Archive for November, 2004

NRC on Advisory Committees

November 18th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Yesterday the National Research Council released a report on the presidential appointments in areas of science and technology, including the empanelment of science advisory committees.

The report recommends, “It is inappropriate to ask [prospective panelists] to provide nonrelevant information, such as voting record, political-party affiliation, or position on particular policies.” The NRC justifies this position, in part, with the following statement:

” … even for committee member selected for reasons unrelated to expertise, political-party affiliation and voting record do not necessarily predict their position on particular policies and should not be used as a means to balance committee perspectives.”

This is an incredible statement coming from an NRC committee that is obviously carefully selected to maintain a political balance in its membership. Unless the NRC is suggesting that political and policy positions should be considered only in smoky back rooms, they are suggesting that expertise and politics/policy can be cleanly separated, and that the former are “nonrelevant” – a position in all of its dimensions well-understood to be utopian or delusional by those folks who study such things in the STS community.

The NRC recommendation is a recipie for continued politicization of science in the advisory commmittee empanelment process.

Hyperbole and Hyperbole Police

November 18th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A particularly interesting example of hyperbole on the climate issue was sent in by John Fleck (Thanks!). The incident is interesting no so much because of the hyperbole itself, but because scientists, including some closely affiliated with the IPCC, were willing to take a public stand on the hyperbolic statements.

Here is an excerpt from the New Zealand Herald article that discussed the incident:

“”The winner of one of New Zealand’s top science medals, Professor Peter Barrett, has backed off a controversial claim that humanity faces extinction within 100 years because of global warming.

Dr Barrett, who was presented with the Royal Society’s Marsden Medal in Christchurch last night, gave the Christchurch Press notes for his acceptance speech in which he planned to say: “If we continue our present growth path we are facing extinction – not in millions of years, or even millennia, but by the end of this century.”

After a storm of criticism, he changed the word “extinction” in his speech last night to “the end of civilisation as we know it”.

Dr Barrett, 64, the director of Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre, has used ancient air particles trapped in Antarctic ice to show changes in carbon dioxide are linked with changes in the polar ice sheets and the Earth’s climate. His work has been widely cited in the world’s scientific journals.

But his own colleagues were embarrassed yesterday after his initial speech notes were reported. “I certainly wouldn’t be using that language,” said Dr Jim Salinger, the lead author for the Australia and New Zealand chapter of the next global assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Good for Jim Salinger and good for the IPCC.

Job Announcement: Division Director

November 16th, 2004

Posted by: admin


The Colorado School of Mines (CSM) solicits applications for the
Division Director of Liberal Arts and International Studies (LAIS). This
position will carry the rank of professor, and offers the unique
opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary humanities and social science
environment at a world-class engineering and applied science institution.
LAIS teaching and research emphasize emerging programs in international
political economy, science and technology policy, applied environmental
humanities, and writing. As the Division’s chief academic and
administrative officer reporting to the Executive Vice President for
Academic Affairs/Dean of Faculty, the Director is responsible for all
aspects of leadership, management, planning and operations.

Further details about the position are available at, with information on LAIS at, and CSM at


Hyperbole Watch

November 15th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Following up from a post last week we thought it might be useful to post examples of excessive hyperbole on the climate issue – from all perspectives on the issue. We’ll do this when we see them or when you send them in. Here are a few:

Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas writing for Tech Central Station 11 November 2004 say, “A recent study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research by scientists from Princeton and Duke Universities indicates massive wind farms would significantly increase local surface drying and soil heating, which in turn would impact agricultural or range use on or near the wind farm… Wind farms may not be as benign to the environment and weather as its promoters say”. Question for Drs. Soon and Baliunas: Why so quick to highlight the implications of this single climate modeling study, when in the past you have criticized such models as not being “sufficiently accurate” to guide policy?

“You can kiss the planet goodbye,” James Gustave “Gus” Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, in The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 13 November 2004. Speaks for itself.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), speaking of the United States and arctic peoples in a 13 November 2004 BBC news article, “The short-term economic policy of one country should not be able to trump the entire survival of one people.” The BBC article states, “Indigenous people from the Arctic have urged the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions to slow down the current thaw of the polar ice.” Questions for the cryospheric community: What is the relationship between U.S. economic policies and the rate of arctic ice changes? Can we modulate future arctic ice thickness with economic policies? Any studies on these questions?

Senior Staff Scientist/Northeast Climate Project Manager

November 12th, 2004

Posted by: admin

UCS is seeking an experienced scientist/project manager to lead work to bring sound science to bear on building support for strong state and regional climate policies in the Northeast United States.

Responsibilities: Lead project to develop, produce, and effectively communicate the results of a multidisciplinary assessment of projected impacts of climate change on the Northeast U.S. Manage all aspects of the project, including:


Pontifical Academy of Sciences

November 10th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Did you know that the Roman Catholic Church has its own academy of sciences? I sure didn’t. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, located in Rome and dates its origins to 1603, has the following mission:

“The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is international in scope, multi-racial in composition, and non-sectarian in its choice of members. The work of the Academy comprises six major areas: Fundamental science; Science and technology of global problems; Science for the problems of the Third World; Scientific policy; Bioethics; Epistemology.”

There is also a Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Earlier this week Pope John Paul II gave a speech to participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that touched on a wide range of science policy issues. Here are a few of the most interesting excerpts and my commentary.

