House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith wrote: "Since then, the Committee has attempted to obtain information that would shed further light on these allegations, but was obstructed at every turn by the previous administration’s officials. (Rep Smith) repeatedly asked, ‘What does NOAA have to hide?’"
Dr. Bates’ revelations and NOAA’s obstruction certainly lend credence to what I’ve(Rep.Smith) expected all along – that (Karl et al. 2015) used flawed data, was rushed to publication in an effort to support the president’s climate change agenda, and ignored NOAA’s own standards for scientific study.
Research Director, Center for Science and Democracy | November 16, 2015
- On October 13, the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Lamar Smith issued a subpoena to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asking for all correspondence, notes, and other materials from the last seven years related to the work of certain NOAA climate scientists, motivated by their authorship on a paper published in Science earlier this year. The move was one of the first uses of the Chairman’s newly granted subpoena powers, which allow him to issue subpoenas without the consent of both parties. On October 27, NOAA sent a letter back to Smith outlining the publicly available data and research methods, resources, and other communications that Rep. Smith already had access to.Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, the ranking member on the House Science Committee, sent a scathing letter to Chairman Smith condemning the “illegitimate harassment” by Rep. Smith on October 23. Then on November 4, the American Meteorological Society echoed this sentiment in its own letter to the Chairman, disapproving of his actions. ...Some headlines have implied that NOAA is concealing scientific data and research methods, but this isn’t the case. As NOAA detailed in its letter to Rep. Smith, the Science Committee (and anyone with an internet connection) has access to the data and methods used to produce the results in the study. This is all he needs to be able to assess the quality of the science under discussion. Still, NOAA went the extra step and met several times with committee staff to provide them with the (again, already publicly available) data, explain the science, and answer numerous questions. But Smith continued with the subpoena regardless. ...A good question. The study under discussion analyzes surface observation data for temperature, one input (but not the only input) into scientists’ measuring the rate at which climate change is occurring. (For a full summary of the paper and its implications, check out my colleague Roberto Mera’s post). In recent years there was an apparent hiatus or slowdown in the rate of global warming observed from surface temperature observations, a point that climate contrarians have (inaccurately) used repeatedly to make the case that climate change is either not happening or has been exaggerated.Karl et al. 2015 updates NOAA’s global temperature dataset using a larger weather station database and gives new understanding of temperature biases in sea surface temperature raw observations collected from sources like buoys and ships. …To be clear, the updates that the NOAA scientists made to the global temperature dataset were normal and routine, as scientists need to account for all kinds of changes to how temperature observations are taken over time and all over the world. Taking temperature measurements from ships has evolved over the last century, ... (More explanation of this concept is here)An inquiry like Smith’s that dives deeper, asking for internal communications between NOAA scientists is invasive and unnecessary for a legitimate investigation of scientific validity. As I and my colleagues have documented extensively before (and again here and here), communications among scientists on scientific topics should be protected from public scrutiny. Such privacy for scientific deliberations is necessary for scientists to have the freedom to share ideas, talk frankly with colleagues, and let scientific understanding evolve. This is how science works. ..Last week, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) sent a letter to Rep. Smith, echoing this point. “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,” wrote the AMS.Doesn’t Congress have the authority to conduct oversight of federal agencies, which use taxpayer dollars?Indeed, Congress has the authority to conduct oversight of federal agencies, and this is what Rep. Smith is invoking to target the NOAA scientists.Specifically, Rep. Smith is exploiting his new (worrisome) unilateral subpoena powers that don’t require agreement from both parties on the committee. ...• Doesn’t Congress have the authority to conduct oversight of federal agencies, which use taxpayer dollars?There are of course many situations where Congressional oversight is warranted and helpful for understanding actions taken by the executive branch and for seeking out waste, fraud, and abuse within the government. This is why Congress was granted this authority by our forefathers. But here we have a different case. First, there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the scientists.The paper in question used publicly available data and methods, was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in a top journal, and is widely accepted by the scientific community. Nevertheless, the issuance of a subpoena, and public misrepresentations of science suggesting that NOAA has “altered data” and is hiding information, suggests guilt. Rather transparently, this demonstrates that Smith’s subpoena is not about the science; it’s about politics. ...Disturbingly, we are seeing Congress now take on the tactics that were previously reserved only for industry and fringe politically active nonprofits. As my colleague Michael Halpern points out, witch hunts for scientists’ emails are an increasingly common intimidation tactic used by industry groups to cast doubt on evidence that is viewed as contrary to their interests. In order to access scientists’ internal exchanges, other entities and public officials have used subpoenas (see British Petroleum and Woods Hole or former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli), open records laws (see many examples), and theft (see Climategate). But a congressional committee chairman using that tactic takes it to a new level.Let’s take a step back and look at what we are talking about here. Scientists at NOAA are using publicly available data and have shared their methods. Their work has stood up to scrutiny from their peers in the scientific community. In the world of science, this gives the work credibility.Disagreements with the approach or findings of the study should be battled out in the scientific literature. Other scientists with concerns about the study are free to re-analyze the data and publish their own findings. This is how scientific work is scrutinized, challenged, and made more robust over time.As an agency, NOAA is no stranger to scientific integrity. In fact, NOAA has one of the strongest scientific integrity policies of any federal agency. A recent survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that many NOAA scientists agree that the scientific integrity there is top-notch.Rep. Smith’s actions raise alarms in the scientific community, especially when taken in conjunction with his other recent actions targeting scientists. In sum, Rep. Smith’s actions serve to intimidate scientists studying the climate. What’s especially disturbing in this case, is that the Chairman is now employing intimidation tactics that have until now been reserved for the tobacco industry, front groups and the like. This is a troubling trend and one that should be watched closely.