Rep. Lamar Smith Tried To Make A Big Deal Out Of A Fake Climate Scandal

It didn't go well.

WASHINGTON ― Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a longtime denier of mainstream climate science, is convinced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cooked its books on climate change.

So when an article appeared Sunday in the British tabloid The Daily Mail with the headline, “Exposed: How World Leaders Were Duped Into Investing Billions Over Manipulated Global Warming Data,” Smith pounced. In a press release titled “Former NOAA Scientist Confirms Colleagues Manipulated Climate Records” and a series of posts to Twitter, the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology accused the federal agency ― yet again ― of playing “fast and loose” with data and the Obama administration of pushing its “costly climate agenda.”

In the article, which has received widespread backlash, journalist David Rose writes that “high-level whistleblower” John Bates, a retired scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, had exposed the “biggest scientific scandal since ‘Climategate.’” The federal agency, Rose writes, “breached its own rules on scientific integrity” when it published a “sensational but flawed report” that “exaggerated global warming and was timed to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.”

The 2015 study, led by NOAA scientist Thomas Karl and published in the journal Science, found that an apparent slowing trend, or hiatus, in the rate of global warming from 1998 to 2012 was the result of its own biased data. The agency corrected its analysis to account for differences between ships’ measurements and those of more accurate at-sea buoys, which increased the estimated rate of warming over the previous 15 years.

On Tuesday, Smith’s committee hosted a hearing that had nothing to do with NOAA, at least on the surface. Titled “Making EPA Great Again” and stacked with industry lobbyists, most of whom agree with Smith on climate change, the purpose was to discuss how the Environmental Protection Agency can “pursue environmental protection and protect public health by relying on sound science.” But the chairman couldn’t help but take advantage of the opportunity the Daily Mail story created, quickly switching gears to blast NOAA for its alleged deception.

Smith said the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) “should redact” the NOAA study.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has a history of attacking federal climate scientists.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has a history of attacking federal climate scientists.
Scott J. Ferrell via Getty Images

Smith clearly didn’t expect the response he received from AAAS Chief Executive Rush Holt, a former member of Congress from New Jersey, when he asked whether Holt’s association was committed to thoroughly investigating Bates’ claims.

Holt pointed to an article Tuesday in E&E News in which Bates appeared to take issue with the Daily Mail’s account and backtrack on the interpretation that he wrote about in a lengthy blog post published Saturday (the apparent genesis of the Daily Mail piece).

“The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything it was,” Bates told E&E, according to The New York Times.

Holt told Smith that the Daily Mail story, which has received widespread criticism, is “not the making of a big scandal.”

“This is an internal dispute between two factions within an agency,” he said. “There’s nothing in the paper, the Karl paper, that at our current analysis suggests retraction.”

Smith fired back: “I encourage you to talk to Dr. Bates, because everything I have read that he’s said about the Karl report suggest to me that NOAA cheated and got caught.”

Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, defended the journal Science's decision to publish the NOAA study in 2015.
Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, defended the journal Science's decision to publish the NOAA study in 2015.
Kris Connor via Getty Images

What Smith has failed to acknowledge is that last month independent researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, published a study that it says confirms the accuracy of the Karl paper, further eroding the go-to argument among climate deniers.

The GOP congressman, who has received $697,747 in donations from the oil and gas industry since 1989, has been on a years-long crusade ― or “witch hunt,” as some have called it ― to discredit all-but-universally accepted climate science. In 2015, after NOAA published its study updating the global temperature record, Smith harassed agency scientists, issuing subpoenas to obtain communications related to their analysis. He has also gone after seemingly everyone looking into Exxon Mobil’s suppression of climate change research, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, often parroting the oil and gas giant’s go-to First Amendment defense in the process.

Later during Tuesday’s hearing, Holt revisited the Karl-Bates dispute and spoke to the importance of promoting and protecting science.

“If you want to be on the right side of any issue, you would do well to go with the evidence ― the best understanding at the time of what it’s going to be. Not some fringe idea,” he said. “Scientists are always poking around the periphery trying to find new understanding, but we shouldn’t think that that is the center of gravity. Take the climate change issue we are talking about this morning. This is an internal dispute about a detail of how you might measure land temperatures or water temperatures. It is not a departure from the general understanding of what’s happening to temperatures in our globe.”

And what is happening is abundantly clear: Global temperatures are spiraling toward the 1.5 degree Celsius aspirational warming limit agreed to during the historic climate change agreement in Paris last December.

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