House Science, Space, and Technology Committee

Oversight Subcommittee

Shaping the Message, Distorting the Science: Media Strategies to Influence Public Policy

2318 Rayburn
Wed, 28 Mar 2007 18:00:00 GMT

Redacting the Science of Climate Change, Government Accountability Project Report

Witnesses
  • Dr. James J. McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University, Board Member, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Sheldon Rampton, SourceWatch, Co-Author of “Trust Us, We’re Experts!”
  • Tarek Maassarani, Government Accountability Project
  • Jeff Kueter, George C. Marshall Institute

2:06 The chair recognizes Dana Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher: If ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it. There is ample evidence of prominent scientists complaining that they have not been able to get grants if they question the quote global warming consensus.

What I see happening more and more in the debate over global warming is people not answering the questions from prominent scientists – there are hundreds on my website – there is a dismissal of the public debate. That is about as arrogant and anti-scientific as there is.

There have been consensuses in the past that have been dead wrong, and one or two scientists that haven’t been getting the grants that advance the science.

What people are doing. Just challenge who’s paying for your research. (He accidentally started to say “illegal immigration” instead of “global warming”.)

100 times more funding on the pro-global warming side than on those people trying to disprove that theory.

I’ve been hearing about the consensus for ten years even as I hear more and more about people getting cut out. These are not people, these are people who are the heads of scientific departments. The head of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute. People are influenced by the lure of getting government grants.

This hearing is looking in the wrong direction for scientists pressured to do the wrong thing.

2:12 Gordon: I know that gravity and global warming are pretty well established. There’s 100% certainty there is global warming. It seems there’s a new industry in town to create doubt where there is none to provide a hook for special interests.

2:13 Baird I have concerns about the possible misuse of science on all sides. I’ve seen industry hire hired guns and I’ve seen environmental groups do the same. As a scientist myself, I take this very seriously.

2:14: The chair introduces the panel.

2:16 Sheldon Rampton The power that science wields in modern society is that is able to create knowledge as reliable as any human endeavor. Its prestige makes it an attractive target, however. Advertising, public relations, and lobbying form what should be called a modern propaganda industry.

PR firms use a “third party” technique. The client is the first party, the audience the second party. It helps to use a third party that seems independent. “Put your words in someone else’s mouth.” Scientists, doctors are very useful third party spokesmen. In public policy debates it can be used to minimize or exaggerate dangers.

The tobacco industry is well known for its manipulation of science. The first clear link between smoking and lung cancer was found in the 1950s. A few years ago documents showed a campaign to plant letters in scientific journals, paying scientists to put their names on the letters. The industry’s law firms did the actual drafting of the letters.

As the WSJ reported, many of the articles under the byline of prominent academics are written by drug company ghostwriters.

Area after area: Air quality, water quality, product safety, nutrition. The manipulation of science inevitably has a corrupting influence on science itself.

McCarthy I was the co-chair of IPCC Working Group 2 in 2001; the president-elect of the AAAS, on the board of UCS, the Alexander Agassi professor at Harvard University. I will show how Exxon-funded efforts have distorted the record on climate change.

In 2005 the academies of science in the G8 plus China, India, and Brazil put out a statement: The science of climate change is now clear enough that nations should take immediate action.

How is then that the non-scientific organizations and a few individuals are able to cast doubt?

Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air documents how Exxon has adopted the tobacco industry’s tactics and some of the same organizations and people to confuse the public on global warming science.

Atmosphere of Pressure shows how federal scientists have felt the pressure of political interference.

I congratulate the House for passing legislation to extend whistleblower protections to scientists. Scientists should not be subject to undue restrictions on media access.

Congress needs to recognize Exxon-Mobil’s disinformation campaign for what it is and avoid being influenced by the protestations of a few individuals funded by the campaign.

