Texas Censors Science

Religious feeling is as much a verity as any other part of human consciousness; and against it, on the subjective side, the waves of science beat in vain. -- John Tyndall, Professor Virchow and Evolution

Just when you think that science may have a fighting chance in Texas, its governor's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, something comes along to suggest, once again, that science may be happier finding a home in a different state.

Its struggles to be recognized in textbooks have been well documented. One of its recent struggles involved evolution, a concept taken by some Texans to be more theory than fact, a position with which it is difficult to argue when examining its proponents. When the 10-year review of science textbooks that was concluded in 2010 was taking place, evolution was a hot topic. The Texas Board of Education said that students must examine all "sides of scientific evidence" when it comes to evolution, including the scientific evidence that the earth is only 6,000 years old, give or take a few years.

The Discovery Institute that promotes "intelligent design" rather than evolution, said the revised standards were a "huge victory for those who favor teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution. When the Board of Education agreed to include both sides of the evolution debate in text books, the president of the school board said: "Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution." The Board of Education's successful challenge to evolution, as it were, has now been joined by a less noted, but nonetheless Texas-sized challenge, to global warming. Not that Texas is stopping it. It is just keeping it out of a recent scientific study.

The recent and successful assault on global warming (not its cause but its concept) came from an agency with the promising name of The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ.) The uninformed would think with a name like that it would have a lot going for it. The uninformed would be disabused of that notion upon learning that all its members were appointed by presidential hopeful, but climate change (and evolution skeptic), Texas governor Rick Perry. Members of the commission share his skepticism about global warming.

In 2009 TCEQ's Galveston Bay Estuary Program commissioned a scientific study entitled "State of the Bay 2010" the purpose of which was to focus on the health of the Bay of Galveston. TCEQ retained the Houston Advanced Research Center to produce the report and the Center asked John Anderson, the Maurice Ewing professor of oceanography at Rice University to write a chapter for inclusion in the report dealing with rising sea levels. Dr. Anderson completed his report and gave it to the commission. Then a strange thing happened. In the part of the report that includes Dr. Anderson's chapter, the Commission deleted references to climate change, the rise in sea level and the effect of humans on the environment. When Dr. Anderson learned of this he shared the chapter he had written with reporters. His conclusions, including references to the human causes of climate change that had been censored, were reported by assorted media outlets. In response, the Commission deleted his entire chapter from its report. This does not, of course, alter his conclusions. What it does is plant the Commission squarely in the camp that does not believe climate change is attributable to human activities or that climate change has caused a rise in the sea level.

Two Texas state Senators wrote to the chairman of the Commission to determine why it had censored Dr. Anderson's work. In response the Commission's spokesman, Andy Saenz, the spokesperson for the Commission, said the commission did not want what it described as "controversial implications" about global warming included in the report. It did not like the fact that Dr. Anderson stated that the level of the water in Galveston Bay had risen. In addition, Mr. Saenz was shocked that the report had been leaked to the press, saying it was "premature and unprofessional." Addressing the charge that the commission had censored the report, Mr. Saenz said that if Dr. Anderson's conclusions were included in the official report they would be attributable to the commission. "Why", he asked, "should we include questionable information we don't agree with."

Dr. Anderson has a slightly different take on the subject. He was particularly troubled that the commission removed sections that link sea level rise to global warming. "Sea level rise is hard to deny. You can debate climate warming, but sea level is going up, it's measured globally, with satellites. For them to be so bold as to remove it -- they actually omitted whole sentences that mentioned sea level rise."

There is, it turns out, a perfectly valid reason for the censorship. It comes from Mr. Saenz who said: "It's no secret that our state and our governor and our agency have taken positions different than our professors." Put in that context the censorship makes perfect sense. The disagreement is nothing more than politicians versus professors, rather than as one might first think, ignoramuses versus scientists. On the other hand, maybe that's simply two sides of the same coin.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com