Smith’s agenda isn’t the least bit murky. He admits he has only read summaries of the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the product of 800 climate scientists. But he nevertheless says the scientists got it wrong.
One of his claims, repeated endlessly in the denier-sphere, is that we’ve had a pause in global warming over the past 18 years, something he says scientists can’t explain. In fact, scientists have for some time now been explaining that seeming hiatus: Global warming from greenhouse gas emissions is reflected in rising ocean temperatures and melting glaciers and ice caps. Moreover, in a study published in Science in June—”Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus”—directly challenges the whole idea of a pause:
Here, we present an updated global surface temperature analysis that reveals that global trends are higher than those reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, especially in recent decades, and that the central estimate for the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century. These results do not support the notion of a “slowdown” in the increase of global surface temperature.
The lead author of that study is Thomas Karl, who heads the National Centers for Environmental Information at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Smith has turned his fire on Karl, seeking details of how NOAA interprets its climate data.As noted in a fierce four-page letter by the ranking Democrat on the science committee—Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson—NOAA has responded to Smith’s requests for information with written responses and face-to-face briefings. But NOAA refused to submit its internal communications. Scott K. Johnson at ArsTechnica writes:
NOAA contends that drafts and deliberative discussions among scientists are confidential and that the publication of data and methods are sufficient. The agency is far from alone in that regard, and the thorny issue of protecting the process of scientific inquiry from quote-mining expeditions has come up before.
So, in an Oct. 13 subpoena, Smith demanded access to “all documents and communications” pertaining to NOAA’s climate measurements. As Roberts and many others have pointed out, all this material except internal communications is already publicly available on a website on a thing called the internet. Mike Halperin, program manager for the Center for Science & Democracy, wrote last week:
“All documents and communications” would presumably include emails, preliminary drafts, peer review comments, notes, audio recordings, and a treasure trove of other material. This would mean thousands upon thousands of records for employees to identify and go through and analyze for no clearly stated purpose.NOAA was given two weeks to comply.
Rep. Johnson’s letter to Smith makes clear what’s really going on:
However, obtaining all of the data and methods used in this study seemingly was not enough for the majority. You also demanded internal communications by NOAA scientists regarding their scientific research. NOAA, rightfully, has been reluctant to waste their time and resources, not to mention break confidence with their superb research scientists by responding to this demand […]I cannot help but note that your requests in this case echo the tactics of notable climate change skeptics, who frequently submit similar FOIA requests of climate scientists in both the federal government and in state universities. One of the most publicized occasions of harassment occurred when then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the American Tradition Institute (ATI) sought email communications of former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann.
Halperin gets it exactly right.
And now, the House Science Committee is on a witch hunt at worst and wasting resources at best. It used to be tobacco and chemical companies that harassed scientists. Increasingly, Congress is picking up the tobacco industry playbook. Who wouldn’t get demoralized? Who wouldn’t feel intimidated?
What Smith and the rest of the deniers in the House caucus of climate-change charlatans really want is for scientists to keep their mouths shut. Fortunately, despite the smears and budget attacks and stubborn scientific illiteracy they face, more scientists are following the lead of Michael Mann and James Hansen and refusing to keep quiet about the greatest planet-wide crisis since modern humans came into being.