Scientists Behaving Badly

A huge scandal has erupted in the global warming community, as a scientist who was fancied an expert on ethical behavior has confessed to identity fraud aimed at illegally obtaining documents to discredit a leading organization questioning the warmist gospel.  It is a hoax that may well be a crime.

Thirty-five years ago, I first cut my editorial teeth at the University Press of Colorado (then known as the clunky-sounding Colorado Associated University Press).  Unlike most university presses, we seldom published much in the humanities and instead focused on the Boulder academic community's strengths: physical and natural sciences.  Our director was quick to form both a personal and professional bond with some of the leading scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), so that over the late 1970s and 1980s we were able to publish seminal works on everything from hailstorms to the physical output of the sun.

If there is ever a Mt. Rushmore for atmospheric scientists, several men and women of that era will deservedly be memorialized in stone.  Led by Walter Orr Roberts, who was singlehandedly responsible for bringing NCAR to Boulder, the pantheon included Jack Eddy, who on his own time and dime (he had been laid off from NCAR in 1973 due to budget cuts and "poor performance") affirmed a link between solar variability and climate.  Since he was first and foremost a solar physicist, his primary interest was the behavior of the sun in recent history, and by taking a unique interdisciplinary approach studying a gamut of artifacts from tree rings to the observations of Galileo, he was able to correlate a cold period such as the Little Ice Age with relatively quiet solar activity.  Moreover, he debunked the notion that the sun's output was constant.  As he concluded somewhat prophetically, "[i]t was one more defeat in our long and losing battle to keep the Sun perfect, or, if not perfect, constant, and if inconstant, regular.  Why we think the Sun should be any of these when other stars are not is more a question for social than for physical science."

Eddy represented an NCAR that was very much about the sun and its influence on weather and climate, and whenever I called on him and others in the I.M. Pei-designed Mesa Laboratory that rises above Boulder, I felt completely confident that their scientific research was not being compromised by politics.  Though many at NCAR undoubtedly leaned liberal (this is Boulder, after all), the integrity of science was paramount.  I don't recall any discussion of CO2's influence on climate (although there certainly may have been people working on it at the time), and the biggest environmental concerns back then were Denver's infamous "brown cloud" (all but gone now) and a looming water crisis that never really transpired.

My, how things have changed over the last thirty years -- not just at NCAR, but throughout the climate science community.  I can't image a Jack Eddy or a Walt Roberts ever fudging data to arrive at a preconceived conclusion.  They would be thrilled to publish valid dissenting views just to keep the climate science pot boiling.  (In fact, Eddy's landmark study of solar variability was so controversial that it made the cover of Science in 1976.  Imagine the present-day stewards of the magazine giving the cover to the likes of Roy Spencer.  Not bloody likely.)

But what is most disturbing about the "team" of "warmist" scientists who try to regulate the climate conversation is that they tend to be profoundly disagreeable people who resort to sophomoric tactics to undermine dissent.  The most egregious of these is to call anyone who questions the role of CO2 in climate variability a "climate change denier."

I have yet to meet anyone who "denies" that climate changes.  The editorial board at the Los Angeles Times recently took the debate down a notch farther by ignorantly referring to the skeptic camp as "climate deniers."  What the hell does that mean?  These pejoratives are but two of the many straw men employed when confronted with inconvenient facts.  So it was disappointing but not altogether surprising to hear Peter Gleick's confession that not only did he steal electronic documents from The Heartland Institute, but may have faked some as well.  As Chris Horner has written, it's becoming clearer and clearer that "this is what they do."

Standing above it all, thank goodness, is a scientist who recalls the honor of Walter Orr Roberts and Jack Eddy: Judith Curry at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  Not sold on either the skeptic's position or that of the IPCC, she is the adult in the room when the food fights start to break out in the climate kindergarten.  Her response to the Gleick confession was to write a thoughtful blog on the meaning of "integrity," though her disappointment with Gleick is palpable.  She writes, "Gleick's 'integrity' seems to have nothing to do with scientific integrity, but rather loyalty to and consistency with what I have called the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology."  Furthermore, students at Georgia Tech can take courses from Curry and others that present divergent points of view on the current climate controversy and, in an exercise in critical thinking, decide for themselves.  How wonderfully sane and, dare I say, dignified.  

She gets my vote for the next director of NCAR.

Rick Rinehart is a writer and publisher living in Colorado.  He can be reached at