Should Climate Scientists Boycott Congressional Hearings?

In answer to the question posed in our title for today, retired Rear Admiral David Titley certainly seems to think so. According to his article for the Washington Post‘s “Capital Weather Gang”:

Unless you’ve been living under a (melting) ice shelf recently, you know by now the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science Space and Technology is holding a climate science hearing Wednesday to probe the “assumptions, policy implications and scientific method.”

This hearing, whose witnesses consist of one mainstream climate scientist and three other witnesses whose views are very much in the minority, is remarkably similar in structure and scope to the climate hearing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) conducted in December 2015 titled “Data or Dogma”? So similar that two of the five witnesses from the Cruz hearing will also testify on Wednesday.

In the past, the science community has participated in these hearings, even though questioning the basics of climate change is akin to holding a hearing to examine whether Earth orbits the sun.


As our regular reader(s) will be aware we have been characterising today’s hearing as a “show trial“, and David Titley agrees:

For years, these hearings have been designed not to provide new information or different perspectives to members of Congress but, rather, to perpetuate the myth that there is a substantive and serious debate within the science community regarding the fundamental causes or existence of human-caused climate change.

Quite so David, but next comes a more controversial message seemingly aimed at his Penn State colleague Michael Mann, who is due to appear before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology later today:

We should no longer be duped into playing along with this strategy.

Despite sending many skilled science communicators to testify at the hearings over the years and even when scoring tactical victories, the strategic effect of participating at these hearings has been to sustain the perception of false equivalence, a perception only exaggerated by the majority’s ability to select a grossly disproportionate number of witnesses far removed from mainstream science (it’s not coincidence that Judith Curry, professor emeritus, Georgia Institute of Technology, and John Christy, professor of atmospheric sciences, University of Alabama at Huntsville, are called upon so often by the Republicans).

A better response would be to simply boycott future hearings of this kind and to call out these hearings for what they are: a tactic to distract the public from a serious policy debate over how to manage both the short- and long-term risks of climate change. These hearings are designed to provide theatrics, question knowledge that has been well understood for more than 150 years, and leave the public with a false sense that significant uncertainty and contention exist within the science community on this issue.

“Boycott future hearings” then, but perhaps not today’s? We will discover what Michael Mann has to say later today, assuming he turns up! Ex Rear Admiral Titley does have experience of similar “show trials”. Here is a recording of what he said to Senator Ted Cruz’s so called “Data or Dogma: Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate” hearing:

According to David Titley’s written testimony:

A combination of multiple, independent sources of data provide the basis to the latest conclusion from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950’s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia…
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.”

We should not be surprised; these conclusions rest on science discovered in the 19th century by Fourier, Tyndall, Arrhenius and their colleagues and validated by many scientists in the subsequent decades.

It is worth noting that private industry independently arrived at these same conclusions decades ago. t is worth noting that private in
dustry independently arrived at these same conclusions decades
ago. Recently released documents show that in 1980 Exxon researchers projected the impacts on global temperature due to increasing greenhouse gasses with astonishing accuracy.

From David Titley’s verbal testimony:

The more we looked at the data, the more we saw that not only were the air temperatures coming up, but the water temperatures were coming up, the sea level was coming up, the glaciers were retreating, the oceans were acidifying. When you put all those independent lines of evidence together, coupled with a theory that was over 100 years old that had stood the test of time, it kinda made sense.

Does it mean we know everything? No, but does it mean we know enough that we should be considering this and acting? Yes, it’s called risk management and that’s what we were doing.

Apparently David thinks Ted Cruz wasn’t listening particularly carefully in December 2015, and that Lamar Smith won’t be listening carefully to Prof. Mann today.

3 thoughts on “Should Climate Scientists Boycott Congressional Hearings?

  1. Whatever else happens, my guess is the members of the us congress science committee headed by a rebublican still can’t read thermometers, or they have the scale on them set higher than normal people. “You’re not sick you’ve only 110F”

  2. An interesting tweet from Ed Hawkins, which I felt compelled to respond to!

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    We are coauthors of the Fyfe et al. paper published in 2016 in Nature Climate Change. You recently referenced this paper at a Subcommittee hearing on March 16, 2016. We are writing to clarify what the Fyfe et al. paper actually finds and claims. We also want to ensure that the conclusions of the Fyfe et al. paper are not misconstrued as a criticism of Thomas Karl, of the Karl et al. paper published in Science in 2015], or of the valuable research that Dr. Karl and his team have performed over many years.

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