Still fighting the rear guard action against reality

From the New York Times (reg.req.):

White House Cuts to Climate Testimony Raise Questions

An example of one of the changes made to Julie L. Gerberding’s testimony. Source: NYT.

Published: October 25, 2007
The White House made deep cuts in written testimony given to a Senate committee this week by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on health risks posed by global warming, but she agreed today with administration officials who said that the cuts were part of a normal review process and not aimed at minimizing the issue.
The director, Julie L. Gerberding, said in a telephone interview that news reports and comments about the changes had made “a mountain out of a molehill.”
“I said everything I needed to say,” she said.
Dr. Gerberding, who addressed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, said she has freely spoken for more than a year about the implications for public health should warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases proceed as scientists project. Still, cuts made to her written testimony included the only statements casting the health risks from climate change as a problem, describing it variously as posing “difficult challenges” and as “a serious public health concern.”
The testimony that remained said: “Climate change is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans and the nation’s public health infrastructure.” But a line saying “the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed” was gone and the testimony focused on many ways that health agencies were already prepared to tackle any problems.
The changes were first reported on Tuesday by the Associated Press and the draft testimony, the authenticity of which was not challenged by Bush administration, was disseminated to reporters and posted online Wednesday by several private groups, including
This shift in tone prompted criticisms of the administration by some Democratic elected officials, including Senator Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the committee and the organizer of the hearing.
The cuts, done by the Office of Management and Budget last week, halved the 12-page draft testimony submitted by Dr. Gerberding prior to her testimony before the committee.

I’ve been involved in interagency reviews. Reductions in length of 50% strike me as anomalous. And in this context, emblematic.


So I stand corrected. I had remarked back in January that knowledge-based policymaking (and along the way scientific expertise) might be gaining greater prominence. Clearly, I was wrong.


Instead, this graphic appears to accurately depict the method of decisionmaking currently employed.

Technorati Tags: href=””>science, href=””>global climate change,
Office of Management and Budget, .

43 thoughts on “Still fighting the rear guard action against reality

  1. Rich Berger

    What in God’s name does the CDC have to do with climate change?
    Nothing. Bureaucratic overreach.

  2. jla

    If you think that climate change has nothing to do with deseases, it’s up to you.
    Wait untill malaria mosquito spreads in the south of USA, or fires with lack of water, and you’ll see.
    You’ll realize what athsmatic suffer today in certain areas, or something worse.
    It concerns to CDC as it should.

  3. Rich Berger

    The highlighted phrase makes no sense “ and the environment are closely linked, as strongly demonstrated by the issue of climate change.” There is no demonstration that these are linked, but lots of speculation.
    This issue shares much in common with the hysteria about the credit markets. People make predictions and treat those predictions as if they were real. I don’t think the CDC has any real basis for opining about the effect of “climate change” on health. What we “know” about climate change is based on highly speculative and unreliable models. What has been occurring lately is that the alarmists have been unsuccessful in steering public opinion. Their reaction has been to put forth even more extreme predictions. It is isn’t going to work. The CDC, like other bureaucracies, wants to expand. They tried to treat guns as a public health issue; now they are trying to get aboard the climate change train.

  4. robd

    you think climate has no relation to health?
    One of the jobs of CDC is to be prepared for future health problems (e.g. vaccinations).
    So change of climate is higly relevant

  5. Rich Berger

    I note that “The director, Julie L. Gerberding, said in a telephone interview that news reports and comments about the changes had made “a mountain out of a molehill.”
    “I said everything I needed to say,” she said.
    I note again also that “ and the environment are closely linked, as strongly demonstrated by the issue of climate change.”
    makes no sense – the issue of climate change demonstrates that health and the enviornment are closely linked? I understand the first part, but the second part is a non sequitor.

  6. CoRev

    We’re talking “climate change” here. Climates are always in flux, so climate change is not an issue. Now “Global Warming” is another issue, NOT. It is a matter of interpretation. Assuming that the temperature increases slightly, 1-2 degrees Centigrade, most human endeavors will be enhanced, including disease. Shorter warmer winters mean a potential for less flu. Annual deaths average around 36K in the US. Better weather, delays the onset and may even lessen the impacts.
    Most AGW proponents are getting more and more strident about the negative impacts with very few speaking out about the potential positive impacts.

