Climate scientists are giving science a bad name, says a leading atmospheric physicist in an essay on the global warming debate.
Professor Garth Paltridge, formerly a chief scientist with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Division of Atmospheric Research, says that the behavior of certain members of the climate science establishment is “seriously threatening the public’s perception of the professionalism of scientists in general.”
Many climate scientists are much less sure about man-made global warming than they will admit in public, he says. But rather than reach out to skeptics in order to open up the debate and explore the uncertainties, they have instead closed ranks and rubbished anyone who disagrees with them:
Some of the more vocal of the establishment climate researchers have fallen into a mode of open denigration of climate sceptics (“deniers” is the offensive popular terminology of the day). They insist that only researchers directly within the climate-change community are capable of giving authoritative advice. They insist that one can find true and reputable science only in peer-reviewed climate literature. But most significantly, they seem to have evolved a policy of deliberately excluding sceptics from climate-change forums of one sort or another, and indeed of refusing to take part in any forum where sceptics may share the podium.
Their high-handedness, Paltridge says, is redolent of “medieval religion”:
The priests of that time opposed translation of the written scriptures from Latin into the local languages. They believed that only people fully trained in the theology of the time were capable of interpreting the scriptures correctly. They believed it would be highly dangerous to allow non-trained people to have direct access to the word of God because the chances were high that they would get it wrong. They were not backward in applying their peculiarly nasty forms of denigration on those who thought otherwise about the matter.
But the medieval priests eventually lost the battle. As will the climate alarmists because the public simply do not trust them:
The modern equivalent with regard to AGW is that, despite the claim that 95% or more of climate scientists support the AGW establishment position, support for the position among the general public (of the western nations anyway) is only of the order of 50%. The reputation of climate science, and as a consequence the reputation of science in general, seems to have lost a good deal of its public gloss.
It is not even certain that climate science qualifies as an actual science. Being driven by a political agenda rather than by experimentation and evidence, it is more akin to post-modernism:
Post-modern science is a counterpart of the relativist world of post-modern art and design. It is a much more dangerous beast, where results are valid only in the context of society’s beliefs, and where the very existence of scientific truth can be denied. Post-modern science envisages a sort of political nirvana in which scientific theory and results can be consciously and legitimately manipulated to suit either the dictates of political correctness or the policies of the government of the day. At a more mundane level, there is little doubt that some players in the climate research establishment – not many, but enough to have severely damaged the reputation of climate scientists in general – have stepped across the boundary of what is generally regarded as acceptable scientific behaviour.
Scientists — even climate scientists, Paltridge generously argues — are not generally “wicked, idiotic or easily suborned.” But they do have to eat, and almost all the research money right now is available for scientists pushing the alarmist side of the argument, not the skeptical one. Also, the whole field is mired in such uncertainty that is quite impossible for anyone — whether skeptic or alarmist — to prove their position.
Climate research has to rely on spectacularly inaccurate data for information on Earth’s climate of more than a century or two ago; it has to rely on proxy information from tree rings and ice cores and corals and so on, and abstracting a coherent story from it all is something of a statistical nightmare. Even for the most recent century, the huge data sets of directly measured surface temperatures have their problems, and the stories that these data tell are revised in one way or another as new ideas about the correct method of analyzing the data appear on the scene. Such revisions make for tremendous arguments and competing claims about whether cherry picking of data has been used to support the predictions of the AGW theoretical models.
Climate science is an example of what Funtowicz and Ravetz call ‘post-normal science’ in which ‘the facts are uncertain, values are in dispute, stakes are high and decisions are urgent’. In such circumstances it is virtually impossible to avoid sub-conscious cherrypicking of data to suit the popular theory of the time. Even Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein were not immune from the problem.
It is nonetheless the case that once freed of the burden of having to earn a living or retain their tenure in an academe in thrall to the man-made global warming narrative, scientists do seem much more ready to take a skeptical position:
There are many examples where the transition from paid employment in climate research to retirement has been accompanied by a significant change of heart away from acknowledging the seriousness of global warming. It seems that scientists too are conscious of the need to eat, and like everyone else must consider the consequences of public dissent from the views of the powers-that-be. One example was Dr Brian Tucker. He was the Director of the Australian Numerical Meteorology Research Centre, and subsequently became Chief of the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research. He was heavily involved in the development of the IPCC. During his time with CSIRO he was the ‘go to’ man for journalists and radio programmers seeking stories on matters to do with climate change. On retirement he became a writer and speaker for the Institute of Public Affairs, and greatly surprised his former colleagues with his very public change to an openly sceptical view on the subject.