By Claire

I woke up this morning to hear of another climate change ‘scandal’, this time stemming from a letter written by former NASA employees, to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). These former employees, including seven Apollo astronauts and two former directors of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, are “dismayed over the failure of NASA, and specifically the GISS, to make an objective assessment of all available scientific data on climate change” (as reported by ‘what is up with that‘).

The letter is included in full below.

March 28, 2012

The Honorable Charles Bolden, Jr.
NASA Administrator
NASA Headquarters
Washington, D.C. 20546-0001

Dear Charlie,

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites. We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.

The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA’s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.

As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA’s advocacy of an extreme position, prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is inappropriate. We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject. At risk is damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA’s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself.

For additional information regarding the science behind our concern, we recommend that you contact Harrison Schmitt or Walter Cunningham, or others they can recommend to you.

Thank you for considering this request.


(see full list of signatories – it’s too long to post here)

Unfortunately, climate deniers are already jumping on this story as another proof of science’s inability to come up with a straight answer on the issue of climate change. I think my favourite headline would have to be: “49 former NASA scientists go ballistic over agency’s bias over climate change.” Hilarious!

The most important thing to note with regards to this letter, is that not one of the signatories has any qualifications, or peer reviewed articles on the issue of climate change. We need to remember that it is through the process of publishing peer reviewed articles, that science is held accountable. If the article doesn’t get through this filtering process, where poor quality science is weeded out, then it can not be considered reliable. None of these signatories (23 administrators, 8 astronauts, 7 engineers, 5 technicians, and 4 scientists/mathematicians of one sort or another (none of those sorts having the slightest relation to climate science)) have submitted their science on this topic to this peer review process. We therefore need to be very wary of what is toted as ‘fact’.

One point that comes out a lot in these climate denial pieces is the issue of theory vs fact (check out the page on our website for a more detailed discussion). It has to be recognised that scientists don’t speak in terms of ‘facts’ most of the time, but use words like ‘theory’ or ‘95% confidence’. This doesn’t make the science any less robust, however it expresses inherent uncertainties that must be considered in any grounded scientific discussion.

The bottom line is that the science of climate change is settled. While some of the details are still being investigated, for example, the likelihood of reaching ‘tipping points’ in the system, the question of, “are man-made greenhouse gas emissions causing the average temperature of the Earth to increase” has been settled. The answer is yes.

We need to move on from ‘debating’ the science in the media, because the debate is over in scientific circles. We now need to move forward and ask, “what are we going to do about it?”

Read the full critique of the letter here