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Officials at NASA and the Department of Commerce confirm that the inspectors general of both agencies have begun investigations into whether the White House has sought to prevent government climate scientist from conveying their findings to the public. The investigations were prompted by a request from 14 Democratic senators in late September (see September 29, 2006). The inquiries are expected to be completed by early 2007. [Scientists Say Findings Were Suppressed, 11/2/2006]
When reporter Kitta MacPherson contacts the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a story she is writing about the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Plainsboro, New Jersey, she is told that she will be granted “unprecedented access” to the lab’s scientists. She interviews nine scientists for 30 minutes each. However a request to interview Richard Wetherald, a scientist who has complained about censorship (see September 26, 2002), is rejected, and her interview with scientist Ants Leetmaa is only permitted on the condition that a press official is present. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 12/6/2006]
As part of a library reorganization plan that was proposed in Bush’s 2007 budget request (see Early February 2006), but not approved by Congress, the EPA begins hurriedly selling library assets off for less than a penny on the dollar. Acting on orders from EPA headquarters, the agency auctions off over $40,000 worth of furniture and equipment from the recently closed Chicago regional library for a mere $350. The woman who purchases the merchandise says she expects to resell the goods for about $80,000. [GSA Auctions, 10/23/2006 ; Partee, 10/28/2006 ; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] Critics suggest that the motivation behind the rushed liquidation sale is to prevent a re-opening of the libraries should Congress vote down Bush’s budget cuts. Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and an outspoken critic of the EPA library closures, notes, “One big irony is that EPA claimed the reason it needed to close libraries was to save money but in the process they are spending and wasting money like drunken sailors.” [Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006]
The National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that 2006 was the warmest year on record. Average temperatures in the US were 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than mean temperatures for the 20th century. Seven months were much warmer than average, and December 2006 was the fourth-warmest December on record. An NOAA news release acknowledges that the warming is being caused by human activity. “A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases,” it states. “People should be concerned about what we are doing to the climate,” says Jay Lawrimore, chief of NOAA’s climate monitoring branch in Asheville, NC. “Burning of fossil fuels is causing an increase in greenhouse gases and there’s a broad scientific consensus that [it’s] producing climate change.” [National Climatic Data Center, 1/9/2007; United Press International, 1/10/2007; New York Times, 1/10/2007]
The National Academy of Sciences releases a study finding that NASA’s earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. NASA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees a large portion of the government’s climate research, has been plagued with enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission. The report—two years in the making—warns that half of the scientific instruments on the country’s environmental satellites are expected to cease working by 2010. Among other recommendations, the study suggests that the government increase its spending on researching the potential impacts of climate change such as ice-sheet melting, sea-level changes, and extreme weather events; restore support for efforts to improve NASA’s “capability to observe natural hazards and environmental changes”; and fund other efforts that would improve weather forecasting. Co-chairs Berrien Moore III of the University of New Hampshire and Richard Anthes of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research tell the Washington Post that NASA needs about $500 million a year restored to NASA’s earth science program, “essentially a return to the budgets during the Clinton administration,” the Post notes. [Washington Post, 1/16/2007; National Academy of Science, 1/16/2007]
Six months after lawmakers asked (see July 20, 2006) the White House Council on Environmental Quality to provide them with documents related to its internal communications on climate change, the Bush administration releases nine documents. But the following day, Congressman Henry Waxman says the documents “add little to our inquiry. In some cases, they do not even appear to be records we were seeking.” [US Congress, 1/30/2007 ]
A survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) bolsters allegations that the Bush administration is pressuring climate scientists to produce material that does not contradict its position on global warming. The survey was distributed to 1,600 climate scientists at seven federal agencies. Of those, 279 responded. The survey found:
Forty-six percent of the respondents indicated that they perceived or personally experienced pressure to remove the words “climate change,” “global warming,” or other similar terms from their writings.
