Protecting Academic Freedom and Holding Ourselves Accountable


Update (3 March 2015):

In the last few days we have received several comments regarding the situation with the Natural Resources Committee, and as such, I want to expand a bit on what I previously wrote here.

AGU unwaveringly supports a scientist’s right to academic freedom, and nothing in my previous post should be interpreted to suggest otherwise. We view the singling out of any individual or group of scientists by any entity – governmental, corporate or other – based solely on their interpretations of scientific research as a threat to that freedom.

Society needs scientists to make their expertise and scientific opinions available to policy makers and to the public, under the highest standards of transparency and integrity.

The rules of transparency affect us all equally, and therefore must be applied equally. Anything less could have a negative impact on scientists’ willingness to share their knowledge with the public, and in turn, their research’s ability to benefit humanity.

I sincerely hope that AGU members and other scientists will not become intimidated about providing testimony to Congress regarding their scientific expertise.

Original Post (27 February 2015):

On 24 February, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, sent letters to the leadership at seven academic institutions asking for information about specific professors’ funding sources and their testimony before Congress, among other issues. He did so in response to the recent news stories regarding the disclosure of funding sources and Dr. Wei-Hock Soon’s (a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) scientific publishing and testimony before Congress. (Read the letters)

Not surprisingly, this has prompted much discussion within the scientific community.

Transparency is a critical element of the scientific process, as is the ability of scientists to conduct their research unfettered by interference. As part of our ethical guidelines as a scientific society, AGU requires disclosure of funding sources and potential conflicts of interest — real or perceived.

To make sound decisions, the public and Congress need scientists to share and interpret unbiased and impartial information. The public also needs scientists who can pursue their varied research interests, discuss their science and report their findings to policy makers without fear or intimidation. In turn, Congress must be consistent in their application of disclosure requirements for both private and public funding sources. They must also ensure that disclosure requirements are not overly burdensome, nor in any way limit or interfere with academic freedom and discourse. For example, asking scientists to disclose who funded their research is not unreasonable — in fact, we require that same disclosure to publish in an AGU journal — but asking them to share drafts of testimony or communications about that testimony goes too far.

Clearly, there are implications for the scientific community as a result of this issue, and AGU will continue to defend academic freedom while also upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity. All scientists deserve the same protections afforded by academic freedom, just as they have the same obligations to act with integrity.

Margaret Leinen
President, American Geophysical Union

There are 56 comments

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  1. Steve Bloom

    You say “asking them to share drafts of testimony or communications about that testimony goes too far.”

    But recall that Soon’s *management* signed off on a provision allowing Southern (the funder) pre-publication review.

    How exactly is Congress to know if the same thing hasn’t occurred with others without requesting the drafts and any pertinent communications? I’m sure Grijalva would be happy to listen to your suggestion for that.

    AGU may choose to trust, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Congress to want to verify.

    • Fernando L

      Steve: it seems to me the proper approach would be to ask the presenter, author, or whoever testifies for congress to state ahead of time the individuals and parties who had editorial control over the contents of the testimony. As stated by Margaret Leinen, the congressman’s request is too much. I don’t want to turn this into an essay about congressional ethics or abuse of power, but this case sure takes the cake.

  2. Lonny Eachus

    The nature of this inquiry probably will NOT contribute to transparency and the promotion of open science. On the contrary: it appears that such pressure has ALREADY had a chilling effect, as demonstrated by the refusal of Dr. Roger Pielke — who is not even a CO2-warming skeptic — to do any further work in the climate field.

    If transparency is what we want, why didn’t Rep. Grijalva disclose in his letter that HE had received many thousands of dollars in campaign funds from “green” organizations? The public has as much interest in seeing that its politics are bias-free, as in seeing that its science is bias-free.

    This ill-advised action has already resulted in “in-kind” letters of demand for funding details to scientists who support the “other side” of this argument and their respective universities. And given past evidence, I honestly do not believe the climate alarmists are going to come out on top of this contest they have started.

