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NASA PR ‘mischaracterized climate change science’

Anyone looking for reasons to be cynical should have a glance at this: NASA’s Office of Inspector General report into allegations of political interference with the agency.

Our investigation found that during the fall of 2004 through early 2006, the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public through those particular media over which the Office of Public Affairs had control (i.e., news releases and media access).

In a previous post about political interference in the Environmental Protection Agency, I remarked that “the shocking thing about this is how unsurprising it is”.

Well, I’ve rediscovered my ability to be shocked. America: these people “reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized” science to sway your opinions. I’d call that lying. They lied to you about one of the most important topics in science.

In the NY Times’s Dot Earth blog, Andrew Revkin says “the new NASA investigation presents a detailed argument for a pattern of politicization at the agency on climate that extended to facilities from California to Maryland”.

“Global warming is the most serious environmental threat we face — but this report is more evidence that the Bush Administration’s appointees have put political ideology ahead of science,” says Democrat Senator Frank Lautenberg, one of those pushed for an investigation into the allegations of interference (Washington Post). The White House Office of Science and Technology has yet to respond.

Former NASA press secretary Dean Acosta was one of those facing accusations of manipulation. He told AP, “My entire career has been dedicated to open and honest communications. The inspector general’s assertions are patently false.”

There are some positives in this report. For example it notes that “no credible evidence suggesting that senior NASA or Administration officials directed the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs to minimize information relating to climate change”. When they found out what was going on they tried to stop it.

Mind you, for that to be a positive you have to ignore the fact that senior NASA officials didn’t know what their employees were doing. Or, in the report’s words, “That senior management did not know before [being alerted by congressional staff and the media] was emblematic of ineffective internal management controls such as a dispute resolution mechanism between contributing scientists and public affairs officials.”

Here are some more choice extracts from the report:

Further, it is our conclusion that the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs’ actions were inconsistent with the mandate and intent of NASA’s controlling legislation.

The supporting evidence detailed in this report reveals that climate change scientists and the majority of career Public Affairs Officers strongly believe that the alleged actions taken by senior NASA Headquarters Public Affairs officials intended to systemically portray NASA in a light most favourable to Administration policies at the expense of reporting unfiltered research results. [emphasis in original]

In our October 22, 2007, interview with Mr. Mould, the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs during part of our investigation, Mr. Mould stated that NASA’s media policies at the time were a “jumble of mish-mash,” adding that he never read them.


  1. Report this comment

    Richard said:

    You write – "these people “reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized” science to sway your opinions. I’d call that lying."

    There is a lot of politics in your above post and precious little (read absolutely none) scientific facts. What exactly was “reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized” to “sway” our opinions?

    Was it the same as that brilliant former vice-president of yours Al Gore (who claimed he invented the internet) in his movie “An Inconvenient Truth”?

    What he “mischaracterized” was to say that the pacific islands were being drowned by the rising ocean and as a result refugees were flooding into New Zealand. Now I would call that “LYING”, wouldn’t you?

    This whole thing is a political game and science has suffered as a result of it.

    I went to your dot earth blog and this is what they have to say “By 2050 or so, the world population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet..” – The solution? – Go back to the stone age and Reduce CO2 in the atmosphere – brilliant!

    It is not beyond reasonable doubt that all or even a major portion of global warming is the result of CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions have gone up and the temperature has risen (slightly) – that proves nothing. The consequences of a warmer climate are also unknown.

    For these unknown consequences, we in New Zealand, are supposed to shell out money for some absurd “carbon credit” because of our cows flatulence, while the rest of the (sane) world continue with their progress.

  2. Report this comment

    Miklos ZAGONI said:

    Daniel wrote:

    “Global warming is the most serious environmental threat we face…”

    Richard wrote:

    “It is not beyond reasonable doubt that all or even a major portion of global warming is the result of CO2 emissions.”

    Gentlemen, I agree that this is the mainstream position today. But there is an interesting, highly technical peer-reviewed paper that profoundly questions that. Unfortunately, it appeared in a little-known journal of a national met service, so it remained unreflected, although, as I see, it would deserve the highest degree of scientific attention – to verify or to falsify it. The paper, and a reasonable compendium of it, is available here:

    Thank you for your attention.

    Miklos Zagoni

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