#lamarlysenko – Inquisitors Blink First
December 7, 2015
Latest chapter in the continuing saga of the House “Science” Committee (chaired by the science denier Lamar “lysenko” Smith of Texas) move to intimidate and surveil climate scientists in the country’s most respected research institutions. Chairman Smith, not content to merely review stinking science and data, wants to read scientist’s personal email to look for potentially useable out-of-context quotations for the Fox News crowd to bat around. This has, of course been done before, in the run up to a significant climate conference.
In the face of embarrassing publicity, and mounting criticisms of the war on science, the Chairman has, at least temporarily, relented. Unable to pry anything loose ahead of the now-ongoing Paris Climate conference, somebody apparently decided to cut their losses.
Mr. Smith, who has called himself a “semi-skeptic” on climate change and has criticized President Obama’s climate policies, accused NOAA of changing climate data “to get the politically correct results they want.” In October, he subpoenaed the group’s internal communications regarding the study methodology.
Then, in November, he claimed that information from whistle-blowers within the agency suggested the study had been rushed to publication over internal objections, and that “the timing of its release raises concerns that it was expedited to fit the administration’s aggressive climate agenda.”
This week, after eight scientific groups argued that demanding NOAA researchers’ emails could discourage other government scientists from studying anything politically controversial, Mr. Smith told NOAA he would first seek the communications of the agency’s nonscientific staff. He did not, however, rule out the possibility of requesting scientists’ emails in the future.
Attacks on climate science are nothing new — Republicans in Congress have been trying to cut funding for climate research for years. What’s especially disturbing about this attack is that it appears based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how science operates: The re-examination of previous conclusions, which Mr. Smith casts as nefarious, is merely an example of the scientific method at work.
NOAA says there is no truth to the allegations that the study’s conclusions were politically influenced, or that the paper was rushed, noting that it was subjected to strict peer review before publication. The decision of when to publish the paper rested with Science, not with NOAA.
The authors of the paper have made their data publicly available. If Mr. Smith or anyone else wishes to critique the quality of their science, they do not need a subpoena to do so.
Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (Russian: Трофи́м Дени́сович Лысе́нко, Ukrainian: Трохи́м Дени́сович Лисе́нко; 29 September [O.S. 17 September] 1898 – 20 November 1976) was a Soviet biologist and agronomist. Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics in favor of pseudoscientific ideas termed Lysenkoism.
Scientific dissent from Lysenko’s theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in 1948.
In 1964, physicist Andrei Sakharov spoke out against Lysenko in the General Assembly of the Academy of Sciences:
He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists.
Lamar Smith’s defense of his harassment of NOAA scientists that appeared recently as an op-ed in the Washington Times with the contentious title NOAA’s Climate Change Science Fiction is as much absurd as it is offensive.
If you’re not familiar with the story, please read the background section below as well as Smith’s Op-Ed.
The core of his defense is simply this:
NOAA often fails to consider all available data in its determinations and climate change reports to the public. A recent study by NOAA, published in the journal Science, made “adjustments” to historical temperature records and NOAA trumpeted the findings as refuting the nearly two-decade pause in global warming. The study’s authors claimed these adjustments were supposedly based on new data and new methodology. But the study failed to include satellite data.
Atmospheric satellite data, considered by many to be the most objective, has clearly showed no warming for the past two decades. This fact is well documented, but has been embarrassing for an administration determined to push through costly environmental regulations.
Many have rushed into the minutiae of how reliable the satellite data really are for these purposes. This is unfortunate.
The lower atmosphere satellite temperature series is an interesting matter for science, and for the larger questions of science policy and other long-term strategic planning. It’s also a matter of some social interest whom the “many” are who put so much weight on the last shred of data that show little or no global warming. But it has no direct bearing on Smith’s or his committee’s actions, and getting into the weeds on this subject is a red herring.
Imagine if your scale is telling you you are putting on weight, and your doctor’s scale says the same, but your belt is still on the same notch it has long been on. Your belt is certainly a measure of your weight — heavy people have longer belts than lighter people. But it doesn’t measure exactly the same thing as your scale does. It’s a discrepancy that may need to be worked out. Perhaps you are gaining muscle tone. Perhaps your belt is stretching.
Suppose, though, that you are adamant about not changing your diet, and you decide to resolve the discrepancy by lawyering up and issuing subpoenas to the manufacturer of your home scale. (You also choose to ignore that your doctor’s scale agrees.) Is this an “investigation”?
Clearly, it is not an investigation in any reasonable sense. If you were fairly investigating the question you’d be as interested in the internal workings of the belt’s manufacturer as of the scale’s.
Most relevant of all, you would not accuse the scale’s manufacturer of fraud on the grounds that the scale does not account for your belt.
Karl et al’s purpose in the disputed publication is to analyze the surface record. Analyzing the satellite record is somebody else’s job. Reconciling the two if they are inconsistent is yet other people’s job in turn. The idea that the surface record is politically motivated because it isn’t the satellite record is hopelessly indefensible.
Essentially Smith attacks the people releasing the surface record on the grounds that it is not the satellite record. Does Lamar Smith actually believe this makes sense?
One is left with the impression that he has passed the task off of defending his behavior to dyed-in-the-wool internet deniers who really don’t much care whether the drivel they are spouting could even possibly hold together in the real world. Maybe Smith is not smart or well-informed enough to know better, but the idea that nobody on the majority side of the House Science Committee can figure this out is enormously discouraging.
There have been so many outrages coming from the American right these days that it’s little wonder most of the public hasn’t noticed yet another one. It is a bit of shabby political gamesmanship that has the scientific community very concerned.
I wrote about it here. David Roberts at Vox compared it to the Benghazi “investigations”, an analogy which occurred to me as well. The House science committee is worse than the Benghazi committee. Phil Plait at Slate writes more recently that Rep. Lamar Smith Continues His Harassment of Scientists
Smith is chairman of the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which is “investigating” an ordinary bit of scientific research out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which has come out with results which are modestly inconvenient for those so eager to cast doubt on the policy implications of climate science that they are quick to allege fraud. Despite the complete transparency of the study in question, and the willing testimony of the scientists involved, vague talk of a “whistleblower” has been used to justify a very broad subpoena of the communications among the researchers and between them and others.
This strikes many as an abuse of power.
The timing of this fishing expedition just before the Paris “COP” international climate negotiation is also suspiciously reminiscent of the so-called “Climategate” event, where a huge trove of climate scientist emails was illicitly published and trawled for (mostly out-of-context and misinterpreted) snippets to embarrass the scientific community, just prior to the Copenhagen COP meeting for which many had high hopes. That meeting failed. Whether the whiff of fake scandal from the emails played a role in it is hard to tell.
Here, a reminder of the type of scenario Chairman Smith was attempting to recreate.