It’s not just that the chicken littles are running around screaming that the sky is falling. They are also claiming that their views are scientific fact and that anyone who disagrees is a “denier,” akin to a Holocaust denier. That means, needing to be cast out of human community into the outer darkness.
In a time when a battalion of atheists is proclaiming a great victory over religion, global warmists have enlisted science in their efforts to remake the world economy. They insist that science has told them that global warming is going to produce a world-wide apocalypse, destroying the planet and perhaps even nature itself.
If you refuse to accept these truths, you will be shunned and ostracized, expelled from polite company. If you are a scientist who depends on funding from the government or foundations or universities your career will go up in smoke.
As I have occasionally noted, the scientists who have stood up against the global warming cult are simply beyond its reach. In many cases they are retired, like Nobel prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever and former head of climate science at MIT, Richard Lindzen.
But others are fighting the good fight, against the prophets of climate apocalypse and against those who would render science a handmaiden of gross superstition.
In a long and detailed essay Matt Ridley explains how science can be corrupted by bad data, bad analysis and bad conclusions. Once an error becomes elevated to the status of scientific fact, debate and discussion are shut down.
What passes as climate science is part of it, but it is not the only part.
It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas….
The theory that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease, based on a couple of terrible studies in the 1950s, became unchallenged orthodoxy and is only now fading slowly….
Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.
Ridley takes a measured position on the influence of greenhouse gasses on climate change:
The “bad idea” in this case is not that climate changes, nor that human beings influence climate change; but that the impending change is sufficiently dangerous to require urgent policy responses. In the 1970s, when global temperatures were cooling, some scientists could not resist the lure of press attention by arguing that a new ice age was imminent. Others called this nonsense and the World Meteorological Organisation rightly refused to endorse the alarm. That’s science working as it should.
But, those whose rational faculties are being led by their emotions (and their lust for fame and fortune) have sounded an increasingly shrill alarm:
Since then, however, inch by inch, the huge green pressure groups have grown fat on a diet of constant but ever-changing alarm about the future. That these alarms—over population growth, pesticides, rain forests, acid rain, ozone holes, sperm counts, genetically modified crops—have often proved wildly exaggerated does not matter: the organisations that did the most exaggeration trousered the most money. In the case of climate, the alarm is always in the distant future, so can never be debunked.
As often happens, one need but follow the money. Too many people have too much at stake to admit to being wrong:
These huge green multinationals, with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have now systematically infiltrated science, as well as industry and media, with the result that many high-profile climate scientists and the journalists who cover them have become one-sided cheerleaders for alarm, while a hit squad of increasingly vicious bloggers polices the debate to ensure that anybody who steps out of line is punished. They insist on stamping out all mention of the heresy that climate change might not be lethally dangerous.
Why is it not science? Because the conclusions precede the facts and determine which facts are acceptable. Only the facts that affirm the pre-conception are admitted:
Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a “pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence”. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.
Since much of today’s global warmism involves predictions about the future—aka prophecies—I have occasionally quoted Ludwig Wittgenstein’s statement that, by definition, there is no such thing as a scientific fact about the future.
Ridley raises the same point:
Scientists are terrible at making forecasts—indeed as Dan Gardner documents in his book Future Babble they are often worse than laymen. And the climate is a chaotic system with multiple influences of which human emissions are just one, which makes prediction even harder.
And, like other pseudoscientific projects—e.g. psychoanalysis— global warmism has become a pseudoreligion:
Following what the psychologist Philip Tetlock called the “psychology of taboo”, there has been a systematic and thorough campaign to rule out the middle ground as heretical: not just wrong, but mistaken, immoral and beyond the pale. That’s what the word denier with its deliberate connotations of Holocaust denial is intended to do. For reasons I do not fully understand, journalists have been shamefully happy to go along with this fundamentally religious project.
And he adds:
Excusing failed predictions is a staple of astrology; it’s the way pseudoscientists argue. In science, as Karl Popper long ago insisted, if you make predictions and they fail, you don’t just make excuses and insist you’re even more right than before….
The great Thomas Henry Huxley put it this way: “The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.” Richard Feynman was even pithier: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
Take President Obama’s statement, to the effect that 97% of scientists believe in the dangers of man-made climate change.
