Griffin Apologizes

Interestingly, NASA’s chief administrator, Michael Griffin, apologized for his somewhat bizarre remarks of last week. What remarks? The ones that (among other things) essentially sidelined a huge amount of the work people in his own organization are busy with. See here for a reminder. He made his apology at JPL on Monday:

“unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical, and it would have been well for me to have stayed out of it.”

“All I can really do is apologize to all you guys…. I feel badly that I caused this amount of controversy over something like this,” he said.

Interesting approach.

More can be found in the full MSNBC article I found about the matter.

-cvj

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31 Responses to Griffin Apologizes

  1. Amara says:

    Dear Clifford, NASA was ‘spinning’ that climate change story. As I understand the situation, Bush just announced something for the first in view of the Kyoto Protocal / climate change (?), and Griffin in his candid way of speaking said something about Bush’s efforts not being useful and that global warming isn’t a problem anyway. Something to that effect. So the NASA PR needed to spin the story. You might remember the the flap last year:

    “Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him – New York Times”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/29/science/earth/29climate.html?ex=1296190800&en=28e236da0977ee7f&ei=5088

    You Tube: James Hansen on Global Warming (60 Minutes)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc4OzpgTOhk&feature=PlayList&p=1443175CEFD49EA5&index=2&playnext=1

    The next morning after Griffin’s words, my internal work email box told me that some or many astronomers were very unhappy about Mike Griffin’s recent comments. If you look to a couple of NASAwatch sites, you can follow more of the story:

    Does Mike Griffin think George Bush is wasting his time and Mike Griffin is in denial about global warming.

    But if you are interested in hearing a solution from some planetary scientists for what to do regarding clean and sustainable energy (articles in Science say that global oil production will peak and start to decline between 2020 and 2060), for example from John Lewis and David Criswell, is to fully develop solar energy. They say that wind and geothermal, though locally useful, will never be enough for the planet. Their (and others..) vision is that solar energy be collected in space or on the moon and beamed into the Earth grid via microwave. John Lewis says that the old objection of birds and hikers who wander into the beam can be avoided by dispersing receiving antennae in farms. Lewis says that 1000 or 2000 solar photovoltaic power satellites in geosynchronous orbit or on the Moon in a band stretching around all longitudes with transmitters on the front side would collect the energy.

    So then the job for NASA is to, instead of denying the problem, be part of the solution, that is, to foster photovoltaic production and set up a study if such a system can work, and spin this off into industry to market solar panels.

    (My reference for the above solution is William Hartmann, PSI, who spoke at a NASA Ames conference on Environmental Ethics of Space Exploration, and, while there, heard John Lewis speak on the above topic.)

    I spent the afternoon and evening traipsing all over Rome with Bee yesterday. And we have pictures. Fun!

    Amara

  2. Clifford says:

    Thanks for the extra information Amara! In the earlier post, I also pointed out the reaction to his remarks from other NASA scientists, such as Jim Hansen. Yes I’ve been following Bush’s recent pronouncements on matters concerning climate change.

    Ah Bee is there now… Hi Bee!

    Excellent… Come on! share those pictures!

    -cvj

  3. Amara says:

    Clifford: I gave Bee my camera to use because hers was packed in the luggage that Alitalia failed to deliver on time. Her luggage arrived three days later, last night, while we were playing tourists in Rome. I’ll go get my camera tonight from her, but I’ll leave the ‘saying’ and photos to her because I’m curious what she will show and say at the end. However, she has a presentation to prepare and give and more travel very soon so her stories and pictures of her Italy adventures will be delayed a little bit.

  4. Amara says:

    Oh this is funny! No, Bee and I had nothing to do with this…. We were not in the immedate vicinity.. but I wish we were! 🙂

  5. Bee says:

    Hi There 🙂

    I’ve downloaded the photos and have put some on my blog… will have more if I manage to finish my talk (plus my server is down and I can’t upload the jpgs). Actually, Amara and I, we were talking about the NASA guy yesterday. You know what really worries me about things like this is not whether somebody has an opinion that might be questionable, but how much brouhaha there is around if one person says one sentence. That’s just completely inappropriate, no matter who that person is. I wonder how that came along, this request that everybody who appears in the media has to be perfect in politicial correctness and unquestionable wording. Best,

    B.

