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Censoring Science Review and Analysis

Censoring Science Mark Bowen Censoring Science begins in Washington D. C. , where we are introduced to Dr. James Hansen. Born in 1941 on a farm in Denison, Iowa, Jim was the fifth child and first boy out of seven children. His father, who had minimal education, held many different low-paying jobs and the family moved rather frequently. In third grade, Jim’s sister gave him part of her paper route- a job he would keep throughout high school, gradually saving up enough money to pay for college. Though he was a rather laid-back student, he earned the highest score on an IQ test (taken by seventh-twelfth graders) in seventh grade.

Because of his test scores Jim received a scholarship to the University of Iowa, where he came under the influence of James Van Allen, chairman of the department of physics and astronomy. Although Jim held much respect for Van Allen, he never took a course with him because he lacked the confidence. He confides that he “didn’t want him to know how ignorant I was” (page 73). Instead in his junior year, he took a general astronomy course taught by Professor Satoshi Matsushima, where he befriended a student named Andy Lacis.

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The two did so well during the course that Matsushima suggested they take the graduate qualifying exams in physics, which unexpectedly, both of the undergrads passed. Their success escorted them straight into graduate school and earned them financial support from NASA graduate traineeships. Matsushima became Ph. D. adviser to them both, and during a total eclipse of the moon on December 30, 1963, he introduced them to the art of astronomical observation. Their “observatory” was a converted cornfield out in the middle of nowhere with a tiny telescope that hadn’t been used in years.

The night of the eclipse also happened to be the coldest day of the year at thirty degrees below zero, but they stuck it out and that night produced a curve of the moon’s brightness as it passed through the Earth’s shadow. Normally, the moon remains a visible, sallow orange during the passage. However, because of the dust and aerosols from a recent volcanic explosion, so many of the sun’s rays scattered and reflected away from their usual paths that it practically disappeared. It was one of the darkest eclipses on record.

But because Matsushima wasn’t much of a physicist, he didn’t really know what to do with the data. So Jim employed a theory of light scattering that was developed by a Czechoslovakian astronomer to estimate how much scattering material the volcano had sent into the stratosphere and provided some rough information about the size distribution of the particles involved. The work they did that night provided a basis for both Jim and Andy’s later careers. The reflection and/or absorption of sunlight by airborne dust and aerosols plays an important role in determining the Earth’s temperature.

For example, volcanic eruptions tend to cool the planet for a few years because the particles they send into the air reflect some of the sun’s incoming energy back into space. This is known as the parasol effect, because it’s like putting a parasol over your head on a sunny day. Twelve years after their experience with the eclipse, by which time they had developed a computer simulation of Earth’s climate, Jim and Andy collaborated on a study that demonstrated the correspondence between their simulation of the parasol effect of the eruption and the three-year interval of cooling that actually occurred.

Back then, to get a doctorate at the University of Iowa, each student was required to propose and defend an original proposition, but there was no requirement that it be correct. At this time Jim was very interested in the emissions of long-wave radiation from Venus. Someone had already offered that the excessive heat was caused by a runaway greenhouse effect, so Jim offered that the high concentrations of dust in the atmosphere might be acting as a blanket, absorbing and reflecting back towards the surface, ultimately trapping the geothermal heat produced in the planet’s core.

His theory was eventually proven false. During Jim and Andy’s third year in graduate school, Matsushima won a grant to visit Japan and the two joined him there. One day at the University of Kyoto, Jim noticed an advertisement on a bulletin board for postdoctoral fellowships at various NASA institutions. He wrote to them, got some information, and decided to apply at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, mainly because of its focus on planetary science and astrophysics.

His letter of recommendation was written by none other than James Van Allen, and in early 1967 Jim packed his bags and heading for the big city, where he’s been ever since. After a non-stop drive from Iowa City, Jim arrived in Manhattan New York with little more than the letter that told him his temporary address. The Paris Hotel on West End Ave. at Ninety-Sixth Street was about a mile walk from GISS. At the time, the institute was being run by Robert Jastrow, a brilliant individual who had founded it six years earlier.

GISS owned one of the only two IBM 360/95s that were ever built; for a short time they were the fastest machines in the world. Jim mostly met other scientists by “bumping into them” at the computer. He had a habit of working most of his waking hours. His remarkable productivity was evident from the start and he usually worked very late into the evening, although he quickly learned that walking back to the Paris Hotel down dark West End Ave. at one a. m. wasn’t such a good idea.

During his first two years at GISS he published roughly half a dozen papers on light scattering, following the line of thought that had started in the cornfield in 1963. He began using the IMB 360/95 to analyze Bernard Lyot’s –a French astronomer who invented an instrument capable of making precise measurements of the polarization of light— data based on formulas he had utilized in his thesis. His work earned him the opportunity to temporarily study with Hendrik Christoffel van de Hulst, the world’s leading authority on light scattering, in Leiden, Holland, as well as a permanent position at GISS.

