A Really Scary Hallowe’en Monster: Rep. Lamar Smith

A really scary monster. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A really scary monster. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It’s nearly Hallowe’en, surely the strangest of the American holidays. All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized version of Samhain a Gaelic harvest festival, thoroughly commercialized by modern capitalism. But in what now passes for tradition, we terrorize ourselves with made-up monsters de jour. All the while ignoring the really scary monsters that actually exist.

Like Rep. Lamar Smith (R, Texas and the 17th Century).

You want a scary monster? Rep. Smith is the science-denying Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He thinks that politicians are better than scientists at deciding where to invest research dollars. That’s a path to Lysenkoism,1 He’s been paid over $600,000 in campaign contributions by the fossil fuel industry, so it’s not a surprise he’s a climate change denier. His small, mean soul has long since been mortgaged to Big Oil.

But Rep. Smith is scary for more reasons than his anti-science, corrupt actions as Chair of the House Science Committee. Now Rep. Smith is harassing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration because it has published articles demonstrating that there has been no “pause” in global warming. Rep. Smith has hung his anti-science hat on that pause, and he is lashing out at NOAA because it is making him look like an idiot.

So Rep. Smith issued subpoenas to NOAA, demanding it produce all documents and communications from NOAA employees about how they use global temperature datasets, including satellite data, and more. Rep. Smith’s actions are so egregious that they were called out by his fellow Texan, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D, Texas). She sent him a scathing letter, accusing him of using his powers as committee chairman to “harass and second guess our nation’s preeminent research scientists,” and accused him of creating a “baseless conflict.” Rep. Johnson also pointed out neither Rep. Smith nor his committee staff have the skills to properly analyze the data he has demanded from NOAA: “There’s certainly not enough scientific expertise on your staff or on the Member rolls to reanalyze the scientific data you have been provided.”

So why demand stuff from NOAA that was the basis for a peer-reviewed publication when you yourself don’t have the ability to analyze or interpret it? If any reader has an explanation other than petty revenge, WC invites you to offer it.

Then there is Dr. Jagdish Shukla. He wrote a letter to the White House, asking the President and Attorney General to investigate the efforts by Big Oil to block regulation of CO2 emissions. There’s not much question that Big Oil has made such an effort. The question is whether it is criminally culpable. Rep. Smith, in a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy, attacked Dr. Shukla. It’s the same bullying tactics Rep. Smith used with NOAA, demanding burdensome numbers of documents for unspecified purposes. Rather than addressing the issues raised in the letter, Rep. Smith has attacked the letter’s author.2 Are you seeing a pattern here?

So this is what the United States has come to today: a corrupt, bullying lawyer, unqualified to wash the test tubes of a scientist, who is apparently incapable of critical thinking, and yet is in charge of the United States’ science agenda.

This is probably not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind. But there’s a really scary Hallowe’en monster for you.

UPDATE: In response to public criticism of his subpoena of NOAA records, Rep. Smith issued the following statement:

It was inconvenient for this administration that climate data has clearly showed no warming for the past two decades. The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want and then refuses to reveal how those decisions were made. NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda. The agency has yet to identify any legal basis for withholding these documents. The Committee intends to use all tools at its disposal to undertake its Constitutionally-mandated oversight responsibilities.

This statement is simply delusional. There is unambiguous evidence of warming over the last two decades. The claim of “no warming for the past two decades” is simply false. Nor do NOAA’s numbers differ in any meaningful way from NASA’s, or from any of the other independent surface temperature datasets.

In the words of Ars Technica‘s Scott Johnson, “Smith is clearly suggesting that the NOAA is manipulating its results to further an external agenda. Even though his office has been provided with the raw and corrected data, as well as the details of the methods and a personal accounting of the rationale behind them, he is still accusing the scientists who published the paper in Science of fudging their results. The evidence seems to consist of the fact that he did not like those results.”

  1. WC means in the metaphorical sense: the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives. Not literal Lysenkoism. Rep. Smith hasn’t been paid enough yet to promote that idea. 
  2. Admittedly, Dr. Shukula could have his own house in better order, especially before attacking the nation’s wealthiest industry. But Rep. Smith’s instinct to bully, rather than address the substantive issues, in clearly on display.