28 June 2009

Who Cares About Integrity of Process When There are Political Points to Score?

In January 2006 I wrote a post titled "Let Jim Hansen Speak" in which I called the actions of the Bush Administration to limit the ability of NASA"s most famous scientist to speak out on policy matters "incredibly stupid." This week the blogosphere has been mildly excited (here and here) about an EPA economist named Alan Carlin whose comments on the EPA endangerment finding were buried by his superiors, i.e., not submitted as part of the internal EPA review process, as a matter of concern about how they would be received politically.

This post discusses issues of process related to the ability of civil service experts to have their voices heard on matters of policy related to administration political priorities. As I argued in the similar case of Jim Hansen in 2006, EPA's actions to limit Carlin's ability to have input are simply put, incredibly stupid, for the exact same reasons that NASA's actions under the Bush Administration to try to muzzle Hansen were also incredibly stupid. Here is how I see the Carlin issue:

1. It is without a doubt that his views were suppressed, in the sense that his superiors did not allow them to be included as part of the formal internal EPA review process. That fact is clear from the following email obtained and released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute:


2. For purposes of this discussion of process I am willing to stipulate that the substance of the review materials provided by Alan Carlin are in the words of fellow government civil servant Gavin Schmidt of NASA in a post implicitly condoning the EPA actions,
a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at.
3. I further note that Alan Carlin is not Jim Hansen, most obviously in terms of visibility, but also in the fact that Hansen is a climate scientist and Carlin is an economist. But there is an interesting symmetry in that with respect to the issues of suppressed comments Hansen is a scientist whose offending comments were on economics and policy, whereas Carlin has expertise in economics and policy and is commenting on aspects of climate science.

The relevant question of process is whether the submission's content (#2) or the author's characteristics (#3) justify the actions observed in #1, that is, refusing Carlin the opportunity to have a voice in the EPA review process. This question is exactly parallel to the circumstances involving Jim Hansen and the Bush Administration. My judgment is that #2 and #3 should be irrelevant to #1 -- As I concluded with Hansen, EPA should let Alan Carlin speak. Based on my quick reading of his submission (available here in PDF), Carlin's work poses little threat to the climate science community or the Obama Administration's political agenda. By contrast efforts to keep Carlin's views out of the public record could be much more politically significant (as was the case with Bush Administration and Jim Hansen).

But they probably won't be because the various political camps in the climate debate pretty much operate under an "ends justify the means" mentality these days, and that means that some acts of suppression will be judged more acceptable than others and everything will fall out along pre-existing political cleavages, with little attention or concern about the integrity of process, except among thos seeking to score a few political points. So the same people who complained about Hansen being suppressed under the Bush Adminstration will defend the supression (or more likely just ignore it) in Carlin's situtaion, and vice versa. The climate debate is predictable if nothing else.

39 comments:

Hank Roberts said...

http://www.examiner.com/x-10722-Orlando-Science-Policy-Examiner~y2009m6d28-CBS-jumps-a-Whale-Shark

Do you know whether the agency knew the unattributed source problem? Seems they might have kept the old guy on but tried to save him the public disclosure of his borrowing problem, from the above summary.

Stan said...

Carlin has a physics degree from Cal Tech.

Of course, given how pathetically bad so much of the climate science is, how much education does one need in order to criticize it? You don't need a degree in science to realize that Steig's study of Antarctica is badly flawed. You don't need a college education to know that Mann's making up of new statistics shouldn't have been accepted unquestioningly by the IPCC. And you don't need a degree to know that the quality control of the temperature database is atrocious.

You don't need a Ph.D. to know that linear regression doesn't work if you don't have a linear function. Or that examining four sites in Europe makes it impossible to reach conclusions that the MWP is limited to Europe. Or that unvalidated models should never, ever, ever be used to make forecasts. Simple common sense is all that's required.

Even a grade school student knows that lying about the science (see Schneider, Gore, et al) is unacceptable. That failure to make datasets and methodology available is a failure of the scientific method. And that failure to bother to check the calibration and siting of instruments is a gross dereliction of a scientist's responsibilities.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-1-Hank

So you think EPA was doing its Carlin a favor by keeping their submission out of the public eye? An interesting theory to be sure, I don't think I heard that offered in the Hansen case ;-)

-2-Stan

So you think that credentials do matter in whether or not civil servants can have their views included as part of agency decision making?

