Well, back from Washington. I’m not very good at describing reactions and impressions and touchy-feely stuff like that; I’m more comfortable describing what’s different with the 53rd and 84th series out of 112, but I’ll try.
I like Washington politics as a spectator sport. Sometimes it produces riveting drama, like when Richard Ben-Veniste was trying to pin down George Tenet or Condaleeza Rice in the 9/11 investigation or the WMD hearings or almost any stage of the Clinton impeachment saga. (I wanted Clinton to survive for a variety of reasons, but it was high-stakes drama, that’s for sure.) When one of these big events turns up, I’m addicted. Our story is pretty small-time stuff, but it’s sure interesting to have a ring-side seat.
This particular subcommittee (Oversight and Investigations) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is very unusual in that witnesses are sworn in (and has subpoena powrs). At the Committee for Government Reform, where Roger Pielke and others appeared the next day, you aren’t. The act and obligations of being sworn in are not something that I take lightly and it’s impressive and sobering when you do it.
Physically the setting is impressive. The representatives are raised above you, with their staffers sitting behind them passing notes. On either end are high-definition TVs. There are several rows of seats for spectators behind you, which were packed early in the day and thinned dramatically as the day wore on.
I had worked feverishly to be ready. It’s summarize in only 5 minutes at the best of times and there’s lots of things that I want to say. Having said that, I also believe strongly that you should be able to summarize your points, however hard it may seem. I was editing down and down almost until I got on camera.
Some of you kept an eye on the proceedings, but for those of you who didn’t, here’s how the schedule worked. Proceedings started at 10 am. There were two panels of witnesses. The first panel consisted of the chairs of the two reports — Wegman and North. The second panel consisted of Tom Karl; Tom Crowley; Hans von Storch and myself.
Each representative has the right to make a 10 minute opening statement, alternating Republican and Democrat. It seemed that each representative took advantage of the right in full and the first hour and half went by listening to politicians. In one sense, the time was wasted, but in another sense, it wasn’t. For anyone who thinks that American politics is monolithic, they were quickly disabused by listening to the differences between Democrat and Republican. The Democrats all seemed to be Gore Democrats. Regardless of parties, the representatives were surprisingly familiar with the file.
The first panel commenced their opening statements at about 11.15. Their panel didn’t end until about 2.15 pm, interrupted for only 20 minutes for a vote by representatives around 12.15 – the one "convenience break". Each representative was then entitled to 10 minutes of questioning, again all representatives taking full advantage of their rights, and then 5 minutes of supplemental questioning, I stayed throughout the proceedings. I was assuming that there would he a short lunch break after the first panel, but, to my surprise, the instant the first panel was thanked, the second panel was brought forward and there we were. The second panel lasted only until about 4.
My impression was that the politicians got all the information that they wanted (or was really relevant to them) about halfway through the first panel and, once that happened, most of the opening energy was gone; the interest in the 2nd panel was pretty perfunctory. From their point of view, I think that both parties had concluded (reasonably):
· no one there defended how Mann calculated the hockey stick (Mann overboard);
· anthropogenic global warming was still an important issue, whether or not “Mann had ever been born”.
By the time that the second panel appeared, attendance was down from about 13 representatives to 3-4 and the audience had gradually melted away. Each of us got some questions, but the opening energy was gone.
At the start of the hearing, there was some sport about Mann’s empty chair. The Democrats tried to raise an issue about Mann not being there, while the Republicans tabled emails showing that Mann had been invited, with responses from his legal counsel that he was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts — I think that they said that he was on holidays. The idea of a climate scientist being represented by counsel raised a few eyebrows. I think that Barton and Whitfield were amused by it.
I’m not sure that Mann’s counsel has given him very good advice so far. His original replies to the committee were very saucy, with a bizarre commentary on his personal property rights in the computer code prior to providing it. Any lawyer that I’ve ever dealt with would have had taken that sort of stuff out (not that I’d have put it in anyway.)
I think that Mann would have been better off showing up. It’s hard to believe that it was just because of holidays. Maybe he was taking a cue from James Hansen, who was reported to have excused himself from the Committee on Government Reform panel because a “skeptic” — in his case the reputable and thoughtful John Christy — was on the panel. Maybe Mann wanted to see how the day went before deciding whether to show up. Maybe he had a dentist appointment or had to get a haircut. Who knows?
Most of you have formed conclusions about how everyone did. My main objective was not to fall flat on my face.
