Climate Science and the Inquisition

Henry Payne cartoon

HISTORICALLY, THERE HAS been tension between church and science, particularly where a religion is endorsed by the state. In the 17th century, Galileo's embrace of Copernicanism defied Catholic Church doctrine that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Galileo's bravery in putting scientific discovery before political consensus won him house arrest under charge of heresy until his death.

Nearly 370 years after Galileo's death, e-mails released from East Anglia University's Climatic Research Unit expose similar tensions between science and, this time, green doctrine.

Since global warming first emerged as a public issue in the late 1980s, its advocates have spoken of its moral and scientific significance. "The scientists are virtually screaming from the rooftops now. The debate is over," sayeth Al Gore, the public face of global warming. "There's no longer any debate in the scientific community about this. It's a moral imperative."

Gore's close friend, climatologist James Hansen of NASA, became the face of climate science as Gore's chief scientific expert. But Hansen has not been content to argue scientific merit and has instead embraced the most radical components of green activism. Like Gore, Hansen compares global warming to the Nazi Holocaust, calling the railroad cars that transport coal "death trains." Coal, he says, "is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet."

Indeed, climatologists have not been shy to embrace the political crusade targeting industries for perceived environmental wrongdoings. University of Michigan professor Henry Pollack, a geologist and contributing author to the United Nations' global warming report that is the basis of anti-carbon laws, also trains green activists to spread the word of climate crisis on behalf of Gore's Climate Project.

The intimacy of scientists — who claim to be arbiters of the facts — and politicians on global warming is discomfiting.

Politicians often twist facts for political gain. Gore, for example, was asked in a 2006 interview about the "best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you scare people or give them hope?" Gore replied: "[I]n the United States ... nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is."

Disturbingly, prominent climatologists like Stanford University's Stephen Schneider share Gore's interpretation of truth. "On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method," Schneider told Discover magazine in 1989. "On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

Climategate reveals that some scientists have tilted decidedly toward dishonesty, vilifying their critics and manipulating data to "trick" the public and "hide the decline" in global temperatures. Their hardball tactics include marginalizing critics of global warming from scientific journals.

Scientists who question approved climate change dogma risk losing state favor and access to the enormous research dollars government controls. Climatologist Phil Jones, who oversaw the East Anglia climate records, and his colleagues received millions of dollars in climate research funding on top of the main government education grant that underwrites the university.[1]

The rush to declare scientific proof of green doctrine and secure related research funds has led to a false cry of consensus.

In fact, as an authoritative review by the Heartland Institute[2] of two international surveys shows, there is no consensus on climate change. "The question most people are most keen to ask climate scientists is probably 'do you agree or disagree that climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic (manmade) causes?'" according to the review. Summarizing a 2003 poll, Heartland found that slightly more than half (55.8 percent) of climate scientists surveyed agreed, 14.2 percent were unsure and 30 percent disagreed. The survey clearly shows that the debate over why the climate is changing is still underway, with nearly half of climate scientists disagreeing with what is often claimed to be the "consensus" view.

Two weeks after Climategate broke, three of the offending climatologists held a press conference hosted by the Center for American Progress,[3] a global warming advocacy group. One of the scientists, Michael Mann of Penn State University, then attacked global warming critics as "a handful of people and organizations that have tried to cloud the debate."

Clearly, when it comes to understanding how gravely they have damaged their discipline, these "scientists" have learned nothing.

Henry Payne is the editorial cartoonist for The Detroit News and a regular contributor to National Review.

[1] Robert Mendick, "'Climategate' professor Phil Jones awarded £13 million in research grants," Daily Telegraph, Dec. 5, 2009, (accessed Jan. 14, 2010).

[2] Joseph L. Bast and James M. Taylor, "Scientific Consensus on Global Warming: Results of an international survey of climate scientists," (Chicago: The Heartland Institute, 2007) (accessed Jan. 14, 2010).

[3] Stephen Spruiell, "On the Horn with the Warming All-Stars," National Review Online, Dec. 04, 2009, (accessed Jan. 14, 2010).