My view is that the very fact of being a civil servant is credential enough.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Typo alert -- not "its Carlin" just "Carlin"

Paul Biggs said...

Hansen? Muzzled? Using a megaphone?

Maurice said...

The discussion about the EPA review process is not about Dr. Carlin’s credentials, or the scientific validity of his report. The central point in the suppressed report was that the EPA should validate the science internally not rely on the IPCC. His most telling point was that the EPA will be in court, and will then have to defend the science as if they owned it.

Clearly from the e-mails the EPA had already made a policy decision before the comment period and internal dissent was not to be tolerated.

For a little more guilty schadenfreude consider that if Gavin Schmidt is right about the report, the EPA could have put it on the record and refuted it point by point as evidence in future trials that good scientific procedure was driving the process. However, the actions of the EPA made it clear that the process and the science are driven by politicians and policy.

Jim Bouldin said...

Roger, in addition to the guy not being a climate scientist, McGartland says clearly--and refers to previous emails where it had also been stated--that the time for making such points was past, and that the endangerment report was "not a criteria document for climate change and greenhouse gases". In other words Carlin's comments were both too late and off topic.

Now how is it that CEI got a copy of this email? Do you think someone other than Carlin, or sympathetic to his arguments, gave it to them?

Does it not occur to you that Carlin has manipulated this entire event to get exactly the observed result, i.e. a riling up of that element of the denialists who believe AGW is noting if not a grand governmental conspiracy? Why did he submit this at the 11th hour? Do you think he didn't know the appropriate deadlines for comments on a document as important as this one?

It's bogus Roger.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-7-Jim

You are correct that McGartand made a decision not to forward Carlin's comments as part of the review process. This implies that he also could have forwarded them. Not forwarding them was the wrong choice in my view.

On your speculative questions, I do not care how CEI got the email (any more that I care about who leaked Phil Cooney's edits to the NYT). I also do not care about Carlin's motives or timing of his submission (which was during the week that they were requested). None of that is germane to the issue here.

deepclimate said...

Hank,

As the one who first discovered the broad swathes of "unattributed" material (a.k.a. plagiarism) in Carlin's work, I would say it's unlikely that EPA knew about that particular problem.

But, in general, reliance on non-peer reviwed sources (and blog misinterprations of the few peer-reviewed scientific sources) does seem to have raised a lot of red flags, as well it should.

Also, initially Carlin presented his comments as the official position of the NCEE on the Endangerment TSD, which was clearly problematic given the contents. It was also clearly out of scope for Carlin to go back and substitute his own pathetic review of climate science for the massive IPCC and CCSP corpus that were already accepted by the EPA.

I'm not sure what he was supposed to be doing, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't that. Probably it will all come out, but my hunch is that Carlin was an economist approaching the end of his career at the EPA with too much time on his hands.

Now perhaps he should have been allowed to submit the comments without NCEE imprimatur. But even that could have been damaging to the EPA's (or at least the NCEE's) reputation, not to mention his own. As well, it may have been seen as rewarding what appears to be inappropriate behaviour.

Bottom line: The NCEE's problem was a difficult employee. Hansen's problem was very different - he had an ill-informed incompetent boss, Michael Griffin, who simply didn't understand climate science, appointed by a President who didn't get it either. It must have been very frustrating.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-9-deepclimate

Hansen's issues were not with the NASA Administrator but a political appointee in the press office who later (it was learned) had lied about his degree and then resigned.

When you write:

"reliance on non-peer reviwed sources (and blog misinterprations of the few peer-reviewed scientific sources) does seem to have raised a lot of red flags, as well it should"

I could not agree more. Maybe the CCSP and the folks at LLNL should listen to your good advice ;-)

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Over at Real Climate Gavin Schmidt (who can't bring himself to type my name, calling me the "other blogger";-) says that the Hansen and Carlin situations are not at all alike:

"It’s probably worth pointing out that the basis for the other blogger’s claim of symmetry between Hansen and Carlin is bogus. Hansen (and others at GISS - including myself) as outlined in Revkin’s front page NYT article and in the NASA Inspector General’s report were hindered and prevented from discussing our own published results in climate science because it was perceived by some in public affairs that any climate science result was embarrassing to the administration. Why were we not allowed to take media calls on our published studies? or were our press releases neutered? or the routine monthly updating of the temperature index pulled? This had nothing to do with our political opinions. Carlin on the other hand has not been suppressed and is free to put any thing he likes on the web or elsewhere. His boss is similarly within his rights not to give official NCEE imprimatur to his work. The equivalent would have been if Hansen wanted his opinions on cap-and-trade issued as an official NASA GISS publication. This has not happened (and won’t) for obvious reasons. Both men do (and should) retain the right to speak as private citizens on any topic they wish."

