February 08, 2006

I need to pause for a moment to wish an unfond farewell to George Deutsch, the now-former NASA staffer who tried to tell its scientists how to do their jobs (see here and here for some background).

The resignation came as the agency was preparing to review its policies for communicating science to the public. The review was ordered Friday by Michael D. Griffin, the NASA administrator, after a week in which many NASA scientists and midlevel public affairs officials described to The New York Times various instances in which they said political pressure was applied to limit or flavor discussions of topics uncomfortable to the Bush administration, particularly global warming.

"As we have stated in the past, NASA is in the process of revising our public affairs policies across the agency to ensure our commitment to open and full communications," said the statement from Acosta. The statement said the resignation of Deutsch was "a separate matter."

Deutsch, who is 24, was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington last year after working on President Bush's re-election campaign and inaugural committee, according to his resume. No one has disputed those portions of the document.

According to his resume, Deutsch received a "Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Class of 2003."

Tuesday, officials at the school said that was not the case.

"George Carlton Deutsch III did attend Texas A&M University but has not completed the requirements for a degree," said an e-mail message from Rita Presley, assistant to the registrar at the university, responding to a query from The Times.


Deutsch's educational record was first challenged on Monday by Nick Anthis, who graduated from Texas A&M last year with a biochemistry degree, is pursuing a doctoral degree at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and has been writing a Web log on science policy (scientificactivist.blogspot.com).

After Anthis read about the problems at NASA, he said in an interview: "It seemed like political figures had really overstepped the line. I was just going to write some commentary on this when somebody tipped me off that George Deutsch might not have graduated."

He posted a blog entry asserting this after he checked with the school's association of former students. He reported that the association said Deutsch received no degree.

A copy of Deutsch's resume was provided to The Times by someone working in NASA headquarters who, along with many other NASA employees, said that Deutsch played a small but significant role in an intensifying effort at the agency to exert political control over the flow of information to the public.

Such complaints came to the fore starting in late January, when Dr. James E. Hansen, the climate scientist, and several midlevel public affairs officers told The Times that political appointees, including Deutsch, were pressing to limit Hansen's speaking and interviews on the threats posed by global warming.

Tuesday, Hansen said that the questions about Deutsch's credentials were important, but were a distraction from the broader issue of political control of scientific information.

"He's only a bit player," Hansen said of Deutsch. " The problem is much broader and much deeper and it goes across agencies. That's what I'm really concerned about."

I share Dr. Hansen's concerns. How is it that a callow shill like Deutsch was ever allowed to be in a position where he could exert influence over people whose functions he clearly did not comprehend? I mean, he was a "writer and editor" in NASA's Public Affairs office. How in the world did he get to dictate policy as he did? Who's in charge here?

Oh, well. I guess we should all just be happy that he tripped over his own hubris before he had a chance to grow up to be another Brownie. Goodbye and good riddance.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 08, 2006 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

Hooray for the blogs! Another incompetent political hack shown the door. But sooooooo many are left.

Posted by: Dennis on February 8, 2006 5:47 PM

Keep Dr. Hansen's words in mind: he's only a bit player. Deutsch wouldn't have been in that position, and able to act as he did, if he and his actions didn't have the support of people in high places.

Posted by: P.M.Bryant on February 8, 2006 9:38 PM

"How is it that a callow shill like Deutsch was ever allowed to be in a position where he could exert influence over people whose functions he clearly did not comprehend?"

Kuff, that's got to be a rhetorical question, because we should all realize by now that when it comes to this administration, it's always Ideology First, Qualifications Last. Only people who see what Big Brother wants them to see have a place in the present-day GOP.

Posted by: Locutor on February 9, 2006 12:28 PM

There seems to be a pattern. Detailing that pattern is Chris Mooney in his book The Republican War on Science.

"When politicians use bad science to justify themselves rather than good science to make up their minds, we can safely assume that wrongheaded and even disastrous decisions lie ahead."

For Reviews of Chris Mooney’s book:

Quoting from a Review:
Scientific American.com
By Boyce Rensberger


… Republican leaders have branded the scientific mainstream as purveyors of "junk science" and dubbed an extremist viewpoint--always at the end of the spectrum favoring big business or the religious Right--"sound science." One of the most insidious achievements of the Right, Mooney shows, is the Data Quality Act of 2000--just two sentences, written by an industry lobbyist and quietly inserted into an appropriations bill. It directs the White House's Office of Management and Budget to ensure that all information put out by the federal government is reliable. The law seems sensible, except in practice. It is used mainly by industry and right-wing think tanks to block release of government reports unfavorable to their interests by claiming they do not contain "sound science."

Posted by: Support Science to Reverse Global Warming, if still possible on February 10, 2006 11:39 PM