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NASA Space Censorship Government Politics

NASA Public-Affairs Appointee Resigns in Disgrace 698

belmolis writes "George C. Deutsch, who tried to muzzle top NASA climate scientist James Hansen and ordered NASA web designers to add the word 'theory' to every mention of the Big Bang, has resigned. The New York Times reports that NASA declines to discuss the reasons for his resignation, but that it came the same day that Texas A&M University, from which Deutsch claimed on his resume to have graduated, revealed that he had attended the university but did not complete his degree." The New York Times reports it today, but as of yesterday, it was the Times that had unquestioningly passed along the falsehood of Deutsch's graduation, and it was the blog Scientific Activist whose investigation revealed he'd left before graduating to work on the Bush reelection campaign. For more on the 24-year-old political appointee's interesting viewpoints, see World O' Crap; on Monday, we covered the anger over his attempts to squelch science -- something that, sadly, Jim Hansen has gotten used to.
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NASA Public-Affairs Appointee Resigns in Disgrace

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  • by millahtime ( 710421 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @09:37AM (#14668808) Homepage Journal
    The "Theory of the Big Bang" is at the least how it should be described. NASA is a scientific organization. They should not be trying sell ideas but do strict science.

    Theories, Models, and Laws are all terms that mean something. It's not just a matter of verbage but a title given to the status of something in the scientific methods. The Big Bang is actually a model according to scientific methods. To call it a theory is a stretch. To have something as a model is not a bad thing it's just a different descriptor for it.
  • by sg3000 ( 87992 ) * <sg_public@NOSpAM.mac.com> on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @09:43AM (#14668849)
    Let's recap for those at home keeping score.

    MIchael Brown, the guy Bush picked to head FEMA, had no experience doing disaster recovery, having been fired from his previous job as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Assocation. However, Bush appointed him because he was the roommate of the college roommate of Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's 2000 campaign manager and Brown's predecessor at FEMA.

    Next, he nominated to the Supreme Court his personal lawyer Harriet Miers who had absolutely no judicial experience. Luckily she didn't get her "up or down" vote due to a Republican backlash (but probably for the wrong reasons).

    And now we find that Bush appointed to NASA a 24-year old journalism major who dropped out of college but had all the qualifications of someone who worked on his campaign. And the guy was censoring real scientists!

    This problem of Bush cronyism goes much further than just giving plum jobs to to one's friends. These types of appointments are dangerous to our democracy because they can do real damage (as we saw in Brown's case). The fundamental problem is Bush and his ilk value loyalty more than experience or expertise; they value faith more than facts.
  • Re:The Big Bang (Score:5, Informative)

    by helioquake ( 841463 ) * on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @09:47AM (#14668866) Journal
    Look up "cosmic microwave background" on google.

    That's probably a good place to start learning about the current state of cosmology. It usually takes more than a decade of dedicated learning to master the topic, so take your time.
  • Re:The Big Bang (Score:5, Informative)

    by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @09:51AM (#14668896)
    There's a lot of compelling evidence for some sort of Big Bang. The universe is clearly expanding: further galaxies show a distinct "red shift", a change in the light coming from that can be measured and shows how fast away they're going. Their distance is estimated by looking for bright, measurably bright objects like nova or supernova and extrapolating their distance from the brightness.

    The further away they are, the faster they seem to be going. That hints at some sort of event, roughly 10 billion years ago, that forced them all away and in fact created these objects. That's coupled with a background microwave radiation we'd expect from a universe at about 3 degrees Kelvin, as if the matter that spread out has cooled down to about that average temperature.

    Other theories, such as the "Cyclic" theory assume that the universe keeps exploding and contracting, but it's hard to detect enough matter in the universe to allow it to re-contract from gravitation. Or the "Steady-State" theory assumes that the matter, the universe itself somehow keeps regenerating itself over time: some weird quantum ideas describe universes where matter forms from vacuum, but those theories don't predict the actual measurements very well.

    So there are 3 common theories: the Big Bang explains the existing evidence well, but leaves people wondering "what happened before" and "what will happen later". Like gravity or light, the basic facts seem well explained, but there are weird details that do require more work to really understand.
  • by SnapShot ( 171582 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @09:54AM (#14668915)
    Don't forget:

    Bolten as U.N. Ambassador.

    Ellen Sauerbrey as (recess appointment to) Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration ($700M budget).

