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Science writer Matt Ridley shares concern re climate wars

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Further to churches getting sucked into the politicized climate change controversy, chewed up, and spit out: English science journalist Matt Ridley assesses the damage done to science by the frankly political climate science wars here at Quadrant:

For much of my life I have been a science writer. That means I eavesdrop on what’s going on in laboratories so I can tell interesting stories. It’s analogous to the way art critics write about art, but with a difference: we “science critics” rarely criticise. If we think a scientific paper is dumb, we just ignore it. There’s too much good stuff coming out of science to waste time knocking the bad stuff.

Sure, we occasionally take a swipe at pseudoscience—homeopathy, astrology, claims that genetically modified food causes cancer, and so on. But the great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test. So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.

Or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind. It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.

Power, prestige, and salary depend not on correct prediction but on getting one’s party’s claims treated as “fact, Fact, FACT!”

Nothing in the world is “fact, Fact, FACT!” Our apprehension of lower case facts is not improved by hysteria.  And politicking harms science as a pursuit of lower case fact. Ridley offers an example:

This is precisely what has happened with the climate debate and it is at risk of damaging the whole reputation of science. The “bad idea” in this case is not that climate changes, nor that human beings influence climate change; but that the impending change is sufficiently dangerous to require urgent policy responses. In the 1970s, when global temperatures were cooling, some scientists could not resist the lure of press attention by arguing that a new ice age was imminent. Others called this nonsense and the World Meteorological Organisation rightly refused to endorse the alarm. That’s science working as it should. In the 1980s, as temperatures began to rise again, some of the same scientists dusted off the greenhouse effect and began to argue that runaway warming was now likely.

At first, the science establishment reacted sceptically and a diversity of views was aired. It’s hard to recall now just how much you were allowed to question the claims in those days. As Bernie Lewin reminds us in one chapter of a fascinating new book of essays called Climate Change: The Facts (hereafter The Facts), as late as 1995 when the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its last-minute additional claim of a “discernible human influence” on climate, Nature magazine warned scientists against overheating the debate.

Since then, however, inch by inch, the huge green pressure groups have grown fat on a diet of constant but ever-changing alarm about the future. That these alarms—over population growth, pesticides, rain forests, acid rain, ozone holes, sperm counts, genetically modified crops—have often proved wildly exaggerated does not matter: the organisations that did the most exaggeration trousered the most money. In the case of climate, the alarm is always in the distant future, so can never be debunked.

These huge green multinationals, with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have now systematically infiltrated science, as well as industry and media, with the result that many high-profile climate scientists and the journalists who cover them have become one-sided cheerleaders for alarm, while a hit squad of increasingly vicious bloggers polices the debate to ensure that anybody who steps out of line is punished. They insist on stamping out all mention of the heresy that climate change might not be lethally dangerous. More.

Sounds like snarling Darwinettes were giving them lessons.

Incidentally,  I (O’Leary for News) live in a region which has not seen warming in recent years (I had to dig out my winter clothes and blankets tonight and it is nearly July).

The fear-driven hypocrisy the climate lobby instills damages a society. Friends and neighbours talk awkwardly around the question of global warming, sensing a civic duty to appear to believe what they don’t experience, to vote money to fight a threat they don’t feel.

Hope they at least remember where they packed the cardigans and winter blankets. Approved social noise keeps us safe from the climatistas for now, but it is not a high grade insulation. 😉

