Fox News Compares James Hansen’s Prizes for Truth Telling to Big Tobacco Paying a Doctor to Deny the Risks of Smoking

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"Fox News Compares James Hansen’s Prizes for Truth Telling to Big Tobacco Paying a Doctor to Deny the Risks of Smoking"

NASA’s James Hansen is our leading climatologist and a modern day Paul Revere, if anyone were listening.  He has been right longer about the dangers of unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases than almost anybody (see “1981 Hansen study finds warming trend that could raise sea levels“).

So it’s no surprise that organizations around the world have given him prestigious awards — that include a substantial amount of money — which he is legally allowed to receive as a government employee.  It’s also no surprise that the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies is the subject of lawsuits and smears by the fossil-fuel-funded anti-science deniers who want unrestricted pollution, whose efforts, if successful, would doom billions to a ruined climate.

The latest effort is this lawsuit by Christopher Horner (of the American Tradition Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute), which is debunked here (and below).  This smearing of scientists is what Horner does for a living (see Inhofe, Horner, McIntyre and Watts fabricate another phony “despicable smear” against Michael Mann).

Before discussing Horner’s disingenuous and self-contradictory attack, let me reprint a couple of statements by Hansen on the general subject of this sort of harassment (since I’m sure NASA’s attorney has asked that he not comment publicly on this lawsuit).  Back in December 2009 Hansen explained the harassment strategy of the deniers here:

“I am now inundated with broad FOIA requests for my correspondence, with substantial impact on my time and on others in my office. I believe these to be fishing expeditions, aimed at finding some statement(s), likely to be taken out of context, which they would attempt to use to discredit climate science…. The input data for global temperature analyses are widely available, on our web site and elsewhere. If those input data could be made to yield a significantly different global temperature change, contrarians would certainly have done that — but they have not.”

More recently, in his open letter to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, he had this sardonic footnote to the deniers that harass him with e-mails:

Note to the people who send me messages (SOMETIMES SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS) demanding that I stop wasting THEIR MONEY and get out of the government: When I was in New Zealand I was on vacation, using up time accumulated years ago when I seldom took vacation. By taking the New Zealand vacation I am reducing taxpayers’ costs, because I would otherwise be paid (when I retire) a lump sum for the vacation days that I did not use. Your blood pressure might come down a notch further if you saw the nature of the “vacation”: slave-driver Jeanette Fitzsimons unceremoniously routing me out of bed at 6 or 7 AM every day to get moving to the next town – not exactly a case of sipping pina colada on a beach.

BTW, do you really believe that scientists make up or exaggerate global warming to get research funds? Our salaries do not depend on how much research the government funds. Government scientists get paid for working 40 hours a week, regardless of how long they work. My wife claims it is about 90 hours a week, but I say about 80. If you succeed in getting the government to cut back on science, because you don’t like the results, the main effect will be erosion of our competiveness relative to other nations. Your hounding of scientists does not bother me, but it may discourage young people from entering the profession, contributing to a national spiral into second or third rate technical and economic status. Perhaps, instead of questioning the motives of scientists, you should turn around and check the interests (motives) of the people who have pushed you to become so agitated.

This would be funny if cyber-bullying were not so serious (see “UK Guardian slams Morano for cyber-bullying and for urging violence against climate scientists“).

Indeed, one of the core strategies of the climate science deniers is to promote the laughable notion that workaholic scientists like Hansen are ‘in it for the money’ –  when anyone who knows real scientists understands that this isn’t the profession anyone goes into to make money.

And that brings us back to the latest smear by the deniers against Hansen.  You can see the smear here:

It was thoroughly debunked by a post from Climate Science FOI (Freedom of Information) Report, which I reprint here:

On the heels of its failed appeal to NASA on the issue of James Hansen’s ‘Permission to engage in outside activity’ forms, ATI’s Christopher Horner has filed suit against NASA in DC District Court:

ATI NASA Hansen FOIA lawsuit

This lawsuit is notable for a number of misleading claims and for the argument that Horner is pursuing which is in complete opposition to the argument Horner pursued (wearing his CEI hat) in his other NASA FOIA lawsuit.

The technical issue at stake in the original ATI FOIA request is whether forms filled out by NASA employees to request permission to undertake outside activity fall under the FOIA exemption for personnel matters. Since it is clear that the requests are for non-official activity (by definition), and that federal employees have an expectation of privacy for non-official activities, the terms for the privacy exemption would clearly seem to be met.

This can be overridden with a strong enough ‘public interest’ which can be weighed against the privacy rights of the individual. However, in order to demonstrate a ‘public interest’ (note this is not the same as whether a member of the public is interested), Horner has brought up a number of tangential, irrelevant and just plain false accusations against Hansen, both in the lawsuit and in the commentary he has published online. Without a clear argument that there is a real issue with respect to NASA compliance with ethics rules, the public interest test is unlikely to be met.

A few examples: Horner accuses Hansen of receiving $1.2 million in outside income for work done as a federal employee. He does not note in the commentary (though it is stated in the lawsuit), that most of these monies were for international prize awards which, like a Nobel Prize, can be accepted by federal employees and do not count as ‘outside activity’ for which permission must be sought. The relevent federal ethics guidelines are quite explicit (see part d.1, and example 1). The four prizes in question (the Blue Planet Prize $550,000, the Heinz award $250,000, the Dan David award ($333,000?) and the Sophie Prize, $100,000) are all examples of an

… award … made as part of an established program of recognition:
(i) Under which awards have been made on a regular basis or which is funded, wholly or in part, to ensure its continuation on a regular basis; and
(ii) Under which selection of award recipients is made pursuant to written standards.

for which no prior permission is required.

Thus the insinuation that Hansen might not have complied with ethics guidelines by not filing ‘Outside activity’ forms for these prizes (which are not required) is clearly misleading (forms would have been required for speaking engagements and the like which apparently total to only $48,000 over 4 years).

Similarly, the claim in the lawsuit that Hansen received $720,000 from George Soros is simply fictitious.

That link is to debunking by Hansen of the $720,000 smear that I posted 4 years ago (!) — see More swiftboating of James Hansen.

Even more curious is the use by Horner of documents produced by NASA in the CEI case (for which Horner is the lead attorney). These consist of some “Outside activity” forms from Gavin Schmidt, specifically one related to his activity on the RealClimate blog (see the filings in this case for more details). These forms were released in court filings, not through a FOIA request, and so do not have any relevance for determining whether there is a statutory right to see these forms via FOIA.

The issue in question in the CEI vs NASA case is whether blogging was part of Schmidt’s official duties (NASA says it was not, while CEI is arguing the opposite). However in this case, Horner is arguing that for the period prior to the filing of Schmidt’s “Outside activity” form, Schmidt (and GISS) were out of compliance with ethics rules (which GISS and Schmidt have denied). For this to be the case though, one must at minimum accept that the RealClimate blogging was indeed not part of Schmidt’s official duties (if it was part of his official duties, then obviously he could not be out of compliance with ethics guidelines related to ‘outside activities’!). Thus, should this example be taken as evidence of NASA failing to uphold ethics rules, it would immediately undermine the argument put forward by Horner in the CEI case (that the RealClimate blogging was an official duty).

Having the same lawyer use two contradictory arguments in separate lawsuits against the same agency might be a sight to behold. One wonders if the judges will be impressed.

Hansen deserves every award that he wins, while the deniers deserve eternal shame for their ultimately self-destructive quest to block all serious efforts to preserve a livable climate.

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