The Scientific Activist (Archives)


Jan 30, 2006

Speak No Evil

These guys are persistent. And, they’re pervasive.

However, the ideologues of the current administration apparently aren’t very persuasive, or at least not enough to keep NASA science superstar James Hansen from informing the public about the dangers of global warming.

They must find what he’s saying pretty persuasive, though, because they sure are trying hard to shut him up. The New York Times reports:
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 in an interview that 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.

Hansen is up against something big, but luckily those trying to censor him don't seem very good at it. Here’s my favorite example:
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."

To be fair, NASA as an institution seems to be handling this in an alright manner so far, especially by allowing McCarthy, quoted above, to be interviewed by The New York Times. Hopefully this is just a case of a few bad seeds. If so, and if NASA is truly committed to the science and able to function with an acceptable amount of independence, it should be able to remove these administration lackeys—the only appropriate response here.

If not, then it’s really time to get worried about the state of science in the U.S.


  • Should "an acceptable amount of independence" mean that scientists can publicly declare what they think government policy should be?

    In entering the debate on how science should be publicly communicated, you seem to be displaying a tendency to cast all those with a critical view of scientists as bad. This seemingly "you're either with us or against us" stance is reminiscent of the group of people you identify as one of the chief threats to the scientific world you are writing to support.

    Would you agree that Dr Hansen has invited criticism by conflating his scientific authority with his less prominent role as a contributant to the politics of environmental protection?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 30, 01:55:00 PM  

  • Past entries in my blog show that I do not cast all of those with a critical view of scientists as bad, and, in fact, I have often been openly critical of science and scientists myself. Here are some examples:

    In The American Connection I try to make a case for more carefully examining Gerald Schatten's role in the South Korean stem cell fraud.

    In Biotechnology for the Masses I discuss both the pros and cons of transgenic crops, and I am critical of many of their supporters

    In A Taste of Things to Come? I challenge the way many have lobbied for funding of the biomedical sciences.

    Finally, in my introductory post What Is a Scientific Activist? I lay out my views on those who unquestioningly advocate for science.

    To answer your question about Dr. Hansen, I would agree with you that anyone who speaks out on any topic opens him or herself up to criticism, and rightly so. Censorship, though, is not an appropriate response.

    As a scientist, Dr. Hansen has to balance objectivity with the need to convey his research findings; however, in the current political climate, with so many actively working against the spread of accurate scientific information about climate change and its inclusion in national policy, he is completely justified in speaking out on this topic. In fact, it seems like the only sensible thing for him to do.

    By Blogger Nick Anthis, at Mon Jan 30, 05:43:00 PM  

  • Anonymous -

    Let's be straight with each other. Scientists should absolutely be allowed - nay, encouraged - to suggest what they believe are solutions to complex problems.

    The reason: they spend years of their lives mastering a subject and earning the right to do just that. While I know Republicans believe that they have God-given, exclusive rights to knowledge and "truthiness," thankfully, most people live in the real world and benefit every single day from the inherently self-correcting nature of scientific inquiry. To exclude this process from what you cal a "political" debate is wingnuttery of the highest order; this is a debate about science and technology. It's only political because Republicans happen to have the wrong team funding their side.

    I know suggesting that science is actually real is heretical to right wingers like you, but so be it. I'll throw my lot in with those who say you are either with science, or you are against it. In which case, you should give back all your prescriptions, your car, your house, your job and your clothes and go live in a cave - I sometimes wonder how conservatives sleep at night, knowing how many of their everyday luxuries are antithetical to their belief system.

    Perhaps you can explain? Sleeping pills? Ay, again, that would require science.

    By Anonymous mateosf, at Tue Feb 07, 10:51:00 PM  

  • Anonymous seems to be equating environmental protection and scientific viewpoints of environmental protection as being an improper platform from which to voice ones opinion.I would prefer a strictly scientific viewpoint to one which only takes into acount the economic impact of the measures necessary to protect the environment, as at some point when the planet is no longer inhabitable economics matters not at all.

    By Blogger cking, at Wed Feb 08, 09:08:00 AM  

  • This whole story reminds me of a friend of mine who had a press release at the American Astronomical Society and was pressured by someone at NASA press office to remove all references to the fact that stars die.

    They didn't say why, but it seemed like they were uncomfortable with the idea of (stellar) evolution.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 08, 06:54:00 PM  

  • With all due respect to N.A., it is already PAST time to worry about the state of science in the US. The attempted censorship of Dr. Hansen is just the latest 'drop in the bucket' of something that has been going on for several years now. I have to question why Americans continue to fund research into things like global warming and cosmology, if they're just going to let the results get filtered thru a political and/or religious sieve.

    By Anonymous Geophysicist, at Thu Feb 09, 09:23:00 AM  

  • ....and if they don't want to hear them.

    By Anonymous JC, at Thu Feb 09, 10:31:00 AM  

  • Kuaför Malzemeleri says
    Science is not just science anyway, who gives the money manages science. So science is under control of money groups before politicians and religion.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Mar 09, 09:48:00 AM  

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