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As Daily Kos has grown exponentially, many politicians have taken the time to write one or two diaries when their schedule permits. Their participation is most welcome, their input always appreciated. But a handful have gone beyond the occasional cameo appearance to become part of the fabric of our community. Those few have made it a priority to post regularly, mix it up in comments, and engage critics. Representative Brad Miller (D--North Carolina) is one of those. Rep. Miller also sits on the House Committee on Science. And he's concerned.

The stories and rumors keep coming: The Bush-Cheney White House, enabled by the Rubber-Stamp Republican Congress, stands accused of reaching deep into tax supported public science organizations and oversight boards and engaging in suppression of any facts or data which their political funding base finds inconvenient. These are our organizations. They are funded by our tax dollars and often times charged with assessing matters of grave importance to each and every one of us. Rep. Miller is determined to return them to their rightful owners: We the People.

DarkSyde (DS): What is it you're proposing?

Rep. Miller: The Democrats on the House Science Committee are collecting stories of the intimidation or censoring of scientists. We're building a case for hearings by the Committee, which may be unrealistic to expect under the current majority, or to be ready for hearings next year if Democrats gain the majority in November.

There have been plenty of published reports of intimidation or censoring of scientists by the Bush Administration. And every published report seems to give other scientists the courage to step forward and tell their story, or at least the courage to tip off someone who might do something about it.

Anne Applebaum wrote a column in the Washington Post on February 15, a few weeks after the story broke that a minor political appointee had leaned on Jim Hansen, the leading climate scientist at NASA, to shut up about climate change. She said that she had gotten several calls from "nervous scientists" after the Hansen stories broke. "All were from people with similar tales of government-funded scientists intimidated by heavy-handed public relations departments," she wrote. She followed up on one of the tips, about five researchers at Cal Tech who had concluded that the Bush proposal to power cars and trucks with hydrogen fuel cells posed real environmental risks. None of the five scientists had gotten a federal research grant since they released their report.

Jim Hansen appeared on "Sixty Minutes" on Sunday, March 19, and burned the Bush Administration a new...uh, was harshly critical of the Bush Administration. You wrote a front page article the next day, and there was also a diary by Mole333 about the Hansen interview that stayed on the recommended list for almost two days. So I decided to strike while the iron was hot, and I invited anyone who knew of instances of the intimidation or censoring of scientists to contact my office or the Democratic staff of the House Science Committee.

We've gotten lots of e-mails calling our attention to previously published reports, some of which had gotten precious little attention at the time, but also we also received a couple of entirely new reports of the suppression of scientific research by the Bush Administration.

The Administrator of NASA, Michael Griffin, recently announced new policies to protect NASA scientists from the kind of suppression that Jim Hansen complained about, which you reported approvingly here.

And then just last week the Washington Post reported on similar stories of the suppression of scientists working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA"), also about global climate change. The Chairman of the House Science Committee, Sherwood Boehlert, wrote to the Administrator of NOAA, Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, urging NOAA to institute the same policies that NASA instituted to protect scientists from intimidation and censorship. Sherry made the letter public in a press release on Tuesday, reproduced below.


[Source] WASHINGTON, April 11, 2006 - House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) sent the following letter last Friday to Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in response to an April 6 story in the Washington Post on concerns expressed by NOAA scientists.

Dear Admiral Lautenbacher:

I appreciated your call yesterday to discuss the concern we share over the report in The Washington Post describing scientists' concerns that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is limiting discussion about climate change.  I was pleased to hear once again that you support open and unfettered scientific communication, as you have stated in the past both to me and in messages to NOAA employees.

However, it seems clear that, despite your commitment, at least some scientists at NOAA continue to feel that the agency is not encouraging open communication.  (Our staff has heard such concerns repeatedly; the problem goes beyond the few instances alleged in The Post.)  NOAA's efforts to attract, retain and make full use of the nation's best scientists will be stymied if your scientists and the scientific community at-large believe that NOAA seeks to limit the discussion of climate science and its implications.  And the issue of climate change is too important to countenance any scientists feeling intimidated or constrained about discussing the matter, regardless of whether that feeling is the result of specific policy actions or of misimpressions that create a stifling atmosphere.

Therefore, I recommend that you swiftly take the following steps, which appear to have helped remedy similar concerns at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):
1)      Set up permanently a process that employees will trust by which employees can report concerns when they believe that scientific communication is being suppressed.