Anniek Dekkers taught at a high school in Leiden not far from the observatory Jim was currently studying at. She mentioned to her friend who coincidentally worked in the same office as Jim that she was planning to go sailing. The mutual friend knew that Jim had an interest in sailing, and asked Anniek if she would tell this American in her office where and how to go sailing in Holland. She complied and met with him the next week. When she first saw him, her first thought was “Oh my gosh, he’s so pasty,” but when he smiled it was love at first sight… He and Anniek married in 1971, two years after they met (page 195).

In 1988, Jim turned global warming into an international issue with just one sentence. After testifying to a Senate committee, he told a group of reporters that “It’s time to stop waffling and say that the greenhouse effect is here and is affecting our climate now” (page 1). Within the year, thirty-two climate-related bills were introduced in Congress. However, none of the bills were ever really examined and the probabilities for an effective policy response gradually diminished.

But after sixteen years of inactivity, Jim decided it was to make another statement, and on December 6th, 2005, the perfect venue presented itself. In memory of Charles David Keeling— who showed that the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide has been rising steadily since 1958— Jim was invited to give a lecture at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California. In his “Keeling Talk” he stated that the Earth’s climate is nearing a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to avoid a traumatic climate change.

Effects of this would include the loss of the Arctic and it’s wildlife and indigenous peoples, severe melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic, and several coastal regions on all continents as a result of rising sea levels due to melting ice. He also said that further warming of more than one degree centigrade will make the Earth warmer than it has been in a million years. The only way to keep further global warming under one degree is if the growth of greenhouse gas emissions is slowed in the first quarter of this century. Jim calls this solution the “alternative scenario” (page 5).

This talk was the spark that shifted the warming of our planet from science to the policy realm, and it happened practically overnight. Two days after the Keeling talk, ABC News journalist Bill Blakemore published an article on their website stating that “Over 95% of credible climate scientists agree that the average temperatures of the oceans, the land surface of the planet, and the lower atmosphere have been climbing at an accelerating rate” (page 11). He also noted that the same scientists agree that a significant factor of the warming is manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

Jim was cited as “one of the Galileo’s of global warming. ” On the same day Bill Blakemore’s article was published, Leslie McCarthy received a voice mail saying that Tom Ashbrook, the host of a National Public Radio news program called On Point, wanted to interview Jim live the following Monday. As a professional courtesy, she sent an e-mail regarding the request to Jim and to her public affairs partners. George Deutsch, a recent addition to the public affairs staff, was one of the people who received Leslie’s message about the interview request.

He e-mailed her back saying that Dean Acosta, one of the top two political appointees in Public Affairs, said to tell Jim that “his boss would like to handle the interview” (page 19). This was the start of a long period of censoring Jim Hansen, drummed up by Dean and George, and was nothing compared to later events. The release of 2005’s temperature data showed that it tied with 1998 for the record for warmest year in more than one hundred years of measurement. It also concluded that the six hottest years had occurred in the previous eight years, and the eighteen hottest in twenty-five years.

These results coincided with the rapid growth of human-made greenhouse gases. When Good Morning America ran a spot on the recent data, Public Affairs (i. e. Dean Acosta, his sidekick David Mould, and George Deutsch) were furious about being “blindsided”, even though they were warned the data would be released a week in advance. Acosta (with his posse listening in the background) called Leslie to inform her that from that point on he wanted to know about all outgoing information coming from GISS well in advance. This included all Web content and requests for interviews, and affected anyone with a NASA badge and/or received NASA money.

He also told her that he wanted to be informed in advance of everything Jim Hansen did, especially public appearances. A year after this raucous phone call, the stories of Dean Acosta, David Mould, and George Deutsch regarding this particular incident did not cohere in more ways than the author, Mark Bowen, felt was necessary to catalog in his book. At the beginning of 2006, Jim was interviewed on 60 Minutes where he made it clear that he did believe he was being censored and that “I say what I believe, if I’m allowed to say it” (page 55).

He also stated that in his thirty plus years in the government he’s never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public. Additionally, within a few weeks Jim told an old friend Andrew Revkin, the lead global warming correspondent for The New York Times, about the various acts of censorship taking place at GISS. Revkin broke the story on The Times’ website and it landed on the front page of that Sunday’s print edition.

Presently the only explanation for the behavior presented by NASA’s senior management focuses on a twenty-four-year-old political appointee who worked in the Science Mission Directorate for a grand totally of about four and a half months, yet seems to have gathered enough authority in that short time to cause a lot of trouble to many people with vastly more experience and seniority than he (otherwise known as George Deutsch). Despite the truth in that statement, some of the blame also has to be put on Mould and Acosta for weathering the storm Deutsch created. Though the censorship of Jim Hansen didn’t begin until 2005, acts of ensorship had begun even before then. In 2004, Dean Acosta and Glenn Mahone (David Mould’s predecessor) told Gretchen Cook-Anderson, the director of the education division at the National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that all climate-related press releases she received from any NASA center should be printed out and carried to either Mahone or Acosta. One of them would then notify the White House about it. After about a week or so she would be summoned to retrieve the copy, which would feature newly handwritten edits that invariably played up uncertainties [in the science of global warming] and minimized the dangers.