  6. Clifford says:

    Did you listen to what he said? Go to the earlier post and hear the interview. I think it is interesting to listen to. And it was not one sentence.

    I don’t agree with you about the emphasis in cases such as this. I think that when you are the head of a huge organization with a budget that size, and essentially in control (symbolically or otherwise) of the fortunes of very many research programs and the scientists concerned…it is important to watch what you say about what you are doing with the resources, why you are doing what you are doing, and so forth. And it is important to watch what such people are saying, since it can be early warnings of what’s actually going on behind the scenes as opposed to what they might wish you to believe is going on.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  7. ccpetersen says:

    Griffin’s comments came out while I was at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, and a lot of people were shaking their heads over that one. Between him speaking his mind and the NASA press room’s proclivities for understating, understanding, and misstating things, NASA does NOT appear to have a good trip on reality. Of course, appearance is everything, even when the underlying reality IS that a lot of people at NASA DO have a grip on reality and are doing excellent work, despite this administration’s efforts to appease “the base” that doesn’t like science or rational thought.

    *sigh*

  8. Bee says:

    Hi Clifford,

    no, I didn’t listen to it, and I currently don’t have the time. I didn’t refer to Griffin specifically. Apparently he said something that a lot of people found objectionable.

    I think that when you are the head of a huge organization with a budget that size, and essentially in control (symbolically or otherwise) of the fortunes of very many research programs and the scientists concerned…it is important to watch what you say about what you are doing with the resources, why you are doing what you are doing, and so forth.

    Well, this is exactly what worries me. Being a ‘head’ of a huge organization doesn’t necessarily mean that persons personal opinion equals the opinion of the majority in that organization. Gee, I’m not even sure if Bush represents the majority of the US citizens. One person shouldn’t be ‘essentially in control’ of the fortunes of a group of people – symbolically or otherwise. Yet, the reaction to what he said does reflect exactly that – namely that many people are at least afraid it is the case (maybe it’s in fact the case, I don’t know very much about the NASA organization). You see the same thing happening in other areas as well, person x says b where he should have said a, the media blows the bubble up with hot air, somebody proclaims the doom of the civilization and requests person x is fired or crucified or both. All I am saying is that this overreaction is as harmful as what was actually said.

    It probably was a stupid thing to say, and yes, everyone of us should watch what we say – whether on TV on the radio or in a talk, but we’ve all said stupid things.

    Best,

    B.

  9. Clifford says:

    Sure, we’ve all said stupid things. But we’re not all in such a prominent and influential position. If you are objecting to the existence of influential positions, that is a different matter. The fact is that this is the way we have structured our governments and other organizations, and so this is what we are working with.

    It is important when Bush says something stupid or ill-informed because it can reflect the future direction of major policy -such as committing several countries to a pointless and endless war. Whether or not the majority of the USA agreed with him was largely irrelevant at that point…he’d already been elected. Similarly, it is important when the head of NASA says things that reinforce a worrying direction that NASA has taken (for political reasons more than scientific ones)…it may tell us something about future policy… future commitments.

    Finally, we cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, we wring our hands and lament when the press (and the members of the general public who get their information from it) ignores or underplays a scientific issue such as global warming, and other environmental issues we think the public should care about. Then things changed and its in the news a lot. Great. When the head of one of the government agencies charged with spending huge amounts of money says a strange statement about the matter on a prime time news programme, we cannot then complain that they jumped on it. We cannot have it both ways. Do we want coverage and public debate of the issue or not? I think it is too easy to blame the press for everything… I would say that here they largely did the right thing in highlighting it. The blame lies firmly in the most obvious place…. the head of NASA said stupid, ill-informed, and downright strange things. He was called on it, and that is the way it should be. He even had the decency to apologize (kind of). That is good too.

    -cvj

  10. gordon says:

    Stupid, ill-informed and downright strange things…”?
    How-so? Saying we are not necessarily in the optimal climate now is any of the above?
    Saying that the impact of warming may not be catastrophic is any of the above?
    The portion of Griffin’s “apology” where he says this is political, not technical is certainly correct, as is the portion saying he wishes he hadnt gotten involved, as obviously this
    is a no-win situation for him as head of NASA, when an Apocalyptic mania has gripped
    most of the populace.

  11. Arun says:

    “The significance of the Administrator’s remarks is the insight it provides into the February 2006 massacre of the Earth Science Research and Analysis budget (which funds NASA support of Earth Science research at universities as well as NASA Centers, primarily Goddard Space Flight Center), as discussed here.”

