Mike the Mad Biologist

IG to Probe Censorship of Government Scientists

This is one reason why having a Democratic congress matters. The Inspectors General of NASA and the Commerce Department have begun to investigate whether scientific findings were muzzled or altered by the Bush administration (italics mine):

Prompted by a request this fall by 14 Democratic senators, the IGs are examining whether political appointees have prevented climate researchers at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from conveying their findings to the public.

The issue of global warming has emerged as one of the most contentious scientific debates within the administration. In the past year, several federal climate scientists, including James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, have accused the administration of muzzling them, a charge the White House has denied….

Some federal scientists interviewed yesterday said they welcomed the probe because they had encountered problems in speaking to reporters about their work.

Tom Knutson, a climate research scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., said he could not speak in his official capacity, “but as a private citizen, I think it’s a good idea they’re looking into that. There should be open lines of communication between scientists and the media, and some of what I experienced did not meet that standard.”

A year ago, Knutson said, Bush administration officials twice blocked him from discussing with television reporters a possible connection between global warming and hurricanes.

An Oct. 19, 2005, e-mail exchange between Commerce Department spokesman Chuck Fuqua and NOAA spokesman Kent Laborde, concerning a possible CNBC interview with Knutson, details Fuqua’s concern that Knutson is less willing to discount the connection than two other government researchers. “Why can’t we have one of the other guys on then?” Fuqua asked Laborde.

While most inspectors general are fairly honest, it helps them to know that the Congress is supportive. Federal officials are always aware of who holds the purse strings. Even when there are no official directives, messages are sent about priorities. When the Congress was simply a rubber stamp for the Bush Administration, federal officials had to jump at their call. Now, that Congress is no longer a rubber stamp (hopefully), Congress will be setting far more of the priorities: there is no way the White House can fight every Congressional effort, so some good policies will get through, and some bad Bush ideas will be stalled.

That’s why all those who said that a Democratic Congress wouldn’t make a difference pissed me off. It wasn’t the cynicism or skepticism that angered me, it was the ignorance of how policy is made. The federal government makes decisions every day that affect lives (e.g., public health policy). Some of these decisions will be made more intelligently now, and will not be based on faith-based politics. That is a real improvement. And one worth fighting for.