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Criticism of U.S. Global Change Research Program Report on Climate Change Impacts in the United States

Rating: Molehill

The Charge

After the U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP), formerly the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), released a report summarizing the science and effects of climate change in the U.S., lawmakers pointed to criticism of the report and implied that the report misrepresented science to the benefit of the administration's views.1 The report, entitled "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," was released in June 2009.2 The reports' criticisms originated from the political scientist Roger Pielke Jr.'s objection to one paragraph in the report regarding whether or not climate change is currently impacting insurance losses from natural disasters.3

It seems that Pielke did not like the way in which his research on insurance losses and climate change is cited.4 Pielke surmised that the paragraph was written by Evan Mills, a co-author of the GCRP report who is cited in the paragraph. Pielke also objects to a Mills' citation because it is a non-peer-reviewed source from Science magazine. Pielke implied that Mills' connection with companies who have an interest in climate policy outcomes may have affected the paragraph in question.5

However, a 2008 CCSP report focusing specifically on weather and climate extremes also cited both Mills and Pielke and points out differing viewpoints regarding whether or not climate change is responsible for an upward trend in the costs of extreme weather.6 Mills was not a co-author of this 2008 CCSP report.7 While the 2008 report appears to present both Pielke's and Mills' sides of the debate more evenly than the 2009 GCRP report, the 2008 report states that "At this time, there is no universally accepted approach to normalizing damage costs (Guha-Sapir et al., 2004).".8 However, Pielke also claims that the previous statement's reference is also improperly cited.9

Is it political interference in science?

No. There is no evidence that there was political interference from the government in the development of the GCRP report. If Mills did write the paragraph in question, it may have been problematic for him to cite himself so approvingly. However, the controversy seems to be primarily a dispute among experts that has not yet been resolved in the peer-reviewed literature. Because the 2008 CCSP report includes a discussion of the debate regarding how to determine insurance losses caused by climate change, there is further evidence that there is still legitimate academic debate in this field. The GCRP report was also independently peer reviewed, and to imply that one paragraph of inappropriate citations indicates that the entire 196-page report is flawed is making a mountain out of a molehill.

What is the best way to ensure scientific integrity?

The GCRP and all government agencies should strive to ensure that academic debate and differing opinions are well-represented in their reports. In theory, peer review guards against the misrepresentation of scientists' work, and a strong peer-review process should continue to be a central aspect of agency reports.

For more analysis of scientific integrity charges against the Obama administration, see the Mountain or Molehill feature.

1. Broun, P. 2009. Letter to Dr. John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. July 13.
2. U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2009. "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States."
3. Pielke, R. Jr. 2009. "Obama's Phil Cooney and the New CCSP Report." Roger Pielke Jr.'s blog, June 16.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. U.S. Climate Change Science Program. 2008. "Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate." Sythesis and Assessment Product 3.3. June.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Pielke, R. Jr. 2008. "What the CCSP Extremes Report Really Says." Prometheus Science Policy blog, June 20.

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