November 19, 2015

When the findings of a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) become problematic for the Chair of the House Committee on Science, what better way to fight inconvenient facts than by personally attacking the scientists? October, 2015 was officially the warmest on record, and the findings of the NOAA point to the factors contributing to this phenomenon.

Chairman and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is retaliating in typical Republican fashion by spending exorbitant sums of taxpayer money to conduct a Benghazi-style witch hunt to stall any meaningful action to combat this dangerous environmental trend.

Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is using the sledgehammer of a congressional subpoena to bully National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists for their research on climate change.

Chairman Smith, who has consistently dismissed mainstream climate science, sought more information about the study. NOAA scientists provided three separate briefings to Science Committee staff in July and September, answering questions about the research and directing staffers to the data and methodology, all of which was already publicly available. This is all anyone should need to assess the science. Yet on October 13, Chairman Smith issued a broad subpoena to NOAA demanding all correspondence, notes, peer review comments, paper drafts, and more among scientists from the last seven years related to this work.

Notably, Smith now has unilateral power to issue subpoenas without the consent of committee Democrats, making the process more vulnerable to politicization. We have seen subpoenas for confidential medical data from the Environmental Protection Agency and undue scrutiny of individual National Science Foundation grants.

Although none of these investigations found any scientific misconduct, they did waste time and resources. Reaction to the latest power grab was swift and harsh. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, the committee’s ranking Democrat, sent a scathing letter condemning the actions as “illegitimate harassment.”

Also, the American Meteorological Society, sent a letter directly to Rep. Lamar Smith. Here's an excerpt.

The AMS is concerned, however, with your recent subpoena of NOAA seeking a wide range of internal documents and correspondence related to a specific set of climate research results that have been published in the peer-reviewed literature. Singling out specific research studies, and implicitly questioning the integrity of the researchers conducting those studies, can be viewed as a form of intimidation that could deter scientists from freely carrying out research on important national challenges

Chairman Smith’s response to the criticism was to double down, mischaracterizing the updating of datasets as “altering data” and scheduling recorded interviews—effectively depositions—with NOAA staff. He has since appealed to the Secretary of Commerce to compel NOAA to comply with his demand.

So far, NOAA has stood its ground, rightly refusing to turn over the scientists’ correspondence. “Because the confidentiality of these communications among scientists is essential to frank discourse among scientists, those documents were not provided to the Committee,” NOAA told Inside Climate News.

This isn’t the first time that private companies and public officials have tried to access the correspondence of scientists whose research poses a threat to their interests. In what was widely seen as a witch hunt, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli used a Medicare fraud law to unsuccessfully subpoena the personal correspondence of climate scientists.

British Petroleum used subpoenas to access the correspondence of scientists who volunteered their expertise to fix the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Coal industry-funded organizations and anti-GMO activists have used open records laws to try to find material that could be used to discredit researchers. Congress using this tactic takes it to a new level. Although none of these investigations found any scientific misconduct, they did waste time and resources and sowed confusion.

It's no surprise that Smith receives most of his donations from the very industries he seeks to protect by denying science. His top contributors read as a who's who in oil, gas and big business. It's quite stunning that we have such a nasty, corrupt individual leading an important government committee on science. It just illustrates who is really running the government, and it's not the people.

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