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Censorship and an outspoken scientist


Currently on Nature Reports Climate Change, we have a review by Michael Oppenheimer of Mark Bowen’s lastest book, Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth About Global Warming.

As suggested by the title, the book documents the White House-led censorship of James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who bravely spoke out about the dangers and urgency of global warming long before many of his fellow climate scientists. Oppenheimer writes:

In doing so, Hansen staked a claim to unfettered speech far beyond the usual scientist’s model of announcing research findings. If there was ever a pure test of the rights of government scientists, this was it.

As well as narrating “the step-by-step attempts of a low-ranking NASA press staffer and right-wing ideologue, along with other officials, to censor Hansen”, the book delves into the story of Hansen as research scientist who made important discoveries on the greenhouse effect and documents his personal journey as an individual.

While commending the book overall, Oppenheimer criticizes Bowen’s unyielding reverence for Hansen:

Bowen provides a fascinating tour of Hansen’s scientific mind and mental voyage over 30 years, including the basis for his prescient assertions about the future course of warming. But here the story swerves off course into a morass of condescension and inaccuracy. Rather than providing a slice of science history, Bowen feeds the reader hagiography, as if he feels the need to enhance Hansen’s stature — a completely unnecessary exercise — by reducing that of other scientists.

In a review for New Scientist (subscription) Chris Mooney, author of Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle Over Global Warming (reviewed here last year), gives a different take on Bowen’s coverage of Hansen’s scientifiic and personal story, arguing that this should have taken precedence over the “war on science ” narrative.

But he comes to the same conclusion on Bowen’s depiction of Hansen as a flawless being:

Hansen’s central intellectual history – how he became the most influential climate scientist in the US, the discoveries that increasingly frightened him – is held at bay until the third-to-last chapter of the book, where Bowen finally hits his stride. Even then, the author presents an uncompromising defence of Hansen, rather than a more nuanced examination of his character that would include an assessment of his faults.

Mooney gives a shortened version of his somewhat dissatisfied take on it over at The Intersection, while it gets an all round thumbs up over at Daily Kos.

Olive Heffernan


  1. Report this comment

    Eli Rabett said:

    The point about the censorship attempt was how unprepared the administration was for push back and how skilled Hansen is. This is relatively minor.

    The important point is (and I think maybe the reviewer gets this wrong in an attempt to be balanced) that Hansen has been right so often on climate issues that it would be sensible to pay attention to him. There has been an attempt to portray his opinion on sea level rise as that of a novice who knows nothing about ice flow, but he has been involved in forecasting sea level rise for over twenty years (see James Titus’ blog for example)

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