So have you seen the ads for the upcoming major disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow? It’s another overblown and unlikely disaster flick in which global warming reaches a critical point and triggers a near-instant ice age. The special effects look decent enough even if the science behind it is questionable, but the public isn’t generally science literate enough to distinguish science fiction from fact in movies like this (the horror known as The Core is proof enough of that) and as such many newspapers will end up pouncing on various scientists to get their take on how realistic the movie is.
This apparently has some of the higher ups at NASA worried that nervous movie goers may blame the Bush Administration for not taking global warming issues seriously enough and as such they sent out a memo to all NASA personnel banning them from discussing the movie with the press.
“No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with” the film, said the April 1 message, which was sent by Goddard’s top press officer. “Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs. science fact about climate change will need to seek comment from individuals or organizations not associated with NASA.”
Copies of the message, and the one from NASA headquarters to which it referred, were provided to The New York Times by a senior NASA scientist who said he resented attempts to muzzle climate researchers.
As you can imagine, this didn’t sit too well with NASA scientists and the resulting internal criticism was enough to get NASA to relax the policy a little last week.
“We’ve decided not to proactively speak out on anything related to the movie,” she said. “But when asked, we can certainly provide some of our experts to answer questions about the validity of the science.”
Several days ago, NASA scientists produced a list of questions and answers about abrupt climate change, but the information has not yet been approved for public release.
Not that NASA is without good reason to be worried about getting caught up in a political argument. The film is by the same man who gave us Independence Day, Roland Emmerich, and is reportedly chock-full of scenes that could be construed as criticism of the current administration:
The new movie’s script contains a host of politically uncomfortable situations: the president’s motorcade is flash frozen; the vice president, who scoffs at warnings even as chaos erupts, resembles Dick Cheney; the humbled United States has to plead with Mexico to allow masses of American refugees fleeing the ice to cross the border.
Along with its direct criticisms of a Bush-like administration, the movie also could draw attention to a proposed Bush budget cut.
The lead character, played by Dennis Quaid, is a paleoclimatologist, an investigator of past climate shifts, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. President Bush has proposed sharp cuts to the agency’s paleoclimatology program, which began under the first Bush administration.
Oddly enough, NASA isn’t the only group that wishes to keep its distance from this new film as some leaders of various environmental groups have also expressed concerns about the movie and how it may overstate the threat of global warming leaving people laughing it off as unimportant. This isn’t without merit as the film turns what is, at best, a decades-long threat into a five day cataclysm which is likely to stretch the credulity of just about anyone.
Ironically, about the only people who aren’t griping about the movie are the folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
“Any time anybody can focus on this little agency that nobody ever pays attention to and talk about what we do, that’s a good thing,” said Jordan St. John, the agency’s director of public affairs.
Personally, I think the movie is going to be silly from a science stand-point, but then the same is true of just about all of the disaster pics filmed these days. Independence Day had plot holes you could drive a dump truck through, but it still managed to be a lot of fun if you could manage to suspend your disbelief enough to get into it.
Given the distortions the movie is obviously going to offer up in the service of drama I think it would be a mistake on NASA’s part to limit its scientists from commenting on the film. If anything, lack of access to the truth would only fuel speculation there was something the Bush administration has to hide on the issue.