NASA's new comms policy gets thumbs up from scientists

After Dr. James Hansen, NASA's top climatologist, complained that he was being muzzled, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin promised a thorough review. The new draft policy backs openness and independence, scientists say. But Hansen warns there is still far to go.

Back in February, the scientific community was up in arms over NASA public affairs officials' alleged muzzling of Dr. James Hansen, NASA's top earth scientist, who had spoken directly about the impact of the the Bush Administration's nonaction on global warming.

After Hansen's handler, George Deutsch, resigned amid revelations that he faked a college degree, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin promised a thorough review of the space agency's communications policies.

Now scientists are giving high marks to Griffin, the NY Times reports.

More than 140 NASA scientists, engineers and other civil servants from research centers across the country put their names on a statement, distributed in an e-mail message last night, that applauded the agency's administrator, Michael D. Griffin, for following up on his Feb. 4 pledge of "scientific openness."

"His subsequent actions have reinforced his words," the statement said.

An anomymous source familiar with a policy draft told the Times that it allows scientists to speak to the policy implications of their work and not just report the facts of their research, as long as they emphasize that they are speaking for themselves and not for the agency.

Dr. Hansen said he was satisfied with NASA's new policies but cautioned that scientists in other agencies face similar problems.

Citing reports of efforts to filter scientific information and limit news media access to reporters at other scientific agencies, Dr. Hansen wrote: "The battle to achieve open communication between government scientists and their employer, the public, is far from won. Nevertheless, I agree with the opinion of colleagues that the focus should be on discussing solutions to global warming."

"My personal aim is to get back to science research full time," he said, "especially on quantifying options for dealing with global warming."