  7. DickF

    You can’t win the argument on climate change.
    Everyone knows that climate change exists, I mean we do have Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter after all.
    Global warming caused of the arsonist to set fires in California.
    Global warming is the cause of hurricanes oops! that’s right we haven’t had hurricanes in two years. Well, it cause some of the hurricanes.
    Oh, it has caused winters that are colder and summers that are hotter, oh yes, and winters that are warmer and summers that are cooler.
    I understand it had something to do with the sub-prime problem too.

  8. Rich Berger

    Your post reminded me of another recent dustup, last May:
    “The head of the U.S. space agency NASA drew criticism from scientists when he said he was not sure global warming was a problem, and it would be “arrogant” to assume the world’s climate should not change in the future.
    “I have no doubt that global ? that a trend of global warming exists,” NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said in a taped interview that aired Thursday on National Public Radio. “I am not sure that it is fair to say that is a problem we must wrestle with.”
    “I guess I would ask which human beings, where and when, are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take,” Griffin said.
    Jerry Mahlman, a former top scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is now at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said Griffin’s remarks showed he was either “totally clueless” or “a deep anti-global warming ideologue.”
    James Hansen, a top NASA climate scientist, said Griffin’s comments showed “arrogance and ignorance,” because millions of people probably will be harmed by global warming in the future.”
    Now, given what we know of climate and temperature fluctuations over the long haul, Mr. Griffin’s statement seemed unexceptional to me. For example, conditions were more temperate 1,000 years ago. Yet, the knives were out immediately for Griffin.
    Menzie – where was Toles then?

  9. calmo

    I don’t have premium access to the NYT but this article is nonetheless accessible to me…and I needed it to understand why Julie seemed satisfied and even complained about those (Menzie being one) “making a mountain out of a molehill”.
    I wish to report that I still do not understand the director’s point. Is she one of those rare humans in high offices that can accept the practice of cutting her 12 page report to the senate committee down to 6?
    “I said everything I wanted to say”…is a quote that comes after the “molehill” remark, indicating that the pruning job left nothing out –that she is gracious when it comes to others not only thinking she is verbose but acting on it and slashing half of it…showing her the way for better future performances and possibly saving those senators that tiresome reading?
    Don’t try this stunt with me, people.
    The NYT piece itself could use some editing it seems to me. It could have happened easily if the senior editor just went over it with [a red marker or] a few suggestions for added clarity so that Gerberding comes across as a self-respecting writer…who might be tolerating the editorial forces in the world so long as “it still says everything she wanted to say”.
    So I agree with Rich Berger (that rustle you hear in the background is the Guinness Book of Records making an entry…not the world coming to an end) that this is bureaucratic over-reach…of the OMB who have nothing better to do (really, people, testamony is testimony…get your cotton pickin hands off it!)
    And I disagree with Menzie whose pasted cartoon is not a “graphic” (locate for me the log axis to see that this is indeed true: not a graphic, not a Menzie Chinn one for certain) but another and comic illustration of the government’s reluctance to recognize the public’s interest.
    All you budding comic strippers out there: you figure *all* those frames were necessary or could a few of those “too soon” ones be cut?

  10. Menzie Chinn

    My argument here is that one should go with the consensus in the scientific peer reviewed literature (for a previous argument over the merits of peer review (!), see this post). Just like in economic policy debates, one should go with estimates in the peer reviewed literature, as opposed to the person off the street, or working as a consultant to (for example) the farm industry, or the coal industry, or the financial services industry or…. Peer review does not guarantee objectivity, but it is at least something of a guard. And here I think the consensus on global climate change is by now well established.

    I think the case for inaction (such as it is) is not well served by denying the existence of global warming. Rather, the debate should now move to the proper abatement measures, given the degree of uncertainty regarding the estimates.

