Two weeks after President Bush announced his American Competitiveness Initiative to encourage research and education in the physical sciences, NASA—one of the plan’s primary beneficiaries—is embroiled in scandal following the resignation of a presidential appointee.
On February 7, George Deutsch, a 24-year-old Bush appointee in NASA’s public relations department, resigned amidst allegations that he lied on his resume about having graduated from Texas A&M. NASA hired Deutsch after he served on Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004.
Further fanning the flames of controversy, Deutsch allegedly told public affairs workers at NASA to keep reporters away from James Hansen, the agency’s top climate scientist, and has also been accused of sending an e-mail message last October telling a web designer to add the word “theory” after every mention of the Big Bang.
Hansen has spoken out vociferously against the Bush administration’s stance on global warming. He told the New York Times that NASA officials threatened him with “dire consequences” if he continued to call for action against climate change.
At a conference at the New School in New York on Friday, February 10, Hansen declined to comment on Deutsch’s resignation, saying that he was speaking solely as a scientist and not a representative of NASA or the government.
“NASA is working on the problem,” he said in regards to the agency’s alleged interference with its scientists, “and I have high hopes that it will be solved.”
Hansen did however sympathize with the plight of scientists working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“My colleagues at NOAA have told me their problems are worse,” he said. “They have to have a listener on the phone every time they talk to the press to examine what they are saying. This seems more like something Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia would do.”
Dr. Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford, stated at same conference that tampering with scientific evidence is unacceptable.
“We pay a lot of tax dollars for unbiased scientific information,” he said, “and we don’t want someone standing in between scientists and the public, like some kid who didn’t graduate from Texas A&M.”
Deutsch spoke to the press for the first time on Thursday, February 8, denying the allegations against him and claiming he was targeted because of political ties.
“I have never been told to censor science, to squelch anything or to insert religion into any issue, absolutely not,” he told the Texas radio station WTAW.
Additional reporting by Joshua Roebke
Originally published February 10, 2006