prove susceptible to corruption, like everyone else
Sunday, January 30th, the New York Times carried
a front-page story titled “Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence
Him.” The Oregonian ran two articles, one on the 23rd
of January and another on the 30th, about an effort by
professors at Oregon State University (OSU) to block publication
of a research study by one of their own graduate students. The study
concluded that logging after wildfires is harmful to forest growth
(OSU receives about 10 percent of its funding from a tax on logging).
are only two examples of a troubling trend. Will science survive
its own politicization, or will it be destroyed by a new breed of
administrators who seem to silence scientists for sport, invoking
primal fear and causing them to turn against each other?
E. Hansen directs efforts to simulate the global climate on computers
at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, of which he is director.
He reported to NYT writer Andrew Revkin that, after giving a lecture
in December which included a call for prompt reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions, NASA administrators have been monitoring all public
media interaction he has, including postings on the Goddard website.
Why this made him feel singled out given the Bush administration’s
recently exposed spy program is a bit uncertain. (They’re spying
on all of us, okay? You’re not special Dr. Hansen.)
issued a similar public complaint in October 2004, after giving
a lecture at the University of Iowa. Yes, Iowa not only has a university,
but offers the Distinguished Public Lecture Series at the Department
of Physics and Astronomy. The lecture’s title, “Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference:
A Discussion of Humanity’s Faustian Climate Bargain and the Payments
Coming Due,” reveals Dr. Hansen’s strong opinion about
Hansen feels that informing the public about the dangers of global
warming is an absolute obligation for him as a federal scientist,
and doubly so as part of an organization whose mission statement
includes “to protect our home planet.” The current administration’s
policy is to voluntarily slow increases in greenhouse gas
emissions. “Volunteer emissions reducers” will probably be about
as effective as the average volunteer fire department, and without
all the good food and picnics. Anyway, after Hansen’s speech, the
Times reports, officials at NASA received multiple phone calls from
public affairs officers. They warned of “dire consequences” should
such statements continue.
to the Times article, it’s not just NASA. Scientists at the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have also
been prevented from speaking with reporters, subject to approval
by administrators. This screening is a relatively recent requirement,
having taken effect only within the past five years. Many science
writers and environmental journalists report having increasing difficulty
getting interviews from the EPA.
claims the restrictions Hansen is protesting apply to all personnel.
Government scientists are to stick to science, and not make conjecture
about policy. Granted, there is some legitimacy to monitoring what
an agency’s staff members say to reporters, as well as some pragmatism.
The beliefs of a scientist or even a group of scientists do not
always reflect those of the organization they work for. The general
consensus among reporters who have interviewed him, however, is
that Dr. Hansen always makes it clear that his opinions are his
own, and that he is not speaking for NASA.
shady is evidence that scientists whose opinions mesh with that
at the administration are not kept under such constraints. Again
taken from the New York Times is the example of Dr. Indur
Goklany of the Interior Department. This electrical engineer has
proposed for years that it may ultimately be better, for economic
reasons, not to force cuts in greenhouse gases. He thinks economic
prosperity would in turn allow countries to devise ways of adapting
to and exploiting climate change. Like
putting it in tight fitting jeans and using it to sell cars and
cell phones. Dr. Goklany reported to the Times that he was
never asked, even during the greenhouse gas reduction-friendly Clinton
administration, to cease his extracurricular activities, so long
as he disassociated his views from those of the Department.
the validity of climate strategy coming from an electrical engineer
can certainly be questioned, letting Dr. Goklany make his views
public is in keeping with the spirit of the scientific process.
When Daniel Donato’s OSU professors got in touch with editors of
Science magazine, requesting that his report not be published,
they were squelching not only Donato’s article, but one of the key
forces of scientific knowledge.
from any given study may be interpreted differently by different
scientists, and furthermore how much conjecture can be made—how
wide conclusions can be drawn—based on a study or group of studies
is often a point of contention. It is worth noting that the Dean
of the College of Forestry, Hal Salwasser, was not among those trying
to suppress the anti-logging study, despite having testified in
favor of a federal bill that will speed up logging after fires.
Though Donato reportedly came to sweeping conclusions about his
research that seem unjustified, Salwasser noted that other researchers
can challenge and debate those conclusions. This is as things should
be in the scientific community.
to block publication of a valid research study constitutes an attack
on academic freedom. Most abhorrent is that the attack came from
work contradicted an earlier report by veteran OSU profs. Where
Donato’s research says cutting trees after wildfires is destructive,
inhibiting recovery and new tree growth, the professors’ study concluded
that logging after a fire could help a forest to recover. The professors’
report was highly influential, cited by the U.S. Forest Service
when they expanded their logging pans. This agency joined the nine
OSU professors who petitioned Science to withhold publication
of Donato’s findings. Kudos to Science for publishing the
have been proposed for these specific problems. NASA, along with
NOAA and the EPA, should allow their staff scientists free rein
outside the facilities, so long as the individuals make a clear
distinction between the agencies they work for and their own personal
views. Oregon should restructure its revenue so that logging taxes
go to general funds and the university is funded through general
channels. But the situation speaks of a greater crisis than a paranoid
administration and a co-opted college.
information, and by extension knowledge, has become politically
vulnerable. The Bush administration has consistently abused science,
law, and democratic processes to forge bad public policy. It can no longer be ignored that political interference is
a serious problem within the scientific community.
has become the responsibility of scientists to maintain integrity
in their field. This means allowing for the presentation of conflicting
views and disparate interpretations of data in a public forum.
This means coming down from the ivory tower and learning to be street
fighting men (and women) before the tower is burned to the ground.
This means standing up in those streets and refusing to move, stating
loudly and freely that science is grounded in seeking truth through
standardized methods, and shouldn’t be bent to the will of the powerful.
biologist Thomas Huxley said that science is “rigidly accurate in
observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” Scientists must
be this way also.