Lamar Smith: The Last Witch Hunt

November 11, 2015

lamarlasthuntJohn Abraham in the Guardian:

Apparently eager to ride the coattails of Vin Diesel’s new movie, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) seems intent on taking up the mantle of Witch Hunter by harassing the scientists at NOAA. These scientists published a study that joined a growing body of research debunking the supposed “pause” in warming, a trope regularly trotted out by deniers looking to argue against climate action.

In his capacity as Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Smith has demanded a number of documents from NOAA and threatened them with prosecution if they don’t comply. He’s asking for the data and methods related to the study itself, which doesn’t sound too unreasonable at first. But when you learn that this information is already public, it seems odd that he would want to waste his and the scientists’ time demanding information that anyone with an internet connection can freely access.

Another odd factor is that NOAA scientists already took time out of their busy schedules of doing actual science to personally explain the study to Smith. But all this wasn’t enough for him, so he is also demanding all the scientists’ study-related email correspondence. Smith is spending all this time, energy, and taxpayer money to chase these scientists around because he is a conspiracy theorist, and has publicly espoused the belief that scientists are deliberately manipulating the temperature record to manufacture the climate crisis. This unusual position might be related to the massive quantities of oil and gas industry funding that he receives—in 2014; Smith got more money from fossil fuels than he did from any other industry.

For those that have been entrenched in the climate issue for some years, this will sound familiar. In fact, it’s almost identical to a situation faced by Dr. Michael Mann, in which a politician in a position of power took issue with science that disproved a pet climate denial myth. As a result, this politician, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, retaliated by going on what the Washington Post editorial board described as a “Climate Change Witch Hunt.

So let’s hope that, like in Dr. Mann’s case, the politician abusing his power isn’t humored with compliance. Because if the emails are released, we might have to live through another fake scandal. In fact, in a column in the Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins Jr. more or less admits that this is the denial industry’s strategy in his latest piece, in which he “just asks the question” if this is “The Next Climate Scandal?

As the world neared the Copenhagen negotiations, conservative pundits took hacked emails from climate scientists, twisted words, truncated quotes and successfully manufactured a scandal. In the months afterwards, there were no less than nine investigations, and each and every one showed that the scientists did nothing wrong. Now, as we approach the major climate talks taking place in Paris at the end of this month, the same people are turning to this page out of the denier playbook.

Regardless, some damage has already been done, as mainstream media ran with Smith’s story before looking into the validity of his requests. Unfortunately, in this case, unlike Mann’s, there is less legal justification for NOAA to withhold the emails, since Smith is invoking congressional oversight authority. Smith has made this point with yet another letter to NOAA, demanding not just the emails but a variety of other documentation. While he is technically able to so, his fellow Committee member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), wrote him a scathing letter chastising him for the witch hunt.

Johnson stands up for the scientists by pointing out a number of important issues. For one, she makes the point that Smith and his staffers lack the scientific expertise to actually analyze the data he’s requesting, and that turning over the data to a non-congressional outsider isn’t part of his right of congressional oversight.

She also points out that this wouldn’t be the first time Smith has done something like this, as he’s handed public health data to a researcher with ties to Big Tobacco in the past. In fact, Johnson points out that this “is representative of a disturbing pattern. Smith has issued more subpoenas in his two years and ten months than the committee has for its entire 54 year history.” Even with his high quantity of investigations, however, Smith has yet to find success, as Johnson “cannot think of a single significant oversight discovery” made by Smith.

The parallels between harassment of health scientists by Tobacco/fossil fuel proponents like Lamar Smith, and “Smokey Joe” Barton are, of course, a story that should never be forgotten.

As Johnson implies, this is a political stunt that has nothing to do with the actual quality of the science. After all, the scientists have explained the study to Smith, and the general issue of temperature record corrections has been explained numerous times, at length. For example, we have already covered this study twice here, looking at the research itself as well as the conspiratorial reactions it provoked.

