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.
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.