I am Under “Investigation”

As some of you will already know, I am one of 7 US academics being investigated by US Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) who is the ranking member of the House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Rep. Grijalva has sent a letter to the president of my university requesting a range of information, including my correspondence, the letter is here in PDF.

Before continuing, let me make one point abundantly clear: I have no funding, declared or undeclared, with any fossil fuel company or interest. I never have. Representative Grijalva knows this too, because when I have testified before the US Congress, I have disclosed my funding and possible conflicts of interest. So I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically-motivated “witch hunt” designed to intimidate me (and others) and to smear my name.

For instance, the Congressman and his staff, along with compliant journalists, are busy characterizing me in public as a “climate skeptic” opposed to action on climate change. This of course is a lie. I have written a book calling for a carbon tax, I have publicly supported President Obama’s proposed EPA carbon regulations, and I have just published another book strongly defending the scientific assessment of the IPCC with respect to disasters and climate change. All of this is public record, so the smears against me must be an intentional effort to delegitimize my academic research.

What am I accused of that prompts being investigated? Here is my crime:

Prof. Roger Pielke, Jr., at CU’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research has testified numerous times before the U.S. Congress on climate change and its economic impacts. His 2013 Senate testimony featured the claim, often repeated, that it is “incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.”

The letter goes on to note that John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, “has highlighted what he believes were serious misstatements by Prof. Pielke.” (For background on this see here and here.) My 2013 testimony to the Senate is here and House is here in pdf (Q&A following hearing here and here). The testimony was the basis for my recent book on Disasters & Climate Change.

Congressman Grijalva doesn’t have any evidence of any wrongdoing on my part, either ethical or legal, because there is none. He simply disagrees with the substance of my testimony – which is based on peer-reviewed research funded by the US taxpayer, and which also happens to be the consensus of the IPCC (despite Holdren’s incorrect views).

Adam Sarvana, communications director for Natural Resources Committee’s Democratic delegation, reinforced the politically-motivated nature of the investigation in an interview:

“The way we chose the list of recipients is who has published widely, who has testified in Congress before, who seems to have the most impact on policy in the scientific community”

Let’s see – widely published, engaged with Congress, policy impact — these are supposed to be virtues of the modern academic researcher, right? (Here in PDF is my view on the importance of testifying before Congress when asked. I still think it is important.)

I am pleased that some colleagues with whom I have had professional disagreements with in the past have condemned the investigation via Twitter, among them Eric Steig (of Real Climate), Bob Ward (LSE) and Simon Donner (UBC). This shows some real class. In contrast, Michael E. Mann, who I defended when a Virginia politician came after him, used the “investigation” as a chance to lob childish insults my way via Twitter. Some things you can always count on in the climate arena!

So far, I have been contacted by only 2 reporters at relatively small media outlets. I’d say that the lack of interest in a politician coming after academics is surprising, but to be honest, pretty much nothing surprises me in the climate debate anymore. Even so, there is simply no excuse for any reporter to repeat incorrect claims made about me, given how easy I am to find and just ask.

The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt, I have already shifted all of my academic work away from climate issues. I am simply not initiating any new research or papers on the topic and I have ring-fenced my slowly diminishing blogging on the subject. I am a full professor with tenure, so no one need worry about me — I’ll be just fine as there are plenty of interesting, research-able policy issues to occupy my time. But I can’t imagine the message being sent to younger scientists. Actually, I can: “when people are producing work in line with the scientific consensus there’s no reason to go on a witch hunt.”

When “witch hunts” are deemed legitimate in the context of popular causes, we will have fully turned science into just another arena for the exercise of power politics. The result is a big loss for both science and politics.

231 thoughts on “I am Under “Investigation”

  1. I have Tweeted that undisclosed COI is endemic in scientific publishing. I have had several requests for elaboration.

    Here is a great example.

    This paper was published by ERL in 2010: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/1/014017/fulltext/

    It has a list of 53 co-authors. The ERL publication policy states:

    “All authors and co-authors are required to disclose any potential conflict of interest when submitting their article (e.g. employment, consulting fees, research contracts, stock ownership, patent licenses, honoraria, advisory affiliations, etc). This information should be included in an acknowledgments section at the end of the manuscript (before the references section). All sources of financial support for the project must also be disclosed in the acknowledgments section. The name of the funding agency and the grant number should be given, for example: “This work was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through a National Cancer Institute grant R21CA141833.””

    There was no COI disclosure whatsoever associated with this paper.

