Sunday, May 11, 2008


The econuts are hanging on to their models even though their models have shown no skill at predicting anything. If the model predictions for the last 10 years predicted nothing of what actually happened without ad hoc (i.e. "wise after the event") adjustments, why on earth would anyone place any faith in their predictions for the future? The modellers just don't want to admit the obvious: That at our present stage of knowledge we CANNOT model earth's climate

A new study suggesting a possible lull in manmade global warming has raised fears of a reduced urgency to battle climate change. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of hundreds of scientists, last year said global warming was "unequivocal" and that manmade greenhouse gas emissions were "very likely" part of the problem. And while the study published in the journal Nature last week did not dispute manmade global warming, it did predict a cooling from recent average temperatures through 2015, as a result of a natural and temporary shift in ocean currents. The IPCC predicted global temperature increases this century of 1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius.

So the Nature paper has sparked worries that briefly cooler temperatures may take the heat out of action to fight the threat of more droughts and floods, while a debate about the article's findings has also underlined uncertainty about such forecasting.

Most scientists oppose the minority that has used the present lull in warming to cast doubt on the size of threat from manmade global temperature rises. "Let's say there wasn't much of a warming for the next 10 years, how will the public and politicians play this out?" said Bob Watson, former IPCC head and current chief scientific adviser to Britain's environment ministry. He said it was important to explain that fluctuations were an expected part of a general, manmade warming trend. "We need a group of scientists very carefully to evaluate that paper, do they agree, to what degree is there uncertainty, and then explain to the public and politicians what it means," he said.

Climate scientists agree that natural climate shifts, as the world's oceans suck up or spew out heat, could temporarily mask mankind's stoking of warming though year-on-year increases in greenhouse gas emissions. In Bali in December, governments launched two-year climate talks to try to clinch a tougher successor to the existing Kyoto Protocol on global warming. But worries about the impact on competitiveness by slowing carbon emissions -- by curbing the use of fossil fuels -- are already fraying those efforts. Russia said last week it would not dampen its economic growth.


The reaction to the Nature paper has underlined uncertainty about climate forecasting, as well as the fact that a minority of global warming doubters has not gone away. Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre is sticking to its forecasts made last year that half of the five years after 2009 would "quite likely" be the hottest on record, partly due to manmade warming.

Meanwhile six climate scientists offered on Thursday to bet 5,000 euros ($7,730) that the Nature article's forecast of cooling or no warming globally from 2000-2015 was wrong. "We think not -- and we are prepared to bet serious money on this," say the scientists, led by Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a comment posted at

The original Nature article's lead author, Leibniz Institute's Noel Keenlyside, acknowledged on Friday that recent data showed much more warming that he had forecast through 2007, but stood by a "stabilisation" of temperatures from 2005-2015. He blamed shifts in ocean currents and temperatures, thought also to be the cause of the plateau in temperatures since 1998.

Gary Yohe, climate scientist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said that opponents of tougher action on global warming in the United States had seized on the Nature report as a sign that climate change was slowing down.

Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist", said a slowdown in warming might help governments focus on smarter, long-term solutions rather than being panicked into action.



An amusing cry of woe from an ecofascist below. The Fascists versus the people and the people look like having the last say

Gordon Brown, Ken Livingstone and 300 Labour councillors were not the only casualties of the local and London elections. No one seems to have noticed, but the other big losers were those people who care about the environment. We might just look back on May Day 2008 as the moment when the power of green politics peaked and went into reverse. I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it. The reaction of the two main parties to the elections was instructive. Desperate to prop up his own position after Labour's rout, Mr Brown needed to toss a few bones to the voters and jittery Labour backbenchers. So it suddenly emerged that he was about to dump the so-called "bin tax" - allowing councils to charge householders who do not recycle their rubbish. Downing Street didn't confirm it, and five token pilot schemes will go ahead, but it's clear the bin tax has been binned.

Brown allies also floated the idea that the 2p rise in fuel duty might be shelved again. No doubt this was an attempt to placate motorists. As well as being anti-green, it was a surprise, since the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, will need all the revenue he can get when he delivers his pre-Budget report in the autumn - not least to compensate the losers from the abolition of the 10p tax rate.

