Presswatch

Peer Pressure

By From the February 2010 issue

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How urgent is the threat of global warming? Listen to an editorial that the Guardian, England’s leading left-wing daily, published early in December, as the Copenhagen climate summit was opening:

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security.

Global warming is so urgent that editorial writers at 55 other newspapers around the world (including one in the U.S., the Miami Herald) cannot be troubled to do their jobs and write their own editorials about it. Decisive action indeed.

A few weeks earlier, the world of global warmism had been rocked by a whistle-blower’s release of thousands of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia, which showed widespread corruption of the scientific process. The mass editorial devoted just one sentence to the scandal widely if unimaginatively dubbed “Climategate”:

The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

It muddied the waters without denting the mass. If the Guardian’s editorialists are less than graceful in their use of metaphor, the editorial itself was a splendid metaphor for the groupthink that has characterized climate science, policy, and journalism. Just a few days later, the Times of London reported that the Met Office, Britain’s national weather service, had “spent four days collecting signatures” on a petition “to bolster the reputation of climate-change science”:

More than 1,700 scientists have agreed to sign a statement defending the “professional integrity” of global warming research....

One scientist told The Times he felt under pressure to sign. “The Met Office is a major employer
of scientists and has long had a policy of only appointing and working with those who subscribe to their views on man-made global warming,” he said.

The concept of scientists—or journalists— signing a petition is ludicrous. The idea is that they are lending their authority to whatever cause the petition represents. In fact they are undermining that author-ity, which is based on the presumption that they think for themselves.

The problem with the petition as a form is also a problem with the Met Office petition’s substance. Its purpose is to shore up scientists’ authority by vouching for their integrity. But signing a loyalty oath under pressure from the government is itself a corrupt act. And once again, the question arises: Why should any layman regard global warmism as credible when the “consensus” rests on political machinations, statistical deceptions, and efforts to suppress alternative hypotheses?

The Climategate e-mails provide a splendid example of how scientists and journalists worked together to promote this phony consensus. In September 2009, Andrew Revkin, then warming correspondent for the New York Times (he accepted an early-retirement buyout just before Christmas), asked this puffball question of Michael Mann, the Pennsylvania State University scientist whose “trick” was famously employed to “hide the decline” in observed temperatures (quoting verbatim):

I’m going to blog on this as it relates to the value of the peer review process and not on the merits of the mcintyre [a global-warming skeptic] et al attacks.

peer review, for all its imperfections, is where the herky-jerky process of knowledge building happens, would you agree?

Here is Mann’s response:

Re, your point at the end—you’ve taken the words out of my mouth. Skepticism is essential for the functioning of science. It yields an erratic path towards eventual truth. But legitimate scientific skepticism is exercised through formal scientific circles, in particular the peer review process. A necessary though not in general sufficient condition for taking a scientific criticism seriously is that it has passed through the legitimate scientific peer review process. those such as McIntyre who operate almost entirely outside of this system are not to be trusted.

The e-mails, however, showed how corrupt the peer review process had become. In one, Mann suggested a boycott of a journal that had published an article questioning the global-warmist hypothesis: “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.” In another, Phil Jones, the director of the Climate Research Unit, wrote to Mann promising to prevent skeptics’ papers from being cited by the UN’s International Panel on  Climate Change: “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow—even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

Yet the week after these e-mails were revealed, Revkin posted an entry on his NYTimes.com blog reporting that the “latest peer-reviewed science” shows that “the case for climate change as a serious risk to human affairs” is “clear, despite recent firestorms over some data sets and scientists’ actions.”

EVEN SO, it turned out that Revkin wasn’t nearly slavish enough for some climate scientists. The conservative scholar Steven Hayward was copied on an e-mail Revkin received in early
December from Michael Schlesinger, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois. Schlesinger took exception with one of Revkin’s blog posts:

Andy:
Copenhagen prostitutes?
Climate prostitutes?
Shame on you for this gutter reportage....
The vibe that I am getting from here, there and everywhere is that your reportage is very
worrisome to most climate scientists.
Of course, your blog is your blog.
But, I sense that you are about to experience the ‘Big Cutoff’ from those of us who believe we
can no longer trust you, me included.
Copenhagen prostitutes?
Unbelievable and unacceptable.
What are you doing and why?
Michael

Did Revkin really accuse climate scientists of prostituting themselves for a political agenda? No, he did not. The blog made a passing mention of actual prostitutes. Revkin picked up an amusing report that Danish hookers were offering services free of charge to Copenhagen delegates.

Revkin was a fairer reporter than his credulousness about “peer review” would lead you to expect. Even before Climategate, he came under fire from global warmists for failing to suppress inconvenient information. Last September Joe Romm of the left-liberal Center for American Progress issued a tirade against him for an article noting that recent years have been relatively cool: “That litany of misinformation and confusion is what you expect from the Swift boat smearer’s website, not the paper of record.”

After Climategate broke, Revkin reported that Romm’s center had “organized a telephone conference call, including two of the scientists embroiled in the fracas over the disclosed e-mails, that it said was aimed at ‘setting the record straight on global warming.’” The irony of a political advocacy group purporting to set the record straight on a scientific matter was not lost on Revkin.

His colleagues on the Times editorial page, however, continue to march in lockstep. When they
finally weighed in on Climategate, more than two weeks after Revkin reported on it, it was only to pronounce the scandal unworthy of attention: “It is... important not to let one set of purloined e-mail messages undermine the science and the clear case for action, in Washington and in Copenhagen.” The Times editorialists need not worry about being subjected to the Big Cutoff.

Then again, at least, unlike their counterparts at the Miami Herald, they managed to produce their own editorial on the subject.

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About the Author

James Taranto, a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, writes the Best of the Web Today column for OpinionJournal.com.