They’ve become partisan attack dogs, permanently on the lookout for “deniers.”
So-called “consensus” climate science reaches new lows nearly every day, with many researchers now better resembling dogmatic, fire-and-brimstone preachers — the kind of people who burnt heretics at the stake during the Middle Ages and suppressed scientific discovery — than scientists engaged in the pursuit of knowledge.
I don’t begrudge scientists who either believe their own research shows, or who believe the dominant number of peer-reviewed papers indicate, humans are causing climate change and the changes will be dangerous. But I do disagree with many of the assumptions made by proponents of the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Data and evidence show most of their projections concerning temperatures, ice, hurricanes, species extinction, etc. have failed. As a result, I don’t think their projections of the future climate conditions are trustworthy, especially not to make the kind of fundamental, wrenching, costly changes to our economy and systems of government that have been proposed as necessary for fighting climate change. I don’t think climate scientists can foretell the future any better than the average palm reader.
Making matters worse, AGW proponents discount, or ignore entirely, powerful studies that seem to undermine many of their assumptions and refute most of their conclusions.
Admittedly, I start with a position of skepticism, and indeed suspicion, when climate alarmist scientists release a new study purporting to reinforce or provide further evidence AGW is true. This isn’t because I don’t want to hear what those who disagree with my assessment have to say. Rather, it’s based on my understanding of the lengths to which AGW true believers have manipulated temperature data and tried to shoehorn or force the data to support AGW theory to match their dire projections.
It’s reasonable, and even expected, for educated people to disagree with one another on this issue in the way described above. I think this back-and-forth exchange is common historically, and often occurs when science is operating as it should.
Where many AGW believers abandon the scientific method is when they revert to various logical fallacies to manipulate the average person’s emotions in order to gain support for AGW and its associated anti-fossil-fuel political program. AGW advocates commit the fallacy of ad hominem when they call researchers who disagree with their assessment of the strength of the case for AGW “deniers” — an obvious attempt to link them in the public’s mind with despicable Holocaust deniers. That is not science, it’s rhetoric. I know of no one who denies the fact that climate changes, but there are legitimate disagreements concerning the extent of humanity’s role in present climate change and whether it will be disastrous. Scientists who refuse to admit that highly regarded scientists disagree with AGW are the ones who should be labeled “deniers,” and thus suffer the opprobrium rightfully attached to that label.
AGW proponents also commit the fallacy of appeal to numbers, when they say the case for dangerous human-caused climate change is settled because some high percentage of a subset of scholars agrees humans are causing dangerous climate change. Consensus is a political, not a scientific, term. The world once thought Earth was flat. Galileo said he disagreed and that he believed it was round (and he suffered for saying so). And you know what? He was right and the consensus of the time was wrong. At one time, the people, including the intellectual elite, believed Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun revolved around it. Copernicus said just the opposite. He was right, and everyone else was wrong.
Knowledge acquisition succeeds not through bowing to some so-called “consensus” in thought and opinion, but through questioning previously received wisdom and continuously testing scientific theories against data. “Because the vast majority of us said so” is not a legitimate scientific response to research raising questions about all or some part of AGW.
AGW researchers commit the fallacy of appeal to motive when they say a particular study or the work of a particular scientist or group of scientists should not be taken seriously because of who funded them. Truthfully, this fallacy is committed by both sides, since climate skeptics often question AGW research of being biased based on the fact it was funded by government, which history shows has a bias toward finding reasons to enact additional government controls.
Research should be judged based on the validity of its assumptions, whether its premises are true, and whether its conclusions follow from this premises, not on who funded the research. Data, evidence, and logic are the hallmarks of science, not motives.
Beyond data manipulation and their heinous logical fallacies, AGW advocates’ own e-mails show they have tried to suppress the publication of research skeptical of AGW. And they have routinely attempted to interfere with the career advancement of scholars who refuse to completely toe the AGW line. In numerous instances, AGW proponents have tried to get scholars fired for their deeply held beliefs.
AGW fanatics also try to suppress the teaching of a balanced, accurate understanding of the current state of climate science, with all it uncertainties, in the nation’s schools. This is the tool of the propagandist, not the scientific researcher seeking the truth.
All these reflections came to a head in recent years, as AGW true believers have fought in court to prevent the release of the data underpinning their own research, attempted to suppress free speech by accusing those with whom they disagree of committing libel, and even on occasion called for the prosecution and incarceration of climate skeptics for daring to question AGW orthodoxy. Some AGW proponents have openly admired various authoritarian regimes for their ability to “get things done” without the interference of democratic institutions. Real scientists know truths do not bloom under authoritarianism.
Most recently, more than 400 AGW scolds wrote an open letter to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) urging the museum to remove Rebekah Mercer from its Board of Trustees. Ms. Mercer and/or her family’s foundation have donated generously to the museum over the years, and I suspect she has convinced her friends and business relations to give as well. (That’s typically how one gets a seat on a museum board.)
