House Republicans Are Targeting Scientists For Harassment and Intimidation

Science is broadly defined as a systematic enterprise that gathers, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. No matter how one looks at science, it is curious that anyone of even reasonable intelligence could possibly find a cause to consider it as a devious tool to advance a dangerous ideology. However, according to Republicans beholden to the Koch brothers and fossil fuel industry, that is precisely what science entails and they have launched yet another taxpayer funded assault on scientific research about weather and oceans.

When a noted climate denier funded by the Kochs and the oil industry became chairman of the House Science Committee, it was feared Lamar Smith (R-TX) would do serious damage to any scientific organization remotely related to the Earth’s climate. Smith found an easy target in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tasked with studying and reporting on the condition of climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. Armed with “suspicious subpoena power,” the House Science Committee is using its authority to conduct a witch hunt against NOAA scientists for doing the job they are paid to do; study the oceans and atmosphere and publish the results.

The Koch committee is harassing individual scientists and, in particular, is launching an investigation into the actions of one specific climate scientist who committed a mortal sin by having the “temerity to express his personal views that fossil fuel companies should be held accountable for climate change.” Although the committee has not formally issued subpoenas an investigation has been initiated. Like the Republican Benghazi, Clinton email, and I.R.S. investigations, it is just another witch hunt. It is also a monumental waste of taxpayer money on several levels that is driven by the Koch brothers and the dirty energy industry.

Now, the committee is ramping up its harassment of government agencies that conduct scientific research and last week subpoenaed seven years of internal deliberations and communications among scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;  including “any and all documents and communications” related to NOAA’s measurements and documentation regarding  the atmosphere, oceans, weather patterns and how they relate to the Earth’s   climate. Based on past Republican witch hunts, “all documents and communications” means every single email, preliminary draft, peer review comment, notes,  audio recordings, and a “treasure trove” of other material. What that also means is that taxpayers will pay for federal employees who are not scientists to study and analyze literally hundreds-of-thousands of pages of empirical data and scientists’ records for no stated purpose whatsoever. The NOAA was given two weeks to comply or face sanctions. Here is the issue that should incite rage in the public; besides a cabal of Koch acolytes wasting taxpayers’ time and money harassing scientists, any and every last piece of that data under subpoena is already accessible to the public.

Since it is obvious the Koch committee is using its authority, and taxpayer money, for the sole purpose of harassing scientists unwilling to give the Koch’s and fossil fuel industry the results they want, one Democrat on the committee issued a letter outlining the true purpose of the demand for 7 years’ worth of data and NOAA scientists’ personal communications. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is the ranking Democrat on the committee and wrote;

Obtaining all of the data and methods used in this study seemingly was not enough for the majority. You also demanded internal communications by NOAA scientists regarding their scientific research. NOAA, rightfully, has been reluctant to waste their time and resources, not to mention break confidence with their superb research scientists by responding to this demand.

I cannot help but note that your requests in this case echo the tactics of notable climate change skeptics, who frequently submit similar FOIA requests of climate scientists in both the federal government and in state universities. One of the most publicized occasions of harassment occurred when then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the American Tradition Institute (ATI) sought email communications of former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann.”

Johnson is referring to the case where Cuccinelli issued Civil Investigative Demands (subpoenas) under Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act for information that even other climate change skeptics labeled a witch hunt. In fact, the lawyers working with Cuccinelli representing the American Tradition Institute were being paid by the coal industry and followed Cuccinelli’s official subpoenas with open records requests of their own for precisely the same personal communications and information from a University of Virginia scientist. Representative Johnson noted that like the UVA case,  the Koch’s House Science Committee has not made one specific allegation of fraud or scientific misconduct because they know there is none; their intent is a fishing expedition to harass scientists and burden the NOAA by wasting its time.

This witch hunt under Chairman Lamar Smith’s supervision is not out of character for the climate denier who has taken to the floor of the House in the past to rant and criticize scientists and journalists he claims are on a crusade to falsely “advance the idea of human-made global warming.” In a 2009 speech Smith said,

We now know that prominent scientists were so determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming that they worked together to hide contradictory temperature data. But for two weeks, none of the networks gave the scandal any coverage on their evening news programs. And when they finally did cover it, their reporting was largely slanted in favor of global warming alarmists. The networks have shown a steady pattern of bias on climate change. During a six-month period, four out of five network news reports failed to acknowledge any dissenting opinions about global warming. The networks should tell Americans the truth, rather than hide the facts.”

Of course, several independent reviews discovered that “climate scientists neither hid nor tampered with data;” that is what the Koch brothers pay their so-called ‘scientists’ and activists to do. It is also noteworthy that when 97 percent of climate scientists concur that climate change is ongoing and anthropogenic, the networks will hardly feel inclined to report on the 3 percent of outliers who, oh by the way, are likely on the fossil fuel industry payroll; not unlike Lamar Smith and other Republicans on the committee.

There is no doubt the Koch’s House Science Committee is on a witch hunt and wasting precious taxpayer resources at best. As other pundits have remarked, “It used to be tobacco and chemical companies, and the Church that harassed scientists.” Now, with the Kochs asserting their control over Republicans, Congress is embracing the anti-science playbook to harass, demoralize, and intimidate scientists guilty of measuring and reporting on the conditions of the oceans and atmosphere.

It is a sad state of affairs that in 21st Century America Republicans are using a government entity to specifically target scientists for doing their jobs and, by the way, helping to protect Americans. It is looking more and more like when Republicans scream they want to take their country back, it is to the Dark Ages and all that remains is for them to start burning scientists at the stake.

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