NASA Science Censor Resigns
Mr. Deutsch's educational record was first challenged on Monday by Nick Anthis, who graduated from Texas A&M last year with a biochemistry degree and has been writing a Web log on science policy, scientificactivist.blogspot.com.
After Mr. Anthis read about the problems at NASA, he said in an interview: "It seemed like political figures had really overstepped the line. I was just going to write some commentary on this when somebody tipped me off that George Deutsch might not have graduated."
He posted a blog entry asserting this after he checked with the university's association of former students. He reported that the association said Mr. Deutsch received no degree.
A copy of Mr. Deutsch's résumé was provided to The Times by someone working in NASA headquarters who, along with many other NASA employees, said Mr. Deutsch played a small but significant role in an intensifying effort at the agency to exert political control over the flow of information to the public.
Such complaints came to the fore starting in late January, when James E. Hansen, the climate scientist, and several midlevel public affairs officers told The Times that political appointees, including Mr. Deutsch, were pressing to limit Dr. Hansen's speaking and interviews on the threats posed by global warming.
When I originally posted my discoveries on Deutsch, I did not have access to his resume, so I only mentioned that he “may have intentionally misled” people. After being informed that he explicitly stated that he obtained a B.A. in Journalism from A&M in 2003, though, I can now say that he lied directly and intentionally. Although he would not have been qualified to be in his position even if he did have a degree, it is fortunate that this has come to light because it forced him to resign. Although the problem of political interference in science runs much deeper, this is a necessary first step toward addressing it.
NASA scientist James Hansen makes an interesting point about the coverage of Deutsch’s lack of a college degree:
Yesterday, Dr. Hansen said that the questions about Mr. Deutsch's credentials were important, but were a distraction from the broader issue of political control of scientific information.
"He's only a bit player," Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Deutsch. " The problem is much broader and much deeper and it goes across agencies. That's what I'm really concerned about."
"On climate, the public has been misinformed and not informed," he said. "The foundation of a democracy is an informed public, which obviously means an honestly informed public. That's the big issue here."
Hansen is really on to something here, and instead of the story being about a 24-year-old lying, it should be about this: how did this guy, who already had dubious qualifications, make it into NASA with such an obvious lie on his resume? To work for a federal agency, including NASA, extensive background checks are usually required. If I was able to uncover the truth about Deutsch in one phone call, then he must have been placed in his current position without any investigation, due to his loyal service on the Bush presidential campaign.
For a president that paints himself as a champion of national security, the NASA incident is a major blow to Bush’s credibility. This isn’t the first time either, with George Deutsch now joining the ranks of Michael Brown, the embattled former director of FEMA, and Harriet Myers, Bush’s Supreme Court nominee who was subsequently withdrawn. Congratulations, Deutsch, this is a pretty elite circle!
The NASA censorship scandal was originally about partisan figures compromising the science, and it still is, but now it’s also about something much deeper and much more troubling. I don’t know how many others there are out there like Deutsch, but it shouldn’t be hard to find out. Journalists, it’s time to make some phone calls!
In the meantime, NASA needs the authority to remove the rest of those who are interfering with the scientific process for partisan gains. Although NASA's credibility has tragically taken a big hit here due to political interference, the real victim is the science. And, when the science suffers, we are all affected.