  13. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Thanks Hank, well said.

    Also, thanks for the pointer to the NOAA ENSO advisory!