American Meteorological Society Slams House Science Committee Witch Hunt

, former deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | November 4, 2015, 2:37 pm EDT
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The American Meteorological Society today issued a strongly-worded letter condemning House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s ongoing harassment of government climate scientists. The letter is in response to a demand made by Chairman Smith under new, unilateral subpoena powers for all correspondence, notes and other materials from the last seven years related to the work of certain NOAA climate scientists.

“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.

The House Science Committee has issued subpoenas for scientists' emails and other communications. This harassment should be condemned and resisted. Cartoon copyright UCS/Morgan Swofford

The House Science Committee has issued subpoenas for scientists’ emails and other communications. This harassment should be condemned and resisted. Cartoon copyright UCS/Morgan Swofford

As we have extensively documented, attacking scientists by going after correspondence is an increasingly common intimidation tactic used by industry groups to cast doubt on evidence that is viewed as contrary to their interests. 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) to access scientists’ internal exchanges.But a congressional committee chairman using that tactic takes it to a new level.

So why is there so much interest in this one study? Recently, NOAA went through a routine update of global temperature data and found that the climate has continued to warm through the first 14 years of this century. The paper went through the peer review process and was published in the prestigious journal Science; NOAA put all of its data and methods on its website.

Rep. Smith took exception to the study because it refutes suggestions that there had been a slowdown in the rate of warming. NOAA met several times with committee staff to provide them with the (again, already publicly available) data, explain the science, and answer numerous questions. It did no good. And out came the subpoena.

Last week, NOAA responded in a four-page letter to Chairman Smith that summarized the exhaustive briefings and data that NOAA has provided for the committee. This point was not lost on the AMS, which continued in its letter (emphasis is original):

“NOAA has stated, unambiguously, that all data and methodologies used for this research are freely available. The demand for internal communications associated with their research places a burden on NOAA scientists, imposes a chilling effect on future communication among scientists, and potentially disrupts NOAA’s critical efforts to protect life and property. NOAA and other Federal agencies employ world-class scientists who seek knowledge and understanding with commitment and dedication. The advancement of science depends on investigators having the freedom to carry out research objectively and without the fear of threats or intimidation whether or not their results are expedient or popular.”

The real reason for the subpoena, of course, is not to gain a better understanding of the science. It is designed to suggest that NOAA has something to hide, which carries with it an assumption of guilt.

And from some sectors, they’re getting the response they want. Media Matters for America has an excellent summary of how news of the subpoena is being spun by those who won’t accept the science. “NOAA refuses to release data,” one pundit wrote. NOAA refused to “pass along a host of data related to the study,” wrote another. “What’s NOAA hiding?” read a third. Who cares whether any of this is true?

Now think about how responsible their coverage would be with access to all of the scientists’ emails.

Thus far, the congressman’s actions have been roundly condemned as bullying by someone who is not willing to accept the scientific process. The science community has seen this correctly not as a dispute about one scientific paper, but as an attack on the very foundation of the scientific process, on the confidentiality of peer review, and on the way that federal agencies use the data that their employees produce.

NOAA is right to continue to resist efforts to compromise its scientific process. No one can work in a climate where every email, meeting record or handwritten note could be publicly scrutinized and taken out of context. The scientific community should continue to push back strongly against any further attempts by Rep. Smith to draw out this unfortunate gambit.

CORRECTION: The originally published version of this post identified the Oct. 27 NOAA letter to Chairman Smith as coming from NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan; the letter was actually signed by Coby Dolan, director of the agency’s office of legislative and intergovernmental affairs.

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

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  • howlin_wolf

    This kind of intimidation of scientists who are simply doing their job is something one would expect in a totalitarian society such as Stalinist Russia. For this congressperson to try and shut down legitimate scientific work for purely ideological reasons is a threat to an important freedom, and to a crucial enterprise – scientific inquiry – supporting the advancement of the nation.

  • John Russell Sauquillo

    Let’s face the facts, Republicans are Organized Criminals without a lick of Ethics or Morals

  • SilenceIsConsent

    Lamar Smith should be removed from his seat by whatever means are necessary.

  • Jack Listerio

    It more appears that NOAA is hiding a conspiracy of its own just as the 2009 IPCC emails proved was the case.

    If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear, RIGHT!

