Readers of this site are familiar with various efforts by UCAR and UCAR personnel to discredit us, ranging from the April 6, 2005 presentation in Washington by Ammann, Bradley and Crowley discussed here , the long-standing effort by Ammann and Wahl to discredit us leading to the UCAR press release of May 11, 2005, announcing the submission of two papers (and their subsequent failure to report the GRL rejection), the use of UCAR’s press release by Mann, Houghton and others in evidence to Congress, the outrageous remarks to ES&T by UCAR scientists Trenberth and Mahlman, etc. etc.
It has obviously not escaped my attention that two of the proposed NAS panelists are from UCAR – something which I’m uneasy about To make matters worse, it turns out that one of the two panelists, Bette Otto-Bliesner, Deputy Section Head, Climate Change Research, is actually Caspar Ammann’s boss, shown (left) in a pastoral photo below and has co-authored many presentations with Ammann. The other, Doug Nychka, has co-authored with Ammann and is listed on one of Ammann’s webpages as a current collaborator not only with Ammann, but with Mann.
Paleoclimate Modeling Group, Climate Change Research Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research
They all look like nice people, but that’s not the question. It turns out that NAS has some quite nuanced policies about panel composition and balance and it seems inconceivable to me that these Ammann collaborators meet either the letter or spirit of NAS policies. There are 14 days left for feedback to NAS on these appointments and I hope that some of you will avail yourselves of this opportunity – feedback form here.
The 1997 Act of Congress
If you can imagine, in 1997, Congress actually passed a law setting out explicit requirements for committees empanelled by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration. I don’t know what the back story is for this particular legislation, but somebody must have got cross-eyed with the academies. The relevant section is shown below:
Section 15. Requirements Relating to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration
(a) An agency may not use any advice or recommendations provided by the National Academy of Sciences or National Academy of Public Administration that was developed by use of a committee created by that academy under an agreement with the agency, unless –
(2) in the case of a committee created after the date of the enactment of the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 1997, the membership of the committee was appointed in accordance with the requirements described in subsection (b)(1); and
(b) The requirements referred to in subsection (a) are as follows:
(1) The Academy shall determine and provide public notice of the names and brief biographies of individuals that the Academy appoints or intends to appoint to serve on the committee. The Academy shall determine and provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to comment on such appointments before they are made or, if the Academy determines such prior comment is not practicable, in the period immediately following the appointments. The Academy shall make its best efforts to ensure that
(A) no individual appointed to serve on the committee has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed, unless such conflict is promptly and publicly disclosed and the Academy determines that the conflict is unavoidable,
(B) the committee membership is fairly balanced as determined by the Academy to be appropriate for the functions to be performed,..
Pursuant to this legislation, NAS adopted a detailed policy on Committee Composition and Balance, here (of which I provide an excerpt). (Update: This policy is also described in a NAS brochure here)
They sensibly recognize that, in intellectual matters, problems are as likely to arise from "lack of objectivity" and "bias", which they define in intellectual terms and distinguish from "conflict of interest" defined in economic terms.
They make the following sensible observations about appointing panels:
Yet, if a report is to be not only sound but also effective as measured by its acceptance in quarters where it should be influential, the report must be, and must be perceived to be, not only highly competent but also the result of a process that is fairly balanced in terms of the knowledge, experience, and perspectives utilized to produce it and free of any significant conflict of interest. Conclusions by fully competent committees can be undermined by allegations of conflict of interest or lack of balance and objectivity….
Here’s the entire section on Committee Composition and Balance:
Questions of Committee Composition and Balance
All individuals selected to serve on committees to be used by the institution in the development of reports must be highly qualified in terms of knowledge, training, and experience — often highly specialized and particularized — to properly address the tasks assigned to the committee. The institution identifies such individuals by drawing upon a vast network of national and international contacts and resources, including in particular the distinguished memberships of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, as well as thousands of other highly qualified scientists, engineers, public health professionals, and others who have contributed their talents and services to the national interest through the National Research Council.
Suggestions of potential committee members may also come from sponsors, from groups that have an interest in the underlying subject matter of a particular study, from professionals with knowledge and expertise in relevant disciplines who have an interest in the scientific and technical questions to be addressed, and from members of the general public who may have a special interest or concern regarding a particular study or the underlying issues involved in the study. In every case, the assessment of the qualifications of potential candidates for committee membership and the final determination of the individuals to be selected for membership on a committee rest solely with the institution.
Individual qualifications are not the only determinant in this process. Having a committee of highly qualified and capable individuals is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. It is also essential that the knowledge, experience, and perspectives of potential committee members be thoughtfully and carefully assessed and balanced in terms of the subtleties and complexities of the particular scientific, technical, and other issues to be addressed and the functions to be performed by the committee. For example, if a particular study requires the expertise of microbiologists, epidemiologists, statistical experts, and others with broader public health expertise, the significant omission of any required discipline from the committee might seriously compromise the quality of the committee’s analysis and judgments, even though it is clear to all that the committee is composed of highly qualified and distinguished individuals. Even within a particular discipline, there may be very important differences and distinctions within the field, or regarding the particular subject matter to be addressed, that require careful consideration in the committee composition and appointment process.
The assessment of the necessary perspectives required for a particular study committee may also involve considerations that go beyond specific disciplinary scientific or technical concerns. For some studies, for example, it may be important to have an "industrial" perspective or an "environmental" perspective. This is not because such individuals are "representatives" of industrial or environmental interests, because no one is appointed by the institution to a study committee to represent a particular point of view or special interest.
