Matt Ridley is a highly regarded British science writer, highly regarded that is, by general readers and real scientists such as Roy W. Spencer , Ph.D., a Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville [See Dr. Spencer tonight, Friday, 6/19 on Stossel’s “Green Tyranny” on the Fox Business Channel at 8:00 P.M. Eastern, repeated about 12 times over the weekend].
Ridley has a piece that is long but very much worth reading at The Quadrant Online titled, The Climate War’s Damage to Science. The near world-wide mass delusion that Climate Change is man made and dangerous is Ridley’s subject. The proponents of the delusion are called the “warmers” by Ridley. They believe that climate change (they used to call it global warming but the earth isn’t warming anymore) is real, is man made, and is dangerous. Ridley sees himself as of the “lukewarm school” who believe that climate change is real, partly due to man, and is not dangerous.
There could be another school of thought that I’d call the “still skeptical” ones who believe that climate change is real all right and is not dangerous but don’t accept that man is even partly responsible because no one has offered any credible evidence to prove it. This idea is largely based on the certainty that the earth’s climate has changed dramatically in the past before human beings existed, is no doubt always changing and will continue to change, and that no one has shown any evidence to explain just how man has anything to do with it. The warmers claim it is man’s burning of fossil fuels and the resultant increase of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but they have not and apparently cannot show how the tiny contribution of C02 due to man could possibly be a significant contributor of the greenhouse effect. The main greenhouse gas is water vapor over which man has zero control.
So, while I have immense respect for Matt Ridley and have read all of his books, I don’t think the lukewarmers are correct either. They’re sure a lot closer to the truth than the warmers, though, and they don’t use fascist tactics to defeat anyone who disagrees with them. That’s probably because they don’t depend on grant money for their existence since there is no grant money available to do research challenging the climate change delusion. Research is being done, nevertheless, it’s compelling and shows the warmers to be crackpots.
Ridley starts his piece with this:
The great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses tested — or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I see bad ideas can persist for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons [I.e., hired ruffians] of furious defenders they become intolerant dogmas.
This should have been obvious to me. Lysenkoism, a pseudo-biological theory that plants (and people) could be trained to change their heritable natures, helped starve millions and yet persisted for decades in the Soviet Union, reaching its zenith under Nikita Khrushchev. 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.
What these two ideas have in common is that they had political support, which enabled them to monopolise debate. Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”, the tendency we all have to seek evidence that supports our favoured hypothesis and dismiss evidence that contradicts it—as if we were counsel for the defence. It’s tosh that scientists always try to disprove their own theories, as they sometimes claim, and nor should they. But they do try to disprove each other’s. Science has always been decentralised, so Professor Smith challenges Professor Jones’s claims, and that’s what keeps science honest.
What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. 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.
Cheerleaders for alarm
This is precisely what has happened with the climate debate and it is at risk of damaging the whole reputation of science. 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. In the 1980s, as temperatures began to rise again, some of the same scientists dusted off the greenhouse effect and began to argue that runaway warming was now likely.
It’s not only grant money that is driving the climate wars. Ideology plays a central role as well. People have things they would like to see come to fruition in society, such as ridding the earth of capitalism and replacing it with socialism. But they can’t say that because the majority of people in developed countries at least don’t want socialism. They understand that socialism simply creates widespread poverty while making rich a very few people who hold the political power to rule over others with an iron hand. So scare tactics must be used to get us peasants to go along with the schemes of the elite to make us poor and powerless. Now, I know most of the schemers don’t think of themselves as such and don’t think of themselves as wanting to impoverish us. They think they are doing good. This simply makes them even more dangerous because no oppression is worse than that done by people who believe they are doing it for our own good.
Ridley ends his essay thus:
The harm to science
I dread to think what harm this episode will have done to the reputation of science in general when the dust has settled. Science will need a reformation. Garth Paltridge is a distinguished Australian climate scientist, who, in The Facts, pens a wise paragraph that I fear will be the epitaph of climate science:
We have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem—or, what is much the same thing, of seriously understating the uncertainties associated with the climate problem—in its effort to promote the cause. It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis for society’s respect for scientific endeavour.
And it’s not working anyway. Despite avalanches of money being spent on research to find evidence of rapid man-made warming, despite even more spent on propaganda and marketing and subsidising renewable energy, the public remains unconvinced. The most recent polling data from Gallup shows the number of Americans who worry “a great deal” about climate change is down slightly on thirty years ago, while the number who worry “not at all” has doubled from 12 per cent to 24 per cent—and now exceeds the number who worry “only a little” or “a fair amount”. All that fear-mongering has achieved less than nothing: if anything it has hardened scepticism.
None of this would matter if it was just scientific inquiry, though that rarely comes cheap in itself. 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.
I’ve given you only the appetizer and the dessert of Ridley’s essay. Don’t cheat yourself out of the main course, it’s well worth your while and won’t make you fat.