Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on
Dr. James Hansen and the Truth About Global Warming
Author Mark Bowen, Ph.D. B & N Order ~ $21.00
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
As the title implies, Censoring Science by Mark Bowen takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the nexus of a scientific and ideological minefield that any political junkie will find gripping. The highly readable, intertwined narratives expose the frustration of honest actors at all levels, as they stand up ‘against one of the most powerful political machines ever constructed.’ The book is also brimming with nuggets of scientific gold, broken down and deftly conveyed through specific political contexts with a literary flair for good old-fashioned story-telling I have rarely witnessed this side of Carl Sagan.
You can’t come away from the book without acquiring profound respect for the integrity of dozens of stewards of the public trust in GISS and NASA. But several I’d like to briefly praise upfront are Gretchen Cook-Anderson and Leslie McCarthy: both these women literally risked their livelihood, first by standing up for their bosses -- you the taxpayer -- against all the might and political influence Big Energy backed by a sympthetic Adminstration staffed with oilmen and energy cronies could bring to bear, and then again by telling their stories in the book. And of course the book's namesake, Dr. James E. Hansen, who provided several exclusive statements for Daily Kos and this review:
The increasing powers concentrated in the executive branch prove convenient for new administrations, so they do not give them up. It is perhaps more subtle in Democratic administrations, but they do not want or expect a scientist to present evidence that contradicts what they want people to believe. Our Founding Fathers would have tears in their eyes if they saw how the democratic process has been distorted.
What casual followers of the climate science saga might fail to appreciate, and was well represented in Censoring Science, is how Hansen earned his cred in the first place: not through some kind of public relations activism or speaking out. Indeed, the reader will quickly gather Hansen, a registered independent and self described moderate conservative, would’ve happily stuck with pure science had not political meddling overtaken that work. James Hansen is revered in the climate science community because of hard work, good science, a lifetime of careful research, and most importantly: a scientific record three decades strong of being right.
On the flip side of objective science there is the infamous George Deutsch, a 24 year-old political right-wing appointee best known for editing some text at NASA to cast doubt on the Big Bang, ostensibly to avoid offending creationists. Readers may be surprised to learn he may have been little more than an overly enthusiastic kid. His real error in the eyes of the powers that be, was leaving an e-paper trail, and when the climate change censorship story hit the media (What insiders often refer to as the Shit-storm), Deutsch was summarily but very publicly dismissed on a technicality. Reading the book and checking sources within GISS, it seems in retrospect he was the designated scapegoat, the NASA version of "Brownie," sacrificed to provide cover for the ongoing censorship and disinformation campaign so expertly dissected in Censoring Science and, which I'm told, continues to this day.
Politicians have always meddled in science policy. But when George Bush rode into the White House, what had been run of the mill irritating pressure to downplay politically charged scientific conclusions swelled into a rather dark, covert campaign to suppress data and misinform the public seemingly orchestrated at the highest levels.
That era was marked not just by blatant interference and censorship, the rewriting of scientific data and press releases were carried out in most cases anonymously, with no paper trail and no stated policy. NASA public affairs officers were told ‘do not email me!" and instructed to bring proposed press releases and data to the Ninth Floor exec area, drop them off, and retrieve the handwritten edited version as they mysteriously came back later -- if they came back at all. And that’s merely one of the more obvious methods of censorship, there are many others, both more subtle and devious.
Consider if you will the New Horizons mission to Pluto. It has zero to do with climate change. But the probe carries a nuclear power supply, meaning it cannot launch without an executive order for national security reasons. All an unscrupulous administration need do then, to sow doubt and bitter division against the scientists and staff studying earth’s climate within the broader NASA organization, is imply through unofficial, unwritten backchannels that that order will never come, until certain researchers play ball. Better yet, simply cut the NASA earth science budget to the bone, throwing junior researchers on to the street and threatening the life's work of senior scientists, not to mention making it more difficult, or in some cases impossible, to report new, ominous signs of global melting in a timely manner.
