[asa] Jim Hansen's Recent Testimony

From: Rich Blinne <rich.blinne@gmail.com>
Date: Sat Mar 24 2007 - 23:25:21 EDT

The following is an excerpt about Dr. Hansen's experience with
political interference. The full testimony can be found here:


My Experience

A. White House Approval and Editing of Congressional Testimony

During the past 25 years I have noticed an increase in the degree of
political interference with scientific testimony to Congress. My
first testimony was to a United States House of Representatives
hearing organized by Representative Al Gore in early 1982. I do not
recall whether White House approval of that testimony was required,
but in any case there were no objections to the content of that

I testified to the United States Senate about climate change at least
three times in the period 1984-1988. These testimonies required
approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I
did not have direct contact with people in OMB, rather NASA
Headquarters (usually the NASA Office of Legislative Affairs) was an
intermediary between the scientist (me) and OMB. In one case I
strongly objected to changes that OMB made to my testimony, because I
felt that the changes substantially altered the conclusions of our
research and served to reduce concern about possible human-made
climate change.

In this case the NASA intermediary in the Office of Legislative
Affairs volunteered the information that I had the right to testify
as a private citizen and present my testimony with the wording that I
preferred. I took advantage of that right, testifying as a private
citizen, and never felt any repercussions for doing so.

In 1989, after climate change had become of greater public and
political concern, the constraints on communication via congressional
testimony became stricter, at least in my experience. When I
submitted written testimony to NASA Headquarters in 1989 for
presentation to a Senate Committee chaired by Senator Gore, my
secretary was instructed by NASA Headquarters to send the original
typescript to NASA Headquarters so that they could insert several
changes that were required by the White House OMB. When I was
informed of this I was angered, intercepted the typescript, and
insisted that any changes had to be made in my office. Several
acceptable rewordings were negotiated (NASA Headquarters being the
intermediary between OMB and me), but three changes2 that OMB
required were unacceptable to me. Unlike the case earlier in the
1980s, I was told by NASA Headquarters that I needed to accept the
changes or not testify. I agreed to accept the changes, but I then
sent a fax to Senator Gore requesting that he ask me during the
hearing about those specific statements, because I wanted to make
clear that they were the opinion of the White House OMB, not my
opinion. (This exchange was briefly shown in the documentary “An
Inconvenient Truth”.)

Review and editing of scientific testimony by the White House OMB
seems to now be an accepted practice. The explanation I was given for
why budgetary people should be allowed to review and edit scientific
testimony was that NASA plans need to be consistent with the
Administration’s budget. Discussion with NASA personnel in
Legislative Affairs and in Science program offices suggests that
people at NASA Headquarters believe that NASA must “play ball” with
OMB if it wishes to be treated well in its annual funding. It seems
to me that this raises constitutional questions, because it is my
understanding that the Constitution provides the power of the purse
strings to Congress, not the Executive Branch of our government. I
return to this issue in Section 4 below, after discussing in Section
3 the practical impacts of this political interference in climate

B. Communication Constraints by NASA Office of Public Affairs

The Office of Public Affairs in science agencies such as NASA exists
for the purpose of helping communicate scientific results to the
public. During my career I have noticed an increasing politicization
of Public Affairs at the Headquarters level, with a notable effect on
communication from scientists to the public. I refer not to the
professionals in the Public Affairs offices at the NASA science
centers, but to Public Affairs at NASA Headquarters, which is in
charge overall and is generally headed by a political appointee.
Interference with communication of science to the public has been
greater during the current Administration than at any time in my
career. As I was quoted on the 2006 calendar of the Freedom Forum “In
my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything
approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to
the public has been screened and controlled as it has now.”

The effect of the filtering of climate change science during the
current Administration has been to make the reality of climate change
less certain than the facts indicate and to reduce concern about the
relation of climate change to human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, one of my staff members submitted a story based on his
paper that found the ocean was less effective at removing human-made
CO2 than had previously been estimated. Public Affairs decided that
this story should not be provided to the media. Another staff member
had to attend a ‘practice’ press conference, in which he was asked
whether anything could be done to stem accelerating loss of sea ice.
When he suggested “we could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases” he
was told sternly “that’s unacceptable!”, with the explanation that
scientists are not allowed to say anything that relates to policy

An important example of political interference with the public’s
right to know has occurred with press releases relating to global
warming science that have gone from NASA Headquarters to the White
House for review, approval or disapproval, and editing. That this
practice is inappropriate, if not illegal, is indicated by the
response from NASA Public Affairs when I made note of this practice
in a public talk (Reference 3). The NASA Assistant Administrator for
Public Affairs traveled from Headquarters to Goddard Space Flight
Center to deliver an oral “dressing down” of the professional writer
at Goddard Public Affairs who had informed me about this practice.
The writer was admonished to “mind his own business”. This dressing
down was delivered in front of the writer’s boss. Such reprimands and
instructions are delivered orally. If NASA Headquarters Public
Affairs is queried by media about such abuses, they respond “that’s
hearsay!”, a legal term that seems to frighten the media. My
suggestion for getting at the truth is to question the relevant
participants under oath, including the then NASA Associate
Administrator for Earth Sciences, who surely is aware of who in the
White House was receiving and reviewing press releases that related
to climate change.

Communication constraints by NASA Headquarters Public Affairs came to
light in December 2005, after some of the instructions by
Headquarters Public Affairs were written down in memos and e-mails.
This occurred shortly after my “Keeling” talk (Reference 4) at the
American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco and the release
within a week thereafter of our (GISS, Goddard Institute for Space
Studies) analysis of global temperature, which showed record global
temperature in 2005. NASA Headquarters Public Affairs was furious
about the media attention, their anger being sparked by a call from
the White House objecting to the publicity on global warming. The
consternation, expressed during several three-way telecons between
Headquarters-GSFC/Greenbelt-GISS/New York, was described by a
participant as a “shit-storm”. The upshot was a new explicit set of
constraints on me, including requirement that any media interviews be
approved beforehand and that Headquarters have the “right of first
refusal” on all interviews, that I provide my calendar of all planned
talks and meetings, and that I obtain prior approval for every
posting on the GISS web site.

These orders were delivered orally, as usual, as was a threat of
“dire consequences” if I did not comply. However, a new young
political appointee at Public Affairs, apparently was not well-
schooled in the rules and left a paper trail, including a description
of a specific instance in which Public Affairs barred me from
speaking to NPR, offering the Associate Administrator in my stead.
These indiscretions were perhaps the primary reason for his departure
from NASA, rather than the fact that his resume failed to show that
he was one course short of the university degree that he claimed.
However, he was not acting on his own or affecting communication with
the public in a way contrary to the wishes of his bosses. The paper
trail that he left showed that the problem starts at the top, the
decision to bar me from speaking with NPR being made “on the ninth
floor” of Headquarters.

It became clear that the new constraints on my communications were
gong to be a real impediment when I was forced to take down from our
web site our routine posting of updated global temperature analysis.
At that time I decided to write down the constraints that I had been
placed under and to inform the media. An article appeared in the New
York Times by Andy Revkin, who had the courage to go with a story
that had a limited paper trail. To NASA’s credit, the Administrator
promptly issued an unequivocal statement in support of scientific

However, in no way has the impact of deception of the public about
climate change been undone by NASA’s forthright decision in favor of
scientific openness. There remains a vast gap between what is
understood about global warming, by the relevant scientific
community, and what is known about global warming by those who need
to know, the public and policy-makers.

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Received on Sat Mar 24 23:25:28 2007

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