Scientists hold their ground against Rep. Smith's NOAA subpoena

As the debate between climate scientists and Rep. Lamar Smith builds, the scientific community still agrees that the peer-reviewed data is legitimate.

Drew Angerer/AP
In this Aug. 10, 2010 file photo, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, is adamant that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should turn over internal communications relating to a June climate-change study.

In July, Rep. Smith first questioned the NOAA study, published a study in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science, which found that a "pause" in global warming found in a previous study never existed – the Earth continues to warm because of human activity.

A prominent climate change denier, Smith sent a subpoena to NOAA on Oct. 13 demanding that internal communications between the study's authors be turned over to his committee for examination.

Arguing she has never engaged with a “politically correct agenda,” NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan refuses to answer the congressman’s subpoena. “I have not or will not allow anyone to manipulate the science or coerce the scientists who work for me,” Dr. Sullivan wrote in a letter to Smith, Friday.

Sullivan’s stance against Smith has garnered support from Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, the committee’s ranking Democrat Rep. Eddie Johnson and many in the scientific community.

“There’s been a united front because many, if not most, scientists see this as an attack on the science process and it has a real chilling effect on science more broadly,” Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. 

“Chairman Smith is sending a message to young scientists that you shouldn’t work on controversial issues, because if someone doesn’t like your results – beware. You will have to hire lawyers and they’ll go after you with the weight of a congressional committee subpoena.” 

Rep. Smith’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.  

“The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want and then refuses to reveal how those decisions were made,” Smith said in a statement last month. But NOAA says they have given the congressman all relevant information pertaining to the study.

“In six separate, and increasingly aggressive, letters, the only thing you accused NOAA of doing is engaging in climate science – i.e., doing their jobs,” Rep. Johnson wrote to Smith in a Nov. 19 letter.

Rep. Johnson also notes that Smith’s "whistleblowers" don’t actually refute the scientific findings that support climate change – they only suggest the study was "rushed."

"His argument is about going after communications between scientists," Rosenberg tells The Monitor. "He’s looking for sound-bites, but that’s not how science works." 

But the scientific community doesn’t show any signs of backing down.

"This paper went through as rigorous a review as it could have received," Ginger Pinholster, chief of communications fro the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal Science, told the Washington Post. "Any suggestion that the review was 'rushed' is baseless and without merit." 

"No one is saying he shouldn’t speak his beliefs," says Rosenberg "but he can’t change the science around to support his view."

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