Another NASA Defection to the Skeptics’ Camp

January 29th, 2009 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

Something about retirement apparently frees people up to say what they really believe. I retired early from NASA over seven years ago to have more freedom to speak my mind on global warming.

You might recall that after Dr. Joanne Simpson retired from NASA she ( admitted to a long-held skepticism regarding the role of mankind in global warming.

And who can forget NASA’s Administrator, Michael Griffin, admitting that he was skeptical of the urgency of the global warming problem? After the outrage that ensued, I suspect he wishes he had never brought it up.

And now my old boss when I was at NASA (as well as James Hansen’s old boss), John Theon, has stated very clearly that he doesn’t believe global warming is manmade…and adding “climate models are useless” for good measure. Even I wouldn’t go quite that far, since I use simple ones in my published research.

I remember the old days at NASA, when even John Theon was singing the same tune as most people at NASA were. Manmade global warming was a potentially serious threat, and NASA wanted Congress to fund new satellites to study the problem. It was a team effort to get that accomplished.

Global warming research was a relatively new field back then. Was Theon always skeptical, and just being a team player at the time? I don’t know. It could be that Dr. Theon, after watching 15 years of climate research go by, decided that he was no longer convinced that mankind was at fault for warming.

After all, there is some precedence for scientists changing their minds. One of today’s leading global warming alarmists is Stephen Schneider, who did a major about-face from the 1970s when global cooling was all the rage. At least Theon didn’t write a book back then about how serious the global warming issue was, as Schneider did on global cooling.

And how many defections have we seen in the other direction — from the skeptics’ camp to the alarmists’ camp? Seems like it’s been a one-way street so far.

Theon now also supports what I have repeatedly said over the years. That NASA’s James Hansen routinely ignored NASA policy, and said whatever he wanted to the press and to Congress without getting approval first. The reason why everyone at NASA looked the other way was that we were trying to get congressional funding for satellite missions to study climate. I personally don’t think we needed Hansen’s extremist views to get that accomplished, but it probably helped to some extent.

I asked NASA managers at the time, how can Hansen get away with saying whatever he wanted to? The answer was, “well…he’s not supposed to”.

You might think it’s OK for the lone scientist to warn everyone of impending planetary doom. But I consider it much closer to someone who makes a habit of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Forcing expensive energy on people will lead to death and suffering. These are very real threats, not theoretical like manmade global warming, and they exist today. I personally don’t care where our energy comes from — but I do care that a maximum number of people can afford it.

In truth, it wasn’t Hansen who was muzzled, but it was me in the Clinton-Gore years, who was asked to keep my mouth shut about my skeptical views. That was fine…if a little annoying. At least the flap Hansen caused has managed to force NASA to say that their scientists no longer have to march in lock-step on scientific issues. That’s a good thing.

I have to wonder…how many more scientists will be outing themselves as skeptics? While we may never constitute a majority, and many of us have differing views on the real causes of climate change, it only takes one of us to be right for the global warming house of cards to collapse.

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