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/06/bubkes/#comment-128465

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-11-Gavin Schmidt

Gavin's claim that he personally was muzzled is hilarious. When was Real Climate "hindered and prevented from discussing our own published results in climate science"? I must have missed that episode.

chriscolose said...

I'm wondering to what extent is the EPA or any other scientific group obliged or expected to entertain flat earth theories?

I beleive Jim is correct-- this is just another attempt to create noise, and once again, they are succeeding. I really am missing the issue here.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-13-Chris

In federal rulemaking it is standard that agencies have to include all information provided in the rulemaking process from agency officials as well as submitted public comments. And yes, this holds even if it is flat earth quality material.

Of course, the more absurd the material is would seem the easier for the agency to deal with as a matter of substance, and thus why would anyone object to its inclusion?

The issue here is not about the quality of the information or pedigree of the person providing comments. It is about a rulemaking process which requires disclosure. It seems pretty straightforward.

Dan C said...

Roger: But do you agree with Gavin's counter-analogy argument that the Carlin situation is more akin to Hansen publishing his opinions on cap-and-trade?

Dan C said...

"Of course, the more absurd the material is would seem the easier for the agency to deal with as a matter of substance, and thus why would anyone object to its inclusion?"

This seems to be the central point. One would imagine by now that there would be a single source out there somewhere listing rebuttals to "ridiculous" claims on climate science (such as those supposedly throughout the email), each numbered for easy and quick reference for use in proving such claims wrong.

Jim Bouldin said...

Roger, perhaps you are right that Carlin and Davidson responded within the designated deadlines, but McGartland's email response indicates that the type of issues that C & D raised should have been brought up earlier in the process, indicating a subject matter issue.

In fact, I question, in that regard, if they were appropriate at all, regardless of timing. The decision in Massachusetts vs EPA was that GHGs ARE a pollutant that can potentially be regulated by EPA, if they are deemed to cause harm. The EPA finding in April was wrt to the latter question (and whether new vehicles contribute to that harm). C & D, with only one exception (and a very faultily argued one at that), were addressing entirely other issues in their document: that increasing GHGs definitively lead to climate change.

But that decision was already made by the Supreme Court in Mass vs. EPA, because they certainly were not classifying GHGs as pollutants based on some type of direct influence on human health via inhallation, but rather through their effects on climate change.

As I said before, it's bogus Roger.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-15-Dan

Gavin is fairly clueless here, which is surprising coming from a civil servant. There are indeed important differences between Hansen's case and Carlin's. Among those differences is the fact that Carlin is participating in an agency rulemaking process, which is governed by laws and court precedents, and Hansen's agency does not have regulatory authority. Burying Carlin's submission is not a good idea in this context.

Hansen's situation was much more ambiguous and is an example of many such civil servant-political appointee conflicts that happen all the time in the bureaucracy. Different agencies handle these situations differently (e.g., NASA and NOAA have different procedures). It was Hansen's visibility that made his case a public/political issue. It was much more a matter of perceptions than legalities.

But in both cases I come to the same conclusion -- let the civil servants have a voice. I am very surprised that Gavin finds it acceptable for agencies silence some civil servants, but I'd guess this condoning of silencing extends only to people that he disagrees with ;-)

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-17-Jim

In my post I already granted that the submission is "bogus" -- that point is irrelevant. You can certainly disagree with court cases that say that agencies must make public internal deliberations in the rulemaking process, but so far as I know there is no "bogus" exception to the disclosure requirements.

Sharon F. said...

