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Context of 'Mid-September 2004: Title of Press Release Regarding Warming of Antarctica ‘Softened’ at Behest of NASA Headquarters'

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NASA headquarters informs some climate scientists that any public releases of their research must first be cleared by headquarters and that all interviews with the media must be monitored by a NASA press officer. According to Drew Shindell, an ozone specialist and NASA climatologist, “these were conveyed orally, with no written documentation even when one was requested.” This policy applies only to climate scientists, not to other NASA scientists, such as those researching space or earth science, Shindell later tells Congress. [US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file Sources: Drew Shindell]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

Drew Shindell, an ozone specialist and NASA climatologist, submits a press release to the Goddard Space Flight Center public affairs office (PAO) announcing the publication of a paper he has co-authored on climate change in Antarctica (see September 25, 2004). Shindell and the PAO agree on the title “Cool Antarctica may warm rapidly this century, study finds,” for the release. But NASA headquarters asks them to “soften” it. The next suggested title, “NASA Scientists expect temperature flip-flop at the Antarctic,” is also rejected. The title that is finally approved—over the objection of Shindell—is “Scientists predict Antarctic climate changes.” In testimony before Congress, Shindell will later recall, “I have worked on numerous releases during my 12 years at the Goddard Institute. While previous to this time, press releases had been issued rapidly and with revisions from headquarters that were made primarily to improve clarity and style, this release was repeatedly delayed, altered, and watered down.” [US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 33 pdf file] The press release is finally issued on October 6. [NASA, 10/6/2004]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Drew Shindell

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The prestigious Geophysical Research Letters publishes a paper summarizing the results of a study that suggests that Antarctica may warm rapidly during the next 50 years. Researchers Drew Shindell and Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies used computer modeling to predict the effect of increased ozone levels over Antarctica. Ozone levels are expected to increase over the next few years due to international treaties that have banned ozone-depleting chemicals. The computer modeling suggested that, while Antarctica has mostly cooled over the last 30 years, this trend may quickly reverse because higher ozone levels will likely lead to the disruption of the westerly winds that currently provide a buffer against the warmer temperatures of lower latitudes. The higher temperatures in turn could result in the loss of the continent’s ice shelves. [Shindell and Schmidt, 2004; NASA, 10/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Drew Shindell, Gavin Schmidt

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Officials at NASA headquarters order the agency’s public affairs office to pre-screen all public statements made by James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. This restriction applies to all of his forthcoming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard website, and requests for interviews from journalists. His supervisors are even authorized to stand in for him in interviews with the media. According to Hansen, the agency’s efforts to muzzle him began after a lecture he gave on December 6 in which he said that a US failure to significantly cut emissions could turn the earth into “a different planet.” He had noted in his lecture that businesses could cut emissions using existing technologies, if they wanted to, but that the administration’s and industry’s overriding concern is short term profits. A statement he released on December 15 saying that 2005 was probably the warmest year in 100 years also irked top officials (see December 15, 2005). Officials responded to Hansen’s statements with several warnings that there would be “dire consequences” if he continued. Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, denies that NASA was trying to silence Hansen. He claims the restrictions on Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. All scientists are permitted to discuss scientific findings, he argues, but are not supposed to issue statements on policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2006; National Public Radio, 1/29/2006; Washington Post, 1/29/2006] While top officials have always tried to deter scientists from speaking publicly on policy issues, Hansen, in a later interview with the New York Times, says the Bush administration is engaged in an unprecedented level of interference. “In my thirty-some years of experience in government, I’ve never seen control to the degree that is occurring now,” he says. [New York Times, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, Dean Acosta, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

James E. Hansen of the NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies posts a statement on the institute’s website saying that 2005 was the warmest year on record. “The highest global surface temperature in more than a century of instrumental data was recorded in the 2005 calendar year in the GISS annual analysis,” it says. The 2005 summation infuriates top NASA officials, who are already annoyed with Hansen because of a December 6 speech he gave criticizing the administration and industry for putting short term profits ahead of efforts to curb greenhouse gases. The officials order Hansen to remove the statement, complaining that it should have been screened by the administration before publication. [Washington Post, 1/29/2006] Additionally, NASA’s public affairs office tells Hansen that there is a “storm of anger at headquarters” over his statement and past remarks (see, e.g., October 26, 2004), and threatens him with “dire consequences.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 34 pdf file]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Dr. James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top climate scientist, reveals that the Bush administration ordered NASA’s public affairs staff to review his lectures, papers, Web site postings, and interview requests after he gave a lecture calling for the reduction of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. “They feel their job is to be the censor of information going out to the public,” Hansen says, and he promises to ignore the restrictions. NASA denies trying to silence Hansen, saying the restrictions apply to all NASA officials, and adds that it is inappropriate for government scientists to make policy statements (see Between June 2003 and October 2003, (January 2006), and (Late January 2006)). [Savage, 2007, pp. 106] This is not the first time Hansen has gone public about government attempts to censor and muzzle him and his fellows (see October 2004, October 26, 2004, and February 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Bush administration (43), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, James E. Hansen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda


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