Capitol Ideas

A Disgrace to Science

For about a generation, the Western world has been coping with a politicized attack on science by the very people who should have been guarding its integrity.

By From the February 2010 issue

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I planned to write something about nuclear power—about how the U.S., after a 30-year delay, had better hurry up and restart nuclear power. Then came Climategate. It involved the release—it has been called a theft but more likely it was a deliberate leak—of e-mails from a “university” in Britain that has been promoting climate change fears in the guise of collecting climate data.

With that, a new public understanding of the realities of science today may begin to dawn. The new reality is this. For about a generation, the Western world has been coping with a politicized attack on science by the very people who should have been guarding its integrity.

The obstruction of further developments in nuclear power was only the beginning. In 1979, an accident at Three Mile Island, in which no one was hurt, brought the nuclear power enterprise in the U.S. to a halt. Fears were deliberately inflated. China was not intimidated, however, and today it is adding nuclear power on a large scale; 25 new reactors are under construction. Plainly, if this continues much longer, China will develop an unstoppable economic lead over the U.S. And it will be our fault.

China’s former catastrophe (Communist rule) now works to its advantage. In 1949, the nation’s intelligentsia seized power—for that is what Communism entails. They became socialist planners for 40 years and impoverished the country with famine and ruin. Since the late 1960s, our homegrown intelligentsia have felt deprived because they never had the same opportunity. They never could seize the power they believe is rightfully theirs. The amazing result? China is now immunized against the socialist disease, whereas the U.S. has still not been fully exposed. We remain susceptible, and keep on experiencing its maladies.

Europe has already succumbed, and the near-socialist structure of its economies is not sustainable for much longer. It will have to be reformed or ended. Possibly Islam will finish the job. I would give Europe’s present political structure another 10 years. In Britain, the conservatives under the feckless David Cameron promise no improvement.

Here, the betrayers of science have found that public opinion is easily manipulated, especially with press cooperation. The principles that, starting in the 17th century, turned science into one of the great human enterprises can be subverted. Most Americans—most people in the world—know so little about these things that the methods of science can be twisted with hardly anyone noticing.

Today, many scientists and opinion leaders think that if an elite consensus in favor of certain “policies” can be generated, the underlying science must be right. The corrupt system of “peer review” will reliably exclude dissenters, and if the naysayers continue making themselves heard they will be called denialists, tools of right-wing talk radio, etc.

This is where climate science has been heading. It is also where other major fields of science stand today—at the mercy of a contrived consensus. “Climate change” has attracted major attention not because its methods of subversion are much different from now-standard practice, but because literally trillions of dollars are at stake.

Those who promoted the bogus certainties of global warming not only sought to upend a whole way of life but came close to doing so. They have been aided by hundreds of well-known politicians, writers, reporters, and politicized scientists. Among politicians, Al Gore is only the best known. In the last category, James Hansen and Michael Mann are among the major U.S. culprits.

Christopher Booker, who has long covered these issues for the Sunday Telegraph and is one of the few British journalists to have done so, calls climate fraud “the greatest scientific scandal of our age.” He notes that the Royal Society, a once great institution founded in 1662, has become “a shameless propagandist for the warmist cause.”

Government funding has been the major subversive force. If you read Science, as I do, you see that the issue the magazine cares about above all others, and editorializes about week after week, is funding. Government funding. The constant concern about money means that Science and other journals feel obliged to keep up a drumbeat of articles that sustain the mood of crisis surrounding a given issue. Climate change is the leading illustration today, but there are others.

One example—a comparatively innocent one as these things go—is the flu-scare industry. It comes around like clockwork. SARS (’03) was replaced by avian flu (’05), then by swine flu (’09). Don’t panic but do worry (is the message), because it’s pandemic time. The key point is that death from infectious disease is way down compared to what it was in earlier centuries, and yet these agencies exist and need to keep puffing up their budgets.

So a scientific-seeming scare emerges from the World Health Organization and is magnified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The media, hungry for viewers, lavish uncritical attention. More cautious newsroom voices, should they exist, will be frightened off: “Be responsible! You could cause the deaths of millions of people!” Budgets for WHO and CDC are duly fattened. Infectious disease boss Anthony Fauci appears on TV on schedule. He tells us to stay calm, take our shots, and be alert for news bulletins. Laurie Garrett publishes another scary tome and Michael Fumento remains the lone dissenter. Within two or three years it’s time for another cycle.

The scientists who promote these self-serving scares are employed by government agencies or by universities. The latter are under constant pressure to attract grants, whether from the NIH, NASA, the National Science Foundation, or other government agencies. For more than 20 years the leading manipulator of climate science has been an ideologue named James Hansen, with NASA’s Goddard Institute since 1981. He played a major role in promoting the global warming deception, and has done so with impunity despite almost 30 years’ employment by a government agency.

Recently, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University has been the leading promoter of bogus global temperature claims. He manufactured the misleading “hockey stick” temperature graph that eliminated the Medieval Warm Period by cherry-picking tree-ring data. He accuses dissenters of being funded by oil companies and has garnered $6 million in government grants for Penn State. As a climate dissenter rather than a distorter, he would have been vilified, not remunerated. He’s an enemy of science.

COULD SOMEONE EXPLAIN WHY oil company money corrupts and government money does not? The government has now spent about $25 billion of our money in promoting climate scares. Oil companies have been reduced, pathetically, to telling us how “green” they are. By the way, climate change used to be called global warming. But the globe has not warmed over the past decade, even by the warmists’ inflated numbers. So they relabeled it, and climate “change” will be confirmed by whatever happens.

Warmist fanatics meanwhile preserve radio silence about nuclear power, which emits no CO2. They actually imagine that coal and oil can be replaced by renewables. Scientific American (like New Scientist, a journal that can no longer be trusted) published a cover story (Nov. 2009) that was so absurd that a friend of mine who publishes an energy newsletter treated it as a hoax. The two authors had a plan to show “how 100 percent of the world’s energy, for all purposes, could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources, by as early as 2030.” No kidding. (Or were they kidding?)

The prolonged deception about warming, and the silence about nuclear power, shows that the warmists’ real interest is in a revolutionary change in the American way of life, not the reduction of emissions. If Obama uses the EPA’s endangerment finding (claiming that CO2 is a pollutant) to curtail CO2 emissions unilaterally, as warmists have told him to, the administration will bring itself to a one-term conclusion in an era of brownouts and blackouts.

My friend Fred Singer, who was at Copenhagen and has been a leading climate dissident, thinks that Climategate may completely undermine popular trust in science. But right now, maybe that is what is needed.

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).