Mr Brown was not alone in relegating the environment to the back burner. David Cameron, the wind in his sails after the elections, held a prime ministerial press conference in which he set out his priorities for government. Significantly, the words "environment" and "climate change" did not appear in his 1,200-word statement.

Was this the same man who fought the local elections on the campaign slogan "vote blue, go green"? And was the leader who hugged huskies to convince us his party had changed addressing new issues and no longer preaching to the Tory converted? Green issues have gone out of fashion for Mr Cameron; they have served their purpose.

Naturally, the Tory leader denied it. "We have made quite good progress," he insisted. "I'm not saying the job is done. There is still a huge amount that we want to see changed." But whatever happened to the impressive tome of green policies produced last year by the Tory policy review headed by John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith, who seems to have disappeared off the planet he was trying to save? When asked, Mr Cameron banged on about the fuel price pressures facing motorists and hauliers. Officially, the Tories remain committed to raising green taxes in order to cut taxes for families. But they don't talk about it much. After a brief detour, they seem to have arrived at the same point as Mr Brown: that the public needs "carrots" as well as "sticks" to go green; that they suspect green taxes are stealth taxes.

Another reason why the elections have set back the environmental cause is the election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. He will dump Mr Livingstone's plan to charge drivers of gas-guzzlers 25 pounds to enter the capital's congestion charge zone, and review its recent expansion into west London. In Manchester, the councillor behind plans for a 5 pound congestion charge lost his seat to a community party which opposed it.

Labour and the Tories will doubtless argue that the Manchester experience shows they are right to be cautious on green issues. Similarly, Labour MPs say the bin tax was an issue on the doorsteps in the local elections. As The Independent reported eight days ago, a new opinion poll found that more than seven out of 10 people are not prepared to pay higher taxes to fund projects to tackle climate change.

It's hardly surprising that people downgrade soft issues such as the environment when economic times are hard. Yet politicians surely have a duty to lead rather than follow public opinion. Despite that, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs quietly shelved plans to bring in annual personal carbon allowances this week, saying the idea was "ahead of its time".

The two main parties will continue to pay lip service to green issues in the run-up to the general election. But something has changed in the past week. Both parties will put saving seats before saving the planet.


Good intentions leading to economic ruin

The road to Hell, the old adage goes, is paved with good intentions. So is the road to economic ruin. In the name of saving the environment and stemming global warming, a steady stream of disinformation has been fed into the public psyche. Aided and abetted by both radical environmentalists - who view humanity as a cancer in the natural order rather than an intrinsic part of it - and the political leftists who needed a new home once their Marxist utopia, the Soviet Union, collapsed, a new public policy has emerged, a policy which seems determined to undermine the republican principles upon which the United States was established.

The disinformation campaign has resulted in some unintended consequences, not the least of which has been a surprising public outcry over the growing economic disaster that is overtaking the country. Where politicians once descried the low cost of fuel, particularly gasoline, in the United States, pointing to the costs in Europe that were four and five times higher, they are now scrambling to find ways to decrease that cost. Where politicians once called for innovative new fuel sources like ethanol and other biofuels, they are now finding those heavily subsidized programs not only inadequate, but having a decidedly adverse effect on food supplies.

The American public, it seems, is not about quietly follow the lead of those who would impose a new totalitarianism.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the entire ethanol program is becoming a fiasco. There is presently a mandate that the U.S. produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022, ostensibly to alleviate dependence on foreign oil. The problem is that biofuels, particularly ethanol, doesn't work. Ethanol is 20 percent less efficient than gasoline, and that one gallon of ethanol requires more than one gallon of conventional fuel to produce. The production of ethanol, subsidized to the tune of $1.05-$1.38 per gallon by the government, is also taking increasingly greater amounts of corn off the food market, thus giving lie to the promises that were made more than a decade ago.

In 1994, the U.S. Senate was involved in a debate which would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency mandate of the use of ethanol in reformulated gasoline. Ultimately, the vote which would have stopped the mandate failed thanks to Vice President Al Gore, who broke the 50-50 tie with his vote in favor of the mandate. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), in his support of the mandate, famously claimed, "The price of corn flakes isn't going to go up by one penny." To some degree, Simon was right. The price of corn flakes hasn't gone up by one penny. It's gone up by dollars.

