Climate Science Disclosures - Freedom Of Information Or Chilling Effect?
    By Hank Campbell | June 29th 2011 04:26 PM | 24 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    The American Tradition Institute would like to know who, besides taxpayers, pays prominent NASA researcher James Hansen, a leading voice in climate change discussions.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) says it's concerned about "reports of personal attacks on climate scientists, including harassment, legal challenges, and even death threats."  How are those two related?   Well, political issues inspire zealotry.  When the world's most prominent hurricane researcher, Dr. Bill Gray, disputed Al Gore's movie assertion that global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, he got all of the above.  So has Professor Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the M.I.T.  But they got those from global warming believers, not deniers.

    The American Tradition Institute isn't all that thrilled about being mentioned in an AAAS press release starting off with complaints of death threats and says AAAS is engaging in selective outrage - they claim Hansen has made $1.2 million outside his government salary in the last four years and wants to know where it came from, so they filed a Freedom of Information Act request with NASA and were rebuffed, NASA citing Hansen's privacy but, they also have not disclosed if he received permission from the agency to conduct his outside activities, which interfere with his government job.  

    AAAS says they are worried that "a practice of aggressive inquiry into the professional histories of scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions.”

    Did anyone at AAAS defend Lindzen when he was being libeled?   The only money he took (then, anyway) was $5,000 - which he disclosed - from an oil company in the early 1990s as a stipend to be on a panel about environmental issues.  That's it.  Yet he was routinely dismissed as a shill for Big Oil and his science irreparably invalidated by association, according to detractors.

    If Hansen is accepting money from George Soros or other prominent political funding groups, it is due to his prominence - the NASA name, one of the most respected science brands in the world.  Is it reasonable to expect government employees, or government-funded researchers, to disclose outside activities that allow them to profit from that work?    Tough call, since where you draw the line might be contingent on how much you get from outside sources.

    It seems a strange debate to suddenly wade into.   AAAS did not warn of a 'chilling effect' when Greenpeace asked for the financial records of University of Virginia's Patrick Michaels to know who might be paying him - but he is a skeptic. If AAAS is choosing its positions solely for the benefit of people they happen to like, rather than for the benefit of all researchers and the free exchange of scientific ideas, they are doing a huge disservice to their member-supported organization by using its membership dues to engage in partisan politics, rather than promoting science for all.


    As I already commented a few weeks ago, I think the term "climate change" must not be used in a scientific web. Global warming is not climate change, and they are no even correlated (in principle).

    Hank, don't start talking common sense again.......

    I know, but the progressive in me believes in fairness.  I am just baffled more progressives don't feel that way when it comes to situations like this.   It's open season on the rights of deniers (who in science blogging has criticized Greenpeace for their FOIA requests?) but the free exchange of scientific ideas has to include rights for people who make wrong assertions too.
    Hansen is not an expert on "climate change", he's a propagandist who is making a hell of a lot of money from his fabrications and using the NASA name to promulgate the lies. As a taxpayer, I have every right to know where his money comes from if it means that he is taking money from somewhere to furnish a propaganda front that benefits his investors.

    FOI harassment is just what Dr. Hansen has come to expect from party hacks who are too incompetent to figure out what to do with any of the data/documentation/source-code that he has made available to the public for many years.

    Even though every byte of temperature data that NASA uses to compute global temperature estimates is freely available to anyone who knows how to use a web-browser, deniers continue to accuse Hansen/NASA of "hiding" and/or "manipulating" data. But these are incredibly stupid claims made by people who seem to worship incompetence.

    All of the data processing steps that Hansen/NASA use to compute global temperature estimates are fully documented; all of the code that they use is freely available at the NASA/GISS web-site.

    It turns out that it is surprisingly easy to replicate NASA's temperature results very closely by coding up an extremely simple version of the gridding/averaging algorithm that NASA uses. This simple version of the gridding/averaging algorithm is really quite straightforward, and is easy for even an average programmer to code up. If it is applied properly to publicly-available *raw* temperature data, the results will be *very* similar to NASA's officially-published results; in fact, none of the data adjustment/homogenization procedures that NASA applies to the data are necessary to get results very similar to NASA's.