2)      Issue a clear and to-the-point policy - not something convoluted or subject to misinterpretation - that states the principles and policies that govern scientific communication at NOAA, the role of the public affairs office in such communication, and any limits on what NOAA scientists can say as government employees and as private citizens.

3)      Address in a forthright manner the specific allegations raised in The Post.

4)      Make sure NOAA's public affairs staff and science managers understand the need for openness and the consequences that will ensue if they try to limit scientific discussion.

5)      In a timely manner, meet with NOAA scientists around the country to express directly your commitment to open communication and to hear what concerns the scientists may have.

I do not doubt your commitment to openness.  I do have to wonder whether that commitment is fully and uniformly being implemented at NOAA and whether scientists and their managers throughout the agency believe the agency is committed to openness.  

NOAA scientists play a critical role in understanding climate change and other environmental phenomena.  You need to redouble your efforts to ensure that NOAA fosters a truly open atmosphere.  I look forward to working with you as you do that.
                                                         Sincerely,                                                                                                                       SHERWOOD BOEHLERT     Chairman          

Sherry came down on NASA for the attempt to bully Jim Hansen into silence, and deserves real credit for NASA's new policies--and for NASA's decision to fire the pipsqueak press officer instead of Jim Hansen. While he supported Hansen, Sherry dismissed the episode as the isolated conduct of a self-important 24-year-old press officer, not as an example of a pattern of suppression. In his letter to Admiral Lautenbacher, however, Sherry said: "Our staff has heard such concerns repeatedly; the problem goes beyond the few instances alleged in The Post."

In short, more and more scientists are stepping forward, and their stories are harder and harder to dismiss as isolated incidents.

DS: What kind of reports are you looking for?

Rep. Miller:: We're looking for instances of stacked advisory panels, edited reports, researchers who appear to have been blacklisted for coming to politically inconvenient conclusions, grants pulled because the research was going in the wrong direction, reports not published or released, and on and on--you'll know it when you see it.

Again, we already know about plenty of cases of suppression. The Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee have also been working on the issue, and they've compiled a list of examples (pdf file) of suppression over a wide range of agencies and policy areas, but we want more. In the words of Oscar Wilde, nothing succeeds like excess.

DS: What kind of protection do scientists and their staff have against retribution?

Rep. Miller:: Not enough. I hope that's one outcome of what we're doing. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, and Bart Gordon, the ranking Democrat on the House Science Committee, have introduced legislation to prohibit tampering with federally funded research or censoring the findings, and to provide whistle-blower protections. I'm also a sponsor of the bill.

I know it's gutsy to step forward. The reports by the Union of Concerned Scientists on scientific suppression were by prominent scientists that included several Nobel laureates. If you've gotten a Nobel, you're probably a little more confident than a junior faculty member struggling for tenure.

If you contact us about an instance of suppression, we won't give you up unless you're willing to go public. But more and more scientists are coming forward, and there is safety in numbers.

DS: How can people contact you?

Rep. Miller:: We've set up an e-mail address in my office, which also goes to Dan Pearson with the Democratic staff of the Science Committee: NC13.ScienceIntegrity [at] mail.house.gov. And if you really want to remain anonymous altogether, the Democratic staff of the Science Committee has a tip line that strips all identifying information, including your e-mail address. Just click the anonymous reporting link here. Your name and e-mail won't appear unless you want to include it.

DS: What do you ultimately hope to accomplish from investigating reports of the manipulation of scientific research by the Bush Administration?

Rep. Miller: We should be able to rely on impartial scientific research in a variety of policy areas. And we should be able to depend on traditional peer review to reveal any bias or other flaws. Scientific research needs to inform our policy choices, not justify policy decisions already made. We need to get back to the kind of politics that Daniel Patrick Moynihan had in mind when he said that everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

If we can make the manipulation of scientific research off limits, and rely on neutral research to inform our policy decisions, there's no telling where it would lead. Who knows, maybe we could rely on intelligence in foreign policy.

 

Brad Miller is running for reelection in North Carolina's 13th district and serves on the House Committee on Science. He will be speaking at Yearly Kos on the failure of current economic policy. He also holds a masters degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Columbia University. Brad and his wife of 21 years, Esther Hall, live in Raleigh. The Miller's are valued members of the Daily Kos community and, per usual, Rep. Miller himself may be available in comments below, holiday schedule permitting.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 03:45 AM PDT.

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