When “Consensus” Is a Weapon Word
A post-email-revelation tack being taken by global warming alarmists has been that we skeptics, as we’re called, have no qualifications to judge the science, and the scientific controversies that have filtered out to our ignorant outskirts are really just minor complaints against a vast body of knowledge all pointing to the truth of the alarmists’ claims.
That point of view would be acceptable, perhaps even correct, were the environmentalist Jeremiahs standing as lone voices in the city square. But they’re not. They’re professionals funded largely by the world’s public sectors and insisting that limited global resources be allocated toward their particular area of concern. Under those circumstances, it is the duty of the people who comprise the relatively esoteric field and who wish to command the allocation of trillions of dollars in global wealth to persuade the owners and creators of that wealth (i.e., us) that their claims merit attention, not to mention historic expenditures.
Part of the process by which they might accomplish such persuasion is an open an honest dissemination of their information, honed in as untainted a forum as human nature allows and conveyed through an ostensibly neutral system of news media. In the particular case of mankind’s relevance to climate change, it has been precisely through the sorts of claims that are being questioned — melting high-altitude glaciers, disappearing rain forests, rising tides — that the “consensus” is formed about the dire necessity for action. Additionally, appeals to authority and pre-modern methods of peer pressure and ideological exclusion have constrained public discussion.
William Anderson argues that the content of the surreptitiously distributed emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia rightly undermine the entire enterprise:
In the case of climate science, corruption of the peer-review process appears to have taken place. Communications among some of the principal investigators suggest a conspiracy to prevent the publication of work at variance to their own. In addition, they attempted to take action against editors and journals that published the work of their rivals.
Worse, these same investigators refused to disclose their original data and their methods of analysis, threatening to destroy data rather than comply with freedom-of-information demands, as required by law. This action constitutes scientific malfeasance of the gravest type. Alone it is sufficient to discredit their entire enterprise. …
So we will never know, with adequate confidence, what the temperature trends were thought to be by those who have been charged with custody of the many years of data on which, they insist, the future of humanity depends. Although there are four main foci of such data (the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, NASA, NOAA, and Darwin, Australia), they share some sources, remain unavailable to independent assessment, and show the same casual approach to integrity of the data. Requests for disclosure have been refused. This is a curious posture for publicly funded organizations.
On the matter of tracing the way in which falsehood becomes scientific common knowledge, Mark Steyn provides an excellent example:
But where did all these experts get the data [regarding the ostensibly rapidly melting Himalayan glacier] from? Well, NASA’s assertion that Himalayan glaciers “may disappear altogether” by 2030 rests on one footnote, citing the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report from 2007. …
And the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for that report, so it must be kosher, right? Well, yes, its Himalayan claims rest on a 2005 World Wildlife Fund report called “An Overview of Glaciers.” …
… they wouldn’t be saying this stuff if they hadn’t got the science nailed down, would they? The WWF report relies on an article published in the New Scientist in 1999 by Fred Pearce. …
Oh, but don’t worry, back in 1999 Fred did a quickie telephone interview with a chap called Syed Hasnain of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. And this Syed Hasnain cove presumably knows a thing or two about glaciers.
Well, yes. But he now says he was just idly “speculating”; he didn’t do any research or anything like that.
It is precisely by these minor matters’ snowballing into the eye-and-headline-catching lines of authoritative studies that the “consensus” is formed. They are constitutive, not incidental. They form the point — the explanatory “therefore” for political action — that imposes an a priori theme to a vast body of scientific findings that indisputably conclude that the climate changes… a point that even we dabblers are not inclined to challenge.