Major First Amendment Groups Condemn Government Censorship of Science about Global Warming

Posted by: on Feb 9, 2007 | No Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 6, 2007

Major First Amendment Groups Condemn Government Censorship of Science about Global Warming

New York, N.Y. – Last week, the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), conducted a hearing on the censorship of government climate scientists. Among the issues the committee addressed was the suppression of federal scientists’ speech and writing, the distortion and suppression of research results, and retaliation against those who protest these acts.

In response to the hearing, nine prominent First Amendment organizations, including the American Association of University Professors, American Library Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Civil Liberties Union, Association of American Publishers, National Center for Science Education, National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN American Center, and People For the American Way issued a statement commenting on the First Amendment concerns raised by this form of censorship.

The statement warns of the consequences of suppression or distortion of information that is essential to sound public policy and government accountability and applauds “the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) on their efforts to inform the public about this critical issue and look forward to their continuing oversight. The testimony provided at the hearing strongly supports the Committee’s continued vigilance to ensure that federal policy is informed by the highest quality of scientific information and that federal officials respect not just the letter but the spirit of the Constitution by encouraging free and open debate on matters of public concern.”

The statement was organized by National Coalition Against Censorship, which has examined the constitutional ramifications of censorship of science to serve political objectives.

Contact:
National Coalition Against Censorship, (212) 807-6222
Joan Bertin, ext.15
Jay Dyckman, ext.16
Rebecca Zeidel, ext.14

Joint Statement on Censorship and Science:
A Threat to Science, the Constitution, and Democracy

February 6, 2007

Introduction
A hearing held on January 30, 2007, by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform revealed a widespread pattern of political interference in the operations of federal scientific activities, including censorship of federal scientists’ speech and writing, the distortion and suppression of research results, and retaliation against those who protest these acts. These charges raise profoundly important questions about the basis for public policies that rely on sound science, the government’s respect for fundamental constitutional rights and privileges, and the effective operation of our democracy.

The Integrity of Science Is At Stake
Censorship of science is deeply troubling on many levels. At the most basic, it affronts the fundamental premises of the scientific method. Science is not static. It constantly questions, borrows from, builds on, and adds to existing knowledge. Its basic tools include formulating and testing hypotheses, documentation and replication of results, peer review, and publication.* For science to advance, knowledge must be shared. Without the free exchange of ideas, science as we understand it cannot exist and progress.

The purpose of science is to produce knowledge. If science is corrupted, what flows from it is not knowledge, but something else – misinformation, propaganda, and partial-truths.

Constitutional and Historical Values Are At Stake
Censorship of science also violates two core constitutional and historical traditions: the respect for knowledge as the basis of democracy, and the commitment to the free exchange of ideas to ensure that knowledge is shared. The Founders extolled the power of education and scientific knowledge, and indeed saw the development of learning and education as a basic underpinning to democracy. Thomas Jefferson saw science as the paradigm of truth-seeking processes and described liberty as the “great parent of science.” Benjamin Franklin was well-known for his belief in scientific inquiry, rational decision making, and the need for an educated electorate. And in his 1796 farewell address, President George Washington enjoined the country to “Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”

These values have long been recognized by the Supreme Court:

The freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed by the Constitution embraces at the least the liberty to discuss publicly and truthfully all matters of public concern without previous restraint or fear of subsequent punishment. The exigencies of the colonial period and the efforts to secure freedom from oppressive administration developed a broadened conception of these liberties as adequate to supply the public need for information and education with respect to the significant issues of the times…. Freedom of discussion, if it would fulfill its historic function in this nation, must embrace all issues about which information is needed or appropriate to enable the members of society to cope with the exigencies of their period. Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 US 88, 101-2 (1940).

The rights of the general public are deeply implicated by censorship of scientific speech. Just as the Court has recognized the value of speech to the speaker, it has also recognized the concomitant rights of the listener, who has a correlative right to receive information. See, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut,