Welch: Bush's science 'reckless'


Thursday, February 1
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is suppressing, diluting and interfering with scientific assertions about global warming, all elements of a campaign to muddy the causes of the environmental conundrum, according to former government officials and a survey of scientists.

Rep. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat attending his first oversight committee hearing, said administration meddling amounts to "reckless disregard" for the world's population.

Global warming

Then he defended his own party from a witness claiming committee Democrats had also twisted the science on global warming to fit their purpose.

But the overriding theme of the hearing struck out at an administration that witnesses say deleted references to the potential fallout from rising temperatures in scientific reports, omitted the terms "global warming" and "climate change" in correspondence and barred scientists from speaking with reporters without the presence of a political operative.

"Suppression of scientific evidence has undermined the trust between the public and policymakers and between scientists and policymakers," said Drew Shindell, a researcher at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who says his press releases on global warming were "delayed, altered and eventually watered down."

The House panel, formally named the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, also heard from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which issued a 96-page report asserting that climate science "has been increasingly tailored to reflect political goals rather than scientific fact."

The group sent questionnaires to 1,600 government climate scientists. About 300 responded, with 58 percent saying they personally experienced at least one incident of political interference in the last five years.

One-quarter of respondents said they perceived or experienced situations in which scientists have objected to or removed themselves from a project "because of pressure to change scientific findings," the report says.

"Anyone who alters scientific research ... should quit or be fired," said Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican.

Other Republicans, however, criticized the report as unscientific, saying the survey's respondents are more likely to criticize the government.

Questioned human causes

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Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, questioned whether humans cause global warming, and suggested some scientists are inappropriately saying so.

He argued that the administration is simply trying to reverse that erroneous conclusion.

"Suppression is complicated by bad scientists doing bad science," Cannon said.

It was Welch's first oversight hearing on an issue that promises to be prominent in the Democratic Congress.

And he played the part of guard dog, challenging a witness who accused Democrats of "cherry picking" scientific evidence to say that hurricanes have intensified with global warming in a memo distributed at the hearing.

The witness, Roger Piekle Jr, a professor with the University of Colorado's Environmental Studies Program, said the assertion about hurricanes hasn't been widely accepted by the scientific community.

He said Democrats and the Bush administration are guilty of "exactly the same sort of thing."

Other witnesses disagreed with Piekle, and Welch had his staff contact two climate scientists cited in the memo. They said the assertion regarding intensifying hurricanes is accurate — and widely accepted among scientists, Welch said.

"Are you standing by your position that this memo that cites mainstream science is exactly the same kind of conduct as what we heard occurred in the Bush administration, where there was direct interference with independent conclusions reached by scientists?"

Welch questioned Piekle.

Piekle responded that he is "absolutely 100 percent certain."

Welch: "Would you say there's a difference between citing mainstream science in a public memo, as opposed to altering science as presented to impede our person?"

Piekle: "Not much difference, no."


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