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Climategate: When Scientists Become Politicians

Fudging results in an attempt to make the world fit one’s preconceptions is beyond the scientific pale and a real crime. (Also read Ed Driscoll: All the News That's Fit to Bury)

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

November 23, 2009 - 12:44 am
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But such behavior, along with attempts to cover it up and dishonestly discredit critics, is exactly what was revealed in a leak of emails last Friday from a research facility in eastern England. And it was not the behavior of previously unknown researchers on some arcane topic of little interest to anyone outside their own field. It was the behavior of leading luminaries in perhaps the greatest scientific issue and controversy of our age: Whether or not the planet is warming to a potentially dangerous degree as a result of humanity’s influence. It is a subject on which billions — if not trillions — of dollars worth of future economic growth and costs hinge. It was the basis for the massive “cap and trade” bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in the spring and seems stalled in the Senate. It is accordingly a subject on which a great deal of money is being spent on research to understand the problem. And when there is a great deal of research funding at stake, often funded by people less interested in truth than in power and political agendas, the temptation to come up with the “correct” answers can perhaps overcome scientific integrity.

It is hard (perhaps impossible) to know the motives of the people who would so betray the basic precepts of science. It is easy to postulate that they have political aims, and there are certainly many “watermelon” environmentalists (green on the outside, “red” on the inside) who see the green movement as a new means to continue to push socialist and big-government agendas, after a momentary setback with the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago.

But scientists are human, with human failings. Thomas Kuhn noted half a century ago that science doesn’t always follow the idealized model of the objective scientist seeking only truth; it is often driven by fashions and fads, peer pressure, and a lust for glory and respect by the other courtiers of the court that fund them. So we may never know whether this defense of a flawed theory arose from the sense of power that it might give them over the rest of our lives. Or perhaps it was due to simply an emotional attachment to a theory in which they had invested their careers. Either way, what they did was not science, and they should be drummed out of that profession. They can no longer be trusted.

Many in the climate change community have condemned what they call “skeptics,” often to the point of declaring them de facto criminals and assigning them to the same category as Holocaust deniers. They tell us that “the science is settled” and that we should shut up. But every scientist worthy of the name should be a skeptic. Every theory should be subject to challenge on a scientific basis. Every claim of a model’s validity should be accompanied by the complete model and data set that supposedly validated it, so that it can be replicated. That is how science works. It is how it advances. And when the science is supposedly “settled” and they refuse to do so, it’s not unreasonable to wonder why.

Well, now we know.

In fact, when scientists become politicians but continue to pretend to be doing science, that is the real crime. The theory being promoted by these men was being used to justify government actions that would result in greatly diminished future economic growth of the most powerful economy on earth (and the rest of the world as well). It would make it more difficult and less affordable to address any real problems that might be caused in the future by a change in climate, whether due to human activity or other causes. It could impoverish millions in the future, with little actual change in adverse climate effects. And when such a theory has the potential to do so much unjustified harm, and it has a fraudulent basis, who are the real criminals against humanity?

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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