Is This Congressman Trying to Name a Climate Denial Theory After Himself?

Sam Rayburn and Philip Hart got office buildings. John McCain and Russ Feingold had the campaign finance reform law. Kennedy and Reagan have airports.

And in his last days in office, Texas Republican Steve Stockman appears to be trying to cement his legacy by naming a scientific theory charging climate change is natural after himself.

Stockman, who did not seek re-election this year, introduced a bill last week to "study the effect of the Earth's magnetic field on the weather." The bill doesn't explicitly mention global warming, but would put Congress on record as saying that a "decrease in magnetic fields could impact global temperatures" and instructs the director of the National Science Foundation to commission a study on the impact a shift in the Earth's magnetic field could have on the weather.

That bill's name? The "Stockman Effect Act."

Here's the thing: the "Stockman Effect" isn't the name of the theory the Congressman is proposing to study. Scientists contacted by National Journal said they weren't aware of a "Stockman Effect" related to geophysics or climate change.

A Google search for "The Stockman Effect" turned up an economic principle of a negative relationship between inflation and growth in the economy, as laid out in a 1981 paper by economist Alan Stockman. There's a separate "Stockman Effect" referenced in a blog post by Chris Ladd, who says that the Congressman's 1994 upset win over long-time incumbent Democrat Jack Brooks was indicative of the "veneer of credibility and the outsized influenced acquired by the bizarre cast of characters who rocketed suddenly and surprisingly into office in the '94 wave election."

Stockman's office did not comment on the name of the bill or his intentions.

Stockman is a noted skeptic of man-made climate change; he once wore a blindfold to a meeting in Denmark to protest climate science. He also made waves at a hearing last month when he questioned White House science adviser John Holdren on why "global wobbling" wasn't incorporated into models of global warming, since scientists had linked changes in the Earth's tilt and orbit to ending the ice age. Holdren explained that wobbling happens on scales of tens of thousands of years and that, in fact, would be contributing to cooling at this stage.

"But the warming inflicted by human activities has overwhelmed the effect of global wobbling," Holdren said.

He's also built a reputation as a bit of a bomb-thrower. He set up an "Obama Failometer" outside of his office and brought Ted Nugent as a guest to the State of the Union. He's stepping down after this term having led an unsuccessful primary challenge to John Cornyn in November (he also served one term in the 90s), and was recently subpoenaed by a federal grand jury as part of a criminal investigation (that's on top of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into violations of federal reporting requirements for campaign donations).

The "wobbling" that Stockman mentioned in the hearing is separate from the Earth's magnetic polarity. According to data from the European Space Agency's Swarm satellite array, the Earth's magnetic field is weakening, with trouble spots over the southern Indian Ocean. That's a possible indication that the Earth's magnetic poles are getting ready to shift. An October study from the University of California, Berkeley found that such a shift happened 786,000 years ago for unclear reasons, and warns that such a reversal could affect the electrical grid and allow in more energetic particles from cosmic rays and the sun, which are currently repelled by the field.

Whether that has an impact on climate change is less clear. A 2009 Danish study said that a weakening magnetic field was linked to precipitation, owing to lower cloud cover from cosmic rays entering the atmosphere (a controversial theory popularized by Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark). The findings would suggest that the cosmic rays, rather than pollution was generating climate change. A study published in the Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate in May also found that magnetic changes have impacted the climate in the upper atmosphere.

But scientists say that the long-term changes in the magnetic field make it unlikely that it's causing the rapid warming. Bob McPherron, a professor of space physics at the University of California Los Angeles, said the possible link was "very tenuous" and that most of the science behind it is not well understood. A 2011 NASA publication (published amid fears of an apocalypse in 2012 based on the Mayan calendar) noted that polarity reversals are "the rule, not the exception" and said that fossils from the last reversal 780,000 years ago showed no change to plant or animal life or glacial activity.

Stockman's bill notes a "possibility that the reason Mars lost its atmosphere was because of the loss of its magnetic field," although NASA astronomers are still using the MAVEN spacecraft to investigate the red planet's dwindling atmosphere.