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Interesting comments, and I concur that global warming has become, ahem, too hot to touch nowadays if one is skeptical of the catastrophic scenarios. Science is poorly served by closed-minded refusals to look at contrary evidence, much less by personal attacks on those who differ from the consensus. Not exactly news to the ID community, of course! I have heard many claims that GMO foods are causing problems, and there may be some basis for them. However, I do note that countries, including the US, that now eat GMO foods continue experiencing longer and healthier lives -- despite the obesity epidemic. Personally I remain unconvinced that GMOs are really bad for us; at least, I would like to see more evidence that this is so. Capitalism leads to totalitarianism not because of capitalism but because all human political institutions eventually degenerate. Capitalism worked well when it the culture was, broadly speaking, Christian. Deferred gratification, the importance of work, families, honesty: these fed into a flawed but overall good system. Now that the cultural reserves of faith are mostly gone and families are in collapse, we see the usual pattern of dependence, dishonesty, materialism, and an increasingly authoritarian government. anthropic
I have the impression that you have made a considered judgment about climate change and the greenhouse effect within a context of other judgments that prompt me to trust in those judgments. When scientists, indeed, people who seek to understand world affairs, in good faith are unsure about a scientific controversy, I don't presume (uncharacteristically, some might say!) to hold an opinion. I do fear the venality of players on both sides would be always muddying the water. Interesting though how the multinationals, as Chomsky puts it, 'manufacture consent', by paying for studies to be performed the results of which the venal scientists concerned will deliberately skew, in order to obtain the results desired by their principals. Totalitarian fascism seems the inevitable outcome of capitalism, doesn't it? Open-ended greed and lust for power... how could it end differently? Nazism and the fascism in Italy were really only the tip of the iceberg. The monied people in the West were quite besotted by Mussolini and even Hitler before WWII - I believe it was in the Twenties. Axel
Very good replies here, I get scolded for using the term fascism, but in my 49 years I have not scene such a ruthless attempt to keep peoples mouth shut and curtail "undesirable" behaviors or ideas. Although we see this in Europe as a matter of course, it is especially painful here in the US. Eisenhower, Kennedy, MLK, they all tried to warn us in their own very brave ways. Gary Hart, who is a "true" liberal, wrote a great op-ed I think in the WSJ about corruption out of control. After reading it, my fears, if you can call them that, were confirmed in an instant. What I used to see as a fair minded but misguided Liberal, now talks more sense and straight than ANYTHING you read today - google it it and give it a read, it is really worth the read (Hart not Heart). Now Axel, I see your point as well, but this is the problem as I see it; when science looses credibility on MAJOR issues, even predicting end of the world scenarios from completely flawed science and deliberate manipulation of data, don't we then, with all the misinformation out there, simply miss the important things and assume they are crying wolf. Man Made Climate Change is incredibly insidious, as it takes away focus on real threats. I also think GMO's are very dangerous and from the studies with Rats I have read, where they would not touch GMO feed vs. Organic, and would almost starve rather than eat it - then suffer terrible digestive and even tumor issues. But there's the rub, if SA and other prestigious journals go along with crowd and the money, then science can't inform us about real dangers. I have zero doubt that climate changes, I have some, but not much faith in the greenhouse idea, but it is sci-fi to insist there will be a runaway effect, not science, and the facts seem to indicate a POSSIBLE overall rise of 1 maybe 2 degrees C in 100 years - so who the hell knows if that is man made our not, you just can't say.. by that time we will most likely be out of fossil fuels, or they will be too expensive anyway - but it still may warm!! To talk about reducing C02 levels by half, is insanity, as a very real scientific matter, would choke our food supplies and oxygen generating systems. So my long winded point is - I can't blame the guy for lumping GMO's in with this - if they can make a mocery of true science, and turn it in to the new "Trans-human" religion, then you can't trust anyone. But it is nothing NEW - check out Micheal Crichton's YouTube lectures - he takes the time to look into the HISTORY if you can imagine that - of this type of abuse in science and terrible policies created from it - but they are left out of the text books, shoved under the rug, and never mentioned, all the while we become more convinced that science has been hijacked (at least until young minds that don't know history come along and bank on it again. I can't even read SA anymore, I used to love it, but they are part of the "party" now (although it seems the are quietly backing away from Global Warming as it is mentioned less and less. But to summarize this brutal post: When we hear "scientist say" we are correct to note that is a PR arm of science - as if "science" was one thing, a body of facts, it is the opposite for a reason, it is guesswork, refined by data and experimentation. Look at what we have learned from the Human Genome project - we learned, that without a doubt, the "Selfish Gene" was yet another in long string of long lasting "consensus" made before actually checking and looking, and it is completely and utterly wrong. The tree of life is now and "impenetrable thicket", humans share vocalization genes with birds for God's sake - I mean we guess at the most fundamental questions, and we only show our ignorance, and our need to keep man on the thrown. HUMILITY, and less greed would serve us well, but history tells us, this utopia is not reality, and never will be as we are NOT somehow more enlightened, just more dangerous... Tom Robbins
'Just when you think humans are getting smarter, you find they are actually getting gullibler. You can identify the two most gullible types of humans by noting their almost fanatical belief in global warming and Darwinism.' I would add to that, TimT, people such as Matt Ridley, who scoff at the notion that GM foodstuffs are liable to be exceedingly dangerous, indeed, already proven to be noxious to the digestive systems of Americans, from the very time they were introduced. Gastro-intestinal disorders rocketed. Next, he'll be telling us that high-fructose corn syrup doesn't cause obesity and its pathological sequelae. Axel
Bob O'H at 3, of course you are right re trends; I'd suggest at least a millennium before hosting the acrockalypse follies, given that the region as we know it dates back to the breakup of the glaciers tens of millennia ago. We don't need an acrockalypse reason to be more sensitive to our environment. There are plenty of incontestable issues out there. Toronto (on Lake Ontario), for example, would be better advised to address the problem of polluting the beaches with sewage. Easier problem to solve, too. And if Toronto ISN'T going to solve it, why should I believe that that city's genius political class (who governed for the fifty years I lived there) will fare better at alleged global crisis management? (Toronto is a Top Ten city worldwide, says the Economist, and I heartily agree. But it certainly wasn't the occupant of the mayor's chair who made it so. Historically the electees helped by not being dangerously insane or corrupt or inclined to foment strife - and not getting in the way of gifted residents.) What concerns me is that the legacy media spin machine, harping on global warming, forces habitually nice folk - who are trying to think where they left the heavy sweaters - to aver things they are not in fact experiencing. And given all the climate data fraud these days, they can't know whether anyone is experiencing it. The only solution, and I have said this for years, is to quit listening to the media sponsoring the acrockalypse. Cast the net more widely when trying to find out what is going on, and above all, NEVER ignore the sense data we get from our own environment. Sometimes in an age of sophisticated spin machines, what we can verify is all we've got to trust. News
I just can't understand why the materialists are concerned about Global climate change...... who are they trying to save and for what reason? There is no reason or purpose to our existence why does it matter? Andre
Incidentally, I (O’Leary for News) live in a region which has not seen warming in recent years
Yes, apparently it was colder than average in the Great Lakes region last year, but "[a]ll 11 climate regions [in Canada] exhibit positive trends in annual temperatures over the 67 years of record". You usually need more than 1 year to make a trend. Bob O'H
Just when you think humans are getting smarter, you find they are actually getting gullibler. You can identify the two most gullible types of humans by noting their almost fanatical belief in global warming and Darwinism. In the minds of these people, reasoned analysis has to be replaced with fanaticism or the group will die out. In fact, these two beliefs identify people who are museum pieces already. How great the world could be if reasoned thinking was once more seen as more important than fanatically defending non-reason. TimT
It's time for AGW deniers/skeptics to organize their own pride parades. Mapou

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