    Via, CIP,
    http://capitalistimperialistpig.blogspot.com/2007/06/death-to-nasa.html

    Via think-progress and the NY Times:

    “But from 2002-2006, it was. Part of NASA’s mission was to “protect our home planet“:

    To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.

    In Feb. 2006, the mission statement was “quietly altered” to remove the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet.” Even a year ago, NASA scientists predicted that because of the mission statement revision, there would “be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.””

    ( http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/science/22nasa.html?ex=1181361600&en=5819f2ec5c8df41d&ei=5070 )

    ——————————–

    Sorry, Bee, I don’t think this is just some one questionable statement. This is like Dick Cheney approving of torture, or Abu Gonzales, the Attorney General saying that there is no right to habeas corpus in the Constitution. It is a statement of policy – and not future policy, but currently working policy.

  12. Clifford says:

    Hi gordon.

    Please go to my first post on this: “NASA’s wrong stuff” is the title. Please listen to the whole interview, and listen also to the interview that it was in response to, and perhaps read the article that prompted both interviews. I characterize his remarks in that context. The issue is broader than just simplistic remarks about global warming. It is in the broader context of what NASA’s mission is, and whether manned Mars missions are the best use of resources, and whether the push to do all of that is affecting other programs or not. Did you hear all of that? Did you weigh his responses in the light of that issue? Or are you simply sticking to the narrower (and somewhat tedious) discussion of whether our actions have affected global warming or not and whether we should change those actions?

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  13. gordon says:

    No I havent listened to the interview, only read the newsreport.
    Also, I don’t think that manned Mars shots are a good use of resources. The issues are not linked.
    But neither do I believe that Kyoto is a good use of resources when many
    good scientists, Freeman Dyson amongst them, agree. Sure humans have
    an influence on CO2 emission. The argument is to what degree, and also how hubristic
    is it to assume a “war on global warming” is going to have any more impact than the
    ‘war on drugs” or the “war on terror” or the “war on cancer”. There are better, less arrogant ways of proceeding, as I think Griffin was indicating

  14. Clifford says:

    I see. You haven’t listened, so only are picking up on what the reports chose to emphasize. And you’ve chosen to unlink the issues even though the issues are clearly linked in the context of the remarks being discussed.

    I see.

    Thanks…

    -cvj

  15. simon says:

    Arun-

    I am confused. Are you speaking about Al Gore or Hansen? These are the fools who continuously make statements that cannot be substantiated by facts. We have Al Gore’s assertions that are in clear contradiction to the facts as science understands them today. I will add that Hansen’s models are now regularly over predicting ocean temperature and he has taken no action to address this error. These men deserve to be challenged by the public for their errors. Your attack on Griffen is misplaced at best and likely to be driven by mean, spirited dogmatic ideology.

    I would ask you to reason with facts versus just make slanderous statements about others which you cannot substantiate. You owe Griffen, Bee and the rest of us an apology for your statements.

    Please put aside political rhetoric and think using facts. I hope that even fools can learn. Your comparisons are political pap.

  16. Zing says:

    Bee, cvj:
    Best to say less about this sort of thing. You’d appreciate more if you work inside such a large complicated organization like NASA jammed full of scientists (not to mention their considerable egos), constantly under fiscal & oversight control by politicians in Congress and administrative control by the president. We don’t know what’s behind the scene and what tensions Griffin is under. I am not offering Griffin any slack – he’s well-qualified with 5 PhDs and knows the ways of NASA. Griffin doesn’t do stupid thing. It looks like a bit of political dance so let him dance, as people in high places sometimes need to do.

  17. Bee says:

    Hi Clifford,

    First, let me repeat that I didn’t hear the interview and so don’t want to say anything about NASA. Yes, you are right, I generally don’t think a lot of power should be in the hand of little people (being German I even have my reservations about this in emergency situations). This is what I tried to express: that people get so upset about a statement of one person means that there is a lot of power in that persons opinion (stupid or not), and worse, to get upset about it makes this persons opinion even more important (as Zing said, could as well be a ‘political dance’, a play with the media). All I wanted to express is that I don’t like what this reflects about the organizations we live with.

