NASA tries to silence its top climate researcher

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:11 AM GMT on January 30, 2006

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NASA�s top climate researcher has been told by his superiors to stop voicing his opinions on climate change. Dr. James Hansen, director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a New York Times interview that the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since a Dec. 6 lecture at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he gave his personal views that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles. Furthermore, he expressed his opinion that without United States leadership, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

Dr. Hansen is one of the world�s foremost climate researchers. He has published hundreds of papers and testified numerous times before Congress on the issue of climate change. He said that NASA headquarters officials had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists. He was warned of �dire consequences� if his public statements continued. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions, noting that NASA's mission statement includes the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet."

A public affairs official at NASA said that government scientists were free to discuss scientific issues, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen. Since Dr. Hansen�s December 6 talk, NASA has rejected several media requests to interview him, including one by National Public Radio (NPR). According to Leslie McCarthy, a public affairs officer responsible for the NASA Goddard Institute, a NASA public affairs official appointed by the White House, George Deutsch, rejected the NPR interview request. He called NPR �the most liberal� media outlet in the country, and that his job was �to make the president look good.� Deutsch denied making the statements. McCarthy disagrees, saying she has no reason to lie.

The effort to control information coming out of NASA echoes similar directives issued last Fall in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when on September 29, a memo aimed all National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees (including those in the National Weather Service) ordered them not to speak to the national media unless the interview request was first approved by public affairs personnel. I talked to a contact at NWS who confirmed that the memo was indeed sent out, and was likely done in response to the political fallout from the Katrina disaster.

Both NASA and NOAA have emphasized that the rules preventing scientists from speaking freely to the media had always been in place, but that the rules were being enforced more rigorously now. I say the new enforced restrictions are ridiculous. Our scientists have never needed these restrictions in the past. Our tax-payer salaried scientists should be free to speak out on more than just their scientific findings without the chilling oversight of politically-appointed officials concerned with �making the president look good.� Climate change is of critical importance to all of us, and we should hear the opinions of those scientists who understand the issue the best.

Jeff Masters

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311. F5
9:55 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Here's another link to some great research and blogs on climate studies.

Link.

This is run by Colorado State University
310. F5
9:32 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Esarhaddon,

It's not my theory, and in fact, it isn't a theory at all. The upward trend in temperatures began in the late 19th century, and seemd to accelerate after 1940.

There are number of causes of the fluctuation.

"Since our entire climate system is fundamentally driven by energy from the sun, it stands to reason that if the sun's energy output were to change, then so would the climate. Since the advent of space-borne measurements in the late 1970s, solar output has indeed been shown to vary. There appears to be confirmation of earlier suggestions of an 11 (and 22) year cycle of irradiance. With only 20 years of reliable measurements however, it is difficult to deduce a trend. But, from the short record we have so far, the trend in solar irradiance is estimated at ~0.09 W/m2 compared to 0.4 W/m2 from well-mixed greenhouse gases. There are many indications that the sun also has a longer-term variation which has potentially contributed to the century-scale forcing to a greater degree. There is though, a great deal of uncertainty in estimates of solar irradiance beyond what can be measured by satellites, and still the contribution of direct solar irradiance forcing is small compared to the greenhouse gas component. However, our understanding of the indirect effects of changes in solar output and feedbacks in the climate system is minimal. There is much need to refine our understanding of key natural forcing mechanisms of the climate, including solar irradiance changes, in order to reduce uncertainty in our projections of future climate change.

In addition to changes in energy from the sun itself, the Earth's position and orientation relative to the sun (our orbit) also varies slightly, thereby bringing us closer and further away from the sun in predictable cycles (called Milankovitch cycles). Variations in these cycles are believed to be the cause of Earth's ice-ages (glacials). Particularly important for the development of glacials is the radiation receipt at high northern latitudes. Diminishing radiation at these latitudes during the summer months would have enabled winter snow and ice cover to persist throughout the year, eventually leading to a permanent snow- or icepack. While Milankovitch cycles have tremendous value as a theory to explain ice-ages and long-term changes in the climate, they are unlikely to have very much impact on the decade-century timescale. Over several centuries, it may be possible to observe the effect of these orbital parameters, however for the prediction of climate change in the 21st century, these changes will be far less important than radiative forcing from greenhouse gases." Taken from Link.

