Lamar Lysenko

November 24, 2015


As I mentioned the other day, what somebody thought was a good idea is going south in a hurry.

For those that have not been closely following, the Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Lamar Smith, has been attempting to intimidate and surveil distinguished Government scientists, in response to research results that don’t confirm his favorite Fox News talking points on climate change.  More here, here, and here.

After being served with a mic-dropping slapdown by ranking Minority member Eddie Bernice Johnson, Mr Smith has responded by doubling down on doublespeak and clearly delusional charges which have already been answered.

Mr Smith continues to refer to unnamed “whistleblowers” who, he claims, said the recent study, showing no slowdown in global surface temperature rise, was rushed – despite statements from the editors of the prestigious journal which published the data, indicating the supposedly “rushed” process actually took considerably longer than the normal peer review process, and the “rushed” data was actually years in preparation and had been collected and processed by several groups in separate studies published several years previous.

Someone should have told Lamar that this kind of story worked a lot better when the overwhelming number of journalists were in a fog of Exxon-funded confusion.
As the story creeps outside the inside-baseball media – early indications don’t look so good for Mr Smith.  Escalating this fight as el-nino fueled extreme events continue to ramp up, and  scientists are about to confirm 2015 as the second-in-a-row hottest year on record by a mile, might not play out as he hoped.

US News and World Report:

Seventy-five years ago this August, a Soviet biologist named Trofim Lysenko was anointed head of the USSR’s Institute of Genetics. The son of peasants, his sweeping theories on farming dazzled Josef Stalin and were made mandatory across the empire.

They were hardly a panacea: Soviet farms floundered, yet more than 3,000 scientists who proposed alternatives were questioned, exiled or even executed, no matter the mountain of evidence that natural selection – not some mystical Russian-style communalism, as Lysenko believed – was what made crops grow.

Some see a bit of a parallel between the Soviet-style intimidation and a recent campaign in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where Chairman Lamar Smith has pressed forward with a probe questioning the processes and findings of a federal scientific agency – one that has led critics to accuse the Texas Republican of abusing his power and to warn of a chilling effect on further scientific research. Smith has demanded via subpoena, public pronouncements and heated letters that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration turn over internal emails on global warming research. The Texas Republican also has sought to bring agency staffers and NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan into closed-door, deposition-like interviews.

Ars Technica:

The NOAA study that was published in Science presented the latest version of the agency’s global surface temperature dataset and explored changes to the specific warming trend from 1998 to 2014. The update came from folding in a pair of previously published datasets: a new database of terrestrial weather stations, and the most recent version of a database of sea surface temperatures that included some corrections for non-climatic factors like changes in measurement techniques.

The weather station database was published in Geoscience Data Journal in June 2014, and NOAA processed the raw data using the same methods it had used before; those methods were published in 2011. The sea surface temperature database, which Rep. Smith appears to view with suspicion, was published in the Journal of Climate in February 2015, but started the peer review process in December 2013. (As any researcher can tell you, peer review can drag on for a long time.)

As of press time, an aide for the House Science Committee had not clarified why this series of events was being described as a rush “to publish the study before all the appropriate reviews of the underlying science” were completed. NASA incorporated this same sea surface temperature database into its own global surface temperature dataset back in July. Ars asked whether Rep. Smith plans to investigate NASA’s decision as well, but a response was not immediately provided.

In the meantime, a newly released letter from NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan to Smith has been posted online,  pointing out:

NOAA has made the data and the analysis available to the Committee, the public, and the scientific community.  The Committee has the raw data as well as the methodology that NOAA scientists used to analyze the data. Together these show that the decision to adjust the data was a scientific one.  The article was peer-reviewed and published in a preeminent and independent scientific journal. If the Committee doubts the integrity of the study, it has the tools it needs to commission a competing scientific assessment.

Rep. Smith’s complete response to ranking Member Johnson’s firm line is below.  He spends the letter railing against the administration and perceived sins, but adds nothing to the case for why scientists should be spied on.

Science, Space and Technology Committee Chair, Lemar Smith:

Dear Ranking Member Johnson,

On October 23 and November 19, you wrote letters referring to the Committee’s issuance of a subpoena compelling documents and communications from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a fishing expedition and a waste of time.[1]  Further, you encourage obstruction of the Committee’s investigation when you support NOAA for being reluctant to waste their time and resources responding to the Committee’s request.[2]  Your characterization of the Committee’s efforts to obtain data from a government agency under its jurisdiction is inaccurate and misleading.[3]  There are in fact serious questions for NOAA to answer about its scientific process and how the agency has handled its response to the Committee’s investigation.

As the Committee has made clear to NOAA through letters and briefings, the agency has failed to fully explain the conditions surrounding its process and procedures for adjusting upward temperature readings that eliminated the “pause” in global warming.  NOAA is also unwilling to provide the Committee with information related to the role of political appointees in the decision to adjust temperature data and widely publicize conclusions based on those adjustments.  Providing the Committee with publically available information and two briefings is not an adequate response.  Further, it is not your role, nor the role of your staff, to determine what is, or is not responsive to the Committee’s investigation when you are actively working to obstruct the Committee’s oversight efforts.