  3. Lonny Eachus

    I nearly forgot to add:

    Why was Dr. Judith Curry presented with demands for disclosure of her funding, over the times she testified for the Republicans, but not the times she was asked to testify by Democrats?

    If that isn’t evidence of attempts to enforce standards in a one-sided manner, I don’t know what is.

    • Doug Allen

      Curry, like Pielke, is on of the straight shooters in the crazy world of climate science. I recall Curry writing not so long ago that recently she has only been asked to testify by Republicans/conservatives. She added that she did not self-identify as conservative or Republican. If my response is at all typical of liberals/progressives who are science literate, the Democrats are in trouble. I’ve voted for every Democrat who ran for president since 1960, I probably will not be voting for the Democrat in 2016.

      • Ken Maricle

        I am a registered Democrat. I am not a climate skeptic per se. But I am a skeptic of the results we have seen from the IPCC. I do not believe they are practicing science, and there is much evidence leading me to believe that. I was a believer in AGW until I heard “the science is settled”. Sorry, but that is not how science works. That made me dig deeper and discover the inconsistencies, the alarmist publicity, and the downright lies (“unprecedented” weather events). It is evident from their mud slinging that the AGW/climate change crowd are starting to feel the pressure of their lies.

        What I would like to see is a return to peer review and an end to pal review. I also would like to see open debate on climate studies. When Einstein published his relativity papers, he showed his whole hand and invited the scientific community to disprove it. In fact, he gave them ideas of ways to independently test his theories. (In the process, he discovered an error in his theory of gravity).

        Why cannot climate science act in the same way. Is it possible that there is value to climate science, even if CO2 is not the big bad killer that the alarmists make it out to be?

  4. Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd

    It is important to note that Margaret Leinen supports failed researcher Michael Mann and his busted hockey stick. It is also important to note that Joe Romm received far more money in a single year, than Willie Soon received over a decade.

    Margaret, please keep up the faux outrage. There is nothing we skeptics love more than slamming your crap charges right back in your face.

  5. Gary H

    Re: “AGU requires disclosure of funding sources and potential conflicts of interest — real or perceived.

    Does this include disclosure of funding when the funding comes from government sources, universities, and/or from environmental organizations; for example if the funding comes from the Sierra Club which is certainly an organization with an agenda and award of funds from such an org would never occur unless they expected a result which supported their agenda.

    Shoes do fit on both feet. This Congressman needs to be challenged by you folks on that issue, as he is only going after those with a different scientific view than they one he wants out there.

  6. Mitch Lyle

    Lonnie–I think we should start from documented issues, and would recommend that we not work from internet rumors.

    That being said, there should be a consistent set of disclosure requirements before giving expert testimony, especially to Congress. These should include disclosure of funding sources and special clauses, if any, to funding contracts. However, giving testimony does not give congress the right to search through the files and e-mail of the witness.

    • Lonny Eachus

      Mitch: I think we should start with SPECIFICS, and not innuendo.
      What is it about what I wrote that you feel is “rumor”, and not supported by verifiable facts? Let’s start there, hm? And please be specific. You couldn’t have replied more vaguely if that is what you were trying to do.
      Dr. Soon’s funding details had been supplied to Congress on previous occasions. Also, don’t forget that all of this funding was going THROUGH the Smithsonian. While Soon was soliciting funding, all he drew was a salary. So if there was anything untoward going on, that body definitely has some answering to do.
      Why did Rep. Grijalva not disclose, upon making these demands, that HE had received campaign funds from Greenpeace and other organizations, which have publicly taken sides on this matter?
      There is NOTHING about Soon’s funding that was in any way unusual in the scientific community. The phrase “witch hunt” is very apt.
      Having said all that: would you care to elaborate about what you seem to think is “rumor”? If you do, I would be happy to cite sources and disabuse you of that notion. If you don’t, I will thank you to keep your innuendo to yourself.

      • George Devries Klein, PhD, PG, FGSA


        This is NOT the first time Dr. Lyle has proclaimed scientific items he finds troublesome to be “rumor.” Your response is excellent.

