Photographer: Luke Sharett/Bloomberg

Climate Scientist Fires Back at House Science Committee During Hearing

Things got a little bit heated at the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

For sober, methodical evaluations of each other’s work, climate scientists have peer-reviewed journals. For catfights, they have Congress.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on the scientific method and climate change on Wednesday, questioning four panelists who have each become ensnared in a political skirmish at some point in the past 15 years. 

The hearing started out cordially enough but eventually devolved into an increasingly tense back-and-forth between Penn State atmospheric scientist Michael Mann, the three other scientists on the panel, and Republican climate science skeptics on the committee.

Michael Mann in 2012.
Photographer: Nabil K. Mark/AP

The most intense exchange occurred when Mann used an article from Science magazine to criticize the recent appearance of Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, at a conference hosted by the nonprofit Heartland Institute. 

“This is a climate-change-denying, Koch-brothers-funded outlet that has a climate-change-denier conference every year, and Chairman Smith spoke at that conference,” Mann told the committee.

“Dr. Mann, don’t mischaracterize that conference,” Smith replied. “They do not say that they are deniers, and you should not say that they are either.” 

Mann stood by his statement and went on to quote from the article, which said that Smith considers the committee “a tool to advance his political agenda rather than a forum to examine important issues facing the U.S. research community.” 

“As a scientist, I find that deeply disturbing,” Mann said.

“That is not known as an objective writer or magazine,” Smith said.

Science magazine stands by the story. A spokeswoman for the publication noted that the phrase "climate denier" does not appear in the story. 

Asked for a response to the exchange, Jim Lakely, director of communications at the Heartland Institute, said he thought Mann "embarrassed himself several times," including his remarks about the organization being "Koch-funded." Lakely said the organization receives no money from the Koch brothers, and that the message has been repeatedly communicated to Mann.

The most authoritative global climate-science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fingers humanity as the main driver of global warming, as have the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and peer institutions around the world. 

In addition to Mann, who was invited by Democrats on the committee, were Republican invitees Judith Curry, president of Climate Forecast Applications Network; John Christy, director of Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama at Huntsville; and Roger Pielke Jr, a professor at the University of Colorado. 

The hearing was filled with rhetorical pyrotechnics, as each of the panelists described attacks they've weathered in the noisy, sometimes nasty world outside scientific journals. At various points, panelists seemed to agree, however begrudgingly, on certain basics: The world is warming, and that human influence plays some role.

Scientists "say crazy things all the time," Christy said. "They are people. And human."

Congressman Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona, jokingly replied, "Sounds like Congress, is really what it sounds like there."

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