Thursday, June 30, 2011

AAAS board defends climate scientists

Janet Raloff in Science News reports on a recent response by a major scientific body fighting back against the virulent bullying and intimidation that marks this phase of climate controversies: “AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions.” This declaration was contained in a 400-word denunciation of attacks on climate scientists and the politicization of climate science that was issued June 29 by the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The board is not objecting to people voicing opinions about climate data, explains AAAS board member Raymond L. Orbach, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute. “This is about an attack on people. And that’s an important distinction,” the physicist emphasizes. The concern, he says, is that these attacks can have “a chilling effect on scientists’ ability to present facts.”

Attacking the messenger can discourage researchers from publishing data they fear might lead to intimidating phone calls — even death threats, he says. And that would jeopardize public access to important data on which public decisionmaking should be based, he argues, “which is just pernicious.”

...Together with marine scientist Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, in Washington D.C., Orbach introduced a resolution at the May board meeting of the AAAS asking for a formal condemnation of the public intimidation of climate researchers. When I asked him what had triggered the move, he pointed to a succession of events in recent years, including:
  • a campaign by Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to obtain access to research data by former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann (now at Penn State). Cuccinelli said he wanted to prosecute Mann or his university under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act for misuse of state funds
  • a petition by the American Tradition Institute (ATI) — a “free-market”-based think tank — demanding that the University of Virginia turn over thousands of e-mails and documents written by Mann
  • ATI’s January 19, 2011, filing of a Freedom of Information Act request for NASA to hand over documents detailing “whether and how ‘global warming’ activist Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) has complied with applicable federal ethics and financial disclosure laws and regulations, and NASA Rules of Behavior”
  • and news accounts of climate researchers receiving death threats in response to reports of their findings.
Mary Pickford in the 1917 version of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

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