When Politicians Cherry-Pick Data And Disregard Facts, What Should We Academics Do?

Advocating for facts and evidence at the March for Science in California earlier this year. Matthew Roth/flickr, CC BY-NC

Kristy Hamilton 15 Jun 2017, 15:31

A closer look at the study reveals how it was misused and distorted to make the president’s case. The NERA study modeled five different scenarios, but President Trump cited only one. It assumed limited technological development with regard to clean technologies that could reduce the costs of low-carbon energy over the long term. Also, the president’s use of the study’s cost projections did not put them in the context of a larger economy in 2040.

Indeed, the study looked only at specific industrial sectors and not the economy as a whole and it did not consider where other sectors of the economy might benefit by policies to reduce greenhouse gases. It also didn’t note that some industries, including coal mining, face decline for market reasons that go beyond climate policy. And lastly, it did not consider the costs of inaction to climate change as compared to action.

Since the president’s speech, NERA has issued a statement that the “study was not a cost-benefit analysis of the Paris Agreement and does not purport to be one” and that “use of results from this analysis as estimates of the impact of the Paris Agreement alone mischaracterizes the purpose of NERA’s analysis.”

In short, the use of their analysis was misleading. And yet, there it is, standing as justification to the American public for the historic U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

That American public, surveys show, is often uninformed about science and the scientific process. And so, academic scholars have an important role to play standing up for scientific integrity by speaking out when it is threatened.

Just this past winter, the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, sent their book “Why Scientists Disagree about Climate Change” to 25,000 K-12 science teachers for inclusion in their curriculum. Their goal is to reach 200,000.

This represents a threat that requires a response from all who value rigorous evidence-based decision-making: professors, research scientists, college deans, university presidents, journal editors, heads of professional societies, donors, employers, professionals and the general public.

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