It is a red-letter rule in business that transactions between a company and its insiders or employees must be disclosed. Some of the most egregious breaches by Enron were its attempts to avoid disclosure of writeoffs by selling worthless assets to the infamous limited partnerships organized by company insiders for equally worthless paper issued by the partnerships. Company insiders cannot evade securities laws by pretending to be be acting in a “personal capacity”.
The U.S. federal government has a detailed set of regulations requiring scientific information to be peer reviewed before it is disseminated by the federal government. NASA, which says that it has “employs the worlds largest concentration of climate scientists”, has carried out an interesting manouevre that has the effect of evading the federal Data Quality Act, OMB Guidelines and NASA’s own stated policies. Once again, the system involves an employee purporting to be acting in a “personal capacity”. Here’s how it works.
Peer Review Policy
U.S. federal policy on data quality is set out in a variety of steps. The Data Quality Act itself is very short and states:
The guidelines under subsection (a) shall
(1) apply to the sharing by Federal agencies of, and access to, information disseminated by Federal agencies; and
(2) require that each Federal agency to which the guidelines apply
(A) issue guidelines ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by the agency, by not later than 1 year after the date of issuance of the guidelines under subsection (a);
(B) establish administrative mechanisms allowing affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information maintained and disseminated by the agency that does not comply with the guidelines issued under subsection (a); and
The OMB has issued several guidelines under the act. The first statement is here . A subsequent OMB Bulletin clearly required peer review of important scientific information before dissemination by the federal government as follows:
This Bulletin establishes that important scientific information shall be peer reviewed by qualified specialists before it is disseminated by the federal government.
There’s an interesting exemption in this bulletin (and we shall see below how this comes into play):
This definition includes information that an agency disseminates from a web page, but does not include the provision of hyperlinks on a web page to information that others disseminate.
NASA has several manuals and policies setting out its own procedures for ensuring compliance with such policies. NASA guidelines specify far-reaching obligations on data quality for information disseminated by NASA. It notes the wide use of NASA information:
NASAs information from its missions and programs is used by: government and national and international policymakers to enable sound and better public policy; NASAs scientists and others cooperating with NASA to pursue their important work; the media in describing to the public the importance and advances of research; the educational community to educate a new generation of citizens in science, math, and engineering; and members of the public to enable them to be knowledgeable and inspired about NASAs goals and accomplishments.
It states that the policies apply to NASA Centers as well as to headquarters:
These guidelines are applicable to NASA Headquarters and Centers, …
It states that NASA will ensure the quality of its disseminated information:
NASA will ensure and maximize the quality, including the utility, objectivity, and integrity, of its disseminated information, except where specifically exempted. Categories of information that are exempt from these guidelines are detailed in Section C.3….
Information products disseminated by NASA will be based on reliable, accurate data that has been validated.
NASA policy NPR 2200.2B Chapter 3 states that the policy applies to all “information” prepared by NASA employees and then sets out an approval process:
3.1.1 This chapter presents the standards and responsibilities that apply when NASA employees prepare papers for or participate in scientific and technical symposia and when they prepare and submit information, e.g., monographs or journal articles, for external (non-NASA) publication. ….
3.2.2 Approvals. Dissemination of information in symposium presentations or in external publications is approved in accordance with procedures included in Chapter 4 [which describes an elaborate review process]
The manual contains a header stating: COMPLIANCE IS MANDATORY and does not contain any mechanism whereby a NASA employee can sometimes be a “private citizen” and sometimes be a “NASA employee”, anymore than a company insider can purport to be a “private citizen” in his relationships with a company.
Now let’s examine a key NASA webpage on climate change http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/GlobalWarmingQandA/ . The first question on the webpage is:
What does NASA have to do with global warming?
NASA employs the worlds largest concentration of climate scientists…. In addition to collecting information about the Earth, NASA also builds global and regional climate models to understand the causes and effects of climate change, including global warming. NASA shares its climate data and information with the public and policy leaders freely and in a timely manner.
The webpage then asks further questions, in which there are multiple references to a website (realclimate) published by a NASA climate modeler (Gavin Schmidt). This website states that it is published by Schmidt and his associates “in a personal capacity during their spare time”. Thus, although it obviously relates to Schmidt’s professional duties, NASA has apparently not required Schmidt to comply with NASA data quality procedures in respect to his contributions at realclimate.
NASA goes on to ask:
If Earth has warmed and cooled throughout history, what makes scientists think that humans are causing global warming now?
Its answer includes only two references, one of which is realclimate’s threads, which start off with several diatribes against our work.
RealClimate Articles and Discussions on Paleoclimate
The second link on the page linked by NASA is entitled:
False Claims by McIntyre and McKitrick regarding the Mann et al. (1998) reconstruction
followed in short order by another link entitled:
On Yet Another False Claim by McIntyre and McKitrick
Ironically, these claims were not found to be false when reviewed by either the NAS Panel or Wegman Panel. Shortly thereafter, NASA asks:
Havent satellites actually observed cooling temperatures in the lower atmosphere?
A realclimate thread by Gavin Schmidt is one of only four references:
Schmidt, G. (2005). Et Tu LT? Real Climate. Accessed June 6, 2007
Then they ask:
What if global warming isnt as severe as predicted?
Again, a realclimate thread, this time by Pierrehumbert is one of only three references:
Pierrehumbert, R. (2005). Natural Variability and Climate Sensitivity. Real Climate. Accessed June 14, 2007.
Finally they ask:
Where can I learn more about global warming?
Once again, realclimate is one of only 7 references – another being the Union of Concerned Scientists.
NASA has carried out an interesting manouevre that has the effect of evading the federal Data Quality Act, OMB Guidelines and NASA’s own stated policies.
NASA says that it “employs the worlds largest concentration of climate scientists”. It has plenty of opportunity to use product from those scientists that has been produced in accordance with NASA quality procedures and subject to the Data Quality Act. Instead of doing so, NASA’s webpage on global warming relies on non-peer reviewed material, including material produced by one of its own employees as a “private citizen” at a “personal” website where his contributions have not been subject to mandatory NASA quality control procedures.
UPDATE: rocks observes below that “Gavin Schmidt, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies” (as well as Michael Mann) are thanked as assisting with the NASA webpage, thereby adding another layer of conflict to the entire matter.