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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Kill the Messenger

The administration does not like the results of greenhouse gas and global warming research from a leading researcher in the area and, according to this report, is attempting to control what he is allowed to say in public:

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him, by Andrew C. Revkin, Washington Post: The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said ... officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists. Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said. ...

Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing ... clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide. ... He said he was particularly incensed that the directives affecting his statements had come through informal telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents. Dr. Hansen's supervisor, Franco Einaudi, said there had been no official "order or pressure to say shut Jim up." But Dr. Einaudi added, "That doesn't mean I like this kind of pressure being applied."

The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave ... and the release of data ... showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.

Among the restrictions, according to Dr. Hansen and an internal draft memorandum he provided to The Times, was that his supervisors could stand in for him in any news media interviews. In one call, George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters, rejected a request from a producer at National Public Radio to interview Dr. Hansen, said Leslie McCarthy, a public affairs officer responsible for the Goddard Institute.

Citing handwritten notes taken during the conversation, Ms. McCarthy said Mr. Deutsch called N.P.R. "the most liberal" media outlet in the country. She said that in that call and others Mr. Deutsch said his job was "to make the president look good" and that as a White House appointee that might be Mr. Deutsch's priority.

But she added: "I'm a career civil servant and Jim Hansen is a scientist. That's not our job. That's not our mission. The inference was that Hansen was disloyal." ... Mr. Acosta, Mr. Deutsch's supervisor, said that when Mr. Deutsch was asked about the conversations he flatly denied saying anything of the sort. ... Ms. McCarthy, when told of the response, said: "Why am I going to go out of my way to make this up and back up Jim Hansen? I don't have a dog is this race. And what does Hansen have to gain?" ...

"He's not trying to create a war over this," said Larry D. Travis, an astronomer who is Dr. Hansen's deputy at Goddard, "but really feels very strongly that this is an obligation we have as federal scientists, to inform the public, and this kind of attempted muzzling of the science community is really rather dangerous. If we just accept it, then we're contributing to the problem." ...

"He really is one of the most productive and creative scientists in the world," Dr. Cicerone said. "I've heard Hansen speak many times and I've read many of his papers, starting in the late 70's. Every single time, in writing or when I've heard him speak, he's always clear that he's speaking for himself, not for NASA or the administration, whichever administration it's been." ...

Many people who work with Dr. Hansen said that politics was not a factor in his dispute with the Bush administration. "The thing that has always struck me about him is I don't think he's political at all," said Mark R. Hess, director of public affairs for the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md... "He really is not about concerning himself with whose administration is in charge, whether it's Republicans, Democrats or whatever," Mr. Hess said. "He's a pretty down-the-road conservative independent-minded person. "What he cares deeply about is being a scientist, his research, and I think he feels a true obligation to be able to talk about that in whatever fora are offered to him."

The administration is set to reveal a new science education initiative soon to encourage more people to enter science related fields. Showing more respect for science and the dedicated scientists behind it would be a good way to begin.

    Posted by on Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 12:51 PM in Economics, Environment, Science | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (6)

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