The House Science Committee hearing on March 29. From left: Judith Curry, John Christy, Michael Mann and Roger Pielke. (House Science Committee)

(This story, originally published Wednesday afternoon, was updated in the evening.)

The House Science Committee convened a hearing on climate-change science Wednesday morning and it went just as I expected. We learned little, and political theater upstaged almost all productive discussion of science.

The witness panel, dominated by selections from the Republican majority, engaged in a fruitless debate over climate-change science fundamentals rather than advancing new, productive ideas to manage the problem.

Mainstreams scientists were dismayed by the tenor and substance of the discussion:

Before the hearing, I made several predictions about how I thought the hearing would play out, and they were more or less on the money.

As expected:

• Judith Curry, professor emeritus from Georgia Tech University, discussed uncertainty ad nauseam. At least one climate scientist watching was not impressed, suggesting her characterizations of the uncertainty were off the mark:

• John Christy, professor from University of Alabama at Huntsville, harped on how satellite-estimated temperatures aren’t rising as fast as climate models predict but neglected to point out that surface-temperature increases very closely match model forecasts.

• Roger Pielke Jr. discussed how climate change has yet to influence certain weather extremes. But, while pointing out a lack of increases in hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding (or insufficient data to draw conclusions), he did not discuss — in his oral testimony — well-documented increases in heat waves. Nor did he mention emerging literature showing that the intensity of recent extreme precipitation events has increased because of climate warming. (He did, however, incorporate information about heat waves and extreme precipitation in his written testimony). Thus, his presentation seemed a little incomplete and misleading.

Predictably, the lone witness for the Democrats, Michael Mann of Penn State University, defended the consensus view that humans are the driving force behind recent climate change. He was clear and articulate but outnumbered by foes. At times, he went on the offensive to discredit what he considered flawed viewpoints of the other witnesses and the Republican majority. And at other times, he was subject to vicious interrogation and on the defensive.

Depending on one’s point of view, Mann’s performance could be seen as heroic or combative and polarizing.

Either way, the hearing did not disappoint in the drama department:

Here’s a revealing snippet of the theatrics synthesized by Buzz Feed News, which said the hearing featured a ” a circus atmosphere“:

Charges of “bullying,” name-calling, and Stalinism by and against climate scientists was perhaps the largest area of discussion at the hearing. Pielke was criticized for sending unfriendly emails to Mann. Mann, meanwhile, was criticized for calling Curry a “climate change denier,” which he denied. But he did call her a “climate science denier” in his written testimony, he acknowledged, over her agreement with EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s dismissal of carbon dioxide’s role in climate change and similar moves.

Lost in the drama, all of the witnesses — irrespective of their positions and rhetoric — made some valuable points:

For example:

Pielke wisely stated: “Scientific uncertainty is not going to be eliminated on this topic before we must act.”

• Pielke also spoke out against invasive investigations of scientist’s emails, which he and Mann have been subjected to.

• Curry smartly appealed for more funding of research to support our understanding of how the climate is changing and its dynamics.

But, broadly, I don’t see how the hearing will aid the nation in grappling with this issue. The members of Congress in attendance were divided in their climate-change positions before this hearing, and there is no way they left it more united. But that may have been the House Science Committee’s objective — which is disappointing, to say the least.


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