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The Shadow on American Democracy I just did an interview with CNN Miles O Brien re censoring science The point I emphasized is that overreaching by the Executive Branch trying to make government science submit to political command and control is a threat to our democracy and as a result a threat to the planet The scary part about this story is that seeds have been sown and a playbook has been codified although not written that will make the situation much worse unless the American public recognizes the problem and makes an issue of it This is a bi partisan problem and neither party is trying to fix it It is remarkable how wimpish Congress has become in accepting subjugation to the Executive Branch contrary to designs and intents of our Founding Fathers Congressional testimony Do you know that before a government scientist testifies to Congress his her testimony is typically reviewed and edited by the White House Office of Management and Budget When I asked for a justification I was told that a government scientist s testimony needs to be consistent with the President s budget Huh There have never been any budget numbers in my testimony or in the testimony of most scientists And OMB s editing of the scientific content is invariably designed to make the testimony fit better with the position of the political party in power yes it is a bi partisan problem Where is it stated or implied in the Constitution that the Executive Branch should have such authority Actually does the Constitution not vest control of the purse strings to Congress Why does not Congress get incensed about this and fight back Offices of Propaganda The Public Affairs Offices PAOs of science agencies have become mouthpieces for the Administration in power This too is a bi partisan problem Top people in the Headquarters Offices of Public Affairs can and often are thrown out in a heart beat when an election changes the party in control of the Executive Branch The Executive Branch has learned that the PAOs can be effective political instruments and with some success they are attempting to turn them into Offices of Propaganda masters of double speak clean coal clear skies healthy forests that would make Orwell envious Again it is a bi partisan problem the control of PAOs being exercised by top political appointees who are replaced rapidly with a change of administration It is these political appointees that are the problem the career civil servants at the NASA Centers e g are professionals of high integrity as are most people at Headquarters One may wonder why doesn t the media object to this situation I believe that I learned the reason it is encapsulated in the phrase that s hearsay I heard that phrase over and over again in 2004 after I stated publicly that NASA press releases were being spirited from NASA HQ to the White House for either editing or deep sixing when they concerned sensitive topics such as global warming Even NPR did not seem to want to touch that story unless there were multiple pieces of proof on paper The phrase that s hearsay seems to make the media folks quake in their boots doubtless because of the threat of a lawsuit That probably explains why the New York Times stories about censorship of scientists at NASA that came out in early 2006 became a story about a low level 24 year old who then resigned Reporters New York Times included knew that the problem went much higher but instead of focusing on the threat to democracy it became too much an amusing story about a renegade trying to reverse scientific understanding of the big bang etc The actual story is made crystal clear in the new book Censoring Science by Mark Bowen author of On Thin Ice a gripping albeit long story about Lonnie Thompson s quest for ice cores from alpine glaciers Bowen gets insiders at HQ and elsewhere to provide extensive information most of it on the record about how PAO works to cover its tracks Gretchen don t e mail me on this There are some heroines in this story middle level people who refused to comply with orders from political appointees that they recognized as being inappropriate By the way I gave Bowen some long interviews and documentation and my mug is on the book jacket but I have no financial interest in the book The scary part of this story is that PAO political appointees are learning how to cover their tracks The picture that Bowen presents is one in which PAO political appointees can communicate directly with the White House One has to wonder if the Administrator objected to the PAO political appointee activities how long would it be before he was on the soup line As the tracks are covered better and better it is as if we have a shadow government organization controlling information that the public receives How to fix it There is an article Freedom of Speech in Government Science in the current Issues in Science and Technology Winter 2008 pages 31 34 by David Resnik Presumably Resnik is well intentioned but I take vehement exception to one of his bottom lines The article sounds fine for the most part but keep in mind the common technique of telling you ten things that are true followed by slipping in the whopper the very questionable point or conclusion concerning the main point of interest Here is Resnik s whopper when a government scientist communicates with the media the public or even journalists may mistakenly assume that the scientist is speaking for the government when he or she is expressing only a personal opinion If the scientist expresses an opinion that goes against official policy this can creates sic confusion in the public mind To minimize confusion and to enable an administration to convey consist sic policy messages it is appropriate to allow public relations officers to review a government scientist s communications with the media Perhaps I am taking his statement out of context but he seems to mean review the statement before it is made This is where we need the Mercedes driving lawyers http www columbia edu jeh1 distro Lawlessness 070927 pdf to help us What Resnik is saying which PAO would latch onto in a heartbeat consists of prior restraint as he suggests review prior to a testimony or statement being made not correction after the fact by the government If prior approval for scientific opinions are required a scientist does not have a snowball s chance in Hades of providing his unadulterated opinion on a sensitive subject This is true regardless of which party is in power The most


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