Friday, November 20, 2015

Blistering letter from House Committee member to Lamar Smith about his baseless smear campaign against NOAA scientists

Sou | 3:04 PM Go to the first of 41 comments. Add a comment
You may have read about US Congressman Lamar Smith's ongoing vindictive harassment and smear campaign against scientists at NOAA. You might have also read about his latest allegations of "whistleblowers". If you are wondering if there is anything behind this, other than a deranged attack on science, scientists and the NOAA, then wonder no more.

There is not.

To prove this point, just read the letter to Lamar Smith from Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a member of the committee of which Lamar Smith is chair - the Committee on Space, Science and Technology.

I'll quote some segments damning the unconscionable actions of this vindictive, out-of-control, grandstanding US congressman, Lamar Smith. The bolding and some paragraph breaks are mine.

What exactly is Lamar Smith alleging? That the scientists are doing science!

Lamar Smith started his witchhunt without explaining what he was hunting for - not once, in six letters of demand!
In my prior letter, I noted that in four separate written demands to NOAA to comply with your "investigation" you never actually identified what it is you were claiming to investigate. Instead of responding to either me or NOAA with some legitimate rationale for your actions, you instead wrote a fifth demand letter to NOAA1 which continued your insistence that NOAA must comply with your demands because of your "investigation" - still without ever making any accusation of any waste, fraud, or abuse to be investigated. Just last week, you also sent a similar cajoling letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker2. 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.

Imaginary whistleblowers?

And about the so-called "whistleblowers" who seem to have blown no whistle, Congresswoman Johnson wrote:
Moreover, your "whistleblowers" don't even appear to be challenging the findings of the study, but rather, that the study was "rushed." This mild accusation would hardly seem to warrant the hyper-aggressive oversight and rhetoric you have leveled at NOAA.

Neither I nor my staff can evaluate the veracity of your whistleblower claims, because you have not shared them with the Minority. However, one sentence in your letter gave me pause immediately. You state:

"More troubling, it appears that NOAA employees raised concerns about the timing and readiness of the study's release through e-mails, including several communications just before its publication in April, May, and June of 2015 ."

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Karl study was actually submitted to the journal Science in December of 2014 - four months before your alleged whistleblower communications. Science accepted the study for publication in May of 2015. Moreover, the Karl study relied, in part, upon the work of two previously published studies by Boyin Huang5 and Wei Liu . It was these studies which explained NOAA's updated sea surface temperature records, not the Karl study. These studies were submitted to the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate in December of 2013 - nearly one and a half years before your alleged whistleblowers raised their concerns.

Given these discrepancies, I hope you will take this opportunity to provide the Minority with the whistleblower information you possess, so we might better be able to evaluate the veracity of these claims. Until you provide the Minority with this information, I hope you will understand my skepticism regarding the new claims you have made in your seventh demand letter.  

Grandstanding, wasting taxpayer's money, and harassing scientists

Congresswoman Johnson asks Congressman Smith why he didn't ask his questions when he had the opportunity to do so. Why does he insist on more meetings after he's already had ample opportunity to ask whatever he wants?

I would note that Dr. Karl travelled to Washington, DC on October 19 to provide your staff with a private briefing on his research. You and your staff had the opportunity to ask him any questions you desired. You could have confronted Dr. Karl with your "whistleblower" information. You didn't. Instead of doing so, you and your staff are wasting taxpayer resources and Dr. Karl's valuable time by demanding that he again travel to Washington at some indeterminate point in the future to ask him questions you already had the opportunity to ask. This isn't oversight. It's grandstanding and harassment of a respected scientist.

Lamar Smith threatens an American hero and icon

Lamar Smith has even threatened Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, and American hero if ever there was one, with criminal prosecution, to further his war on science:
You also make irresponsible threats to Administrator Sullivan in your November 4 letter, stating:

"[y]our failure to comply with a duly issued subpoena may expose you to civil and/or criminal enforcement mechanisms."

