Hockey Stick Hearing Number Two

July 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is hosting its second hearing on the so-called “hockey stick” in the past two weeks.

From last week’s marathon hearing TechCentralStation provides an interesting set of quotes. A statement by Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) to Professor Edward Wegman is particularly telling:

I want you to make sure you understand the reality of this situation. I’ve given you all the sincerity that I could give to you. But the reason you are here is not why you think you are here, OK? The reason you are here is to try to win a debate with some industries in this country who are afraid to look forward to a new energy future for this nation. And the reason you are here is to try to create doubt about whether this country should move forward with the new technological, clean-energy future, or whether we should remain addicted to fossil fuels. That’s the reason you are here. Now that’s not the reason individually why you came, but that’s the reason you’re here. Thank you very much.

Not long ago, we discussed here how scientists are recruited — sometimes willingly, sometimes not — in such a manner to serve as pawns in political battles. Rep. Inslee clearly recognizes that science is simply a symbol in ongoing debates about energy policies. Presumably the witnesses that the minority invited to testify were brought in to serve a similar purpuse as those that he described to Dr. Wegman.

Ironically, from all accounts Dr. Wegman’s report initiated by the majority staff of the committee and the report led by Dr. North for the NRC apparently agree on all of the statistical and technical aspects of the hockey stick issue. The difference was that the North Committee went to great lengths to minimize the practical significance of their findings and the Wegman report did not. In both cases their characterizations of their findings reflect extra-scientific considerations.

Showing no shame, Representative Inslee asked Dr. Wegman if he could recite the three laws of therodynamics (you can’t win, can’t break even, and can’t get out of the game, courtesy of C.P. Snow). Dr. Wegman, a statistician, replied that he probably could not. Presumably the fact that Dr. Wegman could not recite these laws means that the nation should adopt Rep. Inslee’s preferred energy policies, whatever those might be. Of course, Mr. Inslee did not apparently recognize that since Wegman and North agree on the substance of the issues, discrediting one would seem to imply discrediting the other. But Rep. Inslee has already told us that the substance does not matter (See also the question posed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Han von Storch’s quite appropriate response).

On the other side Rep. Barton (R-TX) asked Dr. Wegman who he voted for in 2000, to which he replied Al Gore. Presumably this bit of Texas political trivia means that in fact Dr. Wegman’s statistical analysis has credibility, and we should thus favor Rep. Barton’s favored energy policies, whatever those are.

All in all last week’s hearing was a pretty sad day for science in politics, or more accurately – science as politics. Both parties came off looking pretty bad. And the scientists involved all looked helpless or unwilling to break out of the fix they were in — with the exception of Hans von Storch whose comments in my view were thoughtful and on target- PDF.) A lot of the blogosphere commentators on this issue have taken political sides just like the members of Congress and seem more than happy to wage their political battles through the science. Exceedingly few people seem concerned about the pathological politicization of science itself, and seem perfectly have to join the fray. I’d expect that we’ll see more of the same today. But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Here is my two cents on the whole affair:

On the hockey stick in politics, I wrote here last summer: “Resolving the technical dispute will do little to address the larger issues of climate science policy or the symbolic and real political implications of the hockey stick debate.” See the rest of that post for a more detailed description of my views, which I see no reason to change.

On the hockey stick in climate policy, in this post from last fall we came pretty close to a consensus among participants in the debate that it does not matter for climate policy. of course, the policy and politics are interwoven, and my view is that the politics of the issue are an obstacle to policy (see my testimony from last week – PDF).

On the hockey stick in science policy and politics — here is where I think the most important issues are. The hockey stick debate reflects in microcosm just about everything that is wrong about the climate debate. Scientists who are advocates of action on energy policies, or simply are burdened by outsized egos, could have defused the hockey stick debate a long time ago by taking a conciliatory stance with respect to the critics of the hockey stick and its prominant role in the IPCC. The IPCC deserves a lot of the blame for the issue, first for elevating the hockey stick to an icon and then by circling the wagons when criticized. Hindsight is 20/20, but even the recent NRC report was a missed opportunity to defuse the issue.

The critics of the hockey stick, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, have proven how difficult it is for scientific truths to be kept under wraps, according at least to Drs. North and Wegman. This of course cuts both ways in the climate debate. They also have provided a case study in the power of blogs in today’s worlds of science and politics. But they have done themselves no favors by cozying up with conservatives. Perhaps this is a marriage of convenience, but it has served to further politicize the issue.

Finally, the big loser in all of this seems to be the IPCC, which appears to have viewed the hockey stick debate as something to win and survive, rather than learn from and evolve.

