Deutsch, noch einmal

By Phil Plait | February 8, 2006 8:42 pm

I was going to leave Deutsch alone for a whole, but my ego needs the occasional boost: Reuters writer Debbie Zabarenko wrote an article summarizing the affair, and she quotes me (she asked for my opinion via email). She gives full credit, of course, to the NYT and to Science Activist blogger Nick Anthis, because they did the work here. I mention this because some of the comments on previous threads are giving me more credit than I deserve: I neither originated this story, nor did I break anything new. Andrew Revkin started this, and Nick Anthis drove in that final nail about Deutsch’s resume. I just shouted publicly when I found out. :-)

This story is not done, folks. There is a culture of scientific suppression underway, and a number of people are devoted to making sure everyone knows about it. Jim Hansen, the scientist whose work on global warming was routinely stifled by Deutsch, is giving a talk/press conference on Friday. I may not get to see it live, but I’ll try to see the archived version, and I’ll comment on it when I do.

Update added 21:30 Pacific time: The Washington Post is running a dynamite editorial about this.

Comments (41)

  1. TheBlackCat

    Darn, I was about 30 seconds from commenting on this in the previous article. You’re just too fast. Congrats :) Although you didn’t start this whole thing, judging by the trackbacks you had a huge part in publicizing it. Events like this are only useful to science if a large number of people hear about them. Your part in furthering that goal cannot be understated.

  2. Lucas V. B.

    Precisely. The more people know about it the better. Afterall, isn’t science about fighting ignorance and lies with the truth?

  3. Caledonian

    Technically, science is about ruthlessly testing statements by appealing to observation and experiment.

    Challenging lies is just a useful byproduct of the process, not its goal.

  4. skeptigirl

    Hooray for whistle blowers and blogs!

    I just listened to a couple hours of alternative news on the local public radio station. And I just read an editorial from the Sunday Seattle Times commenting that the WA Press Corp could learn from Oprah’s confrontation of lying author, Frey. The editorial also noted Jon Stewart’s recent satire on the same comparison. What was clear from hearing about the news the rest of the world is listening to, and from a reminder how anemic the main news source for many Americans, TV news, has become in the US is that if it weren’t for these alternative sources of information, we would be living in the information controlled country our parents warned us about.

    Fortunately for us, just when we needed it most, information sources blossomed as an ever growing free commodity. I say it again, hooray for blogs and whistle blowers and outraged scientists who won’t stand for tainted science!

  5. Tara Mobley

    Others did most of the research, but you were one of the loudest voices and one that led us to the research. I, for one, probably wouldn’t have known about this if not for you.

  6. Laguna2

    noch einmal?
    Does that guy also speak Deutsch?

  7. Arlo

    I’m just glad to see the honesty and modesty from those in the scientific community, as opposed to those who seek to push their goals who lack both of those precious commodities. Do you ever expect, for example, Behe to admit that he is wrong, or that his ideas or persuations can be attributed to someone else? Thanks, Phil, for knowing the right balance between rational and emotional responses, and the justification for each! Rock on! :)

  8. Great! Congrats on this!

    I hope there will be no censuring of Internet and the websites … I just hope:)

  9. Alexander Bates

    Life should be lived in truth, Sometimes this may be difficult, but it is more difficult if, after a non truth is uttered, later the truth emerges. The humanities long ago succumed to non truth, science is the last bastion of the truth. We need people in science to object to non truth, to battle to keep truth as the goal. From one who works in a non sciencce area who is in love with the truth, Phil, keep the truth before us.

  10. Berkeley

    Schade, dass Sie nicht den ganzen Post auf Deutsch gescrieben haben.

    When Jim Hansen finally gets his saying, what will he say? Will it be that there is a global warming, and will it be that it probably is man-made? Next question is of course: Will we westerners be prepared to reduce our standard of living if there is a consensus about the need to reduce the outlets of CO2 and similar compounds – ie. reduce the use of cars, air planes etc.? And will the US finally ratify the Kyoto agreement? The reluctance to do so may have been one reason why the results of Hansen’s research have been suppressed, not (solely, at least) a general aversion against science. What do you think?

  11. TriangleMan

    Has there been any word as to whether Deutsch was the only appointee pushing an anti-science agenda at NASA? I’d hate for there to be others like him at NASA who are now ducking under the radar because of the focus on Deutsch.

