Congressional investigation into science editing of Smithsonian Arctic climate exhibit


The chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has announced he is investigating the handling by Smithsonian Institution officials of science text for the Smithsonian’s exhibit on Arctic climate change. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) has asked the acting head of the Smithsonian Institution to turn over relevant information about just about everything except what we called for on May 22: the actual text as it was drafted by scientists, and the specific changes made by Smithsonian officials prior to the exhibit.

From our May 22 post (“Smithsonian officials altered Arctic climate change exhibit to cut link with human-induced warming”):

Smithsonian Institution executives ordered a politically motivated rewrite of science in a 2006 exhibit on climate change in the Arctic, says Robert Sullivan, who was associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The Associated Press reported that Sullivan, who resigned, says that, among other things, the text of the exhibit was edited to minimize the relationship between global warming and humans. Our own review of the exhibit finds that, in fact, it discusses climate change and its impacts on the Arctic but, with evident evasiveness, avoids ANY mention of human-induced global warming as a driver….

The Credits pages that accompany the on-line presentation of the exhibit list a number of scientists and curators as contributors.  We believe it would be a public service if any of these individuals who has the exhibit text as drafted by scientists would make the draft text available to compare with the text as finally exhibited after the alleged intervention by Smithsonian executives.

The letter from Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-MA) to Smithsonian Institution Acting Secretary Cristian Samper asks for the following: 

Copies of all letters or email communications regarding the “Arctic -­ A Friend Acting Strangely” exhibit; 
Minutes of Board of Regents meeting discussions regarding the Arctic exhibit or its subject matter;
A list of scientific and other consultants to the Arctic exhibit;
The role of non-scientific consultants, if any;
The name(s) of Smithsonian officials responsible for editing the text of the exhibit;
The name(s) of Smithsonian officials requesting changes to the text of the exhibit;
Smithsonian outreach to congressional committees and members regarding the exhibit.

Rick Piltz comment:
This should open the door. But I note that an inquiry in this form would likely not have brought to light, at least not directly, the mode of text revision of climate change science program reports that I experienced with Phil Cooney at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. On some occasions, Cooney’s intervention was a handwritten mark-up of a document that was then faxed to the Climate Change Science Program Office.  In other cases, most notably in his role as White House operative in the suppression of references to and use of the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, the dirty work appears to have been done via voice communication, involving both CEQ and the CCSP Director, with no official internal paper trail (or none that has yet come to light).  So, my advice to Mr. Markey is to seek to bring these possible modes of intervention forward.  This may well require a more direct request, and direct communication with the relevant scientists and museum exhibit curators, rather than being left in the hands of Dr. Samper (with all due respect to Dr. Samper).

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