Forty-six percent said their writings had been changed or edited by a superior in a way that changed its meaning.
Forty-six percent said they perceived or personally experienced new or unusual procedural requirements that impair climate-related work.
Twenty-five percent of the respondents said they know of scientists who have actively objected to, resigned from, or removed themselves from a project because of pressure to change a scientific finding.
150 climate scientists said they personally experienced political interference in the past five years, for a total of at least 435 incidents.
Seventy-eight percent of the scientists who indicated that their work involves controversial climate research said that they have personally experienced at least one incident of inappropriate interference with their work. Of those, more than one-quarter said they had experienced six or more such incidents during the last five years.
Sixty-seven percent said their work environment has become less enjoyable over the last 5 years ago. This figure was the highest for scientists working at NASA (79 percent). [Union of Concerned Scientists, 1/30/2007 ; Reuters, 1/30/2007]
Jeremy Grantham, chairman of a Boston-based fund management company, in his quarterly letter to clients includes a commentary on the United States’ policy toward climate change, particularly that of the current administration. One of Grantham’s clients happens to be Vice President Dick Cheney. In his piece, titled “While America Slept, 1982-2006: A Rant on Oil Dependency, Global Warming, and a Love of Feel-Good Data,” Grantham writes, “Successive US administrations have taken little interest in either oil substitution or climate change and the current one has even seemed to have a vested interest in the idea that the science of climate change is uncertain.” Grantham embraces the conclusions of the latest IPCC report (see February 2, 2007), saying, “There is now nearly universal scientific agreement that fossil fuel use is causing a rise in global temperatures. The US is the only country in which environmental data is steadily attacked in a well-funded campaign of disinformation (funded mainly by one large oil company)” (see Between 1998 and 2005). If anyone is still sitting on the fence, he suggests considering Pascal’s Paradox—in other words, comparing the consequences of action vs. inaction if the IPCC’s conclusions are correct. Grantham, whose company manages $127 billion in assets, disputes the notion that going green would harm the US economy, noting that industrialized countries with better fuel efficiency have on average seen better economic growth than the US over the last 50 years. Instead of implementing a policy that would have increased fuel efficiency, the country’s “auto fleet fuel efficiency went backwards over 26 years by ingeniously offsetting substantial technological advances with equally substantial increases in weight,” he notes. “In contrast, the average Western European and Japanese cars increased efficiency by almost 50 percent.” He also writes that the US might have eliminated its oil dependency on the Middle East years ago had it simply implemented a “reasonable set of increased efficiencies.” If there were just 10 percent less cars on the road than there are today, and each one drove 10 percent fewer miles using vehicles that were 50 percent more efficient, US demand for oil would be 28 percent lower, he explains. If similar efficiency had been attained in other modes of transportation, the US would have been able to reduce its reliance on foreign oil by 38 percent completely eliminating its reliance on oil from Middle East, which currently accounts for only 28 percent of US oil imports. He also notes in his letter, which apparently was leaked to President Bush before publication, “Needless to say, our whole attitude and behavior in the Middle East would have been far different, and far less painful and costly. (Oil was clearly not the only issue, or perhaps even the biggest one in Iraq, but it is unlikely that US troops would have fought two wars had it been a non-oil country in, say, Africa or the Far East that was equally badly behaved.)” [Street, 2/5/2007; Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo, 2/5/2007]
