In the rarefied study of climate change, there is something called the "hockey stick" graph. Based on the research of three scientists, the graph shows that temperatures soared in the 20th century compared with the preceding 500 years and that the 1990s were the warmest decade in the last 1,000 years.
The hockey stick study immediately became fodder in the debate over whether there should be mandatory curbs on greenhouse emissions and the subject of a rare public spat between two senior Republican committee chairmen.
Last month, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy Committee and a fierce opponent of mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, launched an investigation into the study and demanded that the three scientists — from Arizona, Massachusetts and Penn State universities — produce their data, computer codes, archives and funding details, demands that seem clearly designed to knock down the study.
But Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., who favors greenhouse gas limits, told Barton to butt out, that the study fell within his panel's jurisdiction, not Barton's, and further that the investigation "seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than learn from them, and to substitute congressional political review for scientific review." Boehlert called the whole business "pernicious."
Scientific groups have expressed similar concerns about intimidation of individual scientists and noted that other studies support the emerging consensus on global warming but without the public impact of the hockey stick visual. We're hardly likely to get sound science if researchers fear that they will be dragged before a congressional committee for reaching conclusions that contradict the party in power's political platform.
The National Academy of Sciences, the government's semiofficial adviser on these matters, has offered a compromise solution. Let it appoint an independent panel to examine the data behind the hockey stick. That seems fair. Let the scientists thrash it out. As for Barton and Boehlert, it sounds like they have lots of other stuff to fight over.