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Outside editorial: NASA hurt the program when it withheld material on warming

Posted: Monday, June 09, 2008

W hen critics accused NASA of manipulating its science on global warming a couple of years ago, they were onto something. The space agency's in-house watchdog concluded in a report released recently that political appointees had played down global-warming findings or barred access to scientists between 2004 and 2006.

It's a shameful episode for an agency with a proud heritage of scientific leadership.

The report from NASA's inspector general blamed the agency's headquarters press office. It didn't find evidence that agency leaders or other Bush administration officials were involved. Yet if the manipulation was indeed limited to NASA press officers, they were following the same political playbook as others in the administration - starting with the president - who disputed or ignored evidence of global warming.

The inspector general's report gave Administrator Michael Griffin credit for quickly ordering changes in NASA's policies for releasing scientific information after the controversy broke in 2006. In a memo, he declared that public-affairs officers were not to "alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff." It's sad they had to be told that science should be sacrosanct at their agency.

With the federal government facing a long-term budget squeeze, NASA will struggle to round up the dollars from Congress to maintain robust programs in science and space exploration. Withholding scientific information from the public that paid for it is no way to cultivate support.



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