And those two tiny, shadowy examples are just the nasty tip of the calving ice-berg revealed in the book that our taxpayer funded public servants have endured, and which remain in place to this very day. Moreover, such nefarious methods are completely unnecessary and are in fact counterproductive. Politicians are elected to make decisions on behalf of the electorate, and the findings of science should certainly play a role in that process. But scientists fully accept that scientific concerns are not and should never be the sole, single criteria determining every facet of public policy:
The politicians, who are the elected representatives, still have the right to make decisions and policies based on all information and considerations at their disposal -- so they may make decisions that are not fully supported by science, and that is fine, they may have a broader view, but it should be done openly, not by muzzling science. Our government would be more effective if science was unfettered by politics. Unfortunately, so far, when new administrations come into power they do not give up the ability to control the information coming out of scientists mouths. -- Dr. James Hansen via email 12/3/07
The book also touches on political events unfolding at other highly credible facilities, some tasked with protecting the lives and property of millions of Americans. And if the ‘climate’ at NASA’s earth science center had become bizarre, the culture of censorship engulfing the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was said to be approaching the Orwellian. At times, researchers at NOAA could not even talk to the press by phone or in person, without having a public affairs ‘minder’ listening in, recording or noting details of the conversation. Veteran storm meteorologists mindful of the growing consensus on human induced climate change were muzzled, while interviews and talk show spots were aggressively directed to a minority of less qualified weathermen who were, coincidentally, skeptical of any connection between climate change, human activity, and severe weather.
These government sanctioned spokespeople at NOAA reportedly then appeared on every major network news channel -- most notably in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma -- to cast doubt on the possible link between climate change and tropical storms, while playing up a natural, non-climate change explanation for extreme happenings in the cryosphere or tropics. It was as one expert source told me in 2006, "the most disgusting example of coordinated public misinformation I have ever witnessed."
It is the mark of many a great work that the creator makes it look easy. Mark Bowen makes this story not only easy to follow, he makes it utterly delightful to read. And through it all, a rock-solid foundation for climate science and global warming is quietly laid down and skillfully built upon with each passing sub-drama. The author not only succeeds in brilliantly weaving the anecdotes into that growing scientific framework, they converge seamlessly in the scientific finale near the end of the book. Even the casual, non scientific reader will be able to grasp the scope of what James Hansen and his peers have been trying to tell us, and they'll be able to go on and discuss with new found alacrity.
You'll have to read the book to get the big picture, but in brief: there is reason to worry enough GHGs have already been released into the enviro-thermal 'pipeline' to take us up to and maybe past the Eemian Interglacial point (125,000 years ago, about 1 C warmer, sea levels about 5 M higher) and, if current GHG emissions continue and grow, the planetary temperature may surpass the Pliocene plateau (3 million years ago, 2 - 3 C warmer, sea levels around 25 M higher). The next looming benchmark is the Mid-Cenozoic, when Antarctica last froze solid; about 3 - 4 C warmer. Business-as-Usual IPCC scenarios show that the latter is within the realm of possibility unless meaningful curbs on the growth of GHG's are enacted in the next ten years.
And of James Hansen, and the dozens of lesser known but equally dedicated public servants whose courage you will quickly come to admire in the book -- almost all of whom could earn an order of magnitude raise in pay simply by going away or signing on to industry astroturf? The more you learn about them in Censoring Science, the more you will come to admire and cherish them. It is to our great benefit as a nation and a species that they continue to diligently advance our understanding of the precious spaceship we inhabit called earth. They undertake scientific projects of astonishing complexity, under ever tightening budgetary pressure, making prediction after verified prediction, while simultaneously battling the most powerful and profitable political corporate hybrids ever assembled.
And while the reaction of individual readers is sure to differ, by the end of book, far from being outraged at the all too familiar shenanigans of the neoclowns, I hope you feel the same as I did: so inspired to help, honor, and follow the example of courage demonstrated at every turn by the staff of NASA GISS and their sister organizations, that you'll ask yourself, aside from heeding the words of those experts, what can you do?
Jim Hansen and his colleagues are developing a few ideas on what you as an individual can do. Alas, that's a post for a another day, and a problem for a new Administration and Congress. But I'll leave you with this thought: you're already doing one of the most important things you can do. You have refused to be spectators, you have suited up and hit the field as players committed to changing the leadership of this nation. And, despite whatever inevitable setbacks and frustration come your way, the fact is that you, a ragtag collection of online activist that most political pundits sneered at just a few short years ago, have become a national force of change. And so, I'm more hopeful than ever that in large part because of you, the stirring courage and breathtaking brilliance revealed in Censoring Science will not be in vain.
Mark Bowen, Ph.D. is the author of the highly acclaimed book Thin Ice, which was praised as "one of the best books yet published on climate change" (New York Review of Books) and named the best science book of 2005 by NPR’s Living on Earth. He has traveled to many exotic locations to study the effects of climate change and pursue his love of technical rock climbing and alpine mountaineering. He currently lives in the Boston area