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Watchdog accuses Biden administration of pushing 'misleading and inaccurate claims' in climate report
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Watchdog accuses Biden administration of pushing 'misleading and inaccurate claims' in climate report

A nonpartisan government watchdog group has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Commerce, requesting an investigation into possibly unethical and unscientific practices at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The watchdog is specifically concerned with NOAA's Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters tracking project, also know as the Billions Project, which has kept track of weather-related disasters since 1980. As the name would suggest, the project focuses on disasters that supposedly result in losses of $1 billion or more.

According to Protect the Public's Trust, those behind the Billions Project may be responsible for "scientific integrity violations" as well as "misleading and inaccurate claims about the Project's dataset."

This is especially troubling because the Billions Project is greatly impactful. It has been cited by the U.S. Global Change Research Program as a "climate change indicator"; its data was referenced last year as evidence that "extreme events are becoming more frequent and severe" in the same federal program's "Fifth National Climate Assessment"; and its results have reportedly been cited in nearly 1,000 articles.

Protect the Public's Trust noted in its April 3 letter to NOAA science integrity officer Cynthia Decker and to Roderick Anderson, the acting inspector general of the U.S. DOC, "Though cited as evidence of climate change effects, the Billions Project does not utilize climate data. The Project's dataset only collects and reports economic data about disaster losses."

Since it relies upon economic data, PPT noted that the Billions Project "cannot distinguish the effect of climate change as a factor on disaster losses from the effect of human factors like increases in the vulnerability and exposure of people and wealth to disaster damages due to population and economic growth."

The PPT alleged that the project:

  • employs opaque methods to calculate losses from individual disaster events that "result in drastically higher loss estimates than those reported by other institutions at NOAA";
  • uses "undisclosed non-traditional costs in its calculations [which] can mislead and misinform the public about the relevant scale of the disaster losses reported in the Project's dataset";
  • adds and removes disaster events from the dataset without so much as an explanation;
  • adjusts its loss data "beyond what inflation-adjustments require and does so for unexplained reasons";
  • "'scales up' loss data based on various factors without disclosing the methodology for its calculation or the baseline data"; and
  • appears to use inconsistent calculation methods over time.

The PPT stressed that the "national conversation on climate change and disaster-response should not be tainted by inaccurate, misleading, and self-serving scientific analysis."

"The American public has every right to expect, even demand, that the scientific research funded by their tax dollars is conducted under the most rigorous standards of integrity, transparency, and quality," said PPT director Michael Chamberlain in a statement.

"This is especially true when that research is used to underpin decisions that affect nearly every aspect of their lives — from the cars they drive, to the foods they eat, to how those foods are prepared. Despite the fact the Billions Project is being used to affect precisely these types of decisions, the principles of scientific integrity, transparency, and quality appear to be severely lacking in its work," added Chamberlain.

Just the News reported that the study by Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. referenced in the PPT complaint raised similar concerns earlier this year.

Pielke, an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, underscored in the pre-print of his forthcoming paper that "public claims promoted by NOAA associated with the dataset and its significance are flawed and misleading. ... Similarly flawed are NOAA's claims that increasing annual counts of billion dollar disasters are in part a consequence of human caused climate change."

NOAA responded in January to this line of critique, telling Just the News that "the methodologies of the Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters product are laid out in Smith and Katz, 2013, a peer-reviewed publication, and follow NOAA’s Information Quality and Scientific Integrity Policies."

Chamberlain found the spokesman's response to be "of the 'you'll just have to trust us' variety. While they may call themselves 'scientists,' that's not how science works."

The Billions Project concluded in its last annual report that there were 28 weather and climate disasters in 2023, "surpassing the previous record of 22 in 2020, tallying a price tag of at least $92.9 billion. The project claims that the U.S. has sustained 378 weather and climate disasters each resulting in at least $1 billion in damages or costs since 1980. These allegedly add up to $2.69 trillion.

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.
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