Bush appointee at Nasa resigns over censorship

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A Bush administration appointee at Nasa has been forced to resign after accusations that he tried to censor scientists who took issue with the White House line on global warming and the origins of the universe.

George Deutsch, a public relations officer at Nasa who previously worked on President George Bush's re-election campaign, was accused of trying to keep the media away from the agency's chief climate change scientist, James Hansen, after Dr Hansen called publicly for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

According to an e-mail shown to The New York Times, he also told a Nasa web designer to add the word "theory" to every reference of the Big Bang - the most prevalent scientific explanation of the origins of the universe, which is hotly contested by creationists, including many right-wing Christian supporters of the President.

Mr Deutsch's resignation appeared to have as much to do with the fact that he lied on his job application - he said he had a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas A&M University, when in fact he never graduated - as with the way he did his job.

Nasa officials refused to be drawn on the reasons for his resignation, but its chief administrator recently sent an e-mail to all his staff assuring them it was not the job of public affairs officers "to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by Nasa's technical staff".

Dr Hansen and others have argued that Mr Deutsch was only part of a much broader problem of political interference at the agency. Dr Hansen, who directs Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said the Bush administration appointee had demanded to review his lectures and publications in advance.

After he gave a speech highly critical of the administration's global warming policies last year, he told The New York Times, he was warned that there would be "dire consequences" if he continued to make similar criticisms.

His complaints have drawn sympathy from Republicans as well as Democrats. The chairman of the House of Representatives' Science Committee, the New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert, wrote a letter to Nasa last week denouncing what he called "an atmosphere of intimidation". "Political figures ought to be reviewing their public statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available science," the letter read. "Scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy."