Some make much of the tens of thousands of scientists who have signed on to the climate caper. Others suggest that when you get down to the hard core of climate science you can only find a few dozens of scientists. Among them are Murry (if you think the science is setled you are delusional) Salby and probably Garth Paltridge.
A bit of late news, from Barry Williams of the Australian Skeptics, Garth Paltridge served some time as Treasurer of the Tasmanian Skeptics.
He has written a book called The Climate Caper which is available from Connor Court, like The Greens. I hope that this book will shed some light on the way the no-growth wreckers moved on from nuclear power to the climate change caper. The anti-nuclear agitators could only call on cranks from the scientific community and their major PR triumph was to marginalise genuine scientists in the debate. Much of the discredit for that acievement can be attributed to the journalists who uncritically helped the no-growth movement.
In the climate debate the roles are reversed with the mass of scientists apparently signed on to the so-called “settled science” while the sceptics have been marginalised. This is despite the existence of a petition with tens of thousands of signatures from scientists who reject the alarmist position. Again the men and women of the press have generally not done their homework and some are clearly on board with the movement for reasons that have nothing to do with science.
If you accept that the science is not settled, the searchlight swings to the sociology and politics of science, to the professional associations, the mores of the community, the institutions that are supposed to be in place to ensure quality control etc. Brian O’Brien blew the whistle when he cited his professorial friend who had 60 researchers dependent on Government funding for “climate studies”. I have put scare quotes around “climate studies” because they were doing that work against the professor’s better judgement. Serious research is about testing competing theories and not just propping up a position has become the ruling paradigm.
Paltridge contributed some valuable insights into the pressures on scientists in this interview which was published early last year. Be sure to read the whole thing but these snippets will give the flavour.
He was involved in the early development of the World Climate Program in Geneva, as well as working with the US National Climate Program Office at the time of the establishment of the IPCC.
Paltridge argues that models produced by the IPCC give directly contrasting results and that
it is only those that predict global warming which are openly publicised. He also highlights that nearly all climate change science within Australia is conducted by government agencies, prompting him to ask exactly how objective this research is.
Of the 20 or so reasonably respectable models which are the basis of the IPCC arguments, somewhat more than half predict an increasing rainfall for Australia, and the rest predict a decrease. More to the point, perhaps, when some of these models are re-run with extremely small changes to the input information concerning present conditions they give vastly different answers. The bottom line is that the forecasts of, for instance, a much dryer southeast Australia —forecasts that were used by Professor Garnaut to come to his conclusion that Australia would be really no better than guesswork.
When all this global warming business started, it was recognised quite openly among the scientists of the time that there were enormous uncertainties about it all. More to the point, perhaps, they were willing to ‘go public’ about those uncertainties. And there existed something of a basic philosophy to the effect that, because of the uncertainties, if the world really wanted to do something expensive about preventing global warming, then it should do only those things which were worth doing anyway for other shorter-term reasons: things like improving the efficiency of transport, or looking more seriously at nuclear and renewable energy possibilities, or even perhaps considering ways of reducing population growth. These days, it can be more than a climate scientist’s career is worth to talk too loudly about the uncertainties associated with the theory of the disastrous impact of climate change.
And more generally in terms of human endeavour and attitude, the rise and rise of the climate change bandwagon seems to have put paid to what was once recognised as a fundamental attribute of the good scientist (as opposed, perhaps, to the good technologist) —namely, that he or she should be sceptical about accepted wisdom. That characteristic has been replaced by a strange sort of misplaced loyalty to the scientific ‘system’, and an even stranger belief in the scientific value of consensus.
One can make a strong argument that the fundamental reason for the success of the
international campaign to do something about global warming is that it plays to the agendas of so many other areas of popular social activism. It appeals to those who would like to preserve fossil fuels for future generations. It appeals to those who see it as a giant step leading the way towards global government. It appeals to those who see it as an opportunity to redistribute wealth from the ‘have’ countries to the ‘have not’ countries. It appeals to those who, for one reason or another, would like to introduce socialistic governments which would be more likely to dismantle what are seen as the evils of capitalism.
On the forces that enable sceptism within the scientific community to be kept from the public eye.
This is actually a deeper question than you might think. There are of course the usual run-of-the-mill forces that arise when somebody works for a government which is hellbent on some particular political path. In such cases there are very powerful sanctions against individuals in government employment who make public comment on matters of policy, and the global warming issue these days is very much concerned with politics. One must bear in mind that, in this country especially, virtually all climate change science is performed by government agencies.
But the most powerful forces are more subtle, and are not directly related to fear of the wrath of one’s employer. Although, of course, there is plenty of that sort of fear around the climate change system.
They do have a deeply ingrained and subconscious fear of being publicly disloyal to their profession, and it is very hard for them to say or imply in public that such and such a piece of research, or such and such a public pronouncement by a scientist, may be a load of rubbish—this unless they are 100% sure that it is indeed rubbish.
The trouble is that in the climate change game one is never 100% sure about anything, so it is almost impossible for a knowledgeable researcher to bring himself to the point of rebutting over-the-top sayings of an extensive host of scientific activists. A sort of generalised loyalty to the cause governs one’s actions. And make no mistake about it, the activists in the profession rely heavily on that loyalty, and by one means or another make it extremely costly to depart from it.
What ideally would you like to see occur in Australian policy regarding climate change?
If, for whatever real or imagined reasons, the public and the politicians insist on doing something about limiting carbon emissions, then at least we should return to the philosophy mentioned earlier which restricts ourselves to doing those things which we would like to do anyway for other shorter-term reasons. Then at least we stand a fair chance of not having wasted vast resources if and when it turns out that global warming is really not much more than a disease of the mind. ?