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Credible climate scientists need to boycott biased congressional hearings

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David W. Titley is a retired rear admiral for the Navy. He currently serves as a professor of practice in the department of meteorology at Penn State, and is the founding director of its Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk.

Unless you’ve been living under a (melting) ice shelf recently, you know by now the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science Space and Technology is holding a climate science hearing Wednesday to probe the “assumptions, policy implications and scientific method.”

This hearing, whose witnesses consist of one mainstream climate scientist and three other witnesses whose views are very much in the minority, is remarkably similar in structure and scope to the climate hearing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) conducted in December 2015 titled “Data or Dogma”? So similar that two of the five witnesses from the Cruz hearing will also testify on Wednesday.

In the past, the science community has participated in these hearings, even though questioning the basics of climate change is akin to holding a hearing to examine whether Earth orbits the sun.


For years, these hearings have been designed not to provide new information or different perspectives to members of Congress but, rather, to perpetuate the myth that there is a substantive and serious debate within the science community regarding the fundamental causes or existence of human-caused climate change.

We should no longer be duped into playing along with this strategy.

Despite sending many skilled science communicators to testify at the hearings over the years and even when scoring tactical victories, the strategic effect of participating at these hearings has been to sustain the perception of false equivalence, a perception only exaggerated by the majority’s ability to select a grossly disproportionate number of witnesses far removed from mainstream science (it’s not coincidence that Judith Curry, professor emeritus, Georgia Institute of Technology, and John Christy, professor of atmospheric sciences, University of Alabama at Huntsville, are called upon so often by the Republicans).

A better response would be to simply boycott future hearings of this kind and to call out these hearings for what they are: a tactic to distract the public from a serious policy debate over how to manage both the short- and long-term risks of climate change. These hearings are designed to provide theatrics, question knowledge that has been well understood for more than 150 years, and leave the public with a false sense that significant uncertainty and contention exist within the science community on this issue.

House Science Committee to hold climate change hearing from which we’ll learn nothing

If similar hearings are scheduled in the future, there are much more constructive ways to use the time and generate attention.

We could examine the cutting-edge science linking different weather conditions to a changing climate, update Congress on the risk of oceans rising more rapidly than stated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports or examine the very contentious issues surrounding “climate intervention” or geoengineering.

Congress could hold hearings on how to best adapt to the known changes already baked into the climate while preventing even more serious impacts by stabilizing Earth’s climate.

There are risks, of course, with boycotting any congressional hearing or invitation to testify. There could be a loss of exposure and of facts not being entered into the congressional record. People can reasonably argue that, with the right message and the right messenger, there could possibly be a turning point in the public’s perception of this issue. While never giving up hope, we have yet to see that outcome — and continually sending scientists to testify about the reality of climate change has not yet generated that moment (I tried). It is unlikely that continuing to do what we have always done will ever shift this debate.

It’s time to say “enough,” try something new, and stop being the sucker at the climate hearing poker table.

Follow David Titley on Twitter (@dwtitley).