Hope that answers your question.
309. globalize
9:46 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Sorry Snowboy, won't abbreviate in future. No offense meant.
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308. globalize
9:39 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
SB- Many nations have recognized the necessity of restricting population growth. Many have not.
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306. snowboy
9:29 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
globalize, what pray tell is the point to that last comment?
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305. globalize
9:24 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
The Asian populations have increased at a rate quadruple the rate Blair referred to.
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304. Esarhaddon
8:37 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
I see lots of discussion of Natural Climate variation here. What is the evidence that we are currently in an upward trend for the natural climate variation, that you (F5 or hurricanechaser) are basing your theory on?

The simple fact that warming has happened before so natural variation must be the explaination now rings hollow.

What are the main causes of natural climate variation?
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303. snowboy
9:06 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
From his forward to a report outlining how small an increase in global temps it would take to melt the Greenland ice sheet within 1000 years (triggering a 20 foot rise in world sea levels), British PM Tony Blair:

"It is clear from the work presented that the risks of climate change may well be greater than we thought," British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in a foreword to the report.

"It is now plain that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialization and economic growth from a world population that has increased six-fold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that is unsustainable."
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302. cyclonebusted
4:02 PM EST on January 30, 2006
In most EU countries they have had cars capable of doing 60-70mpg for about 14 years.
It seems most of the rest of the world where their vaible are buying them.
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301. snowboy
8:58 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
F5, that was the argument used by American car companies to stop building decent fuel efficient cars and put all their eggs in the SUV, minivan, pick up market. And now that (surprise, surprise) oil prices are way up and no one wants the big gas-guzzlers, Ford and GM are on the ropes.

Like I said, it won't be American workers getting the jobs of the future, and that's in significant part because the US admin is so stuck in the past.
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300. cyclonebusted
3:57 PM EST on January 30, 2006
And money that could be better spend in wars to get control of more oil
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299. F5
8:54 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
They can build them, but that doesn't mean people will buy them. And if not enough people buy them, they will stop building them, at least for the locations around the world that aren't buying them.
298. F5
8:52 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
They are spending lots of money and still not meeting their targets. Money that could be spent solving issues we know to be a problem, like diseases, hunger, etc.
297. snowboy
8:43 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
On the jobs front, you know who will have the next wave of jobs of the future? The car companies that build cars that can run a decent distance on an electrically-charged battery. The electricity could come from solar panels or windmills, either way we can have our cake and eat it too.

Just need someone to design and build those cars. Will it be Ford or GM? Nope, it will be a German or Japanese company because those countries are forward looking and thinking, have tight emission standards and high fuel taxes, pushing their car companies to innovate...
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296. F5
8:29 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
jeffB,

If someone wants to question the economic numbers, by all means, they should. However, note that I said estimated, and also provided a fairly large range (that's the range that has been estimated by a number of studies). I did not state as fact, and would never do so. Those numbers could be wrong, and I am open to that possibility. However, economics is no more difficult to model than the earth's climate. There are a multitude of chaotic inputs which interact in ways that sometimes are poorly understood, and of course, can be thrown off at any time by unanticipated actions.

And, I never said it was hopeless to model the global climate, I've never advocated stopping research, etc. We should continue to refine the existing models as our understanding increases.

However, one difference between the two is that BOTH sides of the global warming debate agree that there are economic consequences, they just disagree on the extent. The side that wants to reduce GHG emissions believes that the economic losses will be reduced by job gains provided by new technologies. That may or may not be true, and goes to the heart of the post by shauntanner. At least a portion of any job losses in the energy industry (coal miners, oil workers), chemical industry, etc., may never be recovered. Now, that in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. Technological advances constantly displace workers, and require them to find alternative employment. Think of the advances in the phone industry and what happened to all the old-time phone operators. However, being replaced because of technology advances and having your job eliminated by rules/restrictions on emission outputs that may not even solve the problem they supposedly create, while having the same end result of a job loss, bring about an entirely different set of emotions to the equation.
295. HurricaneMyles
8:49 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
And thier spending lots of money to do it. The President would rather spend money in Iraq. I never said I agreed, I just said thats what happening.
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294. HurricaneMyles
8:47 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
It will cool down sometime, probably not for another thousand years or so, but who knows, we could have another little ice age.
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293. cyclonebusted
3:44 PM EST on January 30, 2006
Myles