Maybe I have a completely different view on this..perhaps as a person who undergoes both reviewing and collecting reviews in different kinds of agency processes including rulemaking. Often, each individual in a department writes a review and then some poor soul has to "summarize" it to give that department's perspective. (I use the term in quotes because you can't really "summarize"- someone has to make the call- is the department's view "a" or "not a"?). When people in the department disagree, someone's got to pick.. that's not necessarily "silencing" the person whose point of view is not selected. That process even goes on if there are dozens of individual reviews (and no departmental "summaries") that someone up the food chain must "synthesise".
So if this situation is like the ones I deal with, if there is a policy direction preferred by the Administration and you disagree, your ideas are going to end up on the cutting room floor somewhere- does it really matter where? The point as a civil servant is that you were paid to give your ideas and someone considered them- even if it is "only" your boss.
PS All of us are absolutely free to blog whatever opinions in our spare time.

Sharon F. said...

Maybe I have a completely different view on this..perhaps because I am currently working as a fed reviewing and collecting reviews in different kinds of agency (and public) processes including rulemaking. Often, each individual in a department writes a review and then some poor soul has to "summarize" it to give that department's perspective. (I use the term in quotes because you can't really "summarize"- someone has to make the call- is the department's view "a" or "not a"?). When people in the department disagree, someone's got to pick.. that's not necessarily "silencing" the person whose point of view is not selected. That process even goes on if there are dozens of individual reviews (and no departmental "summaries") that someone further up the food chain must "synthesise".
So if this situation is like the ones I deal with, if there is a policy direction preferred by the Administration and you disagree, your ideas are going to end up on the cutting room floor somewhere- does it really matter where? The point as a civil servant is that you were paid to give your ideas and someone considered them- even if it is "only" your boss.
PS All of us are absolutely free to blog whatever opinions in our spare time.

Jim Bouldin said...

Roger, when I use the term bogus, I am not referring to the logical validity of their argument (which we agree is faulty). I am referring to the legitimacy of the claim that C & G's report was "suppressed" because EPA didn't want to deal with the issues raised.

The point is that they argued almost entirely on the topic of whether GHGs are responsible for global T increases, NOT (with the one exception I mentioned) on the topic of whether GHGs cause harm (or, if they do, are emitted by new vehicles), which is what the Finding and it's technical support document must discuss.

They are off topic, essentially arguing against the Supreme Court decision 2 years ago. That's why I call it bogus.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-22-Jim

Thanks much for the clarification.

But again, if the material is off topic, then presumably it would be very easy to deal with out in the open. The substance of the contribution is irrelevant to whether or not it should have simply been forwarded along in the process. The EPA official who explained in his email that he was not forwarding it for political reasons didn't do EPA any favors. Had he forwarded it along we wouldn't be talking about it, I am sure.

Jim Bouldin said...

Roger, I disagree that the substance is irrelevant. Clearly, you can't just put anything in these documents. Now we can disagree on where that line should be, and perhaps there were issues within the agency regarding the communication of just what that line was, but clearly there has to be a line. And I feel quite strongly that they were across it: they made no strong case that GHGs do not endanger human welfare, health etc (and most certainly not that new vehicles aren't emitters).

Sharon F. said...

Hmm. Maybe the only way to get around these kinds of problems for something like a rulemaking (which has a formal public comment period), would be to post both internal and external comments on a discussion forum (with hopefully some commenters agreeing to discuss online). Then the decision makers could simply refer to the points made when they write the formal response to comments. But still, no one has time to respond to *every* comment, by internals or externals.
PS sorry for doubleposting previous comment.

steve said...

Roger, I submit that the more salient issue here is not whether a civil servant got to express his views, but whether EPA's peer review process is in compliance with EPA and OMB guidelines for a "highly influential scientific assessment". (Note that Gavin Schmidt was one of 12 reviewers of the Technical Support Document for the EPA and is not disinterested.) There are many points of non-compliance discussed in www.climateaudit.org/?p=6354 - see also my linked submission to EPA where I discuss the various compliance failures in detail. Had EPA followed EPA and OMB guidelines - as it was obliged to do- I suspect that this particular issue would have been avoided.

Sharon F. said...

Roger-
you said above "You can certainly disagree with court cases that say that agencies must make public internal deliberations in the rulemaking process, but so far as I know there is no "bogus" exception to the disclosure requirements."
Actually there is something called the "deliberative process privilege" both for FOIA and for discovery in litigation. Below is a link to an article that talks about it and why it might be a good thing. There is also a discussion of "fact" versus "opinion" in the legal world.
http://www.law.northwestern.edu/lawreview/v99/n4/1769/LR99n4Kennedy.pdf

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-24-Jim

Thanks for the exchange, we can agree to disagree on this point.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-26-Steve

Thanks, a much broader issue.