2:30 Maassarani As lead investigator I conducted more than 40 interviews with scientists and officials, and reviewed 1000s of FOIA documents, and more than 100 published articles and Congressional documents. The control restricted interviews and press releases. A NOAA scientist complained that media requests dropped from 2-3 a week to 2-3 a month. A NASA scientist’s release was edited to minimize its impact. Some scientists have given up trying to issue press releases or have media contacts.

Restrictive policies and practices are characterized by inconsistencies on criteria and who is responsible. Directives, off the record, are enforced by low-level political appointees.

Their effect has been to misrepresent and underrepresent knowledge of federal climate change scientists.

GAP asks Congress to strengthen its oversight functions to ensure that independent science is the basis of policy making.

2:35 Kueter He talks very fast. Reasonable people can reach different conclusions. Discussing these different interpretations is not confusing the public. There’s a group of people wearing Exxpose Exxon shirts behind him. Conclusions drawn from incomplete science represent personal preference. The media’s role is to report, not to judge. Claims that this confuses rather than informs presupposes a foresight that does not exist.

Dr. Happer when in the Clinton-Gore administration questioned the VP’s position on global warming and the ozone layer and was summarily dismissed.

Our opinions long predate any support of corporations.

The UCS report single us out for close scrutiny. It fails to challenge the substance our work. The pursuit of federal funding can create pressure to conform to current beliefs.

Whose work is funded is less relevant than the quality of their work.

2:41 Miller Rampton, is this campaign what you’re talking about?

Rampton Exxon-Mobil is just one company. In the 1990s, the coal/gas industry created Information Council for the Environment’s goal was to reposition global warming as theory, not fact. They reuse the same scientists and people to make there seem as if there’s a huge amount of debate when there’s not.

2:43 Miller Scientists think truth exists and it’s their job to find it. PR people think truth may be created or at least shaped. Could you describe what the harm is in thinking that way?

McCarthy Truth is not a certainty. If anyone alleges we know the details of climate change with any certainty, we should question that. The representation of a contrary view, especially those supported by industry, have represented as facts information that are not part of the scientific record.

2:44 Miller A joke is that administrators hate having scientists on faculty panels because when you change the information they change their positions.

McCarthy If you go back 20 years ago or so it was difficult to find a consensus that the globe was warming; 10 years later it was hard to find statements that people were definitively causing it. If anyone could find the consensus wrong you’d have Nobel Prizes all over the place.

2:46 Miller How well does Rampton’s model fit what you found in your report?

Maasarani Rampton described one end of the construction of the debate. What we have in the government is the deconstruction of statements of the mainstream scientists.

2:48 Rohrabacher When I made a joke about dinosaur farts it was presented as my opinion. It shows you how dishonest this debate has come. When we talk about this “consensus” this is what I’m talking about.

Let me note I have a few statements. The Dutch Meteorological guy. Richard Lindzen. Antonio Esperenza lost their funding.

William Happer (he’s pronouncing it “Harper”) was fired by Al Gore because he was skeptical of the global warming theory.

Timothy Ball. “It’s one of the greatest deceptions in the history of science.”

William Grey. “I had NOAA money for 30 years. When Gore started directing some of the environmental stuff, I couldn’t get any money.”

These are examples of the suppression.

There are hundreds of such scientists. They’re getting cut off from their research. Yet we’re complaining about someone’s press release being edited.

Nobody suggests there isn’t some kind of warming going on in the planet. There has been a change. That’s because over a 150 years there’s been a one degree change in the temperature. They had started that change at the end of the mini-Ice Age. We have had many many changes in the temperature of the earth. Those cycles were caused by solar activity, probably the same one going on right now. Probably as important, if not more important, than human activity.

Why is the temperature going up on Mars? Is that because of all the human-like activity going on in Mars? I don’t think so.

I consider myself open-minded on this. I’m never going to tell someone I’m not going to listen to someone’s arguments. We have blaming Exxon for it. I applaud the young people wearing their t-shirts for participating. There are a lot of interest groups that manipulate people. I think it’s good for the debate.

