So Long as We Are Discussing Congressional Myopia . . .

March 28th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I had a chance to meet Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) last year at an informal dinner at the home of Thomas Lovejoy, head of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. In my conversations with Mr. Gilchrest I found him to be extremely thoughtful and exactly the sort of person that anyone would welcome representing them in Congress, Republican or Democrat. My views were reinforced when I saw Mr. Gilchrest sitting with Congressional committees looking into global warming even though he wasn’t on those committees but was attending simply to educate himself, one time when I was testifying.

So it was with some surprise that I read the following about Mr. Gilchrest in a news story last week:

House Republican Leader John Boehner would have appointed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest to the bipartisan Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming — but only if the Maryland Republican would say humans are not causing climate change, Gilchrest said.

“I said, ‘John, I can’t do that,’” Gilchrest said in an interview.

Gilchrest didn’t make the committee. Neither did other Republican moderates or science-minded members, whose guidance centrist GOP members usually seek on the issue. Republican moderates, called the Tuesday Group, invited Boehner to this week’s meeting to push for different representation.
. . .
Gilchrest expressed his interest in the committee several times to Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, telling them the best thing they could do for Republican credibility was to appoint members familiar with the scientific data.

“Roy Blunt said he didn’t think there was enough evidence to suggest that humans are causing global warming,” Gilchrest said. “Right there, holy cow, there’s like 9,000 scientists to three on that one.”

The fact that the Republican leadership seeks to ensure political unanimity via a litmus test on the science of climate change should be a surprise to no one. More troubling is the fact that the participation of one of our most thoughtful public servants on an important select committee is a casualty of such political myopia. Not only will policy discussions be impoverished by such actions, but it is also hard to see how it works in the favor of the Republican political agenda.

5 Responses to “So Long as We Are Discussing Congressional Myopia . . .”

  1. Markk Says:

    How did global warming become such a political hot potato? It’s bizarre.

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  3. TokyoTom Says:

    Roger, there was some interesting commentary on this by Jonathan Chait in the LA Times:

    “Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), both research scientists, also were denied seats on the committee. Normally, relevant expertise would be considered an advantage. In this case, it was a disqualification; if the GOP allowed Republican researchers who accept the scientific consensus to sit on a global warming panel, it would kill the party’s strategy of making global warming seem to be the pet obsession of Democrats and Hollywood lefties.

    “The phenomenon here is that a tiny number of influential conservative figures set the party line; dissenters are marginalized, and the rank and file go along with it. No doubt something like this happens on the Democratic side pretty often too. It’s just rare to find the phenomenon occurring in such a blatant way.

    “You can tell that some conservatives who want to fight global warming understand how the psychology works and are trying to turn it in their favor. Their response is to emphasize nuclear power as an integral element of the solution. Sen. John McCain, who supports action on global warming, did this in a recent National Review interview. The technique seems to be surprisingly effective. When framed as a case for more nuclear plants, conservatives seem to let down their guard.”

    What is Chait’s explanation of the motivations of the Republican party leaders? “The truth is more complicated — and more depressing: A small number of hard-core ideologues (some, but not all, industry shills) have led the thinking for the whole conservative movement.”

    This seems to tie into Matthew Nisbet’s similar post that “As Fewer Americans Identify with GOP, “Republicans” as Measured in Polls Appear More Resistant to Changing Their Views on Science”,

    My own view is that while there is some deliberate shilling going on, that our very real resistance to changing our minds and our penchant for choosing sides are also both at work.

    But there seems every reason to expect that the attraction of potential federal research dollars will start to entice the Republican legislators to play along – otherwise industry will simply cast them to the side.

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  5. TokyoTom Says:

    Roger, Chait’s commentary is here:,0,7434727,print.column?coll=la-news-comment-opinions.

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  7. Harry Haymuss Says:

    Gilchrest is showing his ignorance: “Roy Blunt said he didn’t think there was enough evidence to suggest that humans are causing global warming,” Gilchrest said. “Right there, holy cow, there’s like 9,000 scientists to three on that one.”

    He does not differentiate between via CO2 or via other reasons, for one thing. For another saying “causing some global warming” instead of “causing global warming” and he would be much closer. Or, are there still people who deny the presence of muons?

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  9. kevin v Says:

    the beta I’ve heard is that the minority staff’s only role is going to be pumping out Inhofe-style press releases to counter whatever the majority does. In other words, they’re not staffing the committee with technical experts, which is exactly what the majority committee is doing.