NASA and Commerce Dept. Inspectors General investigating climate science censorship

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Responding to a request by 14 senators, agency Inspectors General at NASA and the Commerce Department have begun investigations into whether political appointees have suppressed research findings and blocked public communication by federal climate researchers.  See our numerous posts on censorship of government scientists.

The Washington Post reported this story today (November 2).  The article includes the following: 

IGs Probe Allegations On Global Warming Data
Scientists Say Findings Were Suppressed

By Juliet Eilperin
November 2, 2006; Page A15

....
Some federal scientists interviewed yesterday said they welcomed the probe because they had encountered problems in speaking to reporters about their work.

Tom Knutson, a climate research scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., said he could not speak in his official capacity, “but as a private citizen, I think it’s a good idea they’re looking into that. There should be open lines of communication between scientists and the media, and some of what I experienced did not meet that standard.”

A year ago, Knutson said, Bush administration officials twice blocked him from discussing with television reporters a possible connection between global warming and hurricanes.

An Oct. 19, 2005, e-mail exchange between Commerce Department spokesman Chuck Fuqua and NOAA spokesman Kent Laborde, concerning a possible CNBC interview with Knutson, details Fuqua’s concern that Knutson is less willing to discount the connection than two other government researchers. “Why can’t we have one of the other guys on then?” Fuqua asked Laborde. The exchange was posted on the Web site of Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

Prior to taking the position of deputy director of communications at the Commerce Department, of which NOAA is an agency, Chuck Fuqua was director of media relations for the Republican National Convention.  In the fall of 2005 he engaged in an exchange with the NOAA public affairs office on how to respond to media requests to interview NOAA scientists on the subject of hurricanes and global warming.  Fuqua’s intervention led to a decision to steer the media toward NOAA scientist Chris Landsea, who was seen as more politically reliable in the sense of being “on message” vis-a-vis the administration’s desire to play down a link between human-induced warming and increased hurricane intensity, and to keep the media from interviewing Tom Knutson, at NOAA’s climate modeling lab in Princeton, N.J., on the same subject.  Investigative reporter Paul Thacker broke this story in a September 19 online article in Salon.com, “Climate-controlled White House.”  The article uses internal NOAA e-mails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.  Thacker’s article includes the following:

....The e-mails also show that after Hurricane Katrina, NOAA press officers had to get clearance from the Department of Commerce for scientists to discuss global warming and hurricanes with the press. (NOAA is part of Commerce.) Regarding the request for a particular interview, Commerce press officer Catherine Trinh wrote, “Let’s pass on this one.” The response from a NOAA official reads, “Can I please have a reason?”...

But Commerce’s deputy director of communications, Chuck Fuqua, was happy to have a more politically reliable NOAA hurricane researcher named Chris Landsea speak to the press. At the time, Landsea was stating publicly that global warming had little to no effect on hurricanes. “Please make sure Chris is on message and that it is a friendly discussion,” Fuqua wrote regarding a request for Landsea to appear on “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.” On the show, Landsea downplayed research that linked global warming with more-intense hurricanes like Katrina.

In an e-mail the week prior, Fuqua OK’d Landsea for another interview and asked, “Please be careful and make sure Chris is on his toes. Since BLANK went off the menu, I’m a little nervous on this, but trust he’ll hold the course.”

The individual who went “off the menu” could have been researcher Thomas Knutson, whose published research indicates that hurricanes will grow stronger because of global warming. But when NOAA press officers asked if Knutson could appear on CNBC, Fuqua asked if Knutson had the same opinion as Landsea. When he learned that Knutson had published research suggesting that hurricanes will be getting stronger, he responded, “Why can’t we have one of the other guys on then?”

Fuqua is the former director of media relations for the Republican National Convention. Contacted by Salon, he asked, “Can I get back to you?” Subsequent attempts to contact him were unsuccessful….

An October 26 editorial in the Trenton, N.J. Times, “Facts Suppressed,” addresses the issue of censorship of public communication of climate science research findings from NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton.  The editorial begins:

One of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s premier labs in Princeton has recently encountered major turbulence outside the realm of science. Once researchers at the lab came to the conclusion that climate change and intensified hurricanes are related to global warming, the Commerce Department prevented them from publishing the findings.

Instead of facing the problem of global warming while keeping an open mind to potential remedies, the Bush administration has repeatedly denied that global warming needs to be addressed. Until recently, the administration has even denied the existence of global warming. In silencing the Princeton researchers, not only has the Bush administration trampled the First Amendment of the Constitution, it has prevented the public from hearing the truth about what is happening to the planet….

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