Since February 2006, the price of corn, wheat and soybeans has increased 240 percent. According to Department of Agriculture figures, grocery bills are up, on average, $70 a month from last year. For the present, those costs can be absorbed, albeit somewhat uncomfortably, by the U.S. economy, but the ripple effect of decreased food production is having a major impact elsewhere. It takes 450 pounds of corn to produce ethanol to fill the average gas tank of an American automobile. The same amount of corn can feed one person for an entire year. As more crop land is devoted to the production of corn for fuel, less will be available for food, thus constantly driving up the cost of everything associated with corn, ranging from cereal to meat products.

There is now an on-going debate among the presidential candidates and others over whether or not to institute a federal "gas tax" holiday for the summer driving season, and, if instituted, how to "pay" for it. By ending ethanol subsidies, the government would save millions. By beginning to drill for oil in the United States, whether in ANWAR, in North Dakota, off the Gulf Coast, off the Pacific Coast, and anywhere else it may be feasible to find, not only would the price of crude immediately begin to drop, so, too, would the necessity of importing foreign oil (now 60 percent, up from 40 percent in 1990) drop. At the same time, employment opportunities, and economic growth, would rise.

Despite what radical environmentalists claim, and despite the rhetoric of political leftists who pander to those environmentalists in attempting to establish a new Marxist regime, the reality that is constantly overlooked is that concerns about the environment - maintaining clean air and clean water, protecting species or protecting forests - can only be addressed in a society in which there is abundant freedom. When the needs for basic survival, sufficient food, sufficient shelter, sufficient safety, become a paramount concern, concerns about the environment cease to exist.



Al Gore blames the Burma tragedy on global warming despite growing evidence to the contrary. Could the hype be related to his financial interests? Gore's reaction to the death and destruction caused by a cyclone ravaging Burma was to utter an emphatic "I told you so" Tuesday on National Public Radio. In an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" broadcast, the jolly green giant made the charge while talking about the paperback release of his ironically named book, "The Assault on Reason."

Ignoring the fact that the rising death toll is due in part to an incompetent, isolationist and authoritarian government that allows most of its people to live in shanty towns of tin and bamboo, Gore claimed that "we're seeing consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming." In other words, people die in Rangoon because of an SUV in Richmond, Va.

There's a "trend toward more Category 5 storms," Gore claimed, and this trend "appears to be linked to global warming and specifically to the impact of global warming on higher ocean temperatures in the top couple of hundred feet in the ocean, which drives convection energy and moisture into these storms and makes them more powerful."

Except, as we recently noted, the trend in the world's oceans - as shown by measurements taken by a fleet of 3,000 high-tech ocean buoys first deployed in 2003 - is toward cooling. As Dr. Josh Willis, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, noted in a separate interview with National Public Radio, "there has been a very slight cooling" over the buoys' five years of observation.

As Joseph D'Aleo, the Weather Channel's first director of meteorology, told National Review Online's Deroy Murdock that the slight warming trend "peaked in 1998, and the temperature trend the last decade has been flat, even as CO2 has increased 5.5%. Cooling began in 2002." He added: "Ocean buoys have echoed that slight cooling since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deployed them in 2003."

In fact, Ryan Maue of Florida State University's Center for Ocean-Atmosphere Prediction Studies says 2007 "will rank as a historically inactive tropical cyclone year for the Northern Hemisphere as a whole." In the past 30 years, Maue adds, only 1977 had less hurricane activity from January through October. Last September had the lowest activity since 1977 while the Octobers of 2006 and 2007 had the lowest activity since 1976 and 1977, respectively.

So why the hype? Well, global warming is a growth industry designed to keep Earth and some bank accounts green. Gore himself joined the venture capital group, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers just last September. On May 1, the firm announced a $500 million investment in maturing green technology firms called the Green Growth Fund.

The group announced another $700 million to be invested over the next three years in green-tech startup firms. But if the green technology business, uh, cools down, there will be no return on that investment. There would be no need for such investments if global warming wasn't a threat. So Gore just launched, among other things, a $300 million on an ad campaign to convince us it is so.

