Anti-science House Republicans reject amendment that says climate change is occurring

To defend vote, Rep. Burgess cites unscientific online poll

House Republicans rejected an amendment offered Tuesday by a top Democrat that called on Congress to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring….

The amendment failed on a party-line vote of 31-20. No Republicans voted for the amendment….

The amendment says that “Congress accepts the scientific finding of the Environmental Protection Agency that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.'”

It’s official.  House Republicans are deniers of science so well verified by observation and analysis that The U.S. National Academy of Sciences declared it a “settled fact” last year.

Indeed, denial of science now appears to be a litmus test for the House GOP, with members competing to make the most inane arguments possible in defense of their anti-scientific views.

I’ve been watching the House Energy and Commerce full committee vote on the Upton-Inhofe pro-pollution bill to overturn the scientific finding that fossil fuel pollution is causing dangerous climate change.

During the debate, Michael Burgess (R-TX) said that the fact that a significant fraction of Americans don’t believe humans are causing global warming is somehow evidence that the science is wrong.  To bolster his position he then proceeded to cite the results of the Scientific American, which, ironically, is an unscientific online poll (see here).

Philip Yam, Online Managing Editor for SciAm, debunked this kind of misuse of the poll in a November post “Do 80 percent of Scientific American subscribers deny global warming? Hardly“:

Readers of the Wall Street Journal may have been surprised by an editorial that appeared Tuesday. We editors at Scientific American certainly were.

In his opinion piece, techno-utopian intellectual George Gilder takes California’s Silicon Valley to task for its green initiatives to create jobs. At one point, he makes this sloppy claim:

“Republican politicians are apparently lower in climate skepticism than readers of Scientific American, which recently discovered to its horror that some 80 percent of its subscribers, mostly American scientists, reject man-made global warming catastrophe fears.”

First, fewer than 10 percent of our subscribers are scientists. Second, the 80 percent climate denial number is not to be believed.

For that 80 percent figure, I’m guessing Gilder relied on a poll that we created for an October 2010 article on Judith Curry. Question number 3 in particular asked visitors, “What is causing climate change?” The poll results show that 77.8 percent responded “natural processes”; only 26.4 percent picked “greenhouse gases from human activity.”

Ignore for the moment that this poll was not scientific (nor was it meant to be) and that it was open to all who have access to the Internet, not just to our subscribers, as Gilder implied.

Rather, the big problem was that the poll was skewed by visitors who clicked over from the well-known climate denier site, Watts Up With That? Run by Anthony Watts, the site created a web page urging users to take the poll.

It sure worked. Our traffic statistics from October 25, when the poll went live, to November 1 (the latest for which we have data on referrals) indicate that 30.5 percent of page views (about 4,000) of the poll came from Watts Up. The next highest referrer at 16 percent was a Canadian blog site; it consists of an eclectic mix of posts and comments, and if I had to guess, I would say its users leaned toward the climate denier side based on a few comments I saw. Meanwhile, on the other side of the climate debate, Joe Romm’s Climate Progress drove just 2.9 percent and was the third highest referrer.

At the time, I thought a result skewed by the science deniers would be bad, but who could have guessed that the antiscience crowd would embrace the unscientific so wholeheartedly?

Yam continues:

So we were horrified alright””by the co-opting of the poll by Watts Up users, who probably voted along the denier plank. In fact, having just two sites drive nearly half the traffic to the poll assuredly means that the numbers do not reflect the attitudes of Scientific American readers.

I’m not sure what the poll numbers ultimately mean. (The poll also showed that 68 percent think science should be kept out of the political process-when did we officially go back to medieval thinking?) Given how the poll has become meaningless and skewed, I have taken it offline.

We certainly took our lumps from all sides about this online poll, and we learned from the criticisms and will aim to do better next time.

And George, if you must know, in another poll of 21,000 readers we conducted earlier this year, 40 percent of respondents said that over the past year they became “more certain that humans are changing climate”; 46 percent said their views were “unchanged” and only 14 percent were “more doubtful that human activity is affecting the climate.”

Philip Yam, Managing Editor, Online

Readers know I was highly critical of this poll.  Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) also criticized the SciAm piece and poll.

Former SciAm editor John Rennie had a prescient critique:

And for SciAm to do an online poll about site visitors’ views on a contentious subject like global warming? Sheer folly. Nothing good could come of it. The likelihood that SciAm‘s name would be associated with gamed results that nobody really believed but that would be trotted out embarrassingly hereafter would border on a dead certainty.

It remains as absurd for serious publications to do these kind of online polls as it does deniers to quote them as evidence of anything related to science.

