Quiz — Who said: “Continuous research by our best scientists is the key to American scientific leadership and true national security. This indispensable work may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumors, gossip, and vilification”?

If you want a hint, the very next sentence by this man known for his bluntness is, “Such an atmosphere is un-American.”

It was President Truman in his Address to the Centennial Anniversary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Today, unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions are among our gravest national security threats (see “NYT: Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security” and “Veterans Day, 2029“).  Yet scientists who are working to inform us of the threats to our national security are still under assault (see “Sen. Inhofe inquisition seeking ways to criminalize and prosecute 17 leading climate scientists“).

Here is a longer excerpt from Truman’s still-all-too-relevant remarks:

Continuous research by our best scientists is the key to American scientific leadership and true national security. This indispensable work may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumors, gossip, and vilification. Such an atmosphere is un-American….

Now and in the years ahead, we need, more than anything else, the honest and uncompromising common sense of science. Science means a method of thought. That method is characterized by open-mindedness, honesty, perseverance, and, above all, by an unflinching passion for knowledge and truth. When more of the peoples of the world have learned the ways of thought of the scientist, we shall have better reason to expect lasting peace and a fuller life for all.

I saw an abbreviated version of the quote in the Guardian piece that accompanied the article by IPCC head Pachauri, “Rajendra Pachauri: Climate scientists face ‘new form of persecution’; IPCC chair accuses politicians and sceptics of portraying scientists as ‘criminals’ through attacks on their credibility.”  Pachauri wrote;

Even more unfortunate is the effort of some in positions of power and responsibility to indict dedicated scientists as ‘climate criminals’. I sincerely hope the world is not witnessing a new form of persecution of those who defy conventional ignorance and pay a terrible price for their scientifically valid beliefs.

The Guardian notes:

This appears to be a reference to James Inhofe, a US senator and long-standing climate sceptic, who last month called for a criminal investigation of climate scientists….

The report named 17 US and British climate experts as “key players” in the affair and highlighted their roles in preparing IPCC reports. The list included Phil Jones and Keith Briffa of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, and Peter Stott, a leading expert at the Met Office.

Michael Mann, a US scientist at Penn State University, who is on the list, said: “I think the following quote characterises the situation best: ‘Continuous research by our best scientists “¦ may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumours, gossip, and vilification.’ The quote wasn’t made during the last few months. It was made by US president Harry S Truman in 1948, in response to politically motivated attacks against scientists associated with the dark era of McCarthyism.”

Mann added: “I fear that is precisely the sort of atmosphere that is being created, and sure, it impacts research. The more time scientists have to spend fending off these sorts of attacks and dealing with this sort of nonsense, the less time is available to them to actually do science, and to push the forefront of our knowledge forward. Perhaps that is the intent?”


Obviously, when you have people like Marc “The Swift Boat smearer” Morano saying, climate scientists “deserve to be publicly flogged” (see “The rise of anti-science cyber bullying“) and Glenn Beck, saying “There aren’t enough knives” for ‘dishonored’ climate scientists to kill themselves, the goal is foster intimidation and harassment and make it harder for climate scientists to do their research that is so vital to the nation’s security.

The more less things change….

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18 Responses to Quiz — Who said: “Continuous research by our best scientists is the key to American scientific leadership and true national security. This indispensable work may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumors, gossip, and vilification”?

  1. fj2 says:

    Yes, there is a dangerous social climate brewing and much of the current overly aggressive discourse and actions may be viewed as sedition once the environmental crisis reaches and emergency status that is long overdue.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Some Additional Relevant Quotes

    If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
    – Thomas Jefferson

    The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
    – Albert Einstein

    Some people would rather die than think; and many do.
    – Bertrand Russell

    For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
    – John F. Kennedy

    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
    – Aldous Huxley

    I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
    – Thomas Carlyle

    Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
    – Martin Luther King Jr.

    If any question why we died,
    Tell them, because our fathers lied.
    – Rudyard Kipling, “Epitaphs of War”

    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.
    – Bob Dylan, “All Along The Watchtower”

  3. colinc says:

    We are bearing witness to a critical mass of abject ignorance and stupidity in the so-called “human” population. Their indoctrination is complete and irreversible and they _are_ the majority. The USA, and indeed most every other nation, has devolved into a dysfunctional conglomeration of fruity little clubs most, if not all, of which are predicated on baseless beliefs the devout are too apathetic to investigate. Each and every club formed for the sole purpose of enriching its architect(s). The capacity for reason is being systematically eliminated thereby ensuring the extinction of the dominant bipedal life-form on this rock… so rock-on and enjoy(?) what time you/we have left.

  4. paulm says:

    medieval – Could we be in for the Dark Ages II?

  5. sasparilla says:

    A very good article Joe, thank you.

