• You can’t manhandle the truth

    by Gabriel Cross

    Sadly, I’m not even a tiny bit shocked to hear that Governor Rick Perry’s administration censored a scientific report, eradicating all mention of climate change. I’m more than a little disgusted, however, and not (as you might guess) because the head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Bryan Shaw, appointed by Governor Perry, denies climate change.

    Like all Americans, Shaw is entitled to his opinion, and I’ve even known a few good environmentalists who were not sold on the theory. I’m disgusted by Mr. Shaw’s refusal to acknowledge even the slightest possibility that any human actions could have an effect on the environment, and at his office’s attempt to censor information that doesn’t support this opinion.

    It isn’t Shaw’s place to decide what information is fit for publication and what is not. His job is, ostensibly, to study and report on the environmental quality of Texas. And while peer review might be part of the duties of the TCEQ, application of an agenda disguised as peer review certainly shouldn’t be. Although, since the TCEQ is a branch of the Texas State Government, and Shaw serves at the pleasure of Governor Perry, perhaps applying that conservative republican’s agenda to the peer review process is in fact the TCEQ’s duty, technically speaking. After all, it’s certainly not at science’s pleasure that Shaw serves.

    The scientific evidence to date holds very consistent with the theory of anthropogenic climate change, no matter how often you hear pundits claim the opposite. The greenhouse gas effect is not up for debate, it’s based on some very simple, undeniable and frequently tested physical principals of how matter selectively absorbs and emits energy.

    The increase in greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution is measurable. That doesn’t necessarily mean climate change is the gospel truth, but it does mean that it is by far the most likely scenario. There is no good argument based in scientific principles, then, for an organization like the TCEQ to omit references to climate change from one of its reports; there are only one or two really compelling political arguments.

    This act of politically motivated revision, this censorship masquerading as scientific review, is abhorrent. Scientific research must be independent of any political process to be of value. Results of research should be published whether or not they are agreeable or expedient to the ruling party’s cause. Scientific inquiry demands an unbiased approach, and political influence demands bias; the two cannot be maintained simultaneously. Science is meant to be abstract pursuit of truth, and politics is the practical pursuit of power. When they come together, one must be subjugated to the other.

    What is particularly disgusting in this case is the scope and scale of the censorship. I suppose that in a way, Shaw did us a service here: If his people had merely omitted a few references to climate change it might’ve been less obvious what the TCEQ was up to. But instead, they redacted every single mention of humans causing any problems at all.

    Reference to a dam stopping sediment from reaching wetlands, for example, had to be omitted because it implies that the human activity of building the dam caused a problem. But everyone knows that dams remove sediment from streams. It isn’t contested by anyone who knows anything about it, and you can ask any hydrologist or engineer who has ever worked on a dam for confirmation. Omissions such as this are completely inexplicable as anything other than politically motivated revisionism.

    Repeatedly, “sea level rise” is altered to read “sea level change,” phrases and whole sentences mentioning climate change and human causes are removed, figures are omitted that illustrate human causes, and certain bibliographic references to other peer reviewed research are redacted. It wasn’t just conclusions that were omitted, either — some actual hard data was removed too. The result is absurd, from a scientific standpoint: It is a list of problems with no discussion of causes and no suggestion of solutions, or even further study.

    It hardly matters whether Shaw was kowtowing to the authority that gave him his post, or if his were the actions of the true believer, crusading against what he perceived as the enemy (he has stated publicly that climate change is “a hoax”). The result was an assault on science, an assault on the free pursuit of knowledge. The arrogance and hubris of altering a study to match preconceived notions, of ignoring any evidence that contradicts one’s world view, would be shocking if it was not already the status quo. As it stands, although still disgusting and abhorrent, this kind of scandal is almost predictable; this insult to knowledge and truth is the inevitable result of mixing science and politics.

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