Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hands up if you thought the USA was free from political censorship

Well, yes, I did, because, you know, that First Amendment thing.

So it came as a bit of a shock to learn of two recent instances of what can only be described as political censorship, on the one hand of science and on the other of the arts.

Here is the censorship of science, by officials in Texas, the state governed by antiscience loon Rick Perry. (I am pasting the whole thing because most of the links are subscription only and it may soon be difficult to view).

10/15/2011 11:34:09 AM EDT -- Guardian (UK)

International: Scientists disown environment report in protest at censorship by Perry appointees

Officials in Rick Perry's home state of Texas have set off a scientists' revolt after mentions of climate change and sea-level rise were purged from what was supposed to be a landmark environmental report. The scientists said they were disowning the report on the state of Galveston Bay because of political interference and censorship from Perry appointees at the state's environmental agency.

By academic standards, the protest amounts to the beginning of a rebellion: every scientist associated with the 200-page report has demanded their names be struck from the document. "None of us can be party to scientific censorship so we would all have our names removed," said Jim Lester, a co-author of the report and vice-president of the Houston Advanced Research Centre.

"To me it is simply a question of maintaining scientific credibility. This is simply antithetical to what a scientist does," Lester said. "We can't be censored."

Perry, in his run for the Republican nomination for the presidency, has elevated denial of science - from climate change to evolution - to an art form. He opposes any regulation of industry and has repeatedly challenged the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Texas is the only state to refuse to sign up to the federal government's new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. "I like to tell people we live in a state of denial in the state of Texas," said John Anderson, an oceanographer at Rice University and author of the chapter in the report targeted by the government censors.

That state of denial percolated down to the leadership of the Texas commission on environmental quality. The agency chief, who was appointed by Perry, is known to doubt the science of climate change. "The current chair of the commission, Bryan Shaw, commonly talks about how human-induced climate change is a hoax," said Anderson.

Scientists had hoped to avoid a clash by avoiding direct reference to human causes of climate change and sticking to materials from peer-reviewed journals. However, that plan began to unravel when officials from the agency made numerous unauthorised changes to Anderson's chapter, deleting references to climate change, sea-level rise and wetlands destruction.

"It is basically saying that the state of Texas doesn't accept science results published in Science magazine," Anderson said. "That's going pretty far."

Officials deleted a reference to the sea level at Galveston Bay rising five times faster than the long-term average - 3mm a year, compared with 0.5mm a year - which Anderson noted was a scientific fact. "They just simply went through and summarily struck out any reference to climate change, any reference to sea-level rise, any reference to human influence - it was edited or eliminated," said Anderson. "That's not scientific review, that's just straightforward censorship."

The agency defended its actions. "It would be irresponsible to take whatever is sent to us and publish it," Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. "Information was included in a report that we disagree with."

She said Anderson's report had been "inconsistent with current agency policy", and he had refused to change it. She refused to answer any questions.

Campaigners say the censorship by the Texas authorities is a throwback to the George Bush era, when White House officials interfered with scientific reports on climate change. In recent years such politicisation of science has spread to the states. In the most notorious case Virginia's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has spent a year investigating grants made to a prominent climate scientist, Michael Mann, when he was at a state university.

(c) 2011 Guardian Newspapers Limited.


And here is the artistic censorship, this time of that venerable American institution Doonesbury, of which I have been a fan for thirty-five years now. Gary Trudeau's strip has tracked American politics (and other aspects of American life) since the Watergate era, and has done so without interference (though not without attracting both vigorous criticism and equally vigorous support).

As a non-American, I must admit that the recent Doonesbury thread, with reporter Roland Hedley reviewing Jo McGinness's The Rogue (a no-hold-barred book on Sarah Palin) left me pretty unmoved: not surprising as the book hasn't made any ripples whatosever over here. Heck, since her failed VP run most Brits have forgotten Palin herself altogether. But browsing about to see how the book was being received in the USA, I came across this story on McGinness's blog.

Here is the first Doonesbury strip (of six) about Roland Hedley moving in next door to Joe McGinniss (which I didn't understand at all at the time).

And here's the first of the series where he's got hold of a review copy of "The Rogue".

(I have noticed, BTW, that even though my links specify the exact date, they often resolve to the current Doonesbury page. You may need to be sneaky and persistent.)

It seems funny that in a nation which rightly prides itself on its constitutionally-protected freedom of speech, and in which the publication of the deliberately offensive Mohammed cartoons was supported as a free speech issue (and rightly so as far as U.S. law goes, however unpleasant the cartoons) the press isn't all over this new "censorship of cartoons" story. I bet that if Trudeau had drawn something that mght offend Muslims and a paper had pulled the strip as a result we'd have heard the shrieks of rage all the way across the Atlantic.

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