Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dr James Hansen is a Problem for Science (and NASA)

Dr James Hansen is regarded by many as a guru of climate change. He works for NASA as the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He has, however, done more to discredit science and blur the lines between polemics and scientific study. He uses his position at NASA, despite rules to the contrary, to promote ideological positions with respect to how the world should be, given his view that we are approaching global doom as a result of climate change.

His latest polemic is a an article in The Observer, reprinted in The Guardian (both UK newspapers) in which he claims that Coal Fired Power Stations are Death Factories and that the trains carrying coals to them are death trains. Exactly the kind of language one expects from a careful scientists. His argument revolves around the impact CO2 emissions from coal fired power plants will have on the world and the loss of animal (including some human) and plant life climate change will lead to. He wants all coal fired power plants in the UK to be closed down. He lives in the US – in New York, in fact.

Some of his scientific colleagues, such as Dr. Nicholas Drapela of the Oregon State University Chemistry Department, think he has finally “gone off the deep end” and his former boss says that he should simply “shut up!” The New York Times has also rebuked him, suggesting that his science has been lost in his polemic.

So what’s the problem? I am not against Dr Hansen sharing his views. I am opposed, however, to the way in which this is reported as something to do with science and I am appalled at Dr Hansen’s continued abuse of his position to promote a view of the future which is catastrophic and largely now detached from scientific evidence and debate. Hansen is a politician, masquerading as a scientist. He should be dismissed from NASA immediately and NASA should work hard to restore its credibility, which Hansen is quickly losing it. Science would be helped if he did indeed shut up and seek help for his paranoia.

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