Tomorrow, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan will testify before the House Science Committee. It is possible that Rep. Lamar Smith, the committee’s chairman, will take the opportunity to ask her about his outstanding subpoena for correspondence among scientists who study climate change. Yesterday, UCS sent two letters—one from 1,595 scientists and one from 91,596 citizens—asking the chairman to rescind the subpoena.
“Compliance with your demand would undermine the effectiveness of not only government scientists but also the many thousands of researchers who collaborate with their peers in government to produce policy-relevant information and analysis,” wrote the scientists. “Documents obtained through a subpoena for scientists’ internal communications will not contribute to public understanding of climate change science. We are concerned that this effort will have a chilling effect on federal science research.”
At issue is an exhaustively peer-reviewed study published in Science based on a routine update of surface temperature datasets. NOAA made all of the data and methodologies related to the study and briefed the chairman several times on the paper’s approach and conclusions.
But the chairman didn’t like the results, so he issued a broad subpoena for years of scientists’ emails, draft papers, peer review comments and more. In the months since, his reasoning for issuing the subpoena has shifted with the wind.
Seven scientific societies strongly rebuked Chairman Smith for his actions. “Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial,” they wrote. Hundreds of scientists then wrote in support of NOAA’s decision to resist the subpoena.
Seemingly chagrined, the chairman initially walked back his request, saying that he only really wanted communication among political appointees. But then in February he doubled down on the original subpoena, demanding that NOAA review and provide documents containing words like “temperature” and “change.” He may as well have asked them to search for the word “the.”
The scientific community sees the chairman’s actions as an abuse of power with the potential to do great damage to the federal scientific enterprise. NOAA is justified in continuing to explain and provide access to the science while protecting the integrity and correspondence of its researchers.