Former NOAA Lab Director: “Climate scientists within NOAA have been prevented from speaking freely”

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In response to media attention to restrictions on public communication by climate scientists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce Under Secretary Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, the NOAA Administrator, issued a message on 14 February 2006 on scientific openness.  The message is posted here, preceded by the response of Jerry Mahlman, former director for 16 years of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey.

Mahlman says: “Contrary to Dr. Lautenbacher’s assertions, I state emphatically that climate scientists within NOAA have indeed recently been systematically prevented from speaking freely. A number of NOAA scientists have directly and openly disagreed with Lautenbacher’s statements that deny his direct connection with censorship of climate science.”

Jerry Mahlman, Comments on Adm. Conrad Lautenbachers “Message From the Under Secretary—Encouragement of Scientific Debate and Transparency Within NOAA”

I was both heartened, and discouraged, by the statements of Dr. Lautenbacher on the censorship and distortion of climate (and other) sciences within the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration over the past year or so.  As a former 30-year scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (and 16 years as its Director),  I am confident that my statements are correct, appropriate, and consistent with the views (and NOAA’s current suppression thereof) of NOAA’s pioneering and leading scientists on the looming mega-challenge of human-caused climate warming. 

Contrary to Dr. Lautenbacher’s assertions, I state emphatically that climate scientists within NOAA have indeed recently been systematically prevented from speaking freely to anyone outside NOAA who is seeking information on the new scientific insights that have added to the prodigious amount of information gained recently on the scientific understanding of our inexorably warming planet.  It is quite distressing that Dr. Lautenbacher has chosen in his “Message” to pretend that NOAA climate scientists have not been forbidden from speaking freely about their scientific contributions to global warming science, unless the call is accompanied by an Administraton “minder” of the conversation.  From my recent personal experience, his contention is simply not true. A number of NOAA scientists have directly and openly disagreed with Lautenbacher’s statements that deny his direct connection with censorship of climate science.

It is encouraging that some NOAA managers have had the wisdom to back away from the current NOAA Adminstration’s attempts to support the very naive arguments from the hurricane forecasting community who asserted that, somehow, there is essentially no connection between the well-documented increasing warmth of the upper ocean temperatures (in all three major equatorial ocean basins) and intensity of hurricanes. 

Perhaps the kindest comment on this is that the NOAA leadership had essentially no experience with the exceptional, and globally accepted, relationship between increased equatorial   temperatures and tropical cyclone intensity increases, a result pioneered by NOAA.  Thanks to the exceptional courage of Thomas Knutson, a very respected NOAA climate and hurricane scientist, the ideologically driven distortion of the truth about the relationship between hurricane intensity increases and warming ocean temperatures has been thoroughly refuted.
 
I was heartened by Dr. Lautenbacher’s now-stated commitment to an open policy in the conduct and dissemination of climate related research.  Indeed, his recent statements go in the constructive direction that is now consistent with what we NOAA scientists have always assumed was a rock-solid aspect of NOAA’s focused research in the service of humankind.  If Dr. Lautenbacher heeds his own words, he needs to be totally candid about his recent re-recognition that a science research and service oriented federal agency cannot exist within an atmosphere of politicization of its own science.  For his sake, and for all of ours, let’s all assume that he actually means it, and that he will finally begin to lead NOAA accordingly, and with the utmost personal and institutional integrity.  If our trust is again violated, a considerable backlash will inevitably escalate, to the detriment of everyone concerned.

Meanwhile, former NOAA scientists, NOAA’s current scientists, and NOAA’s scientific colleagues will be watching carefully and hopefully, knowing very well that we all are judged much more by our character, our honesty, and our integrity, than by our words.

Subject: Message From the Under Secretary—Encouragement of Scientific Debate and Transparency Within NOAA
Date:  Tue, 14 Feb 2006 16:44:57 -0500
From:  Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., USN (Ret.)

Message From the Under Secretary

Feb 14, 2006

There have been several print and internet articles recently that have tried to make a case that NOAA scientists are being muzzled. For example, a few recent media reports have (incorrectly) asserted that some NOAA scientists have been discouraged from commenting on the question of whether human caused global warming may be influencing the number or intensity of hurricanes. Let me state in the most direct terms that I am a strong believer in open, peer reviewed science as well as the right and duty of scientists to seek the truth and to provide the best scientific advice possible. When I answer questions on NOAA missions, my answers are formed on the basis of the scientific papers that I have personally read, or have been informed by you in the course of NOAA business.

Peer reviewed science speaks for itself and doesn’t need me or anyone else to interpret or modify the results. For those of you who know me personally, you realize that I encourage and actively pursue vigorous debate on all topics, particularly including science related to NOAA’s mission. The purpose is to get as close to the truth and the facts as possible. I expect my management team to adhere to this policy of scientific openness as well.

Our media standards also reflect an open policy. We encourage our public affairs staff to keep abreast of media interests. I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly. Dozens of you every day are talking to the media and providing the results of peer reviewed science across a wide variety of NOAA topics. We ask only that you specify when you are communicating personal views and when you are characterizing your work as part of your specific contribution to NOAA’s mission. Also, I ask that you respect, and seek to understand, each other’s work within NOAA. We have many disciplines and centers of excellence within NOAA, all contributing substantially to the body of earth science knowledge. Be tolerant of each other as would your colleagues around the nation and the world. “One NOAA” should apply to our work as scientists as well as our management structure!

conrad lautenbacher signiture [sic]
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator

 

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