As students prepare to go back to America's colleges and universities for the new school year, an unprecedented assault against scholarship and higher learning has preceded them.
Those students may already be aware of the attacks on political professors by far-right Bush supporters Campus Watch, or David Horowitz and his variously well-financed organizations; they may too be familiar with the so-called Christian Right's proselytising for "Intelligent Design," the new package for Creationism, to be included in school curriculae, but they likely haven't discovered what dark forces are now assailing the ivied walls of American academe.
The Manchester Guardian's environment correspondent, Paul Brown reports a new Bush administration attack aimed at research scientists not towing the party line on global climate change. (Republicans accused of witch-hunt against climate change scientists - Aug 30, 2005).
In a move described as an "intimidation tactic" Joe Barton, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on energy and commerce, and long-time fossil-fuel lobby "associate," has descended his high office to demand three American scholars, all regarded as pre-eminent climate scientists, present to him the entire scope of their research, stretching back years, to "justify" their published findings.
More than this, Mr. Barton has also demanded they present all records of funding, and all material published throughout their careers, whether it be climate-related, or not.
The three: Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University; Raymond Bradley, Director of the Climate Research Center at the U. of Massachusetts; and Malcolm Hughes of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research are the targets of official attention some say is reminiscent of McCarthy era attacks.
Together their organizations contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the main motivators during the Kyoto debate, fingering man-made pollution as responsible in some part for global mean temperature rises. The IPCC report was issued in 2001 and led to the Kyoto Protocol, adopted by the world's major industrial countries and designed to reduce carbon emission.
The United States has yet to sign on to Kyoto.
More than a dozen scientists from Princeton and Harvard have written letters to Mr. Barton, saying the scope of his demands, including entirely unrelated research work, is of "deep concern." They write:
"Requests to provide all working materials related to hundreds of publications stretching back decades can be seen as intimidation - intentional or not - and thereby risks compromising the independence of scientific opinion that is vital to the pre-eminence of American science as well as to the flow of objective science to the government."
This latest move has many educators worried. The Bush administration has shown grant and other funding to be tied with projects they find politically harmonious. Alan Leshner, speaking for the American Association for the Advancement of Science weighed in too, saying the inquiry appeared to be:
"a search for a basis to discredit the particular scientists rather than a search for understanding."
Democrat Henry Waxman dismissed Barton's inquisitorial style as "dubious" saying it was nothing more than a:
"transparent effort to bully and harass climate-change experts who have reached conclusions with which you disagree".
While Republican chairman of the house science committee, Sherwood Boehlert called the move "pernicious" and "truly chilling" He too wrote to colleague Barton to:
"express my strenuous objections to what I see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation."
The committee now says it will proceed with evidence already received, saying in a terse press release:
"The committee will review everything we have and decide how best to proceed. No decision has yet been made whether to have public hearings to investigate the validity of the scientists' findings, but that could be the next step for this autumn."