I chatted pleasantly with Ralph Cicerone during the one interlude, again saying that I thought that the NAS panel was constructive (which I think it was.) He thanked me for my thank-you email — he’s not used to receiving polite letters like mothers of another generation used to tell you to write. I said that the panel would have benefited from having an econometrician on it, as I’d suggested in the comment period; he said that they had received many such suggestions in the comment period and could not respond to them all.
I chatted a bit with Gerry North afterwards, who was very pleasant. He and Wegman got a sandwich after the first panel and watched the second panel from another room. He complimented me, but was probably being polite. He said that the proposed session on the NAS report at an All-Union session has been approved at AGU and asked me to present.
We ended up with an eclectic crew going out for beer afterwards. I acted as a bit of a social convener, although almost any of my business friends would have been far better at this than me. Von Storch, Zorita and I were desperate for a beer; Wegman and Said came for company (but drank soda); North begged off as he was headed for the airport; Crowley came; Myron Ebell of CEI attended the hearings and came as well. We all had fun with the post mortem. I liked the idea of everyone being pleasant afterwards with the wolf and lambs supping together – not saying who was what. I had a nice chat with Crowley while we walked out to the bar.
I stayed overnight and went to part of the Committee of Government Reform hearing where Karl was back in the witness chair, as was Connaughton of the administration in the first panel. Like our session, the first panel was packed, but things started emptying out for the second panel — Judith Curry, John Christy, Roger Pielke Jr, Jay Gulledge of Pew. They often had only 1-2 representatives in attendance, but staffers were there and they all seem to be quick studies.
I went to the airport a bit early arriving at 3 pm for a 5.45 pm flight. About 5 pm, the 5.45 flight to Toronto was cancelled as a cold front between Toronto and Boston had caused a lot of storms. The 8 pm flight was still arriving but was overbooked. So I ended up with one more overnight in Washington. (On the way down on the 18th, I’d had an interesting conversation with a young Canadian who’d been holidaying in South Lebanon (!), and had been traveling since the 12th. He left Beirut for North Cyprus, went by taxi to the border, walked across the border, took another taxi to Larnaka, flew to Prague. Visited there for a couple of days, then took a bus to Vienna to get back onto an Air Canada ticket. Then found out that he couldn’t re-enter the States on his visa from there, only from Canada, so he had to go to London, then Toronto, and then Washington.)
While many people might say that the above two conclusions of the Committee could have been known in advance, they weren’t necessarily known to all interested parties. I also think that the two House committees can each in their own way, take some small satisfaction for constructive contributions. Jerry North likes to say that science is “self-correcting”; it is but so are markets. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have “market imperfections” and Mann’s hockey stick would appear to be such a case in science. (Actually “market imperfections” is a very useful concept for this sort of analysis, now that I mention it.)
The two panels have made useful contributions to resolve issues that were in dispute — not all the issues — but they’ve dealt with some bottleneck issues. (Here I take specific findings about bristlecones or verification statistics or principal components as having more weight than where they simply reviewed literature.)
I’m puzzled by the announcement of another hearing on July 27th. This seems like a strange turn of events. In the room, it really felt like the committee had totally lost interest in Mann and the hockey stick, that the topic had run its course by the end of the day and that the committee was merely going through the motions in the second panel. I presume that the new hearing must have come from some sort of initiative from Mann and now wants to appear — I guess he didn’t like the Mann Overboard tone of the proceedings. In his shoes, I’d probably have ignored it and got on with things.
Think about it – they invited Mann, but didn’t insist on it and were content with Mann suggesting a stand-in (Crowley as a “proxy” for Mann, if you will); plus they seemed to have “moved on”. Now if Mann appears, no one can accuse the committee of “intimidating” Mann into appearing, he’s done so on his own free volition and even initiative.
In the shoes of the Committee – either party, I’d be irritated at Mann not showing up on the given day. I’d be inclined to have one person there (that’s all that were at the Government Reform committee most of the second panel); let Mann speak for his 5 minutes, thank him for attending and close the session without asking any questions. Let him know who sets the schedule and agenda.
But what will happen? Wait for the next cliffhanging episode of As the Hockey Stick Turns, or should that be Desperate Hockey Sticks?
Or maybe Survivor Season #8: the Hockey Team. This week was the Mann Overboard episode in which “Mike” got voted off the island. Next week, “Mike” tries to get back on the island. Breathtaking suspense.