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A Times Editorial

Science subverted by politics

The Bush administration was so threatened by scientific facts proving the existence of climate change that it altered or suppressed information from NASA experts on the subject for years. A news release on an ozone-spotting satellite titled "Aura Sheds New Light on Pollution" was purposefully deleted from the NASA Web site until after the 2004 presidential election. Political appointees in charge of the NASA press office were clear: "Administration does not want any negative environmental news before the election."

Such details emerged from an investigation conducted by NASA's Office of Inspector General and released Monday. The administration's paranoia extended beyond the election. After Bush won a second term, a new policy required that every announcement by NASA of a scientific discovery had to be related to "the president's vision for space exploration," according to the investigation. So a news release about satellite data showing that global warming was affecting winds and currents in the Indian Ocean was edited to note that the findings "also advance space exploration."

In a particularly ludicrous exercise in censorship, an edited news release on astronomers' observations of a dead solar system removed all mention of our own. "NASA (is) not in the habit of frightening the public with doom and gloom scenarios," the editor noted in an e-mail.

Such revelations would be funny if it weren't for the administration's Orwellian attempt to control political thought. The investigation found that most of the intimidation and surreptitious rewrites came out of the NASA Office of Public Affairs in Washington, and was traced to two political appointees: David Mould, who is still with NASA, and Dean Acosta.

While the investigation couldn't determine for certain who gave those officials their orders, it found that the White House was given advance notification of any news release concerning climate change. That practice may have violated the law, which has no provision for "the intentional distortion of information or science in press releases (NASA) has elected to issue." Luckily, much of the information found its way to the public through scientific journals and other sources.

Few will be surprised to discover that President Bush and his minions distorted or suppressed science to serve their political and ideological purposes. Along the way they also stained an agency that is responsible for some of the most important scientific discoveries of recent times. What a shameful legacy of deceit.

Science subverted by politics 06/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 7:44pm]
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