The Sciences

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt is Grounded

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyFeb 11, 2011 1:43 PM

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I'm sure it had nothing to do with mounting criticism over his misuses of science in what has been called "ArticGate" (Schmitt spelled the word "Arctic" wrong in a paper submitted to NASA--a paper in which this was probably the least of his errors). The official story is that he refused a background check. But whatever the cause, at the end of a week in which bloggers pilloried him for abusing climate science, we now suddenly learn that Harrison Schmitt is stepping down from his previously announced post at the head of New Mexico's Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources. Frankly, to me the official story has a lot of holes. The cited cause of his stepping down sounds awfully trivial. Do you really worry about routine things like background checks if you want to be the head of a major state agency? And note also: This nomination had seemed like a done deal. Schmitt was already listed on the official state website as the "secretary" of the department (and still is, for the moment). His bio is also still one the state website, describing him as "secretary." At the same time, I also find it hard to believe that climate focused bloggers have enough oomph to cause someone like Schmitt to reconsider his nomination. We were, at best, lending ammo to his critics in New Mexico. But he was always going to have critics in the state, and if things were getting too hot he could have just backed away from a few of his more stunning comments about climate change and other matters. So it's hard to imagine what really happened here. And before we rejoice too much, bear in mind that Schmitt may well be replaced by another climate change denier. But as Joe Romm puts it, when it comes to Schmitt's replacement, "I’m guessing [Governor] Martinez will be looking for someone who is a tad more earthbound…."

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