Congressman’s Letter Attacking Climate Scientists Generates Heated Responses

Published March 25, 2015

Rep. Raul Grijalva, ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, sent a letter to seven university presidents demanding information on funding sources, financial disclosure guidelines, and all draft testimony or exchanges relating to the testimony of certain researchers who have testified before Congress on climate change issues.

The Arizona Democrat’s letter asked about the climate research of and funding for seven scholars: geographer Robert C. Balling, Jr., Arizona State University; atmospheric scientist John Christy, University of Alabama; climatologist Judith Curry, Georgia Institute of Technology; historian Steven Hayward, Pepperdine University; climatologist David Legates, University of Delaware; atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and political scientist Roger Pielke Jr., University of Colorado.

Scientists and policy analysts on both sides of the issue condemned the letter as an attempt to intimidate climate scientists who challenge the Obama administration’s claim climate change is manmade and dangerous. It generated heated responses from science organizations and individual scientists.

‘Sends a Chilling Message’

The American Meteorological Society, the national scientific society for the development and dissemination of atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic sciences, responded to Grijalva’s letter with a letter of its own. The February 27 letter signed by Dr. Keith L. Seitter, AMS executive director, states,

“Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources—and thereby questioning their scientific integrity—sends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” Seitter wrote. “Further, requesting copies of the researcher’s communications related to external funding opportunities or the preparation of testimony impinges on the free pursuit of ideas that is central to the concept of academic freedom.”

Attacking Skeptics’ Funding

Grijalva justified his query by citing recent news articles implying views of researchers skeptical of the theory greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy are causing catastrophic global warming, are tainted by ties to funding from the fossil fuel industry.

A late-February article in The New York Times repeated claims by a longtime Greenpeace staffer, Kert Davies, that astrophysicist Willie Soon, Ph.D., of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics concealed financial support received by the Smithsonian Institution to support his work. The Times article reported Soon’s work was supported by more than $1.2 million from fossil fuel companies over 11 years.

The information was not new, as Davies had been pushing similar stories as early as 1997. The Times failed to mention the funds went to the Smithsonian and not directly to Soon, and the Smithsonian kept almost half the money it raised and was responsible itself for ensuring Soon’s research was appropriate and conducted without undue influence by donors.

Grijalva’s ‘Lysenkoism, Witch Hunt’

Responding to Grijalva’s letter, climatologist David Legates said, “Grijalva was asked why he targeted the seven of us. His response was that we were the most well-published, most often-cited, and had the most impact on public policy in the United States. Not that our research was likely fraudulent, not that we had taken big sums of money from foreign governments, or that we simply had been publishing bad research. None of these were the reason. It was simply that we are too effective with our research and too persuasive with our arguments. Pure and simple. And since we disagree with him and his views, we must be harassed. Maybe that will stop us.

“Unfortunately, we have entered into a new age of Lysenkoism,” Legates said. “Lysenkoism” refers to an episode in science history where the scientific process was heavily influenced by the Soviet government in order to reach politically acceptable conclusions.

Roger Pielke Jr., another researcher whose funding sources and e-mails Grijalva requested, wrote on his blog Grijalva knows Pielke has never received any funding from fossil fuel companies, since he has testified to this before Congress multiple times.

“I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically motivated ‘witch hunt’ designed to intimidate me (and others) and to smear my name,” Pielke wrote.

In the light of incessant assault by environmental lobbyists on his reputation, Peilke has decided to stop doing climate research.

Attempts to Chill Dissent

John Nothdurft, director of government relations for The Heartland Institute, said the probe into Soon and other climate researchers is part of a campaign to divert attention away from the facts about climate change.

“Instead of having a real conversation with the American public about the science and economics of climate change, well-financed advocacy groups and politicians with many ‘conflicts of interest’ of their own would rather direct the public’s focus on who funds nonprofit organizations, independent research institutions, scientists, economists, and other experts,” Nothdurft said.

“This witch hunt has nothing to do with ensuring that science is accurate or reliable,” said Nothdurft. “These attacks are leveled by people who refuse to engage in civil debate over important matters of science, economics, and public policy. They should not be allowed to win the day.”

Even some strong advocates of belief in an imminent, manmade climate catastrophe say Grijalva went too far. Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in the UK, a frequent critic of climate skeptics, tweeted, “Politicians should not persecute academics with whom they disagree. No ifs or buts.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.


AMS Letter to House Committee on Natural Resources on Challenges to Academic Freedom, February 27, 2015,

Robert M. Carter, “Statement Regarding Allegations Concerning Dr. Willie Soon,” March 3, 2015.