Rockstars to academics

Guess who we’ve been invited to have dinner with on Tuesday night? Think super famous American scientist who the administration tried to muzzle…

The answer below the fold… tee hee!

It’s James Hansen! Yeah, that James Hansen, the top scientist at NASA who the Bush II administration tried to silence on global warming, but who then went and called the New York Times instead!! OMG!!!

A snippet from the New York Times article from January of 2006:

The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth “a different planet.” […]

After that speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be “dire consequences” if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.

Among the restrictions, according to Dr. Hansen and an internal draft memorandum he provided to The Times, was that his supervisors could stand in for him in any news media interviews.

See, these kinds of things are the good things about academic jobs – meeting really fascinating, brilliant, often courageous people. The only thing is that I don’t think I can go – our first ever academic advisory board is starting at 7:30 am the next morning and the faculty is supposed to be there, and there’s no way I’ll be able to drive back here in time.

And actually, I probably would be completely star-struck anyway, sort of like when my aunt and uncle hosted Terry Waite at an event in Cambridge and no one knew what to say to him. I mean, how do you do small-talk with someone who was a hostage for +1700 days in Beirut, 4 years in solitary confinement? How do you “do” dinner conversation with someone who took on the right-wing conspiracy of the White House in order to literally try and save the planet?? Everything would feel like it should be more significant – if you don’t ask the right questions, it will be an opportunity lost, how can you waste breath by asking him to pass the salt or making an inappropriate joke about how much carbon dioxide we all made in order to get there?

Aha. There we go. That can be a real reason for me not to go. I shouldn’t drive 250 miles in order to meet the person who knows as much as anyone the impact of anthropogenic carbon dioxide production on global warming.

My husband’s going to go, of course. And I’ll make up for missing it by making sure everyone at my academic advisory board meeting knows that I gave up dinner with James Hansen to be there. I still feel I should get some kind of “commitment to the program” brownie points. (Of course, this all will make me look like even more of an academic liberal geek, in case anyone wasn’t sure yet.)

As I shared this plan with my husband, he pointed out in a most depressing manner, “do you think they’ll know who James Hansen is?” *Sigh.*


  1. #1 ScienceWoman
    February 14, 2008

    I heard James Hansen talk earlier this fall and although I agree that he is definitely a rock star of the scientific world, he was really not that wonderful of a public speaker (at least to a general audience). He seemed very passionate but very tired. He might be great to meet in a small group, but I wouldn’t drive 250 miles to meet him.

  2. #2 Marie
    February 14, 2008

    Silly question – not specifically about this post – but why are you Alice, named and known, and ScienceWoman is…not? I’m just confused.

  3. #3 Alice
    February 17, 2008

    Marie — I’m known as me because I have decided to come out of the blogging closet. I want to include blogging as part of my professional persona. I thought about depseudonymizing for a while, I even talked with my department head about it. ScienceWoman is known as ScienceWoman and not her real name because she’s not interested in writing under her real name. SW, correct me if I’m wrong…

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