NASA gags its scientists from commenting on new disaster flick.

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.

The New York Times – National – NASA Curbs Comments on Ice Age Disaster Movie

“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.

7 thoughts on “NASA gags its scientists from commenting on new disaster flick.

  1. Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself.  She is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
       —Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

  2. Truth … , unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons

    The government scientists who complained had to do so on background. This is just more of the same. The Union of Concerned Scientists report,Scientific Integrity in Policy Making, provides a comprehensive list of the administration’s interpositions. (The link should actually work this time.)

  3. Oh, man, the president’s motorcade is flash frozen?  This movie sounds awesome!

    It reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where a cave man is in an outhouse frozen into a solid block of ice, and one scientist is saying to the other, “We found evidence that early man may have been caught by surprise by the ice age.” (or something like that.)

    The only thing that interferes with my enjoyment of movies that are almost science-free is that some people will take them seriously, and since those people are idiots, legitimate science is discredited.  Such as: recent findings that climate shifts may not be at all gradual, but once reaching a certain threshold, are quite dramatic (happening in only a score of years.) 

    I bet the movie has a lot of awesome dialog, too, like “Mankind has gone too far, and Nature is fighting back!” or some such.

  4. I hope it doesn’t end with…

    “Everyone, wherever you are:  Watch the skies.  Keep watching the skies!”

  5. Ice age movie just exaggerates government report findings

    One great thing about sci fi movies

  6. The only thing is, we have barely scratched the surface in understanding the nature and changes of climate, I admit it seems unlikely that suddenly the machine will break, but think about any system, you keep damaging it and damaging it, there are signs, if you know what to look for and then one day, the whole thing breaks and you hope the system wasn’t the control system in an airplane over the pacific ocean….

    We can guess that climate change takes long periods of time, and what evidence we do have does suggest that, but nature has a useful habbit of surprising us when we get too cocky

    Also I know this is obvious, but Bush with cutting paleoclimatology budget makes it seem like his masters are worried about something being found.

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