A lot of attention was given to yesterday's hearing in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, regarding the purported attempt of the Bush administration to silence those who believe in global warming. A lot of attention has been given to James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who claims the administration tried to shut him up.
Check for example, the NYT:
The hearing also produced the first sworn statements from George C. Deutsch III, who moved in 2005 from the Bush re-election campaign to public affairs jobs at NASA. There he warned career press officers to exert more control over James E. Hansen, the top climate expert at the space agency.
Testifying at the hearing, Dr. Hansen said editing like that of Mr. Cooney and efforts to limit scientists’ access to the news media and the public amounted to censorship and muddied the public debate over a pressing environmental issue. “If public affairs offices are left under the control of political appointees,” he said, “it seems to me that inherently they become offices of propaganda.”
Republicans criticized Dr. Hansen for what they described as taking political stances, for spending increasing amounts of time on public speaking and for accepting a $250,000 Heinz Award for environmental achievement from the Heinz Family Philanthropies, run by Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts.
Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, proposed that Dr. Hansen, by complaining about efforts to present two sides on global warming research, had become an advocate for limiting the debate.
Dr. Hansen replied, “What I’m an advocate for is the scientific method.”
It's interesting that the Times did not find space for the must-read statement of Roy Spencer, the former Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Mr. Spencer had this to say (although you can't find it at Chairman Waxman's site):
During my fifteen years as a NASA employee, I was well aware that any interaction between scientists and the press was to be coordinated through NASA management and public affairs. Understandably, NASA managers do not appreciate first reading of their scientists opinions in the morning newspaper. I understood that my position as a NASA employee was a privilege, not a right, and that there were rules I was expected to abide by. Partly because of those limits on what I could and couldn’t say to the press on the subject of global warming, I voluntarily resigned from the government in the fall of 2001.Mr. Spencer is exactly right. It's a shame that Waxman's Committee is giving his point of view such short shrift. That's not a surprise though; real science always suffers when it's sacrificed to a political agenda.
Some level of political influence on government-funded climate science has always existed, and likely always will exist. The influence began many years ago when the government climate research programs were first established. For instance, I once heard a high-level government official say that his success at helping to formulate the Montreal Protocol restricting the manufacture of ozone-depleting chemicals was an example of the kind of success that global warming research could achieve to help restrict fossil fuel use. This is clearly a case of political and policy biases driving a scientific research agenda...
Government agencies and their managers have a long history of requiring employees to coordinate research results with management and public affairs officials before talking to the press. As a NASA employee of fifteen years I accepted this as part of my responsibility to support NASA’s mission as a “team player” in support of overarching agency goals, and I believe there are good reasons for maintaining such a practice.
A much bigger political influence problem is the governmental bias towards a specific type of climate research that supports specific political or policy outcomes. This research is almost always biased toward the finding of climate destabilizing mechanisms, rather than climate stabilizing mechanisms. Because it takes a higher level of complexity in any physical system to produce self-regulation and stabilization, such findings do not naturally flow out of the existing research. An active effort, analogous to the Department of Defense “Red Team” approach, could be utilized to alleviate this inequity. Given the immense cost (especially to the poor) of proposed carbon control policies that most economists foresee, it is not helpful for tax dollars to be funneled in a research direction that unfairly favors certain political or policy outcomes.