Speaking at a conference in Monterey, Calif., on March 1, the former vice president admitted to having "a stake" in a number of green investments into which he recommended attendees put money rather than "subprime carbon assets" such as tar sands and shale oil. He also is co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management, which sells carbon offsets that allow rich polluters to continue polluting with a clear conscience.

We have a prediction all our own - that disastrous global warming will not occur. Then the greenies will take credit for preventing it and ask us if we're glad we spent trillions in fighting it. Al Gore will be laughing all the way to the bank.


All in a Good Cause: Framing Science for Public Policy'

By Aynsley Kellow, Professor and Head of the School of Government at the University of Tasmania

The history of science is replete with error and fraud. Environmental science is no exception. Indeed, this area of science provides a hyperabundance of examples, thanks to the presence of two factors: a good cause and extensive reliance upon modelling, especially that involving sophisticated computer models.

The good cause - one that most of us support - can all too readily corrupt the conduct of science, especially science informing public policy, because we prefer answers that support our political preferences, and find science that challenges them less comfortable.

We would all wish to preserve the spiralled-horned ox, Pseudonovibos spiralis, because it is on the Red List of endangered species. Problem is, is doesn't seem to have existed in the first place.

And we might not have minded the apparent planting by US Federal Fish and Wildlife Department officers of fur from endangered Canadian lynx in Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot National Forests in the Pacific Northwest in 2002. When found out, the officials claimed that they were merely trying to test the reliability of testing methods, by covertly seeing whether the testing laboratories could identify real lynx fur if not told in advance. Critics suspected the samples had been planted in an effort to protect the national forests from logging, mining and recreation. The Executive Director of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics termed this response `a witch hunt in search of a false conspiracy'.

This Executive Director, Andy Stahl, had what is known in policing circles as `form'. In the 1980s, during the controversy over the logging in the Pacific Northwest, Stahl was involved in sponsoring the production of peer-reviewed science to support the Spotted Owl campaign to reduce old-growth logging. Stahl put mathematical modelling entymologist Russell Lande in touch with scholars who supplied the data, and then helped find reviewers to produce a peer-reviewed publication. This was necessary because the only `science' then available on the spotted owl was an incomplete doctoral dissertation.

The Lande paper was created to suit the political campaign and was used together with the notion of precaution to win the day. Whereas it assumed an owl population of 2,500 and further assumed that logging old-growth forest would cause its extinction, subsequent research showed the species was far more numerous and, if anything, preferred regrowth forest. Regrowth forest provided more prey and more conducive hunting conditions than old-growth forest.

Remarkably, the leading journal Nature editorialised in support of those who had faked the Canadian Lynx evidence - which tells us something about scientific journals.

The combination of the precautionary principle with endangered species legislation is a particularly seductive one, but it is the use of models into which value-laden assumptions can be smuggled that is particularly pernicious - as a recent Australian example shows. A case involving the Orange-Bellied Parrot in 2006 saw the merest hint of a parrot, together with some mathematical modelling (and the precautionary principle) used by the then Australian Commonwealth Environment Minister to disallow the construction of a wind farm that was environmentalists' preferred response to climate change, but was opposed by residents in a marginal Coalition government constituency.

Modelling for the Bald Hills wind farm on the Orange-bellied Parrot assumed the birds spent time at most of the sites of wind farms in Victoria, despite the fact that the birds had not been recorded at 20 of the 23 sites along the coast of Victoria, and despite active searches having been conducted. Only one or two sightings had been made at the other three sites.

The authors then assumed that the birds would remain present within a single wind farm location for six months-the longest possible period the migratory species could remain at a winter site, and longer than any bird had been recorded at any site. They also assumed the parrot would make two passes through the Bald Hills site. They did all this to err on the side of caution.

So, while no parrot had been sighted within 50 kilometres of the proposed site, the minister then acted in accordance with the precautionary principle (and an election promise) to block Bald Hills on the basis of cumulative impact-compounding the precaution already embedded in the assumptions underlying the modeling. I have proposed in what I call Kellow's Law that sightings of endangered species are clustered around the sites of proposed developments. This reflects not just the cynical uses of endangered species for political purposes, but partly also the fact that research for environmental assessments frequently finds species because the site has never previously been surveyed.

