In the current Congress, we’ve already seen one example of an “on the one hand, on the other hand” hearing about the science of climate change, courtesy of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Now, get ready for another, courtesy of the House Science Committee. The broad strategy reflects what is sometimes called “agnotology”—the strategic sowing of doubt about science.
Let’s run through the listed roster of those testifying at Thursday’s hearing:
1. Dr. J. Scott Armstrong, Professor, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. A recent Armstrong paper on global warming is here. The first sentence begins, “We summarize evidence showing that the global warming alarm movement has more of the character of a political movement than that of a scientific controversy…”
2. Dr. Richard Muller, Professor, University of California, Berkley and Faculty Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. While Muller has been criticized in the past for supporting climate skeptics, more recently his Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study—which initially drew criticism and raised alarms—apparently reconfirms the basic scientific consensus that global warming is happening and caused by humans.
3. Dr. John Christy, Director, Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville. Christy is not a climate denier, or even a full-on “skeptic” of human caused climate change—but he is known for calling into question how serious the problem is and whether it will be a “catastrophe.”
4. Mr. Peter Glaser, Partner, Troutman Sanders, LLP. Glaser has previously testified that the Clean Air Act should be amended so that the EPA is fully blocked from using it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
There will presumably be other witnesses as well–“minority” witnesses called by the Democratic side that represent the mainstream scientific/IPCC view–but they aren’t listed yet.
What to make of this? On the one hand, and as I’ve noted previously, House Republicans are no longer behaving as though they’re 100 percent convinced that global warming is bunk. But it is only the barest of improvements for Congress to throw up its hands and construct a “debate” over where the science lies—performing the legislative equivalent of “on the one hand, on the other hand” media coverage of global warming.
Actual press coverage of the upcoming hearing will surely do likewise. And citizens, we now know, will respond to this approach by feeling defeated, deflated, uncertain where reality lies.
This sort of thing has been going on in the US Congress for a long time—for over a decade. So in a sense, one more doubt-mongering hearing doesn’t move the cultural confusion needle much.
The real problem, for me, is that our culture’s outrage meter seems similarly calibrated.