Hide the Decline

Why government-funded scientists should release their documents

In this country, even a global warming denialist with a carbon fetish and bad intentions has the right to see the inner workings of government.

Or, at least, he should.

When leaked e-mails recently exposed talk of manipulating scientific evidence on global warming, Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at The National Center for Atmospheric Research, argued that skeptics and other evildoers had cherry-picked and presented his comments out of context.

To rectify this injustice, I sent Trenberth (and NCAR) a Freedom of Information Act request asking for his e-mail correspondences with other renowned climate scientists in an effort to help contextualize what they've been talking about.

Surely the tragically uninformed among us could use some perspective on these innocuous comments by Trenberth: "We can't account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can't"; "we are (not) close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter."

Trenberth, lead author of the 1995, 2001, and 2007 assessments of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtains approximately 95 percent of his funding through the federal government, via the National Science Foundation.

Well, soon after my request was fired off, I was informed by NCAR's counsel that the organization is, in fact, not a federal agency—because its budget is laundered through the National Science Foundation—and thus is under no obligation to provide information to the public.

"Why don't you put all your e-mails online for everyone to see?" Trenberth helpfully suggested to me. "My e-mail is none of your business."

Now, generally, I would agree. It's every American citizen's hallowed duty to mind his or her own freaking business—except in those rare instances when one of those citizens happens to be a taxpayer-funded eco-crusader utilizing his appointed station in life to promote policy that sticks its nose into the lives of every American.

I'm afraid snarky columnizing, on the other hand, is not federally funded—at least not yet.

In fact, Trenberth's work is one reason the nation is moving toward rationed energy use via cap-and-trade legislation. His work is one reason the Environmental Protection Agency, through its endangerment findings on carbon emissions, can regulate industry by decree. It is Trenberth's government-financed science that drives public policy across this country. Yet Trenberth has less accountability to the public than the local parks department.

He is not alone. The Competitive Enterprise Institute—one of those troglodyte-funded, big-screen-television-loving outfits—was forced to file three notices of intent to file suit against NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, demanding the organization provide documents and raw data that were requested under the Freedom of Information Act three years ago.

Chris Horner, an attorney and senior fellow at CEI working on the NASA case, says of NCAR: "Without government, these jobs would not exist; that is a reasonable threshold test to determine whether documents should be available to the taxpayer."

Public confidence continues to fall on the global warming alarmism front. But if the evidence of coming tragedy is as incontrovertible as we're told, taxpayers certainly should not have to beg those they pay to hand it over.

At the very least, taxpayers should be able to hold government-funded scientific institutions to the same level of accountability to which they hold their local dog pounds.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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