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Stop the Gag on Global Warming--UPDATED | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Stop the Gag on Global Warming--UPDATED

Nation readers don't need me to tell them how frantically the Bush Administration tries to avoid both transparency and accountability. On issue after issue, the Bushies have worked in secret to keep the public and Congress out of its policy-making loop and have dealt with bad news the same way every time: by trying to bury it.

Take the most recent example: the Administration is trying to gag NASA's top climate scientist--Dr. James Hansen--because he had the temerity to speak out publicly about the threats of global warming. Hansen made a speech last December 6 at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco calling for prompt action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions--a message that the Bush Administration does not want to hear despite the fact that 2005 was one of the hottest years on record, a finding that puts eight of the past 10 years at the top of the charts in terms of high temperatures. Since his SF speech, Hansen says that NASA's public affairs office has insisted on screening all material he presents to the public, and on one occasion an agency press officer even turned down a journalist's request for an interview with Hansen, which the doctor wanted to do.

NASA's political vetting might not be that uncommon, reports Nature.com, which writes that Steven Beckwith, a Johns Hopkins University astronomer and former head of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, says NASA has been known to "forbid its staff from talking to the press"; this includes at least one agency scientist he knows of who spoke out on the politically sensitive subject of whether the Hubble Space Telescope's life should be extended.

The Republican Chair of the House Science committee, Sherwood Boehlert, clearly isn't happy with NASA. Boehlert has ordered his staff to look into the matter, and issued his own statement last week charging that "NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen." As Hansen himself, no firebrand by the way, told the Washington Post, "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now."

To highlight, and hopefully combat, this increasing government censorship, the group Environmental Action is asking concerned citizens to let NASA head Michael Griffin know that you expect him to ease up on the global warming gag and stop censoring federal scientists. The group is aiming to get 4,000 people to send letters. Click here to send a letter today and then urge your friends and family to also speak out against the censoring of federal researchers.

For background on this story read recent reporting by Andrew C. Revkin in the New York Times. Revkin is the reporter who substantiated Hansen's assertions with quotes from gutsy career officials at NASA who typically make every effort to stay out of the limelight.

The Times science writer and author also wrote last Saturday that "Other National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists and public-affairs employees came forward this week to say that beyond Dr. Hansen's case, there were several other instances in which political appointees had sought to control the flow of scientific information from the agency. They called or e-mailed The Times and sent documents showing that news releases were delayed or altered to mesh with Bush administration policies." As Chris Mooney wrote in his blog, The Intersection, "Revkin has basically broken every major story about abuses of climate science, and climate scientists, by the Bush administration." So keep watching his work.

[BONUS LINK: For a sobering take on the stakes involved in the global warming debate, read my friend Juliet Eilperin's piece in last Sunday's Washington Post. Despite the Bush hacks who continue to dispute the reality of climate change, Eilperin writes that "Now that most scientists agree that human activity is causing the Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend."]

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