The Scientist Becomes a Star–And Passes the Baton to Al Gore

James Hansen, whose important address to the American Geophysical Union in December inspired a clumsy attempt to muzzle him by a young public relations official from the Bush/Cheney campaign, has become something of a media star.

The good news is that the controversy, a humiliation for a once-revered agency, has inspired a good faith pledge from NASA to allow "scientific openness." NASA’s chief administrator, Michael Griffin, has set a "goal of allowing NASA employees to discuss the implications of their work and not just the scientific facts, as long as they emphasized that they were speaking as individuals and not for the agency," reported Andrew Revkin for the NYTimes. As Chris Mooney commented on his site:

For the first time, perhaps, we can actually say that the Bush administration, charged with some type of interference with science, has responded by cleaning up its act, rather than by denying or ignoring that the problem exists.

In an email sent to colleagues, a cautious Hansen declared:

It will be interesting to query NOAA colleagues to see if there is still selective use of government ‘minders’ to monitor interactions with the media on topics such as global warming.  The situation in EPA, where double-speak (“sound science”, “clear skies”, …) has achieved a level that would make George Orwell envious, is much bleaker, based on the impression that I receive from limited discussion with colleagues there.  The battle to achieve open communication between government scientists and their employer, the public, is far from won.

Nonetheless, Hansen emphasized that he is going back to work, and specifically to work on how to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Intriguingly, he also posted on his site a statement of political inclinations, challenging his former minder’s claim that he had "a very partisan agenda" and "ties reaching to the top of the Democratic Party." Hansen describes himself "moderately conservative," registered to vote as an Independent, concerned mostly with global warming, and a former supporter of Republican John Heinz and John McCain. But he addds that he has great respect for Al Gore, and stresses:

He has a better understanding of the science of global warming than any politician
that I have met, and I urge citizens to pay attention to his presentation, which I understand will come out
in the form of a movie. Even if you don’t agree with Vice President Gore’s politics, you should pay
attention to his climate message. He knows what he is talking about.

Gore was in Las Vegas yesterday to tout his new global warming picture, called "An Inconvenient Truth," to exhibitors. According to the LATimes, his voice was "booming as he strode inside the theater, [and] he grew more impassioned as he implored theater owners to book — and then keep playing — the May documentary about global warming:

"You are all in a unique position…. There is going to be a grass-roots campaign like you have never seen."

But although Gore is the star of the movie, the one-shot poster barely mentions him. To this observer, it’s something of a promotional marvel: funny, memorable, fully part of our cultural moment. Let’s hope the movie is just as good.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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