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.