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Don't Hype Draft Climate Studies

Op-Eds and Articles

Another week of the Trump presidency, another bout of fevered reporting on claims promoted by the career (and holdover) federal employee “resistance.” But particularly when it comes to climate change, it seems the ordinary way of doing things is simply too much to ask.

“Climate” has become very big business since Congress first requested quadrennial “National Assessments on Climate Change” in 1990. A big part of that business is government. Another is the news media. Both of which thrive on the end-of-days narrative.

The two met this week to ride the latest national assessment, a draft of which prompted excited reportage and a particularly embarrassing correction by The New York Times.

The first step overboard was to hype a long available draft document as a leak, smuggled from a censorious regime’s clutches. It’s enough to remind one that drafts generally do not survive required reviews intact.

The first national assessment was due in 1994, but only with the 2000 presidential election looming was the bureaucratic machinery engaged to produce one. Curiously, that voluminous tome heavy with policy implications emerged mere days before the election with then-Vice President Gore on the ballot.

After we at the Competitive Enterprise Institute filed litigation, that document was ultimately stamped with a disclaimer that it had not complied with the Federal Information Quality Act, which sets standards for “influential scientific information.”

It seems that the bureaucracy took the wrong lesson from this episode, hyping drafts instead of perfecting final products to survive challenge.

Aggressive campaigns politically weaponizing drafts as authoritative, and publicly available documents as prized “leaks,” are reason enough for caution. But measure is a characteristic that the global warming — now climate change — debate has lacked for too long.

Last week was yet another reminder we would be well-served by returning to standard procedure, be it by ratifying major international (e.g., climate) commitments as treaties, conducting science, or reporting the news.

Originally published to USA Today.