Suppression of Climate Dissent

The disclosure of messages among climate scientists has provided evidence, as the Wall Street Journal put it in an editorial, of "coordinated efforts by leading climatologists to fit the data to their conclusions while attempting to silence and discredit their critics." In the press, climate skeptics like James Delingpole of England's Telegraph have reacted with glee. Even those normally sympathetic to the mainstream climate scientists like Andrew Revkin of the New York Times concede that the messages raise questions about the quality of some research and the behavior of specific scientists.

Given that hundreds of messages and documents are at issue, I leave it to the reader to assess each point on its merits. For now let me just say this. Having covered energy and climate for close to twenty years, I know that climate scientists seeking to engage and arouse the public have sometimes tried to marginalize those who do not go along with the mainstream view of what the situation requires. For example, without naming names, there was a pioneering climate modeler who was discouraged from testifying to Congress because he did not agree that global warming was necessarily "dangerous." When I was profiling him, a long-time colleague of his tried to dissuade me from mentioning his non-alarmist view of things--advice that I naturally ignored.

The problem as I see it is simple. Scientists and technologists have a habit of thinking that certain policies follow logically and inescapably--that is to say scientifically--from their scientific findings. But policy choices always involve economic trade-offs, competing interests, and personal values. Scientists and policy analysts clarify those trade-offs, but when it comes to actually making a choice, the technologist is no different from every other citizen. It's this mistaken notion that a certain policy must follow from a finding that prompts some scientists to discourage dissent and filter out the noise from findings so as to "not confuse the public."

Climate skeptics, let it be said, often fall prey to a mirror-image temptation. Thinking too that policy must follow from science, they feel called upon to refute the science because they don't like the direction policy recommendations are headed. Rather than debate and rebut specific policy recommendations, which are always open to challenge, they try to chip away at the foundations of climate science, which in fact are rock-solid.

 

 

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