Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a full-committee event on 24 July 2014 at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC to allow members of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology an opportunity to ask astronauts Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman questions through a live downlink with the International Space Station (ISS). Photo: Aubrey Gemignani / NASA

By Amanda Marcotte
30 November 2015

(Salon) – It may not roll off the tongue easily, but it’s time to verb-ify the word “Benghazi.” To Benghazi someone would mean to subject someone who is clearly innocent of wrongdoing to months and even years of punitive “investigation” in the faint hope that you can turn up a word or memo that can be taken out of context to destroy them politically.

While the end goal of Benghazi-ing is to comb over every word a person has said or written for something that can be distorted for political gain, it must be noted that even if that goal never materializes, Benghazi-ing your political opponents is its own reward. You can’t throw them in jail, since they didn’t do anything wrong, but you can subject them to endless, disingenuous inquiry from nutbag conservatives, a process so miserable that many victims might start wishing for the sweet release of death.

The two most prominent Republican Benghazi-ing efforts – the endless Benghazi hearings and the endless Planned Parenthood hearings – have generally backfired, revealing the shocking levels of dishonesty and outright stupidity in the Republican caucus and generating sympathy for famous victims, like Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards, who held up admirably under attacks from wannabe witch hunters. But the visceral pleasure that Republicans get from using subpoena power to harass people they don’t like clearly outweighs political considerations. So House Republicans prepare to Benghazi climate scientists for having the audacity to point out that climate change is a thing that is real.

Tuesday, seven major scientific organizations that represent literally hundreds of thousands of scientists sent a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith, who chairs the science and tech committee, asking him to stop Benghazi-ing (my word, not theirs) a group of scientists working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These scientists have offended Smith by, what else, doing research that shows that climate change is real. Specifically, they published a piece in Science that showed, despite previous studies suggesting that global warming had slowed down, that in fact it had not. This was widely accepted as a reputable study, since it was based on refining the measurements.

But Smith refuses to accept this, instead launching a bunch of baseless accusations that they faked the data in order to please President Obama, who Smith clearly sees as a supervillain who is making up this “climate change” thing out of evil. Thus, a bunch of subpoenas and demands that scientists turn over documents, mostly likely to be combed through by people who have no ability to read the climate data that the scientists collected.

NOAA is resisting, with the support of these seven other major science groups, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is the oldest and biggest general science society in the country. On its surface, resisting the inquiry might seem like a bad idea, because it allows Republicans to posture about how the scientists are supposedly hiding their results, even though the study was subjected to intense peer review. [more]

Conspiracy-theorist nutbags run Congress, and they’re making Benghazi a verb: Next up, climate scientists


By Ginger Pinholster
24 November 2015

(AAAS) – AAAS and seven other leading scientific organizations on Tuesday expressed "grave concern" about a Congressional inquiry that has unfoundedly called into question the integrity of federal scientists whose research, published in Science, seemed to debunk claims of a global-warming slowdown or "hiatus."

In a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the group acknowledged the importance of appropriate congressional oversight of federally funded research, but emphasized that "scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial."

AAAS CEO Rush Holt, executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said that AAAS and other scientific organizations have a responsibility to speak out against excessively intrusive inquiries that go beyond the need for due diligence by policymakers. "This kind of political interference in the scientific process ultimately retards the ability of science to provide understanding and to improve people’s lives," Holt said. "To arrive at the greatest benefit for people’s lives, the scientific process must be free from politicization."

Research completed by Thomas Karl and colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used updated and corrected global surface temperature data to dispute the existence of a recent slowdown in the rate of in global warming. In his 4 June Science article, Karl’s team suggested no discernable decrease in the rate of warming between the second half of the 20th century, a period marked by human-caused warming, and the first fifteen years of the 21st century, which some have described as a warming hiatus.

