Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Will President Obama Ban Inconvenient Dissent?

I agree with the reader who said my blogs often focus on the negative. I love upbeat stories and my eyes tear up at underdogs triumphing by perseverance and talent. So I am not happy about writing a second blog in several days that reflects badly on President Obama. I often like what he says. I loved it when Obama came into office as the man who wanted to hear all sides of an issue, who had an open mind, who welcomed informed debate. But I come from a solid lower class blue collar family where we were always suspicious of people talking a good line.

And as for being negative too often, let’s remember that the President himself has spent his first five months in office blaming Bush and Republicans for most of his problems. In particular, he was leading the chorus of those who accused the Bush administration of silencing debate, punishing dissenters, and distorting science. I spend a good part of my life as a science writer, so let’s see how President Obama’s actions match his words.

While we admit that politics is not science (despite the thousands of “political science” departments in our colleges) let us propose a hypothesis and test it against our observed facts. Our hypothesis is that the Obama administration distorts scientific opinion and suppresses dissenters. Now the facts.

When a government agency like Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presents research to support a new government policy, the law requires it to make public the records leading up to its findings. Courts have ruled "the evidence relied upon and the evidence discarded."

President Obama and several in his administration criticized the Bush administration for ignoring inconvenient opinions and distorting the scientific record.

President Obama sent out a memo in his first days demanding from his agencies a new transparency in decision making and reporting of science and economics.

Obama’s new EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, who is not a scientist but an engineer and career bureaucrat, promised, "As administrator, I will ensure EPA's efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and program, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency."

Jackson’s staff immediately began putting together findings that would support a policy that justified government regulation of carbon (as in CO2) as a pollutant contributing to global warming.

Alan Carlin, a 35 year veteran of EPA with degrees in physics and economics presented a 98 page analysis of the issues he had written with a colleague. It noted that temperatures had been on a downward trend for some ten years and that models the EPA relied on had serious problems. (A fact well documented by global warming believers Orrin Pilkey and Linda Pilkey Jarvis in their book Useless Mathematics.) Most of the scientific reports cited were peer reviewed.

Carlin’s division in EPA is the National Center for Environmental Economics whose duty is "informing important policy decisions with sound economics and other sciences." (See Carlin’s other publications at )

What was the result of when Mr. Carlin and his colleague tried to inform the Obama policy decision? A few more facts.

Carlin’s boss, Al McGartland ( ), not a scientist but an economist, censored him. He sent Carlin an e mail forbidding "any direct communication" with people outside his division. When Carlin tried to distribute his analysis, McGartland wrote, "The administrator [Obama appointee Lisa Jackson] and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. . . . I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office."

McGartland then told Carlin to stop thinking about and talking about global warming. "With the endangerment finding nearly final, you need to move on to other issues and subjects. I don't want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change. No papers, no research etc, at least until we see what EPA is going to do with Climate."

EPA clearly considers its work the basis of a new government policy. Contrary to the President’s orders and the law Obama’s chosen administrator and her staff are determined not to present "the evidence relied upon and the evidence discarded."

What should we now believe about the President’s promise that "the days of science taking a backseat to ideology are over"? Informed debate welcome. The ball’s in your court, Mr. President.


  1. You seem to imply that Alan Carln is a climate change scientist researching global temperature changes. Although the link you post to his paper didn't work for me, from the list of his other papers I think he is an economist relying on global climate change numbers from other scientists. Also for the sake of accuracy in reporting, the title of the book by Pilkey and Pilkey-Jarvis is "Useless Artithmetic".

  2. You're right to point out Carlin's research focus is economics. I did note he has degrees in both physics and economics. I'm not sure what then suggested he was a climate change scientist. He's an expert in analyzing the risk-reward consequences of a policy and produced work that by law should have been made public but was suppressed. Thanks for the correction of the Pilkey title--Useless Arithmetic. A useful book.