"Unprecedented" is the best word to describe what has happened
during the last month on Capitol Hill regarding climate change research.
While debate about whether or not the Earth is warming and the role
that greenhouse gases may play in such warming has been a constant on
Capitol Hill, this issue has taken on an entirely new profile.
On June 23, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX)
and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield
(R-KY) sent unprecedented letters to several parties involved in climate
change research. The letters have been very controversial, prompting
an angry, and also unprecedented, response from House Science Committee
Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Other letters have been sent protesting
the committee's actions. This FYI will excerpt these letters, and provide
web links to their full text.
The following are selections from the June 23 Energy and Commerce Committee
letter to Michael E. Mann of the University of Virginia; similar letters
were sent to Malcolm K. Hughes of the University of Arizona and Raymond
S. Bradley of the University of Massachusetts:
"Questions have been raised, according to a February 14, 2005
article in The Wall Street Journal, about the significance of methodological
flaws and data errors in your studies of the historical record of temperatures
and climate change. We understand that these studies of temperature
proxy records (tree rings, ice cores, corals, etc.) formed the basis
for a new finding in the 2001 United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report (TAR). This finding
that the increase in 20th century northern hemisphere temperatures
is likely to have been the largest of any century during the past
1,000 years' and that the 1990s was the warmest decade and 1998
the warmest year' has since been referenced widely and has become
a prominent feature of the public debate surrounding climate change
policy." The letter goes on: "However, in recent peer-reviewed
articles in Science, Geophysical Research Letters, and Energy &
Environment, researchers question the results of this work."
It then states: "The concerns surrounding these studies reflect
upon the quality and transparency of federally funded research and of
the IPCC review process two matters of particular interest to
The letter then states: "In light of the Committee's jurisdiction
over energy policy and certain environmental issues, the Committee must
have full and accurate information when considering matters relating
to climate change policy. We open this review because this dispute surrounding
your studies bears directly on important questions about the federally
funded work upon which climate studies rely and the quality and transparency
of analyses used to support the IPCC assessment process. With the IPCC
currently working to produce a fourth assessment report, addressing
questions of quality and transparency in the process and underlying
analyses supporting that assessment, both scientific and economic, are
of utmost importance if Congress is eventually going to make policy
decisions drawing from this work." At this point, the committee's
letter asks for answers to eight far-ranging questions, including the
private and public sources of Mann's research funding, location of his
data, computer codes, his response to critical reviews of his work,
including "Did you calculate the R2 statistic for the temperature
reconstruction, particularly for the 15th Century proxy record calculations
and what were the results?"
Another letter was sent to National Science Foundation Director Arden
Bement. A similar demand was made for information on climate change
research, including "List all grants and all other funding awards
given for research in the area of climate or paleoclimate research,
including, but not limited to, the dates of the awards, the identity
of the recipients, principal investigators, and whoever is contractually
obligated to ensure provisions of the awards are met."
The committee sent a letter requesting similar information to Rajendra
K. Pachauri who is the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has the full text of these
In response to these letters, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) sent Barton a letter on July 14, selections of which
"I am writing to express my strenuous objections to what I
see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation you have launched
concerning Dr. Michael Mann, his co-authors and sponsors." After
commenting on committee jurisdiction, Boehlert states, "My primary
concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to
intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute
Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would
"It is certainly appropriate for Congress to try to understand
scientific disputes that impinge on public policy. There are many ways
for us to do that, including hearings with a balanced set of witnesses,
briefings with scientists, and requests for reviews by the National
Academy of Sciences or other experts.
"But you have taken a decidedly different approach - one that
breaks with precedent and raises the specter of politicians opening
investigations against any scientist who reaches a conclusion that makes
the political elite uncomfortable.
"Rather than bringing Dr. Mann and his antagonists together
in a public forum to explain their differences, you have sent an investigative
letter to Dr. Mann and his colleagues that raises charges that the scientific
community has put to rest, and ask for detailed scientific explanations
that your Committee undoubtedly lacks the expertise to review.
"This is utterly unnecessary given that Dr. Mann's articles
have prompted a spirited and appropriate (and often technically complex)
debate in the scientific community that has played out in readily available
journals. Moreover, the only charge' that has been leveled against
Dr. Mann that might prompt Congressional notice - that he was refusing
to share data - has been soundly rejected by the National Science Foundation,
and those who continue to raise the charge are well aware of that.
"Therefore, one has to conclude that there is no legitimate
reason for your investigation. The investigation is not needed to gain
access to data. The investigation is not needed to get balanced information
on a scientific debate. The investigation is not needed to prompt scientific
discussion of an important issue.
"The only conceivable explanation for the investigation is
to attempt to intimidate a prominent scientist and to have Congress
put its thumbs on the scales of a scientific debate. This is at best
foolhardy; when it comes to scientific debates, Congress is all
"The precedent your investigation sets is truly chilling. Are scientists
now supposed to look over their shoulders to determine if their conclusions
might prompt a Congressional inquiry no matter how legitimate their
work? If Congress wants public policy to be informed by scientific research,
then it has to allow that research to operate outside the political
realm. Your inquiry seeks to erase that line between science and politics.
"There are numerous scientific debates ongoing about climate
change. Data and conclusions get challenged all the time. Are we going
to launch biased investigations each time a difference appears in the
"I hope you will reconsider the investigation you have launched
and allow the scientific community to debate its work as it always has.
Seeking scientific truth is too important to be impeded by political
expediency. That's a position that Members on all sides of the climate
change debate should share."
A House Science Committee website at:
provides the full text of Chairman Boehlert's letter. The site also
has links to letters sent to Chairman Barton from the National Academy
of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and
twenty climate scientists.
Also on the web are responses to Chairman Barton from Mann, Hughes
and Bradley at http://www.geo.umass.edu/climate/bartonletter.html