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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
November 25, 2015

Credit: Newscom
Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee, is tussling with NOAA over a climate change research paper.
Photo of Rep. Lamar Smith.
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 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-Tex.) on Tuesday outlining their “grave concern” about his investigation into federal research that showed there was no pause in global warming.

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.

Credit: Ian Langsdon/EPA/Newscom
Chemists and chemistry students: Follow key developments connected to the Paris climate change meeting here.

“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 policymakers—regardless of party affiliation— use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.”

ACS, AAAS, and several other societies sent this letter to Smith warning that his investigation could hurt the quality of government science.

The investigation involves a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) team’s research into a purported pause in global warming trends, which some climate skeptics put forth as 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 rather than scientific reasons. NOAA staff including Thomas Karl, the paper’s lead author, have met with the committee to explain that all of the data used in the research are publically available, but that did not satisfy Smith. The lawmaker has issued subpoenas for documents and e-mails related to the publication.

“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,” says Glenn S. Ruskin, director of ACS’s Office of Public Affairs. ACS publishes C&EN.

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, including one last week that claimed he was harassing NOAA head Kathryn Sullivan. Smith responded this week, accusing Johnson of ignoring her role to conduct oversight over federal research.

This is the most recent attempt by Smith to use his power as Science Committee chairman to investigate research agencies. For example, Smith spent more than a year looking into the National Science Foundation’s peer review process and into individual grants that he considered wasteful before coming to an agreement with the funding agency.



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