Your letters indicate that you are not interested in obtaining answers to those important questions and that you are willing to let them go unanswered.  Indeed, any time the Committee attempts to conduct oversight, you place your political allegiance to the Administration ahead of the Committee’s institutional interests.  In fact, your letters regarding the Committee’s NOAA investigation are entirely consistent with your posture toward each of the Committee’s investigations where you routinely align yourself with agencies and the Administration, undermining the Committee’s work.  For example, this month the Committee held a hearing entitled “Examining EPA’s Predetermined Efforts to Block the Pebble Mine.”[4]  You referred to the hearing that focused on EPA’s attack on due process as “disheartening.”[5]  At the hearing, Members of the Minority even questioned the integrity of President Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Defense William Cohen when he raised critical questions about the EPA.[6]

This Congress, the Committee has sought to conduct oversight of waste, fraud, and abuse, including an instance of federal employees creating illegal post-retirement contracting jobs for themselves that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.[7]  During that hearing, you stated that it was your wish that “this Committee would focus a little less on political theater and a little more on real documented wrongdoing.”[8]  Your statement begs the question that if fleecing taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars is not “real documented wrongdoing,” then what is?

Additionally, the Committee has conducted oversight into other matters, such as federal grant recipients paying themselves and family members excessive salaries with what appears to be taxpayer funded federal grants[9] and even a federal employee manufacturing methamphetamine at a federal laboratory who eventually plead guilty.[10]  The Committee also discovered that the EPA intentionally altered videos of the Gold King Mine spill to conceal the lackluster response by EPA officials present during the spill.[11]  Instead of demanding answers from the EPA, which spilled 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the Animas River, you referred to the agency as “environmental firefighters.”[12]  In this case, the “firefighters” not only caused the fire, but also failed to put it out.  After an investigation by the Department of Interior, the agency agreed with the Committee’s conclusion that EPA was negligent,[13] yet you were silent.  Instead of expressing any interest in participating in oversight of NOAA or other agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction, and ensuring that taxpayers’ hard-earned money is not being abusively misused, you and Members of the Minority obstruct, play defense, and character assassinate anyone who questions the Administration or any federal agency, including a former cabinet-level official in a Democratic Administration.[14]

In the NOAA investigation and many others, you effectively act as defense counsel for the Administration.  You argue that the Committee should seek fewer documents and ask fewer questions.[15]  This blind allegiance to an Administration, even in the face of possible or admitted wrongdoing, does damage to Congress as an institution and to the trust people have in our federal agencies.  You have even personally attacked me and my staff.  According to a news report regarding the Committee’s NOAA investigation, you said “I have wondered if part of this is motivated by some assertive staff, or it is really him?”[16]  Additionally, you reportedly hope “that the recent shakeup in the GOP leadership might provide Smith with a new committee assignment.”[17]  You even indicate that I do not believe in science.[18]  This type of personal attack makes it clear that you have no interest in being a trusted partner in conducting oversight.  Your actions tread closely to eroding the credibility of Members of the House of Representatives.[19]

According to your November 19 letter, you write that “I hope you will take this opportunity to provide the Minority with the whistleblower information you possess, so we might better be able to evaluate the veracity of these claims.  Until you provide the Minority with this information, I hope you will understand my skepticism regarding the new claims.”[20]  Unfortunately, you are always skeptical when it comes to conducting oversight of this Administration or any federal agency.  Instead of seeking to learn what information the whistleblowers presented to the Committee in a responsible manner, you questioned the veracity of their claims in a public setting by saying “[t]o be frank, this appears to be an after-the-fact attempt to justify a fishing expedition.” Simultaneously, you are demanding to see information that could be used to personally identify them.  Your public statements reflect a complete lack of understanding of whistleblowers’ rights when bringing information to the attention of Congress.

Whistleblowers report information to Congress in a trusted manner with the expectation that their identity will remain confidential.  This type of irresponsible statement in a public setting is not only harmful to the Committee’s current investigations, but may have a chilling effect on the willingness of federal employees to report waste, fraud, and abuse to the Committee in the future.  Additionally, your public statements show that you and your staff are apparently not familiar with the Whistleblower Protection Act, even though it is a key tool for rooting out wrongdoing.[22]  The Act, which serves as the foundation for delineating rights of whistleblowers, functions as the primary means of informing Members of Congress of misconduct within the Executive Branch.  I fear that your reckless and politically charged statements may risk exposing whistleblower identities in an effort to blindly defend the Administration.  In the future, rather than risking damage to this institution, if you have questions about whistleblower claims, I suggest the discussion take place in a private setting, not though the media.[23]

Additionally, your letters suggest that the oversight goals furthered by the October 13 subpoena are not legitimate because “the issue in question is a scientific research study, not a policy decision by a Federal agency.”  This is simply not true.  The request for documents and communications between federal employees serves the purpose of informing the Committee about the reasoning behind why a certain policy decision was made.  As it is true that science informs policy, examining the data underlying policy decisions can be very valuable to informing the Committee’s actions with respect to legislation that may be necessary.