"However, do that on a large scale in a large economy like the US is very costly, hence the reason the President has not signed the Kyoto agreement."

and yet the EU countires with an economy basically the size of the US are willing to do it.

EU GDP 13.31 trillion (2005)
US GDP 12.77 trillion (2005)



Link
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292. Gatorboy
8:41 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
how do we know that this isnt another cycle the earth is going though, maybe it is going to warm up, then cool down again, we are living in a grain of speck on the sands of earth's life
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291. Skyepony (Mod)
8:09 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
JeffB~ that is interesting~ They replied to you with that? First i know of that replies were being sent back on any NOAA comment request.

I have yet to comment on it~ I used to use the site more often, but shortly before the comment period opened months ago, links started leading no where. It has grown steadily worse during the comment period.

I maintain my blog on political issues conserning the disemination of weather info & weather related bills, worse than IWIN's site has been maintained:) Others had been upset to see the site up for removal, I was just reminding them ~ comment period almost up.

The fact you got that reply amazes me. There's a law that states NOAA has to open to comments from citizens, private industry & universities any proposals that could change the way we recieve weather info & then seriously consider the comments. Seems like it's a done deal & comment phase hasn't even ended.

I really wasn't even planning on commenting myself. Though I don't like to see that there is plans to reduce NWS info web farms, IWIN is a bit outta date. Sometimes it is more effecent to teardown to rebuild. But now that their sending back replies so fast...I just might. I'll post a link in a few weeks where we can read the anonomous comments. As well as action taken.
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290. HurricaneMyles
8:28 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Which is why instead of trying to change the weather we should simply do as much as we can to leave it alone. Stop adding C02, and do as much as possible to reduce pollution. However, do that on a large scale in a large economy like the US is very costly, hence the reason the President has not signed the Kyoto agreement.
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289. jeffB
8:24 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
HurricaneMyles, you potentially get lots of unexpected damage and victims, just as you do if other activities lead to radical change. Given that any path can have unexpected consequences, it seems the prudent choice is to select the path whose expected consequences are best. Disagreement over these consequences is, of course, one of the main drivers of this debate.
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288. globalize
8:14 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Katrina only brushed New Orleans. The destruction of New Orleans was caused by an antiquated, ill-maintained 'fascade' of a levee system.

The city took in revenue by a variety of sources, most unavailable to other cities; ie. sugar, rice, spice trade, tourism, port and barge traffic, sports, ad infinitum. But no money to even elevate pumping stations.
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287. jeffB
8:18 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
F5 wrote:

Well, that's a mighty big IF, especially if you are one of the estimated 1 - 3.5 million Americans who would lose their job if Kyoto protocals were adopted by the US.

On a slight tangent, I do a little double-take when people say that it's hopeless to model global climate change (a product of relatively simple and well-understood physical processes), but are happy to accept predictions from models of global economic change (a product of individual, presumably free-willed, behavior). I don't mean to say that economic models are garbage -- I don't understand economics deeply enough to so presume -- but I don't see so much traffic questioning their assumptions.
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286. HurricaneMyles
8:20 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
JeffB, what happens when by purposly trying to change the weather you radically different results then planned?
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284. jeffB
8:10 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
The weather is one of the most complex systems out there. We need to certain of what we do before we try to purposely change it.

Hmm.

So, we shouldn't "try to purposely change it", but our ongoing activities that accidentally cause change are okay?

