The Week That Was February 1-8, 1998

An e-mail update from The Science & Environmental Policy Project

We report this week from "sunny" California, where a winter deluge has opened up sink holes, sent houses sliding down hillsides, and made writing a bit difficult by dripping through the ceiling, over desks, and onto the floor. Environmentalists point to floods as evidence of global warming. Scientists, looking at U.S. flood records, say these are just business as usual. In other words, floods, like that other thing, happen. As does the folly of Californians who persist in building houses where the view is fantastic, but the ground support much less so.

But we digress. SEPP President S. Fred Singer, in California for a few weeks on a Wesson Fellowship at the Hoover Institution, has been giving a round of global warming talks at Hoover, Stanford University, Cal-Tech, University of California-Berkeley, the Electric Power Research Institute, California State University-Hayward, and to the student staff at the Stanford Review. Singer is writing a policy paper on global warming and wrapping up a chapter for a soon-to-be-published (in Sweden) book on the issue. He returns to Washington February 16.

Meanwhile, Candace Crandall took part in the filming of a television talk-show pilot in San Francisco, debating global warming with Randy Hays, president of the Rainforest Action Network. Mr. Hays knows nothing about global warming beyond his "gut feeling," but like the leadership of Greenpeace, Ozone Action, and a host of other organizations, Mr. Hays knows a cash-cow issue when he sees one. Rainforest Action Network is a $2 million-a-year activist organization that frequently hauls wealthy donors down to South America for eco-tours of the rainforest. Mr. Hays, however, showed up for the television taping in ripped jeans and a thrift-shop shirt. Role-playing still works in California. In Washington, D.C., where the appeal is to government policy-makers and agency bag men, Big Environment activists take care to appear like what many of them are--lawyers.

Since we've mentioned Ozone Action, we should probably also mention the letter we received, via an Ozone Action fax, written by Dr. Andrew Blaustein, the frog, toad, and salamander expert at Oregon State University. As TW2 readers may remember, Dr. Blaustein made headlines a couple of months ago claiming amphibians were missing limbs, or maybe it was growing extra limbs (does it really matter?), because of increased ultraviolet-B radiation from a depleting ozone layer. Blaustein made a similar claim four years ago, saying frog eggs were failing to hatch because of UV-B, then cautiously adding that a fungus might also be the culprit.

Unfortunately, Dr. Singer, in his year-end Knight-Ridder column, "Environmental Myths of 1997," had the bad manners to mention that the increasing trend of UV-B—hyped in November 1993--has never been measured at the Earth's surface, which made Blaustein's theories somewhat suspect. This made Blaustein hopping mad. Off goes a letter to the newspapers that published Singer's column; but interestingly enough, the letter is not sent directly from Blaustein in Oregon but from Ozone Action in Washington, D.C. As we learned from OA spokesperson Brandon MacGillis, Blaustein simply e-mailed the activist group a draft response, and Ozone Action staff did the placement. This sounds remarkably like the Enron/National Environmental Trust relationship mentioned on these pages a couple of weeks ago.

OA promotes both global warming and ozone depletion, and is noteworthy for getting much of its information wrong, so perhaps it's not surprising to find Blaustein's latest claims about amphibians and ozone prominently displayed on the Ozone Action web site. Unfortunately, these cozy relationships between well-funded activist organizations, corporations that hope to benefit from rigidly enforced government regulations, and (what should be) independent, objective scientists will do nothing to further public understanding of environmental issues.

Of course, don't tell that to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, marine biologist and a colleague of Blaustein's at Oregon State University. Dr. Lubchenco has just moved up from President to Chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), both one-year, honorary appointments.

During her tenure as president, Lubchenco's scandalous antics in attempting to further politicize the AAAS—at nearly 150,000 members, the largest and most respected scientific organization in the United States, if not the world--irritated many of its member scientists. We wrote last summer about Lubchenco's effort to associate the AAAS with Ozone Action, approving a direct link to this disreputable group on the AAAS Internet web site and urging AAAS scientists to endorse an Ozone Action declaration calling for U.S. government acceptance of mandatory controls in the Global Climate Treaty. We also wrote of her using AAAS headquarters as a site for an activist press briefing on global warming, implying that the views stated had official AAAS backing, when they did not.

Dr. Lubchenco's agenda was brazenly spelled out in her "president's address," given in February 1997 and just published in Science magazine. What Lubchenco proposed, and still promotes, is nothing less than a new "social contract" for science, in which scientists "devote their energies and talents to the most pressing problems of the day, in proportion to their importance, in exchange for public funding." What this means is that every scientific research project funded through the federal government would have to be environmentally relevant, with "relevance" decided by a panel of Jane Lubchenco clones.

This isn't just a bad idea, it's a dangerous idea. There are already complaints in scientific circles that research funding is being awarded disproportionately to AIDS research at the expense of cancer research, to global climate computer modeling and musings on the effects of warmer temperatures—on the behavior of children, for example--at the expense of observational meteorology. Lubchenco's proposal would institutionalize this political correctness and ultimately impede scientific discovery.

We raise these issues again because physicist Mildred Dresselhaus, the new president of the AAAS, will give her own "president's address" on February 13. Many AAAS members are looking to Dresselhaus to restore a measure of credibility to the leadership of that important organization, so the choice of guest speakers—President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer--is intriguing. All of Lubchenco's grand thoughts and efforts were centered mainly on theories of global warming, theories that are strongly contested and surrounded by uncertainty, and promoted without question by President Clinton. But Justice Breyer, in his 1993 book Breaking the Vicious Circle: Toward Effective Risk Regulation, expressed great skepticism about needless and costly environmental regulation based upon junk science. Which view will win out? Dresselhaus' address will set the tone for the next year. We'll be watching closely.

Until next week.

The Week That Was is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall. email:

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