Academy to Referee Climate-Change Fight
Scientists' Group Agrees To Congressional Request to Study Temperature-History Charting
By ANTONIO REGALADO, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 10,2006
Seeking to resolve a scientific dispute that has taken on a rancorous political edge, the National Academy of Sciences said it had agreed to a request from Congress to assess how well researchers understand the history of temperatures on earth.
The study by the academy, an independent advisory body based in Washington, will focus on the "hockey stick," a chart of past temperatures that critics say is inaccurate. The graph gets its name because of the sudden, blade-like rise of recent temperatures compared with past epochs.
The controversy took a sharp political turn in July when Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas), head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launched a probe into the work of three climate specialists who generated the graph, including Michael Mann, now a professor at Pennsylvania State University.
Mr. Barton's inquiry drew a rebuke from several scientific societies as well as fellow Republican Sherwood Boehlert of New York, chairman of the House Committee on Science, who called it a blatant effort to intimidate global-warming researchers.
After Mr. Barton didn't respond to an offer to jointly bring the issue to the National Academy, Mr. Boehlert independently asked for a review in November, science committee chief of staff David Goldston said. "It appeared that the issue was not going to go away by itself. We thought this was an appropriate way to get an assessment of the science," Mr. Goldston said in an interview.
Larry Neal, deputy staff director for Mr. Barton's committee, said in a statement that because "combating climate change is a breathtakingly expensive prospect," it deserved closer study, and that the academy was "unlikely" to address all of Mr. Barton's concerns.
Mr. Barton has already sought a separate analysis of the hockey stick led by statistician Edward Wegman of George Mason University, people familiar with the matter said. Dr. Wegman couldn't be reached yesterday.
An 11-member academy panel will now study the accuracy and importance of such research, in particular the work of Dr. Mann, whose hockey-stick graph was included in a report issued by the United Nations in 2001. An academy spokesman said the report would be completed in about four months.
Dr. Mann's critics, including two amateur Canadian climate researchers, say his work contains serious inaccuracies. Dr. Mann has denied that, but the debate has prompted several climate researchers to take a fresh look at temperature reconstructions.
While some recent publications have found fault with the hockey stick and similar studies, others have sought to rebut critics.
The debate comes as many scientists express growing alarm over the warming trend. The planet has warmed more than one degree over the past century, and recent heating is widely blamed on greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
More than 150 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to slash gas emissions by 2012. The U.S. hasn't signed the treaty, which the Bush administration has said is ineffective and would slow economic growth.