    With nothing more than a laptop, an Internet connection, and the ability to code in Java/C++/whatever, a reasonably competent individual should be able to do *all* of this in just a few days (or even less if he/she's a fast coder).

    This tells you several things:

    1) The data and documentation necessary to validate NASA's results are already freely available; no FOI requests are necessary to verify that what NASA is doing is completely on the "up and up".

    2) The homogenization/adjustments/"manipulations"/whatever that NASA applies to the temperature data make almost no difference for global-average temperature results. In fact, much of what NASA does to produce global-temperature estimates turns out to be massive overkill. But NASA takes these painstaking steps to make absolutely certain that the temperature estimates it produces are as accurate as possible. But it turns out that you can get global-average temperature results 95% as good as NASA's with less than 1 percent of the effort.

    3) The deniers who have been attacking NASA's global-temperature work for *years* without performing even the most simple data analysis of their own (even though peforming a complete sanity check on NASA's results requires no more than a few *days* of effort), are *spectacularly* incompetent.

    For those of you out there who have some coding skills, but are still skeptical of NASA's work, I'd like to issue a challenge. Do a bit of research to find out the steps involved in computing global-average results from temperature station data -- you will find out that the procedure is surprisingly simple. Download the GHCN *raw* temperature data, metadata, and documentation. Write some code to read/unpack the *raw* temperature data/metada and run the data through very simple gridding/averaging routine. (Note: 20 degree by 20 degree grids, adjusted with latitude to keep the grid-sizes in area approximately constant, will work very well).

    Compare your results with NASA's official "Meteorological Stations" results (downloadable from the NASA/GISS web-site). If you code everything up correctly, you will be *amazed* at how well your own "hand-rolled" temperature results match NASA's. And you will gain a greater appreciation of the utter incompetence of the deniers who have been attacking NASA.

    Yes, a good point, though obviously outside the purview of this piece, since I just wanted to make sure all scientists are protected from harassment and not just ones AAAS happens to like - but on your comments, being open doesn't mean researchers have to make some web-based interface with a bunch of knobs to turn.    This is less of a problem in something like physics because anyone demanding FOIA information on particle studies would get 10-1 fb of data in about 100 million emails with a laugh.

    I did an endorsement of the climate code foundation which would enable less expert users to get meaningful results from raw data - their intent is to make the whole thing easier to understand so fewer people will be confused, though obviously some people want to create confusion instead.
    The Stand-Up Physicist
    Have you ever shot the shit with Richard Lindzen? I was at a New England regional APS meeting. It was in the early 2000's. I recall learning about community access TV at that meeting. That was the seed that grew into the weed known as "The Stand-Up Physicist", a community access show that appeared many times in Auburn, Massachusetts and nowhere else. I was chatting with this smoker about how hard it is to get messages out. I don't recall how, but the conversation got into government and policy. He struck me as Mr. Libertarian, don't let the government do anything because we don't know enough. He was against all the rules about second hand smoke. I thought the ozone stuff was a great success, but he was skeptical (and I don't recall the details of his objections).

    One great success I claimed was air bags. Car company executives had said for years that making them put air bags in cars would bankrupt them. The regulations passed. Now car companies brag about their safety. He pointed out that the earliest versions killed people who would not have been killed if the air bags were not in cars due to both accidental releases, and those with too much force. There were such cases. Yet there were more cases of people being saved. Redesign led to fewer mad air bag fatalities.

    I like limits on second-hand smoke. I like improved air bags. Last summer I replaced my air conditioning unit with one that did not use CFCs. I like the rules that have baned those chemicals. These three have costs and uncertainties, what Lindzen focuses on. It is my personal opinion he gets these three wrong, so I do not trust his policy suggestions on climate change.
    The entire IPCC has acknowledged they were wrong about plenty of things 10 years ago, do we doubt them now?   150 Nobel laureates signed a letter in 2008 affirming how awesome Barack Obama was - given their poor judgment in that area, should they give their Nobel prizes back?  Lindzen is a professor in atmospheric science at MIT and you are using classic anti-science reasoning to say he doesn't know all things so he knows nothing.   