    The 53 authors include (for example) Joe Romm, Hal Harvey and Amory Lovins each of whom had massive undisclosed financial COI (obviously and easily documented) associated with renewable energy and political advocacy. No doubt other co-authors do as well. Further, several of these co-authors have also testified before Congress without COI disclosure.

    Two points:

    1. The lack of COI disclosure in this case does not mean that the paper is in any way in error.
    2. The lack of COI disclosure in this case does not in any way justify or excuse similar lack of COI disclosure by Willie Soon. But it does point to the incredible selectivity of outrage in standards of COI disclosure, e.g., as applied by the NYT and US Congress. The Soon case and the example here are exactly parallel.

    If COI disclosure is a good idea, and I think that it is, then it should be applied consistently across academic publishing and testimony, rather than being used as a selectively applied political bludgeon by campaigning journalists and politicians seeking to delegitimize certian academics whose work they do not like.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. ERL’s disclosure rules were followed here, as they should have been.

      You can imagine a set of rules and then find journal articles where those rules were not followed, but that would be really crappy science or commentary. It would be manipulating the data, making stuff up.

      Each journal is slightly different so if you don’t now a lot about publication that might be a mistake one would make. Not sure if Roger is being sloppy or ignorant here.

      Anyway, ERL require people to disclosed who paid for the project being published and any conflict of interest. In this case, the project was obviously a volunteer Festschrift, of sorts. There is no funding for such things. In this case, Art Rosenfeld was being Festshcrifted by pretty much every single person in the subfield. Conflict of interest isn’t really a thing there.

      Roger, you should go talk to your university’s council. Here is what your university’s council will tell you.

      “Roger, my boy, I’m sure all your ducks are in a row, that your disclosures have been done properly, and everything. But what if they are not? What if somewhere along the line, someone, maybe you, maybe an untrained assistant, maybe even a journal, has made an honest mistake. By claiming that you are pure you are leaving you and the University open to serious embarrassment in case there is a glitch somewhere. Please don’t do that. Just provide the documentation and maybe let some others speak about the larger issue.”

      “Oh, and Roger,” she continues. “Don’t nickel and dime this. Don’t go twiddly winking around. This is not a time to identify your enemies and try to make unfounded and inaccurate accusations about THIER disclosure practices, because if you don’t get that right you’ll just make people mad at you. Instead of a couple of Senate staffers reviewing your documentation and moving on, you’ll have everybody you ever pissed off, and I’m sure there’s a few, looking at every paper you ever published to see if there is any undeclared conflict of interest, and if you make accusations like that which are absurd, they may feel justified in doing the same thing. So just go back to your research and enjoy your academic freedom.”

      Or words to that effect.

      Personally, I think the whole system (of COI/financial disclosure) needs to be reviewed and rationalized to obviate all of these issue.


      1. Roger’s reply on twitter:

        “UFB @gregladen just sent me a threat. Advising me to get a lawyer & warning that he and others are coming after me. What is it with these guys?”

        Roger, my comment stands on its own. It was not a threat. That was me telling you that you are doing it wrong. Your suggestion that my comment was intended to reveal a plan of attack against you is also you doing it wrong.

        Please consider taking the advice I’ve given, freely but snarkily to be sure.


      2. The article is substantive and has a very clear point of view, way beyond the encomiums to Art Rosenfeld. It is hard to see how it finesse’s the needs to meet ERL’s COI Policies.


      3. I looked briefly at the article Roger referenced – http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/1/014017/fulltext/ . It definitely supports the intermittent renewable agenda by introducing a construct that attempts to finesse the major issue with solar and wind. You need back-up capacity. By introducing a pseudo measure, the Rosenfeld, behind a smoke screen of a measure of efficiency, proponents will be able to snow the public by equating renewable output with so many coal plants saved. It is Orwellian.
        A COI statement would be interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Roger says: “The 53 authors include (for example) Joe Romm, Hal Harvey and Amory Lovins each of whom had massive undisclosed financial COI (obviously and easily documented) associated with renewable energy and political advocacy.”

        The letter Roger cites says, in part:”… in combination with investments in energy efficiency or new low carbon power generation resources (which would be the driving force for such retirements) they would allow that outcome [retirement of coal generation plants].”

        Despite this, gregladen asserts: “Conflict of interest isn’t really a thing there.”

        Assuming Rogers claim of financial interest in renewables is true (and I have no reason to suspect otherwise), how can anyone fail to see a conflict? Greg, you cannot say that because they “volunteered” to do this, there cannot be a conflict of interest – if I owned substantial interests in oil and coal companies, would you be happy that I had no COI in writing a paper trashing CO2 mitigation policy simply because I didn’t charge anyone to write it? Or could I expect desmog and co to attempt to trash my reputation and complain bitterly that I was “hiding” my obvious COI?

