AAAS honors climate scientists James Hansen and Robert Watson


On February 16, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at its annual meeting in Boston, honored Jim Hansen of NASA with the AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, and former IPCC chairman Bob Watson with the AAAS International Scientific Cooperation Award. Both have been targets of the Bush administration’s politicization of climate science.

This post is by Rick Piltz.

Jim Hansen and Bob Watson have had a great influence on my thinking about climate change and about the role of the scientist vis-à-vis policymaking and society. I have been attending the AAAS meeting and was able to get to the award ceremony yesterday and congratulate each of them on these richly-deserved honors. Perhaps the next administration in Washington will have the wit to communicate with such leaders, instead of ignoring or seeking to undermine them.

The AAAS news release on the Hansen award praises “his outspoken advocacy on behalf of scientists’ responsibilities to communicate openly and honestly with the public on matters of importance to their health and welfare.” It notes also that “Dr. Hansen has drawn attention to the broader issue of political interference in scientific communication, a process that he warns is ‘in direct opposition to the most fundamental precepts of science.‘” Thus the nation’s largest science association and publisher of its leading science journal calls attention to the need to restore integrity to the relationship between political officials and the science community:

AAAS honors climate scientist James Hansen

BOSTON — James Hansen, a government scientist who has spoken forcefully about human influence on global climate despite pressure to alter his message, is the recipient of the 2007 AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.

Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, has become a familiar and determined voice in the ongoing national conversation about climate change. The AAAS award citation credits Hansen for “his outspoken advocacy on behalf of scientists’ responsibilities to communicate openly and honestly with the public on matters of importance to their health and welfare.”

Hansen is a pioneer in the use of computer models that have helped document a discernible human influence on global climate due to the production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. There has been one degree Fahrenheit of global warming during the past 30 years, Hansen says, and another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline due to greenhouse gases already released into the atmosphere. There remains a large gap in what is known by scientists about global warming, he argues, and what the public and policy makers need to know about it.

In a memo supporting Hansen’s selection, the award committee wrote that he “has faced pressure, and sometimes outright opposition, from highly placed individuals in the past four administrations” who have urged him to alter his message in one direction or another. The memo adds, “in consistently fighting to keep his scientific opinions free from political influence and revision, Dr. Hansen has drawn attention to the broader issue of political interference in scientific communication, a process that he warns is ‘in direct opposition to the most fundamental precepts of science.’ ”

One of the fundamental precepts of democracy, Hansen says, is that the public should be honestly informed about research findings and their implications for public policy. In a talk last year before the National Press Club, Hansen said, “I don’t think the framers of the Constitution expected that when a government employee—a technical government employee—reports to Congress, his testimony would have to be approved and edited by the White House first.” That has been the case under both Republican and Democratic administrations, he said, although “the problems are worse now than I’ve seen in my thirty years in government.”

In January 2006, Hansen told The New York Times that the Administration had tried to muzzle him after he called for prompt reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases during a talk at a scientific meeting. He also released data showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century. Hansen said he was warned there would be “dire consequences” if such statements continued. A NASA public affairs officer rejected a request by National Public Radio to interview Hansen. But he continued to speak out, and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin issued an agency-wide statement clarifying that the role of public affairs officers was not “to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific materials produced by NASA’s technical staff.”

The Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award is presented annually by American Association for the Advancement of Science to honor individual scientists and engineers or organizations for exemplary actions that help foster scientific freedom and responsibility. The award recognizes outstanding efforts to protect the public’s health, safety or welfare; to focus public attention on potential impacts of science and technology; to establish new precedents in carrying out social responsibilities; or to defend the professional freedom of scientists and engineers.

Robert Watson is probably best known for his extraordinary leadership during the past 20 years in the development of the leading international scientific assessments of climate and global environmental change. He served as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the IPCC Third Assessment Report, and co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II 1995 Second Assessment Report on climate change impacts and adaptation. He has co-chaired the scientific assessments of stratospheric ozone depletion and other major studies. The development of the institution of the “scientific assessment” during the past few decades has been an extraordinarily significant advance in linking science to decisionmaking. Probably no individual has made a greater contribution to this essential activity than Bob Watson.

In 2001, following a recommendation in a memo to the incoming Bush administration by an ExxonMobil lobbyist, the administration withdrew its support of Watson for a second term as IPCC chairman. The political motivation was obvious. Watson was an articulate and high-profile communicator of the essential findings of the IPCC on the reality of global climate disruption, its likely harmful impacts, and the viability of mitigation alternatives for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. This was a connecting-the-dots discourse that the administration did not want to hear, acknowledge, or support, whether from Watson and the IPCC or from Hansen. Dr. Pachauri has been a worthy successor to Watson as IPCC chairman, but the sandbagging of Watson in 2001 was an early indicator of how the new administration was aligning itself with the global warming disinformation campaign.

The AAAS news release on the award to Watson:

2007 AAAS International Scientific Cooperation Award

BOSTON — The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, has named a pioneering climate scientist from the United Kingdom as winner of the 2007 AAAS International Scientific Cooperation Award.

Robert Watson, chair of environmental science and science director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, was cited for his outstanding contributions to promoting international scientific cooperation in scientific research, communication, and training and his work on environmental and sustainable development. Watson also holds the position of chief scientific adviser to the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Although he has had numerous positions on various scientific committees and panels, Watson is best known internationally for his role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which he served as chairman from 1997 to 2002. IPCC reports and assessments have changed the way the world looks at climate change and have led to important policy changes on local, regional, national and international levels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

From 1996 to 2007, Watson held various roles at the World Bank, including service as chief scientist and director for environmentally and socially sustainable development. He led the effort to revitalize support for science in the Bank’s program. In line with the Bank’s goal to help countries alleviate poverty and attain sustainability, Watson’s efforts helped strengthen science in developing nations and enhance collaborative activities with other international scientists.

“Dr. Robert Watson has been for a decade the world’s foremost promoter of international scientific cooperation,” wrote John A. Daly, a consultant on issues of technology and science for developing countries, who nominated Watson for the AAAS award. “His efforts chairing panels of thousands of scientists who described and documented our current environmental crisis have been unparalleled and have contributed greatly to the consensus on the nature on that crisis.”

Watson’s expertise includes managing and coordinating national and international environmental and research programs, establishing scientific and environmental policies and communicating scientific, technical and economic information to policymakers. As associate director for international activities in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from July 1993 to April 1996, Watson encouraged the U.S. government to increase its support for international scientific cooperation. Vice President Al Gore described Watson as his “hero of the planet” in a letter written to Watson’s former boss, White House science adviser John H. Gibbons.

During his 13 July 2007 farewell speech at the World Bank, Watson said that one of his most interesting experiences at the Bank was the development of the Clean Energy Investment Framework, which brought together those working with energy and infrastructure and others working with social scientists. He also mentioned the challenge of making sure that environmental policy is based on sound science.

Watson has testified many times before committees and subcommittees of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on ozone, global warming, and other global change research topics. For example, in March 1996 testimony to the House Committee on Science, Watson discussed the effects of human activities on climate and the possible consequences for human health, food security, and ecosystems.

Watson received his bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from London University, London England. He did postdoctoral studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Maryland and held a variety of positions at NASA from 1980 to June 1993 before joining the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in July 1993. Watson is the 1993 recipient of the AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.

Established in 1992, the AAAS Award for International Scientific Cooperation recognizes an individual or a limited number of individuals for making extraordinary contributions to further international cooperation in science and engineering.

For more information on AAAS awards


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