    It is important when Bush says something stupid or ill-informed because it can reflect the future direction of major policy -such as committing several countries to a pointless and endless war. Whether or not the majority of the USA agreed with him was largely irrelevant at that point…he’d already been elected. Similarly, it is important when the head of NASA says things that reinforce a worrying direction that NASA has taken (for political reasons more than scientific ones)…it may tell us something about future policy… future commitments.

    I understand you’re trying to say one should be worried about what he said because it might be more than just his opinion. That of course might indeed be the case. Whether or not the majority of the USA agreed with him was largely irrelevant at that point…he’d already been elected yes. If sombody is in a high position he ‘should’ better not run around with an own opinion but be very careful that what he says reflects the organization behind him – in principle I’d say, true, just that this never works in practice.

    Best,

    B.

  18. Bee says:

    Whether or not the majority of the USA agreed with him was largely irrelevant at that point…he’d already been elected sorry, there was a sentence missing above. what I meant to remark about this is that after he’d been elected he should still represent the majority of the parliament. if not, it’s called a monarchy, not a democracy. that’s why I find it so weird, opening an US newspaper and reading Bush said, Bush wants, Bush does.

  19. Clifford says:

    Zing, Bee:- You may well be right.

    Best,

    -cvj

  20. DancingBear says:

    No, no, what Griffin said was an unqualified, unconditioned embarrassment. No political dance; he was even called on it by Marburger. His so-called apology was about having being caught, not about his misinformed opinion and wrong priority. The subtext was “darn it, I should have just continued to quietly steer the agency away from climate research”.

    All my friends who are at NASA were in disbelief. In horror.

  21. ccpetersen says:

    Gosh, Simon. Have you actually READ anything that Gore or Hansen have written? Or are you reacting to what others have said they think they said.

    If you haven’t read their work, then you probably are not qualified to comment as to what they’ve said, much less describe it as “spouting off.” If you have, then I wonder what you took away from it.

    I have and am currently reading both Hansen and Gore. And others who ARE qualified to speak to issues of global warming and science. And I don’t them to be “spouting off” even though I was somewhat skeptical at first. But, I have evidence and data before me, and it’s telling the story that many would prefer to not to hear. Too bad. Reality bites.

    Yet, I DO find Griffin’s little byplay to be “spouting off”… and I also find that Griffin likes to blame the press for his own lack of ability to form his thoughts clearly. That’s unfortunate, but to be expected when one wants to cover one’s hiney for one’s gaffes in this administration.

  22. Zing says:

    Get real but not nuts

    No doubt a warming trend is real. That trend took some 200 years to come to this stage, accelerating during the past century. But Earth has gone through many many vastly more wild warming and cooling trends over the past million years. Let’s not forget the deep cold trends of the last Ice Age that started 35,000 years ago and ended only 15,000 years ago. All these changes are way more potent than the current one. Man has survived all these changes. Man is not going to ‘fix’, if indeed it is fixable by man, in a few short decades. It is a century-long project.

    But global warming has been turned into an opportunity for self-serving agendas by certain people – politicians, media, and yes scientists who wants to jump into the bandwagon to secure juicy project fundings. They take advantage of public fear of the unknown and smile at the occasional mass hysteria. From this they see a fortune for themselves.

    Dr. Griffin, an accomplished highly qualified scientist runs NASA competently. Be careful when you accuse him of being stupid, or a crony of Bush. He’s not either. He was 100% confirmed by the Senate. But Congress gives him a very tight budget to do the Shuttle and space science research. In the middle of this you now have a bunch of climate scientists, backed by opportunistic politicians, who wants to divert precious NASA dollars to ‘fix’ global warming. There’s no money for this, and its not NASA mission. Dr. Griffin pointed out the basic requirements – who decides the climate we now have is a danger to mankind, that future climate will get more dangerous, what should be done and how much to spend. Who’s willing to come out and say things such as: In 20 years temperature will go up xx degrees, flooding the following places, causing yy damages and therefore we must spend $zz trillion dollars to fix it. I hear no scientist willing to say this. This is a problem for world leaders, not the head of NASA. If the US Congress wishes NASA to do climate research to address global warming, then let they direct so and provide the funding. In the meantime, I salute you Dr Griffin for standing up to the mass hysteria and selfish opportunism. Just do the Shuttle and bring us those wonderful space science research crafts, do explorations and amazing images of the cosmos.

