In the National Review, Julie Kelly writes a celebration of Lamar Smith’s time as chair of the House Science Committee. A large part of the piece reports favorably on Smith’s oversight investigation of Tom Karl after his 2015 pause-busting paper on global temperature.

A key excerpt from Kelly’s piece shows the conspiratorial motivations behind Smith’s investigation.

[Smith] is also working to expose scientists who distort research to buttress a political agenda. In 2015, Tom Karl, a top official at NOAA, authored a controversial study saying that the “pause” in the rise of global temperatures between 1998 and 2012 never happened, even though the hiatus had been acknowledged by the world’s leading climate authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The inconvenient fact of this pause threatened the raison d’être of the 2015 Paris climate conference, so Karl conveniently corrected ocean-buoy data to show that “the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century.”

The hypothesis is that frustration with the so-called pause, which had been considered by the IPCC in 2013 and seized by climate skeptics as emergent evidence of a straining consensus, drove Karl to cut corners and put his thumb on the scale for more warming. It has never been clear to me whether people like Smith thought this was ordered or just readily accepted by the Obama Administration. 

What is missing from Kelly’s account, however, is any reporting on what has been learned since, both about the pause and about the temperature record. Chiefly, that while global temperatures did increase slower than expected for slightly more than a decade, Karl’s analysis seems solid. His conclusions about ocean surface temperatures having been independently verified early last year (see Carbon Brief for a good explainer).  

The Kelly article offers Smith as a friend of science, working to make sure that it is free of political interference and motivation. And those are not unworthy goals. But I think it is important to note that there is truth out there and the norms and mechanisms of science—open analysis, peer review, and replication—are our best system to find the truth, regardless of the motivation of individual authors or groups. Scientists pursue questions and write papers to satisfy all kinds of personal motivations: glory, revenge, status, or concern. The scientific process filters their motivations. In the case of Karl et al, it has shown us that he was probably right, whatever his motivations were.