I think it might be informative to take note of whom you are threatening. Dr. Kathryn Sullivan is PhD geologist, former naval reserve officer, f0rmer three-time NASA astronaut, former chief scientist of NOAA, and former member of the National Science Board. As an astronaut, Dr. Sullivan became the first American woman to ever "walk" in space. Dr. Sullivan is the very definition of service to country, and she is a role model for us all. I highly doubt Dr. Sullivan is intimidated by your threats, but it is an indication of how low the Majority is willing to stoop to perpetuate their anti-science agenda when a legitimate American icon is dragged through the mud in furtherance of an ideological crusade.

The most outrageous statements - Lamar Smith's baseless witchhunt to smear reputations for partisan gain

Congressman Johnson quoted unfounded allegations made by Lamar Smith, in the media and in Committee, none of which was supported by a single scrap of evidence.  Then she wrote:
These might be the most outrageous statements ever made by a Chair of the Committee on Science.

In one fell swoop, you have accused a host of different individuals of wrongdoing. You have accused NOAA's top research scientists of scientific misconduct. By extension, you have also accused the peer-reviewers at one of our nation's most prestigious academic journals, Science, of participating in this misconduct (or at least being too incompetent to notice what was going on). If that weren't enough, you are intimating a grand conspiracy between NOAA and the White House to doctor climate science to advance administration policy. Presumably this accusation extends to Administrator Sullivan herself. And all of these indictments are conjured out of thin air, without you presenting any factual basis for these sweeping accusations - exposing this so-called "investigation" for what it truly is: a witch hunt designed to smear the reputations of eminent scientists for partisan gain. 

Lamar Smith can't hide behind the US Constitution

The Constitution doesn't give Lamar Smith the right to threaten and defame scientists, as Congresswoman Johnson explains:

You have made much of the notion that the Constitution undergirds your investigatory powers. And it is true that Congress's legitimate investigatory powers are derived directly from Article 1 of the Constitution. However, you are wrong that anything you are currently engaged in derives of the powers vested in Congress by the Constitution.

The Constitution doesn't provide you with a blank check to harass research scientists with whose results you disagree. The Constitution doesn't imbue you with the power to sanction a separate and equal branch of government simply because they won't entertain your baseless conspiracy theories. Your "investigation" appears to have less to do with uncovering waste, fraud, or abuse at a federal agency, and more to do with political posturing intended to influence public opinion ahead of a major international climate conference. I would implore you to cease this illegitimate "investigation," but I suspect such a plea would fall on deaf ears. However, you should know that your inappropriate tactics will find no support with me. I, along with my fellow Democratic Members of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, will endeavor at every opportunity to counter your efforts to attack the field of climate science and the hardworking scientists who work in the field. 

You can read the entire letter here.  Pass around the link to counter the smear campaign by out-of-control Lamar Smith.

One expects nut-jobs like Anthony Watts and Eric Worrall to promote this sort of conspiracy nuttery on their blogs. One doesn't expect the Chair of the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to be a conspiracy theorising anti-science crank. But he is.

Where are the rational members of the Republican Party? Are they all anti-science, conspiracy-theorising nuts or are there some who will speak out and stand up to Lamar Smith?

If you know of any US politicians from the Republican Party who have spoken out against Lamar Smith's actions - can you let me know in the comments, please.

References and further reading

Letter from Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson to the Chair of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology - 19 November 2015

NOAA: No pause in the global surface temperature - HotWhopper article describing the NOAA paper that Lamar Smith is basing his attack upon - June 2015

A list of related HotWhopper articles, describing the fake allegations and attacks dreamt up by Anthony Watts and other deniers 


  1. I've been overwhelmed defending scientists against Rep. Smith's vile threats of criminal enforcement, so I'm very grateful to Rep. E. B. Johnson for standing up to his anti-science bullying. We need more leaders like her.

    1. No, you were not overwhelmed. By far. :-)

      Bryan Kill is overwhelmingly stupid or disingenuous. I go for the latter, you cannot be that stupid and still able to operate the twitter machine.

      Just disengage and let the readers make up their minds.

    2. Umm... okay... I'm disengaging now.

    3. Sorry, I should have written Joe Pags, not Bryan Kill. Had read the conversation before and did not read it again to get the right name.

