Obama’s Science Czar Rails Against Using ‘Red Teams’ To Debate Global Warming

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser compared the Trump administration’s use of “red teams” to debate climate science to a “kangaroo court” meant to “create a sense of continuing uncertainty about the science of climate change.”

“But I suspect that most of the advocates of the scheme are disingenuous, aiming to get hand-picked non-experts from federal agencies to dispute the key findings of mainstream climate science and then assert that the verdict of this kangaroo court has equal standing with the findings of the most competent bodies in the national and international scientific communities,” former President Barack Obama’s science czar John Holdren wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed published Monday.

“The purpose of that, of course, would be to create a sense of continuing uncertainty about the science of climate change, as an underpinning of the Trump administration’s case for not addressing it. Sad,” Holdren wrote in his op-ed, railing against the “perversity of the climate science kangaroo court.”

The idea of using red teams gained traction with Trump administration officials this year after former Obama administration official Steve Koonin suggested the arrangement in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in April.

Koonin, a physicist and former top Department of Energy official, argued red teams could strengthen climate science by exposing its faults and uncertainties. The military and intelligence communities often pit red teams against blue teams to expose weaknesses in policies and strategies being pursued. It could work in a similar way for climate science, with a red team of researchers given the goal of finding pitfalls in blue team’s scientific argument.

“A Red/Blue exercise would have many benefits,” Koonin wrote in the WSJ. “It would produce a traceable public record that would allow the public and decision makers a better understanding of certainties and uncertainties. It would more firmly establish points of agreement and identify urgent research needs.”

Many climate scientists, however, say it has no place in their field. One group of prominent researchers even argued red team exercises amount to “dangerous attempts to elevate the status of minority opinions” that undercut mainstream science.

Holdren argued the scientific peer-review process already acts as a check on bad science, further arguing a red team exercise is a ‘right-wing’ plot against climate science.

“Climate science has been repeatedly ‘red-teamed,’ both by groups of avowed contrarians sponsored by right-wing groups and by the most qualified parts of the world’s scientific community,” Holdren wrote in his op-ed.

“The right wing’s ‘red team’ efforts have consistently been characterized by brazen cherry-picking, misrepresentation of the findings of others, recycling of long-discredited hypotheses, and invention of new ones destined to be discredited,” Holdren wrote. “Almost none of this material has survived peer review to be published in the respectable professional literature.”

Despite this, Trump administration officials have begun looking for scientists to participate in a red-blue team exercise to test scientific claims about man-made global warming. Media reports suggest the Trump team is considering asking Koonin to lead the exercise.

The administration also sought recommendations for who should participate in the red team exercise from the Heartland Institute, which is known for its skepticism of man-made warming.

“The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached out to the Heartland Institute to help identify scientists who could constitute a red team,” Heartland spokesman Jim Lakely told reporters Monday.

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