  12. Nick Theodorakis

    There are so many things wrong with this whole affair that the fact that Deutsch lied on his resume is just a minor gaffe by comparison: that a public affairs official could censor scientists; that a major appointment to a scientific agency went to a political appointee with no scientific background; that ideology was allowed to trump science; that the free flow of scientific information was being muzzled. I mean, I’m glad he’s gone, but if he had bothered to finish his degree he’d still be pushing his agenda. It’s analogous to prosecuting Al Capone for income tax invasion; we know he’s done a lot worse, it’s just that this is the only thing we can take him down for.

    Nick Theodorakis

  13. Phobos

    In addition to TriangleMan’s concern about Deutsch clones, I’m also curious to see whether the person who appointed Deutsch will have to bear some responsibility on this matter. Even if missing the resume lie was an honest mistake, I daresay that the political agenda was intentional.

  14. Leon

    Seems to me the person who appointed him won’t bear any responsibility for it, specifically because the political agenda was intentional.

    You can bet your life’s savings there’s be repercussions if someone that unqualified was appointed and started pushing an agenda opposite the Administration’s intentions.

  15. After losing his post as Majority Leader, it seems Tom Delay has picked up a cushy spot on the House Appropriations committee. Why this is relevant here is that this comittee oversees NASA and that the Johnson Space Center is in Delays gerrymandered home district. Does placing the chief house crusader for the religious right in a place of oversight of an already troubled NASA make any sense at all?

  16. Kim

    Saw that editorial this morning in the Post and gave BA a mental golf clap.

    Lying on the old resume was definitely the nail in the coffin for Deutsch (not to mention feeding the stereotype). But as we all know, you can only fail upwards in Washington, DC. Mark my words, he’ll be moving on to another cushy assignment now that he’s made a name for himself as a True Believer in the anti-intellectual crusade.

  17. Hawk

    I hate to come out on the side of George here, but calling this a “major appointment” is hyperventilation. The kid was evaluating releases from NASA to keep them AP quality and non-political. Frankly, if we want to keep funding from year to year, we keep the agency NON-political.

    Jim does great work. He has been published a nearly dozen times in the last couple years and he speaks at more than an event a month. Everybody KNOWS he is controversial and hard spoken. George had no ZIP nada ZERO effect on Jim’s publication/speaking rate. Dr. Hansen was just reviewed, like every other speaker. He should not be putting out political statements that can be interpreted as “NASA says.”

    I understand his desire to push politics in the US, and affect the consensus toward adoption of the Kyoto treaty. And for himself he should continue working that way. But this ruckus was a career ender for George (of course, if he starts by lying on his resume I guess he wouldn’t have been much of a journalist in any case), and very likely only serves to give Jim a platform for a day. On this platform he will probably attack the president’s policies, which will do nobody at NASA any good when budgets are up for the vote again. Of course, Jim isn’t at NASA, so he won’t have to worry about it.

  18. I just read that Mr. Deutsch tendered his resignation after the truth about his resume was disclosed. I wonder how long he would have kept his job if you all didn’t bring this to the media’s attention? And where he will be going now? But Tom Delay really takes the cake. Minor misstatement on one’s resume is small compared to what he may have done. And now he has the power to spend more money!? Seems like status quo in DC.

  19. Hawk, unfortunately, what you’re saying is not correct. You need to read the NYT articles about Deutsch; he was injecting political ideas into the press releases (or, by suppressing them, still doing the same). He said outright his job is “to make the President look good”, and he said he wanted the word “theory” after “Big Bang” because of Intelligent Design.

    The real job of a PAo is as you describe, but that is provably not what Deutsch was doing.

  20. Hawk

    From NYT
    “The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

    The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

    Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. “They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public,” he said.”

    Ok, I just want to confirm that he is using NASA to soapbox for prompt reduction in emission of greenhouse gasses. That is a political statement. I work with natural environment folks on a daily basis, I understand the difference between the science and the politics. I am sure Dr. Hansen does as well.

  21. Nigel Depledge

    Hawk, there is nothing political about the science that tells us about the greenhouse effect. Dr. Hansen has hard data indicating that we need to curb our emissions of greenhouse gasses if we want life to continue for our great-grandchildren more or less as we know it now.

    There is nothing political about that.

    The politics comes into it when you come up against the fact that people do not want to give up their cars, or air-conditioning, or having brightly-lit streets, or being able to travel by airliner and so on. Add to that the fact that the industries that supply us with the various forms of energy we consume have a very powerful lobby, and you start to get equivocation and excessive compromise.

  22. Audrey

    Phil –

    May I link to your marvellous blog? Chanced upon it via 01’s. Serendipity!

