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ACS Joins Science Organizations Rebuking Congressional Climate Inquiry

House Science Committee Chairman demands documents, e-mails related to climate change paper

by Andrea Widener
December 1, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 48

Credit: Newscom
Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee, is tussling with NOAA over a climate change research paper.
Photo of Representative Lamar Smith, Republican from Texas.
Credit: Newscom
Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee, is tussling with NOAA over a climate change research paper.

Several major scientific societies contend that a probe by the powerful chair of the House of Representatives Science, Space, & Technology Committee could have a chilling effect on government scientists and their work.

The American Chemical Society and six other large science organizations sent a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in late November outlining their “grave concern” about his investigation into federal climate change research.

The organizations, which also included the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, say Smith’s inquiry could prevent federal scientists from research related to important policy questions and inhibit the government’s ability to attract the best researchers.

“Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial,” the letter states. “Science cannot thrive when policy-makers—regardless of party affiliation—use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.”

Smith’s probe targets a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration team’s research into a pause in global warming trends, which some climate skeptics say is a reason to doubt human-caused climate change. The paper, published in Science in June, showed no slowdown in warming (DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa5632).

Since then, Smith has sought internal NOAA e-mails and other documents related to the publication, claiming that the paper was published for political reasons. NOAA staffers have met with the committee to explain that all of the data used in the research are publicly available. But that did not satisfy Smith.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the top Democrat on the Science Committee, has sent several letters to Smith chastising him for overstepping his bounds. Smith responded last week, accusing Johnson of ignoring her role to conduct oversight over federal research.

Glenn S. Ruskin, director of ACS’s Office of Public Affairs, says, “ACS joined with its science colleagues to express grave concern that the chairman’s continued inquiries to NOAA were overly broad and beyond the scope of the research in question.” ACS publishes C&EN.



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