It’s Official: Griffin is Gone

(I restrained myself and left the exclamation point off the end of the title.)

Yesterday the Obama Administration named a new interim leadership team and officially stated that associate administrator Christopher Scolese “will serve as acting administrator until a successor to Michael Griffin has been nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.” It is not a surprise that Griffin will not be kept on, but this is the first official indication to my knowledge.

It is also worth noting that the mendacious and clearly dishonest David Mould, the Assistant Administrator of Public Affairs who actively censored Jim Hansen, is gone as well.

So, the first good moves have been made. It appears that Mr. Obama is conducting one of the most thorough and patient reviews of the space agency that has ever been conducted by an incoming president, so one expects the next few moves to be wise as well. Given his stellar choices for other scientific and technical positions in his administration, I imagine the president’s choice for NASA Administrator will also be inspiring.

 Hear! Hear!

More Bush Burrowing? Now at NASA

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos)

As the Washington Post and Daily Kos’s mcjoan reported last week, the Bush administration is resorting to the time-honored tactic of burrowing, that is, shifting political appointees into tenured senior civil servant positions, in the rush to preserve as much as it can of its disastrous pro-industry ideology before Obama takes over. The most brazen example, mentioned by the Post and mcjoan, was the burrowing of six ideologues into senior positions at the Interior Department. Now I’ve learned of what looks to be a similar attempt at NASA.

The agency has announced that the position of Chief Information Officer is open – but, here’s the catch, only for a grand total of nine working days, spanning the Thanksgiving Holiday. This is too short and too distracted a time for an adequate search in any event, and also gives someone on the inside track an overwhelming advantage. CIO is a critical position in this information-savvy age: he or she will be responsible for “leading and managing all information technology strategies and initiatives” at the agency. Shouldn’t the Obama administration have an opportunity to make or at least contribute to this important decision? Administrator Michael Griffin doesn’t seem to think so.

The NASA transition: Why Griffin must go

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos)

In the days since the election, a few people have asked for my thoughts on the “transition” that needs to take place at NASA as the reins of power are passed to Barack Obama. While I would not pretend to be an expert on the agency as a whole, I think I may, in the years that it took to write Censoring Science, have developed enough of an understanding of the way the agency’s science effort has been “managed” under Bush, Cheney and administrator Michael Griffin to voice some informed opinions there.

Other reporters or bloggers always have their own deadlines and points to make, and ask me to squeeze my thoughts into a sentence or two. But my main recommendation here is controversial enough to require more than that. It must be supported by facts. Many relevant facts will be found in my book, and new crucial details were revealed in the report on censorship at NASA that the agency’s own Office of Inspector General released this past June, six months after the book’s release. In Censoring Science, I reviewed facts and testimony that cast serious doubt on the administrator’s account of his own involvement in the censorship of climate science at his agency (he denied knowing anything about it), but I refrained from stating directly that I believed he was involved.

The new facts in the Inspector General’s report have changed my mind. I now believe that the preponderance of evidence shows that Michael Griffin not only knew what was happening while the single most egregious act of censorship–directed at climatologist James Hansen, specifically–was taking place, but that Griffin in fact authorized this activity.

This alone should be grounds for his dismissal. On top of that, the ignorance and outright animosity he has displayed toward science in general, climate science in particular, and even scientists as individuals (he has referred to them as children) should disqualify him from leading what was once arguably the most inspiring scientific organization in the world. There has been a brain drain during his tenure, and morale is low in the agency’s science mission. We should also remember that NASA’s climate science program, at more than $1 billion a year, is by far the largest of any single organization in the world, while Griffin’s public statements indicate that he is remarkably ignorant of climate science and completely out of step with mainstream scientific thinking on the causes and consequences of global warming. It seems highly inappropriate for such an individual to lead such an important program.

NASA might have a chance to recover its prowess and inspire entire generations once again, but it has no chance, in my view, with Michael Griffin at the helm.

Why I believe Administrator Griffin helped censor Jim Hansen

Censorship at NASA makes for a long and dismal story. It began early in George W. Bush’s first term and was too widespread to cover even in a book. Michael Griffin inherited an active, though secretive, censorship program when he became administrator in mid-2005. The crucial series of incidents I will review here gave him his first chance to do the right thing, but instead of stepping in to stop the censorship, he helped escalate it. When Jim Hansen finally brought these incidents to light in the media more than six weeks after they began, Griffin and his top aides performed a deft public relations move, cut loose and scapegoated the young man who had been carrying out their orders, twenty-four-year-old George Deutsch, and managed to portray the administrator as a champion of scientific openness and integrity. The media and Congress then bought into this cynical and shameless ploy.