2:56 Baird This is not just about climate change. I believe the evidence about climate change is quite compelling. It’s reall about the distortion of science. I believe this administration has put undue stress on federal agencies. I share the broad concern about the distortion of scientific policy. Reproductive health, federal advisory committees.

Mr. Rampton, your points about the power given to scientists cut both ways.

Are there standards in the scientific community about one must do before signing on to a public letter? Can someone just sign on?

2:59 Rampton Essentially no.

Baird Are you equally concerned by people signing on to either side of the issue?

Rampton I think scientists have every right to talk about whatever they want. I think scientists think because they are expert in a field they think they can speak with equal authority on other issues.

3:01 Baird I think Science Magazine rushed articles to press to influence public policy.

3:02 McCarthy The AAAS should always be concerned by their reputation. Three years ago the UCS first becoming aware of the abuses of our federal agencies first issued a report. The Union worked a great deal to make sure was a very crisp document. The first sixty people were not just random people. Winners of the the National Medal of Science, former presidential advisors, heads of major research institutions. Noone said “I won’t sign it” because it was wrong. It was vetted very carefully.

Any effort to rush something without the process with the scientific body would be irresponsible.

Baird When your report came out we held rump hearings because the chairman would not let us hold hearings.

3:05 Rothman What do you recommend to prevent the abuse of federal scientists by the government?

Kueter Transparency. Require that peer-reviewed studies have data archived for scrutiny by independent researchers. Use devil’s advocates that don’t necessarily agree with the consensus on an issue.

Rothman I’m more concerned about the twisting or censoring of scientific opinion.

Maasarani We have an extensive list of recommendations. Clear and transparent media policies that can require prior notifications but that eliminates the need for required pre-approval, routing, drafting of anticipated questions and answers, and to reaffirm the personal views exception.

McCarthy I congratulated Congress on the whistleblower act. Scientists should be able to reject a document that changes the meaning of their intent.

Rampton Medical journals have dealt with a fairly similar problem. Whatever a scientist finds they should be able to publish or announce their findings regardless of what is found.

3:11 Miller The tobacco industry knew before federal researchers the adverse effects of smoking. A month ago William Brennan testified the Bush Administration accepted the AAS finding and the IPCC report. What are we to believe?

Maasarani It’s going to be more and more difficult to hold the position the Bush administration held earlier. Perhaps that’s what you’re getting at here.

McCarthy It is a puzzle. In the spring of 2001 when Bush announced he would no longer honor his campaign announcement to regulate carbon it came just after the third report of the IPCC and asked the AAAS to look at the report. The US delegation to the IPCC is formed by the State Department. Even though things are being said, at the level the work was being done there’s a different story.

3:16 Rohrabacher The GAP report while it has the innuendoes we have heard today lacks specific charges. We can make innuendoes all we want and we can ignore the things that are very blatant on the other side of the aisle.

For example, James Hansen, Mr. Hansen complained his press releases were being manipulated. Last week in a Senate hearing he acknowledged he had been interviewed 14,000 times on global warming. Maybe it was 1000 times. This is what I saw in the press. That doesn’t indicate there’s some suppression going on. There’s some guy who thinks his opinions are more important than anyone else’s, who thinks he’s speaking for NASA.

I’d like to remind everybody when people don’t have the right kind of science to back things up. The first incident I had like this 19 years ago Al Gore sat right there. He demanded the president declare an ozone emergency. Guess what. A week later they found out it was a misreading of instruments from a Piper Cub airplane.

I’ll end it with a question. Are there or are there not, you keep mentioning the consensus, there’s warming on Mars, instead of confronting arguments, do you agree there are a significant number of scientists who are not part of the consensus?

Miller: We are gloriously past the time, but a brief answer.

McCarthy: There is a range of views on these issues. The IPCC is a very conservative process. Could it be the sun? You can ask that question. The solar variability as best estimated is about 1/10th the 2 watts per square meter of insulation we’ve accumulated. So there’s no paper. That’s the way the science proceeds. If anyone could find such solar variability that would be included.

