You know things are messed up when the head of the House committee that covers science doesn’t really understand it. Or, worse even, chooses to bury it and persecute scientists. Such is the case of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who suspects of fraud a group of scientists that explained in a new paper that the global warming hiatus isn’t actually a thing. Seems like the world is warming at the same rate as in the 20th century – fast. That didn’t bode well with an obviously biased conservative Republican, so Smith subpoenaed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to gain access to the private documents and emails of scientists involved in the study.

The study

(Credit: NOAA)

(Credit: NOAA)

What got Smith so flared up was a paper published on the 4th of June in the journal Science by a group at NOAA, which found the warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The paper directly refutes the notion that there’s a warming ‘hiatus’, an argument which climate change deniers have been peddling for more than a decade. If the world is actually heating up, then why is it heating up so little? Where is all the heat? An increasing number of research is starting to show that while we are mostly focusing temperature measurements on the atmosphere, the deep oceans are heating up more than ever.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, speaking on Sept. 29 at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, speaking on Sept. 29 at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington.Image credit: NASA / Flickr. Cropped photo used under a Creative Commons license.

To measure ocean surface temperatures, scientists record data from ships and, since the late ’70s, buoys.

“In regards to sea surface temperature, scientists have shown that across the board, data collected from buoys are cooler than ship-based data,” said Dr. Thomas C. Peterson, principal scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information and one of the study’s authors said in statement. “In order to accurately compare ship measurements and buoy measurements over the long-term, they need to be compatible. Scientists have developed a method to correct the difference between ship and buoy measurements, and we are using this in our trend analysis.”

Peterson and colleagues collected the latest, improved datasets from buoys, including the last two years (2013, 2014; the latter being the warmest on record). Analysis showed that incomplete spatial coverage led to underestimates of the true global temperature change previously reported in the 2013 IPCC report, which concluded “that the upward global surface temperature trend from 1998­­-2012 was markedly lower than the trend from 1951-2012.”

The Witch Hunt

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A few months later, on  Oct. 13, the committee headed by Lamar Smith – the author of one of the most hated bills in history (SOPA) – issued the subpoena to NOAA demanding that it gains access to all private communications and discussions of all those involved. The suspicion is that the researchers published the paper before the data sets used were even publicly available.  NOAA replied with a letter in which it reminds the committee that it has previously supplied various explanations pertaining to the datasets, methodology, references and even two personal meetings between the committee and researchers involved in the paper in question. In NOAA’s opinion this is more than enough, anymore (like disclosing private matters) is unnecessary.

Smith believes that NOAA was politically motivated to publish the paper ahead to fit the narrative of COP21, the UN summit where for the first time a global agreement on reducing greenhouse emissions might be reached.

 “Because the Karl study was apparently prematurely rushed to publication, the timing of its release raises concerns that it was expedited to fit the Administration’s aggressive climate agenda,” Smith wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Later, Smith reiterate the same point in a blog post he wrote on Nov. 16 for BreitBart.

“The American people deserve an explanation for why NOAA altered long-held scientific data. When NOAA concocts data to get the politically correct results they want and then refuses to reveal how those decisions were made, that discredits their entire agenda.”

“Apparently NOAA manipulated the way data is analyzed to support a political agenda. Now the agency claims that the discussions of  federal employees are off-limits to anyone who questions their motives. NOAA’s failure to provide any legal basis for the lack of compliance with a congressional subpoena leads to the obvious conclusion that they must be hiding something. American citizens are tired of “trust me” pseudo-science,” Smith wrote.

When I asked about this allegation, Ciaran Clayton, Director of NOAA’s Director Communications & External Affairs told me:

“There is no truth to the claim that the study was politically motivated or conducted to advance an agenda. The published findings are the result scientists simply doing their job — ensuring the best possible representation of historical global temperature trends is available to inform decision makers, including the U.S. Congress.”

“We have been transparent and cooperative with the House Science Committee to help them better understand the research and underlying methodologies.  We have provided data (all of which is publicly available online), supporting scientific research, and multiple in person briefings.  We stand behind our scientists who conduct their work in an objective manner.  It is the end product of exchanges between scientists – the detailed publication of scientific work and the data that underpins the authors’ findings — that are key to understanding the conclusions reached.

“We have provided all of the information the Committee needs to understand this issue,” Clayton said.

The statement is backed by scientists who stress how disrespectful chairman Smith’s attitude is to the scientific process. On Tuesday, several major American scientific societies sent a letter to Smith.

“Science is a self-correcting process and part of the purpose of placing research into the scholarly record is so other scientists can attempt to replicate, confirm, or refute it. This paper is subject to these same norms. In fact, over the past year there have been other peer-reviewed research papers published by university scientists and derived from other independent data sources that have also analyzed the climate hiatus. This is the way in which science advances. ”

“Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial.”