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Censoring Science on Book TV

Since C-SPAN filmed Jim Hansen and myself when we spoke in Lexington, Massachusetts, on June 1, I have been waiting to see if anything would come of it. Well now something has. Book TV will be broadcasting a show about Censoring Science three times in the next six weeks. Hope it helps direct policy in some small way. If you have a chance to watch the show, please tell me what you think.

 Schedule (on C-SPAN2):

Saturday, October 4, at 8:00 PM
 Saturday, November 15, at 9:00 AM
 Sunday, November 16, at 5:00 AM

(And now that the first show has aired, it can be viewed here on the Web)

” … the rewards and perils of scientific writing in the political realm …”

This coming Friday, I’ll be joining a panel at Netroots Nation in Austin, Texas, to discuss Restructuring U.S. Science Policy.

Seems like a good idea to post the recent interview I did with the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), since it bears directly on some of the ideas I intend to talk about:


As the holder of bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and as the author of Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming (2008, Dutton), Mark Bowen is uniquely qualified to discuss writing about the intersection of politics and meteorology. He also wrote Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains (2005, Henry Holt and Company). Bowen recently took the time to answer some questions about the rewards and perils of political writing in the scientific realm.

BAMS: What motivated you to write about the interaction of politics and science?

BOWEN: My motivation was simply to write about Jim Hansen. His work had attracted my interest when I was writing my first book, Thin Ice, which is about Lonnie Thompson, the paleoclimatologist from The Ohio State University. While Lonnie’s science is superb, it became clear to me as I was writing that it doesn’t tell a complete story on its own. His ice cores and his observation of the widespread retreat of mountain glaciers provide compelling and unequivocal evidence that the planet is warming and that the scope of the warming is unprecedented in thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, and perhaps even millions of years — but it does not tell us why. Jim’s work answers that question. I met and interviewed Jim when I was writing Thin Ice. He is probably the most important character in the book outside the members of Lonnie’s group.

In the fall of 2005, right around the time Thin Ice was released, an editor and I began discussing the idea of doing a book about Jim. The editor made the odd suggestion that it might be “less awkward” if he, rather than I, were to present the idea to Jim; but I heard nothing back for a couple of months. Then, at the end of January 2006, Jim’s censorship story hit the headlines. Turns out the editor had never called him. So, at the end of February, I got in touch with Jim myself, and he immediately agreed to work with me. He gave me open access, but I did all the writing. He has no financial interest in the book.

BAMS: What are the most fulfilling and most difficult aspects of writing on this topic?

BOWEN: The most fulfilling things were to be able to work closely with Jim and to harbor the hope, at least, of helping him wake the world up to this impending catastrophe and maybe even affect policy. The difficult aspects both had to do with politics: It’s hard enough to write a substantive nonfiction book without having to deal with sources who will lie, either openly or not so openly, and others who are afraid to speak, out of fear of recrimination. Based on the notion that the censorship story was timely and tied only to the Bush/Cheney administration (the latter being an erroneous assumption), my publisher also set ridiculously short deadlines-and, in the end, took the book out of my hands before I felt it was ready. Although I am reasonably happy with how it turned out, I would have liked to have had more time to simplify the storytelling and structure and to have been able to take a longer view of Jim’s career, his science, and his proposed solutions.

BAMS: What does it mean to be a scientist in a discipline that has become so politicized? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

BOWEN: One thing it means is that your work is most likely meaningful — that is, relevant to the average person — and that’s probably a good thing. On the other hand, it thrusts you into the hurly-burly of public debate, where the rules don’t even extend to being truthful, so it tests your equanimity, along with your ability to remain truthful yourself and to convey scientific knowledge in plain, everyday language. Being in the public limelight forces you to shed the armor of scientific professionalism, which can be a way of avoiding clear thinking — hiding behind your discipline — so, ultimately, I think, it is good for a scientist to have to defend his or her work in public every once in a while. It is stimulating, it requires courage, and it forces you to get the science right.

BAMS: How do politics ultimately affect the way science is conducted?

BOWEN: Well, the big thing is always funding, of course, and we have seen that go both ways in the global warming area. For the most part, conservative legislators and presidential administrations have cut funding to the bearers or discoverers of bad climate news. Ironically, however, George Bush Sr. was responsible for the largest increase in climate science funding in history. It seems that he figured he could shut the scientists up by giving them money to go off, do research for a while, and keep arguing among themselves — and his tactic seems to have worked.