    If saving lives is the priority, why not lower the speed limit to 5 MPH? Why not ban cars?   If we aren't certain the proposed fixes will solve the climate change problem because no one can establish what causes what, then basically we are shutting down the economy and maybe solving nothing.   Substituting a policy that may not work for one certain to cause doom is bad.
    The Stand-Up Physicist
    Science is not about perfection. No one claims that, so I don't see the point. The comment about Obama appears to be in the political realm, not science policy, so I don't see the point. McCain/Palin sure would be better, you betcha.
    you are using classic anti-science reasoning
    Darn, I thought I was using classic science reasoning. This was a first hand experience with the guy, not something I read from something someone else said so the guy knows nothing story. It was a discussion about 4 things: air bags, second hand smoke, ozone, and climate change.
    If saving lives is the priority, why not lower the speed limit to 5 MPH? Why not ban cars?
    Nice bit of logical distortion. I thought I said I am glad the government imposed regulations so that all cars have airbags even though that does add cost to cars. Let's take a survey, see how many people like having an airbag in their car due to a government regulation versus not, so we can quantify my argument. There are jobs in making and maintaining airbags.

    Science also is not about certainty. Good science always has error bars. The policies imposed to deal with the ozone issue did not provide the fixes but did provide economic incentives. That is one reason I remain a fan of a greenhouse tax, it lets economics decide how to do things most economically. The solution to that climate issue did not shut down the economy as I have an air conditioning bill to prove it. There are jobs in replacing CFCs. Science is about doing things repeatably. Public policy based on science should also be based on doing things repeatably.

    In my brief search, I wasn't able to find Lindzen position on the ozone hole other than one off-hand comment about all the uncertainty because it could just be due to atmospheric mixing.

    A professor in atmospheric science should mean he knows about atmospheric science which is a different area than science policy, the costs and consequences of government regulations. I happen to disagree with four of his policy positions, as well as I happen to recall them. The one discussion I had with the good professor wasn't a "Oh my gosh, I am talkin to someone famous", it was "Oh my gosh, this guy thinks weird". That was the gut reaction, strong enough to remember it. I only made the connection to a bearded-smoker government libertarian at a later time. The reader should remain skeptical of my memories particularly since Lindzen will have far more to say on the costs and uncertainties of each of these polices.
    "That is one reason I remain a fan of a greenhouse tax, it lets economics decide how to do things most economically."

    I am not a climate change expert. I am your classic rube or at least I am in the eyes of everyone who knows everything about global warming. I am not a skeptic of global warming, but I am a skeptic of how to resolve the problems associated with it. A simple question I have is how does a tax in the U.S. and let's say the E.U. take care of CO2 when the rest of the world: China, Russia, India, third world, etc. say 'Nuts to you, we are looking out for ourselves"? BTW I am not remotely convinced that China will implement a green house tax just because we do. That arguement is pure nonsense.

    All I ever read on climate change advocate sites is a host of climate change advocates explaining to we ignorant masses why global warming is real and then beating each other up, slapping each other on the back, high fiving and generally having a great old time telling me how brilliant they are and how stupid we mere mortals are. I rarely, usually never, hear any thoughts on how to solve the problem other than wind, solar, use less energy, change your light bulbs, turn off the lights, buy electric cars, walk, etc..

    Seriously none of that is going to solve the problem. I may be a rube, but where do I go to find serious discussion about what we can do to have a meaningful impact. Shutting down the world economy doesn't count as that only creates a problem bigger than what we have with global warming.


    The Stand-Up Physicist
    To make sure I focus on the subject of the blog, a message from my observations is that Lindzen consistency points out uncertainty, costs, and left-wing conspiracies. How he makes his money I don't think will change a consistent vision. For policy decision, I think one can always argue that the uncertainty and costs are too much. Go back to unleaded gasoline story. Lead is a way to use lower octane fuel in cars.

    Ruby's line of logic about getting the world to act in concert if taken at face value would mean that no global changes in consumption can happen. Any country is free to do their own thing. While the logic is reasonable, we do have examples where the production of certain chemical products has changed globally, even if the actions of one country did not not mandate change by the other. The two examples would be lead in gasoline and CFCs. Humans are social animals after all. There was a scientific consensus that having lead leaving the tailpipes of cars is a bad thing based on studies of car exhausts. I don't remember how oil companies were made to switch off of lead. That would make a relevant case study.