    – Audrey

  23. Hawk

    Nigel,
    Actually, you just stated the argument very clearly. There are entrenched forces which have moral arguments against technology: cars, ac, lights, airlines, and all those evil corporations. These moralists must point at regular times to the evil done by those items of technology / business. This argument is about anti-intellectual/anti-science moralizing. I think George was foolish for basing any action from NASA on Intelligent design. I also think Jim should stick with the science and lay off the moralizing.

    Look, I am not trying to argue against Dr. Hansen. But he doesn’t have “Hard Data.” He has a model. He has his opinions and they have a lot of science behind them, but they aren’t “Hard Data.” NASA recognizes some of these presentations are political and wants to stay out of them.

    I think that in 20 years, when the planet starts cooling again, these arguments may look pretty foolish. NASA should stick to gathering data, performing science, and keep its hands clean from religious or political discussions.

  24. Audrey, of course. Anyone can link to my blog anytime. The more the merrier! Thanks.

  25. jess tauber

    WHEN PIGS FLY! Hawk said- “NASA should stick to gathering data, performing science, and keep its hands clean from religious or political discussions.”

    No matter what you do, such considerations are always just beneath the surface. We are now and have always been overly concerned with our positions in society, and our place in existance. As evolved beings we’re just very good now at hiding this in boxes within boxes. Some are better at it than others. Agendas are nothing new- perhaps someone, someday, will “intelligently design” these urges out of us. Hail Dorothy!

  26. Hawk

    Jess,
    You are right. We all want to be important and get emotionally involved in our causes. *grumble* I could use some intelligent design or just intelligence for me personally.

  27. P. Edward Murray

    I was a bit surprised that this guy actually resigned about a day after I had e-mailed him. No doubt that quite a few folks probably did the same thing that I did.

    The kid was the proverbial snotty nosed 24 year old…except he wasn’t even a graduate.

    Arrogant and proud…too terribly proud so much so that he thought he might get away with anything…

    And didn’t. Just the opposite because government service is really all about helping people not helping yourself.

  28. Mike Alexander

    Headline:

    DEUTSCH BAGGED

  29. donnert

    “Schade, dass Sie nicht den ganzen Post auf Deutsch gescrieben haben.”
    -Berkley-

    It should be:

    Schade, dass Sie nicht den ganzen Post uber Deutsch geschrieben

    there should also be umlauts above my U in uber. And before you come back with “but uber means above” it can also mean “about”

    Man I have no life

    Dumbass

  30. donnert

    sorry, forgot “Dumbass” was still at the bottom. My Mistake

  31. Irishman

    P. Edward Murray, I doubt his resignation had anything to do with your email, or anyone else’s. Getting caught lying on your resume is a firing offence. You either resign ahead of the curve, or get fired. It is slightly better to have resigned for wrongdoing than to be fired for wrongdoing. Ergo, prompt action on his part to save his own bacon, not any particular feelings of shame from reading a terse email or three.

  32. P. Edward Murray

    Irishman,

    It wouldn’t be one to three probably a great many.
    And I wouldn’t be too terribly quick to dismiss not feeling the heat,
    bad PR is something that no one can stand for long, especially if it is warranted as it was here.

  33. Roger Tang

    Should I say that “just collecting the data” is NOT science?

    The science is collecting the data and interpreting it, and generating patterns that answers some questions and poses a few more. Saying “He has a model. He has his opinions and they have a lot of science behind them, but they aren’t “Hard Data.” ” completely misses the point; that IS doing science, like it or not.

    Is it good science? Well, the only way to know is to publicize it, examine the data, the model and predictions.

  34. jess tauber

    Near the end of major news service interest in the recent I.D vs Darwin debacle a school board in another state not to be mentioned decided to redefine science itself so as to have it their way. Democracy! Go figure!

    When someone pointed out that most scientists believed in evolution, one of these fine gentlefolk replied “Well, the scientists are wrong!”.

    Apologies to certain late comics, but it seems to me that somehow many people in this wonderful republic have got their rules of evidence misconscrued. But charisma and my say-so are the stocks-in-trade for both religion and politics.

    Some seem to think that because “science” often has to backtrack, change course, admit paradigmatic wrongheadedness, etc., that it is inherently inferior to true old-school, rote, nudge-nudge/wink-wink, and repeat-after-me forms of knowledge transmission. My way or the highway.

    So which do you support- plastic Ono “truth” 3.0, or TRUTH CARVED IN STONE? Perhaps there is something to do with personal feelings of security here, and taking personal responsibility for your world view (and not simply the promulgation of someone else’s). But both (more?) sides sin here.