The Pope strongly believes that scientific research should serve societal ends, in a manner that seems completely consistent with the perspectives of historian Lynn White Jr. (in PDF):

“The creativity which inspires scientific progress is seen especially in the capacity to confront and solve ever new issues and problems, many of which have planetary repercussions. Men and women of science are challenged to put this creativity more and more at the service of the human family, by working to improve the quality of life on our planet and by promoting an integral development of the human person, both materially and spiritually.” At another point the Pope says: “Indeed, the inexhaustible bounty of nature, with its promise of ever new discoveries, can be seen as pointing beyond itself to the Creator who has given it to us as a gift whose secrets remain to be explored. In attempting to understand this gift and to use it wisely and well, science constantly encounters a reality which human beings “find”. In every phase of scientific discovery, nature stands as something “given.””

But the Pope also appears to share with Milton Friedman, interestingly enough, the idea that research should be conducted without any external influences – it should be a pure search for the truth, what has at times been called “basic research”: “If scientific creativity is to benefit authentic human progress, it must remain detached from every form of financial or ideological conditioning, so that it can be devoted solely to the dispassionate search for truth and the disinterested service of humanity.” Presumably government support for science, which has financial and political constraints upon it, would also be excluded under this perspective.

Like we’ve said here before, science policy is everywhere.

A Nation Undivided: Misperceptions about Moral Values

November 9th, 2004

Posted by: admin

If you have turned on the news or picked up a paper at any point in the days since the election, you have surely heard that 22% of exit-polled voters in last Tuesday’s election held “moral values” as the most important factor in their choice for president. This statistic, while suspect, has produced a firestorm of discussion about the state of the nation by those eager to determine the surefire explanation for the victory of the Republicans this time around.
And out of this discussion has emerged the overt assumption that values belong to one of the two major parties, and that those values are inextricably linked to faith. Some quotes to that end:

-From Thomas Friedman’s Nov. 4 column:
‘”The Democrats have ceded to Republicans a monopoly on the moral and spiritual sources of American politics,” noted the Harvard University political theorist Michael J. Sandel. “They will not recover as a party until they again have candidates who can speak to those moral and spiritual yearnings.”‘

-From Todd Purdum Nov. 4 News Analysis:
Rahm Emanuel, representative from Illinois asserted that the democrats “need a nominee and a party that is comfortable with faith and values. And if we have one, then all the hard work we’ve done on Social Security or America’s place in the world or college education can be heard.”

- From Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon, Oct. 11 Weekly Standard:
“If you had to pick a single reason why the Democratic party is weaker at all levels than at any time in the last 50 years, it is the transformation of moral-values issues into an overwhelming Republican asset.”

These are just a few of the many election-related proclamations that values lie on the other side of the aisle from the Democratic Party. Some analysts have taken these proclamations a step further and have declared that the foundation of American democracy, “Enlightenment values – critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences” have in fact dissolved with the election of George W. Bush. (From Garry Wills NYTimes op-ed).

With this and the previous assertions, analysts on both sides of the aisle define the Democratic Party as the party of reason and evidence and the Republican Party as the party of values and faith. And each side surrenders to a land divided.

But I argue that this surrender is both misinformed and dangerous. It assumes that values can be one-sided, that value-free decisions are possible, and that Democrats operate in this value-free realm. None of these assumptions are true.


A Hyperbolic Backlash

November 9th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

On occasion here at Prometheus we’ve observed that within the scientific community proponents of action to mitigate climate change have an increasing tendency to misjustify, overstate, or misuse science in support of their agenda. By engaging in such hyperbole, the scientist-advocates are, ironically enough, adopting some of the exact same tactics that opponents of action to mitigate climate change have been criticized for by many of the exact same proponents of action.

For example, today’s Seattle Times contains an article that provides a window into the conflict that is festering within the scientific community about using hurricanes, and in particular the 2004 hurricane season, as a justification for changes to energy policies. Here is an excerpt:


Professors and Policy

November 8th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The November 5, 200 Yale Herald has a thoughtful article about the role of professors, and Yale professors in particular, as contributors to governmental policy making. The article notes, “One difference between Yale and schools such as Harvard and Princeton is the lack of a professional program in public policy. This goes part way in explaining the disparity between the levels of cooperation in the government.” The article includes a range of perspectives, and is worth a read. It is online here.

Career Opportunity: Program Officer

November 8th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Board on Atmospheric Sciences & Climate
The National Academies

The Board on Atmospheric Sciences & Climate is seeking an exceptional person with strong scientific expertise and an interest in applying science in the policy arena. A Program Officer (sometimes called Study Director) is responsible for all aspects of implementation of the Board’s work – designing studies, working with agencies and committees of experts, analyzing complex issues, and preparing reports. It’s a dynamic work environment – the National Academies’ staff of more than 1000 people address all the issues in today’s headlines and more, from stem cell research to alternative energy sources to climate change.

Qualifications: Ph.D. or equivalent knowledge is preferred, but Master’s degree or equivalent knowledge with 3 years of related experience will be considered. Requires ability to review and analyze scientific literature; good organization, interpersonal, and leadership skills; and ability to work productively in a team environment. Excellent oral and written communications skills are essential. Background in a variety of fields within the areas of atmospheric sciences, meteorology, and climate will be considered. The job is located in Washington, D.C. Some travel is required.