25 Responses to Anti-science House Republicans reject amendment that says climate change is occurring

  1. Scrooge says:

    Personally I waiver a lot on the idea that conservative politicians as stupid as they act or are the apocalyptic problems the world faces to complex for them they simply want to hide the facts from the American people. I know with elections coming up we will hear plain nonsense for awhile to get their uneducated base energized. The way things are going though more often than not I go with they really are that stupid.

  2. jcwinnie says:

    Was that the online poll that Shell slut SciAm Online was conducting?

  3. Gord says:

    ‘Be careful of the history you create’, could be the take-a-way from this exercise.

  4. Mike Roddy says:

    I would guess that a few of those 21 Republicans are perfectly aware of the science, as are some GOP Senators who lined up against the climate bill in 2008. These people are the worst kind of sellouts, and make you worry for the future of this country.

    Where does it say in the Constitution or Congressional bylaws that Congressmen have to obey party leaders on key issues? I’ll tell you where- in countries run by oligarchs, whose legislatures are rubber stamps.

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    correction: 2010, not 2008.

  6. cervantes says:

    I’ve been a subscriber to SciAm since I was 12 years old, which was 45 years ago. I am indeed a scientist. It’s a great way to acquire and maintain a broad acquaintance with the vast scope of science, something which most scientists, in fact, do not have. People know a whole lot about very little, which is not healthy. Yes, they often have inserts bought by corporations, trade groups, and even more often whole countries. And they have a lot of advertising. But the main editorial content consists of review articles written by highly respected specialists, aimed at highly literate lay readers and scientists outside of their specialties, mostly on the cutting edge of their fields. They have tended to dumb down some of the short takes in the front lately, and there’s the occasional clunker, but it’s well worth reading. They have a lot of advertising, but the editorial content is not evidently contaminated. So go ahead and read it and don’t get too huffy about a screw up.

  7. Dana says:

    Not one single Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee can admit that the climate is changing. That’s absolutely pathetic. It doesn’t get any more anti-science than that.

  8. Michael Tucker says:

    NOTHING in this report is a surprise to me. All of it is totally expected.

    So the Gang Of Polluters denies that the climate is changing…I don’t see anything new in this.

    The Gang Of Polluters uses any lame evidence they can find to support their denial…Again, nothing new.

    SA f*#%ed up! Again, a well demonstrated fact.

    It is an endless merry-go-round of denial.

  9. Leif says:

    Thank you Joe for the original quick “heads up” on the original story and I am proud to have been a part of the 2.9% of voters from CP.

    It would be nice if SciAm would use their poll as a “scientific experiment” and publish a critical evaluation of what was wrong with it, how different media responded to it, who “used” it and to what ends, possible impact to the public understanding of climatic disruption, what might be done to mitigate damage done and all tied up with a clear statement of SciAm’s views on Global Warming and probable near term scenarios. Perhaps even a cover apology. (Send a free copy to each member of Congress!)

  10. David Fox says:

    Apparently Scientific American haven’t ever heard of trolls.

  11. Wit's End says:

    It’s official. The US of A is now a theocracy.

  12. Steve says:

    It is impossible for a man to believe the earth is round when his paymasters (Shell, BP, Crotch Bros Inc, etc) demand that he believe it to be flat.

  13. Would it not be possible to ensure that these pollutocrats (and their lackeys in the media) are made to pay extended visits to those inhospitable parts of the world where so many researchers collect data enduring hardships and danger and that these pollutocrats & co. are made to exist in the same manner as those researchers?

  14. Peter M says:

    The GOP T Party has decided to dump science and adopt Shamanism- which clearly reflects the party and its constituents understanding of the scientific method.

  15. PurpleOzone says:

    Peter M:

    You’re not being fair to Shamanism.

  16. ToddInNorway says:

    What is next? Snake oil marketers protected under freedom of speech and “free enterprise”? Parents allowed to refuse vaccination of their children as an exercise of freedom of religion? Elimination of food quality control to protect factory farm owners? If we allow some well-established science to be rejected by our politicians, what is to stop them from reject even more?

  17. Zetetic says:

    @ ToddInNorway #15:
    I’m assuming that you are being sarcastic.

    But just in case you aren’t being sarcastic, what you mentioned (snake-oil, vaccination, etc.) is already in effect in the USA. I personally find it hard to believe, but the Republican’s action is just S.O.P for them.

  18. Some European says:

    This story is a wonderful read.
    It so clearly shows that these little actions can have very serious consequences. (Of course, if this poll had never existed, the zombies would have found something else to ‘prove’ their point.)
    The sad thing is: anyone who has never been directly confronted with the deniers’ tactics, doesn’t expect it coming.
    It’s like having a cute cat that bites everyone’s fingers off, or a very slippery staircase, or a perfectly clean glass door – no amount of warning signs is ever going to make your visitors sufficiently cautious.
    “Warning, dangerous cat!” – “Ohh! What a cute little…” snatch! there go their fingers.
    And there are still about 6,85 billion people on the planet who will potentially have their fingers bit.
    Now, some SciAm employees are on the other side and can see how bad it gets. And with us, they watch as the next victims are taken by surprise.
    You can’t really be angry with SciAm. It’s not their fault they didn’t see it coming. But now, they can regretfully watch how much damage they inadvertently helped cause.