    Melvin Sembler, youth cult leader, appointed to Amabassador to Italy.
  • by BobTheLawyer ( 692026 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:01AM (#14668971)
    "Misrepresentation" is a pretty harsh word. There's a decent description of the Big Bang on NASA's website at http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_uni/uni_101bb1.html [nasa.gov]. Do you think this is a misrepresentation?
  • by cerebud ( 868302 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:02AM (#14668974)
    I can't believe this administration hired some young kid to this position (well, I can but...). Besides the Michael Brown/FEMA disaster, there's this shocking bit (from Al Franken's latest): And then there was Scott Erwin, twenty-one, a former intern for Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay, who didn't need a job because he was still in college. Erwin marveled to the University of Richmond newletter that "in one week I went from chatting on the quad, eating in the Heilman Dining Center and attending ODK [Omicron Delta Kappa] meetings to being briefed in the Pentagon, flying in a C-130 military plane from Kuwait City to Baghdad and living in one of Saddam's many palaces." Erwin soon landed a gig as the top Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) official managing the finances of Iraq's civilian security forces -- fire units, customs, border patrols, and police. What a great job! Almost as much fun as his previous favorite job, which he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch was "my time as an ice cream truck driver." Erwin was one of the six youngsters given control of Iraq's $13 billion budget. ... CPA Inspector General Stuart Bowen concluded that no less than $8.8 billion went unaccounted for ...
  • by ctid ( 449118 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:02AM (#14668978) Homepage
    eh. why? this is one guy; that does not establish any sort of trend.

    Do you remember Browny, who was "doing a heck of a job" at FEMA?
  • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:06AM (#14669001) Homepage

    Discus is greek for plate, and theke is also greek for table. A discotheque is a table with plates on, in this case the table of the disc jockey. It has indirectly to do with the bibliotheque, the table for books (biblio: greek for book).
  • Re:Theory (Score:4, Informative)

    by dc29A ( 636871 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:09AM (#14669027)
    however, calling the big bang a theory is actually correct

    Yes and no. Yes Big Bang is just a theory, like every single scientific "law" or "fact". There is not absolute truth in science. The problem is not calling Big Bang a theory, the problem is that theory, for the common mortal is nothing more than a "hunch" a "wild idea".

    Scientists need to come up with a different term for theory. Or they need to push a major PR campaign explaining what a theory is for science, that a theory for science isn't just a hunch but something that is backed up by empyrical evidence. They have to stop giving fundamentalists a way to attack science by calling everything that goes through the scientific method "just a theory".

    Deutsch called Big Bang a theory to imply it's not good science and that there is a good alternative in God/Creation. He clearly aimed to discredit the scientific work done on Big Bang to advance his radical and/or fundamentalist and/or religious view.
  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:09AM (#14669028) Journal
    The only problem with the Theory of Gravity is it isn't really called that. It is called the Law of Gravity or, more formally, The Universal Law of Gravitation.

    The moment you say Law people assume it means an absolute fact, which, in a sense, it is. However, it is still a theory in the sense that it makes a prediction and as far as we know holds true but it is only for one specific event whereas a theory describes a series of events.

    I'm having a running discussion on a tv web forum re: Evolution and ID and every time I use the Theory of Gravity the person keeps saying it's the Law of Gravity, as if that negates the fact it is still a theory.

    Then again, the person has never admitted that my original statement, that Electromagnetism or General Relativity are also theories and I don't see them having an issue with them or any other theory.
  • by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:21AM (#14669102)
    Next, he nominated to the Supreme Court his personal lawyer Harriet Miers who had absolutely no judicial experience.

    I'm not suggesting that Miers was suitable for the high court, but a lack of judicial experience doesn't automatically make someone incompetent to serve there. A few other justices that started their judicial career with the Supreme Court: John Jay, John Marshall, Earl Warren, and William Rehnquist.
  • by ehrichweiss ( 706417 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:33AM (#14669204)
    Has anyone tried actually educating people about the differences between "theory" and "hypothesis"? People are usually thinking of a hypothesis when they refer to a theory.

    Theory - 1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

    Hypothesis - 1. A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.

    There is a definition of "theory" that means what they think it means but that's not the same definition that science uses.

  • Re:The Big Bang (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:36AM (#14669225) Homepage Journal
    The further away they are, the faster they seem to be going. That hints at some sort of event, roughly 10 billion years ago, that forced them all away and in fact created these objects. That's coupled with a background microwave radiation we'd expect from a universe at about 3 degrees Kelvin, as if the matter that spread out has cooled down to about that average temperature.

    You missed one thing. The rate at which they are traveling seems to be accelerating as well.
  • Re:The Big Bang (Score:2, Informative)

    by DoctorPepper ( 92269 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:36AM (#14669228)
    " I'm not an astrophysicist (I can't even spell it!)"

    Here, let me help:

    $ grep '^astro' /usr/share/dict/american-english

    There you go! :-)
  • by Antifuse ( 651387 ) <<moc.lleddawnayr> <ta> <todhsals>> on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:37AM (#14669233) Homepage
    At least a bouncer is *somewhat* related to a security position... Arabian Horses and Disaster Management, I don't see the link.
  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:42AM (#14669258) Journal
    Whenever someone says 'theory' in a derogatory manner I point them to this page [wilstar.com] which does a very nice job of explaining the differences between a hypothesis, theory and law.