The White House was also to be notified whenever a climate scientist was planning to participate in an important meeting or was contacted for an interview on a subject related to global warming. Since this policy had not really been enforced when it was created in 2004, it was reiterated in 2006 that all NOAA employees must notify public affairs before responding to news media inquiries whenever they pertained to science or research that involved the release of scientific or technical papers that may have policy implications or are controversial.

On February 10, 2006, Jim spoke at a conference sponsored by the New School for Social Research in Manhattan about these restrictions. He affirmed that policy should not intrude in science, or it will destroy the quality of the science and diminish the value of the science to the public. Ever since Jim began his quest to inform the public about the dangers of global warming and the rapid pace at which we’re moving towards the tipping point, there have always been many global warming deniers. But it’s really not his science that gets him in trouble- it’s his style.

He continuously disregards his profession’s tight restrictions on unauthorized statements while maintaining the neutral innocence of a curious child. Some people criticize that he always gives the end result of his findings but never the whole story. Despite these things, very few scientists actually disagree that global warming is out there. The widespread skepticism he faced, especially in the late 1980’s, mainly came from the fact that no other scientists came close to having the insight into the global climate system that he did.

In 2007, global warming deniers began using the tactic that was used by the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation to undermine the proven link between smoking and cancer, to similarly undermine the proven link between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. They used doubt as their product because it is the best way to compete with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. When the issue began to get out of hand, Jim decided to take a break from politics and just focus on science.

During that time he worked with the Institute on Climate and Planets, an outreach program where students and teachers from various high schools and colleges in the New York City area would come to work on different research-related projects. His “A-team” was required to find a way to meet the nation’s growing energy needs while keeping to the greenhouse requirements of his alternative scenario. Their central conclusion was that an infusion of available technologies would be capable of halting the growth of emissions for decades.

The final act of censorship shown in Censoring Science is a dramatic budge cut at NASA, specifically in the Earth Science department and Research & Development. R&A provides grants to universities to develop young scientists, such as the one that allowed Jim and Andy to attend graduate school in Iowa. Such drastic cuts to the department would have strong negative implications for the ability of the community to meet national needs at a time when the importance of Earth science and global change issues are growing so rapidly. The entire budget of Jim’s institute also falls under R&A.

The budget dropped twenty percent and left Jim filing grants with private foundations just to keep GISS afloat. Mark Bowen’s point in writing Censoring Science was obvious; to make the public aware of the censorship being administered by the White House and other companies such as NASA specifically on the topic of global warming. However, what was not made clear in the book was why said people wanted to keep information on global warming and the greenhouse effect from leaking to the public. If global warming truly is a threat, why wouldn’t they want to fix it?

Another throw off of the book is the way it skips around in time as opposed to following a chronological order. There were a lot of dates and people to keep track of and sometimes made it very distracting trying to remember who did what and when they did it. If I was to read the book again, I would make a timeline and a list of people and what they did along with my note cards- which I’m very glad I made or else I never would have been able to complete this paper. Although the book was hard to follow and rather dry in some parts, it should definitely stay on the reading list.

It’s a nice twist on the standard global warming books that are usually all fact and no fun, because it’s not all about global warming per se, but about the lengths people have gone to prevent the public from getting their hands on information the government doesn’t want them to have. Reading this was almost like reading a teen fiction novel with the potential backstabbing, distortion, and gossip. It was also interesting to finally have a confirmation on the fact that what we see on TV or hear on the radio isn’t always the truth.

I even suggested this book to my father, who is one of the global warming deniers frequently mentioned throughout. While I was reading the book I noticed that really only the corrupted individuals (i. e. the ones who lie and cheat to censor great people like Jim Hansen) such as Dean Acosta, David Mould, and George Deutsch, keep their jobs without much criticism. Most of the innocent people such as Leslie McCarthy, Gretchen Cook-Anderson, and of course Jim Hansen, were always under condemnation either socially or professionally, or were in fear of losing their job (usually a combination of the two).

And the only reason they were forced to suffer through such abuse was for speaking out about what they believed in. It’s greatly similar to a lot of things that are a problem either today or in the past. Examples of this would be people who were/are attacked for things like race, religion, sexual preference, gender, etc. So not only was Censoring Science about the censoring of climatologists, but it was also a way of showing that even political officers are human. Bowen, Mark. Censoring Science. Nds York, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc. , 2008. N. pag. Print.


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