Pure science undertaken for science's own sake is as rare as a rainbow. It's certainly scarce in Washington, where the quest for knowledge is vulnerable to the bias of politics. Skeptics of President Obama's climate change agenda say they see new evidence of fraud. If administration officials are colluding with scientists to cook the evidence, such as it might be, to demonstrate that the planet is warming, the skeptics deserve everyone's thanks.
Whistleblowers within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) complained last year that a major study by agency researcher Thomas Karl, refuting evidence of a pause in global warming, had been rushed to publication. The implication was that the study was coordinated with Obama administration officials to add to the urgency of the president's climate change agenda in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology issued a subpoena of records of NOAA communications dealing with the study.
The inquiry began afresh last month when Rep. Lamar Smith, wrote to NOAA expressing disappointment "with the slow pace and limited scope of the agency's production [of such records]," which had yielded only 301 pages. Mr. Smith directed officials to broaden their search for relevant documents. He said the committee had received a letter signed by 325 scientists, engineers, economists and other scholars questioning whether the agency had properly peer-reviewed the "quality, objectivity, utility and integrity" of the data used in the Karl study.
Data consist of facts, and facts can be cherry-picked to yield a desired effect. In the NOAA study, researchers found that ocean temperatures measured by ships were warmer than those recorded by buoys anchored in place, and scientists "developed a method to correct the difference between ship and buoy measurements." Ship's engines, however, can heat nearby water and produce false readings. By including those values, critics contend, the agency may have effectively erased evidence of the global warming pause.
President Obama's efforts to "re-engineer" the American energy industry is based on the argument that combustion of fossil fuels endangers the planet, and a rapid transition to renewable power sources is essential. The argument was the basis for the Paris climate change agreement, endorsed by nearly 200 nations. If documents were to emerge suggesting temperature data was doctored to reach an expedient conclusion in the NOAA study, and if White House officials were part of such a scheme, that would be proof that science had been recruited to serve politics. Trust in government would be further eroded.
This would not be the first instance of Obama-era back-channel scheming. Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a report last summer accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of colluding with the Natural Resources Defense Council and other "green" organizations to develop the president's landmark Clean Power Plan, which will saddle Americans with billions of dollars in higher energy bills for decades to come. EPA officials quietly schemed with environmentalists to write regulations reinforcing their shared climate change agenda. The agency has denied the accusations.
Science must be free from pressure to validate political goals. If findings and measurements are altered to serve a political agenda, the findings are flawed. It's called fraud, and should be punished.