Don’t Look Behind the Green Curtain

Published June 3, 2011

Global warming alarmists are throwing a temper tantrum this week after a Virginia judge affirmed that scientists who receive public funds to study global warming are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests regarding their taxpayer-funded research. The alarmists’ outrage at being required to divulge and justify the data and theories that lead to their predictions of doom and gloom stands in stark contrast to the often-vilified skeptics who welcome scientific transparency with open arms.

A Virginia state judge issued a May 24 order requiring the University of Virginia to produce by Aug. 22 documents the university acknowledges are subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. A separate order sets the stage for the American Tradition Institute to review and challenge the withholding of documents the university claims are exempt from disclosure owing to asserted academic freedom or proprietary research claims.

One might expect that Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia professor whose research and documents are at the heart of the FOIA dispute, and other prominent alarmists would welcome scientific transparency as a means of affirming their global warming predictions. Of course, that presupposes the scientific evidence they refuse to disclose actually supports those claims.

Mr. Mann has led or participated in panels that have received more than $5 million in taxpayer-funded research grants. Instead of expressing gratitude at receiving public funding and committing to transparency in his taxpayer-funded research, Mr. Mann said, “I think it’s very unfortunate that fossil-fuel industry-funded climate-change deniers … continue to harass UVa., NASA and other leading academic and scientific institutions with these frivolous attacks,” according to the Washington Examiner.

Is it really “frivolous” and “unfortunate” that the public requests openness and transparency from the people who apply for and receive public funding for their research?

Compare Mr. Mann’s recalcitrance with the openness of the scientists who will be speaking later this month at the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC), which starts June 30. Prominent scientist Roy Spencer will happily answer questions about how he collects and reports global temperature data on behalf of NASA and its Aqua satellite instruments. 

Meteorologist Anthony Watts will talk your ear off if you ask him about how he assembled and reported data documenting the strong urban heat-island effect that alarmists claim is a myth. Numerous others will be equally transparent.

While alarmists like Mr. Mann fear the disclosure of their methods and data, skeptics have long championed transparency and openness. What does that tell you about who is and who is not confident the data back them up?

Just as importantly, skeptical scientists are far from the ill-informed mavericks that alarmists allege. Scientists from MIT, Harvard, Columbia, Duke, NASA, NOAA and a plethora of other prestigious universities and research institutions have spoken at past ICCCs. Not only have they voiced their skepticism regarding alarmist global warming predictions, but they have assembled for ICCCs precisely because they welcome and encourage the sharing of scientific information at the heart of the global warming debate. Ask them a thoughtful question about their data and methodology, and you will not be slapped with a cease-and-desist order.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is senior fellow for environmental policy at the Heartland Institute.