    The world is not united on all issues where there is a scientific consensus. Take cigarettes. There is no doubt smoking shortens people's lives. The medical costs of cigarettes are shared by societies. Cigarettes remain a huge business because people get addicted to them. In Massachusetts, we don't allow people to smoke in most buildings. There are policies that discourage smoking. Given those policies, cigarette companies are out courting third world countries.

    Ruby lists 7 lines of action. Do those sites really use a brag/put down pitch? Who ever talks about "shutting down the world economy"? Hank does, but this is a blog. I don't see why making a solar power plant means economic shutdown. Since it costs more money at the moment that a natural gas plant, it does mean we are spending more for less, being economically inefficient. If economic efficiency is your number one goal, give back my lead-gasoline, airbag-free, CFC air conditioned Cadillac.
    Your chain of reasoning is not germane to the discussion.   You're contending if any pollution claim in the past turned out to be warranted, then every solution now is warranted - and you're dismissing the expertise of a researcher who talks outside his field as saying he has none in his field.  Gosh, it's like a biologist thinking they have overturned physics and being wrong - would that mean they don't know any biology?   Or Nobel laureates supporting political candidates, which you seem to have been unable to grasp as an analogy.

    I get why Lindzen is a polarizing figure, the same way I get why Hansen is - but the onus of this piece is to wonder why AAAS objects if a climate change proponent in academia and an expert in the field gets harassed by an FOIA request but had no objection when a climate change denier in academia and an expert in the field got harassed far more.   

    There is no viable alternative to fossil fuels, at least in America, that would pass environmental muster.   We were until the early part of the last decade the top producer of CO2 because anti-science environmental kooks ran nuclear power out of the country, so they did more to create global warming than GE did.   Relying on the same anti-science environmentalists to map out our future is silly.

    Since you like to point to previous errors as logical evidence that all future work will be wrong, the same people who insist solar and wind are ready are the people who insisted MTBE, ethanol and PBDEs were better for society.  And we spent billions and not only got nothing in return, but in two of those cases will spend billions cleaning up the mess.
    The Stand-Up Physicist
    Invasions of privacy make news. It is more fun to take about sex behaviors or money than what the person in question was working on. Lindzen took in a paltry $5k, while Hansen pulled in a (claimed and forever treated as real on the Internet) $1.2 mil.

    I do think this situation has no easy or obvious fix. Coal goes clunk in a gas tank. The climate policy folks pitching change now do so claiming it will be cheaper in the long run. I doubt they can close the deal. People need disasters to get motivated. I was thinking that when Technology Review ran their piece. If ice on both poles goes away leading to the loss of a few tropical islands, flooding in lower Manhattan and the extinction of polar bears, that might be enough to pass a carbon tax.

    Science does not treat two sides of a technical argument as equals. The folks on the current winning team get good jobs, research budgets, and prizes. Folks on the other side get a rock, to quote Charlie Brown.

    At the current time, I am happy with my rock. I am waiting for a specific disaster: no Higgs and no supersymmetric particles, not a one from the LHC. And a Kudos to, because there are blogs here by ice and particle collider experts, so for me it feels like going to a car race, waiting for an accident (so long as they have a good safety harness, we only want them to look like they should have died).
    Science does not treat two sides of a technical argument as equals. The folks on the current winning team get good jobs, research budgets, and prizes. Folks on the other side get a rock, to quote Charlie Brown.
    It's odd that you dismiss Lindzen and say the majority must be right in climate studies but in your own work contend the majority is wrong.   
    The Stand-Up Physicist
    Climate studies is an active area of peer reviewed research. They get lots of data. Lots of eyeballs kick it around. Some of the valid kicks come from skeptics. Climate scientists are going to make mistakes as all scientist do. Yet because it is science, the best idea survives.
    I don't dismiss the science Lindzen has done. Based on a personal discussion, I do reject his policies.

    There is no consensus on how to unify gravity and the rest of physics. Most people work on strings. A decent fraction toil with loop quantum gravity. A few folks dabble in non-commutative geometry. That covers most of the people working on this particular subject. In a Living Review article, Clifford Will in a section on alternatives to GR did not consider a rank 1 proposal. Unified field theory work is an area of study, not one with a dominant theory. It is also not data driven.

