EPA Considers ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ Climate Science Examination

Published September 11, 2017

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has floated the idea of using a “Red Team, Blue Team” exercise, a back-and-forth critique by government-recruited experts, to develop a better understanding of the state of climate science through a fresh set of eyes.

 Red team, blue team exercises were developed by the military to identify vulnerabilities in field operations.

In a statement discussing the proposed exercise, Pruitt said, “What the American people deserve, I think, is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2 [carbon dioxide].”

Letting the Public Judge

William Happer, emeritus Eugene Higgens Professor of Physics and Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University, says he strongly supports Pruitt’s proposal for a red team, blue team exercise.

“For years the climate establishment, and their allies in the mass media, academia, and other segments of society, have promoted the idea increasing carbon dioxide levels from combustion of fossil fuels is an existential threat to humanity,” Happer said. “They have vilified and silenced any scientists brave enough to challenge this highly dubious article of religious faith disguised as science, and they have cynically violated one the most ancient rules of deliberation: audiatur et altera pars, or, ‘Let’s hear the other side.’

“A competent review of climate science by adversarial red and blue teams will allow the public to judge for itself the truth about climate,” said Happer. “As a lifelong educator, I hope such a review will also encourage much more science literacy so it will be harder to fool people in the future.”

Interagency Effort

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has several recommendations for the exercises, including who should implement the project and how it should operate.

“Hire Steve Koonin,” said Ebell. “He has the right credentials to run this sort of thing. He’s a very highly regarded physicist, he served in the Obama administration in the Department of Energy, and he’s actually given some thought about how to do it.

“It should be an interagency effort, and it should really be directed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” Ebell said.

Ebell says the exercise should include a formal written assessment reflecting the full range of views on the state of climate knowledge, and a public, oral exchange over areas of dispute.

“For example, the Draft National Climate Assessment could be used to represent the blue team, and a committee of critics of the assessment could be put together as the red team, and they could write a comprehensive critique of the document and then share it with the blue team, letting them respond, going back and forth a couple of times,” Ebell said. “Once the written critiques are finished, where there are areas of major disagreement, we could have an oral back-and-forth with experts in the specific field under dispute.”

Corrupted Science

Ebell says government has increasingly been corrupting science where it intersects with public policy issues, including questions about climate science and policy.

“The fact the federal government funds so much of the scientific research in this country means it becomes very tempting for scientists’ conclusions to fit in with the public policy goals of the federal government,” said Ebell. “It seems to me the main problem with climate science is we have a group of scientists claiming to speak for the consensus. They’re a small group, and whenever challenged, they hide behind that consensus and the authority, or part of it, like the National Academy of Sciences.

“The problem is this minority of so-called consensus scientists is asking the American people to accept policies that would cost them hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars over time, on the basis of untrustworthy scientific claims,” Ebell said. “Many of the scientific studies which have been published and pass peer review don’t hold up after they are examined over a period of time by other scientists.”

‘Trust but Verify’

Ebell says climate science should be held to traditional standards, and under President Donald Trump it may be.

“I think with regard to scientific claims used to push public policy, it needs to be based on something Ronald Reagan said at the time of arms control: ‘Trust but verify,'” Ebell said. “What alarmist scientists are very hostile to is anything that would [or would not] verify their claims, and I think the red team exercise is one way to verify whether the consensus is correct or not.

“If the Trump administration can get a grip on the federal government, hopefully it will be able to change the direction of climate research by making it clear policies will only be based on verifiable science,” said Ebell.

Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, says if the effort is to be taken seriously, the red team can’t be stacked with people who say the climate isn’t changing or humans cannot affect the climate at all.

“It is a good idea if the red team takes a ‘lukewarm’ position,” said Michaels. “If, on the other hand, it argues there is no such thing as climate change or an enhanced greenhouse effect, it will be laughed off the podium.”                                     

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.