Guest post by Martin Cohen
When philosopher and long-standing climate sceptic Martin Cohen, and distinguished energy economist Andrew McKillop published a book on nuclear economics , they expected it to arouse the hackles of the nuclear establishment.
But they had not anticipated that it would come in from the sort of ‘denial of service’ attacks that only the climate change lobby knows how to dish out. Papers and magazines we had contributed to regularly refused to review it. Radio stations that were previously desperate for comment on nuclear issues backed off. Indeed, in soliciting forewords for the book many academics heisted to participate for fear of incurring the displeasure of certain influential people. (Eventually probably the world’s top nuclear sceptic, Stephen Thomas, author of numerous reports for independent energy institutes and environmental groups such as Greenpeace, whose views the authors had frequently found relevant and insightful in researching the book wrote the foreword.) So when that apparently very proper organ of scientific debate, the New Scientist did agree to review it, the authors expected a scholarly if probing analysis.
What they got instead was a strident personal attack. Calling the book ‘mendacious’ (which means frequently relying on deliberate falsehoods), and under the page tag ‘Climate Denialism’ (the controversial term that links climate sceptics to holocaust denialists), one of the UK’s oldest and most respected Climate Change agitators, Fred Pearce denounced the book as an hysterical drivel.
The ‘review’ is not so much a review as a series of personal attacks.
“The Doomsday Machine, a sometimes mendacious and frequently anti-scientific book, has one claim to novelty. It combines hysterical opposition to all things nuclear with an equally deranged climate-change denialism. One wonders both why the publishers published, and who they imagine will enjoy it.”
The ‘review’ continues (and bear in mind this is a book about nuclear economics)
“The authors argue that concern about climate change is largely a public relations exercise by nuclear power lobbyists to revive their fortunes. And that it is sustained by corrupted scientists at the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in league with “new nuclear romantics” and “environmentalists [who believe] humanity deserves to be punished for its poor stewardship of the Earth… From this original vantage point, they apparently see no need to challenge the argument that low-carbon nuclear energy can help combat climate change. So instead, a chapter purporting to slay “the myth that nuclear power is green” spends its time rehearsing ludicrous attacks on named environmentalists and climate scientists, such as Gaia inventor James Lovelock, for having the temerity to support nuclear power.”
Fair comment – or something worse? The New Scientist thought the former although it admitted that the might have been certain factual errors in the review.
But one of the key accusations of those Climategate emails, after all, was that academic professors working with environmental campaigners and journalists like Fred Pearce, were deliberately distorting public perceptions of the true state of climate science in order to prevent sceptical doubts being aired. For example, were the vast glaciers of the Himalayas really melting so fast that they would disappear by 2035, as Pearce breathlessly reported some years ago? Climategate was about whether the emails showed that global warming was a scientific conspiracy, in which scientists and others attempted to suppress critics
According to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press, the scientists are keenly aware of how their work would be viewed and used, and, just like politicians, went to great pains to shape their message. In the process, sometimes, “they sounded more like schoolyard taunts than scientific tenets”.
Mark Frankel, director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, put it this way: “The scientists were so convinced by their own science and so driven by a cause “that unless you’re with them, you’re against them,”
Of course, if you ask a leading proponent of Climate Change, doubtless bearing a few grudges against climate sceptics for publicising things like Himalayagate, PLUS someone who is a chum of Jim Lovelock, to review a book ridiculing both – what can you expect? A nasty venomous review, for sure. But not, perhaps crude, factual inaccuracies and equally crude ‘conflicts of interest’. In protesting the unflattering portrait of Jim Lovelock’s nuclear stance, for example, Fred Pearce and the New Scientist failed to note that Lovelock wrote a glowing foreword to Pearce’s latest book, ‘Earth, Then and Now’, which Lovelock sums up as, simply, ‘wonderful”.
It is straightforwardly wrong to say, as even a skim of the book reveals, that it asserts the nuclear lobby invented the global warming theory. On the contrary, the book explains that it was an old and discredited scientific theory ‘warmed up (as it were) by special interest groups, primarily governments wishing to get rid of their coal industries. Martin Cohen drew for this section on an influential cover story he wrote in 2009 for the Times Higher (London) saying that the theory of Manmade Global Warming was not science but propaganda.
However, the authors do say that the theory that burning carbon was dangerous was eagerly seized upon by the nuclear industry. Indeed they quote several of the industry’s representatives making that point. As to the suggestion that Cohen and McKillop are too hysterical to “challenge the argument that low-carbon nuclear energy can help combat climate change”, their book specifically argues, for example, that nuclear power supplies less than 3% of world energy and thus that it cannot possibly replace fossil fuels.
Pearce throws in a few broad rejections of the economic arguments against nuclear, apparently determined to give no ground on any points = a tactic characteristic of the scientists in the Climategate emails. He thus says that no one claims that nuclear electricity is ‘cheap’ any more – but of course they do. There is no other way to sell it, given its dangers and unpopularity otherwise. As to no one saying radiation is safe, the papers were full of that after Fukushima exploded recently. Again, the book gives many quotes and examples of all this – including those of Jim Lovelock.
It’s only a short review, but there are straightforward factual errors – the New Scientist itself acknowledged that in a supplementary note to the review.
Commenting on the affair, Cohen said “My point is that Andrew and I have researched the book carefully, and if it is presented in a lively, and in places darkly humorous way, that does not mean that it is not a very serious look at these issues. And these issues deserved a real review, not to be sidelined by a lazy bit of ad hominem.”
So what happened to Fred Pearce, champion of openness who defended the integrity of the climate scientists after their internal email correspondence, apparently potting to suppress dissident views and promote their own came to light? The man who wrote in a ‘special investigation’ for the Guardian newspaper . In his own words:
“Many of the emails reveal strenuous efforts by the mainstream climate scientists to do what outside observers would regard as censoring their critics… [And[when passing judgment on papers that directly attack their own work, they were mired in conflicts of interest that would not be allowed in most professions."
Climate sceptics argued that the emails showed that the theory of manmade global warming due to carbon dioxide was bolstered by a scientific conspiracy, in which scientists manipulated climate data and attempted to suppress critics.
The United States National Academy of Sciences condemned what they called "political assaults on scientists and climate scientists in particular".
The AP said that the "[e]-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled sceptics and discussed hiding data.” As John Tierney put it in a piece for the New York Times: “these researchers, some of the most prominent climate experts in Britain and America, seem so focused on winning the public-relations war that they exaggerate their certitude — and ultimately undermine their own cause.”
Climategate eventually became something of a scandal, leading to several public enquiries. But no lessons seem to have been learned.
Doomsday drivel: promoting nuclear paranoia 11:20 29 March 2012
 The Doomsday Machine: The high price of energy, the world’s most dangerous fuel
by Martin Cohen and Andrew McKillop published byy Palgrave March (US) /April (UK) 2012
 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/09/peer-review-block-scientific-papers Tuesday 9 February 2010 14.05 GMT
contact Martin Cohen on docmartincohen at yahoo.co.uk for more details about the controversy contact Laura Conn L.Conn at palgrave.co.uk for more on the book and to request review copies