Since Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) took over as chairman of the House Science Committee in the beginning of 2013, the GOP majority has been waging a war. Its enemies list is long: The Environmental Protection Agency. The National Science Foundation. Rules that prevent industries from polluting the air and groundwater. Climate scientists studying the effects of a warming planet. The very notion of non-politicized, peer-reviewed scientific inquiry.
For years, the House Science Committee was a quiet congressional backwater. Typically, its most contentious battles were over the future of American space exploration.
Smith has changed that. The traditionally collegial committee has been pursuing a more aggressive and party-driven agenda — one that’s closely aligned with the GOP’s relentless promotion of the fossil-fuel industry. Though critics say Smith’s campaign has been scattershot and at least somewhat dysfunctional, they’re alarmed about what could result from the various bills he’s pushed over the last 18 months.
Stocked with corporate-trained lobbyists in key staff positions, the committee’s majority has repeatedly attacked the EPA from several different vantage points. The committee participated in the congressional GOP’s efforts to block or limit virtually all regulations on coal, oil and natural gas facilities - including a reinvigorated effort to delegitimize and ultimately scrap the most important existing such laws like the Clean Air Act by tarnishing seminal studies conducted by researchers with Harvard University and the American Cancer Society. After encountering resistance to that effort, committee Republicans went much further by pushing a bill that would disallow the EPA from using any confidential data or information - a measure seemingly designed to completely disrupt its ability to protect the public.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has a long track record of climate change denial. And under his leadership, the committee has spent more time holding hearings on the existence of extraterrestrial life than it has examining climate science or the repercussions of global climate change.
The House and Senate have held a combined 19 hearings on space exploration during the 113th Congress, according to a report Wednesday in the National Journal. Smith’s committee alone has organized 15 of those hearings, including three that focused on discovering alien life.
Meanwhile, Smith’s committee has held just two hearings dedicated to climate change.
In one email, a lawyer for Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said that the Republican wanted to move a white neighborhood near the San Antonio Country Club from a Hispanic congressional district into his own congressional district, in order to make the Democratic-leaning district less white.
In response, a Republican staffer for Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) warned in a private email that the gerrymandered map “has next to no chance of pre-clearance.”
At the time, Republican state Rep. Beverly Woolley, a leader of the redistricting efforts in Harris County, told a group of minority representatives, “[Y]ou all are protected by the Voting Rights Act and we are not. … We don’t want to lose these people due to population growth in the county, or we won’t have any districts left.”
In a separate instance, one Republican congressman told another that he needed “more Mexicans in [his] district” but not from areas where Latinos were politically active.
The Justice Department argued at the time that the emails left little doubt that “racial as well as political data were most accurately driving the line drawing.”
The evidence was enough for a three-judge panel on the D.C. court to deny pre-clearance and conclude that the new map was drawn with “discriminatory purposes.” The court said the new district lines removed the “economic guts” from African-American districts but performed “no such surgery” on regions represented by white lawmakers.
“Anglo district boundaries were redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren,” wrote Judge Thomas Griffith for the court. “The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is ‘coincidence.’ But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed.”
If you believe the folks at NASA—and really, why shouldn’t you?—it’s only a matter of when, not if, we need someone like Dr. Bong Wie to save the human race from a civilization-destroying catastrophe.
Wie is the director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University, the only institution in the United States dedicated to the deflection of what NASA calls Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)—“asteroids” to the rest of us. He’s been busy lately. On Friday, Americans woke up to reports and videos of the largest meteorite in more than a century crashing into Siberia. In the late afternoon, 600,000 people watched online as the DA14 asteroid passed just 17,000 miles from Earth. In response to all of this, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, announced he would hold a hearing “to develop contingencies” in the event of an imminent threat from outer space.
Scientists have been calling on the government to wake up to the NEO threat for decades, “but nothing happened,” Wie says. “We are very lucky to have today’s events.”
Wie’s plan for destroying an Earth-bound asteroid is simple: Stick a massive nuclear device into it and blast it to smithereens. Notwithstanding the 168 factual inaccuracies NASA engineers have reportedly found in Armageddon, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton got it essentially right. “Astronauts will not be required, so clearly this would be an unmanned robotic mission—but we will need a nuclear device,” Wie says.
… Spherule beds deposited between 3.5 and 1.7 billion years ago have been found all over the world — but this time frame doesn’t match up with existing models of unusually violent asteroid activity, specifically a span in our solar system’s history known as the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB). According to what’s known as the Nice model, the LHB lasted from 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago, when the irregular orbits of our cosmic neighborhood’s outermost planets triggered a cannonade of asteroids and comets throughout the Solar System. What, then, was the source of the extraterrestrial assault responsible for the spherule beds that geologists see dating from 3.8-billion-years ago onward?
According to a new model, created by a research team led by planetary dynamicist William Bottke, these asteroids likely originated from a long-extinct extension of the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Computer simulations that incorporate this ancient extension not only reproduce a modern population of asteroids called the Hungarias, they also predict the occurrence of roughly 70 impact events, on the same scale or larger as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, between 3.7 and 1.7 billion years ago. In brief: their results suggest that the LHB lasted, quite literally, billions of years longer than previously thought.