22 June 2010

Do Climate Black Lists Matter?

Do climate black lists matter? Or are they just tribalism at worst and fun and games on the internet at best? Surely, such lists couldn't be used to affect someone's career, could they?

With this post I'll share some personal experience to explain why I think such lists matter. Here is an email that (presumably) all University of Colorado-Boulder faculty received from the Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA) just before the summer break less than one month ago (emphasis added):
Dear Colleagues,

Attached is a copy of the BFA update, providing you with an opportunity to learn about what your faculty governance organization is concerned with. Please note the item about the Regents' guiding principles and their expressed preference for political and intellectual balance on the faculty. This is of great concern to the social sciences and humanities, but may also affect engineering and science faculties. The guideline could require a search committee to inquire about:

1. an individual faculty member's perspective on environment, energy and global warming,

2. an individual faculty member's perspective on creation and the origin of the universe,

3. an individual faculty member's perspective on evolution.

Please let me know your opinion of these . . .
What I understand this to mean is that a search committee for a new faculty hire could be required to ask about the candidates' views on "environment, energy and global warming" as a matter of obtaining their political views, which presumably would be factored into a hiring decision to achieve some sort of "political and intellectual balance." Now I can't speak for anyone else, but I find this to be stepping on a slippery slope. I will strongly object to any such "oaths of allegiance" as a condition of or factor in hiring faculty on our campus.

Let me also relate a related personal story (one of several that I could share). Several years ago I was invited by Republican staff to testify before a congressional committee. My general policy on such requests is that when I am invited by government to present my views I will do so regardless of those doing the asking, so long as I can present my views unaltered and directly. After all, my salary and research funds are from the public and I see it as my responsibility to participate in the political process whenever asked. I have in the past testified at the request of both Democrats and Republicans.

At the time I was invited a few liberal bloggers made a big deal about me having been invited by Republicans and posted on it on their blogs. Subsequently, a number of climate scientists contacted my Chancellor's office to complain that my association with the Republicans was unhelpful (because I am perceived to be credible) and asked if anything could be done about it.

A high-up university official (who will go unnamed but who sat in the direct chain of command between my chair and the Chancellor) asked me to lunch, told me about the messages that had been received by the Chancellor's office and warned me in no uncertain terms that I should think carefully about testifying for the Republicans because my career could suffer. The message that I heard was that I had better not testify or else my career might suffer. I took this as a direct threat from an official with influence on my career at the university and I said so on the spot. I was shocked to be in such a conversation. I immediately protested via email to my chair and institute director, invoking academic freedom and tenure. At that point the university official backed down and apologized, claiming a misunderstanding.

Did I actually feel threatened? Not really. I have tenure and a strong academic record. I was more angry with and disappointed in my university. Was the experience a window into how politicized the climate issue is in academia? You bet. Had I not had tenure, been earlier in my career with more decisions to come before higher-ups in my future or been a bit more sensitive to such things I can see how it would be enormously chilling to an academic to have such an experience.

So do black lists of people espousing certain views on climate science trouble me? Yes. It is easy to connect the dots between a university considering "loyalty oaths" -- black lists -- and a hyper-politicized academic environment to see what can result. Such lists are particularly troubling when they are advanced and endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, which is a quasi-government entity receiving considerable public funds, while my own university is debating an oath of allegiance on climate change as a possible condition of employment.

So, is invoking the specter of McCarthyism going too far? For me it is not.


  1. That's a deeply disturbing story, Roger. I'm glad you were at least in a position to stand your ground.

    I wonder if there might be a correlation between "UEs" and tenured scientists on that McCathyistic black list. Hmm...

  2. Lists like these matter. Larry Solomon made me a denier of the second kind (i.e., those who believe that climate change is beneficial) in 2006 and this still haunts me.

    The fact that the latest list has been endorsed by the PNAS matters too. Solomon's list could be dismissed as a journalist's silliness, this list can credibly be quoted in academic circles.

    Chances are, people will now press for this paper to be cited by the IPCC.

  3. It just doesn't pay to be straight shooter in the warped politically correct world of Academia any more. Any bets on how long it will be until someone from Fox News picks up on this story? Sean Hanity milked Ward Churchill for a year or two.
    On a more serious note, I read your father's blog daily and even though the Feds are throwing money left and right at anything related to climate change, he's had difficulty getting funding from the NSF even though his proposals get outstanding reviews. A diversity of ideas is something to be avoided at many levels, not just academia.