Kueter: I point to the uncertainties in the IPCC reports. That should be the issue.

Maasarani: I’d like to correct some misstatements. Press releases were edited to downplay science. 14,000 interviews was a misstatement. That was 14,000 google hits. We’ve seen these problems emerging in the recent past. We believe that one incident of political manipulation of science is unacceptable.

3:26 Miller: Rohrabacher pointed out gaps in the report. I was impressed how far you could get with FOIA.

Maasarani: NASA got back to us with their media policy and that’s it. EPA was nonresponsive. It’s beyond me how they would have no responsive documents. NOAA: we had scientists give us documents directly that they sent up to the FOIA response that never got to us.

3:29 Baird: Two ethical questions. I used to teach a statistics and methods of science, and history of science course. If a scientist secretly submits research, should a supervisor be restricted by the law from blocking that?

3:32 Rohrabacher: I was a professional journalist.

3:33 Baird:* What if the supervisor says it can’t go through?

Rohrabacher: I think it should all be open.

Rothman: It’s Dr. Baird’s time.

Baird: I’m aware of cases where scientists could not put their name on a study. Now the converse, if a supervisor recognizes flaws in a study.

McCarthy: It’s not unusual for scientists to have their reports reviewed in house. There are corrective measures.

Baird: Once the study is published it gets printed thousands of times.

3:37 Rothman: Can the panel give me at least three examples of problems that have taken place in this administration?

Maasarani: A confidential source positioned in the public affairs office. This person was told “You make him be quiet, stop him from speaking to the public.” This person was summoned to the politically appointed supervisor’s office.

McCarthy: 21% of respondents experienced pressure to drop “climate change” or similar words. 58% personally experienced interference at least once in the last 5 years.

Kueter: We haven’t analyzed this administration.

Rothman: You’re more of a historian, then.

Kueter: I’m a public policy analyst. This book does take a historical look.

3:42 Rohrabacher: I’m dismayed you couldn’t come up with any examples. Give me names. Give me the examples. Give me three examples. Send them to my office.

Rothman Do you deny the results of the UCS report?

Rohrabacher: I do. When you ask scientists, do you want a higher budget for global warming? Sure, I think it’s really discriminatory against our group of people that there isn’t a higher budget.

I would never suggest we overlook suppression by this administration. If you have evidence specifically.

Maasarani They’re unnamed for a reason.

Rohrabacher There would be someone who would be willing to say something now. There’s always someone willing to say something anonymously.

Maasarani Tom Knudsen has had media requests denied. Weatherall has had press releases squashed.

Rohrabacher: They were denied press release? That’s not suppression at all.

Maasarani: They were press releases announcing important research.

Rohrabacher: Important research according to that researcher.

Maasarani: These were announcing publications of peer-reviewed research.

Rohrabacher: You’re ignoring that the lead scientist from the Department of Energy was sacked by Al Gore.

3:49 McCarthy We’re talking about much more than squashing of press releases. To make references that someone fired years ago, or a Dutch or Italian scientist didn’t get their funding. My last four funding proposals were denied. I’m not claiming there’s some kind of political process. I can’t think of any time there was any policy by a foundation that this is the kind of research we should be supporting. Scientists don’t get research trying to prove something.

Rothman: Is there any evidence there was a conspiracy or effort at the highest levels of the administration to censor work?

Maasarani: It depends how do you define a conspiracy. White House offices are sending these signals through political appointees. In some clear instances to suppress communications by scientists. I’m not prepared to call this a conspiracy. Certainly there’s something going on.

Kueter: Your colleages posted the deposition of Phil Cooney. I suggest you take the time to read that document. Quite plainly the coordination doesn’t exist.

Rothman: Do you have any reason to question the statements of the other panelists?

Kueter: I have not reviewed their reports for that purpose.

3:54 Rothman: I look forward to looking at your recommendations. The hearing is adjourned.

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