    Just some thoughts from someone who thinks that the scientific method should inform our mode of assessment.

  11. Rich Berger

    Well, Calmo, I did not reach for the GBWR, but I did begin to shake and sweat. I looked out my office window for fear the Rapture had begun, but things appear normal.

  12. Fred Hapgood

    Michael Griffin has at least half a point in his observation that the arguments that we ought to do something about manmade global warming are as forceful about taking charge of “natural” climate change. Non-anthropogenic CC will do all the bad things that anthropogenic CC will.
    That observation alone doesn’t tell you whether climate control is good or bad, of course. Perhaps the time has come for us to start managing the climate systematically and comprehensively. I’d be against it but I’m not running any risks, so I have nothing at stake.
    But anyone who thinks that once we manage our way out of warming (anthropogenic or not) that we will sit back and give a pass to every other form and variety of climate change should reacquaint themselves with the history of the species.

  13. jm

    Many decades ago I read a book about management by Peter F. Drucker, in which he stressed the point that the most important thing to consider in making any decision is, “What if this decision is wrong?”
    If the consequences of a particular course of action being wrong are easy to undo, if changing course is easy, then one need not exercise as much care in deciding to take that course as one must if the consequences are difficult or impossible undo, and changing course is difficult.
    Though we may not know for sure whether the scientific consensus is correct, we do know for sure that continuing to dump into the atmosphere large quantities of gases we know for sure have a greenhouse effect is a nearly irreversible act. To continue doing so because there is some possibility that the scientists models and scientific consensus are wrong violates the most fundamental dictum of decision-making.
    Those who insist that we should take no action until and unless no one can any longer argue that the scientists projections are wrong, because the predicted highly negative consequences have already begun to occur, are more than a little unwise.
    Actually, we are already seeing negative effects such as have been predicted, forcing the naysayers to argue that they don’t prove the scientists correct because it’s possible to imagine some other factor could be the cause.
    The day job calls, and the temptation to start using impolite adjectives is becoming perilously strong, so I’ll stop here.

  14. Rich Berger

    Resist the temptation to use impolite adjectives – start using facts. Let’s start with some evidence of the “predicted highly negative consequences”.

  15. jm

    For starters, a number of serious insect infestations harmful to forests and agriculture have been spreading north as the winter temperatures that used to keep them in check have risen.
    Ice loss in the Arctic Ocean, and glacial outflows from Greenland, have been accelerating more rapidly that scientists predicted.
    People like you seem unable to conceive of the possibility that the fact that there is uncertainty in the accuracy of the scientists models might mean that they have underpredicted the rate and severity of climate change.

  16. Buzzcut

    I don’t like Menzie’s answer concerning peer reivew.
    I think that we ALL should be able to review the data. Quite frankly, climate science is modeling, and there are MANY professions that use modeling, engineering among them (my area of expertise).
    I daresay that economists are pretty good at modeling.
    Anyway, when you guys find the data and models used in “climate science” on the web for all to review, let me know. They’re not out there.
    I also think that peer review doesn’t eliminate a lot of public choice problems. For example, making a mountain out of a molehill certainly raises the status of climate science, as well as funding of individual scientists.

  17. Buzzcut

    BTW, I have the same problem with any area that overly relies on modeling. There are areas of engineering that rely on fintie elements analysis of stress and computational fluid dynamics. I wouldn’t want to drive in a car that had been designed solely with FEA or CFD, with no other testing done, for example.

  18. Rich Berger

    Over the 20th century, estimated overall global warming was about 0.7 C. The average temperature has cooled in some periods and risen in others. For comparison, the average daily variation in temperatures (in NYC) is about 7.5 C. The yearly variation between the highest and lowest temperatures is about 33 C. In other words, the average daily warming (0.7 / 365 / 100), .00002 C is almost 391,000 x smaller than the daily variation. The average annual warning (0.7 / 100) .007 C, is 4,700 x smaller than the annual variation.
    I think the public perception is that “global warming” is causing some huge increases in temperature. I think this is what jm thinks, too. The truth is the change (assuming that the measurements are accurate) is virtually indistinguishable from noise.
    Buzzcut is right about modeling. See how accurate macroeconomic models are out a few quarters (including the CBO/OMB), or how weather forecast accuracy drops after 24-48 hours. Yet so many believe a climate model is spot on with 100-year predictions.

