!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Follow Us!

We are planning some big changes! Please follow us to stay updated and be part of our community.

Twitter Facebook

Global Warming

Political pressure on staff

Project: Climate Change and Global Warming
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

add event | references

When climate scientist James Hansen gives NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe a presentation on the dangers of human-caused climate change, O’Keefe cuts him off. “The administrator interrupted me,” Hansen later says. “He told me that I should not talk about dangerous anthropogenic interference, because we do not know enough or have enough evidence for what would constitute dangerous anthropogenic interference.” (O’Keefe’s spokesperson will later deny this account of the meeting.) Hansen’s presentation to O’Keefe was a summary of another presentation, titled “Can we defuse the global warming time bomb,” that he already gave to the White House Council on Environmental Quality in June 2003. [Hansen, 10/26/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 10/26/2004]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, Sean O’Keefe

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff, Causal factors

An anonymous NOAA public affairs officer interviewed by the Government Accountability Project will later recall being told by his boss to silence a scientist. “You make him be quiet,” the scientist says he was told, “Get that guy to stop speaking to the public… It’s your job… I cannot believe you cannot control that person.” He also says that his superiors told him that any communications on sensitive issues should not be in writing. Rather, “I was usually summoned to XXX’s office, usually with XXX [both top officials] there and the door closed.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 89 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Anonymous Public Affairs Officer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

The movie Day After Tomorrow increases media interest in the global warming debate, and a number of reporters contact NOAA scientists with questions on the issue. In the film, the US mainland is abruptly frozen over when the Gulf Stream shuts down because of melting arctic ice. An unnamed NOAA public affairs officer interviewed by the Government Accountability Project will later recall, “We had scientists at that time who were speaking to the press of their views from a scientific standpoint and my boss told me, ‘You are not to substantiate this; make it look like the scientists are out there on a limb, the agency is not backing them up.’” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 89 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Anonymous Public Affairs Officer

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

NOAA climate scientist Thomas Knutson is invited to give a presentation on global warming and hurricanes as part of a science seminar series on Capitol Hill sponsored by the American Meteorological Society. The presentation is cleared by the NOAA, but there is nonetheless concern about the title of his lecture—“Global Warming and Hurricanes.” Scott Carter, an NOAA legislative affairs officer, sends an email to NOAA official Ahsha Tribble asking her to comment on it. “I wanted to get your thoughts on him using the term global warming,” Carter says. “His title slide is ‘Global Warming and Hurricanes.’ I see the event does ask that, and I am no scientist, but I know that term is sensitive, so any problem in him using the term?” Some time later Knutson is advised not to use the term “Global Warming” in his title. “Just a heads-up… wouldn’t want the higher ups coming down on you. There is discomfort in the administration with these terms.” Knutson ignores the request. [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ahsha Tribble, Scott Carter, Thomas Knutson

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff, Hurricane intensity

James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells the New York Times that the Bush administration has been putting pressure on scientists to produce studies that are in-line with official policy on issues like global warming. He says this practice has penetrated deep within the government bureaucracy. “Under the Clinton-Gore administration, you did have occasions when Al Gore knew the answer he wanted, and he got annoyed if you presented something that wasn’t consistent with that,” he says. “I got a little fed up with him, but it was not institutionalized the way it is now.” The Times reports that Hansen, along with two other NASA scientists and several officials at NASA headquarters and at two agency research centers have “described how news releases on new global warming studies had been revised by administrators to play down definitiveness or risks. The scientists and officials said other releases had been delayed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), James E. Hansen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Politicization, Whistleblowers, Press releases, Political pressure on staff

Reporter Todd Neff of the Boulder Camera submits a request to interview Leo Donner, a scientist at the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. The request is handled by NOAA public affairs officer Jana Goldman. In an email to her supervisor, she writes, “I think this is OK—I just spoke to [redacted] and he’s looking more for how is [sic] this model contributes to the overall future of climate models—I told him we didn’t want to get into comparing models or talking about deficiencies and strengths, but just the general overall how this advances the whole science of modeling.” Donner later says he felt restrictions were being “imposed… on the topics the interview could cover.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 24 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Leo Donner, Jana Goldman

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

James R. Mahoney, head of the US Climate Change Science Program, calls Konrad Steffen, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a joint NOAA-university institute, and asks that he and another NOAA lab director not give reporters their opinions on global warming. Reporters are likely to contact Steffen because his work was recently cited in a major international report on climate change in the Arctic. But Steffen later says he did not comply with the request. Mahoney will later tell the Washington Post that he has “no recollection” of the conversation. [Washington Post, 4/6/2006]

Entity Tags: James R. Mahoney, Konrad Steffen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

David Hofmann, a lab director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), asks scientists who will be attending the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference in Boulder not to use the term “climate change” in conference papers’ titles and abstracts. According to Pieter Tans, one of the participants, he and the other scientists ignore the request. [Washington Post, 4/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Pieter Tans, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

NOAA officials push to alter the language of a paper NOAA research scientist Pieter Tans will be presenting at the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference in Boulder, Colorado. In his draft abstract, Tans explains how his research suggests that carbon dioxide plays the role of a “forcing agent” in climate change. “CO2 is now generally recognized to be the main driver of climate change,” the draft reads. But people in the public affairs office, or their superiors, edit the abstract down. They also attempt to purge Tans’ presentation of the term “climate change” (see also Late September 2005). [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 68-69 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Pieter Tans, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

David Hofmann, a lab director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, informs research scientist Pieter Tans that anything having to do with climate change has to be cleared by the White House, including his laboratory’s website content. The deputy director will also inform Tans of this policy. [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 69 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Pieter Tans, David Hofmann

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff, Public outreach

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, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Policies, Politicization, Whistleblowers, Political pressure on staff

Jerry Mahlman, a retired NOAA scientist who is writing a book on the history of the NOAA, visits the agency’s David Skaggs Research Center. He later recalls that upon arriving at the lab he was “mobbed” by scientists wanting to discuss the “censorship.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 18 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jerry Mahlman

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

The Bush administration imposes what reporter and author Charlie Savage will later call “unprecedented controls” on scientists working with the US Geological Survey (USGS), an agency that studies environmental issues such as global warming and endangered species. Now, USGS scientists must submit research papers and prepared speeches to White House officials for approval prior to dissemination. The rules also require the scientists to let the public affairs office know about “findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.” USGS scientists say that the restrictions mean that government officials are monitoring and censoring their work. “The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research,” says Jim Estes, a marine biologist who has worked for USGS since the 1970s. “But to me it feels like they’re doing this to keep us under their thumbs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 106-107]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Geological Survey, Jim Estes, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Politicization, Media contact with scientists, Political pressure on staff

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:
bullet 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.
bullet Forty-six percent said their writings had been changed or edited by a superior in a way that changed its meaning.
bullet Forty-six percent said they perceived or personally experienced new or unusual procedural requirements that impair climate-related work.
bullet 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.
bullet 150 climate scientists said they personally experienced political interference in the past five years, for a total of at least 435 incidents.
bullet 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.
bullet 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 pdf file; Reuters, 1/30/2007]

Entity Tags: Government Accountability Project, Union of Concerned Scientists

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff

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]

Entity Tags: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Deborah Williams

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Politicization, Political pressure on staff


Time period

Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database


Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now


If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike