Commentary

Science Junk Hits the Washington Fan

Back in December 2000, President Clinton and Vice President Gore were busy fellows — what with dishes to pack, furniture to ship and an election to contest. So busy were they that they neglected to read some of the fine print in a cascade of administration-ending paperwork. One of these was an obscure item called the “Federal Data Quality Act” (FDQA), which was dutifully signed by the president.

Put simply, the FDQA prohibits the use of junky science in the promulgation of federal regulations and laws. And, now that the new hats are in town, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the FDQA is being turned against the “science” of the Clinton-Gore team, particularly concerning the global environment.

Specifically, it has been turned against the “U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change” (USNA), a document that breaks the cardinal rule of science: If a hypothesis doesn’t work, throw it out. The Assessment can’t pass the simplest of scientific tests.

The Assessment began with a 1997 letter from Gore to all the federal agencies, and was published 10 days before the 2000 election. If the Office of Management and Budget chooses to apply FDQA, the Assessment will be redacted down the Memory Hole soon.

And none too soon. The power of the USNA’s bad science can be seen in recent drafts of Sen. Tom Daschle’s (D-S. Dak.) energy bill, where the USNA provides the findings necessary to induce new fuel economy measures and prohibit drilling for domestic oil — all in the name of global warming and its pernicious effects on America.

In fact, that it serves as the basis for legislation is the reason that the USNA has run afoul of the law. The FDQA requires scientific objectivity and normal reproducibility of positive results in any simulation or scientific experiment that underpins prospective regulations. The Assessment has neither.

The Assessment purports to project the consequences of United States warming, produced by two computer models. One is from Canada and the other from the United Kingdom. Both models are extreme outliers. Unlike the consensus of the dozens of available models, the Canadian model produces an exponentially increasing heating. The result is a ridiculous rise of 8.1ºF in projected U.S. temperatures this century. The UK model predicts greater precipitation changes than any other model the USNA looked at.

A horde of peer reviewers—some from federal laboratories that have a track record of global warming doomsaying—told the USNA that the use of these two models was wrong. Even the greens at the United Nations agree that these models can’t be used to make local and regional climate projections with any reliability.

How does even the rankest climate amateur know the Canadian model is a joke when applied to the United States? Because it “predicts” that U.S. temperatures should have changed 300 percent more than they did in the last 100 years. In fact, neither the Canadian model nor the British can beat a table or random numbers when it comes to predicting U.S. temperature for the last century.

A climate model is nothing but a statement of scientific hypothesis: What we “think” should happen based upon currently fashionable theory. When a hypothesis doesn’t work (i.e., performs worse than a bunch of darts thrown at the Dow Jones), the ethic of science requires that it be thrown out. In this case, it means that the USNA should have used better models, or, absent a defensible model, it should have used none. If a computer simulation of climate can’t beat a table of random numbers over the United States, it borders on scientific malpractice to continue to apply it.

It wasn’t that the politically chosen leaders of the USNA didn’t know there was a problem. In fact, the USNA’s politically handpicked steering committee was so disturbed about the finding of the peer-reviewers that it commissioned its own study. Guess what? The USNA’s own scientists verified that the temperature models didn’t work over the United States. And yet the report went forward, now serving as the basis for the most sweeping energy legislation ever introduced in this nation’s history.

Well, anyway, all of these shenanigans are precisely what the Federal Data Quality Act was designed to prevent. The irony is that the obscure piece of legislation that slipped through when Clinton and Gore weren’t minding the store is about to throw the USNA and its global warming hysteria into its well-deserved dustbin.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of “The Satanic Gases.”