Patt Morrison for December 21, 2010

Separating the politics from the science, Obama administration releases new guidelines

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Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

US President Barack Obama smiles after looking through a microscope as he tours a biotech classroom at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The Bush administration was blasted for tainting science with politics, perhaps most notably in 2006, when scientist James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute, accused White House officials of preventing him from talking about findings that linked carbon emissions to global warming. Now after a long delay, the Obama administration is releasing its guidelines to wall off science from politics. The four-page document prohibits agencies from editing or suppressing reports and says scientists are generally free to speak to journalists and the public about their work. It also instructs agencies to describe both optimistic and pessimistic projections, one guideline experts feel might have helped the administration avoid overly optimistic estimates during this year’s BP oil spill. But not everyone thinks the wall is high enough—some scientists say the guidelines are too general, give too much discretion to the government agencies and leave open the possibility of another Hansen episode. Reading between the lines, what do the guidelines say and are they strict enough to keep science objective?


Al Teich, Director of Science & Policy Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado

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