washingtonpost.com
Censorship Is Alleged at NOAA
Scientists Afraid to Speak Out, NASA Climate Expert Reports

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 11, 2006

NEW YORK, Feb. 10 -- James E. Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who sparked an uproar last month by accusing the Bush administration of keeping scientific information from reaching the public, said Friday that officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also muzzling researchers who study global warming.

Hansen, speaking in a panel discussion about science and the environment before a packed audience at the New School university, said that while he hopes his own agency will soon adopt a more open policy, NOAA insists on having "a minder" monitor its scientists when they discuss their findings with journalists.

"It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," said Hansen, prompting a round of applause from the audience. He added that while NOAA officials said they maintain the policy for their scientists' protection, "if you buy that one please see me at the break, because there's a bridge down the street I'd like to sell you."

NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher denied Hansen's charges, saying his agency requires its scientists to tell its press office about contacts with journalists but does not monitor their communications.

"My policy since I've been here is to have a free and open organization," Lautenbacher said. I encourage scientists to conduct peer-reviewed research and provide the honest results of those findings. I stand up for their right to say what they want."

Hansen prefaced his speech, which focused largely on how quickly humans must act in order to prevent irreversible climate change, by saying he was speaking as an individual. "I'm not speaking for the agency or the government," he said.

Most scientists who study climate change have concluded that Earth's current warming is being driven by the burning of fossil fuels. The administration does not question the link between human activity and climate change, but it has called for more research and supports solutions other than mandatory limits on carbon emissions.

After the panel discussion -- which also featured Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, American Enterprise Institute fellow Steven Hayward and Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich -- Hansen said he knows of NOAA scientists who are chafing at the administration's restrictions but are afraid to speak out.

New School President Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska, said he invited Hansen to speak because he was "very concerned" about what he called the administration's efforts to steer the debate over global warming: "It's not only inappropriate; it stifles the very debate we're trying to have today, and that we need to have on this issue."

Kerrey said of Hansen, "He's not a radical; he's a scientist who's studied the issue. Let the disagreement occur without stifling one side of the argument."

After Hansen told the New York Times and The Washington Post in late January that political appointees at NASA had made it hard for him and other researchers to convey their findings on climate change to the public, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin e-mailed agency employees last week and vowed to support "scientific openness."

Griffin, who had been chastised by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) over the issue earlier in the week, said he would draft a new policy that would respect scientists' right to speak out.

In an interview Friday, Boehlert -- who has met personally with Griffin and spoken on the phone with him several times since the controversy erupted last month -- said he was satisfied Griffin was taking the necessary steps.

"The administration should make it abundantly clear, as Michael Griffin did in his letter to NASA employees, that there will be no effort, in any way, shape or form, deliberate or hinted at, that would stifle a respected scientist working for the government, doing research paid for by the American taxpayers, from talking about their work," Boehlert said.

He added that he had not received "outpourings from the scientific community" alleging government censorship and that, to his knowledge, "there are no plans in place to intimidate or stifle science."

Also Friday, George C. Deutsch, 24, a NASA spokesman who resigned this week after allegations that he had edited scientists' writings to conform to administration views and tried to limit reporters' access to Hansen, e-mailed reporters to say there is a "culture war" in the government over climate change. Deutsch's resignation came after it was learned he had not graduated from Texas A&M University, as he claimed on his résumé.

"There is no pressure or mandate, from the Bush administration or elsewhere, to alter or water down scientific data at NASA, period," Deutsch said, adding that after being tasked to work with Hansen, "I quickly learned one thing: Dr. Hansen and his supporters have a very partisan agenda and ties reaching to the top of the Democratic Party.

"Anyone perceived to be a Republican, a Bush supporter or a Christian is singled out and labeled a threat to their views. I encourage anyone interested in this story to consider the other side, to consider Dr. Hansen' s true motivations and to consider the dangerous implications of only hearing out one side of the global warming debate," Deutsch said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company