  19. D_rumsfeld

    Honestly, there are probably 10,000 people on the planet with the necessary knowledge and depth in the relevant literature on climate change to make an informed decision on it. None of you are in that group. If you think you can point out technical inaccuracies with the current science of climate change, I guarantee you that you would be paid millions of dollars by the oil and coal industry to do so.
    Unfortunately, most people on forums and blogs are just bloviating. Go read the relevant literature. Read the 2007 IPCC report. Read Seinfeld and Pandis Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Read the Journal of Geophysical Research -Atmospheres, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Science, Nature, etc. There have been thousands of papers examining individual greenhouse gas emissions, paleoclimatology, global climate models, etc. GO READ THEM. Otherwise you are just bloviating on something you are ignorant of.

  20. D_rumsfeld

    Way to cherry-pick your data. Temperature changes will increase the most in the high latitudes (poles) and at high elevations. Go to Alaska and see what the typical change in temperature is there. Go look at tropical and subtropical glaciers and tell me how many are increasing in size. Temperatures in these areas have increased 3-5 C, not 0.7.
    I like to look at glaciers because they are an integrated measure of the long-term climate in an area. The only glaciers in the world that are increasing are in Scandinavia. Those are increasing because of increased humidity and snowfall. There are real changes occurring and they are occurring rapidly. Go to Glacier National Park in Montana while it still has one.

  21. CoRev

    D rumsfeld,

    The only glaciers in the world that are increasing are in Scandinavia.

    Ohhhhh????? And Antartica is shrinking? And the handful of glaciers on, dare I say, Greenland? C’mon “D”, get your facts straight or don’t make such sweeping statements.
    One of the more interesting efforts underway today is a survey of the US ground sites. Interesting that many are in bizarre places, and a very large number are in Urban Heat islands/urban areas. Here’s a link to the weather station survey info:
    And here is a link to a site, now closed down due to work load, which was for me, one of the more open and reasonably unbiased.

  22. Blader

    The CDC should be looking into the public health implications of climate change. That is as much a part of their mission as it is the mission of the FBI to look into domestic threats posed by international terrorist networks. These agencies exist to anticipate issues.
    In a perfect world, Gerberding would resist the cheap politicization of her authority as has occurred in this instance.
    But Gerberding is hardly perfect.

  23. assisi asobie

    If the global warming denialists here are representative of educated Americans views on this issue we are in more trouble than I thought possible.
    D rumsfeld is absolutely right: do a bit of reading other than the op-ed pages of the WSJ.

  24. Rich Berger

    Let me guess: you are not one of the 10,000 people who are qualified to make an informed decision on global warming.
    How do I know? Just a hunch. What was your favorite paper in the IPCC report – I will peruse it.

  25. Buzzcut

    There have been thousands of papers examining … global climate models, etc. GO READ THEM.
    I don’t want to read them. I want the data and the models. Once I have them, I’d use the papers as a guide to look at the models.
    The papers without the models and the data are a waste of time.

  26. CoRev

    Here’s some quotes from the site I previously referenced:

    Global warming is not equivalent to climate change. Significant, societally important climate change, due to both natural- and human- climate forcings, can occur without any global warming or cooling.

    Global warming is not equivalent to climate change. Significant, societally important climate change, due to both natural- and human- climate forcings, can occur without any global warming or cooling.

    … His comment on the IPCC process

    Climate Science has discussed the shortcomings, bias and errors with the 2007 IPCC Report (e.g. see, see, see, and see). My final Climate Science posting summarizes the fundamental problem with this assessment.
    If instead of evaluating research in climate, suppose a group of scientists introduced a new cancer drug that they claimed could save many lives. There were side effects, of course, but they claimed that the benefit far out weighed these risks. The government than asked these scientist to form an assessment Committee to evaluate this claim. Colleagues of the group of scientists who introduced the drug are then asked to serve on this Committee, along with the developers.
    If this occurred, of course, there would be an uproar of protest! This is a clear conflict of interest.