This `noble cause' corruption of science - named for the `framing' by police of suspects `known' to be guilty is helped not just by the virtuous cause, but by the virtual nature of both the science and the context within which it occurs. Both conservation biology and climate science rely on virtual science. The former has seen people in check shirts counting deer scat give way to physicists and mathematicians, while the latter (unlike more traditional meteorology) has always involved more computing than fieldwork. James Hansen, of NASA's Goddard Institute, for example, wrote his doctoral thesis on the climate of Venus, and - contrary to what some of his critics might think - it's clear he has never visited another planet.

Computer models fed by scenarios based on economic models are the norm in climate science, and when we are dealing with climate impacts on biodiversity, we are often dealing with species-area modelling fed by the modelled results of the impact of climate models on vegetation.

It is important to understand the way in which the revolution in information technology has transformed the conduct of science. Its impact has come not just in the ability to model complex phenomena of which scientists a decade or so ago could only dream - though that is part of the problem. Computer models are always subject to the Garbage In - Garbage Out problem and they can never be a substitute for hypotheses tested against the cold, hard light of observational data.

Many of the scientists working with models appear to have forgotten that science is about testing predictions against data. They seem to have fallen victim to the trap long-recognised at IBM, where it used to be said that simulation was like self-stimulation: if one practised it too often, one began to confuse it for the real thing.

One problem with observational data in areas like climate science is that they themselves are subject to substantial massaging by computers before they are of any use. Even data collection, therefore, provides opportunities for subjective assumptions to intrude into the adjustments made to data to make them useful. This highlights the importance of quality assurance processes, and there are no greater guarantors of quality assurance in science than contestation and transparency - full disclosure of data properly archived and of methods, including computer code.

Society deems this fundamentally important when we are dealing with science such as drug trials, which are conducted under fully transparent conditions, ideally with separate teams making up doses, administering them, diagnosing effects and analysing data. We insist on regulatory guidelines, and we audit laboratories. We know that even when researchers are fastidious in pursuing impartiality, subjective assumptions can find their way into what become `data'.

There are similar requirements imposed by stock exchanges for data such as core samples relating to mineral resources. Standards govern the collection, archiving and analysis of data . In Australia, these are laid down as standards by JORC - the Joint Ore Reserves Committee. Even then, mistakes occur and there are consequences: shareholder value is destroyed or created.

In areas such as climate science we have made no similar demands. Data are routinely gathered, manipulated and modelled by the same research teams and the discipline has not insisted on anything like full transparency. Many of the people engaging in this science are then acting as advocates for particular policy responses. James Hansen is perhaps the most notable example in this regard, but there are numerous others, such as Stephen Schneider at Stanford. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change then allows the same people to act as lead authors, sitting in judgment on their own work and that of those who might differ with them. This corrupts the scientific process.

The work of former mining industry analyst Steve McIntyre in exposing the debacle of the Hockey Stick controversy in climate science and in finding that Hansen's computer generation of mean temperatures for the US had a Y2K problem (that meant that the hottest year shifted conveniently from the 1930s to the 1990s) are good examples of what is needed. But it is significant that these necessary correctives came from outside the climate science community.

The shift of the `warmest year' in the US was in itself a small change in the totality of climate science. But most of the mistakes tend to be in one direction, and that is in a politically convenient one. This underscores my point about the need for openness, transparency and sceptical challenging of science, especially where data collection, data preparation, data adjustment, modelling and interpretation all take place in the one institution.

Again, it is noteworthy that an amateur scientist, Anthony Watts, is responsible for a web-based audit of sites that generate data for that record, and he and his `citizen auditers' have found many sites that are likely to have produced a recent warming trend through poor siting or site maintenance. It is worth reporting that Watts visited NOAA recently, and not only was he given a warm reception, but he found that the walls of the offices of those responsible for maintaining temperature records were covered with photographs of the stations he and his supporters have photographed. NOAA is grateful for the work they have done (at no cost to it), and the result is likely to be better data in the future. But its surface records continue to be based on flawed instrumentation that is subject to adjustment and compilation.

