BOSTON -- James Hansen, a government scientist who has spoken forcefully about human influence on global climate despite pressure to alter his message, is the recipient of the 2007 AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.
Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, has become a familiar and determined voice in the ongoing national conversation about climate change. The AAAS award citation credits Hansen for "his outspoken advocacy on behalf of scientists' responsibilities to communicate openly and honestly with the public on matters of importance to their health and welfare."
Hansen is a pioneer in the use of computer models that have helped document a discernible human influence on global climate due to the production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. There has been one degree Fahrenheit of global warming during the past 30 years, Hansen says, and another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline due to greenhouse gases already released into the atmosphere. There remains a large gap in what is known by scientists about global warming, he argues, and what the public and policy makers need to know about it.
In a memo supporting Hansen's selection, the award committee wrote that he "has faced pressure, and sometimes outright opposition, from highly placed individuals in the past four administrations" who have urged him to alter his message in one direction or another. The memo adds, "in consistently fighting to keep his scientific opinions free from political influence and revision, Dr. Hansen has drawn attention to the broader issue of political interference in scientific communication, a process that he warns is 'in direct opposition to the most fundamental precepts of science.' "
One of the fundamental precepts of democracy, Hansen says, is that the public should be honestly informed about research findings and their implications for public policy. In a talk last year before the National Press Club, Hansen said, "I don't think the framers of the Constitution expected that when a government employee--a technical government employee--reports to Congress, his testimony would have to be approved and edited by the White House first." That has been the case under both Republican and Democratic administrations, he said, although "the problems are worse now than I've seen in my thirty years in government."
In January 2006, Hansen told The New York Times that the Administration had tried to muzzle him after he called for prompt reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases during a talk at a scientific meeting. He also released data showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century. Hansen said he was warned there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued. A NASA public affairs officer rejected a request by National Public Radio to interview Hansen. But he continued to speak out, and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin issued an agency-wide statement clarifying that the role of public affairs officers was not "to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific materials produced by NASA's technical staff."
The Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award is presented annually by American Association for the Advancement of Science to honor individual scientists and engineers or organizations for exemplary actions that help foster scientific freedom and responsibility. The award recognizes outstanding efforts to protect the public's health, safety or welfare; to focus public attention on potential impacts of science and technology; to establish new precedents in carrying out social responsibilities; or to defend the professional freedom of scientists and engineers.
The award was established in 1980 and is approved by the AAAS Board of Directors. The recipient will receive a $5,000 prize. The award will be presented on Saturday, 16 February at the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston. (See http://www.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.