Obama’s Choice of Science Advisor Draws Sharp Criticism

Published March 1, 2009

President Barack Obama’s selection of John Holdren as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is drawing sharp criticism from many quarters.

According to analysts who have followed Holdren’s career, the Harvard University professor of environmental policy has a long record of political dogmatism and little evidence of tolerance for opposing points of view. He has regularly championed alarmist theories that have been strongly refuted by sound science.

Imaginary Disasters

The January 18 Boston Globe noted Holdren was “long associated with population alarmist Paul Ehrlich, and joined him in predicting disasters that never came to pass.”

“This makes him the perfect person to formulate an expensive action plan to battle another disaster that will never come to pass—human-induced global warming,” said Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Globe also noted Holdren has predicted sea levels could rise 13 feet by the end of the century, while the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts only 13 inches. He has also said “a massive campaign must be launched … to de-develop the United States” in order to conserve energy.

Personal Aggression

Just as troubling, according to the Globe, is Holdren’s aggression against people who disagree with his over-the-top alarmism. “You have written that such ideas are ‘dangerous,’ that those who hold them ‘infest’ the public discourse, and that paying any attention to their views is ‘a menace,'” the Globe noted. “Will you work to soften your hostility toward scholars who disagree with you?”

“Holdren represents the worst of what passes for science today: a closed mind, unwilling to brook dissent or criticism of his predetermined view of what science shows or should show,” said Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

“He doesn’t respect the scientific method whereby theories are challenged and the challenges are considered on their merits and conformity to evidence,” Burnett added. “Rather, in the area of climate science, Holdren regularly commits the fallacies of appeal to authority and majority and ad hominem attacks. Rather than address the merits of skeptics’ arguments, he attacks their character. I’m left dumbfounded that this is the man President Obama believes will bring integrity back to science.”

Presidential Promise Questioned

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the Holdren choice contradicts Obama’s promise to respect science. “President Obama in his inaugural address pledged to ‘restore science to its rightful place.’ Apparently President Obama is unaware that his nominee for White House Science Adviser will make that impossible. Professor John P. Holdren has long put his considerable scientific ability in the service of left-wing political activism,” he said.

“Holdren collaborated closely with Paul Ehrlich for many years and has been a strong advocate for population control,” Ebell continued. “He has made numerous predictions about the future that have been proven untrue. Most recently, his predictions about the catastrophic effects of global warming have already passed their due date and have not occurred.

“If President Obama wants to base public policy decisions on science, the first thing he should do is withdraw the nomination of John P. Holdren to be his scientific advisor. The Senate could help by voting against his confirmation,” Ebell advised.

Predicted Apocalypses

“For decades, Holdren has been predicting one human-caused apocalypse after another, and yet none of them have come true,” observed John Dunn, a civilian emergency medicine faculty member at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.

“In Holdren’s view there are too many people in this world and we must act to limit either the number of people or the products of human society,” Dunn explained. “This is an extremist worldview that severely limits human progress.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.