You’d think that the main criterion for being named the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s chief scientist would be that you are a scientist. (Lesser criteria: being plausibly chiefly; studying some field related to oceanic and/or atmospheric science.) Turns out, though, that being a scientist can be a real liability for the chief scientist job, at least if Sen. David Vitter is on the case. Vitter successfully blocked the Obama administration’s appointment, geochemist Scott Doney, because basically he’s just not sure scientists can be trusted with this whole “science” thing.
Under U.S. Senate rules, a single lawmaker can place a “hold” on a nomination, effectively preventing a vote. Doney’s nomination had been approved by a Senate committee, but never got a vote in the full Senate after Vitter announced a hold in December 2010. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Vitter wrote that he was imposing the hold because he was “uncomfortable confirming a high-level science advisor within your administration while there remain significant outstanding concerns over scientific integrity at federal agencies and the White House, including with regard to the recent drilling moratorium and the ongoing bottleneck in permitting, which I would characterize as a continuing de facto moratorium.”
So because the White House issued an oil drilling moratorium, scientists can’t be trusted to have scientific integrity. Sure! Makes sense.
Vitter’s hold stalled the nomination for more than a year, and the administration has now finally withdrawn it. Vitter is likely watching for the new nominee like a buzzard — this isn’t even the first science appointment he’s tried to block, and of course preventing government agencies from actually studying the climate is practically a hobby for Republicans. Maybe the administration should just give in and nominate an oil exec for the chief scientist position, like Vitter clearly wants.