Guest post by Bernie Lewin
As it is the time of year for reflection, let us consider for a moment the Climate Change scare in the bigger picture.
One thing that became more evident as the year progressed was that Copenhagen 2009 might have been the peak of this scare. It is difficult now to see how we could have a resurgence of the campaign that would push beyond the hype of 2009. This is not to say it is all over just yet. And even because it is not over, and because of its resilience even in retreat, it is useful to gain an understanding of what is still happening in this scare before we consider the questions of whether it will happen again, and how much it has damaged the cause of environmentalism and the reputation of science.
Social panic and millenarian movements are well known, not only from medieval times, but also as continuing in different forms during modern times — as panics and as bubbles, the madness of crowds and so forth. What surprised many of us at the first realisation of the phoney nature of the science was that this could happen so comprehensively and convincingly within modern science. Where such panics are usually associated with ignorance and irrationality, this one has the authority of modern science at its very core. Yet we can find precedents to this science-base scare in many health scares of recent decades, and also in environmental scares since the DDT cancer scare triggered by Silent Spring, politicised by the EDF and legalized by the newly formed EPA. (See Scared to Death which finds a repeating pattern to these science-based scares.)
The AGW scare is similar to these in that it was instigated by scientists, but with one undoubted difference being its monumental scale. What is new in AGW is how it became so much more powerful and pervasive across so many disciplines and domains of science. While some previous scares were moderated and dampened by state-instituted scientific organisations, AGW was almost universal promoted. The involvement of state-sanctioned scientific institutions is of special historically interest when we consider the history of the Royal Society, the first successful state-sanctioned scientific institution upon which so many others were cloned. The Royal Society first promoted itself 350 years ago as a sober and reasonable remedy for such apocalyptic enthusiasm rife in the English Restoration. It is only in very recent times, and mostly with AGW, that the Royal Society and its clones have taken on apocalyptic scenarios as a principle tool of science promotion, and as a way to asserting their power, i.e., by drumming up panic, and so directing public policy (more here).
Apocalyptic public policy to appease social panic is not at all new. Sometimes (and often with the help of scientific reasoning) it was to quieten the panic. But often, and powerfully, it was to inflame it. Fear campaigns have long been used to drum up support for war. That the AGW campaign did often reach the pitch of war propaganda is evident in much of the political rhetoric of 2008-9, not the least example of which was the newly elected Australian prime minister’s declaration that AGW is the greatest moral issue of our time. And the public policy push was not just about windmills and carbon taxes. Nor was policy success always driven by an unconscious coalition of Baptists and Bootleggers. In my state (Victoria, Australia), during the 2008-10 peak, we were throwing public funding at a water pipeline and a desalination plant while introducing planning rules against new constructions on formerly expensive low-lying coastal properties.
These two major projects, the desal plant and the pipeline, were instigated upon scientific advice eschewing the historical evidence of climate cycles and promoting the idea of a climate shift to a warmer-dryer future for South-Eastern Australia. Beyond the construction contractors it is hard to find the ‘bootleggers’ here. The new planning rule was instituted upon the advice of state-funded science of an imminent 0.8 metre sea level rise. It does indeed seem that to some extent the decision makers really believed this advice and acted upon it to their perceived benefit in the face of embarrassing and widespread public protest. That they were victims of the bad advice of AGW proponents seemed to became evident when the government was defeated on a stormy weekend following the wettest spring in this corner of the continent since the drought began — during which the press was depicting farmers standing on their flood farms shouting ‘climate cycles’ and ‘told you so.’
While the political extremes of AGW are astounding, what is for me most interesting about the AGW scare is not so much the public panic – we have seen that all before – but the pervasive infiltration of this scare into the scientific establishment, into its associations, its journals and its funding bodies. Why so successful, so rapid, so pervasive this corruption?
