How to Destroy Science: Cast Self-Interest as Public Interest
Bruce Alberts is the editor of Science magazine, though it's not exactly clear what the 75-year-old Alberts actually does there. The magazine is headquartered in New York, but Alberts is apparently headquartered in San Francisco.
Alberts is obviously a scientist with broad interests -- or, depending on your point of view, a know-it-all who is spread very thin. According to his website, he has managed to collect 16 honorary degrees and currently serves on 25 non-profit boards. Yet this busy man still finds the time to lecture our political leaders. He wants them to stop denying the science of climate change. Apparently, Alberts thinks that the politicians should shut up and listen to brilliant scientists, like himself, who really understand these things.
This is what the wise man said in an editorial in the December 21, 2012 issue of Science:
It is deeply discouraging that in the United States, many political leaders feel comfortable denying the Science of climate change. The acceptability of this stance represents a general failure of science education and communication. It is but one grave example that should spur scientists to focus much more effort on the critical task of ensuring that students, and the general public, understand[.]
According to Alberts, if you are skeptical concerning climate change, you have somehow missed out on an enlightened education. Apparently the hundreds of well-qualified scientists who share that skepticism also missed out.
The science of climate change is highly politicized, with one group of scientists claiming to be the authorities on the subject and another group claiming that the first group is taking liberties with the science. How does Alberts, a biochemist, know that the first group is the only one we should listen to? He knows because he is politically left, and the left embraces the scary climate change/global warming scenario. People on the left are enthusiastic about global warming, green energy, sustainability, and other real or imagined problems that cry out for strong government action. Of course, the cry is audible only to those on the left.
Organized science has become another special interest group lobbying for government favors. The temptation to present special-interest appeals as urgent public necessities has become not just irresistible, but commonplace. It is well-known that global warming skeptics are shut out of the pages of Alberts's magazine. Nothing is allowed that might derail any of the many federal gravy trains. The National Academies of Science, supposedly the government's science adviser, frequently issue lobbying appeals disguised as research plans, plans to improve national competitiveness, or plans to support economic growth. For example the Academies, in 2012, published a 241-page committee report: "A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling." The committee consisted of scientists who are a part of the climate modeling establishment. They envision a vast expansion of their own industry at taxpayer expense. This they justify on the grounds that it will help farmers and insurance companies. Obviously they are interested mainly in helping themselves to a serving of federal pork. The well-connected Alberts was president of the National Academies of Science for more than a decade. Another important science organization, the American Geophysical Union, sends delegations of scientists to Washington to speak with the congressmen about the need for more money for science -- that is to say more money for scientists.
The true believers in the threat of global warming use "education" and "communication" as euphemisms for suppressing and marginalizing dissenters. This crowd is strongly tempted by totalitarian solutions. The leading advocate of global warming fear, Dr. James Hansen, wants to put people who don't toe the line on trial for crimes against humanity. Peter Gleick, a scientist, a well-known advocate of global warming, and formerly the chairman of the American Geophysical Union task force on scientific ethics, impersonated someone else in order to steal documents from the Heartland Institute, a think-tank known for global warming skeptic leanings. When those documents were not incriminating, Gleick apparently forged an additional document designed to cast the Heartland Institute in a bad light. He then leaked these documents, to great fanfare among the left. He was, however, soon caught. The Obama administration declined to prosecute him for his obvious violations of federal law, and the American Geophysical Union quickly rehabilitated him. This happened so quickly that one has to wonder if Gleick knew too many secrets.
It is clearly open season on global warming skeptics, given that you can apparently get away with committing serious crimes against skeptic organizations if you are associated with the right people. Science magazine never mentioned the Gleick affair.
The science behind the global warming scare was never very strong, and there have always been plenty of skeptics, including skeptics with high qualifications in the relevant fields. The science is based on complex computer models of the climate that disagree wildly one with another. Many aspects of climate are unsolved puzzles. One such puzzle is the strong warming trend in the early 20th century, for which nobody has a good explanation.
The state of climate science is well-described by a quote attributed to Paul Ehrlich: "To err is human, but to really foul things up, you need a computer." In the last decade, the advocates of global warming have become increasingly desperate due to the failure of the Earth and oceans to warm. Rather than admitting that they have a problem, they simply change the nature of the predicted disaster. Now, instead of the original global warming, we have climate change, and that is being displaced by extreme weather and acidification of the oceans.
Like any aggressive political group, the advocates of global warming attempt to demonize their opponents. Skeptics are depicted as spreading misinformation and confusion, supposedly tactics pioneered by tobacco companies. They are depicted as being in the pay of fossil fuel companies, and if that doesn't work, they are depicted as being religious or ideological extremists. Rarely are they afforded the opportunity of having their scientific claims seriously considered. The advocates of global warming refuse to engage the skeptics in scientific debate lest it lend credibility to the skeptics.
Closet climate skeptics in the scientific community are everywhere. They are afraid, with good reason, to voice their doubts. They are afraid for their jobs and their grants. They are afraid of being attacked by green students or colleagues. Even public skeptics are restrained and speak quite differently in private from their public personas. One reason so many skeptics are retired, or from fields not under control of the climate science establishment, is because, as pensioners or outsiders, they have less to fear from the anger of that establishment.
Science is important. When establishment scientific organizations squander the credibility of science for short-term gain, that really is a crime against humanity.
Norman Rogers is a retired physicist. He serves as a volunteer adviser to the Heartland Institute, but the opinions expressed here are his own. He maintains a personal website.