Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Knowledge is power

Echidne noticed this:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president's priorities.
This is news, but not new. It's been SOP for some time now:

In the fall of 2004, a team I led at NASA published a paper providing an explanation of how ozone depletion over Antarctica and increasing greenhouse gases could together account for this observed cooling of Antarctica. The study was the first to look at how these two factors work together to influence Antarctic temperatures. It not only helped to explain the observed cooling, but also predicted a warmer future for Antarctica based on projections of continued increases in greenhouse gases. This has clear implications both for the debate on global warming and for potential sea-level rise, as Antarctica contains an enormous reservoir of water in its ice sheets.

The NASA press corps and I wrote a press release on these findings to convey them to the broader public. While previous to this time, press releases had been issued rapidly and with reservations from headquarters that basically were made to improve clarity and style, this release was repeatedly delayed, altered and eventually watered down. When we at GISS enquired of those higher up the NASA chain what was going on, we were told in the fall of 2004 [inaudible] that releases were being delayed because two political appointees and the White House were now reviewing all climate-related press releases.

Scientists do not simply explore what we are most curious about. We know that our research is funded by the public, and we go to great lengths to provide policy-relevant information to support decision-making. While it was frustrating for me to see my work suppressed, even more importantly it’s a disservice to the public to distort or suppress information needed. But that experience is only one example of a series of actions that attempted to suppress communication of climate science to the public.

Also during the fall of 2004, NASA headquarters insisted that a NASA press officer be present to monitor all interviews, either in person or on the phone, a measure most of us felt was unbefitting of a democratic society. As with the interference with press releases, the restrictions were not imposed on other parts of NASA, such as Space Science, or even other areas of Earth Science outside of climate research.
Testimony of Dr. Drew Shindell, researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 1995, before Rep. Henry Waxman's Committee on House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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