The American Meteorological Society has also come to NOAA’s defense, with a letter to Smith that states,

The advancement of science depends on investigators having the freedom to carry out research objectively and without the fear of threats or intimidation whether or not their results are expedient or popular.

Hopefully Smith’s witch hunt will be as successful as Vin Diesel’s, which only has a 15 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Unfortunately though, the stakes for science are higher than Hollywood. Because while The Last Witch Hunter is a fictional story about the fate of humanity, climate change is a dangerous reality.

37 Responses to “Lamar Smith: The Last Witch Hunt”

  1. Ron Benenati Says:

    Is there no legal recourse to sue these people for their harassment and obstruction of the truth??

  2. earlosatrun Says:

    If people like Lamar do get what they ‘want’ then there will indeed be more witch hunting in our future. Should our ‘civilization’ collapse, it’ll be far nastier an event than the Roman collapse was; quicker though.

    Call me nutty, but I’d be willing to force the emails to be handed over to congress. As long as the Congress was willing to open up to everyone THEIR own emails. From their annony accounts too. 🙂

    Do unto others, as you’d have them do unto yourself. Right?

    If you have nothing to hide, Rep Lamar Smith, show us yours. I’ll send you a photo by Rep. Anthony Weiner if you do…


  3. There’s been no warming for 18 years as shown by the satellites and by the growing Antarctic ice, global sea ice above long term levels and Greenland ice growing since 1990.

    Lamar smells blood – and I’ve no doubt he’ll get it!

  4. omnologos Says:

    If I were concerned for the planet and life itself, or even just the collapse of civilization, I would not waste time around subpoenas and just send everything to anyone who would be asking, including the list of all my grandparents’ siblings and my previous 25 years of utility bills.

    • jpcowdrey Says:

      Seeing how you have zero scientific integrity (or any other kind) to lose, maurizio, such a brain dead decision would be easy for you.

  5. omnologos Says:

    The other self-defeating point is that, assuming Smith and his staffers lack the scientific expertise to actually analyze the data he’s requesting, this means warming is only evident to people with high levels of scientific expertise, IOW, it’s impossible to discern.

    In other words, it’s irrelevant to the day-to-day life of the average voter. Talk about political suicide.


    • No, it means that warming is evident to folks who have more scientific expertise than Smith and his staffers. That’s not the same as a requirement for “high levels” of scientific expertise.


    • The question here is not about the 1°C warming we have seen since 1880, it is about a barely noticeable changes to the enormously fragile feature on which mitigation sceptics stupidly build their political case against mitigation, a feature they call “hiatus”. To get the trend estimates right for such short periods and for such minimal temperature changes, requires some technical skills. In fact, I am not that sure if it is technically possible.

      • omnologos Says:

        If the time of the pause or hiatus or slowdown is too short to get any meaningful trend, then no phenomena on the yearly or monthly or weekly or daily timescale can ever be attributed to climate change. Not sure how many will be able to stomach such a way of thinking,


        • The statistically illiterate would be able to stomach this nonsense, like they stomached the statistically nonsensical hiatus.

          Here, illiterate means: Unable to eyeball a statistically significant portion of the temp graph.

          “Is it that hard to introduce the public to the notion of a graph?” — Murray Gell-Mann to Andy Revkin. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EyPs5ou0DcE

          Omnoillogos and Lamar Smith prove that it is.

  6. jpcowdrey Says:

    Disregarding for the moment, the speciousness of the non-sequitur you evoke, civil servants aren’t elected. They can’t be fired for doing their jobs.

    High level math may be irrelevant to the daily life of the average voter, except when it isn’t.

    • omnologos Says:

      There appears to be a consensus here. Warming can only be seen and understood by people who are experts in the field. Everybody else would look at the data and, due to his lack of expertise, see no warming at all.

      I don’t have any trouble in accepting that, because such a story would surely be impossible to sell to the general public.