    Long ago I began to believe that nobody should have a unit vote, simply by dint of citizenship, on any particular issue, but only a graded one (between 0 and 1) depending on ones actual understanding of the issues at stake, to be decided by examination. Obviously nobody knows everything, and one would be required by law (to retain citizenship rights) to vote on a certain number of issues per year. Too simplistic to be sure, but weighted in favor of the brain, and not the gut. Higher levels of income/clout or being too close to the issue should count against your vote.

    This is my “I.D.”- Intelligent Democracy

  35. beskeptigal

    P. Ed. M., I’m not sure I get your post. If your resume says you have a college degree, and it is discovered you don’t have that degree, very few employers would not tell you to leave.

    That’s funny, Mike. A little crude, but funny.

    Hawk, you seem to doubt the scientific evidence that the global temperature is rising and/or CO2 emissions are related, per your comment, “I think that in 20 years, when the planet starts cooling again, these arguments may look pretty foolish.” Yet the majority of scientists who have looked at the data are of the opinion the climate is indeed warming in response to atmospheric CO2 levels.

    Yet you think Hansen, presenting research and conclusions he believes in, supported by the fact that the majority of the relative scientific community also believes to be correct, is political? Why? Because you don’t like the results?

    I fear it is you who are allowing your political position to cloud the glasses you peer through.

  36. P. Edward Murray

    Beskeptigal,

    I’m not sure I understand you either…

    I am not certain I understand how anyone can say they are a graduate when they are not. Surely this is a big deal.

    When I was hired as a aide to a City Councilman, it was because I worked very hard on his campaign and he knew I was still a Senior in College.

  37. Irishman

    P. Edward Murray, email or three was an exaggeration. Yeah, he probably got dozens if not hundreds of emails. And from his remarks, bad publicity influenced his decision, though I think it was probably more the blogs than emails directly to him. I still think that the real motivation is beating the fired button with the resigned button. Sort of the old, “We’re giving you this opportunity to resign. Take it.” But I could be wrong. I just don’t think your stern words had much effect in themselves, getting him to evaluate his opinions of himself and his behavior.

    As for beskeptigal’s remarks, I think she was addressing your response to me. You seemed to imply that he left because of the criticism, not because NASA found out he was lying and could fire him for it. She is agreeing with me that lying on your resume can and often will get you fired. You apparently agree, just feel that in this case there were other, more important factors.

  38. Berkeley

    donnert:

    Löök, I have Umlaug-signs on my computer!

    Auf Deutsch is supposed to mean “in German”, which is also a language (hence, I guess, “noch einmal” above). Whether a blog post is called a Post in German too, I do not know.

    I don’t mind if you call me Dumbass. I usually have a lot of self irony.

    Btw, you forgot the verb at the end of the sentence. I can put it in here for you (sometimes, you know, in German, you find the verb on the next page): haben.

  39. beskeptigal

    Irishman has offered the explanation for me, P Ed M. Thanks. :) I think P Ed M and I are both misreading the posts.

  40. donnert

    I really suck at German (as you noticed). I knew “auf Deutsch” means “in german”. Good catch on my mistake, I will now burn myself in shame

  41. Matt Behring

    Phew, what a ride. I’ve been busy and just found this set of blogs about Deutsch, and let me tell you, I have never had such a rapid swing of emotions. Pure anger and outrage straight to joy and elation that he resigned.

    I think one of the most puzzling things (that I haven’t seen anyone mention but might have been) is how this guy was even appointed in the first place. As a Junior in college myself I cannot imagine the President of the United States ACTUALLY WANTING TO APPOINT ME TO A NATIONAL POLITICAL POSITION! Does this not outrage everyone as much as the fact that he was incompetent? He was also dangerously unqualified. This seems to be a pattern of this president; to appoint the most unqualified cronies he can find in his address book. This kid should have declined the position in the first place, but maybe that is asking too much maybe he should have just relied on the expeirence of those around him. The point is he did neither. At what’s more hilarious is that he got caught lying.

    I think this battle between Religion and Science can only get worse for those in the scienetific fields. We have to realize that Religion has a clear advantage in any argument between the two:

    Any argument they make reqires no evidence or logic to support it.

    PERIOD

    We can’t win this fight. We require evidence, logic, or reality to influence our judgement. This is a sad state of affairs and I know it is hard to accept. Our only option is to follow in the footsteps of all scientists past and go underground. Not immediately of course but we should be prepared to resort to this. Religion is ever growing in this country and religious people have religious children. They outnumber us and probably always will.

    I do fear the day when we will be called “heratic” for speaking the truth.

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