Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Exaggerated reaction to harassment

Congressional Energy Committee Chairman and oil industry shill Joe Barton has sent harassing letters to climate scientists working on global warming, trying to get financial information and implying they've done shoddy work or are hiding bad data and methods. The left blogosphere is worked up about the harassment (see here), but I think it (the reaction) should be moderated. There are reasonable components of the otherwise-unreasonable requests, and they should get a response.

Providing limited financial data, and either answers to questions that do not take much time, or simply pointing Barton to the already-available answers should be the reaction. I wrote about it here:

that even oil industry shills like Barton have the right to request data, if and when the request is reasonable. To the extent that it’s currently available, Mann can just say “Hello? It’s right here, Congressman, right in front of you,” while politely saying “bite me” to the unreasonable portion. I also think a restricted request for funding information is reasonable, but not the fishing expedition Barton is on.

Not many people seem to agree with me.

I think it's very important to hold the global warming denialists accountable for their work, and accountability is a two-way street. Easy for me to say when Barton uses accountability to hide his harassment (I'm not likely to be a target), but the good guys have to react responsibly to provocation, just like good guys do.

UPDATE: Nosenada sees both sides but rather than splitting out the reasonable/unreasonable questions, seems to conclude that overall it's unreasonable. That seems reasonable to me.

UPDATE 2: I took a second look at this question Barton posed:

3. Regarding all such work involving federal grants or funding support under which you were a recipient of funding or principal investigator, provide all agreements relating to those underlying grants or funding, including, but not limited to, any provisions, adjustments, or exceptions made in the agreements relating to the dissemination and sharing of research results.

I first thought the question just makes sure the scientists disclosed information as required, and was only harassing in requiring the information on all previous climate work, as opposed to a single study. There are two ways in which this is dangerous though - first, looking through all previous work for a possible mistake is equivalent to the punitive IRS tax audits Nixon visited on his enemies. A significant difference is that responding to this is voluntary, while responding to tax audits is not, but the parallel is there. Second, providing this information is a road map for Bush Administration goons to put pressure on various governmental staff members to make sure the scientists never get research funding again.

Sounds pretty bad, but determining what level of harassing intent exists in the minds of the people who drafted these requests is hard to tell. They were clearly drafted by lawyers who know to cast as wide a net as possible, regardless of intent. Also, the scientists can choose to only respond to reasonable requests. Overall, I'm seeing more cause for concern, but I still think it's more about scoring PR points that actual attempts at oppression.

keywords: science, global warming, politics

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