UC Berkeley Professor Presents Report to U.S. House Committee

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Correction Appended

UC Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller presented a preliminary report to a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday based on controversial research aimed at conducting a more complete analysis of climate change.

Muller, who is also a faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and five other academics from around the country acted as witnesses in a hearing before the House's Committee on Science, Space and Technology­ - a full committee meeting that focused on the processes of climate change research and its effect on policy making.

Muller's portion of the presentation was based on currently unpublished research he has worked on since 2010 with the Berkeley Earth group, which analyzed Earth surface temperatures from five to 10 times more temperature stations than previous studies.

According to the Berkeley Earth group's lead scientist Robert Rohde, while researchers only have a preliminary analysis so far, what was presented at the meeting indicates an earth surface temperature trend similar to that found by major climate change studies in the past.

"We'll need to wait for the final processing to know for sure," he said.

While Rohde said their preliminary data appears to be in line with trends recorded by other major climate change studies, several prominent climate change scientists have raised concerns about the Berkeley Earth group's credibility.

According to the Berkeley Earth group website, the researchers received about $150,000 in financial support from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation - an organization known to fund conservative causes. Rohde said the funding represents the Berkeley group's second largest grant, or about 20 percent of the total funding.

"They fund groups that are essentially front groups for the fossil fuel industry who have been fighting efforts to regulate greenhouse emissions," said Pennsylvania State University professor of meteorology Michael Mann. "Koch industries is known as the fundamental backer of climate change deniers."

Muller could not be reached for comment.

Elizabeth Muller, project manager of the Berkeley Earth group and Richard Muller's daughter, denied a conflict of interest regarding the Koch Foundation's donation because the grant that they received was an unrestricted educational grant, which means the foundation has no control over the results of the study.

"(That) means they have no control over what we say or what we publish," Rohde said.

­Mann also raised concerns with what he called the "danger of science by press conference," criticizing the fact that the group presented its research in front of the House committee before it could be peer-reviewed.

According to Elizabeth Muller, the group was forced to present before the research could be reviewed because they were given just two weeks between the request from the House to present and the presentation deadline. She said that the research was submitted for peer review Monday.

Richard Muller has a private consulting company ­- Muller & Associates - which Joseph Romm­­, a physicist who runs climateprogress.org and a former acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, said shares two members with the Berkeley Earth team, and said he was concerned they could sell energy consulting services to the government.

"You don't want people to think there is some kind of underlying profit motive," Romm said.

Elizabeth Muller said there is no connection between the consulting company and the nonprofit research organization besides the shared members.


Correction: Monday, April 4, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a criticism about the research's lack of peer review to Joseph Romm. In fact, it should have been attributed to Michael Mann.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Sarah Burns at [email protected]

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