Rather it is because such individuals, through their particular knowledge and experience, are often vital to achieving an informed, comprehensive, and authoritative understanding and analysis of the specific problems and potential solutions to be considered by the committee.Finally, it is essential that the work of committees that are used by the institution in the development of reports not be compromised by issues of bias and lack of objectivity. (Questions of conflict of interest are separately addressed below.) Questions of lack of objectivity and bias ordinarily relate to views stated or positions taken that are largely intellectually motivated or that arise from the close identification or association of an individual with a particular point of view or the positions or perspectives of a particular group.
Potential sources of bias are not necessarily disqualifying for purposes of committee service.
Indeed, it is often necessary, in order to ensure that a committee is fully competent, to appoint members in such a way as to represent a balance of potentially biasing backgrounds or professional or organizational perspectives. For example, an individual may be selected to serve on a committee conducting a broad study of proposed new scientific missions in space, although the individual is a consultant or an employee of an aerospace company that has a general business interest in such matters. Or an individual may be selected to serve on a committee conducting a general study of research alternatives and funding priorities and opportunities in a particular scientific field, although the individual is a faculty member or research scientist at an institution that conducts research in that field. In either case, while the factual circumstances might suggest the existence of a possible bias, this would not ordinarily disqualify an individual from service but would be a factor to be taken into account by the institution in the overall composition of the committee. Some potential sources of bias, however, may be so substantial that they preclude committee service (e.g., where one is totally committed to a particular point of view and unwilling, or reasonably perceived to be unwilling, to consider other perspectives or relevant evidence to the contrary).
The policy on Composition and Balance has a nuanced discussion of conflicts and biases, recognizing that conflicts and bias may be unavoidable in some circumstances. But Ammann’s boss and collaborator? Please. I was also interested in the very nuanced discussion of balance in the policy. I talked to the secretary of the panel last Friday about the seeming under-representation of expertise in topics like spurious regression and replication, suggesting that cross-expertise from the economics area would be relevant. The secretary was very nice, but his main position was that the panelists were all distinguished people and that I should direct them to any literature that I thought would be relevant. I’m not sure what I expected in this type of exchange; you’re always going to get Sir Humphrey-ed (and that’s not a knock on the secretary, it’s the nature of the job).
On the other hand, it does seem that NAS does have a pretty good policy on Committee Composition and Balance. It is hard to see how Nychka and Otto-Bliesner meet either the spirit or the letter of the policy. Anyway, the policy seems to at least provide a wedge for protesting their appointment.
With its report, NAS has to certify that they have complied with section 15 of the Federal Advisory Committee Act:
In accordance with Section 15 of FACA, the Academy shall submit to the government sponsor(s) following delivery of each applicable report a certification that the policies and procedures of the Academy that implement Section 15 of FACA have been substantially complied with in the performance of the grant with respect to the applicable report.
Might as well make them think a little about it. There’s 14 days left for feedback – so anyone wishing to comment on these appointments, please do so at NAS here.
Ammann, C., J.T. Kiehl, Zender, C.S., B.L. Otto-Bliesner, and R.S. Bradley, in revision: Coupled Climate Simulations of the 20th-Century including External Forcing. J. Climate. http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/ccr/ammann/CSENT/publications.html
Ammann webpage http://www.assessment.ucar.edu/paleo/past_stationarity.html: Team/Collaborators: E. Wahl, C. Ammann (NCAR), N. Graham (Scripps and HRC), D. Nychka (NCAR), M.E. Mann (University of Virginia)
Oh, H.-S., C.M. Ammann, P. Naveau, D. Nychka, and B.L. Otto-Bliesner, 2003: Multi-resolution time series analysis applied to solar irradiance and climate reconstructions. J. Atmosph. Sol-Terr. Phys. 65, 191-201.
Ammann, C.M., P. Naveau, H.-S. Oh, F. Joos, S. Gerber, D.S. Schimel, and B.L. Otto-Bliesner, 2003: Multi-resolution methods for extracting fingerprints of external forcing during the last Millennium from model and proxy data. IUGG, Sapporo, Japan, Session MC14 invited presentation.
Ammann, C.M., and B.L. Otto-Bliesner, 2003: Climate impact from explosive volcanism during the late Maunder Minimum, 1675-1704 AD: Volcanic punches for Europe? IUGG, Sapporo, Japan, Session JSV02.
Otto-Bliesner B.L., E.C. Brady, C.M. Ammann, 2003: Tropical Pacific mean climate and ENSO variability over the last glacial-interglacial cycle. International Conference on Earth System Modelling, Hamburg.
Ammann C.M., B.L. Otto-Bliesner, J.T. Kiehl, W.M. Washington, 2002: Long-term Influence of Explosive Volcanism. A Model – Data Intercomparison. Poster at Chapman Conference on "Volcanos and the Earth’s Atmosphere, Santorini, Greece. http://www.agu.org/meetings/cc02babstracts/Amman-p.pdf
Ammann C.M., B.L. Otto-Bliesner, J.T. Kiehl, R.S. Bradley, 2002: Krakatau: Problems with the Reference Eruption. Poster at Chapman Conference on "Volcanos and the Earth’s Atmosphere, Santorini, Greece.
Otto-Bliesner and Ammann, together with Bradley, are on the Paleoenvironmental Arctic Sciences (PARCS) Steering Committee. http://siempre.arcus.org/4DACTION/wi_survey_authorResponse/736ARCSS Program NCAR