A Fishy Policy

Saturday, June 3, 2006

YOU'D THINK THE Bush administration would have learned its lesson with James Hansen and global warming. Apparently not. Mr. Hansen, you may recall, is the NASA scientist who was muzzled -- by a 24-year-old résumé falsifier, no less -- in his efforts to warn about the dangers of climate change. Mr. Hansen, it turned out, wasn't alone: Other employees working on that issue at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been chastised for speaking out and answering media questions.

Now it appears that this chilling effect isn't just for global warming. According to a report in Wednesday's Post by Blaine Harden, NOAA has directed that questions about endangered salmon -- which the agency is responsible for protecting -- are to be answered only by headquarters, and then only by three officials, all political appointees. Scientists and other agency officials who actually work on the salmon studies aren't supposed to answer reporters' questions.

This latest crackdown came -- coincidentally, officials insist -- the day after a Post article quoted a NOAA spokesman in Seattle as making positive comments about decisions by a federal judge and federal scientists that ran contrary to Bush administration policies on salmon protection.

With the Orwellian cheeriness that has become a Bush administration specialty, NOAA headquarters spokesman Jeff Donald explained that the change was made because "some folks were trying to consolidate a little bit and make sure everything we were putting out was accurate and as up to date as possible." That's the kind of helpfulness we don't need.

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