  7. Otter (ClimateOtter on Twitter)

    As the AGU is in support of grijalva’s quest, perhaps they can begin the process by asking every. single. One. of their membership, exactly where all their funding comes from?

    I suspect there’d be a great deal of interesting information to be found.

  8. Roger A. Pielke Sr.

    I tweeted this []

    AGU response implicitly supports Grijalva (D-Ariz.) … A failure of leadership by Margaret Leinen – President, AGU

    The AMS statement is what the AGU (Dr. Leinen) should have endorsed. It included the strong message

    ” 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”

    I urge an improved statement by our AGU President, or at least an endorsement of the AMS Statement.

  9. Armand MacMurray

    There had been assertions that the AGU had lost the will to defend academic freedom. Was it really necessary to issue this statement and so remove all doubt?

  10. Mervyn

    The founding members of the world’s most prominent scientific institution, The Royal Society, would be turning in their graves over the way the climate science, and scientific institutions, has been corrupted by politics in relation to the global warming agenda.

  11. Victor Venema (@VariabilityBlog)

    Asking for funding is not bad in principle, but in this case the seven letters all went to mitigation sceptical scientists. That is very unlikely to be a coincidence, but a political attack on those who are critical of mitigation. That is a problem. That is wrong. That should not happen. Period.

    The above comments that do not talk about previous harassment cases by Republican politicians and prosecutors is extremely hypocritical. Just this week Senator Inhofe and Dana Rohrbacher threatened with yet another governmental investigation of the temperature record. Will they keep on doing that until they get the answer they like? That is the opposite of small government.

    This would be a great moment for all people to stand up and stop the harassment of all scientists irrespective of which party finds their work politically inconvenient.

  12. Chuck L

    I respectfully suggest that current members of AGU reconsider their membership in this organization. Partisan witch hunts and intimidation can cut both ways.

  13. Roger A. Pielke Sr.

    For those we want to would like to see my perspective on the climate issue, see my minority statement

    Pielke Sr., R.A. 2013: Humanity Has A Significant Effect on Climate – The AGU Community Has The Responsibility To Accurately Communicate The Current Understanding Of What is Certain And What Remains Uncertain [May 10 2013].

    I am in no way a “climate skeptic” which I find a pejorative term.

    Roger A. Pielke Sr.

  14. Michael Newhouse MD

    Since being deeply invoved with the Urea Formaldehyde Foam debacle in the 1980s and the politicisation of the issue as a disease-causing calamity without scientific basis, i have become increasingly sceptical about anthropogenic climate change because the available data has been and continues to be manipulated by many “climatologists” working in lock-step with scientifically ignorant politicians hoping for votes from even more uninformed members of the public!
    I would like comments on the following hypothesis: since rising atmospheric CO2 levels from 320 to 400ppm in the past 20 years have not resulted in global warming could it be that without this “blanket” we would now be experiencing global cooling?
    Only one black swan should be required to overturn the consensus that all swans are white! Mike N

      • Michael Newhouse MD

        Thanks for your response. What was the basis for your choice of 1950-80 as baseline? Why not, for the sake of argument, take 1930-80? Also is the 0.17 C a significant difference?
        Furthermore, there would appear to be a major dissociation between the large increase in CO2
        And the minor increase in temperature!
        “Wrong” in this instance remains a relative statement.

        • John Marra

          First of all, I didn’t choose the 1950-1980 baseline. Climate scientists (see the NASA link I provided) use this because temperatures were relatively unchanging, and thus provide a good average. But you can choose any baseline you like, and the temperature anomaly will be the same. 1930-1980 will have larger variability, and thus more difficult to compare to, compared to 1950-1980. Given that the entire record from 1880-1900 shows a 0.8degC change, a 0.17degC change in only 20 years, about 20% of the total, is significant. There has been ~40% increase in atmospheric CO2 since the mid-1800s. About half of industrial production of CO2 has been dissolved in the oceans, which partly accounts for the, perhaps, more modest increase in temperature. Remember that the difference in global temperatures between the glacial and interglacial periods was ‘only’ 2-3degC.

