NASA is to be commended for a new media policy easing up restrictions on scientist communications. Most importantly, scientists don’t have to have little PR minders on their phone calls any more. Bravo. See here to learn more about the policy.
NASA’s move is entirely positive–it represents progress. Still, it’s pretty scant progress in light of years and years of abuses against science perpetrated by the Bush administration, and the wide range of agencies where these problems have manifested. The great danger, now, is that NASA will be pointed to as a success story in order to neutralize further criticism, not unlike the president’s own “pro-science” initiative to improve science education and international scientific competitiveness.
But in fact, of course, we know that other agencies aren’t taking NASA’s lesson to heart. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has stated that it will continue to screen all media requests for interviews with its scientists. We also know that the member of Congress who pushed NASA to respond positively to the James Hansen situation, House Committee on Science chairman Sherwood Boehlert, is set to step down from his post at the end of 2006. Who knows whether his replacement will demand similar responses from the administration.
The “integrity of science” issue, then, has finally gained some traction–but its advocates must remain nimble and ready to evolve. It’s easy to complain from the outside when the people you’re criticizing are ignoring you, especially when you’re winning big cheers from your own self-selecting audience. It’s much harder, though, to continue to push for change–and maintain focus and unity–having won a small victory.