Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Who Needs Scientists?

Many don't know about Dr. James Hansen. He's a NASA Scientist who studies, among many things, climate change. Recently, he made some comments about global warming that contradicted the administration line, and was reportedly put through the ringer in all sorts of ways by some furious appointees. Anyone who follows Bush administration science policy knows this is nothing new, but people in his own party are being perturbed. Enter House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY):

It ought to go without saying that government scientists must be free to describe their scientific conclusions and the implications of those conclusions to their fellow scientists, policymakers and the general public. Any effort to censor federal scientists biases public discussions of scientific issues, increases distrust of the government and makes it difficult for the government to attract the best scientists. And when it comes to an issue like climate change, a subject of ongoing public debate with immense ramifications, the government ought to be bending over backward to make sure that its scientists are able to discuss their work and what it means.

Good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of intimidation. Political figures ought to be reviewing their public statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available science; scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy.

NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him. Even if this sense is a result of a misinterpretation of NASA policies - and more seems to be at play here - the problem still must be corrected. I will be following this matter closely to ensure that the right staff and policies are in place at NASA to encourage open discussion of critical scientific issues. I assume you share that goal.

This is part of a letter to the NASA Administrator and contains all sorts of not-so-subtle threats for some of that dreaded Congressional Oversight! Tim F. at Balloon Juice has some ideas of other people (some of whom are Boehlert own colleagues) might be good witnesses to call in.