Ms. Mercer’s crime is not that she interfered with the AMNH’s policies or dictated exhibits. Nor is it that she unjustifiably interfered with the museum’s management or influenced its displays or purchases. Rather, AGW true believers say Mercer should be booted unceremoniously from the board after years of helping AMNH thrive because she “and her family were important backers of President Trump. She has a stake in Breitbart News, and the family foundation has contributed millions of dollars to climate-change-denying [there’s that ad hominem] politicians and organizations like the Heartland Institute, which says, ‘Global warming is not a crisis.’”
Or, simply put, Mercer has to go because she disputes the AGW dogma and supports politicians who agree with her assessment. Hypocritically, the authors of the letter stress calling on the board to remove Mercer is not a partisan issue, yet they specifically list her family’s support of Trump as one reason to remove her. It doesn’t get much more partisan than that!
Full disclosure: I’ve never met Ms. Mercer, though I did glimpse her across the room at a conference once. Frankly, I don’t know in what industry her family made its money, and I steadfastly refuse to research it, because I don’t want to be wrongfully accused of being a shill for any particular industry or company, a problem I already have to deal with regularly. Though I don’t know for sure, since fundraising is not within my purview, I will assume she or her family has given as much to the Heartland Institute, my employer, as the angry AGW letter claims. But so what?
Working with the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, the Heartland Institute is actively engaged in the scientific debate surrounding the causes and consequences of climate change, having published a number of volumes of peer-reviewed climate research and having hosted 12 international climate change conferences. We are also involved in an educational effort to get an accurate and balanced portrayal of the state of climate science in our nation’s schools. Thus, like her support of the AMNH, Ms. Mercer’s support for the Heartland Institute expands the dissemination and improves the understanding of science and knowledge. The Heartland Institute is part of the climate debate, but for the AGW crowd, there is no room for debate. No dissent will be tolerated.
Their letter says: “We are concerned that the vital role of science education institutions will be eroded by a loss of public trust if museums are associated with individuals and organizations [in this case, Ms. Mercer] known for rejecting climate science, opposing environmental regulation and clean energy initiatives, and blocking efforts to reduce pollutants and greenhouse gases.”
To my knowledge, Mercer does not reject climate science, and based on her support for a variety of high-quality organizations, she appears to have a more complete and honest view of what we can say about climate change than the letter’s signatories do. They assume all environmental regulations are worthwhile, even though many clearly are not and/or violate the Constitution and existing law because they impose huge costs for little or no benefit. One should expect anybody — other than a radical, partisan, environmentalist, of course — to reject such foolish regulations.
Concerning clean energy initiatives: They harm the poor by raising energy prices, and often impose greater environmental harms than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace.
Finally, while I don’t know if Mercer and her family have fought against rational efforts to restrict legitimate pollutants, carbon dioxide is, in fact, not a pollutant. It is a naturally occurring gas necessary to all life on Earth. Historically, when it has been more abundant, life has thrived. Fighting against restrictions on carbon dioxide is literally fighting for human well-being and environmental flourishing.
Fortunately, not all scientists have abandoned their fealty to the scientific method in favor of authoritarian climate dogma. More than 300 researchers, scientists, and scholars responded to the AGW letter with their own letter and documentation advising trustees of AMNH not to cave into AGW agitators and remove Mercer from the board. They argue “the agitators are not defending science from quackery — quite the contrary! They demand that the Museum support a party line, thinly disguised as science.” In addition, the signatories of the letter defending Mercer’s continued association with the museum also said the original letter “is itself anti-science and ideologically-driven.” This is a succinct and accurate assessment.
The truth is, if anyone is putting AMNH’s credibility at risk, it is the AGW true believers now demanding the museum drop Mercer from its board. Before their letter and the op-ed the New York Times published in support of Mercer’s removal, few people, if any, who visited the museum or admired its work could have named a single member of the museum’s Board of Trustees. Indeed, despite the media hype, most people who go to the museum still can’t name its board members; the kerfuffle is beneath the notice of the average museumgoer, who attends simply to be amazed and learn and doesn’t care a whit about the politics of its trustees.
However, the controversy surrounding the letter and the public protests that accompanied it, raised the issue’s profile significantly, meaning those who share the anti-science view of the letter’s authors, now knowing Mercer is associated with AMNH, may have lost trust in the museum — even if they never had reason to question the messages of its displays and exhibits before. And if the museum caves in to the anti-Mercer crowd, it will spark mistrust from those who recognize, in demanding Mercer’s ouster, the AGW crowd is further polarizing society, bringing partisanship into yet another area of life that should be beyond politics.
If Mercer is shown the door, who else among the board or the museum’s list of donors might be targeted for ostracism next because of his or her political beliefs?
The public loses when science and its institutions’ of learning are politicized. Thus, the anti-Mercer campaign is just one more instance of AGW true believers demeaning the very scientific method they claim to be defending. Shame on them, and shame on AMNH if it caves in to this pressure. Only by standing by Mercer and asking her to remain on the board can AMNH be seen as truly upholding its mission “to discover, interpret, and disseminate — through scientific research and education — knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.”
Sterling Burnett, Ph.D.(firstname.lastname@example.org)is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Exterior photograph of south facade of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, by Matt Martyniuk (Wikimedia Commons).