Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, June 26, 2006

OA to promulgate or to intimidate?

There's a battle going on between House Science Committee, chaired by Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Joe Barton (R-TX). Barton is investigating --some say harassing-- three government-funded scientists who have concluded that human activity is largely responsible for global warming. Boehlert believes that Barton is not only interfering with the practice of science but interfering with business of the House Science Committee.

This is has been going on for nearly a year, but yesterday there was a weird escalation. An anonymous blogger claiming to write on behalf of Barton's committee is now using open-access arguments to justify the continuing investigation/harassment of the scientists. Excerpt:

Climate change is a fascinating science worthy of much study. Some recents [sic] studies have been used by overzealous regulators and politicians to push heavy-duty burdens and taxes on many industries. Before we tax potentially trillions of dollars out of the economy, we here at the House Energy and Commerce Committee thought we might have a look at it too. Turns out, that made us personna [sic] non grata.

Now, the National Research Council, in a report that upholds the science that hypothesizes on some some [sic] warming trends, also upholds our efforts to look at the data too.

As you can see on page 23 of the report's overview section, the NRC took note of the issue of access to scientific data, and emphasized the importance of sharing information.

"Our view is that research benefits from full and open access to published datasets and that a clear explanation of analytical methods is mandatory," the report said. "Paleoclimate research would benefit if individual researchers, professional societies, journal editors, and funding agencies continued to improve their efforts to ensure that these existing open access practices are followed. "

Obviously, our nation's most prestigious scientific [sic] sees the need to make data available. And so did The Hill newspaper....

Comment. Rep. Barton could show his good faith in using these OA arguments if he would endorse FRPAA (S.2695) and become one of its House sponsors. But he isn't seeking OA to government-funded research, or even to government-funded climate research. Here's how the Chronicle of Higher Education described his investigation:

In highly unusual letters sent to the scientists [in June 2005], Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, demanded detailed documentation of the hundreds of studies on which they have been authors or co-authors. Mr. Barton also sent a letter to the director of the National Science Foundation on the same day that requests information about the work of the three professors, as well as a list of all grants and awards the agency has made in the area of climate and paleoclimate science, which in the past 10 years number 2,700....Several independent studies have come to [similar] conclusions...But the work of [these three scientists] has served as a lightning rod for attacks by skeptics of greenhouse warming, in part because the researchers' early studies, in 1998 and 1999, figured prominently in a 2001 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change....[Letters from Barton and a subcommittee chair] gave the scientists 18 days to assemble and send in the copious data, some of which come from decades-old projects.

Update. See Duane Freese, Hockey Stick Shortened, TCS Daily, June 27, 2006. A balanced update to the story suggesting that there may be fault on both sides. Barton may have been on a fishing expedition that intimidated climatologists, but the three scientists who were targets of his probe were reluctant to share their data even with other scientists.

This confrontation is one more reason to adopt FRPAA and mandate OA to publicly-funded research. We'll have better science, by exposing results to wider scrutiny, and preempt Congressional committees that might want to issue selective calls for access.