    I’ll quit with this last large quote. There is so much meat on this site, some in the articles and even more in the comments, some by renowned climatologists.

  27. DickF

    Does anyone know the net variance in average temperature over the past 200 years?
    Does anyone know the net temperature change in the 20th Century?
    Does anyone know the net termperature change forecast for the next 100 years?
    Does anyone know the average temperature in the average home?
    Can anyone cite a period when global warming caused a crisis equal to the Famine of 1315-1317 that was caused by the Little Ice Age?

  28. D_rumsfeld

    Antarctica is not shrinking. It isn’t increasing either. The Arctic is decreasing.
    See Cryosphere Today at
    Rich, I wouldn’t consider myself qualified to make a full judgment on climate change because I am not fully up to date on the the last four years of research. I do work in atmospheric science, have a PhD in atmospheric chemistry, have published in peer-reviewed journals on tangential aspects of climate change, and so I do consider myself capable of evaluating the arguments better than most. I would say that you aren’t going to understand climate change by reading one paper. If you feel confident enough to make uninformed arguments based on having read none of the actual science, than go right ahead and make a fool of yourself.
    Buzzcut, are you seriously asking to run climate models without having read the literature? Do you have a background in radiative physics, chemistry, oceanography, etc.? How would you consider yourself able to evaluate the models and data without an understanding of the limitations of said items and the context in which they are operated?
    DickF, Yes, yes, yes, I don’t know the answer to that one and I’m guessing no one has good stats on most 3rd world countries, and this is a strange comparison. Go to the IPCC technical basis report at
    and you will get the current answers to the first three questions. The increase in average sea level worldwide will cause a huge problem for hundreds of millions of people over the next 50 years.

  29. jm

    Having done a fair bit of modeling myself, I’m quite ready to believe that the scientists’ models are in error — and that they are in error on the side of underestimating greenhouse gas effects.
    Because I clicked on “Comments” rather than on “Continue reading …” I ended up vaulting over the cartoon Prof. Chinn included that perfectly summarizes the essence of my earlier comment above. If we refuse to reduce our dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere until we have irrefutable evidence, it will be too late.

  30. Charles

    There are no serious people who deny that global warming is occurring due to human activities and that global warming will cause widespread economic and health damage, a fact that is just as true on this thread as anywhere else in the universe.
    Cripes, Menzie. You’ll have to lower the rent.

  31. Dog of Justice

    Is anthropogenic global warming occurring? I think so.
    Does that mean we should make significant sacrifices to reduce carbon emissions? Probably not.
    Whether we like it or not, China and India are going to continue to try to industrialize, and one side effect is that our own carbon policy is nearly irrelevant. If climate change really is a problem worth tackling, we had better focus on other strategies for containing it, because first world carbon taxes and the like are essentially provably insufficient.

  32. D_rumsfeld

    Why is our carbon policy nearly irrelevant? We currently are the largest carbon emitter at around 25% of all emissions. China is either a close second or has just overtaken us. Our per capita emissions are 5 times higher than China’s and much higher than most other industrialized countries. Developing cost-efficient technologies that reduce our carbon use can significantly lower our emissions and will aid China and India in lowering their emissions as energy costs rise.
    The point is that the US and the first world have contributed to the vast majority of extant carbon emissions that stick around for hundreds/thousands of years in the atmosphere/ocean. Our past and present emissions all matter, not just the future ones.
    Let’s make a silly analogy. Let’s say that ten cities all have a common landfill that is free. One city called the US has been contributing 25% of the garbage though it only has 5% of the people. The landfill starts getting full. The US makes the claim that their dumping is irrelevant because the cities of India and China are going to be dumping more garbage than the US in the future and will therefore be more important. Well, the past usage of the landfill matters, just like in the atmosphere. And the continued use of the landfill at rates that can be reduced easily if there was a cost to dumping.