  6. Well, if we are going to be sharing quoes, this one also seems apposite:

    Let us admit the case of the conservative; if we once start thinking no one can guarantee where we shall come out, except that many objects, ends and institutions are surely doomed. Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.

    — John Dewey, Experience and Nature (echoing a notion of Emerson).

  7. TomG says:

    I always thought that part of the American Dream is, or at least was, parents hopes that their children have the opportunity to do better than themselves.
    Get an education being the key phrase.
    Yet now we have senior members of government, tv and radio broadcasters, newspapers and ordinary people calling for criminal investigations, public flogging, encouraged suicide and outright murder of those who have managed through hard work and study to get to the very top.
    And why?
    Because these scientists at the top are doing their job and trying to save our sorry butts.
    I wonder how many kids trying to make decisions for a future career look at the dark comedy surrounding them and say why bother.

  8. toby says:

    Strangely, I have just read David McCullough’s excellent life of Truman, and it is a brilliant read.

    Among American Presidents, he was the type of politician that Sarah Palin has pretensions to be – blunt, plain-spoken, determined and an upright character straight from small town America. However, his intellectual abilities should not be underestimated – he was a constant reader of history and that stood to him. At the same time, he was not afraid to appoint stong intellects to his cabinet, who might outshine him, men like George Marshall and Dean Acheson.

    If Obama needed a guiding spirit among Democratic Presidents to get Climate Change legislation passed, the “Give ’em Hell, Harry” Truman would be a very, very good choice.

  9. Leif says:

    I think we are all dismissing the roll of the Military going forward with respect to AGW. It is understandable that the military wants to keep a low profile however that will be increasingly hard to do.

    First. Military “might” as known in the past, gun, bombs and related “kill” stuff, is worthless against climatic disruption. You can be sure that there are people smart enough to realize this in the military.

    Second. Since climatic disruption is a National Security issue of first magnitude what tools will the military require to retain relevance? A over riding priority for all military, not just ours.
    I will make some suggestions to get the ball rolling. Man power trained in controlling civil unrest, distributing food, water, emergency housing, health care, diplomats, farm and crop specialists, sustainable power generation both for itself but also for displaced populations. In fact a total different agenda than past experience.

    If the politicians continue to be incapable of rational action and National Security is at stake who else is there to come to the Nations rescue? The Military has the budget to be a significant player. It has the command structure to compel industry to respond to National interests. It has access to R&D to jump start sustainable breakthroughs. It has the infrastructure to distribute and deploy sustainable solutions, both here and aboard. It has the stones to stand up to the far right and prevent them from throwing sand in the gears of all. A increasing likely requirement. In short if a WW II effort is required to start filling the hole we have dug, who better than the military to spearhead. (I point out that I am a life long pacifist.)

    The military has adapted to blacks and women, is on the verge of adapting to gays and lesbians, surely transformation from killing to humanitarian is not too big a stretch.

    Just maybe humanity can come out winners and humanity can get a humantarian military out of it in the process.

  10. John McCormick says:

    Tom G.

    you said:

    “I wonder how many kids trying to make decisions for a future career look at the dark comedy surrounding them and say why bother.”

    I have two adult children and they are beginning to express that attitude.

    John McCormick

  11. Jeff Huggins says:

    I agree with TomG’s concern (Comment 7) and understand John McCormick’s response (Comment 10)


    If you are young and thinking about being a scientist these days, in a field having anything whatsoever to do with Earth’s dynamics, biosphere, physics and chemistry, etc., and if you aspire to be an excellent one, it might seem to you that you have to face one of these situations:

    Either you will become a scientist who will speak up about what you know and face intense ridicule, harassment, disparagement, and threats if you do;

    Or you will have to shyly keep your mouth shut about what you understand, and even pretend not to understand it;

    And meanwhile, the people who are getting most of the attention (in the media) and money are usually those who don’t have a clue about science or about what they’re talking about.

    It takes A LOT of interest in science itself to overcome those considerations and cause one to choose such fields. We’d better get our acts together, or else we’ll be letting down our children and future generations.



  12. mike roddy says:

    Great quotes, Jeff, especially the one from Kennedy. Here’s my favorite:

    “Evil and stupidity are the same thing. If you don’t believe me, look into the eye of a chicken.”: Werner Herzog.

    As for the concern about scientists being distracted, and that being the goal, this assault on reason is more serious and more frightening than that. People like Inhofe and Morano don’t just want to create distractions. They want oil, coal, and timber corporations to dictate the future of this country.

    It’s hard to come up with language to describe these kinds of actions, considering what we know about the effects of massive releases of greenhouse gases. “criminally insane” may capture it.

  13. Dan B says:

    Regarding the “kids saying why bother” I subscribe to Renewable Energy World online. Worldwide growth in this arena is astounding. Combined with the $9 Billion (US equivalent) China is spending each month – that’s right each MONTH! – we’ve passed a tipping point. The 21st Century Clean Green Energy Economy is on the way.

