The House Science Committee’s Witch Hunt Against NOAA Scientists

, Deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | October 23, 2015, 7:05 pm EST
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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.

NOAA scientists collecting data

NOAA scientists devote their lives to learning more about the world around us. Attempts by Congress to intimidate and harass them should be met with fierce resistance. Photo: NOAA

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.”

The same holds true in the United States. Yet Congress routinely holds the budget hostage, creating uncertainty for agency staff and extensive planning for government shutdowns even when they don’t occur. It consistently asks agencies to do more with fewer resources.

And now, the House Science Committee is on a witch hunt at worst and wasting resources at best. It used to be tobacco and chemical companies that harassed scientists. Increasingly, Congress is picking up the tobacco industry playbook. Who wouldn’t get demoralized? Who wouldn’t feel intimidated?

And perhaps that is what some in Congress want. To protect its scientists and its integrity, and to best serve the American people, NOAA should do everything in its power to resist the committee’s subpoena, and the science community should support them strongly in this effort.

Posted in: Global Warming, Science and Democracy, Scientific Integrity Tags: , , , , , ,

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  • Rick j

    This scares the crap out of me. A faction of our government and society refuse to accept reality. At this point we should be working on practical, cost effective means to slow the warming as well as finding ways to deal with the damage its already done and will continue to do, even if slowed. Not trying to convince idealogs the earth is round. It’s worth noting that not all conservatives are climate deniers. Guess it depends on the percentage of income/campaign contributions come from the fossil fuel industry.

  • David

    The NOAA was caught doctoring their data back in June – just like the scientists of other countries have been. Scientists have been caught fudging warming data in Sweden, Paraguay, and Australia. In each case, “scientists” fudged the temperatures UPWARD (big surprise).

    The House Science Committee wants to get to the bottom of the NOAA’s participation in this fraud. The NOAA admits it fudged data in the stat of Maine. Their REASON is what is being investigated, as it sounds on the surface like so much bullcrap. So, Michael – you’re aren’t reporting the FACTS, are you? No you’re not.

    AUSTRALIA: “The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (ABM) was forced to admit it adjusts temperatures recorded at all weather stations across the
    country. Aussie journalists had been critical of ABM for being secretive
    about its data adjustments”. (May 2015)

    RE: “…secretive about data adjustments”. Sound familiar??

    Manmade Global Warming is finally being exposed as the highly-politicized junk-science it is.

    • Bobby Duplenty

      You didn’t read the piece, did you?

  • Miriam Iosupovici

    Please give us a petition site to protest

  • M​a​r​k S​h​o​r​e

    Hold on… the same “I’m not a scientist but…” Republican Congress-cretins who don’t understand even the most basic points of climate science are going to go through the notes, files and deliberations of working research scientists? Clearly this is only designed to harass and waste the time of government researchers, attempt to intimidate them, and maybe go on a fishing expedition for email snippets they can take out of context and pass on to their global warming denying funders.

    As if the Republican primaries weren’t already enough to embarrass the GOP…

  • Why’s handing over correspondence a witch hunt? Why does it all the data have to be analysed first before being handed over? Analysed for what? It’s electronic. It’s easy to hand it over. Why the resistance? It’s as though there is something to hide.

    We need to see the reason for the temperature uptweaking. Why the before and after data shows uptweaking, and why it’s diverging upward from satellite data, which is harder for Team Consensus to uptweak.

    • M​a​r​k S​h​o​r​e

      Oh, you poor thing. Were the detailed technical notes, the published papers, the adjusted and raw data and the source code not enough for you? Need someone to walk you through it step by step, holding your hand the whole time?

      • LEK56

        I’ve run into these “there is no such thing as a greenhouse effect” guys before. In every encounter I see a partial understanding of the science, but never is there a leap form “C” after going “A then B”. It’s hilarious, and very much not worth the time to talk to them.

    • Jan Galkowski

      The reason is that these IGNORANT CRETINS HAVE, many times, TAKEN SENTENCES AND EVEN PHRASES OUT OF CONTEXT, and used them in isolation to argue for a point that was never intended in the original draft. Indeed, “cherry picking” data, correspondence, argument, presentations IS WHAT KEEPS THE ENTIRE SCIENCE DENIALIST ESTABLISHMENT GOING. They do that because they know zero about science, and could not win if they did. It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s actually pretty easy for anyone with a proper education and a mine. But, alas, the public is TOO LAZY to sit still for anything dense, anything requiring them to think too hard, and all the media care about is SELLING SOAP. See https://hypergeometric.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/ultimately-the-public-will-understand-that-they-were-being-lied-to-betrayed/.

      It’s okay. The day will come when the public will understand they’ve been duped. And, on that day, some of us who might have argued that the public should temper their anger against those in media who did this, those in fossil fuel companies who initiated it, and those with the funds and the schemes to ignite it, instead of tempering the public’s outrage, will sit mute.

    • Andrew

      I come to this site for rationale, data driven, open discussion.

      The scientists, engineers, journalists, and managers in our community have to be better than those we disagree with. Fighting fire with fire makes us indistinguishable from the other side.

      That might mean our community needs reasonable organization, so that we can efficiently deliver unprecedented transparency–we don’t have anything to hide. That might mean we will have to defend ourselves against the cherry pickers, but surely being the rational voice amongst a smear campaign is an opportunity.

      I think it also means that we can’t blow our credibility with name calling. I think it means that we can’t belittle people with different opinions rather than directly addressing their question. Surely it also means we can’t distribute a strategy that says we won’t engage folks with different opinions.

      Jan, Mike, Lek…we have to be better. I think global warming is an issue. I don’t agree, however, that in 2015, gathering your digital correspondence on a specific issue is an overwhelming task. I don’t think receiving a subpoena for the same data by a different group actually creates hardship. I do think we have an opportunity to build trust with the public and be the calm voice in a storm. Let’s not squander that with name calling and pep rallies.

      • Fred

        Or concern trolling.

        The other side? Liars for oil dollars. They deserve as much belittling and namecalling as can be heaped upon them.

    • The_Turtle

      It takes time to gather and index/catalog the data. And you certainly do not want to hand over the only copy you have, you want to hand over copies in case something is lost/destroyed or just never returned.

      Besuides having their budgets cut by the same idiot Republicans, now they cannot spend as much time on research because they have to respond to the request.