    4. That's okay, my identity repeatedly gets mistaken on November 20 (Pasadena time).

      As they say, wrestling with pigs gets me so muddy that bystanders can't tell the difference. But hopefully the pig won't be able to muddy other targeted scientists because he's too busy psychologically projecting his own faults/mud onto me.

  2. If you want to see how WUWT is looking more and more like a septic tank for weirdos, cranks and utter nutters, read the paranoid "thoughts" under his latest NOAA attack piece:


    Warning: Have a sickness bag handy.

    Not a scrap of evidence of any wrongdoing at NOAA - quite the opposite, yet WUWT readers condemned not just NOAA, but Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, mainstream media, Presidential candidates, and a lot of wishful thinking. Some are already imagining prison sentences for leading climate scientists. It's left to the "brave souls" at WUWT to judge and sentence research scientists, not only in the absence of any evidence against them, but in conflict with all the mountains of evidence that the research by NOAA scientists is completely consistent with all the science produced by other researchers.

    Joe McCarthy would be proud. Fake sceptics doesn't describe them, Anthony's fans are way beyond that.

    Is there a collective noun for loopy fruitcakes (or is is fruity loopcakes?) of the nasty paranoid kind that congregate in the dim dark corners of cyberspace like WUWT? If not, one should be invented. Anthony Watts could rename his blog.

    1. Sorry, could only get a few comments in before reaching for the anti-nausea pills. Felt like going over there and commenting myself before I had a lie down in a darkened room and that thought passed. If ignorance and stupidity were energy, we'd never run out.

    2. Those comments are a prime example of how climate change denial is such a fertile area of study for psychologists. As the impact of AGW becomes ever more obvious, deniers respond by distancing themselves further and further from reality.

    3. The way they are carrying on they are setting themselves up to be studied by criminologists, not just psychologists. A thuggish, out of control lynch mob urged on by Anthony Watts - who just sits in the background pulling their strings.

    4. I would suggest the only appropriate collective noun would be a "bakery".

    5. Does this sound familiar?

      "...tendency to not care about the consequences of their actions, no matter how badly they affect others, can be linked to their "remarkable ability to rationalize their behavior"

    6. Worth it for the well-placed photo of Blair alone!

  3. Sou that train wreck that is the US House of Reps has to the best of my knowledge, not a single GOP member who acknowledges the science of AGW.

    You have to go to the Senate to find any and there is only 3 of them. Last month there were only 2 - Senator Lindsey Graham the senior Senator for South Carolina and John McCain the senior Senator for Arizona. Then rising GOP star Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire suddenly realised that AGW was not only a thing it was a very important thing when popular New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) announced she would run against her in '16.
    There is not a single member of the House majority who will stand up to Lamar.

    Thanks Sou for another great 'explainer'.

    1. PG, to be fair there are a small hand full: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/may/18/jerry-brown/jerry-brown-says-virtually-no-republican-believes-/

  4. There is one line, at least, of Johnson's letter I would change.

    "The Constitution doesn't provide you with a blank cheque to harass research scientists with whose results you disgree".

    I don't think Lamar Smith has the scientific knowledge or the wit to come to any conclusion on the matter. That line should read:

    "The Constitution doesn't provide you with a blank cheque to harass research scientists whose results are inconvenient to your fossil fuel industry puppetmasters".

  5. Johnson's first letter to Smith was good. This second one is great. I wonder if it will shame any of the other 21 Republican members of the Science Committee into publicly disavowing Smith's actions and tactics? (Although it looks like 2/3 of the Republican members are global warming deniers to one degree or another, and none of the remainder have come out publicly in support of the scientific consensus on AGW.)

    1. The short answer to your question is "No". A more complete answer would be "hell no!".

  6. This is just Benghazi all over again, with climate scientists the target instead of Hillary. I despise everything the current crop of Republicans represent. It is as if they are trying to pull down the U.S., and the whole world along with it :-(

  7. Tamino over at Open Mind has this as well. I contacted her office to express my thanks.

  8. Unfortunately much of the Republican party is beholden to the fossil fuel interests due to the power of their enormous campaign contributions along wth other political shenanigans such as heavy support of opponents of those supporting climate science (see Representative Bob Inglis. South Carolina). Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission was the worst thing to ever happen to American politics and the power of the people.