Bottom line – after all of the sound and fury over the hockey stick climate policy remains a mess and the politics as intractable as ever. Today’s hearing, I’ll guess, will continue this trend. Any comments from people watching the hearing would be welcomed.

9 Responses to “Hockey Stick Hearing Number Two”

  1. William Connolley Says:

    “The IPCC deserves a lot of the blame for the issue… by circling the wagons when criticized.”

    Has it? How can it? There hasn’t been a report since. Unless you mean the AR4 text. Or do you mean reactions by individuals associated with the IPCC? I’m not sure – can you clarify please.

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  3. coby Says:

    Interesting post Roger, I wish I had the time for a more comprehensive comment but you raise so many issues each with so many assumptions that I could never do a proper job.

    I would like to call you out on two or three points I see as unfair or internally inconsistent.

    1. You present this battle with a false equivalency between the sides. Obviously, the Hockey Stick is not being debated in congress because of its concern about the appropriate use of statistics in the field of dendrochronology, it is all about the broader issue of whether or not GW is anthropogenic or not. On this front the scientific battle has been over for quite some time, thus there is no moral equivalency in this political debate. As such, I have a lot of trouble with you condeming scientists and bloggers who “wage their political battles through the science”. How can it possibly be otherwise when the scientific battle is over and only the political battle rages?

    2. You (quite rightly) note that scientists are allowing themselves to be used as political pawns in a process that you agree with Rep. Inslee is not at all about what it claims to be about, yet only a few days ago you were very critical of James Hansen for declining to be so used. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, it seems.

    3. After all this complaining about scientists politicizing their work, you turn around and criticism these same folks because they could have “defused the hockey stick debate a long time ago by taking a conciliatory stance with respect to the critics”, a completely political tactic.

    Thanks for your attention.

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  5. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Thanks William- A while back (7 July 2005) on this blog I commented on an interview in nature with RK Pachauri, head of the IPCC. here is what I said then:

    [excerpt from July 2005 Nature interview with RK Pachauri -

    "Was it unwise to give Mann's 'hockey stick' so much prominence in the IPCC's summary for policy-makers?

    No. It is no exaggeration and it doesn't contradict the rest of the IPCC assessment. Of course you can always argue about details. But we assess all the available literature, and we found the hockey stick was consistent with that."

    [My comments]

    The fact that he is even being asked this question should be enough for him to offer a more nuanced reply. How about: “I am sure that at the time we would have done nothing different. but with the advantage of hindsight, it is clear that by emphasizing a single study we opened the door for a narrow debate, when the IPCC presents a large body of literature to reach conclusions that do not depend critically upon any one single paper.”

    The IPCC could have easily have convened a panel or committee of outside experts (chaired by someone critical but fair like Hans von Storch) to take a look at its review procedures and address some of the questions that have been raised about its use of the HS in its report. If nothing else this would have indicated a willingness to address criticisms, and engage in a bit more transparency. I have documented other somewhat questionable actions by the IPCC in its WGII (on disaster damages and storm surge) that suggest that there might be reason to take an independent look at the process. Just about every organization undergoes outside, independent evaluation, so why not the IPCC? It has done nothing remotely like this. A consequence is that it has fed rather than defused the politics of the HS debate.


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  7. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Thanks for your comments. A few replies.

    1a. The HS debate is not about detection and attribution. To the extent that it is, it is because the IPCC presented it in such a fashion. If indeed it is not relevant to D&A or policy more generally, as most people now seem to agree, then the IPCC made a big mistake including it in a Summary for Policymakers as it was not policy relevant!

    1b. I have no problem with political battles – that is how we get the business of society done. I do take issue with people who hide their political battles behind science – which we see often at both camps of the HS debate, and among various bloggers.

    2. You have oversimplified my views here. Don’t forget that I testified last week before Congress as well — I may not get an invite back — but I did try to present the policy significance of my work. When the transcript is available, have a look at the questions by Rep. Shays on policy options, very interesting. Experts who testify without placing their work into policy context run the most risk of being used as pawns in the process. Compare von Storch’s testimony with the others, for instance.

    Hansen in particular has taken an advocacy stance on the climate issue, so there was absolutely no reason for him not to appear. His reason for not appearing was absurd. We all have a duty in my view to respond when called by the government that funds our research (and in Hansen’s case pays his salary). As I have said many times, the best way for scientists to depoliticize the science is to explicitly address the significance of science for policy options. Scientists can do this in advocacy fashion (i.e., picking an option or camp and getting behind it) or in honest broker fashion (i.e., by associating the science with a range of consistent options).

