U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, last week accused committee Democrats of an “attempt to silence” the John Locke Foundation — and 106 other organizations that have expressed skepticism over apocalyptic claims of the role of human activity regarding climate change — by demanding the groups surrender 10 years of detailed funding source data.
Inhofe and the other 10 committee Republicans sent a letter in response supporting “scientific inquiry and discovery” to the nearly nine dozen universities, private companies, trade groups, and nonprofit organizations that received the earlier letter they called “a wholly inappropriate effort” to limit climate science research.
JLF was the only research organization focusing on policy in a single state that was targeted by the Democratic senators.
“We ask you to not be afraid of political repercussions or public attacks regardless of how you respond” to the Democrats’ letter, the Republican response said, urging the groups to “protect academic freedom despite efforts to chill free speech.”
“What it’s meant to do is chill debate on the subject and to quell the other side, rather than refute any positions. They’re trying to shut people up with letters like this,” said Roy Cordato, JLF vice president for research and resident scholar. “We’ve been skeptical of the standard sort of alarmist line, and we’re being targeted for that by people who are trying to McCarthyite us.”
Democratic Sens. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island sent the Feb. 25 “demand” letter on official committee letterhead. One was sent to JLF President and CEO Kory Swanson.
“We write to request information about payments made by the John Locke Foundation in support of scientific research and scientists, as well as support for other efforts related to climate change, if such payments have been made,” their letter said. An April 3 deadline was issued for the material.
The Democrats wrote that they are “interested in understanding how your organization has undertaken such efforts and the degree to which these efforts have been publicly disclosed, particularly in light of recent articles about funding Dr. Willie Soon received from corporations and foundations in support of his work that he failed to disclose when publishing his results.”
Soon is a widely respected astrophysicist and global warming skeptic employed by the Smithsonian Institution.
His supporters say he is a victim of a witch hunt by environmental groups and media liberals for not disclosing that $1.2 million in research funding supporting his work came from companies with ties to fossil fuels.
As a result, Markey, Boxer, and Whitehouse told JLF and the other 106 organizations to supply names of recipients, institutional affiliations, payment amounts and duration of research, reasons for payment, copies of grants and/or contracts “including any terms containing restrictions related to the disclosure of the source of the payments,” and publications or written materials that resulted from the research.
The request included turning over 10 years of funding data for “grants, fellowships, scholarships, consulting contracts, contracts, honoraria, and speaking events” related to “climate, climate change, global warming, environmental issues, air quality, atmospheric or oceanic topics, greenhouse gas emissions, associated impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide, methane, aerosols, solar radiation, vulnerable animal species or ecosystems, geology, paleoclimatology, meteorology, astrophysics, or heliophysics.”
“Senator Burr is looking into the committee’s request,” a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said Friday afternoon.
“All of the majority members of the committee are aware [of the Democrats’ letter]. This was done by the minority, by the Democrats, and obviously not in consultation or coordination with Republicans,” another senior Senate aide said.
In the response letter to the 107 targeted groups, Inhofe and the other Republicans wrote: “Rather than empower scientists and researchers to expand the public discourse on climate science and other environmental topics the [Democrats’] letter could be viewed as an attempt to silence legitimate intellectual and scientific inquiry.”
The Republicans said the credibility of scientific findings and research should be based on compliance with the scientific method, principles of sound science, and ability to stand on their own merits. “The scientific method is a process marked by skepticism and testing, rather than dogma,” they wrote.
“Federal government-sponsored research is good and necessary, but such funding has limits. The federal government does not have a monopoly on funding high-quality scientific research, and many of the nation’s environmental laws require decisions be based on the best scientific information available — not just federally funded research,” the Republican senators wrote.
“At the core of American ingenuity are those researchers who challenge the status quo whether in matters of climate, economics, medicine, or any field of study,” they wrote.
“Institutions of higher learning and nongovernmental funding are vital to facilitating such research and scientific inquiry. Limiting research and science to only those who receive federal government resources would undermine and slow American education, economic prosperity, and technological advancement.”
Curiously, Markey was among the most vocal critics of Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s former Republican attorney general, when he launched an investigation in 2010 of Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann, whose widely criticized “hockey stick” global temperature graph and the research associated with it erupted into what was called “climategate.”
At the time, Markey rebuked Cuccinelli for using “intimidation tactics” that were “a threat to academic freedom and open scientific inquiry.”
Mann was no less kind to Markey, saying last week the Democrats’ letter was “heavy handed and overly aggressive.” Markey’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Also on Friday, the American Meteorological Society denounced Democrats’ tactics in what appears to be a growing campaign of intimidation, issuing a strong admonition to U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Grijalva, citing the Willie Soon case, sent demand letters — similar to those issued by Markey, Boxer, and Whitehouse — to the University of Delaware, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Georgia Institute of Technology, MIT, Arizona State University, University of Colorado, and Pepperdine University.
“Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” the AMS said in a statement posted on its web site.
“Further,” it said, “requesting copies of the researcher’s communications related to external funding opportunities or the preparation of testimony impinges on the free pursuit of ideas that is central to the concept of academic freedom.”
Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.