Since the article’s publication, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has sent letters and subpoenas to NOAA, requesting "all documents and communications" related to Karl’s paper in Science. NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, sent a letter to Smith on 20 November, noting that "NOAA has made a concerted and significant effort to answer the Committee’s questions and provide relevant and responsive information." The committee has nonetheless threatened "the use of a compulsory process" if NOAA does not surrender additional records, including e-mails among individual scientists.

AAAS and other science societies emphasized that needlessly intrusive Congressional inquiries can inhibit scientific discovery, particularly if scientists are threatened with legal action. "Science cannot thrive when policymakers — regardless of party affiliation — use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence," the coalition’s letter said. "We are concerned that establishing a practice of inquests directed at federal scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of government scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions."

The group noted further that "NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) manages one of the world’s most significant archives of oceanic, atmospheric, and geophysical data."

Independent assessment of scientific results is of course a crucial part of the scientific process, and the coalition encouraged the House committee to use other established mechanisms for assessing technical information, such as advisory reports of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The AAAS intersociety letter was signed also by the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Statistical Association, the Ecological Society of America, the Geological Society of America, and the Society for Conservation Biology.

AAAS has protested other cases of scientists being targeted for seemingly ideological reasons. In 2011, for example, the AAAS Board of Directors expressed deep concern over reports of personal attacks on climate scientists. In 2010, the AAAS Board also decried the Virginia Attorney General’s investigation of climate researcher Michael Mann.

AAAS Leads Coalition to Protest Climate Science Inquiry


The Honorable Lamar Smith
Chairman
House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
2321 Rayburn House Office Building  Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Smith,  

As representatives of the major U.S. science organizations and the hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers who make up our collective membership, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the committee’s inquiry into a scientific paper prepared by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers.  

NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) manages one of the world’s most significant archives of oceanic, atmospheric, and geophysical data. Businesses, governments, and academics rely heavily on NCEI data to make informed decisions to help grow the economy and protect public safety and the environment.   

The integrity of federal scientists’ research published in the journal Science is being questioned despite a lack of public evidence of scientific misconduct. The progress and integrity of science depend on transparency about the details of scientific methodology and the ability to follow the pursuit of scientific knowledge. The data and methodology of the paper in question have been publicly shared and discussed directly with the committee staff. While we recognize the oversight responsibility of Congress with respect to the work of government scientists, the committee has continued to suggest that the updates that NOAA scientists made to its dataset constitute scientific misconduct.

Science is a self-correcting process and part of the purpose of placing research into the scholarly record is so other scientists can attempt to replicate, confirm, or refute it. This paper is subject to these same norms. In fact, over the past year there have been other peer-reviewed research papers published by university scientists and derived from other independent data sources that have also analyzed the climate hiatus. This is the way in which science advances.

Scientists and policymakers may disagree over the implications of scientific conclusions on climate change and other policy-relevant topics. Disagreements about the interpretation of data, the methodology, and findings are part of daily scientific discourse. Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial. Science cannot thrive when policymakers—regardless of party affiliation— use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.  

These broad inquiries threaten to inhibit the free exchange of ideas across scientific disciplines not only for NOAA, but for other government experts and the academic and industry scientists with whom they collaborate.

We are concerned that establishing a practice of inquests directed at federal scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of government scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions. The repercussions of the committee’s actions could go well beyond climate science, setting a precedent to question other topics such as genetically modified organisms and vaccines that have controversial regulatory and policy implications.

As we stated previously, we recognize the oversight responsibility of Congress, however, the inquiry should not be used as a tool to inhibit the ability of federal scientists to fulfill their agencies’ science missions and of agencies to attract world-class scientific talent. We encourage the committee to utilize other avenues, such as the National Academies, for assessing the science and distilling technical matters to assist policymakers.      

Sincerely,

American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Chemical Society
American Geophysical Union
American Meteorological Society
American Statistical Association
Ecological Society of America
Geological Society of America
Society for Conservation Biology

cc:  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Intersociety NOAA Letter to Chairman Lamar Smith

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