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NASA handler who muzzled scientist resigns; faked college degree

With the resignation of a 24-year-old NASA spokesman who turns out to have lied about having a college degree, details are emerging about a government-wide repression of scientists whose data doesn't fit the Bush equation.

The public affairs toady who tried to handle NASA chief climatology scientist James Hansen resigned today amid revelations that he faked a college degree from Texas A&M. George Deutsch prevented the press from interviewing Hansen after he made comments about global warming because he considered it his job to be to "make the President look good."

The New York Times reported that have been numerous abuses within NASA of political hackery inside the space agency. And in an editorial today, the Washington Post reports that the practice also existed in other science agencies.

Deutsch told a colleague to make scientists use the word "theory" after "Big Bang" because it "is an opinion" and that NASA should not discount the possibility of "intelligent design by a creator."

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."

Deutsch was no rogue agent. The Times came up with other instances within NASA of public affairs clamp-downs on science.

In interviews this week, more than a dozen public-affairs officials, along with half a dozen agency scientists, spoke of growing efforts by political appointees to control the flow of scientific information.

In the months before the 2004 election, according to interviews and some documents, these appointees sought to review news releases and to approve or deny news media requests to interview NASA scientists.

Repeatedly that year, public-affairs directors at all of NASA's science centers were admonished by White House appointees at headquarters to focus all attention on Mr. Bush's January 2004 "vision" for returning to the Moon and eventually traveling to Mars.

A Joint Propulsion Lab scientist was even pressured to relate his oceanographic research to the Mars initiative.

On Dec. 2, 2004, the propulsion lab and NASA headquarters issued a news release describing research on links between wind patterns and the recent warming of the Indian Ocean.

It included a statement in quotation marks from Tong Lee, a scientist at the laboratory, saying some of the analytical tools used in the study could "advance space exploration" and "may someday prove useful in studying climate systems on other planets."

But after other scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory queried Dr. Lee on the statement, he e-mailed public-affairs officers saying he disavowed the quotation and demanded that the release be taken off the Web site. His message was part of a sequence of e-mail messages exchanged between scientists and public-affairs officers. That string of messages was provided to The Times on Friday by a NASA official.

In his e-mail message, Dr. Lee explained that he had cobbled together part of the statement on space exploration under "the pressure of the new HQ requirement for relevance to space exploration" and under a timeline requiring that NASA "needed something instantly."

NASA said they're reviewing public affairs conduct in light of the resignation, AP reported. Administrator Griffin sent an email Saturday to employees, saying, "'The job of the Office of Public Affairs, at every level in NASA, is to convey the work done at NASA to our stakeholders in an intelligible way. It is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff.''