House Republicans vs. The Weather: Part 845742

Representative Lamar Smith (R – TX), chair of House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is mad about a thing. Specifically, he is mad that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is refusing to give him records of their internal deliberations pertaining to a study they published in July — a study that Smith doesn’t like.

You see, Smith had taken to citing a study suggesting that climate change had slowed in the 1990s, and NOAA’s new research shows that that study is wrong. Smith, being one part baffled and one part angry about the concept that science is a non-dogmatic, self-correcting exercise, is demanding that NOAA turn over any and all internal communication the organization had pertaining to that study. Because there is almost certainly a conspiracy afoot. As he said, in a statement to Nature, “NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda. The Committee intends to use all tools at its disposal to undertake its Constitutionally-mandated oversight responsibilities.”

Except that’s exactly the opposite of what this study represents. From Nature:

Global climate change, via Creative Commons

Global climate change, via Creative Commons

Karl and his colleagues adjusted for known biases in ocean temperature readings from ships and buoys, while also adding measurements from other land-based monitoring stations — expanding the range of those stations into the Arctic. The revised record showed temperatures rising consistently.

Smith’s subpoena came to light on 23 October when the highest-ranking Democrat on the science committee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, released a letter accusing Smith and his fellow Republicans of using the subpoena to advance a “fishing expedition”. Democrats on the committee, Johnson wrote, “won’t be complicit in the illegitimate harassment of our Nation’s research scientists”.

To NOAA’s credit, they have told Smith to take his subpoena and conduct an experiment testing its effects on his mood when shoved up his own ass, saying in their own statement to Nature that, “Because the confidentiality of these communications among scientists is essential to frank discourse among scientists, those documents were not provided to the Committee. It is a long-standing practice in the scientific community to protect the confidentiality of deliberative scientific discussions.”

What’s more, Smith shouldn’t need to see NOAA’s internal communications to be able to determine whether the study holds up under scrutiny. Not only was it peer-reviewed and published in Science, one of the largest and most-respected academic journals in the world, but NOAA has already provided Smith and his committee with the temperature data and other briefings on the research. The data are what they are; you don’t get to freak out just because you wish it weren’t the case:

Public policy only works if it’s based in good data, and good data is hard to come by if the people responsible for collecting it are under constant fear of reprisal from the government if their data doesn’t jive with what the governing party wants it to say. We’ve already been through this at the state level. It doesn’t end well.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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