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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Sometimes laziness pays off.

Like mine has, in regards to the the attempts by NASA political functionaries to control what the space agency's scientists say to the public.

My tale of procrastination starts off on Jan. 28th, when I noticed this story at the NY Times. According to the Times, NASA attempted to silence its top climate scientist after he called for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases implicated in global warming:

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said.

Pretty hot stuff, but I didn't get around to blogging it.

This past Sunday, the Times moved the story onward significantly. Beneath a headline about how NASA adminstrator Micheal Griffin supported 'openness' at the agency were buried several tales of scientists' encounters with overly zealous — and extremely politicized — public affairs officers. This one in particular caught my eye:

The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

The memo also noted that The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual specified the phrasing "Big Bang theory." Mr. Acosta, Mr. Deutsch's boss, said in an interview yesterday that for that reason, it should be used in all NASA documents.

The Deutsch memo was provided by an official at NASA headquarters who said he was upset with the effort to justify changes to descriptions of science by referring to politically charged issues like intelligent design. Senior NASA officials did not dispute the message's authenticity.

Mr. Wild declined to be interviewed; Mr. Deutsch did not respond to e-mail or phone messages. On Friday evening, repeated queries were made to the White House about how a young presidential appointee with no science background came to be supervising Web presentations on cosmology and interview requests to senior NASA scientists.

If I had written a post about this story, I would have suggested that NASA should make sure that its scientists note that the theory of gravity is 'not proven fact' either, and that they should be careful not to ignore the possibility that gravity is the result of intelligent design. But, as I said, I never got around to blogging this.

Today, I will blog on the latest development. It seems that young Mr Deutsch, the public affairs officer referred to in the last excerpt, has resigned his post at NASA:

Mr. Deutsch, 24, was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington last year after working on President Bush's re-election campaign and inaugural committee, according to his résumé. No one has disputed those parts of the document.

According to his résumé, Mr. Deutsch received a "Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Class of 2003."

Yesterday, officials at Texas A&M said that was not the case.

"George Carlton Deutsch III did attend Texas A&M University but has not completed the requirements for a degree," said an e-mail message from Rita Presley, assistant to the registrar at the university, responding to a query from The Times.

Repeated calls and e-mail messages to Mr. Deutsch on Tuesday were not answered.

I shouldn't be surprised that Dubya's science policy is being implemented by people like young Mr Deutsch, who thinks that the Big Bang is just an opinion. After all, Dubya's administration sent over a bunch of young ideologues much like Deutsch to Iraq after the invasion, and put them in charge of designing the US occupation and 'reconstruction' of that unfortunate country.

NASA honchos say that Deutsch's resignation has nothing to do with the uproar over the agency's attempt to squelch the public statements of its scientists. However, a number of NASA employees told the Times that 'Mr. Deutsch played a small but significant role in an intensifying effort at the agency to exert political control over the flow of information to the public,' which makes me think that Deutsch's fabricated resume was just a convenient excuse for removing someone who'd become a lightning rod attracting criticism to NASA.

So because we procrastinated so much over the last 10 days, I've been able to blog the pieces of this story all at once, instead of giving them to you one at a time. Laziness rules, huh?

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink




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