The US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska issues a memo to biologists and officials instructing them not to discuss climate change, polar bears, or sea ice unless they are designated to do so, when traveling around the Arctic. The memo, which bears the subject heading “Foreign Travel—New Requirement—Please Review and Comply, Importance: High,” states, “Please be advised that all foreign travel requests (SF 1175 requests) and any future travel requests involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice, and/or polar bears will also require a memorandum from the regional director to the director indicating who’ll be the official spokesman on the trip and the one responding to questions on these issues, particularly polar bears.” [New York Times, 3/8/2007] The memo forbids the scientists to discuss climate change, polar bears, and sea ice, even if asked. A White House spokesman says the rule about having a single spokesman is merely an attempt to observe “diplomatic protocol,” but Deborah Williams, a former Interior Department official in the Clinton administration who later sees the memo, has a different view. To Williams, the rules sound like an attempt to impose political control over what government scientists can and cannot discuss with their peers. “This sure sounds like a Soviet-style directive to me,” Williams will observe. [Savage, 2007, pp. 107; New York Times, 3/8/2007]
Ford Motor Co. chief executive Alan Mulally acknowledges in a telephone press conference that global warming is happening and is being caused in part by auto emissions. “The vast majority of data indicates that the temperature has increased, and I believe the correlation and the analysis says that is mainly because of the greenhouse gases keeping the heat in. You can just plot it with the Industrial Revolution and the use of all of our resources,” he says. [Denver Post, 4/24/2007]
In a reply to criticisms of its World Trade Center investigation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) admits that it is unable to fully explain the total collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. NIST’s letter is a response to a “request for correction” letter sent to it five months earlier by Bob McIlvaine and Bill Doyle, who both lost family members on 9/11, along with scientists Kevin Ryan and Steven E. Jones, architect Richard Gage, and the group Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice. This letter made several assertions about NIST’s final reports of its WTC investigation, and suggested they had violated the Data Quality Act and NIST’s information quality standards. NIST’s reply denies the requests for corrections. However, it also mentions, “[W]e are unable to provide a full explanation of the total collapse” of the World Trade Center. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/27/2007 ] In its final report on the Twin Towers collapses, released in October 2005, NIST admitted that its investigation did “not actually include the structural behavior of the tower after the conditions for collapse initiation were reached and collapse became inevitable” (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 82]
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) publishes a fact sheet responding to 14 “frequently asked questions” about its investigation into the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11. Some of the key questions and answers are as follows:
Regarding the question, “Why was the collapse of WTC 1 and 2 not arrested by the intact structure below the floors where columns first began to buckle?” NIST replies, “The vertical capacity of the connections supporting an intact floor below the level of collapse was adequate to carry the load of 11 additional floors if the load was applied gradually and 6 additional floors if the load was applied suddenly (as was the case).” As the number of floors above the points where the collapses initiated exceeded six (12 in the case of the North Tower, 29 for the South), NIST says, “[T]he floors below the level of collapse initiation were unable to resist the suddenly applied gravitational load from the upper floors of the buildings.”
In answer to the question of “Why was physical evidence not collected immediately following the collapse of the WTC towers,” NIST says, “In the initial days and weeks following the WTC disaster, the emphasis was on rescue and later on recovery, necessitating the removal of steel and disturbing the collapse site.” It adds, “NIST did not receive the legal authority to collect and preserve physical evidence from a disaster/failure site until the National Construction Safety Team Act became law in October 2002.” The decision to rapidly scrap the remaining steel from the WTC was made shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), but the destruction of this steel was strongly protested by some within the engineering and firefighting communities (see December 25, 2001 and January 4, 2002).
In response to a question about why it did not use its subpoena authority during its investigation, NIST states that its “experience during the investigation was that it was able to obtain all essential documentary and visual evidence without the need to invoke subpoena authority.”
In answer to the question, “Why didn’t NIST fully model the collapse initiation and propagation of WTC towers?” NIST says, “Once the collapse had begun, the propagation of the collapse was readily explained without the same complexity of modeling” as was used to determine the sequence of events leading up to the collapse initiation.
