It is perhaps no surprise that, with a month to go before the start of the international conference in Paris to control carbon emissions, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has issued a subpoena to Tom Karl, Head of the National Centers for Environmental Information.
In this, they demand access to email correspondence and data relating to a recent study (published in Science), which updated global temperature estimates, based on a re-evaluation and adjustment of meteorological observations.
Although these adjustments were absolutely trivial in the context of global warming, the publication provided the Committee with the perfect excuse to create a controversy out of nothing. Their goal is simple: to promote the appearance that data were manipulated in order to promote an Obama-driven agenda to reduce carbon emissions, and thereby to try and undermine the negotiations in Paris.
This is red meat for the fanatics and conspiracy theorists who are unable to distinguish scientific facts from science fiction. But it does absolutely nothing to advance scientific understanding of global warming. Does the committee seriously claim that it has the expertise to evaluate the scientific basis for the Science paper, or that is has the credentials to re-assess the work carried out by the nation's premier Center for environmental monitoring?
That idea is laughable. Let's be clear: Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Science Committee, is recklessly abusing his position in order to promote a political agenda, relentlessly attempting to silence those who study science to better understand our environment. This is abundantly clear in his efforts to cut the budget of NASA's earth observation program by 40 percent, and to decimate the budget of the Geosciences Directorate in the National Science Foundation (which funds research in climate science).
Rather than support and promote science, Representative Smith has pursued a scorched earth policy to cut funding, intimidate scientists and promote his own Luddite agenda. In this he has strong support from fellow Republicans, Sensenbrenner and Rohrabacher whose understanding of science verges on the primeval. To Sensenbrenner, "solar flares are more responsible for climatic cycles than anything that human beings do". And Rohrabacher simply believes that "global warming is a total fraud...employed by liberals to create global government." With people of this quality leading the Science Committee of the House of Representatives, it is no wonder that their support for science is abysmal.
The Lamar Smith strategy to try and intimidate scientists has been tried before, when another Congressional Committee (led by Republican Congressman Joe Barton) also abused its authority by imposing unprecedented demands on climate scientists (myself included) who did nothing more than publish what they had unearthed about the past record of climate variations.
Even more egregiously, Republican Senator Inhofe demanded that 17 climate scientists be investigated by the Justice Department for a litany of federal crimes. The perverse logic behind this request was that, because those government-funded scientists had published evidence that global warming had occurred, and Senator Inhofe knew with certainty that it had not, they had clearly committed fraud. These actions all involve government officials using the power (and tax-payer funded resources) of their office to intimidate and subjugate legitimate, open scientific discussion -- a strategy best described as soft fascism.
Political intimidation to suppress scientific studies poses a grave danger to any society, particularly one that aims to lead the world in science and technology. Ironically, despite all the efforts of the Congressional Luddites, it is becoming abundantly clear to all Americans that global warming is an undeniable fact, and something that we need to deal with. Subpoenas to intimidate people won't get the job done.
See also: Global Warming and Political Intimidation (R.S. Bradley, 2011). University of Massachusetts Press.