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February 14, 2008

Five Things You Didn't Know about Jim Hansen

HansenThis year's winner of the AAAS award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility is as close to a household name as there is in climate science. James Hansen of Columbia University and NASA has been studying Earth's climate for more than three decades. In 2006, he said he was being "censored" after NASA public affairs officials turned down certain interview requests with him on climate change. Hansen spoke to Science before receiving his award, and revealed a few things you might not know about him:

1. He first met Al Gore in 1982, when the future Nobel Peace Prize winner was holding some of the earliest hearings on global warming. "It was quite impressive that a congressperson was that well informed about the science," Hansen says.

2. Hansen is occasionally recognized by strangers. "It has happened a few times recently," he laughs. Recently on an airplane, an executive with a company that sells hydrogen-powered cars approached him and asked if he'd be willing to drive one of the firm's vehicles for a while. "I said, well, I would except there aren't many stations to fill it up," Hansen says. "I don't want to drive out of my way."

3. Hansen's best day at work involves a spacecraft launched in 1978: "It may have been when our proposed Pioneer Venus mission was accepted [by NASA]. But I resigned as principal investigator when I got interested in Earth."

4. Hansen's worst day? The day after the 2004 election. In October 2004, Hansen spoke out publicly on his concerns about climate change and his view that the Bush Administration hasn't done enough to fight it. "I mentioned I was going to vote for Kerry because the climate issue was that important." Then, of course, president George Bush beat Kerry to claim his second term in office. "I had to come to the institute the day after the election to hold a staff meeting and I was worried because I'd made a statement against the president," says Hansen. "But there wasn't any action against us." 

5. The first floor of the building that houses the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, which Hansen runs, includes Tom's Restaurant, shown in exterior shots on the television show Seinfeld; it's the diner where Jerry and the gang hang out.

--Eli Kintisch