When we turn for answers to academic historians of climate science, we find them mostly on-side and on message, and seemingly unaware of the profound significance of this turn in the history of science. (While Fleming is better than Weart, Oreskes & Conway mainline the propaganda and spits it out, whereas Kellow is the notable exception among the academics – see below). Looking elsewhere, we do find others starting to develop useful ways of presenting an historical understand of what is going on here. Some of these that I find the most interesting, I present briefly below for WUWT readers’ consideration and comment:
1. Now that modern science has usurped religion as the new principle validation of public knowledge, such corruptions should be expected.
In pre-modern times there were two prevailing validations of contentious public knowledge, one was the dogma of the state or religious authority and the other was direct communications from God. The authority of the prophet is upon such direct communication, while the religious dogma often defers to the authority of prophetic testimonials. But since the end of World War II, and especially through the compulsory secular education programs of affluent nations, the principle authority for public knowledge has been modern science. Except in the context of a Church, if you want to persuade folks to act according to the knowledge you profess, the best way is to make your claims upon the authority of science. Only recently has science commanded such enormous power. And power corrupts. And so when we look back on the corruption of the Church and the abuse of its dogmas to serve the interests of the unscrupulous, where we see scary scenarios causing panic in religious knowledge systems, now that modern science has usurped religion, should we be surprised that similar phenomena emerge within science also?
2. The public fear –> public funding cycle generated explosive growth of the pseudo-science of Climate Change.
In 1988 James Hansen won extraordinary attention from the press when he proclaimed his ‘99% certainty’ that the forecasted self-imposed global warming catastrophe was now in train. Schneider was not so certain, but he did recognise that scary scenarios were required in order to gain attention and to prompt folks to act (Haughton later admitted much the same). The IPCC was founded, and it reported twice without certainty and without alarm…and without much attention. At the end of 1995 it nearly did the same again…until late changes were made…and so headlines in the papers again…and the rest is history. Climate science, an under-paid stagehand was propelled into the glory of the footlights. (more here)
Scary scenarios generate public fear, public fear generates funding for more research, and if the new research generates more public fear then the science will continue to expand. The environmental sciences had hit upon a funding mechanism rarely exploited outside the arms industry (i.e., the fabled ‘military-industrial complex’), and this caused almost irresistible and explosive expansion.
3. The social and environmental sciences legitimated activist-science.
The Marxist social sciences of the post-war period (neo-Marxism) promoted activist science under the slogan ‘Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world…the point is to change it’ and this legitimated the validation of academic research and teaching, not according to some ground in truth, but by the extent to which it promoted social change for the good. This politicised approach to scholarship pervaded left thinking to such an extent that old-fashion liberal scientists were vilified on campus as ‘bourgeois.’ Such an approach to research is evident in social science discourses with no apparent Marxism affinities, including Feminism and more recently Post-Normal Science. (more here)
Science-as-activism came into the natural sciences through geography and the other environmental sciences. At the time universities were using funding incentives to promote such things as ‘community partnering’, ‘knowledge transfer’ and science-for-policy – and all this against an idea of the old paradigm of the academy as an ivory tower full of irrelevant boffins wasting public money pursuing science for science’s sake. The distinction between science and policy, and between science and political interest became blurred. In this atmosphere, the involvement of advocacy groups (WWF, Greenpeace etc) in the scientific process was condoned and encouraged. The work of Mike Hulme, the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, exemplifies the corruption of conventional natural science practices by this new activist approach to science (more here).
4. Noble Cause or ‘Virtuous’ Corruption
The legitimation of activist-science helps to promote what is called ‘noble cause corruption’. This is the term used in the context of criminal investigations, where, for example, evidence might be planted in order to convict a criminal of a crime that the investigator has no doubt he committed. (Such corruption is portrayed famously by Orson Welles in A Touch of Evil.) As this sort of corruption manifests in the sciences, Aynsley Kellow has labelled it ‘virtuous corruption.’ This is where we would have scientists genuinely believing in the truth of AGW quite prepared to manipulate, distort and misrepresent their research in order to promote this truth in the face of formidable opposition from powerful vested interests (read: ‘Big Oil’ etc) attempting to obscure the truth with their own distortions, misrepresentations and lies.