Climate science and fetal-tissue research under attack

Interesting and important program, Science in the crosshairs, on Science Friday today. Host Ira Flatow interviewed Michael Mann of hockey-stick fame, virologist Carolyn Coyne, Lauren Kurtz of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, and surgery resident Eugene Gu, who is also the founder of a startup called Ganogen.

The impetus for the program, or at least one of the impetuses, was a blizzard of subpoenas issued by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and directed to more than 80 individuals and institutions studying climate science or fetal-tissue research. The chair of the committee is Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Rep. Blackburn was invited to participate in the discussion, but her office evidently declined. Dr. Gu, incidentally, is a resident at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and one of Rep. Blackburn’s constituents; while he was not prohibited from taking part in the program, if I understood him correctly, he was not allowed to use the studio at Vanderbilt and had to find another studio elsewhere.

Most strikingly, Dr. Gu described an encounter with armed marshals serving him with a subpoena, and commented that his career will probably be damaged by having been the victim of that subpoena. His research at Vanderbilt has been set back by a year. Other guests compared these subpoenas to a witchhunt.

Michael Mann discussed death threats that he had received, and he and Ms. Kurtz instructed first-time victims of a subpoena on how to deal with one. They stressed that you need representation: your institution’s interests may well not be the same as your interests. Dr. Gu noted that he cannot afford legal representation on a resident’s salary but managed to find a lawyer to work with him pro bono.

There are not (yet?) a lot of comments on the Science Friday web page, but the fraction that come from deniers such as anti-vaxxers and global-warming deniers was disappointing. One or two set up a false dichotomy: if you have the scientists on the air, why do you not present the opposing view? Because the science is sound and the opposing view is not tenable, and we should not give deniers a platform. (Never mind that they invited Representative Blackburn to join the discussion.)

Bottom line: this stuff is worse than creationism by far, but those of us interested in creationism will see a similarity to anti-vaxxism and global-warming denial, in that creationists, anti-vaxxers, and global-warming deniers completely disregard or deny hard evidence and place a treasured belief ahead of actual fact (my words, not Ira Flatow’s; he is too polite).