Besides, we've received repeated assurance here that our activities can't possibly lead to significant climate change. :-)

Finally, I (personally) don't think we have the luxury of waiting until we're "certain" to act. As you and others have correctly said, certainty isn't an option at present.
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280. globalize
8:13 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
All I can say is some cities do well with public works projects.
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278. shauntanner (Admin)
8:04 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
FS,
I thank you for your response to my question. But you answered the question with a question. I can't take that as a true answer. I will, however, answer your question to the amount of people who would lose their jobs if the Kyoto Protocol was adopted.
There is a vast new untapped industry in this country and worldwide. It's called renewable energy. If we put an equal amount of our jobs into producing renewable energy than we do into producing the current non-renewable energy sources, we could employ millions of MORE people instead of having people lose their jobs. We have a completely renewable energy source in the sky that we aren't using optimally. And I know that solar energy is not optimal right now because it isn't able to be stored. But that is exactly the point. We could make solar energy just as viable as our current dirty sources of energy if we just put the same amount of manpower in it. But, we don't. Primarily because of money...and that simply is not a good enough reason.
276. FtWaltonBch2Tucson
7:56 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Cyclone, do you realise just how many people died in the little ice age? Our crops are not able to handle extremes of cold very well at all (if they could, do you think Farmers would be worried about early frosts?)

If you push the climate cooler, then humans have to burn things to warm their homes or freeze to death. Hardly a way to promote a reduction of emissions.

Not to mention the small fact that it's the cold water current (La Nina) in the Pacific that helps Hurricanes, not the warm water current (El Nino). If you cool the earth, wouldn't you be more likely to cause conditions that could possibly allow a hurricane to grow? (Admittedly, not year-round, but more likely to have more of them in their normal season?)

This is precisely why I keep telling you that you need to research the subject before making claims. The weather is one of the most complex systems out there. We need to certain of what we do before we try to purposely change it.
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274. cyclonebusted
3:02 PM EST on January 30, 2006
Back to Kyoto and a rare British attack on Bush's administration.

Link
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273. ForecasterColby
7:58 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
And they elected people like Ray Nagin mayor...can you say "natural selection"?
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272. globalize
7:47 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
What was New Orleans? Demographically, it was a sprawling impoverished southern American city. Of course like any other city in states worldwide, there was a wealthy elite.
It was perhaps one of the most decadent and lazy cities in the US. And no, God didn't punish New Orleans for its 'voodooism'. But it is symptomatic of a non-progressive city, with an ignorant population to experience what they eventually experienced. The levee problem in New Orleans was known for fifty years, and it was primarily the city's problem to deal with. They never did.
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270. ForecasterColby
7:46 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
However, for all of you talking about "are you willing to continue that experiment"...what if it ISN'T human caused? In that case, you're experimenting with artificial cooling.
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269. F5
7:47 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Interesting response to the NASA/Hansen controversy...

"Over the weekend the media has been abuzz with claims NASA is trying to censor James Hansen - the "father of Global Warming" (see special "weekend edition" below) - In January, 1999, Hansen wrote The Global Warming Debate

The only way to have real success in science ... is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what's good about it and what's bad about it equally. In science you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty. Richard Feynman

In my view, we are not doing as well as we could in the global warming debate. For one thing, we have failed to use the opportunity to help teach the public about how science research works. On the contrary, we often appear to the public to be advocates of fixed adversarial positions. Of course, we can try to blame this on the media and politicians, with their proclivities to focus on antagonistic extremes. But that doesn't really help.

The fun in science is to explore a topic from all angles and figure out how something works. To do this well, a scientist learns to be open-minded, ignoring prejudices that might be imposed by religious, political or other tendencies (Galileo being a model of excellence). Indeed, science thrives on repeated challenge of any interpretation, and there is even special pleasure in trying to find something wrong with well-accepted theory. Such challenges eventually strengthen our understanding of the subject, but it is a never-ending process as answers raise more questions to be pursued in order to further refine our knowledge.

Skepticism thus plays an essential role in scientific research, and, far from trying to silence skeptics, science invites their contributions. So too, the global warming debate benefits from traditional scientific skepticism. ... By James Hansen January 1999.