      • Armand MacMurray

        John – it’s generally accepted by climate scientists that there has been a major *slowdown* in the warming of global surface temperatures since about the year 2000. Dr. Newhouse would seem to be correct in spirit if not in detail. You’ll find more details on this in the IPCC’s AR5, Working Group I, Chapter 2 report.

        • John Marra

          I’ll simply refer you to the actual data in the link I provided above. In the 5-year running mean, one can argue that there is a ‘pause’ from ~2002-2012, just like there were pauses between 1977-1986 and between 1988-1996.

  15. John Benton

    That is a completely ridiculous comparison to make. Asking for an audit of the historical temperature record when there is such controversy over the ‘adjustments’ is completely justified and does not equate to the witch-hunt against these scientists personally.

    • Victor Venema (@VariabilityBlog)

      John Benton, do you really think that politician will find an error in the data processing of GISS that scientists were not able to find? That comes very close to assuming that scientists do bad work for political reasons, that scientists have a political agenda and want to exaggerate global warming. What the mitigation sceptics do not tell you is that scientists actually reduce global warming. In the raw data the trend is stronger than the trend after removal of non-climatic changes.

      More importantly, there was just a congressional audit of the data processing of the historical temperature record of NOAA, the Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN). An audit that was a lot of work for the scientists at NOAA, time they would have preferred to spend on doing science, time they would have better spend on studying the quality of the station record. The land surface temperatures of GISS are almost of the same as those of GHNC, the only additional step that GISS makes it that it additionally REDUCES the trend by trying the remove the effect of urbanization a second time. Is this small reduction of the temperature trend a reason to also keep the people at GISS from their important work?

      And do not forget all the other examples of political interference in the past:

      Notably, the requests from Rep. Grijalva are considerably less invasive than a request made in 2005 by Rep. Joe Barton for materials from Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. Rep. Barton’s request sought not only funding information but also data, computer code, research methods, information related to his participation in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (including report reviewers), and detailed justifications of several of his scientific calculations. The Barton requests were roundly condemned by scientists, and were part of a long history of harassment of Dr. Mann and his colleagues.

      Then we did not yet mention the report in which Republican Senator James Inhofe called for the persecution of 17 named inconvenient climate scientists and more not named scientists. We did not yet mention the political attack of the Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Michael Mann, which the Virginia Supreme Court halted after costing the university nearly $600,000 for legal fees.

  16. Phil Journeau

    There is a probability (a certainty?) of interdisciplinary divergence at some point, possibly near in the future, possibly even before COP21 though more probably later if this happen.

    Some sociological or science fiction scenarios about the respective influences of political and scientific agendas might be tested at global scale for the first time ever (the case of nuclear control being related to engineering rather than more classical science).

    What will be tested is the independence and yet necessary interactivity between political and scientific arenas, letting aide political science, but it will be even more the respective borders and capacity to ‘tell the truth’ of a widening spectrum of domains, for instance once biology (phytoplankton, agriculture, mosses and fungi, algae) becomes more involved, or even more remote fields.

    The almost self-contradictory need for scientific integration is more and more emphasized through new fields such as Integrated Environmental Modeling, where may appear conflicts from the fact that dominant paradigms may not have the same lifecycles from one field to another.

    All this to come to a solution that we have come to propose of a dedicated scientific instrument (in that case, to applied general epistemology) allowing any field and even scientist and model to be integrated rather than ignored.

    The request to be listened is growing and at a recent IPCC-IPBES meeting it was observed that the IPCC cannot integrate a fast growing (avalanche) of projects and models focusing on minor aspects (unless the minor comes to be less so).

    There is a prototype, that has been constructed to address some of these issues. A more interdisciplinary generation with more integrative capability, is hower not yet there.

    By the way these issues cross those discussed at Research Data Alliance conference next days in San Diego.

  17. George Devries Klein, PhD, PG, FGSA


    I thought your original statement was week but you had the courage to update it with a stronger statement. Next time, take an extra day and obtain a few reviews if you hadn’t done so earlier. Some times in issues of this sort, you only get one chance. You were lucky that you got two this time.



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