Tweet This and Risk a Subpoena

The latest tirade from Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (his 11/13 letter to Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce) sheds light on the real reason for his demand that NOAA employees make available all email correspondence about their recent study on global warming.

In their extensive analysis of global climate data, published in Science, Tom Karl (Director of NOAA's Center for Environmental Information) and his team found that small corrections were required to some of the data. Such minor adjustments have been made almost continuously since the first global temperature data set was produced by the U.S. Department of Energy more than 30 years ago, so there is nothing unusual about this.

NASA, NOAA, the UK Hadley Center and the Japanese Meteorological Agency continually check data sources, correct any errors that they may find and make the latest versions of their data available to the public. In other words, they do what they are supposed to do, taking responsibility for the most reliable data sets.

So, the study by Karl et al was nothing more than one of many research papers that have periodically been published, providing an updated record about global temperature. What's not to like? Why has the House Committee issued subpoenas to Tom Karl and his colleagues, demanding all email correspondence about their work?

Well, the big mistake NOAA apparently made was that it "...used Twitter to spread the news about the Karl study". OMG! They tweeted the results! They actually tried to communicate with the taxpayers who funded the research!

The Science Committee Chairman is clearly outraged, and in his letter to the Secretary of Commerce, he demands to know why the results weren't just "...quietly published in a scientific journal". He goes on, "This type of public relations effort seems more suited to an advertising campaign than a federal agency's sober report on the findings of a publicly-funded study".

It would be easy to dismiss this puerile temper tantrum as nothing more than a reflection of how disconnected Chairman Smith is from the rest of the universe, a rather sad position for somebody who heads up a committee that has both Space and Technology in its portfolio. Yet, Representative Smith does have a Twitter account and frequently sends out tweets about his own amazing accomplishments, making sure that his activities are not "quietly published". Indeed, some might say that his tweets are more akin to an advertising campaign than sober reports from a publicly-funded federal employee... but that would be churlish. No doubt, he is simply doing his job, informing the public about his committee's activities. Just like those folks at NOAA...