    3. I don’t get #3. Want to try again?

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  9. William Connolley Says:

    Ah, I see where you’re getting it from. That seems to me weak; we can continue to disagree on that.

    On your 1a – the HS isn’t irrelevant to D&A. Its just that its only one bit of it.

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  11. coby Says:

    I guess number 3 is just a general problem I have understanding what you think scientist should do. You seem to frequently use the concept of politicized science in the very common negative sense, that it is bad for science to be politicized and scientists should not use there work in political ways or to acheive political goals. Yet here you seem to criticise them for not being political enough, ie your admonishment above about not diffusing the HS debate by being conciliatory. Why should a scientist, confident in his work, do anything but defend it, unless they are acting politically?

    I have the very clear impression that you think James Hasen is wrong to be “advocating policy”. Perhaps if you could give me a clear answer as to why that is (if it is) I would begin to understand your views.

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  13. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Thanks. I think we have plowed this ground before, so I’ll be brief.

    1. Politicization of sceince is inevitable and desriable.

    2. But there are healthy and unheathy ways to politicize science.

    3. Pathological politicized science includes stealth issue advocacy when a scientist claims to be discussing only science but is using teh science to advance a particular agenda.

    4. There is nothing wrong with striaght out advocacy for a particular agenda — that is democracy at work — so long as it is recognized that such advocacy goes well beyond science.

    5. There can be a problem when all or most scientists engage in straight out advocacy. What can be lost is new and innovative options. So I recommend that some, hopefully authoritative groups like the NRC or IPCC, might play the role of honest broker of policy options — presenting a broad spectrum of choices and their relationship with the state of the science.

    For the gory details, please buy the book ;-)

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  15. Mark Bahner Says:

    Coby Beck writes, regarding the “Hockey Stick,”

    “…it is all about the broader issue of whether or not GW is anthropogenic or not. On this front the scientific battle has been over for quite some time, thus there is no moral equivalency in this political debate.”

    Oh, really? According to the NASA GISS surface data, the total warming from 1885 to 2005 was approximately 1.0 degree Celsius:

    How much of that temperature change was anthropogenic, and how much was not anthropogenic?

    For extra credit, how much of the portion that you think is anthropogenic would you assign to greenhouse GASES (e.g., CO2, methane) versus other anthropogenic factors (e.g. land use changes, or anthropogenic emissions of aerosols).

    Note: If you think anthropegenic aerosols (or land use changes) have a negative net forcing, you could have a result something like this. (These numbers are completely hypothetical…you obviously know the real answers.)

    Natural = 0.3 deg Celsius

    Anthropogenic GHGs = 0.5 deg Celsius

    Anthropogenic land use change = 0.3 deg Celsius

    Anthropogenic aerosols = -0.1 deg Celius

    Total = 0.3 + 0.5 + 0.3 – 0.1 = 1.0 deg Celsius

    Mark (An Enquiring Mind, Wanting to Know)

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  17. Steve McIntyre Says:

    Roger, what’s the “marriage of convenience”? I was invited to present at the House Energy and Commerce Committee and appeared. I was invited by my squash club to give a presentation and did so. I was invited by George Marshall to give a speech and did so. I’ve received no honoraria for these and only a fraction of my expenses. If I was invited to present by UCAR, I’d be happy to do that too.

    I think that climate scientists should welcome the interest of the House Energy and Commerce committee as an opportunity to make their case. I don’t know much about Barton and I’ve only seen him in the E&C hearings, but he’s obviously a smart guy and I think that you have to take his comments about a serious interest in the issues at face value. He’s exactly the sort of guy that you have to engage. You should be thankful for the engagement.

    It is irresponsible for people who are worried about climate policy to get into ridiculous controversies over withholding data and code. If you think that climate policy is serious, this argument is unwinnable. People like yourself should be telling Mann, Briffa, Jones, Jacoby, Lonnie Thompson, the whole crowd, to clean up their act pronto. Archive their code and data right now. They are dragging your community through the mud. It’s you that should be protesting about it, not me.

    People who are worried about AGW should be anxious to get rid of bad and irrelevant arguments. Get rid of all the self-indulgent stuff in IPCC 4 AR – a history of climate science??? OK in an academic book, but not in an assessment report. Why should a nickel of policy money go to this sort of puffery?

    If the hockey stick doesn’t matter, than IPCC 4AR should get rid of the corresponding paleoclimate section in IPCC 4AR, rather than trying to buttress it with equally vulnerable articles.