POLITICS
04/14/2017 06:57 pm ET

House Democrat Fact-Checks Science Committee’s Climate Nonsense

Rep. Don Beyer calls on experts to correct the bad info pushed by the Republican majority.

WASHINGTON — Fed up with the anti-science nonsense that now dominates hearings of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, vice ranking member Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) has launched a project to make it easier for scientists to set the record straight.

The appropriately named FactCheck Project was sparked in particular by last month’s hearing on climate change, which committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) stacked with three likeminded climate change skeptics. The panel’s Democratic minority got to name one witness: Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who advocates for urgently tackling human-caused climate change.

To no one’s surprise, the hearing’s main focus was not how to tackle the crisis but whether the vast majority of climate scientists — roughly 97 percent — are correct in their consensus that it is real and that humans are the primary cause. 

The goal of the FactCheck Project is to provide a venue for credentialed experts to correct inaccurate and misleading statements that might be made at future hearings, Beyers said. Such corrections can be submitted either through a form on Beyer’s website or via Twitter using the hashtag #FactCheckSST and will become part of a hearing’s official record.

“Republicans on the House Science Committee would like to create doubt and confusion on climate change rather than contemplate solutions, but we cannot allow them to succeed,” Beyer said in a statement on Friday. “This project gives scientists and others who are not invited to speak the chance to support their colleagues like Dr. Mann with scientific fact.”

Rep. Don Beyer is trying to set the record straight on a committee led by a chairman who disparages climate science
Andre Chung/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Rep. Don Beyer is trying to set the record straight on a committee led by a chairman who disparages climate science.

In addition to calling for expert rebuttals, Beyer sent a letter to Smith that includes corrections to several statements made at the March 29 hearing.

Witness John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama, claimed in his written testimony that “consensus ... is a political notion, not a scientific notion.” In response, Scott Mandia, assistant chair of Suffolk County Community College’s Physical Sciences Department, offered a 2016 study that concluded “the finding of 97% consensus in published climate research is robust and consistent with other surveys of climate scientists and peer-reviewed studies.”

Another correction targets Smith’s wild claim that the widely respected Science magazine is not known to be “objective.” The two-paragraph rebuttal comes from an article published in Snopes and written by freelance science writer Alex Kasprak. It says in part:

Among the numerous monumentally significant papers published in the journal are Albert Einstein’s formulation of gravitational lensing, the complete map of the entire human genome, the first evidence of a link between HIV and AIDS, and numerous Nobel Prize winning discoveries. Based on a combination of factors (including the number of times its papers are cited), Science is consistently ranked (including by the NIH, an organization over which Smith’s committee has jurisdiction) as being among [the] highest-impact journals in all of science.

These examples and additional fact-checking ― including from Harvard professor, science historian and Merchants of Doubt co-author Naomi Oreskes ― will be entered in the hearing record, according to Beyer.

In his letter to Smith, Beyer wrote of his increasing concern about the “sweeping statements and allegations not supported by accepted science or fact” that come from the Republican committee members and their witnesses. He said it was hard not to see them as an attempt to undermine climate science. 

The congressman said at last month’s hearing that he’d come to realize that the opposing sides of the climate debate can’t get along because the “stakes are so high.”

“If the vast majority of scientists are correct about the human impact on global warming, you have 55 million people in Bangladesh that will be displaced, many countries, including the Maldives, that will disappear from the planet,” he said. 

“There’s a lot at stake,” Beyer observed.

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