    Climate change is a fraud we all know this now and has been for those of us keeping up with it over the last 40 years. Global cooling,then np its Global warming,then no its climate change,then no wait that’s busted lets go with this maybe they will believe us then……………sorry you guys ran out of scientific credibility the same time passive smoke was dubbed a killer……….Then closer inspection found not even smoking has ever been proven to cause anything in anyone.

    7 October, the COT meeting on 26 October and the COC meeting on 18
    November 2004.

    “5. The Committees commented that tobacco smoke was a highly complex chemical mixture and that the causative agents for smoke induced diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, effects on reproduction and on offspring) was unknown. The mechanisms by which tobacco induced adverse effects were not established. The best information related to tobacco smoke – induced lung cancer, but even in this instance a detailed mechanism was not available. The Committees therefore agreed that on the basis of current knowledge it would be very difficult to identify a toxicological testing strategy or a biomonitoring approach for use in volunteer studies with smokers where the end-points determined or biomarkers measured were predictive of the overall burden of tobacco-induced adverse disease.”

    In other words … our first hand smoke theory is so lame we can’t even design a bogus lab experiment to prove it. In fact … we don’t even know how tobacco does all of the magical things we claim it does.

    The greatest threat to the second hand theory is the weakness of the first hand theory.

    • canaan


      • Jack Listerio

        Thats just it, it aint science at all. Its all made up computer models created to get the results the programmers wanted the same as all the epidemiology junk sciensused in every form of political fraud scheme out there like anti smoking or anti obesity. Take your pick they all use the same junk science methods.

      • Jack Listerio

        ………….Manufacturing the science to meet the agenda, in black on white. Does anyone still have doubts?

        ”Bal laughs when asked about the role of scientific evidence in guiding policy decisions. “There was no science on how to do a community intervention on something of this global dimension,” he says. “Where there is no science, you have to go and be venturesome—you can’t use the paucity of science as an excuse to do nothing. We created the science, we did the interventions and then all the scientists came in behind us and analyzed what we did.”

        Read under the title :
        Tobacco Control: The Long War—When the Evidence Has to Be Created


      • Jack Listerio

        ……………Epidemiologists Vote to Keep Doing Junk Science

        Epidemiology Monitor (October 1997)

        An estimated 300 attendees a recent meeting of the American College of
        Epidemiology voted approximately 2 to 1 to keep doing junk science!

        Specifically, the attending epidemiologists voted against a motion
        proposed in an Oxford-style debate that “risk factor” epidemiology is
        placing the field of epidemiology at risk of losing its credibility.

        Risk factor epidemiology focuses on specific cause-and-effect
        relationships–like heavy coffee drinking increases heart attack risk. A
        different approach to epidemiology might take a broader
        perspective–placing heart attack risk in the context of more than just
        one risk factor, including social factors.

        Risk factor epidemiology is nothing more than a perpetual junk science machine.

        But as NIEHS epidemiologist Marilyn Tseng said “It’s hard to be an
        epidemiologist and vote that what most of us are doing is actually harmful
        to epidemiology.”

        But who really cares about what they’re doing to epidemiology. I thought
        it was public health that mattered!

        we have seen the “SELECTIVE” blindness disease that
        Scientist have practiced over the past ten years. Seems the only color they
        see is GREEN BACKS, it’s a very infectious disease that has spread through
        the Scientific community with the same speed that any infectious disease
        would spread. And has affected the T(thinking) Cells as well as sight.

        Seems their eyes see only what their paid to see. To be honest, I feel
        after the Agent Orange Ranch Hand Study, and the Sl-utz and Nutz Implant
        Study, they have cast a dark shadow over their profession of being anything
        other than traveling professional witnesses for corporate hire with a lack
        of moral concern to their obligation of science and truth.

        The true “Risk Factor” is a question of ; will they ever be able to earn
        back the respect of their profession as an Oath to Science, instead of
        corporate paid witnesses with selective vision?
        Oh, if this seems way harsh, it’s nothing compared to the damage of peoples
        lives that selective blindness has caused!

      • gladlylearn

        But science needs to think about who holds the purse strings. In the real world, if “science” (that is to say, rational part of the American population) doesn’t get politically active, it will be starved out of existence.

      • canaan

        Well said. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but it’s nothing if not historically accurate.

  • Dorothy Valone

    What do you expect from people who sincerely believe that Jesus drove all the dinosaurs off the edge of the flat earth? I suggest the scientists subpoena Congress’ internal memos.