        Greg, the best test for your biases in such matters is simply to reverse the roles/positions (as I did above) and see if you feel differently about it – if you do, you ARE biased and need to reconsider your position – assuming you want to be honest with yourself and others, of course.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Greg:
        Heres what a disinterested guy who taught statistics for a decade or so, and worked for DRI (the precursor of Wharton Econometrics)
        “Greg my boy, Im sure that youre a fine fellow, but you are coming across as an ass. Sometimes its better for a prig like you to simply shut up, and not let the entire world know just who and what you are”


  2. Preposterous that you link the request for funding sources to McCarthy, who blacklisted individuals for political views. The funding sources belong in the public record.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If this were a tennis game, I’d call this a return of service: “Yesterday, the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), in conjunction with the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic (FMELC) filed state freedom of information requests with Georgia Tech University and the Universities of Colorado and Arizona, seeking records relating to three researchers’ funding and applicable conflicts policies.”

    The difference being, it’s scientists who are being knocked around, not tennis balls.


  4. Hi Roger,

    Don’t give in. This Dem Rep has little power. I don’t think you need to respond much beyond “Foxtrot Oscar.”

    From a supporter in Luxembourg.


  5. GregLaden: Whether or not the paper was the result of a volunteer Festshcrift or not, the relevant issue is whether the authors were influenced by funding to express the views they presented in the paper. The editor might choose to waive the requirements for a COI statement in such this case, but the authors should never decide on their own whether a journal’s transparency rules should be applied to their submission. That is the editor’s responsibility. The editor in turn needs to consider what COI information readers need to know to properly judge the work.

    From my perspective, environmental advocacy groups constitute a $1+B per year industry that creates a demand for its services by making citizens afraid. Rightly or wrongly afraid. Rationally or irrationally afraid. Their product is fear. An author from such an organization is as likely or unlikely to publish biased work as an author from a for-profit business. Since credibility is extremely useful for efficiently dealing with government regulators, for-profit companies have an incentive avoid duplicity. SInce increased fear produces more income (donations) for environmental groups, they have an incentive to exaggerate. Others undoubtably have a different perspective. Editors need to provide appropriate information for all readers (not authors) to judge whether a conflict of interest may have biased a particular article.


  6. Roger wrote: “…there are plenty of interesting, research-able policy issues to occupy my time. But I can’t imagine the message being sent to younger scientists.”

    Yes, but are those issues as important to the future of our society as climate change? WIth the freedom granted to you by tenure, why wouldn’t you chose to work on the most important issue you can find.

    As for younger scientists, they will take their inspiration from whomever they see fit. Richard Feynman and Cargo Cult Science. Steve McIntyre. Barry Marshall. Galileo. Positive inspiration from the first half of Steve Schneider’s famous “double bind” and repulsion about where the second half leads. Perhaps it is time to review the successes and failures of famous skeptics.


  7. Wow, this is all too familiar. My first year teaching in an environmental science program I made the strategic error of showing my students The Great Global Warming Swindle. I did so not so much because I agreed with all of the points in the documentary, but because I agreed with a few and thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to expose students to the documentary and weed through it together as a class and talk about its strong points and its shortcomings. Some of the students were so offended that they complained to program administration, and needless to say they found another faculty member to teach the course the following year. I have not taught in that environmental science program since. (I was and remain a lecturer, not a tenured faculty, so did not enjoy the level of job security that Roger hopefully does.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Why don’t you people learn to write so that people can understand you. There is so much jargon, acronyms and shorthand in these comments that they are rendered unintelligible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jargon and acronyms are tools of deceit, but the Climate debate exposed, and it is now time to relax and enjoy this re-enactment of a classical play featuring Big Brother’s conflict with Reality !

      In the inevitable closing scene, Big Brother will learn to recite the prayer of the King of Siam in public:

      “O Waa Ta Goo Siam.”


  9. Unfortunate you equate this with McCarthy since he was right much more often than wrong. Aside from that, it’s a sickening shame and I think reveals a side of the Democratic Party that has been there for years but usually hides its face. This man is abusing his power and should as such be removed. But he won’t be.

    Good to see the Denver Post calling him out.


  10. It’s amusing now to compare what clueless climate clown Greg Laden said Roger’s University authorities would say (see above) with what they actually said:

    “Professor Pielke is a highly regarded faculty member who is clearly operating under the principles of academic freedom, which we strongly defend. We stand behind him.”

    Liked by 2 people

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