  23. simon says:

    ccpetersen-

    I am happy to hear that you are capable of reading. My question then is are you capable of comprehension?

    I will not recite all the errors that Al Gore and Hansen have been making in their desperate attempts to squelch debate on this topic. If you have read Hansen’s work as you indicate please check into the estimates that his model is producing for ocean temperatures. You will find that the errors are material and persistent.

    Please feel to address the question raised versus merely informing us that you can read.

    DancingBear-

    I am pleased to hear that you have friends at NASA. That aside your comments are merely opinion substantiated without a single fact. If we all debate with your technique (ie I have smart friends who say… which by the way is a variant of my dad is stronger than your dad) we will need to forgo reason.

  24. Clifford says:

    simon:- You’re welcome to share your views, but try -please- to keep a civil tone. ccpetersen treated your last comment with respect…. show your quality by affording the same in return. Same goes for your other remarks.

    Thanks.

    -cvj

  25. Haelfix says:

    I happen to like the whole planned mission to Mars. I also don’t think its very likely to happen, but it does fund corporate welfare for lots of engineers, and there might be some interesting ofshoots.

    Yes I am fully and painfully aware that it is in competition with some of *my* chosen fields funding and experiments, and most of my colleagues hate the idea with such passion it really kinda saddens me.

    My point of view is we should do both. Physics as well as these ‘pie in the sky’ space exploration projects. And even if they compete against each other in practise, I don’t endorse scrapping the entire idea.

    Of course somehow the fact that its now a R vs D debate, has turned the whole thing into some sort of ridiculous circus.

  26. simon says:

    clifford-

    I will admit that I am sarcastic but I believe I have stayed focused on the question. Both individuals in question have chosen to attack others without offering any facts. I invite them to marshal facts to address the questions that I have posed.

  27. Clifford says:

    Sure… None of us (including you) have offered facts here. The research papers and reports are out there for all to read. (And I’ve done many blog posts pointing to them… which you can find links to in the archives.) I don’t think anyone wants to revisit the old tired arguments now, to be honest. I think that it’s a bit more interesting to most people to discuss what we should do about the situation we are in, rather than arguing (mostly in circles) about whether we are in a situation at all. People are mostly tired of that latter path, I suspect.

    Best,

    -cvj

  28. DancingBear says:

    Simon, you misunderstand me. When I say

    “All my friends who are at NASA were in disbelief”

    I am not trying to make a point by appealing to authority, but I am making a _factual_ statement (based on my limited sample, of course) about how bad Griffin’s comments were for the morale of NASA scientists and for their trust in their own leadership.

  29. simon says:

    Clifford-

    I presented the fact that Hansen’s models have systematically missed ocean temperatures. This is a fact and a material issue. The problems with his modeling are material.

    DancingBear-

    The reason I took issue with your statement is that several NASA scientists have publicly supported his statement. In addition, I to have friends at NASA who support his statement. Thus we are left to the rhetoric.

  30. Len Ornstein says:

    Simon…and others:

    Hansen’s GISS Model E GCM comes in various versions. They include at least three ocean models; q-flux, dynamical coupled ocean, and oceans with the fixed variations of historical sea surface temperatures (SSTs). The latter, of course, is not very useful for directly predicting the future climate. But it is useful for comparing the performance of a coupled dyanamical ocean model’s performance for the same historical period. The members of the Goddard group are perfectly aware of the small ‘failures’ of their coupled model, with respect to reproducing SSTs…and their consequences. As a result, Hansen’s positions on warming, consequent Arctic and Antarctic rates of melting, “tipping points”, etc., are in no way biased by such performance biases of their models.

    If you read his papers, you’ll find a remarkably comprehensive review of climate data and the performance of a large array of different institutional GCMs. A continuing concern with the technical aspects of climate monitoring and modeling, since the late 1970’s, equips him with the credentials and perspective to be able to make credible predictions. He has a well-known reputation for great caution in extrapolating climate data and model predictions. And he has a sound record for predicting the actual magnitudes of warming over the period, 1980-2000.

    Cheap shots about “model defects”, or fudge-factors, from which all GCMs suffer, doesn’t serve to enlighten the discussion. Criticize particular ‘erroneus’ boundary conditions leading to scenario predictions, and tells us why they shouldn’t be trusted. The vast majority of climatologists support something close to Jim Hansen’s position, rather than Griffin’s.