26 September 2009

Follow Up on Alan Carlin: Kudos to EPA

UPDATE: Andy Revkin has more

A while back I posted up comments on how EPA had handled the case of Alan Carlin, a career bureaucrat opposed to action on climate change who complained about how his dissenting views were handled in the agency. At the time I wrote about the process that EPA used in handling Carlin:
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.
Friday's NYT has a follow up article on the situation in which they report that EPA officials appeared to agree with my view of the issue:
Dr. Carlin remains on the job and free to talk to the news media, and since the furor his comments on the finding have been posted on the E.P.A.’s Web site. Further, his supervisor, Al McGartland, also a career employee of the agency, received a reprimand in July for the way he had handled Dr. Carlin. . . Dr. McGartland was “counseled” by his superior “to assure that professional differences are expressed in appropriate and considered ways,” according to one of the newly released documents.
Kudos to EPA and the Obama Administration for focusing on the integrity of process.


Sharon F. said...

I am concerned that this is an employee/supervisor dispute (I wanted you to work on this, and not that) that has gotten politicized.
It sounds to me like McGartland was trying to get a federal employee (whom he supervised) to do useful work (that is, work that will be used) as part of what he (the supervisor) is paid, ultimately by us taxpayers, to do.

It really didn't matter whether it was forwarded to the next level or not; McGartland knew it wouldn't be used. I, for one, appreciate McGartland's efforts to spend federal tax dollars in meaningful ways.

It's not clear that it was actually part of Carlin's job to review the document. Is it "muzzling" to tell employees that they cannot spend their workdays commenting on agency policies that they were not hired to work on?

Based on this description, I think McGartland's superior should be reprimanded for caving in to political pressure and not standing up for the taxpayers' interests.

Sharon F. said...


I see another side to all this.

If someone wants to express their opinions and have them show up intact for consideration by policy makers (or usually their staff, who actually read and summarize comments), they need to respond as a member of the public during a comment period.

If every person whose comments weren't used when their department was asked to give feedback on something went to the media and said they were being "muzzled", there would be hundreds of thousands of "muzzlings" per day in each agency. This is generally called "disagreement" with someone (the boss) having to make the call and forward the info on up the food chain. It's the hierarchical system of conflict resolution.

Having read about Carlin's comments, I would have to agree with McGartland- the comments were not all that useful to the decision at hand.

So I see McGartland as fulfilling his role as supervisor and attempting to manage his employees and ensure some form of useful, quality comments are moved forward and that taxpayer funds are used wisely.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


If you are suggest how _Carlin_ might have better behaved, I agree with you. However, given that Carlin decided to politicize the issue, McGartland's response arguably did not in fact further the taxpayer's interest, but added fuel to the fire.


You ask:

"Is it "muzzling" to tell employees that they cannot spend their workdays commenting on agency policies that they were not hired to work on?"

It sure was in the case of James Hansen, which makes the two cases an interesting parallel, as I suggested in my original post on this.

Buckets of ink have been spilled on this topic, see e.g.,


Sharon F. said...

Sorry for the double posting.. I thought a post had disappeared when it hadn't.

My technical solution to the problem would be to have every serious policy decision required to have an internet forum open to the public and employees where everyone could post their unfettered thinking and review and dialogue. With the caveat that if that topic isn't part of your assigned job duties, you could do it on your personal time.

Before you could sign up to post on policies related to climate change, though, you would have to take a short test on the key concepts of Hulme's book- ;)

andrewt said...

Alan Carlin appears to confirm allegations he included slabs of text almost verbatim from other sources without any attribution. Given your previous expressed intolerance for plagiarism, even of instances many of us would not deem plagiarism, I am surprised you are condoning blatant cut-and-paste plagiarism of other's work. I would have expected you to call for the EPA to dismiss or at least severely disicpline Alan Carlin.

haraldbange said...


Are you trying to get back into good graces with the AGW crowd? After all, you are listed as a "skeptical source" on globalwarmingclearinghouse, while your father is a "Balanced source".

After all, how can anyone compare muzzling of a crazed astronomer like Hansen (death trains)with the trashing of the reasoned approach of Carlin.

Xinghua said...


You seem to not understand what plagiarism is. It is the "use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work."

Carlin copied a bunch of content off of the web and submitted it for internal consideration as part of a policy making exercise.

Are you seriously going to suggest that public employees should be prohibited from printing out web pages and giving copies to colleagues who are making related policy?

How can you possibly compare this with what Gavin did, explicitly stating that his discoveries were independent of CA, when in fact they came (by his own subsequent admission) as a direct result of information he read on the CA website?

I'd like to see a quote from Carlin where he claims that the material in his submission is his own, or where he attempts to deny credit to somebody.

When you submit a paper (as a researcher or student) you are claiming it to be the product of your own research. Don't confuse this with public policy which, thankfully, can be commented on even by people who have not conducted independent research.


The following comparison is harmful to your credibility: "compare muzzling of a crazed astronomer like Hansen (death trains)with the trashing of the reasoned approach of Carlin"

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