    It doesn't change their mind but at least they can't claim they weren't informed of the differences the next time someone (again) corrects them.
  • by crawling_chaos ( 23007 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @10:53AM (#14669347) Homepage
    Brown in fact did exagerrate his experience in disaster management. He never held a full time position in the field prior to his appointment to FEMA, yet claimed to have done so for at least one city government.

    Sorry, this is a trend now. Political reliability is evidently the only measure of competence for this administration. I think the inability to find a reliable stooge is why the FDA has been without a Commissioner for the largest fraction of a President's term in the history of the agency, by way of a further example.

  • no trend?!? (Score:5, Informative)

    by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @11:10AM (#14669469) Journal
    You want to see a trend? Start here [tnr.com].

    Here's a notable excerpt:

    According to his official biography, Stewart Simonson is the Health and Human Services Department's point man "on matters related to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies." Hopefully, he has taken crash courses on smallpox and avian flu, because, prior to joining HHS in 2001, Simonson's background was not in public health, but ... public transit. He'd previously been a top official at the delay-plagued, money-hemorrhaging passenger rail company Amtrak.

    And he's ranked 7 out of 15 for hacktitude.
  • Re:The Big Bang (Score:4, Informative)

    by Gulthek ( 12570 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @11:30AM (#14669608) Homepage Journal
    Excepting the miracles?

    So you're saying the Bible hasn't been proven wrong except for the places that it's been proven wrong that don't count?

    Read the book "Misquoting Jesus : the story behind who changed the Bible and why" by Bart D. Ehrman and you'll find a whole bunch of places that the Bible is "wrong" or at least added onto by scribes.

    Frex: that story of Jesus telling the mob to "let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" was not in the original texts.
  • by hunterx11 ( 778171 ) <.hunterx11. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @12:13PM (#14669941) Homepage Journal
    You don't "see gravity." You see objects fall. Likewise, you can see organisms change over time. Furthermore, natural selection has been observed as the agent of evolution, whereas neither Higgs Bosons nor gravitons have been observed at all. We know that our understanding of evolution is imperfect, but we know that our understanding of gravity is in some way fundamentally flawed, since our current understanding of it is incompatible with other theories. In many ways, our understanding of evolution is better than our understanding of gravity. A layperson might not be aware of this, but they might not even be aware that gravity is an attraction between all mass objects.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @12:14PM (#14669944)
    You forgot a few...

    -People who couldn't do Journalism changed majors to Political Science
    -People who couldn't do Political Science changed majors to Park and Recreation
  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @01:29PM (#14670651) Homepage Journal
    Oh, PLEASE.

    Michael Crichton is out to make money. He gets money for giving his "daring" speech on the rubber chicken circuit. He gets money on sales of his latest shlock thriller, which has evil grant-hungry climate scientists running weather control machines to terrorize the populace.

    Here is what actual climate scientists have to say about the claims in his novel:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=74 [realclimate.org]

    At CISCOP, Chris Mooney reviews State of Fear:

    http://www.csicop.org/doubtandabout/crichton/ [csicop.org]

    A look at the politics behind Crichton's crusade:

    http://www.grist.org/advice/books/2005/02/01/rober ts-fear/ [grist.org]

    Who are your going trust, Crichton or scientists?

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2005/1/20/234126/ 976 [grist.org]

    OK. Maybe you can't trust scientists. How about the opinions of another author? Here is what Gregory Benford has to say:

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050121/n ews_lz1e21benford.html [signonsandiego.com]
  • by Ayaress ( 662020 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @01:51PM (#14670856) Journal
    You could also point out that a law that merely describes how something acts--while useful, necessarily should be considered only part of the picture. How and/or why should be considered important questions. And if you can get them to admit that, then you might be able to leverage that.

    Very, very important point that every professor I've had harps on constantly. "Law" and "Theory" are too different things, and which one is more important depends on what you're doing and what branch of science you're in (The farter you get from pure mathematics, the less you can describe what you observe mathematically).

    The Universal Law of Gravitation is just an equation. It will describe with considerable accuraccy how two bodies will interact, but it's "stupid." It can't even begin to describe why or how they interact, because those aren't mathematical questions.

    General Relativity, however, isn't a law, it's a theory (one of several in the field). It's job is to explain WHY and HOW the laws of gravity work. In the absence of any theory, the law of gravity is useless for understanding. "Ok, so if I let go of the rock, it goes down. WHY?"
  • by Broiler ( 804077 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @04:08PM (#14672190)
    What about all of us Ag majors???

    I mean a poultry science degree from Texas A&M has worked for me.

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