Here’s a modest tidbit of good news for a depressing weekend: U.S. Rep. Lamar “Tin Hat” Smith (R, Texas) is retiring.
Tin Hat Smith has been the Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space & Technology the last five years. As Chair, he has generated a legacy of interference, half-baked ideas, fossil fuel industry kissing-up and general embarrassment that will be hard to top. Although WC freely concedes some Republican will likely try.
Here are some samples of Tin Hat’s contributions to sensible government:
Rep. Smith introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The bill would have also given intellectual property rights holders the power to get court orders barring advertising services and credit card companies from doing business with infringing websites, and would have required Domain Name Server providers to blacklist sites that hosted infringing content. It would have also allowed the government to obtain court orders to require search services to stop displaying links to websites that host infringing content. As such, it was opposed by many technology companies and ultimately failed after a huge public outcry. Regular readers know that intellectual property trolls are already a big problem; SOPA would have armed those trolls with the legal equivalent of thermonuclear weapons. It was an abysmally stupid idea.
Rep. Smith was infamous for his ongoing feuds with federal science agencies and the scientists who work there. After becoming chair of the Science Committee, Smith started a long-running battle with the National Science Foundation (NSF), apparently over its funding of social science research to which he and other Republicans objected. In 2013, Smith held up grants in this area as examples of wasteful spending and introduced a bill that would require the NSF to certify that all of its grants were in the “national interest.” Similar bills were introduced each year for the next several years, but they were not taken up by the Senate. In some versions, budget allocations were included, and these cut the funding for social sciences research at the NSF. Never mind that the NSF had a thorough, well-repected grantmaking process. It’s never been clear why Tin Hat Smith objects to research on social, behavioral, and economics science. He was generally unsuccessful in those efforts, but there was probably some intimidation.
But Tin Hat Smith didn’t stop with attempted budget cuts. Smith also targeted the grant application review process that approved all those grants he didn’t like. Grant reviewing is provided anonymously by researchers considered experts in the relevant fields. Smith demanded that the NSF hand over all documents related to the NSF’s decision-making process, including “paper copies of the following public records: every e-mail, letter, memorandum, record, note, text message, all peer reviews considered for selection and recommendations made by the research panel to the National Science Foundation (NSF) or document of any kind that pertains to the NSF’s consideration and approval of the grants listed below, including any approved amendments to the grants.” Smith’s demands were not only extremely onerous, they would have ended the anonymity of the peer reviewers. NSF objected to the demands. Matters remain at an impasse.
Tin Hat’s biggest battle, though, was with the National Atmospheric and Oceans Administration, NOAA. The agency insisted anthropogenic climate change was real. Tin Hat, seizing on grossly misinformed Breitbart articles on climate change, believed NOAA’s scientists had cooked the facts. He demanded and subpoenaed NOAA scientists and their e-mails, hoping to uncover evidence of what he was already convinced was fraud. It turned out Tin Hat was purely incapable of understanding the issues, let alone the evidence. At a hearing held earlier this year, Tin Hat claimed that when it comes to climate research, “all too often, scientists ignore the basic tenets of science,” going on to claim, “Their ultimate goal is to promote a personal agenda, even if the evidence doesn’t support it.”
Er… No. Tin Hat doesn’t give a plugged nickel about science. He cares about campaign contributions, especially contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Because when it turned out there was no there there, as it were, Tin Hat launched yet another attack, attempting to interfere with state investigations of fossil fuel companies.
You can see why WC is pretty excited to see the back of Tin Hat.
Of course, the good news isn’t all that good. Tin Hat will remain Chair for another year. and the current Vice Chair of the Committee on Science is Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). Lucas boasts about his opposition to the EPA’s role in international climate agreements, and his 2016 voting record received a score of zero from the League of Conservation Voters. Lucas is an even bigger suck up to fossil fuels. And thinks Oklahoma’s earthquakes are God punishing homosexuals, not doubt, and not a consequence of re-injected fracking fluids.
There was a time when science got respect in Congress. Alas, this isn’t that time.