Preposterous Universe

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Here is a rare chance for me to provide actual information rather than warmed-over opinion. A New York Times story reports that NASA instructed its employees not to comment on "The Day After Tomorrow", an upcoming movie in which global warming sets off all sorts of disasters. The natural worry is that the Bush administration is concerned about lending credibility to anything that suggests global warming might be something to worry about. This has been commented on by David Harris, John McKay, Charles Perez, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Fred at the Dead Parrot Society. (For some discussion of the film itself, have a look at Chris Mooney.)

My inside contacts at NASA (really, I'm not kidding) have forwarded me this more recent email that has been sent around:
Movie Support Clarification

News reports in recent days have suggested that NASA has attempted to "muzzle" researchers from responding to the issues raised in the upcoming movie "The Day After Tomorrow." To the contrary, NASA expects that as colleagues, we will speak our minds, regardless of whether those views work to the advantage of the agency or not.

Diversity of opinion is a valuable resource and plays an important role as we work to successfully fulfill our mission objectives.

To clarify the specific issue, a number of NASA colleagues assisted with the film's development. However, we require producers to sign a cooperation agreement before offering any formal advance promotional support. This is a standard agency policy that has successfully worked with other entertainment blockbusters such as "Armageddon" and "Space Cowboys."

But, the producers of "The Day After Tomorrow" have not signed an agreement. As such, NASA does not plan any specific support of this production.

This direction should not be interpreted as an attempt to keep scientists from speaking out on the issue of climate change. We encourage our researchers to openly answer all appropriate questions regarding the science explored in the movie.

Glenn Mahone
Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs
I don't know if this is an embarrassed reversal of policy, or if the original intent was simply distorted. But it's important to understand that "The Day After Tomorrow" lacks the detailed NASA input that made "Armageddon" and "Space Cowboys" such plausible and artistic films.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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