    I have seen the way over confident fringe which recently left a comment on my blog. My humility isn't a strategic move: I have gotten punched in the face many a time. Not literally, just that someone pointed out math defects. It takes me a while to see them, but what has been one of rewards of this work is that shifts have been possible. I get up, I try and do more.

    When it comes to the Higgs though, I guess I see your point. The majority is for that scalar boson because there is no reasonable alternative. I did not go a Higgs hunting. That was the result of a calculation. I was operating out of fear of what a professor would say about gauge symmetry. The result looked odd, took me a few days to see what it said. The great thing about this disagreement is it has an end point: 2012.
    All good points Doug.

    " Do those sites really use a brag/put down pitch? Who ever talks about "shutting down the world economy"?"

    I don't make much of an effort to go to the science sites on global warming, etc. I am confident that I don't know enough about the climate and how it works to make intelligent scientific observations with people who are obviously scientists. I am a businessman and a damn good one and with that I have a great deal of common sense and reasoning abilties.

    To answer these two questions and I know I am off point from Hank's blog, but .......I was reading several comments to an article on global warming a while back. At last count there were 137 mostly technical and lengthy observations from several science junkies explaining to each other how in fact global warming works. I get it, I get it. I get it. Only one comment came within a city block of explaining what solutions there may be and included the following: "work on developing nuclear fusion, wind, solar, and use less energy". So I responded that those are great ideas, but they aren't anywhere close to solving the problem, we need nuclear energy, fossil fuels, R&D on fracking in addition to those great ideas in the near term in order to keep things operating as there are not enough caves for us all to move into what with the population at 7 billion and counting if we plan to rely on wind and solar and lowered energy use to provide for humanities needs. I haven't heard anything lately about nuclear fusion being any closer to reality than it was 1000 years ago.

    Now I thought I was rather diplomatic in my comments, but soon found I was on an global warming acitivist site. I hadn't mentioned what my views were on global warming (big mistake). I was promptly called a 'denier turd', 'a rush idiot', told to get off the site as I was too stupid to be there. Oh and I was also told by one expert that 230 square km of solar panels in the SW desert would supply all the energy needs for the world. I didn't know that, did you?

    As to my point of shutting down the world economy. I see comments all the time from politicians and activists that we need to get off of our fossil fuel addiction NOW, not tomorrow. Our energy policies speak to this. We have restrictions in this country against nuclear power (last one built, I think was 30 years ago, while France gets 80% of their electricity from nuclear). Off shore drilling isn't doing too well and drilling for oil in general isn't going anywhere. We don't seem to like Ethanol anymore, not that I ever did, I thought that one rather ill advised from the get go. Fracking our gas reserves is going to become the next evil, I understand it's down side, but I don't understand why we can't have a bit more R&D and discussion about it rather than NO we can't.

    Point is that in my view we aren't going to flip over to renewable energy next week or anytime soon. We need an interim plan that includes all of the above (I'm not regurgitating sound bites, I thought this up all by myself, but yes there are quite few people who would agree with me). There is no denying that there is a sizeable group of AGW activists who will have none of it. These activists would have no problem shutting down the economy if that would stop global warming.

    The AGW activists would get a lot more mileage out of guys like me if they would lighten up and be civil. Many aren't. Right or wrong that is my assessment


    Doug I am a fan of yours I really love your blog site and you have a way of explaining complicated mathematics that is priceless but can't support you on this.

    You hardly tow the line on physics in the same way .,.. Einstein is fractionally out isn't he :-)

    Follow your own logic on your work you are a little bit of the same in your own way you don't buy the establishment but not so much that you are an extremist ... I am sure I saw David Haliday sort of describe you as such.

    I am completely with Hank .... Hansen and Lindzen are both qualified to have views on climate change and what goes for one should go for the other. Equality is something that should be encouraged.

    If it makes any difference I believe in AGW and used to be a card carrying Green but have left the fold because of what I see as too many extremists. I don't buy saving the planet by trampling over everyones liberties and democracy is a planet worth saving, I would rather those worms they found at the bottom of mine inherit it because they certainly wont care what the tempature is on the surface. Hey some would view me as an extremist because they view human life as above all else I don't :-)

    Right on, brother! Follow the money that's shaping the policy.

