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Climate scientists accuse Democrat of McCarthyism

By   /   March 3, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

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“WITCH HUNT”: Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry, right, says she feels she’s a victim of McCarthyism after her university received a letter from U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

 

By Rob Nikolewski │ Watchdog.org

Judith Curry, a decorated climate scientist at Georgia Tech, says research tells her the earth is warming.

But she’s isn’t sure how much of a role humans have played.

For that, Curry says, she has been targeted by members of Congress in a new version of McCarthyism.

“It’s ridiculous,” Curry said in a telephone interview Friday. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Curry is one of seven climate scientists whose universities received a letter from U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources. The letter last week questions their impartiality and demands the schools provide Grijalva financial information about the scientists.

“I write today because of concerns raised in a recent New York Times report,” Grijalva said in the letters, “and documents I have received that highlight potential conflicts of interest and failure to disclose corporate funding sources in academic climate research.”

The New York Times reported that Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics failed to disclose $1.2 million in research funding from fossil fuels sources such as ExxonMobil and the Southern Company. Soon has claimed global warming can be explained, in part, by variations in the sun’s energy.

Grijalva told the universities he wants responses by March 16.

“Absolutely, this letter is intimidation,” said Curry, who has testified many times before Congress in her 33-year career, including last year in front of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“Whenever you testify, you are required to submit a financial disclosure,” Curry told Watchdog.org. “All of us have complied with this. Now, in some cases, decades after the testimony we are asked to submit all sorts of additional financial information, including travel information. Exactly how is someone ‘bribed’ by accepting reimbursement for a trip?”

Curry isn’t the only one of the seven scientists who has lashed out at Grijalva.

Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, called the letter part of a political vendetta against climate scientists who have questioned findings from colleagues, who warn climate change poses an imminent danger to the planet.

“When ‘witch hunts’ are deemed legitimate in the context of popular causes, we will have fully turned science into just another arena for the exercise of power politics,” Pielke wrote on a blog post the day after the letters were sent. “The result is a big loss for both science and politics.”

“It looks like I am up next for this ‘witch hunt,'” Curry said. “Roger Pielke Jr.’s accusation of McCarthyism seems spot on to me.”

Watchdog.org sent an email to Grijalva’s office Monday morning asking for comment, but we have yet to receive a response.

Curry says she has not received any improper payments from the fossil fuels industry — or any other source.

“If someone sends me a million dollars, yeah, that’s another story,” Curry said in a telephone interview. “But niggling about my travel, it’s just insane … On the green side of it, there’s a whole lot more funding and a whole lot more conflicts. So once you start opening the can of worms and looking at this on the other side, I think it’s going to show up much worse.”

The controversy highlights an ongoing battle within the climate science community.

Some who say governments need to tackle climate change immediately and aggressively have called colleagues who question them “climate deniers;” the more skeptical have responded by calling opponents “climate alarmists.”

Climate scientist Michael Mann, who has appeared at political events supporting candidates calling for the U.S. government to act more forcefully, said in 2011, “I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing, but it’s not helping the cause.”

“It’s just a ludicrous situation when independent thought on this subject and speaking out publicly is not allowed to happen,” Curry said. “Certain people are going to be labeled as deniers and, for scientists, that’s a very sad state of affairs. And it’s not (just) politicians, it’s other scientists that label me as a denier.

“I’m an independent thinker,” Curry said. “I’m not going to spout other people’s judgments. I’m going to look at the evidence myself and draw my own conclusions and assessments about uncertainty, and that’s what the job of a scientist is.”

The American Meteorological Society sent its own letter to Grijalva on Friday.

“Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” the group wrote.

“As researchers we are subject to many, many peer reviews,” Paul Chinowsky, head of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, told the Boulder (Colorado) Daily Camera. “The whole concept of academic freedom is research without influence. So, we have to ask: Is this an investigation because of sound questions of science? Or is this an investigation because of political agenda?”

Even some climate scientists who have disagreed with the seven scientists complained.

Eric Steig, a professor of earth and space science at the University of Washington, said Pielke has made “provocative and uninformed” comments “and it’s safe to say he’s not very popular among mainstream scientists,” Steig told the Daily Camera. “That’s all the more reason to speak up when it appears Congress may well be abusing its power.”

Curry worries about what message the congressional letter sends to younger scientists.

Just nine days before the Grijalva letters were sent, Curry posted a letter on her blog from a Ph.D. student who complained about “massive group think” among climate academics that frustrated him so much that he left the field to work in finance.

“That’s what my big concern is,” Curry said. “The best minds are not attracted to a field like this … People are leaving the field because of this craziness.”

The seven climate scientists aren’t the only ones hearing from Democrats in Congress.

Just one day after Grijalva sent his letters, Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., on the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works, sent letters to free-market think tanks and energy companies asking them to turn over funding records related to any research they’ve conducted on climate change.

“Corporate special interests shouldn’t be able to secretly peddle the best junk science money can buy,” Markey said in a statement.

“This is clearly an attempt to intimidate anyone who has a different opinion on the issue than theirs,” Hans von Spakovsky, a former commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, told Matt Kittle of Watchdog.org. ”This is an abuse of power. Maybe these senators don’t understand or don’t care about the fundamental First Amendment rights of Americans and their membership organizations.”

 

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Rob formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.