So, James Hansen is a supporter of pure science, values scepticism and has no position of advocacy, right? Perhaps not. Consciously or not, Hansen promotes diddled data and actually did so in the above article ostensibly promoting impartial science. Perhaps the most egregious example is the "Common Sense Climate Index" (Hansen et al, 1998) where the front page of the web portal promotes a completely fabricated warming trend (page contains data captured prior to the removal of pre-1880 data from public access). Hansen has a history of embellishment and overstatement and is viewed as squarely in the political advocacy camp. Is NASA "censoring" James Hansen? Somehow we doubt it, although perhaps it would be better for science generally if he were to return to science and refrain from straying into policy. We are a tad dubious that Hansen will abandon advocacy but must admit some curiosity over his raising such a large and smelly red herring now. What's going on Jim, departmental budget review coming up or something?"

This found on Link

268. F5
7:35 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
shauntanner,

Well, that's a mighty big IF, especially if you are one of the estimated 1 - 3.5 million Americans who would lose their job if Kyoto protocals were adopted by the US. Are you willing to lose your livelihood over something that may or may not be happening? Are you willing to force someone else to lose their livelihood over something you aren't sure may or may not be happening? Again, to make sure, I am not referring to whether global warming is happening or not. It is, that is a proven fact, so far as our measurements are accurate. There has been some debate over the amount of warming. GISS temperature measurements are a fair amount higher than UAH MSU temps, and there are reasons for that. Does that make the GISS temps correct? Dr. Hansen works for GISS BTW...

check out Link
267. HurricaneMyles
7:44 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Oh boy, lets not bring this back up.

Globalize, if you want to understand the whole issue you'll have to read through a few blogs. The really long ones are the ones that have debate over the tunnels. Probably the last 5-7 blogs or so.
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266. ForecasterColby
7:11 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
I will respond once to this argument, and then I will ignore it.

The Bush administration has certainly made some policies I disagree with. He has brought some laws up which I feel threaten my personal liberties. But that being said, facists? Come on. Which of your personal liberties is so infringed on that Bush is a facist?

Personally, I believe that Hansen was very foolish to state as fact what is unproven. As an employee of NASA, they have every right to tell him what he can and cannot, as a member of NASA, say. He can say whatever the heck he wants as an individual, but he's coming out and saying these things and basically saying "and I work for NASA so you should listen to me". NASA isn't telling him he can't speak, they're telling him he can't use their name as leverage. It's not like they can arrest him, but if he wants to keep his jub he needs to keep in line with their official positions.

Do we really think building barrier islands in front of NOLA would help anything? It was Cat 1 winds from Katrina that caused New Orleans to flood. The levees were undermined by water that was already there in the lake, and all the barrier islands in the world wouldn't have stopped that.

I do feel that protecting this planet's resources is important - but it is not politically viable. Don't go out and exaggerate things about how Bush's spending on the Iraq war could have saved New Orleans, because if, for the sake of arguement, he had tried to build barrier islands, he would have gotten STOMPED ON by Democrats and enviornmentalists.
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264. HurricaneMyles
7:38 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
LOL, cyclonebusted, I was already there. What were you trying to say? Besides that "Newtons Laws"(quote from that source) work for things on the small scale(things on planets, planet to planet gravity, solar systems) and Einsteins theory of relativity describes the large scale, things like galaxies and the bending of light by gravity.
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263. HurricaneMyles
7:29 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Global warming really isnt that bad for the Earth has a whole. Plants do better in a warmer, wetter, more C02 rich environment. Animals adapt, and with Antartica melted it gives plants animals more room to live.

Global warming is bad for humans, or so it's proposed. I dont really know. It could open up places like Greenland and Siberia as places that are decent places to live. Now I'm not saying we shouldnt stop polluting or not to move to renewable recources, we just cant say the global warming is all bad, their will be vast impacts of global warming around the world.
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262. globalize
7:32 PM GMT on January 30, 2006
Cylone, I haven't read the specifics of your tunnels solution. I think you must have posted that earlier, before I started reading this blog. If I'm correct, you somehow see forcing the upwelling of colder ocean waters to lessen tropical storm development. But even if such a project was realised, how long before the colder waters heated up as well?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.