In the wake of recent media coverage of the problem of political interference with public communication by federal climate scientists, the AMS Council on February 17 adopted a statement that says, in part: “The ability of scientists to present their findings to the public without censorship, intimidation, or political interference is imperative.” The AMS should follow up by monitoring whether media and public communications policies for climate scientists at NASA and NOAA are consistent with the statement.
The AMS statement:
Freedom of Scientific Expression
(Adopted by AMS Council on 17 February 2006) Bull. Amer. Met. Soc., 87
“Advances in science and the benefits of science to policy, technological progress, and society as a whole depend upon the free exchange of scientific data and information as well as on open debate. The ability of scientists to present their findings to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public without censorship, intimidation, or political interference is imperative. With the specific limited exception of proprietary information or constraints arising from national security, scientists must be permitted unfettered communication of scientific results. In return, it is incumbent upon scientists to communicate their findings in ways that portray their results and the results of others, objectively, professionally, and without sensationalizing or politicizing the associated impacts.
“These principles matter most—and at the same time are most vulnerable to violation—precisely when science has its greatest bearing on society. Earth sciences and their applications have growing implications for public health and safety, economic development, protection of the environment and ecosystems, and national security. Thus, scientists, policy makers, and their supporting institutions share a special responsibility at this time for guarding and promoting the freedom of responsible scientific expression.”
This is a good first step for AMS in addressing the situation involving federal climate scientists that appears to have prompted the AMS Council to adopt this statement at this time. Now, to exercise responsibility for ongoing oversight, the AMS Council should monitor NASA to ensure that reforms put into practice the principles of freedom of expression articulated in the AMS statement—and that egregious attempts at censorship, such as those that have been directed at Jim Hansen, are not repeated.
In addition, AMS could look into the NOAA media policy for scientists and whether it was used in 2005 to put forward a selective and misleading presentation of the state of science on the relationship between hurricane intensity and global warming. As we move toward the 2006 hurricane season, the AMS should have a keen interest in whether NOAA is allowing, and fostering, freedom of expression in scientists’ communication with policymakers, the media, and the public on these issues.