Christmas elves, pirates and scientists gathered Monday at U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith's office to present the San Antonio Republican, in absentia, with a fake award from the “Flat Earth Foundation of Texas.” The costumed crusaders, all Austin environmental activists, were protesting Smith’s long record of skepticism about climate change which, most recently, has put him in a standoff with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For the last six months, Smith has been sparring with NOAA head Kathryn Sullivan over the methodology of a study agency scientists published in the journal Science in June. The study found that a widely publicized “lull” in the rate of global warming, a cornerstone of conservative arguments against climate change related policies, resulted from faulty statistical methods.
Smith, who chairs the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, alleges that the scientists did not consider all available data in reaching that conclusion, and he’s issued a subpoena for all emails and data surrounding the study.
“Information provided to the Committee by whistleblowers appears to show that the Karl study was rushed to publication,” Smith wrote in a letter last month to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who oversees NOAA. The release “raises concerns that it was expedited to fit the Administration’s aggressive climate agenda.”
Smith has been an especially vocal skeptic about widely accepted science on climate change. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, he described global temperature increases over the past 15 years as “negligible” and said links between climate change and worsening weather events had been debunked. He also expressed doubt about President Barack Obama’s motivations for participating in the global climate conference underway in Paris.
“Climate reports from the [United Nations] — which the Obama administration consistently embraces — are designed to provide scientific cover for a preordained policy. This is not good science,” he wrote, adding that a “central objective” of the negotiations was “the redistribution of wealth among nations.”
Smith is using a similar argument to cast doubt on the NOAA study — he says the study’s findings overlook data collected from satellites and should be considered akin to “science fiction.”
Scientists have rallied to defend Sullivan and the study’s integrity. Michael Halpern, program manager for the Center for Science & Democracy, condemned Smith’s subpoena as a “witch hunt” that should be considered harassment against government agencies.
"This subpoena appears to be furthering a fishing expedition, rather than engaging in focused oversight with a legitimate goal in mind," she wrote, adding that the move marked a "disturbing trend" for the committee's legitimacy.
"NOAA has provided all the information necessary for the Committee to understand the scientific process at play," she said.
Smith's request for further documents served no purpose but to "punish" those scientists being investigated, Johnson added, noting that despite 50 letters and subpoenas Smith has issued over the course of the year, she could not think of one discovery of wrongdoing.
And on Monday, a group of almost 600 scientists issued a letter thanking Sullivan for “standing up for scientific integrity and independent research.”
“We are aware that NOAA scientists already met several times with committee staff to provide all data and methodology,” the letter said. “We urge you to continue to stand firm against these bullying tactics in order to protect NOAA scientists’ ability to pursue research and publish data and results, regardless of how contentious the issue may be.”
In response to his Flat Earth award Monday, Smith indicated he would continue his efforts to subpoena the NOAA scientists.
“I will continue asking tough questions of this administration because the American people deserve to know the truth about its extreme environmental agenda,” he said.
At Monday’s demonstration, Jere Locke, program director for the Texas Drought Project, said he felt Smith’s concerns were baseless.
“Lamar Smith isn’t peer-reviewed,” Locke said. “The scientists are.”