hansenpic.jpgI don’t know how NASA’s James Hansen keeps up his pace of writing — or how he puts up with the steady stream of disinformation launched against him. I am not trying to create a cult of personality around him, but I do feel under some obligation to give his writing as much attention as possible — as I think he has done more than any other scientist to raise awareness on climate change, and deserves our thanks, not slander.

“The latest swift-boating,” Hansen explains in a new post (PDF), “is the whacko claim that I received $720,000.00 from George Soros.” Here is a smear from Investors Business Daily, of all places — I have no idea why investors would be interested in such drivel — which migrated over to the conservative websight NewsBusters in an article titled, “Is Global Warming Alarmist James Hansen a Shill for George Soros?

Hansen explains, “Here is the real deal, with the order of things, as well as I can remember without wasting even more time digging into papers and records”:

Sometime after giving a potentially provocative interview to Sixty Minutes, but before it aired, I tried to get legal advice on my rights of free speech. I made two or three attempts to contact people at Freedom Forum, who I had given permission to use a quote (something like “in my thirty-some years in the government, I have never seen anything like the present restrictions on the flow of information from scientists to the public”) on their calendar. I wanted to know where I could get, preferably inexpensive, legal advice. Never got a reply.

But then I received a call from the President of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) telling me that I had won the Ridenaur Award (including a moderate amount of cash — $10,000 I believe; the award is named for the guy who exposed the Viet Nam My Lai massacre), and offering pro bono legal advice. I agreed to accept the latter (temporarily), signing something to let them represent me (which had an escape clause that I later exercised).

I started to get the feeling that there may be expectations (strings) coming with the award, and I was concerned that it may create the appearance that I had spoken out about government censorship for the sake of the $. So I called the President of GAP, asking how the nomination process worked and who made the selection. He mentioned that he either nominated or selected me. So I declined the award, but I continued to accept pro bono legal advice for a while.

The principal thing that they provided was the attached letter to NASA. This letter shows me why scientists drive 1995 Hondas and lawyers drive Mercedes. I have a feeling that the reader of that letter had at least one extra gulp of coffee that morning.

But it turns out that GAP has lost most of their cases in defending whistle-blowers. It is obviously not because they are crummy lawyers. Things are getting pretty tough in our country. It is still not clear to me what rights of free speech we actually have today. Some people think that things must have changed in our government, since I have been speaking pretty freely of late. That is mainly appearance. The (free speech) situation in NASA is good at the moment only because our Administrator made a strong statement. The rules as written, according to GAP, will allow the next Administrator, if he so desires, to hammer the free speaker. But the big problem is that the Offices of Public Affairs in most agencies, at the Headquarters level, have been staffed with political appointees, who in effect are running Offices of Propaganda (Mark Bowen has written a book about this, which will come out in December). Public Affairs people at the field centers are dedicated professionals, but political appointees occupy the Headquarters positions in Washington. I complained about this to a Government Reform committee in the House, saying that there should be a law that Public Affairs must be staffed by professional civil servants, not political appointees. I did not seem to raise much interest. Too much reform for a Reform committee, I guess.

The bottom line is: I did not receive one thin dime from George Soros. Perhaps GAP did, but I would be surprised if they got $720,000 (that’s a lot of Mercedes). Whatever amount they got, I do not see anything wrong with it. They are a non-profit organization. Seems like a great idea to have some good lawyers trying to protect free speech.

By the way, in case anybody finds out that George Soros INTENDED to send me $720,000 but could not find my address, please let me know! We are pretty hard pressed here.

I’m glad he has kept his sense of humor.

I would also add that Hansen can speak fairly freely because he is high-profile and would be impossible to fire. But there are countless government scientists who are not in his position, who have been successfully muzzled (here, here, and here).

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.