Gayathri Vaidyanathan ::

‘NOAAgate’ — probing a cover-up, or a ‘weapon of mass distraction’?

In the past month, congressional Republicans have subpoenaed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to gain access to the private documents and emails of scientists involved in a landmark climate change study to look for evidence of alleged wrongdoing.

The attempts, by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, timed before COP-21 talks in Paris next month to negotiate a new global climate change agreement, have prompted some comparisons to Climategate. During that November 2009 scandal, the private emails of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia in England were hacked and released, and their words were cherry-picked to suggest a global warming conspiracy.

“This entire fiasco reminds me of another hype-driven, fact-lacking conspiracy: the so-called ‘Climategate,'” wrote Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), ranking member of the committee in a letter to Smith.

Climategate preceded the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009 and dominated media coverage for at least a year. The scientists at its center had to participate in five independent investigations, which all cleared them of wrongdoing. The biggest impact of Climategate was on conservatives, who became more distrustful of scientists and global warming than they were previously, some studies show.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the objective is the same here,” said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences at Princeton University. “It seems to me the sweeping nature of [Smith’s] request means that the primary objective is to harass the scientists, waste their time and try to scare other scientists in the government from ever getting involved in the climate change issue.”

Bloggers who doubt human-caused global warming have christened Lamar’s attempts “NOAAgate.” So far, NOAAgate has not developed into as much of a distraction as Climategate because the emails have not been released, Oppenheimer said.

Moreover, the public, media and scientists are more savvy now than they were six years ago of the tactics employed by climate change doubters, observers said.

NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan again declined to provide emails in a letter to Smith on Friday.

“I have not and will not allow anyone to manipulate the science or coerce the scientists who work for me,” she wrote.

Read more at ClimateWire

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