Idiocracy wasn’t a movie. It was a documentary.
In June of this year, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published research in the peer-reviewed journal Science. Their research was based on improved and more accurate land and sea temperature data that showed that the warming of the earth continues apace. This flies in the face of claims by climate change deniers that there has been a global warming “pause” or “hiatus”. That data was made public in October.
After the publication of the research, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), a virulent climate change denier who is the Chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, subpoenaed scientists at NOAA demanding that they turn over internal e-mails related to their research. Although Smith, a former lawyer, is not a scientist himself, it is his belief that the scientists altered data in order to support the theory of global climate change and he wanted proof:
Smith has alleged that NOAA researchers used inaccurate data or even manipulated it to promote President Obama’s agenda on climate change. Smith shifted tactics last week, alleging that the research was rushed and citing what he says is information provided by agency whistleblowers showing that some employees at the agency were concerned that it was premature to publish the study. […]
“Their agenda comes first, and the facts come second if at all,” he said in a speech last week to the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin. He denounced the president’s climate agenda as “suspect.”
“The science is clear and overwhelming but not in the way the president says,” Smith said. “NOAA employees altered historical climate data to get politically correct results.”
NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan was having none of it. She stubbornly refused to provide the emails demanded by Smith. “I have not or will not allow anyone to manipulate the science or coerce the scientists who work for me,” Sullivan wrote to Smith in a letter. “If the committee doubts the integrity of the study, it has the tools it needs to commission a competing scientific assessment.”
Several deadlines have passed and Sullivan continues to ignore Smith. This week, her position was strengthened when the heads of the top scientific agencies in the country wrote a joint letter to Smith telling him, in effect, to back the hell off, schooling him on how science works:
The integrity of federal scientists’ research published in the journal Science is being questioned despite a lack of public evidence of scientific misconduct. The progress and integrity of science depend on transparency about the details of scientific methodology and the ability to follow the pursuit of scientific knowledge. The data and methodology of the paper in question have been publicly shared and discussed directly with the committee staff. While we recognize the oversight responsibility of Congress with respect to the work of government scientists, the committee has continued to suggest that the updates that NOAA scientists made to its dataset constitute scientific misconduct.
Science is a self-correcting process and part of the purpose of placing research into the scholarly record is so other scientists can attempt to replicate, confirm, or refute it. This paper is subject to these same norms. In fact, over the past year there have been other peer-reviewed research papers published by university scientists and derived from other independent data sources that have also analyzed the climate hiatus. This is the way in which science advances.
Scientists and policymakers may disagree over the implications of scientific conclusions on climate change and other policy-relevant topics. Disagreements about the interpretation of data, the methodology, and findings are part of daily scientific discourse. Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial. Science cannot thrive when policymakers — regardless of party affiliation — use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.
The signatories on the letter were:
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- American Chemical Society
- American Geophysical Union
- American Meteorological Society
- American Statistical Association
- Ecological Society of America
- Geological Society of America
The American Meteorological Society sent a separate letter of their own to Smith where they minced no words:
Singling out specific research studies, and implicitly questioning the integrity of the researchers conducting those studies, can be viewed as a form of intimidation that could deter scientists from freely carrying out research on important national challenges.
As a member of the American Chemical Society myself, I am proud that they are standing up to this ignorant bully. The improved data set came about because science works. Scientists are constantly improving their knowledge, techniques, and analytical processes in order to expand what we know about the world around us. This is something that Lamar Smith clearly does not understand.
The irony in all this is that the research they published this past fall was, in fact, based on earlier data. The new dataset simply confirms their findings and shows that the warming of our planet is actually worse than was first thought.
Lamar Smith would feel right at home with the Flat Earth Society and those who threatened to torture Galileo Galilei 1633 for his belief that the earth rotates around the sun, an accurate belief for which he was subsequently imprisoned. It’s simply astonishing that, in the 21st Century, a man with no scientific background is in charge of the Chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and that he is using his power in an effort to intimidate and coerce scientists to push his uninformed views on global climate change. The same goes for Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), another anti-science climate change denier, who is the Chair of the Senate Environment Committee.
I’m beginning to think Idiocracy wasn’t a fictional movie at all. I think it may have been a documentary.