Las Vegas Sun

August 19, 2017

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Editorial: What on Earth is going on?

An expert in global warming who has been with NASA for nearly 40 years has been going public in recent weeks about censorship within the space agency. In interviews with The New York Times, Dr. James Hansen has been exposing pressure from NASA's public affairs department to either halt the release of scientific information or align it with Bush administration policies.

Hansen, a physicist and climatologist, is director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, where global climate trends are simulated and analyzed on computers. In articles published Jan. 29 and Feb. 4 in the Times, Hansen was quoted as saying that public affairs officials "feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," and that warnings about reining in his public remarks were coming from White House appointees in NASA headquarters.

In its Feb. 4 follow-up story, the newspaper reported that other NASA scientists, as well as public affairs officials within the agency, came forward to confirm Hansen's conclusion that a concerted effort was under way to "control the flow of scientific information from the agency." The paper reported denials from NASA's public affairs department, but the charges obviously had veracity, given the response by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

In the Feb. 4 article, Griffin was reported to have written to all 19,000 NASA employees: "It is not the job of public-affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff." Griffin was right in moving quickly to protect the integrity of scientific information.

And Hansen was right to take a stand against partisan political appointees who wanted to distort and block scientific information, particularly information about global warming. Hansen said censorship pressure intensified after a Dec. 6 lecture he gave in San Francisco. The Times reported that in his lecture, Hansen said cuts in emissions that cause global warming "could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the Earth a different planet."

In a story this week, the Times reported that one of Hansen's public-affairs antagonists, appointed to his position by President Bush, had been forced to resign when it was discovered that he didn't have a college degree, as he had claimed on his resume. Hansen was quoted as saying, "He's only a bit player. The problem (of misinformation) is much broader and much deeper and it goes across agencies. That's what I'm really concerned about."

This concern should be shared by everyone, particularly here in Nevada, where Bush's promise that "sound science" would govern the construction of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain is still ringing in our ears. We are incensed that lackey political appointees would be put up to censoring the work of honest, eminent scientists whose information is vital to protecting our futures.