Rewriting The Science

Scientist Says Politicians Edit Global Warming Research


Annoyed by the ambiguity, Hansen went public a year and a half ago, saying this about the Bush administration in a talk at the University of Iowa: "I find a willingness to listen only to those portions of scientific results that fit predetermined inflexible positions. This, I believe, is a recipe for environmental disaster."

Since then, NASA has been keeping an eye on Hansen. NASA let Pelley sit down with him but only with a NASA representative taping the interview. Other interviews have been denied.

"I object to the fact that I'm not able to freely communicate via the media," says Hansen. "National Public Radio wanted to interview me and they were told they would need to interview someone at NASA headquarters and the comment was made that they didn't want Jim Hansen going on the most liberal media in America. So I don't think that kind of decision should be made on that kind of basis. I think we should be able to communicate the science."

Politically, Hansen calls himself an independent and he's had trouble with both parties. He says, from time to time, the Clinton administration wanted to hear warming was worse that it was. But Hansen refused to spin the science that way.

"Should we be simply doing our science and reporting it rigorously, or to what degree the administration in power has the right to assume that you should be a spokesman for the administration?" asks Hansen. "I've tried to be a straight scientist doing the science and reporting it as best I can."

Dozens of federal agencies report science but much of it is edited at the White House before it is sent to Congress and the public. It appears climate science is edited with a heavy hand. Drafts of climate reports were co-written by Rick Piltz for the federal Climate Change Science Program. But Piltz says his work was edited by the White House to make global warming seem less threatening.

"The strategy of people with a political agenda to avoid this issue is to say there is so much to study way upstream here that we can't even being to discuss impacts and response strategies," says Piltz. "There's too much uncertainty. It's not the climate scientists that are saying that, its lawyers and politicians."

Piltz worked under the Clinton and Bush administrations. Each year, he helped write a report to Congress called "Our Changing Planet."

Piltz says he is responsible for editing the report and sending a review draft to the White House.

Asked what happens, Piltz says: "It comes back with a large number of edits, handwritten on the hard copy by the chief-of-staff of the Council on Environmental Quality."

Asked who the chief of staff is, Piltz says, "Phil Cooney."

Piltz says Cooney is not a scientist. "He's a lawyer. He was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, before going into the White House," he says.

Cooney, the former oil industry lobbyist, became chief-of-staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Piltz says Cooney edited climate reports in his own hand. In one report, a line that said earth is undergoing rapid change becomes "may be undergoing change." "Uncertainty" becomes "significant remaining uncertainty." One line that says energy production contributes to warming was just crossed out.

"He was obviously passing it through a political screen," says Piltz. "He would put in the word potential or may or weaken or delete text that had to do with the likely consequence of climate change, pump up uncertainty language throughout."