Update: Concerns About NASA's Scientific Openness Appear to be Resolved

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Publication date: 
15 March 2006

As reported in FYI #34, the House Science Committee has held two hearings on the FY 2007 NASA budget request (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/034.html.) During the first hearing on February 16, Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) discussed his satisfaction with actions taken by NASA Administration Michael Griffin to respond to charges that an agency official had restricted the activities of a prominent climate change researcher, James Hansen. Boehlert sent Griffin a letter in late January protesting these restrictions (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/015.html.) Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) had also written to Griffin about these restrictions, asking for a "detailed explanation of NASA's policies on information sharing between government scientists and policy-makers as well as the general public. We also request detailed clarification of NASA's policies and practices regarding the independence of NASA scientists' work and statements made about their work." NASA subsequently dismissed the agency official because of misrepresentations on that individual's resume.

Boehlert and Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) addressed their satisfaction with Griffin's resolution of this issue as follows:


"Since the concerns of Dr. Hansen became known, the Administrator, the Deputy Administrator, Mr. Gordon and I have been working together to ensure that NASA is a model of scientific openness.

"From the start, NASA has been responsive to our inquiries, and Mike Griffin began taking steps to rectify the problems. NASA still has a lot of work to do to ensure openness - that's Administrator Griffin's view as well as my own. But they have laid out a plan to do that work - starting with engaging in an open process to develop a clear policy on scientific communication. We will be working with NASA and following the development of the policy and its implementation closely. But I have high hopes that NASA will end up being a model of how agencies can guarantee scientific openness."


"I appreciate your letter responding to my concerns about censorship of scientific findings by NASA public affairs officials. Your letter is clear and unequivocal in your position on the issue and the steps you have initiated to review and improve policies related to promoting the free and open exchange of scientific and technical information.

"The extensive discussions you and your top staff have had with me, my Science Committee Staff Director and others reflect your commitment to correct any inappropriate or conflicting policies to the openness you insist on at NASA. Your statement that you, ‘will not tolerate any policy or action whereby Public Affairs Officers filter, alter, edit, or censor scientific findings and facts' is just the kind of position I had hoped you would adopt. Further, the policy development group you have convened reflects action attached to words.

"Given our conversations and the responsible way you are dealing with the allegations spurred on by the Hansen issue, I am confident that you will continue ferreting out the truth, holding wrongdoers accountable and developing new policies to ensure the free, open and uncensored exchange of sound scientific information. It is our desire to closely track your progress. We expect that you will keep the Members of the Committee fully and completely informed. Let's continue the productive dialogue that we've begun."

"I look forward to continued discussion on the development of new policies and Agency practices. I only hope that others in top leadership positions throughout the Executive Branch agencies follow your lead."

Not all questions surrounding the Administration's policies are likely to be put to rest by Griffin's actions. Rep. David Wu (D-OR) asked Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger several pointed questions during a hearing last month about several instances of what WU called "allegations of scientific manipulations and censorship." Marburger agreed to investigate one of the incidents that Wu described regarding a forest research grant at Oregon State University and to provide the congressman with a response in writing.

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