      Very few will get worried by something only the experts can see, and they just can’t. But I am looking forward to see this information strategy tried out, it’ll provide plenty of fun.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        He’s done it again—-more non sequiturs. How many times have we pointed that out to Omno?

        Maybe we need to spell out the simplest definition for him?

        “a statement that is not connected in a logical or clear way to anything said before it”

        Full Definition of NON SEQUITUR
        1— an inference that does not follow from the premises; specifically : a fallacy resulting from a simple conversion of a universal affirmative proposition or from the transposition of a condition and its consequent
        2—-a statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said

        Uh, there are perhaps too many big words in the full definition for Omno. Maybe he’ll get it better when he finishes his ESL classes (English as a Second Language).

        PS Does anyone think Omno will infer anything from what I’m implying?


  7. The hiatus was already a statistical stupidity (or, lie) before it ended these years. No statistical expertise needed to see this (print out temp graph 1970-2013, use transparent ruler, eyeballs to draw trend line). If this isn’t enough, look up Tamino’s several mathematical exorcisms.

    Why can’t anybody demonstrate this at the Washington DC kindergarten?

  8. omnologos Says:

    One last comment before retiring in quiet desperation

    In the post before this one, Peter says climategate was a “tragically overblown nothing-burger”.

    As usual, let’s assume the above as true.

    In other words, let’s all agree here that the uncontrolled release of thousands of emails written among scientists was a “tragically overblown nothing-burger”. So climategate didn’t affect the integrity of the scientists involved. The scientists did nothing wrong. Good.

    Now how exactly could the controlled release of a few emails cause the exact opposite, ruining the reputation of the scientists and showing them doing something wrong?

    Of course it wouldn’t. And any twisted word would be answered with references back to the nine investigations.

    So why would the scientists be reluctant to comply? What is the threat and what is the intimidation, if as we all know nothing substantial will be found?

    And what threat and what intimidation is more important than the survival of the human race?

    Bury Lamar Smith with data, shut him up for good, concentrate on the planetary emergency. No?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      climategate was a nothing in terms of substance, but very much something in terms of creating disinformation that has poisoned the debate to this day.
      Since the denialist most effective tactic is not to counter with facts, but rather to baffle with bullshit, the obvious attempt to generate more clouds of same is something that should be headed off.

      • omnologos Says:

        your point would be valid only if you could show that withholding the distribution of emails means fewer “clouds” get generated. This does not appear to be the case: Michael Mann has been attacked before, during and after Cuccinelli’s attempts, and conversely Sarah Palin has been attacke before, during and after her emails have been published.

        how will NOAA’s grandstanding impact the general public, one can only wonder. What will people say when told that the warming exists but they would not be able to see it, and they have to trust a group of experts who don’t want to share all their internal communications about the topic?

        There is a lot of trusting to be requested there.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………………………..!!!!!…………..(snort, fart, fan blankets, scratch rear end, roll over, and repeat).

        • Lionel Smith Says:

          “NOAA’s grandstanding impact the general public, one can only wonder….”

          NOAA’s grandstanding! NOAA’s grandstanding!

          From that it is clear that you haven’t lost the plot, you never had to begin with. As for trust, any you may have had you have squandered, some time back.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Lord love a dozen ducks! Did OmnoMoron really say that NOAA was GRANDSTANDING???!!!! JFC!!!

            I must have missed that because I had already gone into ZZZZZZZZ-land during the first paragraph. Or maybe the mental whiplash produced by his injection of yet more FREAKIN’ NON SEQUITURS did it—-trying to parse Omno’s meaning is like being in a series of never-ending rear-end collisions—makes it hard to focus.


  9. The climate gate e mails where also altered by deniers. Who’s to say Smith wouldn’t do it as well. Did anyone find out who hacked their e-mails? If they haven’t then I do find this most troubling.


  10. […] are familiar with Lamar Smith and his Witch Hunt against NOAA scientists as head of what tragically passes as the House “Science” […]


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