By Phil Plait
To the surprise of no one, Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is continuing his unfounded attack on science, ratcheting it up even higher than before. This time, he’s trying to tie up the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The good news? They’re having none of it.
OK, let’s get you caught up first. Smith is the head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and is also a 100 percent head-in-the-sand climate change denier, as well as a conspiracy theorist. A list of his nonsensical claims would take a long time to catalog, so here are just a couple: He thinks that scientists are manipulating data to make it look like the Earth is warming, and that the global warming pause is actually a thing, despite huge, overwhelming amounts of evidence that it isn’t.
Sadly, as head of the science committee he has the power to manifest his conspiracy ideations. He has used the threat of “Congressional oversight” to harass scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including subpoenaing its administrator, Kathryn Sullivan, a scientist and ex-NASA astronaut. The minority (Democratic) committee ranking member, Eddie Bernice Johnson, protested this move vocally. The NOAA refused Smith’s ridiculous request. Smith then slipped into some sort of alternate reality, demanding information from the NOAA because he thinks he has whistleblowers who claim NOAA scientists rushed a global warming paper into publication. Johnson wrote yet another letter to Smith protesting his actions. Smith responded by overreaching even more, broadening his McCarthy-esque fishing expedition against the NOAA.
And that brings us to now.
Smith’s been ramping up a new(ish) tactic, trying to flush out what he thinks is a cabal of scientists fighting the fossil fuel industry. On May 18, 2016, he sent a letter to the UCS, an obvious attempt to create a chilling effect on their work to help scientists maintain the freedom they need to do their research. Reading the letter, I don’t think George Orwell could have done any better. He’s claiming that the UCS is trying to “deprive companies, non profit organizations, and scientists of their First Amendment rights and ability to fund and conduct scientific research free from intimidation and threats of prosecution.”
That loud noise you may have just heard was my irony gland exploding.
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