  33. Dog of Justice

    And the continued use of the landfill at rates that can be reduced easily if there was a cost to dumping.
    See, the problem is that we can’t really charge China and India for dumping. And between them they have EIGHT TIMES our population. China may not have overtaken us yet, but when they do we’re not catching up ever again barring some unforeseen disaster on their side.
    On the one hand, that’s a good thing, that we’ll no longer be the #1 Problem. But if the Earth’s will be ruined anyway, it’s small consolation to know that we made a token gesture to slow it down a tiny bit.
    My point is that we need to focus on a different class of solutions to the global warming problem, those that work even in the face of a developing China and India. And by definition, those solutions will allow us to not worry about our own carbon emissions too much (otherwise they wouldn’t be able to scale to handle China/India in the first place).


    If you are really going to do the job, then you should get the data and read the science and make your own model.
    Let us know when you are finished.

  35. rmark

    I believe malaria was quite common in the southern US before the draining of swamps and used of insecticides eliminated the problem.

  36. Buzzcut

    I’ll tell you what. If the climate modelers stop making public policy recomendations (where they are completely unqualified), I’ll stop critiquing their finite difference, fluid mechanics based models (which as an engineer I am partly qualified to judge).
    Global climate is a devilishly complex process. To think that you could come up with every possible factor, and somehow mathematically model those factors, and get good data for those factors, and have that data for every node in your global grid, is folly.
    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe climate scientists can incorporate every possible factor in their models. But to make public policy decisions on these models is risky.
    Anyway, I am willing to compromise. I could get on the global warming bandwagon if the policy recomendation were to swap a carbon tax for, say, the corporate income tax and/or the capital gains tax.
    Of course, I’d only support something like that if the tax were a global scale carbon tax. The Chinese and Indians need to pay the same tax rate as Americans. Good luck with that.

  37. Person

    I think the point we need to take home from all this, and there’s a solid scientific consensus here, is that climate change IS happening, it will have SEVERE impacts, humans ARE causing it, and really, the only way to fix it are by banning all the wasteful stuff contributing to it. That means: no more incandescents, no more SUVs, none of that. The SCIENCE says that if we keep doing these things, bad stuff is going to happen. Could be cooler, could be warmer, but it WILL be bad.
    Global climate change WAS responsible for the wildfires recently, AND for hurricane Katrina, AND for the flooding in Europe. That is FACT, not speculation.

  38. fred schumacher

    Anatomically Modern Humans (i.e., us) are a generalist species. This is quite aberant, since most species are specialists occupying very narrow ecological niches. We have a name for generalist, opportunistic species — weeds.
    Because we have language, prehensile fingers and opposable thumbs; because we have highly altricial children very open to learning new skills, we have a very high rate of adaptability to changing natural conditions.
    The problem is that most of the plants and animals we are dependent upon don’t have that ability. Climate is changing at a faster rate than they are able to adapt. We use culture, which can mutate rapidly, to adapt. They are dependent on evolution, which works at longer time scales.
    I’ve noticed that economists, and their non-professional fellow-travelers, tend to be very poorly educated in botany, biology, and environmental sciences in general. Economists are primarily interested in human artifacts and focus their study in that area. This results in an ongoing difficulty in grasping that we are finite beings living in a finite world.
    I’m a retired farmer. I had a friend who used to joke that he “did his farming at the Pig,” meaning Piggly Wiggly, one of the pioneering grocery store chains. For most of us, our only connection to food is through stores. We don’t understand what a knife edge our whole agricultural system is balanced on. No food, no life.
    We’re in for massive changes, we just don’t know all the details yet. The last time climate changed this fast, we were colonizing the globe and we had a lot of space to expand into. We could be choosy.
    Can you get food that doesn’t come out of a store, can you get clean water that isn’t provided by a municipal service, can you get shelter that isn’t hooked to a grid, do you have manual skills?
    If you answer no, then you are part of a highly interconnected, interdependent system that has varying ability to adapt to rapid change. You may get lucky, or you may not. It’s better to prepare than depend on luck.

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