The Political Science Test

Bush said science would guide his decisions, but those in the lab see ideology intruding on their work

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CHRISTOPHER MORRIS / VII FOR TIME

CHECKING IN: President and Mrs. Bush visit a high school biology class in Dallas

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So respected is Hansen that he has been invited to brief Vice President Dick Cheney. The White House wanted to hear Hansen's findings that supported its view that there are easier and cheaper steps toward controlling global warming--reducing vehicle soot and methane emissions, for instance--than curbing carbon dioxide, which by some estimates would cost the energy industry $100 billion or more. But Hansen's more recent research suggesting that global warming is accelerating, and that time is running out to find a solution, was less favorably received, he told TIME. "It just became so clear to me that they were interested in those things that they were doing anyhow, but they were not willing to consider the changes that would be needed to reduce the most important greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, in the near term."

NASA officials have denied that Hansen was silenced, and insist public-affairs officers routinely review interview requests. Hansen himself has not stayed outside the realm of politics, having announced in a 2004 speech at the University of Iowa that he planned to vote for John Kerry. Still, his scientific reputation is solid enough that Sherwood Boehlert, Republican chairman of the House Science Committee, wrote NASA Administrator Michael Griffin last week to demand an explanation and make clear that "good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of intimidation ... NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him." By the end of the week, Griffin had e-mailed the agency's 19,000 employees, saying public-affairs officers should not "alter, filter or adjust" the work of NASA scientists.

Boehlert does not see a larger problem of Administration meddling and suggests that Hansen probably fell victim to an overzealous, middle-level bureaucrat. "I don't for a moment think that the Administration is dictating from the White House some policy directed to silence distinguished scientists like Dr. Hansen," he says. And he noted that politics and science have never had an easy, hands-off relationship in Washington. "This is a town where people like to say they're for science-based decision making, until the scientific consensus leads to a politically inconvenient conclusion. Then they want to go to Plan B," he says. "That's seamless from one Administration to another; I don't care if it's a Republican or a Democrat."

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