December 2009 Archives

Taking the Blinders Off - "Censoring Science"

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Censoring Science.jpg"Once those blinders are off, it's pretty near impossible to put them back on", my friend Sally Giovine-Kerr used to say when someone of her many, many friends or acquaintances had one of those "aha" moments about the role of women, or the Vietnam War, or race issues.  Sally of course was one of those people who helped pull those blinders away, sometimes gently, other times rather painfully.  She asked questions and then she listened to the answers and often commented and took what she heard back to what we call politics.  She brought up issues others wouldn't.  If she'd been of the right age now, she might well have been a rather outrageous blogger.

Sally asked very personal questions of people and they would more often than not reach into themselves to give her an answer that carried a truth that surprised that person as well.  She connected dots for people, in the language we use today, dots between the personal and the political.  The thing was, Sally really cared about the answers she got from people.  She wanted to know how a couple resolved differences or how it was to be the first woman working as an able bodied seaman in the Washington State Ferry System or to be an 11-year old whose parents were fighting.  Sally wanted to hear their answers.  She also had astounding stories.  She talked too about things I was not accustomed to hearing out of the mouths of any adults I knew - like about how it had been to be a thinking, political person in the fifties during the McCarthy Era.  She and her first husband, who hung out with the cool Democratic couples in Olympia, were able only to talk with one couple in Oregon, of the many dozens of people they counted as friends, about national politics, about the HUAC Committee and the many people who were losing their jobs for the wrong reasons.  For me it sounded awful but that time was ancient history and was not going to be repeated.  I came of age in the sixties when it looked for some period of time like we'd really changed the world.  We'd learned from the McCarthy era.  We had a stronger press and wouldn't allow anything like that to happen again.
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Ha! I've thought about those remembered conversations and my dismissals many times in the last few years, forty years after a time here in America when people were so scared that many could not talk honestly to even their friends about the craziness that was going on in our capital.  And far more people simply didn't pay attention to it.

I just finished reading a deeply distressing book, "Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the TRUTH of Global Warming" a new book by Mark Bowen that ripped off my blinders a couple different ways.  The story covered two different issues - rather awkwardly actually - but each topic was covered so well that I forgave the author for that lack of smoothness.  The first story is about the spreading censorship of scientists in the Bush/Cheney years, brilliant researchers and professors who worked on any aspect of climate change, whether it be oceanographers at NOAA or regulators at the EPA or the researchers at NASA who were now being prevented from talking directly about their research to the public or drawing the obvious implications about policy going forward.  Dr. James Hansen, NASA's leading climate expert, the primary example, was being harassed about providing a standard set of facts about the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere that had been provided to the press for thirty years.   This was 2005, the year that broke all previous records and threatened to make people take climate change seriously.  All of a sudden in the Bush/Cheney years it was "too policy-oriented" and there were public affairs "minders" at each agency that made it difficult for scientists, some very well-known, to get the message about global warming and climate change out clearly to the public and the policy-makers. 

James Hansen.jpgThe second is the actual set of observations and recommendations that the well-known Dr. James Hansen was writing and talking about anyway.  Hansen is the man who has been accurately talking about the big picture of climate change for over 30 years and whose predictions have been chillingly accurate.  It was Hansen's difficulties in getting his message out that inspired this book, which then widened to include scientists from other related agencies that might also be stepping the on the toes of the old energy corporations.  It was a widespread phenomena during the Bush years, that only got worse and worse until huge amounts of the budgets for basic Earth Sciences programs, data acquiring programs that obtain the raw temperature data from satellites around the earth were begin systematically shut down for lack of funds.  Of course there were few fingerprints on the censorship activities that led back to a common administration source or policy.  Reagan and Bush Sr. had done some of the same but the Bush/Cheney administration made it frighteningly systematic.

The book is well worth reading.  The future of the planet may well depend on understanding how to prevent this censoring of science from ever occurring again.  


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