The House Science Committee’s witch hunt against NOAA climate scientists – ‘To work under a government that tries to silence scientists is pretty demoralizing’Posted by Jim at Monday, October 26, 2015
By Michael Halpern
23 October 2015
(UCS) – We have long been suspicious of the House Science Committee’s expanded subpoena power. The evidence now demonstrates that the committee is using this new authority not to conduct effective oversight but to harass those who produce robust scientific analysis it refuses to accept.
The committee is harassing individuals, launching an investigation into the actions of a climate scientist who, in the words of my colleague Andrew Rosenberg, had the “temerity to express his views that fossil fuel companies should be held accountable for climate change.” Although subpoenas have not been formally issued, an investigation has begun.
The committee is now stepping up its harassment of government agencies. On October 13, the committee subpoenaed nearly seven years of internal deliberations and communications among scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including “all documents and communications” related to NOAA’s measurement of our climate.
“All documents and communications” would presumably include emails, preliminary drafts, peer review comments, notes, audio recordings, and a treasure trove of other material. This would mean thousands upon thousands of records for employees to identify and go through and analyze for no clearly stated purpose.
NOAA was given two weeks to comply.
Some will say that the committee is right, that we should have access to the data. But this, of course, is not about data. The data is already public. In a blistering letter, ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) hit the nail on the head:
However, obtaining all of the data and methods used in this study seemingly was not enough for the majority. You also demanded internal communications by NOAA scientists regarding their scientific research. NOAA, rightfully, has been reluctant to waste their time and resources, not to mention break confidence with their superb research scientists by responding to this demand…
I cannot help but note that your requests in this case echo the tactics of notable climate change skeptics, who frequently submit similar FOIA requests of climate scientists in both the federal government and in state universities. One of the most publicized occasions of harassment occurred when then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the American Tradition Institute (ATI) sought email communications of former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann.
The original UVA case was even worse, as Mr. Cuccinelli issued Civil Investigative Demands—essentially subpoenas—under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act for this information. At the time, even some climate change skeptics called his move a “witch hunt.” The American Tradition Institute, whose lawyers were recently found to be paid by the coal industry, followed with open records requests for the exact same information.
According to Rep. Johnson, the House Science Committee has made no specific allegations of fraud or scientific misconduct. It’s just fishing, and in the process, harassment.
“You don’t become a biologist to get rich or powerful,” Canadian scientist Jay Fitzsimmons told me in the wake of this week’s Canadian election results. “You become a biologist because you love nature and science. To work under a government that tries to silence scientists is pretty demoralizing.” [more]
By David Roberts
26 October 2015
(Vox) – Last Thursday, the nation watched with a mix of amusement and horror as the House Benghazi committee spent 11 hours grilling Hillary Clinton on a bizarre farrago of issues, many of which bore only tangential connection to the Benghazi attack.
Over the past few weeks, the political narrative seems to have shifted from "Clinton in trouble" to "congressional witch hunt seeks to take down Clinton." Between McCarthy's accidental truth telling, an ex-staffer confirming the worst reports about the committee, and another House Republican conceding the obvious, it has become clear that the Benghazi committee is a thoroughly partisan political endeavor. Opinion has turned, but Republicans are trapped.
The thing is: The Benghazi committee is not even the worst committee in the House. I'd argue that the House science committee, under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith (R-TX), deserves that superlative for its open-ended, Orwellian attempts to intimidate some of the nation's leading scientists and scientific institutions.
The science committee's modus operandi is similar to the Benghazi committee's — sweeping, catchall investigations, with no specific allegations of wrongdoing or clear rationale, searching through private documents for out-of-context bits and pieces to leak to the press, hoping to gain short-term political advantage — but it stands to do more lasting long-term damage.
In both cases, the investigations have continued long after all questions have been answered. (There were half a dozen probes into Benghazi before this one.) In both cases, the chair has drifted from inquiry to inquisition. But with Benghazi, the only threat is to the reputation of Hillary Clinton, who has the resources to defend herself. With the science committee, it is working scientists being intimidated, who often do not have the resources to defend themselves, and the threat is to the integrity of the scientific process in the US. It won't take much for scientists to get the message that research into politically contested topics is more hassle than it's worth.
This year, Smith was one of the committee chairs granted sweeping new subpoena powers by his fellow House Republicans, what one staffer called "exporting the Issa model." No longer is the chair required to consult with the ranking member before launching investigations or issuing subpoenas. A spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, "This change will inevitably [lead] to widespread abuses of power as Republicans infect the other committees with the poisonous process that Issa has so abused during his chairmanship."
That turned out to be pretty prescient, at least in the case of the science committee. No chair has taken to his new role with as much enthusiasm as Smith. Here are just three of his recent exploits.
In June, a scientist named Thomas Karl, along with colleagues, published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science called "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus." It cast doubt on the global warming "pause" that has become the latest cause célèbre for climate change, er, doubters.
That did not sit well with Smith, who is a doubter himself, like many of the Republicans on his committee and more than half of all House Republicans. And it was the subject of much heated attack in the denial-o-sphere.
So Smith has gone after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where Karl works as the director of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). For a play-by-play, I recommend this scorching letter to Smith from committee ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).
In it, she notes that Smith made three written requests for information about Karl's study, all of which NOAA responded to in writing and in personal briefings. "Moreover," she writes, "NOAA attempted to explain certain aspects of the methodology about which the Majority was apparently confused." (Imagine how that meeting went.)
Among Smith's repeated demands: access to the data and methods behind NOAA's work on climate. Except, as NOAA and Democratic members of the committee kept trying to explain, those data and methods are posted on the internet. Anyone can access them. Yet Republicans kept demanding them.