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Edited NASA Press Releases

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyFebruary 6, 2006 6:36 PM


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The Boulder Daily Camera has the latest on NASA PR flacks torquing findings in the field of climate science. It seems that sea ice experts at the University of Colorado are angry about the way NASA altered a press release announcing the results of their research--which, of course, showed declining sea ice extent and warned about feedbacks that could lead to still more rapid melting:

NASA and the CU data center had agreed to issue a joint press release. But NASA's release, which appeared several hours after CU's, differed in tone and content. Scambos' quotation about rapid ice decline did not appear, and Stroeve's statement about the potential disappearance of summertime Arctic ice was not even alluded to.

Instead, the space agency's release quoted a NASA scientist who cautioned against "thinking that Arctic sea ice is gone for good."

Why the differences? Sources inside and outside NASA say that Bush-administration appointees watered down its version for political reasons. Documents obtained from CU and NASA offer further evidence of this. I'm particularly interested in this latest story for the following reason. Back in May of last year, I blogged about a strikingly similar story: A NASA press release on research by James Hansen had been curiously edited to downplay the significance of findings about the earth's energy imbalance. For example, here's a quote that was removed from NASA's version of the release:

"This energy imbalance is the 'smoking gun' that we have been looking for," says James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, part of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and the lead author of the study. "It shows that our estimates of the human-made and natural climate forcing agents are about right, and they are driving the Earth toward a warmer climate."

In light of the Boulder Daily Camera's expose, I have little doubt that I was right to suspect something untoward was going on. In both cases, we're talking about a delayed press release that, when it comes out, has clearly been edited to downplay the significance of the research findings, and especially any implications of those findings that may cause public concern.

The hacks have been at it for sometime, then, no?

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