  9. Nightmare scenario come Jan 2017:

    President: Donald Trump
    Vice President: Ted Cruz
    Director of NOAA: Anthony Watts.

    GOP holds the House, gets a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

    Not totally out of the realm of possibility, given how many bats***t crazy "patriots" we have here in the USA.

    1. Not thinking of taking a job as scientist in the USA. No thanks.

    2. Did Oreskes see this future coming..? Gotta start learning Chinese..

    3. Well, I did mean Oreskes... http://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-collapse-of-western-civilization/9780231169547

    4. Not to be alarmist but you might find this useful. https://ppalme.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/learning-to-write-chinese-can-be-much-faster-than-learning-english/

  10. I have been using Lamar Smith's witch hunt against NOAA as a demonstration of the difference between scientific skepticism and climate science denial. Smith has the authority as chair of the science committee to hold public hearings on the science behind the Karl paper, allowing the scientists to explain all details of their research in a public forum in front of the committee. But Smith chooses to conduct a secret, one-sided partisan "investigation." -- Dennis

  11. OT What has happened to Real Climate today?

    I noted intermittent trouble connecting over the last few days. Is this a revamp part done or something else?

    Try link in left side bar here and see what happens.

    1. It's been working for me (IE)...

    2. Try it now, this is what I am getting on Firefox under Win8 or Linux here:


    3. Arrgh! I now see comments re RealClimate at another thread here, the 'Lesson 1,126½ in how to be a science disinformer, featuring Bob Tisdale' one.

      I did search here before adding my 2P and turned up nought - glad Gavin appears to be on to it.

    4. Can't access it either from here. But domain has not expired according to whois.

    5. Domain has been renewed today but expirey data was yesterday. Probably just stuck while paperwork gets shuffled and records get updated.

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  13. IANAL but ...
    Limiting the Legislative Privilege:Analyzing the Scope of the Speech or Debate Clause
    (circa 2012)

    This comes down to ""legitimate legislative sphere" thus the "whistleblower" because you need a reason.

    A civil servant (or anybody for that matter) has certain rights, such as the Miranda rights.

    A modified version of these "rights" called the Smith rights or the Watts rights starts like this ...

    “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say (via email) can and will be used against you in a court of public opinion. ... "

    I say, the DoC and NOAA and the Executive Branch should stand their ground against legislative overreach and the "court" of public opinion.

    The other thing I would say is keep your emails very short and on point to your direct duties. Expect that any and all email (and internal documents) at your workplace are in the public domain and act appropriately.

    1. The guys at NOAA already do this. At conferences they are just as talkative, but their mails are normally very short. Writing mails that could be published in the New York Times takes more time than an informal one written to one colleague, who has a lot of background knowledge and will assume good faith. These witch hunts seriously hinder the transfer of information within science.

    2. @ Victor: Yes, the challenge of consistently writing emails that cannot be deliberately misquoted or distorted by an hostile and unethical adversary for an equally hostile and ignorant audience is not a trivial one.

      The politicians get around it by exempting their own communications from scrutiny, having aides communicate, or using private personal email, phones and meetings.

  14. And I suspect that Karl et al will never know who these whistleblowers are. Wouldn't want them to be able to confront witnesses against them in an open forum. That would be... what... unconstitutional?

    1. It is curious that the deniers argue that because NOAA is a government agency all its emails should be public, but haven't asked to see Rep. Smith's list of whistleblowers.

      On a related note, Science has come out and essentially said no, the Karl study was not rushed, in fact it was reviewed more closely than is usually the case: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2015/11/23/top-lawmaker-rebutted-on-climate-study-accusation/


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  16. A recent post up at Climate Denial Crock of the Week entitled "Hometown Paper to Lamar Smith:”Stop Intimidation tactics”" had a link in the last sentance to a very revealing, in so many ways, video where Lamar Smith, knowingly I am sure (watch his face), picked out Bob Murray of Murry Energy to say a few words, Murray rounded up by thanking Lamar. Lamar in turn thanked Murray and then went at sat next to him. That link was easily missed so I'll link here directly:

    Bob Murray thanks Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee What a staged managed exchange!


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