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Annals of Possible Cherry-Picking

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJanuary 31, 2007 10:16 PM


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A very interesting issue--discussed in comments here and here--has arisen over one aspect of Roger Pielke, Jr.'s testimony yesterday. In that testimony (PDF), Pielke suggested that Waxman's committee had cherry-picked science with the following statement in a memorandum (the original of which I have not been able to locate):

". . . recently published studies have suggested that the impacts [of global warming] include increases in the intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms, increases in wildfires, and loss of wildlife, such as polar bears and walruses."

The above statement on hurricanes, Pielke says, was backed up with a reference to three supporting studies, but nowhere did Waxman's committee mention that a still more recent consensus statement from the World Meteorological Organization (PDF) had observed that a substantial debate continues over the results of these studies. Thus, according to Pielke, Waxman's committee was cherry-picking. Is this a valid criticism? Well, Waxman's committee certainly could have noted that this hurricane-climate issue is a subject of ongoing debate. If I was writing the passage quoted above, I would have done so. On the other hand, there is nothing literally incorrect about the passage. "Recently published studies have suggested..." That's absolutely true and, moreover, a fairly weak statement over all. The committee does not claim to judge whether those "recently published studies" are valid, it merely says they've "suggested" a particular outcome, which they certainly have. So, was Waxman's committee guilty of cherry-picking? Perhaps a little. But Pielke could have found a much stronger example to use to make his point, because at least in this case, Waxman's committee was fairly cautious in its language. Moreover, this example shouldn't be used to minimize the much more egregious behavior of the Bush administration with respect to science.

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