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Lawmaker takes beef with researcher to USU president

Published October 22, 2009 8:42 pm

Politics » Rep. Mike Noel says he conveyed concerns, not job threats
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Legislature's most outspoken skeptic of man-caused climate change was so angered by a scientist's published remarks about a fellow expert's work that the lawmaker complained to the researcher's boss.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, confirmed he spoke Tuesday with Utah State University President Stan L. Albrecht about Robert Davies, an assistant research professor in physics.

Noel said he expressed his concerns about Davies but strongly denied making any threats or calling for the scientist's job.

Davies had been asked by The Tribune to describe how Roy Spencer's research stacked up against the scientific consensus on the role humans play in climate change. Spencer, of the University of Alabama-Huntsville, was invited by Noel to testify Wednesday before a legislative committee.

Davies was quoted Monday in The Salt Lake Tribune saying that he suspected lawmakers invited Spencer to provide "cover" for their resistance to adopting policies addressing the threat. A former NASA scientist, Spencer is renowned for insisting that Mother Nature -- not humankind -- is primarily responsible for warming the planet.

Spencer's conclusions from computer modeling on clouds has been discredited in the scientific community and his analysis deemed "completely fringe," Davies said.

House chairman of the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee, Noel described Davies' published remarks as "personal attacks."

"I didn't threaten anybody," Noel said of his remarks to Albrecht at a legislative Rural Caucus meeting Tuesday. "To threaten somebody is to say to them, 'I'm going to get your job. I'm going to get rid of you.'

"What I said to President Albrecht is this: 'I'm very disappointed in the fact that you have a professor make a statement like that from a state-supported institution about an individual [Spencer] that has been very honest. He doesn't discredit other people. He doesn't go in and say 'This guy's an idiot.' "

Spencer has been an outspoken critic of the scientific community's consensus on man-caused climate change. He has frequently suggested that money and politics are driving scientists, bureaucrats, politicians and other "experts" to promote the threat of warming.

Albrecht declined Thursday to discuss his encounter with Noel.

But Michael J. Kennedy, the president's special assistant for state and federal relations, noted that the university has a "policy to protect academic freedom of our faculty and students."

"I'd like to reiterate that members of our faculty have the right to express their research and their views, while not suggesting that these views are the position of the university," he said. "Our faculty strives to focus on the science and research, and we respect the Legislature's prerogative to create policy based on the information it receives from a variety of sources."

Davies said Thursday his previous comments pertained to Spencer's research, as it has been vetted in the scientific research literature.

"I am sorry that Representative Noel took my comments as a personal attack on Doctor Spencer," he said.

The lawmaker's complaints to Albrecht were "completely inappropriate," Davies said, adding that Noel should have brought his beef to Davies directly, rather than going to his employer.

Utah State, among the nation's top 100 research universities, receives about $150 million a year in state and federal funding.

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The disputed remarks

Read the original story, about the controversy over Roy Spencer's legislative testimony, at http://www.sltrib.com/ci_13585742