The Shadow on American Democracy (By James Hansen)
submit to political command and control, is a threat to our democracy, and, as a result, a threat to the planet. The scary part about this story is that seeds have been sown, and a playbook has been codified (although not written!), that will make the situation much worse unless the American public recognizes the problem and makes an issue of it. This is a bi-partisan problem – and neither party is trying to fix it. It is remarkable how wimpish Congress has become in accepting subjugation to the Executive Branch, contrary to designs and intents of our Founding Fathers.
election changes the party in control of the Executive Branch.
and, with some success, they are attempting to turn them into Offices of Propaganda, masters of double-speak (“clean coal”, “clear skies”, “healthy forests”…) that would make Orwell envious. Again it is a bi-partisan problem, the control of PAOs being exercised by top political appointees who are replaced rapidly with a change of administration. It is these political appointees that are the problem – the career civil servants at the NASA Centers, e.g., are professionals of high integrity, as are most people at Headquarters.
the reason: it is encapsulated in the phrase “that’s hearsay!”. I heard that phrase over and over
again in 2004 after I stated publicly that NASA press releases were being spirited from NASA
HQ to the White House for either editing or deep-sixing, when they concerned “sensitive” topics
such as global warming. Even NPR did not seem to want to touch that story unless there were
multiple pieces of proof on paper.
doubtless because of the threat of a lawsuit. That probably explains why the New York Times
stories about censorship of scientists at NASA that came out in early 2006 became a story about
a low-level 24-year-old, who then “resigned”. Reporters, New York Times included, knew that
the problem went much higher, but instead of focusing on the threat to democracy, it became
too-much an amusing story about a renegade trying to reverse scientific understanding of the
“big bang”, etc.
mug is on the book jacket), but I have no financial interest in the book.
Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2008, pages 31-34, by David Resnik. Presumably
Resnik is well-intentioned, but I take vehement exception to one of his bottom lines. The article
sounds fine for the most part, but keep in mind the common technique of telling you ten things
that are true followed by slipping in the whopper, the very questionable point or conclusion
concerning the main point of interest. Here is Resnik’s whopper:
journalists) may mistakenly assume that the scientist is speaking for the government, when he or she is expressing only a personal opinion. If the scientist expresses an opinion that goes against official policy, this can creates (sic) confusion in the public mind. To minimize confusion and to enable an administration to convey consist (sic) policy messages, it is appropriate to allow public relations officers to review a government scientist’s communications with the media.”
Perhaps I am taking his statement out of context, but he seems to mean review the
statement before it is made. This is where we need the Mercedes-driving lawyers
(http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/distro_Lawlessness_070927.pdf) to help us. What Resnik is
saying, which PAO would latch onto in a heartbeat, consists of “prior restraint”, as he suggests
review prior to a testimony or statement being made, not correction after the fact by the
government. If prior approval for scientific opinions are required, a scientist does not have a
snowball’s chance in Hades of providing his unadulterated opinion on a “sensitive” subject.
ever had with NASA PAO was in 2000 during a Democratic administration when I tried to get a
press release through on “Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario”,
which emphasized the importance of non-CO2 climate forcings. After umpteen iterations, I threw in the towel.
scientific organization, such as the American Association for the Advancement for Science
(AAAS), to designate a committee or group to focus on these issues. That may do some good,
but by itself it will do little.
Government scientists work for the tax payer and should be allowed to report their research
results without political interference. Elected officials can use scientific information as they see
fit – they must consider all factors in making policies, not just scientific data. But they should
not be allowed to torque the scientific data, or choose what information is allowed to be
presented and what information is deep-sixed. Such filtering, which is a recipe for bad decisions
and poor management, has never been as intense as in the past several years, in my opinion.
- Public Affairs Offices should be staffed by career professionals protected by civil service rules, not headed by political appointees,
- the practice of the White House OMB reviewing scientific testimony should be dropped.
These changes would be simple to make, they would allow the public to be better
informed, the government would have a more complete picture for making decisions, the tax
payers would get their money’s worth. So why doesn’t it happen? Because, when a new
Administration comes in they say “Hey, now WE can control the Offices of Propaganda (even
though they consider them offices of their enlightened truth) and make OUR administration look good!
the nation. But it is just not going to happen unless the public gets involved. Politicians do not
give up instruments of political power AFTER an election that they have won, unless they made
an unambiguous promise before the election. We should be asking the candidates for President
“will you make these two specific changes, to take the politics out of scientific reporting?” And
then we must check to see that the changes are made when a new administration takes over.
our planet, but I am running out of gas and need to work on a scientific paper. The relation is
discussed in (http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/worldwatch_nov2006.pdf), and better in Bowen’s “Censoring Science” (Dutton, 2008). Would you believe that the current head of NASA PAO had a senior position in the Southern Company, the second largest holding company of coalburning utilities in the United States? Naw, just kidding. Or am I? Read the book.
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