- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

A scientist at NASA recently had to deal with public relations officials who wanted to review his stuff prior to dissemination, and the left went bananas, as if this were the greatest political misuse of science in the recent history of America.

It wasn’t even close.

A respect for context should have led reporters and commentators to emphasize that the problems of James Hansen at NASA were nothing compared to the problems of William Happer. He’s the scientist fired as director of energy research at the U.S. Department of Energy in the Clinton administration because he disagreed publicly with that great arbiter of scientific knowledge, Al Gore.

A further sensitivity to the issue of politics trumping science should have led them to one of the most disgraceful facts of life in Western democracies today, the way in which even some of the most brilliant scientific researchers are routinely bashed — often as corrupt and even evil human beings — when their scientific understandings do not coincide with the political enthusiasms of their peers.

Mr. Hansen, to be sure, should never have had to contend with NASA public relations officials who wanted to check out his material. But the fact is that he was never for one minute kept from saying a single word, that the issue had less to do with science than with his political prescriptions — one of his decidedly unscientific ventures in 2004 was to urge votes for John Kerry — and that government bureaucracies habitually operate that way.

Mr. Hansen is a global-warming alarmist. Such people long ago won the hearts of the media in our land, just as some very smart, highly particular, scrupulously diligent scientists have earned endless ad hominem attacks for having pointed out all the uncertainties about the rate of warming, its dangers and the extent to which it is induced by burning fossil fuels.

Because Mr. Hansen was a darling of some journalists, leftists and others thrilled by the idea that doom and gloom might be brought about by capitalism and clout, he got himself a mighty spotlight while memories of the Happer incident stayed mostly in the shadows. A former physics professor at Princeton and a political appointee from the first Bush administration, Mr. Happer was abruptly shoved from his position in 1993 because he didn’t bow to Al Gore’s exaggerated pronouncements on the perils of an ozone hole in the atmosphere.

Other scientists who, in one way or another, have paid a price for following evidence to the best of their ability instead of following a political agenda include Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician who reported that the world’s environment was getting better in virtually any direction you looked. He even had the temerity to point out that the Kyoto agreement would do nothing more than slow down warming by six years or so over the next 100.

Environmental activists threw pies in his face and various American groups and writers quickly condemned him as a fraud. The Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty said he fabricated data, but it was the panel doing the fabricating. The Danish Ministry of Science said the panel’s findings included no “argumentation.” The opposition to Mr. Lomborg wasn’t scientific. It was ideological, pure and simple.

A former Boston Globe journalist and author of books, Ross Gelbspan, seems to have made his living in recent years with incredible screeches about global warming being the end of the world unless the skeptics will finally shut up.

Reviews report that his books point to vast conspiracies of major corporate interests trying to hide the truth about warming and paying off scientists to help them in the task. The allegations are simultaneously cruel, ill-founded and beside the point.

The scientists he castigates are honorable people by all that is publicly known about them. Though some at one time or another were consultants for coal or oil industries, that is a fraction of work they have done for academic, government and other institutions, and they are no more the lap dogs of special interests than all the scientists whose hand-wringing about warming helps land them grants or other rewards. Mr. Hansen himself received $250,000 as a prize from a foundation operated by John Kerry’s wife. Does that make him a tool of the Kerry family?

As one scientist caught up in all of this said to me by e-mail, “the ad hominem arguments are not only false, but serve to avoid the science.” The science is what will ultimately save us if saving we need. Mistreat it through politicizing it, and we are all more at risk.

Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers.

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