Scientists Stand By NOAA Administrator Who Refuses To Hand Over Emails To Congress

Climate scientists unite against Lamar Smith's "bullying tactics"

NOAA Vessel

NOAA Vessel

NOAA/Flickr CC by 2.0

Everyone wants to read other people's emails now. From the Sony Hack to the Clinton emails, there is huge interest in the words pouring between people electronically.

Tussles over political or entertainment emails make headlines, but another email battle over more scientific subject matter has been going on for several months.

Essentially, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Kathryn Sullivan, is refusing to turn over internal emails between NOAA scientists to House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, who has subpoenaed communication (including emails) relating to a study published earlier this year.

The subpoena came after NOAA scientists published a paper in Science which showed that global warming had not, in fact, slowed down in the years since 1998. Smith, who has been outspoken in his opposition to mainstream climate science asked for the emails two months ago, but Sullivan refused to hand them over.

Since then, Sullivan has held her ground, a stand that has garnered her much acclaim in the scientific community. In two new letters sent to Sullivan this week, hundreds of scientists reiterated their support for her.

Why such furor over emails? In part, it's because the scientists have already turned over reams of data and correspondence related to the paper to the committee already. But it's also because Sullivan and her peers view the request as unreasonable, and fear the chilling repercussions to research if scientists were forced to conduct all future communications as though someone was reading over their shoulder.

In a letter, 587 scientists thanked Sullivan for standing up for scientific integrity.

As you know, these actions can create a chilling effect on both federal scientists and any other scientist with whom they collaborate or correspond. We urge you to continue to stand firm against these bullying tactics in order to protect NOAA scientists' ability to pursue research and publish data and results regardless of how contentious the issue may be. Please continue to resist this dangerous abuse of congressional oversight power.

Former NOAA employees voiced their support as well, cautioning that turning over the emails would result in damage to NOAA's ability to conduct research.

We know firsthand that scientists need intellectual space to debate new ideas and give each other confidential feedback without worrying that an individual comment will be subject to public scrutiny at a later date. Turning over scientists’ correspondence and other information to the committee would significantly damage NOAA’s ability to conduct science by putting NOAA’s scientific independence at risk, and making it more difficult for NOAA scientists to collaborate with peers in academia and the private sector.

Smith backed off of his request for the scientists' emails earlier this month, limiting his request to non-scientific NOAA personnel ... for now.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published two stories extremely critical of Smith's actions; an editorial describing his demands as "The Latest Attack on Climate Science", and another op-ed written by climate scientist Michael Mann titled "The Assault on Climate Science." In response, Smith wrote a letter to the New York Times published on Wednesday:

Alarmists like Mr. Mann seek to promote a political agenda, then claim to feel intimidated when anyone asks questions. But claiming that the debate is settled is the opposite of the scientific method. If NOAA has nothing to hide, why not provide the evidence to support the agency’s claims?

They did. In Science, seven months ago.