Silencing Science In The Climate Debate

by William Yeatman on August 6, 1998

in Politics, Science

The Clinton White House will brook no dissent in its efforts to get the Kyoto climate treaty ratified. Just ask Frederick Seitz.

Seitz was the first president of the National Academy of Sciences and is a winner of the National Science Medal. Now he’s a prime target of a government smear campaign. He’s been slammed in government journals and the mainstream press for his departure from the party line on global warming.

Seitz’s sin? He signed a cover letter for the Petition Project, an effort by scientists skeptical of the global-warming mania. The petition urges the U.S. to reject the climate treaty drafted in Japan in December.

As the petition states, “there is no convincing evidence” that carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases are causing “a catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” To date, more than 17,000 scientists have signed on.

But such scientific free speech is too much for Kyoto’s backers. George Lucier, editor of a government “science” journal called Environmental Health Perspectives, has led the assault on Seitz.

“Seitz’s petition reminds us of the approach used by the tobacco industry over the decades when asked if tobacco is addictive and harmful,” Lucier wrote last spring.

Seitz is as bad as the tobacco industry? Let’s get real.

Seitz is a distinguished physicist. He worked on the Manhattan Project and was a consultant to the secretary of war during World War II. He was the science adviser to NATO in the late ’40s and, in ’64, he became the first president of the NAS. He has received 15 national and international prizes in addition to the National Science Medal, and holds more than 30 honorary doctorates.

And who is George Lucier? He’s a senior bureaucrat who has spent 28 years as a ward of the taxpayers at the National Institute for environmental Health Sciences. His only awards are from the federal agency that employs him. He is a toxicologist, and there is no reason to think he knows as much about the science of global warming as Seitz.

Lucier’s attack on Seitz fits into a broader effort to squelch scientific debate on global warming. Last year, Vice President Al Gore and his minions claimed that a consensus of 2,500 scientists supported the theory that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases were disrupting Earth’s climate.

But those 2,500 scientists hardly represented a consensus. First, they only helped assemble the ’95 U.N. report on global warming; they didn’t pass judgment on it. And few of those 2,500 scientists actually worked on the one part of the report that linked human activity to global warming -the executive summary. In fact, many of those same scientists are skeptics.

That hasn’t stopped the White House, U.N. bureaucrats and green activists from using this “consensus” mantra as part of their effort to discredit dissenters. But now, with Seitz’s help, 17,000 scientists have blown away the myth of any scientific consensus on global warming.

Since the petition was made public in April, the climate treaty’s backers have been in damage-control mode. The lawyer-filled Union of Concerned Scientists branded the petition as “a deliberate attempt to deceive the scientific community with misinformation.” The New York Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch have published stories and editorials attacking Seitz and other petition signers.

As for the NAS, it has distanced itself from its former president and touted its own ’91 report that gave credence to global-warming hysteria. Ironically, the NAS will release a report in spring ’99 about what additional research might reduce the scientific uncertainty about global warming.

Lucier calls Seitz’s petition “disingenuous.” Yet in the same piece, Lucier wrote, “Both sides of the global-warming question must be examined and discussed openly.” What could be more disingenuous than that?

It’s wrong for a tax-paid scientist writing in a tax-supported publication to smear another scientist. Seeing such tactics used against a scientist of Seitz’s caliber is clearly a warning to others who would consider opposing officially sanctioned science. Genuine science will suffer from this attempt to suppress dissent.

Steven J. Milloy publishes the Junk Science Home Page (http://www. Michael Gough is director of science and risk studies at the Cato Institute.

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