8 February 2017

Climate Science, the White House, and the Value of Data

Posted by Eric Davidson

The presumed top two candidates for President Trump’s science advisor have been reported by several credible media organizations to characterize human-induced climate change as “a radical hypothesis,” “exaggerated,” and the product of “a cult.”* We urge From The Prow readers to sign and promote our petition to appoint an individual with a strong scientific background who understands the rigorous scientific method and the need for evidence-based science.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) will provide scientific expertise and seek common ground for communications with the President’s pick, whether it is one of these two candidates, or someone else. However, these misleading statements made by the purported leading candidates about climate science cannot go unchallenged.

AGU has a very clear position statement on climate change – which states that it is real, is happening, has been caused primarily by humans over the last several decades, and is having undesirable effects on the environment, the economy, and human health. These conclusions are based on a huge body of data and thousands of peer-reviewed papers that provide overwhelming evidence that human-induced climate change is continuing at a rapid rate that bodes ill for economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and human well-being.

Rather than “radical” or “exaggerated,” the scientific process is very conservative. It requires rigorous analysis, re-analysis, and debate as new evidence on climate change or any other topic enters the scientific literature. Researchers around the world should be proud of the careful, measured, professional process that has led us to be able to inform policymakers about the serious impacts of on-going climate change.

Science is far from a “cult.” At yesterday’s hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, AAAS CEO Rush Holt quoted a recent editorial in the journal Science: “Science is not a political construct or a belief system.” He added, “it provides testable, fundamental knowledge of the world and how things work. It is a set of principles dedicated to discovery and use of evidence to continually test these discoveries.”

Sadly, the insulting characterization of climate science by the prospects for White House Science Advisor is fueled by controversies such as the recent blog post by Dr. John Bates, which accused NOAA scientists of mishandling data. That blog has led to questioning of the validity of the climate science and the associated temperature record, most recently at the Congressional hearing where Rush Holt testified. In his opening comments at the hearing, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology cited blog and website reports as authoritative and definitive sources, and accused NOAA of deception and falsification of data. We urge Chairman Smith and other members of Congress and the Administration to consult with scientific societies and leading climate and data scientists to better understand the science and the issues around data.

AGU will continue to stand up to political interference in the conduct of science. As I previously wrote, the climate science is firm. In addition to the wealth of knowledge gleaned over decades of research, additional data and analyses that have been published independently by other research teams have confirmed the conclusions of the 2015 NOAA study published in Science, demonstrating that the cautious and deliberative scientific process has advanced our knowledge, which is how good science is done. Any scientist who has additional data or different findings from those of the NOAA study or subsequent papers should submit their analysis to peer-reviewed scientific journals so that the scientific process can continue.

Following up on our promise to share updates on this topic, below are some of the recent posts that address the Karl article and Dr. Bates’ assertions. No doubt this list will grow:








Response to critiques: Climate scientists versus climate data


As the events of the last few days have unfolded, I have been reminded of the immense importance of data and its curation. The data on climate and other important topics, made available by government agencies like NASA, NOAA, EPA, and DOE, are extremely valuable assets that must remain publicly available through transparent processes. We welcome renewed focus on the value of data and the importance of their proper handling for the benefit of science and society. We commend the US governmental agencies for their efforts to support good data management protocols. And we hope that the new administration, including the new science advisor, will maintain a commitment to keeping existing data sets publicly available and adding to them through additional support and funding for monitoring and research in the geosciences. In addition, we hope that the new administration will affirm the data management plans submitted by the agencies is response to the 2013 OSTP memo.

The Scientist (Gelernter) (2/6),  Science (2/6), Nature (1/23), The Scientist (Happer) (2/6)