  4. Roger, I applaud you for standing up for REAL diversity, not the kind represented by the email! BTW, the person who wrote the email may need some training in grammar :)

  5. The incident Roger describes is appalling, unethical, and probably illegal. Everyone should condemn that sort of thing in unqualified terms.

  6. "I immediately protested via email to my chair and institute director, invoking academic freedom and tenure. At that point the university official backed down and apologized, claiming a misunderstanding."

    Roger did you grow up playing with Barbie dolls (I'm kidding and hope you have a sense of humor)? You could have resolved the issue before lunch was over man to man. The way to deal with dirtbags like this is to have a short but deadly serious conversation about the consequences of his threatening you. Trust me if you had made it clear to him that this might be the last lunch he wouldn't have to eat through a feeding tube (now I'm not kidding), he would apologize.

  7. Aside from the fact that the University's behavior is mind-blowingly inappropriate, it also seems to be incredibly naive. After all, by your account this official who works for a publicly funded university seems to have suggested that association with anyone or anything right of center somehow disqualifies you from academia. That sounds like a great way to get a lot of politicians coming down on your institution pretty hard.

  8. Roger,

    As I wrote over at Lucia's, this paper merely shows that climate science today is an academic circle jerk. [sorry for the crudity, but it fits]

  9. I'm surprised that the previous comments haven't focused on more than the university's behavior. Roger wrote, "a number of climate scientists contacted my Chancellor's office to complain that my association with the Republicans was unhelpful (because I am perceived to be credible) and asked if anything could be done about it."

    The complaints were not about Roger's opinions on the science and social science. They were directed specifically against a political party. Climate science is all about the politics. It's left vs. right. Democrats vs. Republicans. Read some of Michael Mann's rants.

    Roger's anecdote here illustrates this reality as clearly and brightly as it can be illuminated. The complaints were not about the science. The complaints were that Roger might be associated with the GOP and climate scientists adamantly oppose the GOP.

    It's all political. And the academy is so lock-step to the left that a university bigwig thought that leaning on Roger was appropriate.

    What this tell us about climate scientists and their lack of trustworthiness as objective advisors for public policy is certainly important. What it tells us about the extent to which the entire academy has been corrupted by political orthodoxy is even more troubling.

  10. "1. an individual faculty member's perspective on environment,..."

    How about this? Suppose the applicant said:

    "My perspective on the environment is exactly that of Montgomery Burns: 'Nature started the fight for survival, and now she wants to quit because she’s losing. Well I say, hard cheese.'"

    Do you think that would get the applicant hired? ;-)

    After all, if they are truly looking for "political and intellectual balance on the faculty" (and it's disgraceful that they pretend that they are) then there probably aren't many on the faculty who hold such "political and intellectual" views. So it would provide nice "balance."

  11. Playing devils's advocate, it is a fact that most of the previous administration had heavy ties to the oil industry, so I could see this as a legitimate concern. Doesn't excuse anything of course.

    I'd say this was a risk tenure or not. Projects can be closed down due to "reallocation of resources". Likely others had the same talk and backed down. Of course you don't get published without the mandatory "these results do not mean that climate change is not a serious problem", or similar, right next to the money shot, "further research is needed". And it's publish or die!

  12. Reading the entire list of guest posters at pielkeclimatescience is a pretty good indicator of who is playing on which side of the argument. One could, on the other hand, cherry pick a few. Eli would never expect that to happen.

  13. jgdes, the standard way of doing what you are talking about is not to close down projects, too obvious, but pile new, higher priority ones on. Let's go to the Moon:)

  14. "The incident Roger describes is appalling, unethical, and probably illegal. Everyone should condemn that sort of thing in unqualified terms."

    Do you agree that the "Dear Colleagues" memo is also "appalling" and "unethical?"

  15. I was subjected to a similar witch hunt after a talk to the Alumni at my own institution incurred the wrath of some academics at my university closely tied to the IPCC trough. Here is a link to my reply posted in the university newspaper:
    I am pleased to say the Alumni have again invited me to speak to them this Fall as an update post climategate and Copenhagen.
    But make no mistake, the blacklist exists. The media have theirs, now apparently the PNAS have one too. Besides the insidious, odious and totalitarianism of it all, there is the problem that these things often are hopelessly inaccurate: e.g. my own PhD was 1982 not 1983 as the list states and I will freely admit to never have published anything on "trace gas measurement" which the list incorrectly describes as my area of specialty. But now it is a published list, it will doubtless be enshrined by blind referrals as the "truth".
    It is as if George Orwell has ceased to be a writer of fiction but a prescient chronicler of our times.