Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance–that uncomfortable feeling you get when you hold two mutually exclusive ideas at the same time. For much of my life I thought of Harrison “Jack” Schmitt as a kind of role model. He preceded me at Caltech, where I spent five years doing Ph.D. research in a building that displayed a larger-than-life mural of his epic Apollo 17 moon walk. My opinion of him was influenced by that mural, my teenage memories of the excitement and glory of the Apollo program, and the fact that we shared Caltech as our alma mater.
But now I have a conflicting idea–that of a small man who won’t admit mistakes, refers to people who don’t agree with him as “communists,” associates with the liars and cheaters of the Heartland Institute, and is unwilling to comply with a simple background check as a prerequisite for public service. This irony has not been lost on those of us engaged in climate research at the national labs and who regularly submit ourselves to the re-investigations, polygraph examinations and random drug tests necessary to maintain the security clearances required to serve in the national interest (no liars, drug users, or communists allowed).
My sincere hope is that Schmitt will repudiate the Heartland Institute and its dishonest tactics, correct his mistaken statement about the Arctic sea ice, and retract his claim that environmentalists are communists. Most of all, I would like him to prove that he has nothing to hide by going forward with a background check that would surely be mild compared to the security investigations accepted by those of us he denigrates as communists. Owning up to his mistakes and showing he has nothing to fear from an investigation would demonstrate integrity and would fit my image of him as an Apollo astronaut and fellow Caltech scientist. Will the real Jack Schmitt please stand up?