Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Climate Scientist?

05/01/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sen. James Inhofe, (R-OK), the Senate’s chief spokesman for climate deniers, says so many outrageous things (see his recent interview on Grist) he’s all but lost his power to surprise.

Last week, though, the Oklahoma Republican crossed a line that I find shocking, attempting to discredit scientists through innuendo and the kind of intimidation that can have a chilling effect.

If Inhofe wants to call global warming a hoax, as he first did in 2003, he may be paranoid, but he has that right.

If he wants to say  some stolen emails between a handful of climate scientists prove that he was right all along, PolitiFact rates the statement “false,” but it’s a nice debating point for him.

If he wants to have his grandchildren put a sign on their Igloo saying “Al Gore’s new home,” I guess that’s OK, though it does sadden me to see one of the great joys of childhood—a snow day—politicized.

But when Inhofe attempts to discredit respected scientists through innuendo and tries to intimidate them by threatening a criminal investigation, enough is enough.

It is time to say, “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Last week Inhofe released a report by his Minority staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that represents a shocking new low in the public discourse on global warming.

The first chapter is unremarkable. It simply rehashes previously discussed accusations arising from the emails hacked from University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU).

In Chapter Two, though, the report shifts tone, setting the stage for guilt by association. The bulk of the chapter simply describes how the IPCC operates, but it includes  a table called “CRU – IPCC CONNECTION.”  The table lists a number of lead authors of the three most recent IPCC reports. The Inhofe report asserts that:

The chart below shows that the scientists at the center of the CRU scandal were participants in drafting IPCC assessment reports. Nearly all of the scientists worked at the highest levels of the IPCC, shaping and influencing the content of the assessment reports that form the international global warming ‘consensus.’

The only link to the CRU controversy for some of them appears to be that their names were mentioned in one of the emails.

For example, Inhofe’s report claims that Susan Solomon is “implicated in the CRU emails” and her name appears three times in the “CRU – IPCC CONNECTION” table. Solomon, a distinguished NOAA scientist, was indeed heavily involved in the IPCC report—she co-chaired Working Group I, which assessed the fundamental science of global warming. Her only link to the CRU emails presented in the Inhofe report is a February 2006 message from Keith Briffa to Jonathan Overpeck that mentions her in a single sentence. That sentence reads:

Of course this discussion now needs to go to the wider Chapter authorship, but do not let Susan [Solomon of NOAA] (or Mike [Michael Mann]) push you (us) beyond where we know is right.

Note that there is no evidence whatsoever that Solomon made any attempt to push Briffa and Overpeck to modify their views of the scientific issues that were discussed in the email. No matter, if your name is mentioned in one of the stolen emails you are “implicated.”

Chapter Three is the most insidious as it is designed to intimidate scientists. It contains nothing of substance other than a summary of the Freedom of Information Act, White House openness directives, the False Statements Act and the False Claims Act. It then implies that the scientists mentioned in the emails may have violated these statutes and policies, but never presents any actual evidence that they have. The only actual accusation made in the report is that the emails “raise questions.” The authors go on to say they are investigating “whether any violations” occurred. The complete text of the innuendo is:

These and other issues raise questions about the lawful use of federal funds and potential ethical misconduct. Discussed below are brief descriptions of the statutes and regulations that the Minority Staff believe are implicated in this scandal. In our investigation, we are examining the emails and documents and determining whether any violations of these federal laws and policies occurred.

Have you no sense of decency Senator Inhofe, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

This is crossposted on NRDC's Switchboard.