CRI has joined a Freedom of Information Act request for disclosure of sources of grants given to University of Delaware Professor John Byrne for his work on climate change. Those paying attention to these issues will notice that our request merely followed in the footsteps of a request for similar information regarding UD’s Dr. David Legates. We replicated US Representative Raul Grijalva’s language nearly verbatim, hoping to place his move in perspective. As Delaware citizens we proceeded under a transparency law providing for the release of public records; to those who would claim such requests chill academic freedom, we note that it is Rep. Grijalva whose request waves the banner of governmental authority.
Rep. Grijalva is the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and is targeting only those who have testified, using their research, against claims that global warming is causing harms such as an increase in severe weather events. He states it is important we know who funded the research in case some fossil fuel company supported the funding to influence the results. He has not made similar requests of anyone who testified using research that supports the connection. Apparently, grants from environmental groups, government, and certain foundations are assumed, incorrectly, to be beyond suspicion of influencing research.
Using the power of his office for this sort of one-sided pursuit poses real potential to limit research of controversial topics. For several years we have seen an ongoing campaign aimed at removing inconvenient scientists from the climate change debate. Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado, Boulder announced in a blog post responding to Grijalva’s letter, “The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt. I have already shifted all of my academic work away from climate issues.” Pielke’s work, similar to Dr. Legates, shows that damages from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and droughts have not increased in frequency or intensity since the middle of the twentieth century despite warmer temperatures. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading proponent of government action to decrease carbon emissions, also states global warming has not been proven to impact severe weather events.
We support transparency at publicly funded institutions, and researchers should disclose funding sources when they publish a paper as is the policy at most universities. However, we have seen numerous requests for “skeptic” scientists’ emails (such as Dr. Legates’ at Delaware) draw no university opposition or public challenge, only to hear shrieks of outrage when the roles are reversed. The reach of transparency laws is a topic of legitimate debate, though whether they should be evenly applied should be beyond challenge. The use of government office to join one side and intimidate unwanted challenge, however, is climate McCarthyism. We hope our request will contribute to placing the similarities — and stark differences — between these efforts in perspective.