The Scientist Trap

by | Jul 2, 2001

Ten days ago, we saw the headlines: “Panel Tells Bush Global Warming is Getting Worse.” According to dozens of press accounts, a panel of distinguished climatologists from the National Academy of Sciences had provided new confirmation that “global warming is real, and is getting worse.” Scientists, we were told, are “unanimous” on the issue. Last […]

Ten days ago, we saw the headlines: “Panel Tells Bush Global Warming is Getting Worse.” According to dozens of press accounts, a panel of distinguished climatologists from the National Academy of Sciences had provided new confirmation that “global warming is real, and is getting worse.” Scientists, we were told, are “unanimous” on the issue. Last [month], we saw the results. President Bush has not fully embraced the Kyoto Protocol-which would commit the US to a disastrous, self-imposed energy crisis. But Bush has explicitly endorsed the treaty’s goals, pledging on Thursday to “work together” with the Europeans to “reduce greenhouse gases.” It was a remarkable tilt of political momentum.

But it is all based on a lie. The National Academy of Sciences report does not provide a valid scientific basis for global warming, nor does it show a scientific consensus on the issue. MIT professor Richard Lindzen — a member of the NAS panel — is one of those who does not accept the consensus. His name is on the report sent to Bush, but, he told me, “NAS reports do not call for the agreement of all participants; rather, they attempt to portray the range of views” — including Lindzen’s belief that man-made global warming is unproven. The press, he explains, “chose not to report” that fact. Then he adds: “It isn’t the first time.”

It certainly is not the first time. The same counterfeit consensus is manufactured every few years by a UN panel on global warming. Here is how the counterfeiting process works. Scientists with varying views, including global warming skeptics like Lindzen, are convinced to submit research for the report. Their contributions, including all of their doubts about warming, are painstakingly spelled out in a massive scientific report — a report whose size and detail assure that it will never be read.

Since no one reads the full report, the panel’s message is actually decided by a handful of political organizers who write its alleged “summary” and send out the press releases. In this summary, they downplay or simply eliminate every scientific fact that doesn’t fit their agenda. This summary is sent to politicians and the press, who magnify the hysteria even further by quoting only the summary’s most sensational sentences — and then attribute those views to a “unanimous” consensus of every scientist on the panel.

The treatment of Lindzen is typical. The New York Times coverage described the NAS summary as the conclusion of “eleven leading atmospheric scientists, including previous skeptics about global warming” — and then later mentions Lindzen by name, strongly implying that he has renounced his opposition to the global warming hysteria. But Lindzen has not recanted, and he confirmed to me that the Times did not bother contacting him to find out. This is the process by which prominent global warming dissenters like Lindzen — and honest scientists who think they are staying out of politics — are trapped into giving their stamp of approval to the global warming hysteria. These scientists should not be excused too easily. There is an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

What causes honest scientists to keep falling into this trap? There is a presumption today that to be “progressive” and to have what is called a “social conscience” means being anti-business, anti-industry, anti-technology. Notice, for example, that every government-funded scientist who supports the global warming theory is portrayed as independent, unbiased, trustworthy — while any dissenter is likely to be described, not as a scientist, but as a “representative of industries whose business depends on fossil fuels.” Scientists are offered three alternatives: to be a “concerned” environmental advocate, to be dismissed as a shill for Big Oil or to be “neutral,” apolitical, and therefore irrelevant.

It is an odd bias when we consider what is at stake. If our politicians adopt some new version of the Kyoto Protocol, it will mean drastically scaling back our production of power — which would mean giving up the technology that depends on that power. Scientists ought to know better than anyone else what an important achievement it is to generate a megawatt of power, power that can be used for anything from taking an MRI image and treat a brain tumor, to putting fresh fruit on your table in the middle of January. That’s why those who care about science and progress ought to be the first and most ardent defenders of industry and technology.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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