Sunday, October 31, 2004

Subverting Science

The New York Times
October 31, 2004

Subverting Science

The Bush administration's well-deserved reputation for tailoring scientific information to fit its political agenda was reinforced last week when James Hansen, the government's pre-eminent climatologist, said that he had been instructed by Sean O'Keefe, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, not to discuss publicly the human contribution to global warming. The charge came as part of a broader indictment, delivered in a speech in Iowa, of the administration's refusal to confront the consequences of climate change or to do anything meaningful about reducing the industrial emissions that contribute to it.

NASA officials said that Mr. O'Keefe had no similar recollection and that Dr. Hansen may have misinterpreted a cautionary comment about the complexity of the issue as a direct order not to discuss it. But this administration has a depressing history of discouraging robust discourse on climate change. In 2002 and 2003, the White House censored reports from the Environmental Protection Agency discussing the risks of warming and linking it to human activity. A recent article by Andrew Revkin of The Times suggests that the selective use of evidence to suit predetermined policy goals began even earlier. In March 2001, for example, the White House chose a single, narrow economic analysis to help President Bush build his case that regulating greenhouse gas emissions, as required by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global climate change, would inflict unacceptable damage on the American economy. Meanwhile, other studies drawing more optimistic conclusions about industry's ability to limit emissions were swept under the rug.

The net result is that while most of the industrialized world has ratified the Kyoto agreement, and committed itself in general terms to mandatory cuts of carbon emissions, America is saddled with a passive strategy of further research and voluntary reductions.

Dr. Hansen said he knew he was risking his credibility and possibly his job by criticizing Mr. Bush in the final days of the campaign, but had decided - properly so, in our view - that the risks of silence were greater.