During its investigation, NIST had selected several variables for its computer simulations, and then experimented with different possible values (see (October 2002-October 2005)). But it has been asked: “Why didn’t NIST consider the ‘base’ and ‘less severe’ cases throughout its analysis of the WTC towers? What was the technical basis for selecting only the ‘more severe’ case for its analyses?” Its answer is that, “Of the three [possible values], the more severe case resulted in the closest agreement with the visual and physical evidence.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 12/14/2007]
NIST published its final report on the Twin Towers collapse in October 2005 (see October 26, 2005). It released an earlier fact sheet answering previous “frequently asked questions” in August 2006 (see August 30, 2006). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/30/2006]
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds that the source of the anthrax involved in the 2001 attacks was not established by the FBI’s science. This conclusion is in contrast to that of the Justice Department and the FBI, which have asserted unequivocally that RMR-1029, an anthrax flask linked to USAMRIID vaccine researcher and deceased alleged anthrax-killer Bruce Ivins, was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks. The NAS was contracted by the FBI in 2009, for nearly $880,000, to review the science underlying the FBI’s investigation. The NAS council did not review other types of evidence assembled by the FBI, did not have access to classified materials, and did not do its own research. In its report, it makes no judgments regarding the guilt or innocence of any parties, or judgments about the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins was the sole perpetrator. [Associated Press, 5/9/2009; Justice, 2/19/2010, pp. 28 PDF ; National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; McClatchy-ProPublica-PBS Frontline, 10/11/2011] The primary conclusion of the NAS is that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax… based solely on the available scientific evidence.” The NAS says there were “genetic similarities” between the samples from the letters and RMR-1029, but that “other possible explanations for the similarities—such as independent, parallel evolution—were not definitively explored during the investigation,” and “the data did not rule out other possible sources.” The NAS agrees with the FBI that “RMR-1029… was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters,” and that “one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters.” The NAS says the FBI did correctly identify the anthrax as Ames strain. It also agrees with the FBI that there was no evidence that the silicon present in the samples had been added in order to weaponize the anthrax, but says that, based on the information made available to it, “one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion.” Silicon had not been present in the anthrax in RMR-1029 and it is not a normal part of anthrax spores, though it may be incorporated if it is present in its environment as the spores develop. The reason for the presence of silicon (up to 10 percent by bulk mass in the New York Post sample, though this differed with the amount measured in the spores), as well as other elements such as tin, remains unresolved. [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011] At a NAS press conference accompanying the report’s release, questions are raised regarding the amount of time needed to prepare the anthrax. Committee Chair Alice P. Gast responds, “There’s a lack of certainty in the time and effort it would take to make [the powders]… the FBI has not determined what method was used to create the powders.” In some situations several months might be required, but, according to Vice Chair David A. Relman, it would have been possible to complete the work in as little as two days. Regarding the low end of the estimate, Relman says: “There are a number of factors that would have to go into that calculation, including the skill set of the person or persons involved, the equipment and resources available, and the procedures and process selected. And, on that last point, that low end would rely upon the use of batch fermentation methods—liquid cultivation methods—which are available in a number of locations.” Co-workers of Ivins and other experts previously expressed doubts that Ivins had the skill, equipment, or opportunity to prepare the anthrax used, let alone do so in as short a time as the FBI has alleged (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008 and April 22, 2010). [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; ProPublica, 2/15/2011] In response to the NAS report, the FBI says in a press release that it was not the science alone that led it to conclude that Ivins was the sole perpetrator: “The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.” [Department of Justice, 2/15/2011] The FBI has claimed to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations, who either had access to the lab where Ivins worked or received samples from RMR-1029. However, the NAS finding that RMR-1029 has not been conclusively identified as the anthrax source indicates the pool of suspects may be wider than just those with links to RMR-1029. The NAS press release notes that, in October 2010, a draft version of the NAS report underwent a “required FBI security review,” and following that the FBI asked to submit materials to NAS that it had not previously provided. The NAS says: “Included in the new materials were results of analyses performed on environmental samples collected from an overseas site. Those analyses yielded inconsistent evidence of the Ames strain of B. anthracis in some samples. The committee recommends further review of the investigation of overseas environmental samples and of classified investigations carried out by the FBI and Department of Justice.” [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011]
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