Hundreds of Scientists Speak Up to Support NOAA Climate Research

December 7, 2015 | 10:16 am
Michael Halpern
Former contributor

Hundreds of experts have signed two letters thanking NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan for continuing to stand firm against House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s attempts to politicize climate science. Chairman Smith recently issued a subpoena for all NOAA records related to an important climate change study he doesn’t like. The subpoena includes demands for scientists’ emails, peer review comments, and other deliberative materials, the disclosure of which could intimidate scientists and chill scientific speech.

The chair of the House Science Committee is harassing NOAA climate scientists--and researchers are thanking NOAA for standing up to the bullying and protecting its scientific integrity and independence. Photo: NASA via Flickr.

The chair of the House Science Committee is harassing NOAA climate scientists–and researchers are thanking NOAA for standing up to the bullying and protecting its scientific integrity and independence. Photo: NASA via Flickr.

Both letters, which went to Dr. Sullivan early this morning, were first reported by NPR’s Morning Edition.
“As former NOAA scientists, we write to thank you for standing up for the scientific integrity and independence in research critical to meeting some of the most pressing challenges we face as a nation,” wrote a group of former high-ranking NOAA scientists and administrators. The 23 signatories have 470+ combined years of experience at the agency. They continued:

“We know firsthand that scientists need intellectual space to debate new ideas and give each other confidential feedback without worrying that an individual comment will be subject to public scrutiny at a later date. Turning over scientists’ correspondence and other information to the committee would significantly damage NOAA’s ability to conduct science by putting NOAA’s scientific independence at risk, and making it more difficult for NOAA scientists to collaborate with peers in academia and the private sector.”

More than 500 experts from many different fields of research echoed the NOAA veterans’ concerns in a separate letter. “We know Chairman Smith’s subpoena for the correspondence of NOAA scientists involved with a peer-reviewed paper in Science is not about data access or seeking to learn more about the study,” they wrote. “We are aware that NOAA scientists already met several times with committee staff to provide all data and methodology related to this work and answer numerous questions about the research. We urge you to continue to stand firm against these bullying tactics in order to protect NOAA scientists’ ability to pursue research and publish data and results regardless of how contentious the issue may be.”

Several scientific societies recently wrote to Chairman Smith expressing “grave concern” about the inquiry. Signatories included AAAS, which publishes Science, where the influential climate study appeared. “The scientific process is modern civilization’s best means for arriving at reliable truth,” AAAS Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt told NPR. “And that process should be allowed to work without political meddling.”

Incredibly, in response, Chairman Smith suggested that the journal Science might be biased, too.

Over the past several months, Chairman Smith has offered a number of shifting explanations for his investigation. He is currently waiting for a response from the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, to a letter demanding materials by December 15.