The Sciences

NASA admits Deutsch muzzled scientist

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJun 12, 2006 1:36 AM


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NASA has publicly admitted that White House appointee George Deutsch inappropriately denied press interviews with global warming scientist James Hansen. NASA internally reviewed what happened with Deutsch. A letter from Brian Chase, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Legal Affairs at NASA sent a letter to Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) briefly outlining the finding. The full letter from NASA is posted as well. The money shot is this one:

... an internal inquiry has revealed that one recent media request to interview Dr. James Hansen... was inappropriately declined... in addition, several instances of inappropriate editing of scientific materials have been alleged. These allegations, if true, are unacceptable at NASA.

Just to remind you, Deutsch was appointed as a NASA public affairs officer by the White House, which is, ah, not friendly to the idea that the Earth is warming up due to human activity. So his denying the press an interview with a scientist outspoken about global warming smacks of -- oh let's not be coy, shall we? -- is a blatantly political suppression of science. The "inappropriate editing" mentioned in the letter was Deutsch's attempt to add the word "theory" wherever the Big Bang was mentioned on NASA websites. That may sound innocuous, but like a tiny blemish can hide a vast infection, this was an indication that Deutsch, a White House political appointee, was a not-so-closeted creationist. Unfortunately, from reading the letter, it looks like they're just nailing Deutsch on denying the press an interview with a scientist, and not the website changes-- although I'll add that, weirdly, Deutsch is never mentioned by name in the letter. Anyway, it's a start. And since they used the word "unacceptable" twice, it sounds like they mean it. I wish this would mean they would keep a jaundiced eye on political appointees, but I know better. Still, NASA is aware of the problem, and they are also aware of the series of PR hits they've been taking. Maybe they'll take this to heart. Lieberman has his comments on his website.

The NASA response to the Senators is an important concession that manipulation of scientific statements occurred and recognizes other allegations of inappropriate editing of scientific materials.

So is this over? Hardly. News of other agencies having political appointees muzzling science abound. As Lieberman's continues:

In the time it took NASA to acknowledge that the censorship of Dr. Hansen was inappropriate, new charges of suppressing climate science have arisen at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Forest Service,” Lieberman said. “Reports of this disturbing practice have now arisen at four federal agencies: EPA, NASA, NOAA, and the Forest Service. It is time for the White House to stop suppressing important climate change information that the public has a right to know and needs to know.

The current Administration seems to make a habit of putting their people into places where they can suppress science they don't like. I've written about this before. So, of course, have others. It's not at all too much of an exaggeration to liken this to 1950s Soviet-style suppression of dissenting science (look up Lysenkoism on your favorite search engine). This must stop. Literally, our future depends on it. I'm glad NASA is taking steps to stop this in their ranks. I hope they continue down that path.

Hat tip to SpaceRef for this news.

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