  19. paulm says:

    The law, the president (Obama) should endever to do something about this.

    This is unacceptable.
    It is a crisis and should be dealt with directly.

    Its a diabolical situation.

  20. Mike says:

    Inside Higher Ed
    Tabloid Science
    March 15, 2011

    The Sex Life of the Screwworm — a silly subject for federally funded research, no?

    Some members of Congress thought so: they singled out the project about 30 years ago as the nation’s top symbol of wasteful spending — and later apologized when, upon further review, they realized the research was actually incredibly useful. Now, at a time when Congressional scrutiny of science spending (supposedly silly and otherwise) is rising, the other side of the debate is reviving the symbol of the screwworm to bring attention to its cause, through a method that seems too un-scientific to be true: a tabloid.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Wit’s End #11, I’d add kakistocracy (rule by the worst) and, of course, plutocracy to the mix. In Austraya, where the nong-nong is king, our Opposition Leader Abbott, who has turned out, to nobody’s surprise to be the most dangerous demagogue seen here, possibly ever, and who is leading a ‘People’s Crusade’ (in fact, judging by the first public demonstration of a couple of hundred senile delinquents, a ‘Geriatric’s Crusade’) against a carbon price, was caught out the other day denying anthropogenic climate change to a meeting of like-minded intellectual giants. Without a moment’s hesitation, he simply denied that he was a denier, but consistency and credibility has never been his forte.
    In similar vein Murdoch’s ‘The Fundament’ (aka ‘The Australian’) the absolute epicentre of denialism and anti-scientific agit-prop in this country, has a typically mealy-mouthed editorial slagging off environmentalists for questioning nuclear power after the Japanese disaster. It has all its standard tropes, whinging about ‘Gaia’ and the usual suspects, abusing Tim Flannery (a real hate figure for the rabid Right here) as a ‘paleontologist’ and thus, apparently, unfit to talk on climate change, whereas of course, being a denizen of a mire of yellow journalism allows you to pontificate on all matters scientific. You get a good idea of ‘The Fundament’s’ intellectual milieu when you see letters from its Dunning Krugerite fan base, arguing that the 1.9 metre sea level rise predicted for this century is inconsequential, because the Japanese tsunami was 10 metres high, so we should forget preparing for SLR, and concentrate on building defences against the greater danger of tsunamis. That tsunamis are rare and isolated, while SLR is worldwide, appears not to have troubled his neurons, but I bet he’s a hero, now, amongst his peers.
    The probably call him ‘Brains’.

  22. T1 says:

    This is like the movie “High Noon.” The clock is ticking. We’re running out of time. We have less than 4 years to pull this off and the town is coming out to support the sheriff. See

    But then there is Sweden. Steppin’ up to take the leadership role while China, India and the US stare and the shoelaces:

    Sweden to end its dependency on fossil fuels and become near oil-free economy by 2020. “Sweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years – without building a new generation of nuclear power stations.  The attempt by the country of 9 million people to become the world’s first practically oil-free economy is being planned by a committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants and others, who will report to parliament in several months.  The intention, the Swedish government said yesterday, is to replace all fossil fuels with renewables before climate change destroys economies and growing oil scarcity leads to huge new price rises.” (John Vidal, environment editor, “Sweden plans to be world’s first oil-free economy,” London, United Kingdom, Wednesday 8 February 2006) 


    “Our dependency on oil should be broken by 2020.  
    There shall always be better alternatives to oil, which means no house should need oil for heating, and no driver should need to turn solely to gasoline. 
    A Sweden free of fossil fuels would give us enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices.” (5) 

    — Mona Sahlin
    Swedish Minister for Sustainable Development

  23. Not a Lawyer says:

    Guessing someone on the Dem side reads this blog as Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois had the Yam piece entered into the record later not long after this post went up, I think. But it’s all a blur at this point. Following several hours of a committee debate requires too much coffee.

  24. riverat says:

    Some smart alec should offer an amendment to set pi = 3. See if the R’s go for that too.

  25. Roger says:

    Let’s take away anything the R’s use that relies on science. To be fair, we’ll only exclude scientific advancements of the past 50 years.

    I’ll donate a hard-wired, black, pulse-dial rotary phone, and a nice mechanical calculator, or perhaps a slide rule–as if they’d find a suitable use. (Electronic calculators are in development as of 1961.)

    We can’t let them cherry pick their use of science. In the real world, things come “bundled,” e.g., sugar contains calories; coal is dirty.