Elevate Difference

Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming

A valid scientific theory is a conclusion supported by data. An answer must be viewed through the prism of skepticism, the data must be questioned, and proof must be spelled out. Most importantly, all possibilities must be considered. In his book, Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming, Mark Bowen presents quite a conclusion, but never takes the time to cite his sources. As a result, his book is not as compelling as it could be.

Bowen argues that Dr. James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was censored, had his research funding reduced, and his work suppressed. His work as a scientist interpreting data collected by NASA’s satellites that measure the Earth’s atmosphere gave definitive proof of global warming, and eventually, of humans’ role in the process. Because of this, the book postulates that the White House—more specifically Vice President Dick Cheney—suppressed his work to appease the energy special interests.

That is a lofty accusation, and one that Bowen does not support. He uses a lot of anecdotal support, and does not completely prove his conclusion. For the first half of the book, the timeline is hard to follow, and how the players connect to each other is not obvious. He never cites his sources, though it is implicit that he interviewed at least Dr. Hansen and his public affairs office, Leslie McCarthy. What public documents he read and what private notes he had access to is not clear. Nor is who he was able to interview. For much of the first half of the book, I was surprised by how much is quoted conversations that he was not a part of. I was left wondering if there were tapes he was listening to or if he was using poetic license. It was a bit disconcerting for a nonfiction book.

For the second half, Bowen focused on the current work Dr. Hansen is doing and how he proved and is continuing to prove the existence global warming. This part is informative, clearly explaining and summarizing complex science in a way that anyone can understand. This is truly where Bowen shines as an author. The only issue is that the main argument of the book implies that global warming exists. If Dr. Hansen had not proved global warming, there would be no need to censor his research. It almost feels as though this section was intended to be the beginning of the book and the fragmented beginning was originally the second half of the book. That would explain why he reintroduces players we already know, and why certain terms are explained more than once. 

That being said, I enjoyed reading Censoring Science. Bowen is a gifted writer, one able to explain important and advanced science understanding to the masses with ease, and make it enjoyable and interesting. I plan to find his other books. He failed to make his argument, but like many failures, it’s interesting. He does not make as clear a case for censorship as he does for global warming, and for that, the book is not the best source for the case against the Bush Administration. It is, however, a compelling read.

Written by: Taylor Rhodes, April 23rd 2009