Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Top scientists accuse House panel of harassing climate researchers

Oliver Milman in New York
Nov. 25, 2015

Leading scientists have accused a Republican-led committee of subjecting climate researchers to politically motivated “harassment” amid an increasingly fractious investigation into the activity of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

Eight key scientific bodies have written to Republican congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the House committee on science, to warn that the committee’s inquiry into Noaa could have a “chilling effect on the willingness of government scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions”.

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

“Science cannot thrive when policymakers – regardless of party affiliation – use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.”


Smith’s ire has focused upon research led by Thomas Karl and colleagues at Noaa, published in the journal Science in June. The research found there has been no “pause” in global warming over the past 15 years, despite previous claims that there has been a slowdown or flatlining in rising global temperatures.

This finding has been backed by several other climate papers this year that dispute the idea of a warming hiatus. On Wednesday, the World Meteorological Organisation announced that 2011 to 2015 had been the warmest five-year period on record, with this year set to be the hottest year ever registered. This warmth had been driven by climate change, caused by the release of greenhouse gases from human activity.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science, said the Karl paper went through two peer review processes and was not rushed to publication.

“There’s no way this was hurried and this wasn’t something that researchers had control over in terms of the publication timing,” said Rush Holt, chief executive of the AAAS and one of the signatories to the letter to Smith.

“This is political tampering with the scientific process. Subpoenas or threats of subpoenas and demands for internal communications clearly go beyond raising questions about the research. It has a chilling effect because researchers can’t focus on the science or critique each other. If you meddle with science politically, you can really cause damage to public welfare.

“Politicians may not like the outcome, it may not fit with their political picture but to tamper with the process politically only serves to weaken the ability of scientific work. Climate science has become politicised which is unfortunate because this subject, more than any other, needs good scientific investigation.”

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