In this case, I think politicization has also led to a misplaced emphasis on finding a so-called consensus. This has allowed people — and this includes some scientists — who aren’t necessarily well-informed or even capable of understanding the science to weigh in, not to mention those vested interests whose agenda is simply to muddy the waters or “teach the controversy.” The fact is that the scientific connection between human activity and a dangerously warming climate was well-established by 1988, when Jim Hansen made his legendary testimony to Congress. By that time, the scientific case for limiting greenhouse emissions was at least as strong as the case for limiting chemicals that harm the ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol, which has phased out the production of chlorofluorocarbons and so on, was signed in 1989, yet we are still a long way from establishing an effective international mechanism for limiting the greenhouse, some 20 years later.

BAMS: What do you think the relationship should be between science and politics?

BOWEN: It seems obvious that politicians should seek impartial advice from the scientific community on issues that have a scientific component — and most issues facing society nowadays do have a scientific component. Even if that component isn’t obvious, many seemingly intractable policy issues yield well to the paradigm of rational examination that is exemplified by the scientific approach. Jim often alludes to an admonition by the physicist Richard Feynman: “The only way to have real success in science . . . is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what’s good about it and what’s bad about it equally. In science you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians approached policy-making that way? Think of W.M.D.’s in Iraq.

It seems to me that our Founding Fathers attempted to build this rational, rather than ideological, approach into our governmental framework. But, unfortunately, things have been going the wrong way for at least the past 50 years. There was an excellent article in Physics Today this past summer [John S. Rigden. Eisenhower, scientists, and Sputnik. Vol. 60, pp. 47-52.] that argued that the last U.S. president who honestly sought and valued scientific advice was probably John F. Kennedy, and that the gold standard was probably set by his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who set up the first President’s Science Advisory Committee in response to the Russians’ launching of Sputnik. A few months before his death in 1969, as he lay on a bed in Walter Reed Hospital, Eisenhower told his former science advisor, James Killian of MIT, that that “bunch of scientists was one of the few groups that I encountered in Washington who seemed to be there to help the country and not to help themselves.”

Scientists have been moved farther and farther from White House decision making ever since that time. George W. Bush, for example, waited nine months into his first term before even appointing a science advisor, and he stripped off the title “assistant to the president” as he did so. Thus, John Marburger, who has held the post ever since, does not have direct access to the president.

BAMS: What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing Censoring Science?

BOWEN: I have to say that I was shocked both at the level of corruption among the political appointees at NASA — and the people in the White House who were directing them — and at their arrogance, which really translates into stupidity. I mean, didn’t they realize that they would eventually get caught? I am not speaking here of the agency’s career people, whom I found to be honest, intelligent, committed, qualified, and good at what they do, almost without exception.

BAMS: What is the most important message you hope readers will get from Censoring Science?

BOWEN: That global warming is real, it’s bad news, and we ought to do something about it right now. There has been enough talk. Let’s start with Jim’s proposal to ban any new coal-fired power plant that doesn’t sequester carbon dioxide. Robust sequestration technology is probably about 10 years off, but if we focus on efficiency, we won’t need any new coal-fired plants until the technology is here.

BAMS: How do you see the relationship of politics and climate science evolving in the near future?

BOWEN: I think it will get a little bit better (it can hardly get worse), but I am not entirely optimistic.

BAMS: Do you have any book/writing projects on the horizon?

BOWEN: Not really. I have a couple of magazine articles in mind. Books are big things, and I have learned that you can’t force them; they happen to you. I feel very thankful that Lonnie Thompson and Jim Hansen have provided me with stories that have been worth dedicating years of my life to. I hope I’ll find another one.

© 2008 American Meteorological Society

Jim’s Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary

Jim testified yesterday to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. I am aware of one interesting back story involving one of the more brazen of his statements:  that in his opinion, CEOs of certain fossil fuel companies, for instance ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, should be tried for “high crimes against humanity and nature,” but it seems best at this point to let Jim’s words speak for themselves.


 Global Warming Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near

James Hansen [1]

My presentation today is exactly 20 years after my 23 June 1988 testimony to Congress, which alerted the public that global warming was underway.  There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.

Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic.  Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.

The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb.  The next President and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.

Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control.

Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear.  But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals.

I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible.  It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year.

On 23 June 1988 I testified to a hearing, chaired by Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado, that the Earth had entered a long-term warming trend and that human-made greenhouse gases almost surely were responsible.  I noted that global warming enhanced both extremes of the water cycle, meaning stronger droughts and forest fires, on the one hand, but also heavier rains and floods.

 My testimony two decades ago was greeted with skepticism.  But while skepticism is the lifeblood of science, it can confuse the public.  As scientists examine a topic from all perspectives, it may appear that nothing is known with confidence.  But from such broad open-minded study of all data, valid conclusions can be drawn.

