A report in last Sunday's New York Times about efforts by NASA
officials to control the public pronouncements of James Hansen, director
of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (http://www.giss.nasa.gov/),
has drawn considerable attention in the United States and abroad. It
has also led to a letter from House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin stating, "NASA
is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt
by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him."
This is the second time in a little more than six months that Boehlert
has raised serious questions about the treatment of climate researchers.
Last July, Boehlert wrote to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman
Joe Barton (R-TX) objecting to Barton's request to several prominent
climate researchers for information on their data, computer codes, funding
and related matters (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/112.html.)
Boehlert's January 30 letter to Griffin follows a page one story in
the New York Times citing Hansen's description of the agency's public
affairs staff's directive to review his future lectures, papers, and
his content on Goddard's website and requests for interviews. In the
Times article, Hansen said of these restrictions, "They feel their
job is to be this censor of information going out to the public."
The article quotes a NASA official that the desire for "coordination"
was the reason for the restrictions. This controversy stems from Hansen's
remarks in December that greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced with
existing technologies and the need for U.S. leadership, that were viewed
by agency officials as constituting policy remarks.
Boehlert's letter to Griffin follows:
"Dear Dr. Griffin:
"I am writing in response to several recent news articles
indicating that officials at NASA may be trying to silence'
Dr. James Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space
"It ought to go without saying that government scientists
must be free to describe their scientific conclusions and the implications
of those conclusions to their fellow scientists, policymakers and
the general public. Any effort to censor federal scientists biases
public discussions of scientific issues, increases distrust of the
government and makes it difficult for the government to attract the
best scientists. And when it comes to an issue like climate change,
a subject of ongoing public debate with immense ramifications, the
government ought to be bending over backward to make sure that its
scientists are able to discuss their work and what it means.
"Good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of
intimidation. Political figures ought to be reviewing their public
statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available
science; scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make
sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy.
"NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense
of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him. Even
if this sense is a result of a misinterpretation of NASA policies
and more seems to be at play here the problem still
must be corrected. I will be following this matter closely to ensure
that the right staff and policies are in place at NASA to encourage
open discussion of critical scientific issues. I assume you share
"Our staff is already setting up meetings to pursue
this issue, and I appreciate NASA's responsiveness to our inquiries
thus far. I would ask that you swiftly provide to the Committee, in
writing, a clear statement of NASA's policies governing the activities
of its scientists.
"NASA is one of the nation's leading scientific institutions.
I look forward to working with you to keep it that way, and to ensure
that the entire nation gets the full benefit of NASA science.