The Intersection

Hansen: It’s Getting Worse

NASA whistleblower and leading climate scientist James Hansen has become more and more unmuzzled: He went on NPR’s “On Point” yesterday and really didn’t hold back. You should listen to the whole interview, but I must say that from my perspective, I found one part particularly interesting.

At around minute 26:30, Hansen is comparing political control of scientific information in this administration to the way things worked in previous administrations (of which he was a part). Here’s the gist:

What I see is an increasing control of what scientists are able to say. There are political appointees in the public affairs office, from the top it seems all the way down. And it’s much more extensive now than it was several years ago.

I think that the attempts to influence what comes out of the agencies has probably existed in all administrations, Democrat and Republican. But it has, I have never seen it anywhere nearly this strong as it has been in the past few years.

This is particularly revealing in that Hansen had political problems with the Office of Management and Budget trying to edit his congressional testimony during the George H.W. Bush administration. Nevertheless, based upon this statement, it would appear that Hansen thinks that the interferences with science today have reached a new peak.

For me, this is just another point of evidence–coming, as ususal, from someone in the position to know–demonstrating the severe problem with political control of scientific information in the government today. Journalists can write fluff pieces about how Bush suddenly loves science and technology, but this is the real story his administration is telling.


  1. #1 Gary Farber
    February 4, 2006

    I blog an update on Dr. Michael Griffin’s new memo, and on George Deutsch, the NASA press officer (who is indeed a presidential appointee, as I said I expected he would turn out to be) here.

  2. #2 P.M.Bryant
    February 4, 2006

    Gary, I cannot get to your link. I also wrote a brief post on George Deutsch’s humiliation of NASA last night. And, of source, so has NASA Watch.

  3. #3 P.M.Bryant
    February 4, 2006

    Ok, your link’s working for me now.

  4. #4 shargash
    February 4, 2006

    Deutsch is reminiscent of the system of political commissars instituted in the Red Army by Lenin. Basically, political appointees were assigned to army units to ensure their loyalty and make sure they did things in an appropriately socialist way. We now have basically the same thing in the Bush administration, only their purpose is to ensure the loyalty and proper ideology of scientists instead of the military.

  5. #5 Gary Farber
    February 4, 2006

    Yeah, all of Blogger and Blogspot apparently crashed for 20 minutes or so; it’s been a bit erratic all week. It’s back now.

  6. #6 Dave Gill
    February 4, 2006

    Hansen was also interviewed on NPR’s “Living on Earth” (I heard it this morning) and mentioned that he was late for the interview because he was meeting with his lawyer.

    Sounds like he is expecting flack….

  7. #7 Ben
    February 4, 2006

    Just so everyone knows, Hansen’s portion comes in at around 8’20.

  8. #8 ferfuracious
    February 5, 2006

    See the caption under that corny pic of bush squinting into a microscope:

    President Bush, with student Adan Armas, looks into an electron microscope during a visit to a high school science classroom in Dallas.

    An electron microscope in a high school lab??? Don’t those things cost $250 000 minimum? Either American high schools are a lot better equipped than I’d thought or that journalist is really going for fluff.

    Then he dutifully demonstrates his scientific stupidity:

    He talks about “flex-fuel” cars and solar beams and nanotechnology. (“I’m just beginning to understand what that means,” he said Friday.) He waxes on about the possibilities of cellulosic technologies. (“Big word for a history major,” he said Thursday. “I don’t want to try to spell it.”)

    Not that impressive for someone who was ‘educated’ at Harvard and Yale.

    And then his stupidity in general:

    “It kind of seems a little hard, algebra. I can understand that, frankly.” The audience chortled.

    “I’m looking for a mentor, by the way,” he added. More laughter. “Both in math and English.”

    Does this remind anybody else of the Simpsons episode where Homer falls asleep at Grimes’ funeral and everyone just laughs and says “That’s our Homer!”

  9. #9 Denise
    February 5, 2006

    There have been some serious efforts in the chemical education commuinity made to make SEMs and such available from common materials for under $100. You can’t get publication-quality images, but it’s good enough to show students surfaces at the micron level. I believe Texas is one of the test areas for these instruments. If you can check out Chemical and Engineering News, they had at least one article on it in the last 6 months.

    I agree that people don’t seem to take our president seriously as a liar, instead saying, “Oh he couldn’t have meant that! He’s such a simple man!”. We’ve routinely underestimated him because he plays dumb (I’m not entirely sure he’s as stupid as he seems, but at the least he has some very intelligent handlers), and here we are, with inexperienced idiots running vital government agencies.

  10. #10 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    February 5, 2006

    See the caption under that corny pic of bush squinting into a microscope:
    President Bush, with student Adan Armas, looks into an electron microscope during a visit to a high school science classroom in Dallas.
    An electron microscope in a high school lab???

    It certainly looks like an electron microscope. I would guess that it’s not the latest model. Note it is at a technology magnet school, not an ordinary high school.

  11. #11 ferfuracious
    February 5, 2006

    I am envious of American high schools for their electron microscopes, even if there seem to be a lot of problems in education over there. My school’s labs certainly never had one.

    In Australia high school chemistry students have recently suffered changes to the curriculum that displace real science with more history and current events style content. Studying Mendeleev’s formulation of the periodic table is a good way of learning about the scientific method and the birth of modern chemistry, but you can’t help but feel that the subject is being dumbed down. Lessons involving electron microscopes would be a welcome change.

    Thanks for the insight Denise.

  12. #12 Jim
    February 6, 2006

    email George Deustch at and tell him to resign now.

  13. #13 l Jewett
    February 10, 2006

    All I can say is that Hansen must have been desperate indeed to go to the NY Times with his grievances. The man is certainly no fool. He HAD to know the kind of backlash this would engender from the Bush administration.

    It is realy hard to escape the conclusion that going to the Times was a LAST resort (certaintly not the first) and that he had probably tried — and failed — to get NASA administrators (perhaps even NASA Chief Michael Griffin himself) to do something (ANYTHING) about the problem.

    Are we really to believe that people like Griffin had ZERO inkling before the NY Times piece of what Hansen and several others have said was going on at NASA?

    This is simply too much to swallow.

    From what I have read on other science blogs, I think people are giving Griffin WAY too much benefit of the doubt in this case. It is NOT sufficient simply to send off a flurry of emails re-iterating NASA’s “commitment to openness”.

    What Griffin SHOULD have done by now is set in motion an UNBIASED investigation of Hansen’s allegations — by a team of university scientists who are completely independent of NASA and the US government.

    ALL of those who are found to have engaged in the political interference (not just Deutsch) should be unceremoniously shown the door. If Griffin himself knew what was going on and did nothing, he should resign.

  14. #14 Francois O
    February 10, 2006

    I. Jewett, you say: “What Griffin SHOULD have done by now is set in motion an UNBIASED investigation of Hansen’s allegations ”

    Talking about being unbiased, I read that Hansen has received a $250,000 prize from the Heinz foundation, that is Teresa Heinz, and that he publicly supported John Kerry at the last election. So is HE unbiased? For someone who claims he is censored, we see and hear a lot of him, and in fact have heard him a lot over the past 15 years. It’s not that I agree or disagree with what he is saying. I just think he is playing a little political game himself, posing as a victim, and getting a lot of publicity for it.

  15. #15 Mike Kyle
    March 6, 2006

    Bill Gray, leading hurricane expert said in Science magazine, that his funding was cut during the Clinton admin becase he was a global warming skeptic. Where’s the outrage?

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