The House Anti-Science Committee?

Read time: 4 mins

The House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology certainly isn’t the most powerful in Congress. It doesn’t wield the budgetary clout of Appropriations. It doesn’t oversee massive agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services.

But it’s a historic fixture of postwar, science-centered America—a committee originally formed after the Soviet launch of Sputnik, and one that today oversees the major research agencies: NASA, NOAA, NSF, and numerous others. For much of its history, whichever party controlled Congress, the committee was therefore run by a legislator with a sympathetic understanding of the scientific community—leaders like George Brown on the Democratic side, and Sherwood Boehlert for the Republicans.

That’s why it’s pretty alarming that the committee’s current leadership appears highly unsympathetic to the views of the U.S. scientific community, and particularly U.S. climate science researchers.

First, there’s committee chairman Ralph Hall of Texas. He’s a former Democrat, now a Republican, and insists he is not a climate skeptic. And certainly he’s not as extreme on the issue as Rep. Dana “Dinosaur Farts” Rohrabacher, whose challenge Hall fended off to head the committee.

Still, Hall has said that the ‘ClimateGate’ pseudo-scandal suggests there’s a “dishonest undercurrent” in the scientific community. Actually, it shows a “dishonest undercurrent”  in the community’s critics. If Hall can’t see as much, then one can legitimately worry about his chairmanship.

And if Hall is planning to conduct climate science investigations and potentially subpoena climate scientists, that makes things even worse. According to ClimateWire, such hearings may be on the table—and Hall may let the next anti-science GOP leader of the committee head them up: Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

Sensenbrenner will serve as Hall’s vice-chairman. He’s long been on the warpath against climate science, and speaking to Politico late last year, Hall was blunt about Sensenbrenner’s “bad cop” role: ““With his background, his insistence, he can do the mean things that we don’t want to do. I’m a peaceful guy; he likes combat.” 

The Union of Concerned Scientists dubs Sensenbrenner the most likely member of the new Congress to attack climate scientists, and details some of his prior statements casting doubt on global warming research. Sensenbrenner, for instance, has accused the researchers involved in “ClimateGate” of “scientific fascism. As UCS goes on to note:

Sensenbrenner’s previous public statements on climate science show that he routinely ignores and denies even the most robust, vetted scientific findings. In December 2009, for example, during a congressional hearing, Sensenbrenner referred to a federal climate report compiled by 13 agencies and independent academics as “at worst junk science.” He claimed that the report was “part of a massive international scientific fraud.” In fact, the report was thoroughly peer-reviewed and commissioned by Congressunder the 1990 Global Change Research Act.

 But we’re not finished yet. You see, the new science committee will also feature, as chair of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, Paul Broun of Georgia (pictured above).

Broun likes to fling the word “socialist” around, even though there aren’t any in mainstream American politics. But of course it depends on how you define socialism. For instance, Broun rather infamously found it at the CDC:

…Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said people in America are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. They want all the power of the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables. This is what the federal, CDC , they going to be calling people and finding out how many fruits and vegetables you eat (sic) today. This is socialism of the highest order!

It’s not just the fruit and vegetable police Broun is worried about. It’s also attempts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions—which, Broun says, will quite literally kill people. On the floor of the House in 2009, he argued that “cap and trade” legislation would lead to skyrocketing electricity prices—and among elderly in the south, a body count:

…a lot of people aren’t gonna be able to afford to run their air condition anymore. And a lot of people are gonna have a hard time with, hyperthermia is what we call in medicine as a medical doctor, their body temperature is gonna go up. They’re gonna get dehydration and people are gonna have a lot of problems and it’s gonna have a greater impact on our health care system and people are gonna die because of that. And it’s gonna kill jobs too.

Broun, I forgot to mention, is a medical doctor. And, he calls global warming a “hoax.”

It is, in sum, quite the Science Committee that we’ll be looking at for the next two years. Scientists beware.

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