“These broad inquiries threaten to inhibit the free exchange of ideas across scientific disciplines not only for NOAA, but for other government experts and the academic and industry scientists with whom they collaborate. We are concerned that establishing a practice of inquests directed at federal scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of government scientists to conduct research that intersects with policyrelevant scientific questions. The repercussions of the committee’s actions could go well beyond climate science, setting a precedent to question other topics such as genetically modified organisms and vaccines that have controversial regulatory and policy implications.”

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.

Debunking ridiculous allegations

The fact of the matter is that Smith’s assumption is easily demonstrable to be false. The study which  Thomas Karl and colleagues at NOAA made is “based on an SST paper by Huang et al (2015) which came out much earlier in 2015, and was submitted in December 2013. This is hardly a piece of rushed work!“, Philip Jones told me. Jones is Research Director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and a Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.

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The number of outside reviewers was larger than usual, and the time from submission to online publication was about 50 percent longer than the journal’s average of 109 days, said Ginger Pinholster, chief of communications for AAAS, which publishes Science.

“There are at least 5 global temperature series that I am aware of. These are the one I’m involved in (HadCRUT4), GISS/NASA, BEST (Berkeley Earth), Japan Met Agency (JMA) and also NOAA/NCEI.  With respect to trends and also the warmth of 2015 all agree within their error ranges,” Jones told me.

“So, there doesn’t appear to be any disagreement in the science about global averages of surface temperatures.  I suppose that Smith questions NOAA, as he has some influence there, but all the other datasets show the same thing. The various groups work independently of each other.  Smith’s statements are not scientific, so with the timing of the Paris meeting are made with other interests in mind.”

” 2015 and 2016 will be the warmest two years. 2014 was third.  The current El Nino event will revert to a neutral state or maybe a La Nina, as all El Nino events do.   Discussion of a new hiatus will probably then start again,” Jones added.

Jones and other scientists from University of East Anglia had their e-mails and documents stolen in 2009 after someone hacked their server. A selection of conversations, quotes and excerpts from documents were then posted online thrown at of context as evidence that global warming is one big conspiracy. Coincidentally, this was just before COP15 Copenhagen. Skepticalscience has a great report on what happened, but needless to say at the time this whole situation was blown out of proportion. What was standard procedures between scientists, sprinkled with colloquial language and jargon got misinterpreted by some naive members of the press and the public. It eve drew comparisons to Watergate, the famous scandal in which former US president Richard Nixon was caught red-handed lying. In this situation, the press called it “Climategate”  which is absolutely ridiculous and further propagated the idea that this is a conspiracy. Official committees, both in the US and the UK, were formed to investigate the matter and they found no evidence of wrong doing or fraud (9 separate investigations were made) . The ripples still linger, though.

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Some bloggers think Lamar Smith is trying to invent another “Climategate”, on a Witch Hunt to stir up people as COP 21 in Paris unfolds, which is ironic and – if true – downright despicable considering Smith believes NOAA researchers falsified data to boost support for the U.N. summit. It should also be noted that Smith’s top industry donors are the oil and gas industries, which have given a combined $630,000 to the Representative since 1998, DESMOG reports. In a blog post, Smith wrote:

“Even the United Nations’ (U.N.) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change disagrees with NOAA’s new study. The IPCC reiterated its findings in its most recent Assessment Report, noting that, “the rate of warming over the past 15 years, which begins with a strong El Niño, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951.” With the U.N. climate change conference around the corner, how should the American people feel about the federal government’s skewing the data?

At the conference, world governments are expected to negotiate far-reaching climate change regulations. The president already has pledged to cut U.S. carbon emissions by 28 percent by 2025. In order to meet this goal, the president intends to bypass Congress and the American people to enact costly regulations. Basing job-killing regulations on suspicious science is bad policy and being dishonest with the American people.”

The same IPCC Smith is quoting as a valuable source almost unanimously agrees with 95% confidence climate change is man-made. You know what else the IPCC says?

  1. The warming is unequivocal.
  2. Humans caused the majority of it.
  3. The warming is largely irreversible.
  4. Most of the heat is going into the oceans.
  5. Current rates of ocean acidification are unprecedented.
  6. We have to choose which future we want very soon.
  7. To stay below 2°C of warming, the world must become carbon negative.
  8. To stay below 2°C of warming, most fossil fuels must stay buried in the ground.

It’s horrendous, to me, that such a willfully ignorant person is the head of science in a country like the United States. Doesn’t Smith realize that science is always a work in progress and contradictions are welcomed, not the object of scolding!?  What’s more, he’s accusing hard-working honest scientists of fraud, when it’s pretty clear the only one with a personal agenda is himself. After all, this isn’t the first time Smith has attacked climate scientist. In May 2014 he criticized a White House report warning of harmful U.S. impacts from climate change (and hit President Barack Obama on climate again when he visited Alaska in September 2015). At this point, it doesn’t even matter if NOAA is compelled to hand over the private documents. What Smith is after is strengthening the debate and polarizing the discussion, perpetuating the illusion that the idea of whether or not climate change is caused by humans or that it is even a thing is up for the debate. Some believe global warming is true, some don’t. It’s a matter of belief, or so the narrative goes. That’s how this whole game works, and there’s an entire school behind it.

 

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