Any study, he said, goes through a strict peer-review process, and the data and methodology will be scrutinized. A study that doesn’t pass muster, he said, wouldn’t make it into print. And while anyone should be expected to explain the scientific backing of any study, he said that doesn’t include a researcher’s internal discussions.
“What you don’t want is when people are exchanging ideas to be thinking about how this would play out in a legal context,” he said. “You’re saying Congress knows better and Congress can intercede and turn this process of inquiry in a political and legal process.”
A committee aide said that the panel was not investigating the peer-review process, but rather NOAA’s internal review process before the study was submitted. In a statement, Smith said his concern was “the right of the American people to the facts and unbiased information.”
Since taking the reins of the Science Committee in 2013, Smith has increasingly gone after the scientific process. One of his centerpiece agenda items is a bill to address so-called “secret science,” which critics have said is just a backdoor way to undo climate-change policy. At the beginning of this Congress, Smith was handed new subpoena powers, which he’s used to go after a slew of federal officials working on climate and environment policy.
That already put Smith in the crosshairs of science groups, but the NOAA dispute has thrust the issue into the spotlight. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the ranking member of the committee, has fired off a series of irate letters, accusing Smith of engaging in an “ideological crusade” and a “witch hunt” against science that he doesn’t believe in.
But Smith says Johnson is standing in the way of the committee’s work. In a letter Monday, Smith wrote that Johnson has shown she’s “not interested in obtaining answers to those important questions" and "willing to let them go unanswered.” Smith accused her of acting “as a defense counsel for the administration” who says the committee should “seek fewer documents and ask fewer questions.”
As to whether his probe is out of line, Smith wrote: “The request for documents and communications between federal employees serves the purpose of informing the Committee about the reasoning behind why a certain policy decision was made. As it is true that science informs policy, examining the data underlying policy decisions can be very valuable to informing the Committee’s actions with respect to legislation that may be necessary.”
McEntee, whose group has challenged the investigation publicly, said that while it’s true that Congress should study—and even debate—science to inform policy, that can be done with the data and methodology that’s already made available. Going any further, she said, puts the whole process into question.
“If we start politicizing science, then the public and policymakers won’t have peer-reviewed work and the best information on which to base their policy deliberations,” she said. “This article is about climate change, but the next one could be about space weather or the causes of earthquakes or whether fracking hurts water quality. There’s not a topic where a report isn’t done that someone doesn’t agree with. … It’s about the integrity of the process.”