Ridley debunks it easily:
Barack Obama says that 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is “real, man-made and dangerous”. That’s just a lie (or a very ignorant remark): as I point out above, there is no consensus that it’s dangerous.
… The 97 per cent figure is derived from two pieces of pseudoscience that would have embarrassed a homeopath. The first was a poll that found that 97 per cent of just seventy-nine scientists thought climate change was man-made—not that it was dangerous. A more recent poll of 1854 members of the American Meteorological Society found the true number is 52 per cent.
The second source of the 97 per cent number was a survey of scientific papers, which has now been comprehensively demolished by Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, who is probably the world’s leading climate economist. As the Australian blogger Joanne Nova summarised Tol’s findings, John Cook of the University of Queensland and his team used an unrepresentative sample, left out much useful data, used biased observers who disagreed with the authors of the papers they were classifying nearly two-thirds of the time, and collected and analysed the data in such a way as to allow the authors to adjust their preliminary conclusions as they went along, a scientific no-no if ever there was one.
According to Joanne Nova, the delirium about climate change is based on an unproven assumption:
In her chapter in The Facts, Nova points out that the entire trillion-dollar industry of climate change policy rests on a single hypothetical assumption, first advanced in 1896, for which to this day there is no evidence.
The assumption is that modest warming from carbon dioxide must be trebly amplified by extra water vapour—that as the air warms there will be an increase in absolute humidity providing “a positive feedback”. That assumption led to specific predictions that could be tested. And the tests come back negative again and again. The large positive feedback that can turn a mild warming into a dangerous one just is not there. There is no tropical troposphere hot-spot. Ice cores unambiguously show that temperature can fall while carbon dioxide stays high. Estimates of climate sensitivity, which should be high if positive feedbacks are strong, are instead getting lower and lower. Above all, the temperature has failed to rise as predicted by the models.
Giving credit where credit is due, Ridley notes that many of the bloggers who are offering the most cogent critiques of climate pseudoscience are women:
Notice, by the way, how many of these fearless free-thinkers prepared to tell emperors they are naked are women. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist, has steadfastly exposed the myth-making that goes into polar bear alarmism, to the obvious discomfort of the doyens of that field. Jennifer Marohasy of Central Queensland University, by persistently asking why cooling trends recorded at Australian weather stations with no recorded moves were being altered to warming trends, has embarrassed the Bureau of Meteorology into a review of their procedures. Her chapter in The Facts underlines the failure of computer models to predict rainfall.
And then there is the dread hockey stick? Isn’t it a scientific fact?
And of course there was the mother of all scandals, the “hockey stick” itself: a graph that purported to show the warming of the last three decades of the twentieth century as unprecedented in a millennium, a graph that the IPCC was so thrilled with that it published it six times in its third assessment report and displayed it behind the IPCC chairman at his press conference.
Its hockey-stick shape depended heavily on one set of data from bristlecone pine trees in the American south-west, enhanced by a statistical approach to over-emphasise some 200 times any hockey-stick shaped graph. Yet bristlecone tree-rings do not, according to those who collected the data, reflect temperature at all. What is more, the scientist behind the original paper, Michael Mann, had known all along that his data depended heavily on these inappropriate trees and a few other series, because when finally prevailed upon to release his data he accidentally included a file called “censored” that proved as much: he had tested the effect of removing the bristlecone pine series and one other, and found that the hockey-stick shape disappeared.
Of course, the issue goes well beyond science. Global warming alarmists want to institute massive policy changes. They want, effectively, to repeal the Industrial Revolution. Since they believe that the sky is falling, and that the planet, even nature itself, will soon be extinguished, they refuse to consider the effects of their policy prescriptions.
The big difference is that these scientists who insist that we take their word for it, and who get cross if we don’t, are also asking us to make huge, expensive and risky changes to the world economy and to people’s livelihoods. They want us to spend a fortune getting emissions down as soon as possible. And they want us to do that even if it hurts poor people today, because, they say, their grandchildren (who, as Nigel Lawson points out, in The Facts, and their models assume, are going to be very wealthy) matter more.
Yet they are not prepared to debate the science behind their concern. That seems wrong to me.