My conclusions in 1988 were built on a wide range of inputs from basic physics, planetary studies, observations of on-going changes, and climate models.  The evidence was strong enough that I could say it was time to “stop waffling”.  I was sure that time would bring the scientific community to a similar consensus, as it has. Continue reading

350 in 360°

Just for fun, you might want to check out this 360° panoramic photo of Jim Hansen, myself, and the 600+ people who showed up for our appearance in Lexington, Massachusetts, on June 1, all showing our support for Bill McKibben’s new organization (That’s my voice at the beginning, saying that Jim is definitely one of my heroes, even though he’s a Yankees fan.)

By clicking the mouse and moving your cursor around, you can scan the whole room.

Daily Kos features a wonderful diary about this event by a “Kossack” who attended. It was also covered by New England Cable News, and the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition has produced a video. CSPAN was there filming for Book TV, but I don’t think they’ve produced anything yet.

20th Anniversary of Hansen’s Legendary Senate Testimony

This coming Monday, June 23, 2008, will mark the twentieth anniversary of Jim Hansen’s course-altering testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. (I give some of the back story to that moment in Chapter 9 of Censoring Science.) The Worldwatch Institute will duly recognize Jim’s pioneering contributions with a luncheon at Washington’s National Press Club Ballroom that day, and he will also be testifying to Congressman Edward Markey’s Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. (In keeping with his usual breakneck pace, Jim happens to be in Germany at the moment, meeting with the Minister of the Environment — another front in his effort to convince government leaders around the globe to do what they can to stop the building of old-fashioned coal-fired power plants.) I highly recommend the interview with Jim that appears on the Worldwatch Web site, as a good snapshot of his current thinking.

NASA Office of Inspector General finally releases report

Lo and behold, only two-and-a-half years after the fact, the NASA Office of Inspector General has released a report on the campaign of censorship that took place at the space agency from at least 2003 through early 2006, when Jim Hansen took it public and brought it swiftly to an end. Is it surprising that it took an entire government office, comprising many people and holding the authority to obtain documents and interview government employees — not to mention its rather large budget — twice as long to publish its report as it took me, working alone a few states away, to write and publish a book (Censoring Science) on the same subject? Not to me – although I am gratified that the OIG corroborates many of my findings and adds new, important details about what was arguably the most bare-knuckled of the many censorship incidents at NASA, which was directed at Jim specifically and began with a phone call late on the day of December 15, 2005.

Today, I will talk mostly about the big picture of this report. In coming days, I might like to look more closely at some of the details.

As Andy Revkin of the New York Times reported today on his blog, Dot Earth, I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of the report. (Andy’s article for the print edition of the Times is here. This page also includes a convenient box of links to the series of articles he wrote on this subject in 2006.) But let’s not get carried away: as I wrote on pages 180-81 of the book, one’s expectations would tend to be low. Robert Cobb, the Inspector General, has a long history of protecting the higher-ups at NASA and was even at one time (oxymoronically) ethics advisor to Alberto Gonzales, George W. Bush’s disgraced ex-attorney general. So I expected a complete white-wash. This one is only partial.

As the drama unfolded in the early months of 2006, NASA administrator Michael Griffin and his senior staff managed to direct attention away from themselves by scapegoating an admittedly overzealous bit player, 24-year-old George Deutsch. The commendable thing about yesterday’s OIG report is that it correctly implicates senior NASA officials in the censorship effort and demonstrates that Deutsch was indeed a bit player. The report fingers the main perpetrators inside the agency – all political appointees – accurately and by name: David Mould, who is still NASA’s Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs (the head of public affairs for the entire agency); Mould’s former Deputy AA, Dean Acosta; and Mould’s predecessor, Glenn Mahone. The latter two have left the agency – both under duress.

But what the report leaves out is any connection between these three individuals (bit players as well when you come down to it – and our new scapegoats) and those who directed the censorship from within the White House – mainly from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Furthermore, CEQ communicated regularly on this issue with the office of Vice President Dick Cheney (Censoring Science, p. 114).

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Hansen and Bowen to speak in the cradle of American Liberty

Hello all,

 Just letting you know — a little bit late in the day, I know — that the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition (affectionately known as LGWAC) is sponsoring an appearance by Jim Hansen and myself, tomorrow night, Sunday, June 1, at Cary Hall in Lexington, Massachusetts. It starts at 7:30, but there’s been a lot of publicity, so you might want to get there early — especially considering the Celtics’ victory last night, which means we won’t be competing with a Game 7!

 Here’s the e-mail that Jim sent out to his list the other day, under the title “Dear Governor Greenwash”: Continue reading