    Government wants to stand us on our heads and shake the money out of our pockets because of alleged global warming, so we have a right to know.

    The comments, while of interest, have nothing to do with the issues raised by the article, how are government funded scientists paid, who reviews their work production, and (implicitly) how open are their work products? Is it possible that Dr. Hansen could gain $1.2 million, in four years, outside of his full time job at NASA, without disclosure, and approval? If so, his boss should be fired. I know he went to the UK to testify as an expert witness on climate change in litigation to shut off a coal fired power plant. Did the State Department approve of a government employee acting in another nation? Do CIA agents moon light on their own?

    It is my understanding that government employees are required to divulge outside funding but apparently this is honored in the breach. Much is made of modest amounts paid to Denier scientists to attend various conferences. Full disclosure must be done, but it not per se, meaningful. It is only meaningful in degree, e.g. $1.2 million, over four years is a motivator, which may not be in keeping with governmental goals of objectivity. And finally, what was performed for the money? A paper, drafted on personal time, or a cost burden carried by a government agency (and hence the taxpayer), or a lot of money in a brown paper bag, a bribe?

    The issues: the managerial competency of NASA and the even handed concern of AAAS for the well being of all disagreeing scientists are valid concerns for all Americans. There has been no meaningful response.

    The point of this article is not whether the science behind climate deniers is right or wrong. The point is that, regardless of what beliefs any scientist holds, they all have (or should have) the same rights of privacy...or non-privacy.

    If it is okay to demand to know all the funding of a climate denier, then it is okay to demand to know the funding of a proponent of climate change. Plain and simple.

    People's rights don't change just because of which side of the debate they're on. Suggesting that they do is absurd, and certainly anti-American. The homeless bum on the street has the same rights and civil liberties as the rich billionaire in his mansion.

    You asked " where do I go to find serious discussion about what we can do to have a meaningful impact?" Great question.

    My view is the liberals are right that climate change is real, man-made and very dangerous but their solutions are based more on hope than reality (see Waltrer Russell Mead's 2-part piece on Al Gore .

    Conservatives are either in total denial or afraid that the cost of action is too high.

    The cost of serious action is high but the cost of inaction is far higher. Republicans for Environmental Protection bring reality-based thinking to this most serious of problems. This is the fee-and -dividend plan from Jim Hansen endorsed by REP (



    You make some great points, but you use the term "anti-science" (in reference to environmental advocates) a little too loosely, for "anti-science" implies that environmentalists purposely disregard and even oppose science. It would be more fair to say that some environmentalists are all too ready to jump to the conclusion that man is at fault for this or that environmental issue whether or not the science strongly supports their assertions.

    There is more than enough rancour in enviro-political debates. Labelling environmentalists as anti-science is an unconstructive exaggeration.

    Perhaps, but Union of Concerned Scientists funds its multi-million corporation by labeling people, including scientists, as anti-science if their work disagrees and fund no one that they do not know in advance will publish results they like.   That is the height of anti-science thinking.   There is no dearth of places calling Republicans and corporate scientists anti-science - thousands of progressive sites do it without any remorse, despite it contributing to rancor in enviro-political debates, so saying one science site can't note that there is plenty of anti-science belief in the environmental movement isn't exactly going to turn the tide toward rancor; Greenpeace and others invented rancor with anti-science belief and violence to achieve their goals.   

    If it were an exaggeration, I wouldn't have done it but insisting clearly flawed plans like MTBE, ethanol and PBDE had to be implemented despite any evidence of benefit, not to mention hating nuclear power while blatantly lying about the efficacy of solar and wind power is the definition of an anti-science mentality.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...for "anti-science" implies that environmentalists purposely disregard and even oppose science.
    I think that amounts to "spin".  After all, even "creation science" is supposedly based on science, the only difference being the accusation that mainstream science doesn't want to hear the "evidence" nor investigate it.  This is no different than those people that support parapsychology or all other manner of pseudoscience.

    Science is, first and foremost about evidence.  If individuals want to push an agenda without evidence, then they are "anti-science" (specifically if they work against scientific evidence that contradicts their view or attempt to hijack science that doesn't exist to support it).  This doesn't mean that someone may not be politically active and work to their own objective, but they can't couch it in scientific terminology to gain credibility.
    Mundus vult decipi