Wednesday, February 01, 2006


There is a lot of brouhaha about the Bush Administration trying to "silence" the proponents of global warming. Iain Murray at The Corner comments:
Rep. Boehlert is very upset that the Administration is cracking down on government scientists making statements disagreeing with government policy. The latest cause celebre is that of James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies at NASA, who has said many time that he felt the Administration was not doing enough to combat global warming and who last year used a speech on science to endorse John Kerry for President.

The NY Times had this to say about Hansen, who claims that NASA is trying to restrain his speech in this matter:
He [Hansen] fell out of favor with the White House in 2004 after giving a speech at the University of Iowa before the presidential election, in which he complained that government climate scientists were being muzzled and said he planned to vote for Senator John Kerry.

But Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide.

In several interviews with The New York Times in recent days, Dr. Hansen said it would be irresponsible not to speak out, particularly because NASA's mission statement includes the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet."

He said he was particularly incensed that the directives had come through telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents.

In response, a NASA administrator said the following:
Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," Mr. Acosta said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."

He said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.

Mr. Acosta said other reasons for requiring press officers to review interview requests were to have an orderly flow of information out of a sprawling agency and to avoid surprises. "This is not about any individual or any issue like global warming," he said. "It's about coordination."

Since I have some experience in this area, I will be blunt. NASA is a typical government bureaucracy. When I was at NASA (during the Reagan and Clinton administrations), even a short letter to a colleague had to be signed off by multiple layers of management before it could be allowed to go out--IF it was at all. Any talks given had to be approved by management and the Public Affairs Office. Employees were expected to be low-key in any political activities they engaged in and were discouraged from engaging in any at all--especially if they were in management.

In other words, Surprise! Surprise! NASA is a totalitarian regime and frequently censors its employees' free speech. Even (gasp) its scientists. This is generally not done out of simple maliciousness (although sometimes, depending on your boss, it may be); and I would not call it "coordination" myself. The best way to describe what they do is in the phrase "CYA".

Undoubtedly, there is some manager or bureaucrat somewhere in the vast NASA heirarchy who got a little nervous at Dr. Hansen's attitude (and I would say that for a government employee to publically endorse a presidential candidate is rather political) and exerted his management perogative.

This is government work, folks. It is pure, raw power plays. Especially in the agencies that have a lot of visibility, like NASA.

My guess is that the White House is far too busy to concern itself with the activities of Dr. Hansen (however important he may think he is ) and that it was simply his own superiors' anxiety that has resulted in the bureaucratic "muzzle". This sort of thing goes on all the time, I assure you, and does not require White House intervention. There are millions of little despots in government agencies; and they are all willing and eager to exercise control over their employee's lives all the time.

I don't have much sympathy for "government" scientists generally. Who did they imagine they were working for anyway? I learned this the hard way, let me tell you.

However, when the White House directly and deliberately censors government scientists, then I believe that there should be serious concern and questions asked--as in this case where the Vice President himself fired a government scientist who happens to have different views from his own:
Last spring physicist William Happer found out what happens to federal scientists who ask the wrong questions. He was fired.

Happer, director of energy research at the U.S. Department of Energy for two years, was asked to leave at the end of May. Although he was a political appointee, he had expected to remain until his replacement was nominated, since the Clinton administration had asked him to stay on in January. But he was pushed out two months beforehand. "I was told that science was not going to intrude on policy," he says. Now the DOE's former chief scientist is back at Princeton.

The Vice President in question, by the way, was Al Gore.
Happer made the mistake of crossing Vice President Al Gore, the Clinton administration's ranking environmentalist. In April, Happer testified before the House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on Appropriations. "I think that there probably has been some exaggeration of the dangers of ozone and global climate change," he said. "One of the problems with ozone is that we don't understand how the UV-B is changing at ground level, and what fraction of the ultraviolet light really causes cancer."

Happer's cautious testimony was at odds with Gore's alarmist views. "Like an acid," Gore warns in his tome Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, chlorine from man-made refrigerants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) "burns a hole in the ozone layer worldwide." Gore predicts that ozone depletion will damage crops and raise skin-cancer rates.

I don't believe there was a big deal made of it at the time. Nevertheless, in light of Hansen's complaints, perhaps we should look into it?

Iain Murray directs interested readers to this iluminating article on global warming science and policy; which says in part:
If you are concerned about the Administration possibly muting some of its employees' influence in this area (remember, NASA is part of the executive branch), don't despair. Our government heavily funds a marching army of climate scientists--government, university, and private--whose funding depends upon manmade global warming remaining a threat. The government agencies, like NASA, that the money flows through also depend upon these issues remaining alive for continued funding. This is not to suggest that there is a conspiracy going on. It's merely to point out that climate scientists aren't always unbiased keepers of truth. The arena of global warming overflows with more strongly held opinions than it does unbiased or scientific truths.

In the end, I have to agree with Murray and say that the entire misinformation campaign regarding global warming is less a science issue that has become politicized, than a political issue that has become scientized.

I suggest you read Michael Crichton's lecture on the topic at Cal Tech; which just cuts to the core of the way some scientists have abandoned performing real science and using the scientific method; and are more concerned with implementing public policy.

Another excellent talk by Crichton very vividly tells the story of what happens when such inept "policy-makers" muddle up a complex system (such as the global environment) by making "policies" that are based on feelings and strong opinions.

I recommend you read both.

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