Many of the claims made about the Committee’s investigation in your letters are misleading.  For example, you write:

Dr. Karl travelled to Washington, DC on October 19 to provide your staff with a private briefing on his research.  You and your staff had the opportunity to ask him any question you desired.  You could have confronted Dr. Karl with your whistleblower information.  You didn’t.  Instead of doing so, you and your staff are wasting taxpayer resources and Dr. Karl’s valuable time.[24]

While it is a pleasant surprise for you to finally show concern for taxpayer resources, your characterization is not true.  If you and your staff followed the investigation more closely, you would know that the Committee did not disclose the existence of whistleblowers until November 18, 2015, a month after Dr. Karl briefed the Committee.  Further, as you should know, it is only with permission from whistleblowers that the Committee can disclose information provided in confidence, a key component of whistleblower protection of which you are apparently unaware.  Additionally, you accuse me of making “irresponsible threats to Administrator Sullivan” regarding the Committee’s subpoena.[25]  Rather than proceeding immediately to enforce the subpoena, I have made numerous attempts to obtain the documents through other means, including writing to the Department of Commerce.

Additionally, your characterization that oversight should only be performed if evidence of misconduct, fraud, or abuse of discretion is found is mistaken.  This Committee has a duty to “determine whether laws and programs addressing subjects within the jurisdiction of [this] committee are being implemented and carried out in accordance with the intent of Congress and whether they should be continued, curtailed, or eliminated.”[26]  The Rules of the House direct standing committees to conduct oversight on a continuing basis, regardless of whether wrongdoing is suspected.  To that end, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to perform oversight, and that oversight may be far-reaching.  In Watkins v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the “power of the Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process.  That power is broad.  It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes.”[27]

In the future, rather than immediately subscribing to the views of federal agencies and the Administration without question, it is my hope that you will recognize one of the key reasons why Congress exists—to act as a check on the actions of the Executive Branch.  Not only should you, in your capacity as a Member of Congress, be keenly aware of the necessity of Congress to serve as a check on the Executive Branch, but your position as the Ranking Member of a standing committee of the U.S. House of Representatives amplifies your duty even more as one of the leaders of this Committee.  Moving forward, I hope that you will further the responsibilities of this institution by conducting meaningful oversight, instead of acting as a blank check for the Administration’s agenda.



Lamar Smith





13 Responses to “Lamar Lysenko”

  1. neilrieck Says:

    I fear that many laypersons today will not be aware of Lysenkoism so here is the bootstrap:

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A good point, particularly since the last 50 or 60 years have seen such progress in our understanding of genetics and evolution that Lysenkoism is now just an interesting footnote in the study of biology.

      The conflation of Lamar and Lysenko IS o good one, in that the Repugnants desire to make science subservient to ideology does parallel the Stalin era manipulations. Full speed ahead! Damn the facts as we rush forward in to new state of corporate feudalism.

  2. philip64 Says:

    “Providing the Committee with publically [sic] available information and two briefings is not an adequate response.”

    If that information contains all the data and all the methodology, then yes, it is. Unless, of course, your real intention is to cobble together a smear. In which case, it’s certainly disappointing.

  3. […] Smith responds. Ars Technica weighs in. The article Smith is flaming about was published Science. A copy is […]

  4. Interesting framing. He Lamar Smith is the Committee, but Eddie Bernice Johnson is just a person. However, the Republican majority has given Lamer Smith carte blance to harass however he feels fit. Thus it is just Smith against Johnson, nothing more.

    I know who of those two supports science.

    • otter17 Says:

      Yep, Johnson for sure.

      Eddie Bernice Johnson’s letter is worthy of a mic-drop for sure, and maybe two read-through’s.

      Holy cow, way to deconstruct Smith’s “investigation” point-by-point leaving no stone unturned.

  5. You are a public servant, too, Representative Smith. Who pays your campaign bills?

    Oh, surprise, surprise, it’s the oil and gas industry. That doesn’t influence you the least bit, does it?

  6. Great reporting on this and the post from a few days ago. Not getting this in any mainstream press. Thanks!

  7. […] the poor timing and tin-eared politics of  Lamar Smith’s terror campaign against climate science, not to mention the absolute cluelessness of the late,great Republican Party’s  Presidential […]

  8. […] as he continues to double down, Rep. Lamar Smith’s holy war against science is on shakier ground than ever. […]

  9. […] “Science” Committee’s Bully tactics not getting any love from the science community. Inquisitions not popular among the intellectually curious. […]

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