NASA Slammed for Fudging Climate Science

A scathing report from NASA this week slammed their own PR department for systematically misleading the public on climate science.

The Inspector General of NASA penned the investigation in response to a complaint by fourteen US Senators, alleging that NASA was colluding with the White House to downplay the known dangers of climate change. Specifically, the Senators wanted NASA “to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the suppression of science and censorship of scientists at [NASA].”

The Inspector General confirmed major and systemic problems with how NASA was portraying climate science to the public: “NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public…”

The heavy hand of the Bush Administration was plainly evident in the findings of this report:

“The supporting evidence detailed in this report reveals that climate change scientists and the majority of career Public Affairs Officers strongly believe that the alleged actions taken by senior NASA Headquarters Public Affairs officials intended to systemically portray NASA in a light most favorable to Administration policies at the expense of reporting unfiltered research results.”

In other words, the free and open flow of scientific information, on the most pressing issue facing the planet, was apparently downplayed in an effort to suck up to the White House.

The report also turned their attention to the infamous gagging of Dr. Jim Hansen by NASA brass in December 2005:

“Our investigation confirmed that, contrary to its established procedures, the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs declined to make one of NASA’s scientists, Dr. James E. Hansen, available for a radio interview with National Public Radio in December 2005. Our investigative efforts revealed that NASA’s decision was based, in part, on concern that Dr. Hansen would not limit his responses to scientific information but would instead entertain a discussion on policy issues.”

NASA PR flacks maintained that there was nothing untoward in this decision, made by a political appointee in the public relations department. The report however concluded: “The evidence, however, reflects that this appointee acted in accord with the overall management of climate change information at that time within the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs.”

The investigation further found that such political appointees to the NASA public relations department were seemingly at the root of many of the problems:

“Relations between NASA’s climate change science community and the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs had somehow deteriorated into acrimony, non-transparency, and fear that science was being politicized—attributes that are wholly inconsistent with effective and efficient Government. The investigation also uncovered that one of the underlying contributing factors of these problems may have, in fact, been in the very structure of the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs, where political appointees were placed in the seemingly contradictory position of ensuring the “widest practicable” dissemination of NASA research results that were arguably inconsistent with the Administration’s policies, such as the “Vision for Space Exploration.”

It seems that Bush’s (bird)brainchild of sending a human to Mars is still casting a long shadow on the science program of NASA. Perhaps this boondoggle was contrived as a distraction and resource drain on the NASA Earth Sciences program? The oil lobby might not want NASA uncovering inconvenient truths about the progress or causes of climate change…

All of this seems consistent with what some NASA scientists have been saying for years. Last year, Jim Hansen delivered a damning critique of such White House interference in testimony to Congress:

"Interference with communication of science to the public has been greater during the current administration than at any time in my career. In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now.”

These revelations about political meddling in the important business of climate science are shocking, but not a big surprise. One only wonders what else will fall from the tree in the waning days of the Bush administration. Perhaps we might learn more about the reasons of why the $100 million Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) was strangely canceled, after completion but before it was launched. Stay tuned…

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