More conservative obfuscation on climate

A conservative “think tank” called the American Tradition Institute (ATI – the name alone raises my hackles) announced this week that it is suing NASA to obtain records relating to climate scientist James Hansen’s “outside” activities.

Hansen is director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a prominent figure in the public discourse on climate change.

Among other things, ATI advocates for states’ rights, property rights, free enterprise, and skepticism about climate change.

In addition to NASA, it’s been butting heads with the American Association for the Advancement of Science(AAAS) over climate change.

Disclosure statement: I am a Fellow of AAAS. My work is fully funded by a grant from NASA’s Astrobiology Program. I am a member of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) User Working Group. SEDAC is one of a dozen NASA Earth science data centers. It is not my mission to defend NASA, and no one at NASA, or AAAS, or elsewhere, asked me to write about this latest episode of Adventures in Climate Change Denial.

I do not intend to delve into the details of ATI’s lawsuit. I’d simply like to let my readers know who’s saying what, and let you all think about “why.”

You might start by checking out dueling op-eds from AAAS and ATI that were published side by side in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch last year. These op-eds commented on the benighted Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s lawsuit to obtain records from the University of Virginia about former faculty member Michael Mann’s climate research.

Then consider this week’s events:

*  ATI announced it is suing NASA.

*  The AAAS board of directors issued a statement “regarding personal attacks on climate scientists,” accompanied by a press release.

*  ATI issued a press release responding to AAAS’s “misleading accusations against ATI.”

The AAAS board said in its statement:

*  “AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions.”

*  “Scientists and policymakers may disagree over the scientific conclusions on climate change and other policy-relevant topics. But the scientific community has proven and well-established methods for resolving disagreements about research results.”

*  “We are concerned that establishing 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.”

ATI said in its statement:

*  “The notion that application of laws that expressly cover academics is an ‘attack’ on them is substantively identical to Hollywood apologists who call application of other laws to Roman Polanski an attack on Polanski. They lost the plot somewhere along the way.”

*  “AAAS’s failure to mention the group that invented this series of requests, Greenpeace, informs our conclusion that this outrage is selective, and is therefore either feigned or hypocritical. Their problem is plainly with the laws, but it is a problem they have had over the decades: That transparency and ethics laws also apply to scientists who subsist on taxpayer revenue. This they also forgot to mention.”

*  “The American Association of University Professors’ code of professional ethics indicates that efforts to manipulate the peer review process are impermissible…. [W]e assume AAAS agrees with these principles…. But this, too, is insincere if such behavior is permitted or ignored where just cause indicates further inquiry is warranted, as long as the parties at issue are those whose views the AAAS or AAUP sympathize with.”

AAAS, founded in 1848, is dedicated to advancing science. ATI, founded in 2009, is dedicated to “help[ing] lead the national discussion about environmental issues, including air and water quality and regulation, responsible land use, natural resource management, energy development, property rights, and free-market principles of stewardship.” ATI uses “research, investigative journalism, and litigation” to advance its cause: “Our combination of expert policy analysis, exposing truth, and redressing wrongs in court advances the cause of liberty….”

The 14 advisors and fellows listed on ATI’s web site all have conservative credentials, including connections with the Koch brothers, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Biblical Framework Ministries, Washington Times, and National Review. ATI senior advisor Joe Bastardi, a meteorologist and climate-change skeptic, “emphasizes that while the tools we have today are better than many years ago, there is no getting away from the basics. The use of those tools are [sic] established in our constitution to help all men [sic] have a chance to better their lives.”

Who founded these groups? AAAS was founded by 19th century American scientists, and its history is well documented. It is not clear exactly who founded ATI. Who funds these groups? In its annual report, AAAS provides a breakdown of revenues, from member dues; publishing; “grants and other program support”; and “leasing, investments, and other.”

The annual report also includes an “acknowledgement of contributors and patron members”(by name and contribution). I could not find any information on ATI’s web site on its budget or funding sources.

To journalists, bloggers, and other interested readers: check it out. (And remember, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”)



After I wrote this post, I received this message from the Democratic Party of Virginia:

“Last weekend while you were enjoying the weather or catching up with chores around the house, do you know where your Governor and Attorney General were? If you guessed in Richmond creating jobs and making life better for Virginians I’m sorry to disappoint you. They were in Vail at a conference hosted by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire CEO’s who help bankroll the Tea Party and a score of other right-wing, anti-environment, anti-middle class causes.

That’s right. While Virginia families struggle to find work and make ends meet, Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli jetted out to Colorado to kiss the ring of the very people who are funding the latest Republican attack on working families. I’m not sure you can get a clearer picture of their priorities than that….”

I also googled “American Tradition Institute Koch” and found numerous news items and blog posts linking ATI with the Koch empire….

Gil Scott-Heron on Space Exploration

R.I.P., Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011), one of the most cogent social commentators of my generation.

In memory of his accomplishments, I offer here as food for thought – especially for those of us in the space community who think about the value of government investments in space exploration – an excerpt from the lyrics he wrote for “Whitey on the Moon” (Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, 1970).

“…I can’t pay no doctor bills

But Whitey’s on the moon

Ten years from now I’ll be paying still

While Whitey’s on the moon…


With all that money I made last year

For Whitey on the moon

How come I ain’t got no money here?

Hmm, Whitey’s on the moon


You know I just about had my fill

Of Whitey on the moon

I think I’ll send those doctor bills

Airmail special

(To Whitey on the moon)”