-27-Sharon

Thanks for the link, looks very interesting.

Sylvain said...

Chris-

Surely if the suppressed comment are the equivalent of flat earth theory then why suppress it at all.

If those comment had been published very few people would have either notice them or supported them. This issue was raised because of censorship. Otherwise it would have been a non-issue.

Hank Roberts said...

Thanks, Sharon, that's the sort of judgment I had in mind too:

"... the deliberative process privilege is rather uncontroversial.3 Federal courts generally accept the instrumental purposes of such a privilege.4 The privilege is thought to encourage candid discussions of policy options within government agencies,5 protect against premature disclosure of proposed policies,6 and avoid public confusion by ensuring that officials are judged only by their final decision.75 ..."

The agency would have been held up to ridicule if they'd been judged on the basis of that document, if only because of the unattributed copying from outside PR material.

As an aside -- I'm curious how deepclimate found it. I'd gone as far as pulling up one of the several plagiarism detection weblogs myself but not taken the time to OCR or retype the article into it. Was that how you found the source?

Sylvain said...

Chris-

The issue is the censorship of opinion, no matter how valid they are. In this case, what is the risk to publishing them, if the comment are comparable to flat earth theory. Unless the EPA felt threaten by them.

Notice that if this comment had been published this issue would be a non-issue, people would have either pondered this comment against other or dismissed it themselves.

Hank Roberts said...

> must have missed that episode ....

Here ya go:

the NASA Inspector General’s report

http://oig.nasa.gov/investigations/OI_STI_Summary.pdf


Revkin’s front page NYT article


http://www.nytimes.com/glogin?URI=http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/science/earth/03nasa.html&OQ=_rQ3D1&OP=30036dc4Q2FitJjiQ2AQ2FnQ7EsQ2FQ2FDZiZ55Xi5pi5yiQ7En_JRnJiJQ51sDGi5yRQ51Q7EQ511GDQ3AV

Hat tip to Mark Bowen at
http://www.tipping-points.com/?p=29
for the links and a competent and thoughtful discussion of the events.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-33-Hank

Thanks, but I didn't happen to see mention of Gavin Schmidt in either of those sources.

Both of them however describe some interesting parallels with Carlin.

Hank Roberts said...

Roger, you cited the original inline reply, which included:

"... Hansen (and others at GISS - including myself) as outlined in Revkin’s front page NYT article and in the NASA Inspector General’s report were hindered and prevented from discussing our own published results in climate science ...."

You said you weren't aware of that episode. Were you ever? Someone will look it up on the old Prometheus blog, if you don't recall ever noticing it. Maybe you never did know about it.

Now, reading the citations, you say you don't see Gavin's name in Revkin's or the Inspector General's pieces.

The pronoun "our" -- Hansen mentioned, and Gavin who signed the inline reply -- shouldn't be that hard for you.

In your previous blog you wrote as an academic. You know how to do research, and how to fairly cite relevant sources.

Something's changed, Roger. Did you leave something behind at the office, when you moved your blogging to Blogger?

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-35-Hank

I see that you've resorted to snark. Please do that stuff elsewhere, OK?

My comments in -12- are clear. Feel free to disagree and offer an opinion, but please don't make up nonsense. Many thanks!

Jim Bouldin said...

Actually I see that in looking at the technical support document, that there is a lot of information presented relating to the relationship between GHGs, climate, and climate change effects, so my argument isn't as valid as I'd thought. Still, it appears from the email that McGartland believes he had made it clear to Carlin that the time for the type of arguments he was raising was past. As for the political wisdom of not letting it in, well damned if you and if you don't as far as I can tell.

deepclimate said...

Hank asks how I nailed Carlin on his plagiarism of Pat Michaels' disinformation (what a concept).

Yes, I used my OCR version (before CEI dropped all pretenses and released Carlin's final report), and searched for some key phrases.

It's even worse than I thought by the way. It turns out Carlin cribbed the basic premise and four key sections from a Pat Michaels/WCR attack on the EPA, all without attribution of course. See the latest at deepclimate.org.

EliRabett said...

If Carlin put the thing together on his own initiative and put it out as part of a rulemaking procedure he is in deep do-do

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