Jim Hansen Vents on ‘American Democracy’ … and News Media

Respected NASA climate scientist James Hansen vents against science agencies’ “Offices of Propaganda,” formally known as “public affairs offices,” in a recent e-mail posting.

Calling them “masters of double-speak” with references to programs they label “clean coal,” “clear skies,” and “healthy forests,” Hansen in the posting laments political appointees’ holding those information posts in federal science agencies.

Why don’t the media blow the whistle on the situation? “I believe that I learned the reason,” Hansen writes. “It is encapsulated in the phrase ‘that’s hearsay!’”

“Even NPR [National Public Radio] did not seem to want to touch that story unless there were multiple pieces of proof on paper,” Hansen writes. The term “seems to make the media folks quake in their boots, doubtless because of the threat of a lawsuit.”

While The New York Times broke the story of a 24-year-old NASA public affairs staffer’s stifling Hansen, the paper doesn’t escape his scorn. The paper’s reporters “knew that the problem went much higher,” he writes, “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.”

Hansen frets that “PAO political appointees are learning how to cover their tracks …. it is as if we have a shadow government organization controlling information that the public receives.” His fix? Have those public affairs offices headed by career civil servants and not political appointees … and drop the practice of having government scientists’ congressional testimony reviewed in advance by the Office of Management and Budget.

Lots of luck, long-time government watchers and public affairs experts might think. Hansen’s proposal for a pre-election, citizen-inspired bipartisan campaign to change these long-entrenched bureaucratic rules would likely face stiff headwinds.

“The presumption of democracy is that the public is informed, honestly, informed,” he writes. “Government scientists work for the taxpayer and should be allowed to report their research results without political interference.”

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