Factory with smoking chimney
March 30, 2017

Congress wants climate skeptic ‘red teams’ to challenge establishment views on climate change

Having already signed an executive order rolling back many of his predecessor's environmental regulations earlier this week, President Donald Trump and his Republican colleagues are said to be considering a proposal to establish a “red team” to challenge findings on climate change.

The proposed counter-investigative science force or “red team” approach was brought up during prepared testimony by prominent researchers “operating outside the scientific consensus” on the climate change issue, according to a Washington Post report published on Wednesday.

The scientists were speaking in front of Congress when they suggested that the legislative body should fund a group to investigate “natural” causes of global warming and to challenge findings reported by the United Nations, the newspaper said. The recommendation comes just days after President Trump ordered a review of the carbon emission-cutting Clean Power Plan.

One of those testifying was scientist John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) who argued that a red team could help Congress better understand climate issues by challenging the work of “biased ‘official panels of the climate establishment” and looking as issues such as “natural variability” and the alleged “failure” of climate models.

“I would expect such a team would offer to Congress some very different conclusions regarding the human impacts on climate,” he added at the hearing of the House science committee, which was centered on the scientific method as it related to climate change, according to the Post.

Skepticism over the need for a panel of skeptics

The call for a red team of climate change skeptics comes as the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress work to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and rescinded a moratorium on the sale of coal-mining leases on federal lands, ostensibly in an attempt to help that struggling fossil fuel industry – a misguided one, say critics.

Now, it looks as though Congress is at least considering funding a panel whose mission would be to challenge the findings of the at least 97 percent of actively-publishing climate researchers who say that global warming trends over the past century are most likely due to human activities such as increased greenhouse gas emissions due to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels.

In their prepared statements, witnesses called by the House science committee argued that groups like the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented only one side of the climate change debate and did not represent the opinions of all scientists, the Post said. They also claimed that legislators would benefit from the input of researchers whose findings  did not agree with the widely-accepted consensus on the climate change issue.

“A scientist’s job is to continually challenge his/her own biases and ask ‘How could I be wrong?’” said Judith Curry, president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN) and a professor emeritus at the Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “Playing ‘devil’s advocate’ helps a scientist examine how their conclusions might be misguided and how they might be wrong. Overcoming one’s own biases is difficult; an external devil’s advocate can play a useful role in questioning and criticizing the logic of the argument.”

But Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Post that the concept of using a red team to challenge widely accepted climate research was “a completely ridiculous proposition.”

The scientific community, he said, “has a very well-established, time-tested and by-and-large quite effective process for evaluating alternative hypotheses about any body of science – and that’s called independent peer review. The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous, and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

----

Image credit: Thinkstock