NASA Joke Has Aggie Punchline

It takes a real Aggie to spot an Aggie wannabe

It takes a real Aggie to spot an Aggie wannabe.

That was one lesson to take home from the recent public relations scandal at NASA, where last week 24-year-old PR flack George Deutsch – a political appointee to a job at NASA's D.C. office after he worked on President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign – was forced to resign when he acknowledged that he had not, in fact, graduated from Texas A&M, although he had listed an undergraduate journalism degree on his résumé. The deception was revealed in the wake of NASA's embarrassment that Deutsch, a junior public affairs officer with no scientific credentials, had been trying to censor NASA scientists speaking on matters like global warming and the origins of the universe. James Hansen, NASA's chief climatologist and director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, had told reporters that he had been threatened by NASA administrators with "dire consequences" if he continued to speak out on the need to address the causes of global warming, and that Deutsch had specifically tried to prevent Hansen from being interviewed by National Public Radio, because the network is supposedly too "liberal." Deutsch also tried to require NASA contractors to inject "intelligent design" into discussions of cosmic origins, insisting that any mention of the universal "Big Bang" be accompanied by the word "theory."

When the Hansen/Deutsch story hit the papers, it piqued the interest of Nick Anthis, a 2005 A&M grad and Rhodes Scholar now studying biochemistry at Oxford and also posting a new blog called "The Scientific Activist" (scientificactivist.blogspot.com). Seeing references to Deutsch's A&M degree in The New York Times, Anthis checked with informal and then official sources in College Station and discovered that not only had Deutsch not graduated, he had left the college to take a position with the 2004 Bush campaign. "The idea that NASA let a 24-year-old journalism major, with no experience in science or technology, other than writing a few articles about video games, determine what scientists were able to communicate to the public was pretty bad," wrote Anthis, but the fact that he had apparently lied about his credentials was even worse, and he called for Deutsch's dismissal. A few days later, Deutsch resigned – claiming he had been the victim of a "smear campaign" – and NASA administrators issued a statement saying public affairs employees were not to interfere with scientific information and abjuring any attempts at "censorship of scientific data."

Hansen later told reporters that he considers Deutsch only a "bit player" in an ongoing administration effort to muzzle those who disagree with them in any way on policy matters. "In my three decades in government, I've never seen control of communications to the public so constrained," Hansen told The Boston Globe. "Communications from government scientists have never been so constrained."

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