    The only question is whether or not it will be a network of tens of millions of small generation points or follow the 20th Century centralized model that put money into “too big to fail” behemoths.

    What we’re experiencing is a seismic shift in the way society organizes itself (networked – with the big winners being the people who assist that process, ie. Google), the way we obtain our energy (clean, green, efficient, secure), and the way we handle the enormous disruptions that will occur with these changes. We’re certainly living in interesting times.

    Finding the sweet spot to catch the wave is a good challenge for all young people. I was at a conference this month where young people, using new “social media / Web 2.0” outshone all but a few of the wise elders. In some ways the wave of change has already passed under us. We just didn’t notice or understand it.

  14. Chuck says:

    /* Now and in the years ahead, we need, more than anything else, the honest and uncompromising common sense of science. Science means a method of thought. That method is characterized by open-mindedness, honesty, perseverance, and, above all, by an unflinching passion for knowledge and truth. */

    Some critics will probably claim that, in the modern era, these ideals are not valued as highly as they were in the past; that they have become subservient to the pursuit of research grants, which have been harder to come by since funding of the Sciences has not really kept pace with the growth of the economy.

    Not being an insider to the process, I don’t really know. But I can see how it might happen. Some high profile cases of misconduct in the field of medical research come to mind.

  15. Leland Palmer says:

    Seeing the climate destabilize is a bitter pill for many conservative people, IMO.

    For one thing, they have to confront the question of why any compassionate God would allow the climate to destabilize.

    For another thing, this climate crisis strikes at the very heart of conservative economic ideology, including the always beneficial role of capitalism and the traditional role of the entrepreneur in the capitalist creation of wealth.

    It turns out that being a entrepreneur and being greedy can be a bad thing, after all.

    For yet another thing, many conservatives are authoritarian followers, who have traditionally given up critical thinking in order to shelter under a strong leader. That whole mode of operating, allowing authoritarian leaders to do the thinking, may in fact be instinctive in humans- certainly the right wing has made a concerted effort for at least the past couple of decades to foster authoritarian thinking among the faithful.

    Y’all might check out Bob Altemeyer’s online book The Authoritarians, which delves very deeply into the phenomenon of authoritarian followers, and explores their habits using psychological polling methods he developed.

    We’re asking people who operate in an essentially noncritical mode to believe something that strikes at both their core beliefs and their self-image.

    I sometimes think that runaway global warming is like an intelligence test. Maybe we’re proving that as a species we’re too stupid to live, and should not be allowed off of our planet, lest we despoil more than just our beautiful planet.

  16. Alan Page says:

    My hat is of to each one, Joe and all those who took the time to comment!

    My two engineer sons saw my frustration with environmental concerns in managing forest land in MA and determined not to follow in a disipline wracked with stupid ideas and fund that the stupid monetary system gave them no way of surviving a small down turn. They now do not understand the tragic dynamics of Arctic methane release even though they went through schools like Cornell, MIT, and Stanford.

    We not only have the resistence of entrenched profit driven unsustainable thought, but a financial system dedicated to numerical enhancement of the bottomline for a few by focus on short term solutions. This more than anything else has destabilized the resource base of the growth of humanity. After trying to fund the demonstration of small scale carbon negative technologies in MA for over a year I started looking deeply at the basis for funding and understand just how corrupt the whole process of generation of currency and credit has become and how nasty it can be. We have seen nothing yet. Money in the control of the few has the power to as my friend Richard Stein has observed “to change the 2nd law of thermodynamics when it is convenient for their purpose.”

    We need t address this problem as we fight to remain relevant. The new ‘green bank’ needs to becoime a source of currency that can not be a vehicle for speculation. Those who try to use the full faith and credit of sovereign powers for speculative ventures need to be executed. Then the market for non-productive investment (already issued stocks and bonds) needs to be described as a lottery or a casino rather than the basis for wealth creation. There are things that the sciuentific community can do to resist this trend but it will require fortitude that most would rather not demonstrate.
    Alan Page

  17. James Newberry says:

    Thanks Jeff for the quotes.

    A quote from me:

    A civilization (such as globalized, commodified capitalism) that does not understand the difference between mined material resources (uranium and underground carbon) and true energy resources will trend toward decreasing health, spread of disease, economic impoverishment, political instability and ecologic collapse.

    I would comment that it is the year 2010 and we are still discussing the future. It is the future, and we have become corrupted by the very same military/industrial/media complex brought to fruition at Hiroshima under Truman. (See three books: Bomb Power, The Firecracker Boys and Hiroshima in America.)

  18. Chris Winter says:

    James Newberry,

    I have only read one of those three books, but I can recommend The Firecracker Boys by Dan O’Neill. It is a riveting expose of technological hubris. I remember especially that presentation to Alaska natives when the AEC rep had to have the meaning of “mendacity” explained to him.