I would suggest that the need for sceptical auditing is even greater when the senior spokesman for the institution concerned is also a vociferous advocate for a particular policy position. James Hansen claims to have been muzzled by the Bush administration - though Republicans were unkind enough to point to the 1400 or so media interviews he seems to have managed, and he managed to throw off the muzzle for long enough to endorse John Kerry in 2004.

The point about all this is that, while Michael Crichton once famously observed that `data is not Democrat or Republican, it's just data', we need to ensure we have institutions that prevent data from acquiring partisan characteristics.

Steve McIntyre was aware of the case of Bre-X, where gold assays were fabricated and now applies his considerable skills to auditing climate science-to our enormous collective benefit. The proposition with climate change policy is that we are being asked to make substantial social investments in an enterprise that does not have the standards of transparency and accountability stock exchanges insist upon to prevent Bre-X situations, nor situations where subjective beliefs have intruded into analyses.

But to return to the impact of IT on all of this, we must recognise how the IT revolution has also revolutionised both the conduct of science and the way in which it is interpreted - the way in which it enters politics and the policy process. One of the impacts has been on peer review, the cornerstone of quality assurance in science. Publication after anonymous peer review in quality journals does not guarantee that the science is accurate, but it helps guard against inaccuracy.

Some journals in which key pieces of climate science are published do not maintain the standards of strict double blind refereeing that we take for granted in the social sciences. Geoscientists I raised this with thought that this would inhibit debate between authors and reviewers that might lead to fresh insights. Perhaps - but if society is to take such science seriously, such conversations have to be secondary to quality assurance. We are well past Victorian gentlemen discussing interesting fossils they have found.

That problem aside, the internet has made it much more likely that the identity of an author can be tracked down, breaking down the anonymity that focuses reviewers on the quality of the reason and evidence presented in the paper. Indeed, the internet has made possible increased international collaboration among scientists, while the increasing specialisation of knowledge has narrowed the circle of likely referees. Not only does the internet (and cheap air travel) increase the likelihood that authors are known to potential referees, it increases the likelihood that they have worked together. The IPCC has assisted this process, by engaging many of them on a common task and producing that enemy of all good science, a consensus.

Edward Wegman performed a social network analysis of those working on multiproxy reconstructions of climate when examining the Hockey Stick controversy and found that there was a clear network of co-authorship between the Hockey Stick authors and almost all others working in the field, including those most likely to have been selected as a referee by an editor. There was neither true independent verification of results nor peer review, and the possibilities for (at the very least) what we call `groupthink' were great. When Professor David Deming reported receiving an e-mail some years earlier from a senior climate scientist stating that there was a need to do something about the inconvenient truth presented by a Medieval Warm Period warmer than the present, the need for scepticism is obvious.

Scepticism can guard against such results, but unfortunately leading scientific journals seem to have lost their sceptical zeal and become, at least on occasions, boosters for good causes. Let me give you two examples from what many regard as the best journals of all: Nature and Science.

A 2004 paper in Nature using the species-area model to predict species distribution in response to modelled climate change (in turn based upon emissions scenarios) concluded its abstract with a call to action: `These estimates show the importance of rapid implementation of technologies to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and strategies for carbon sequestration.' The paper itself presented neither reason nor evidence for such conclusions.

The problem is confined to neither climate science nor modelling. Science, for example, not only published the fraudulent research on cloning of Dr Woo Suk Hwang, but rushed it into print after short review so that it appeared in an electronic version, accompanied by a press release that ensured media coverage, on the eve of a key vote in the US Congress to overturn an administrative order of the Bush Administration prohibiting the use of federal funds for cloning research. Not only did it seem such research was more promising than was the case at that time, but South Korea was seemingly passing the US by.

Not only have leading science journals yielded to the temptation of the need for `relevance', but the ramparts of the prevailing paradigms are now defended using information technology to marshal the troops. `Swarming' is not confined to partying adolescents in yellow sunglasses, enjoying their 15 megabytes of fame, but is to be seen whenever ideas emerge to challenge the consensus. The white cells of the immune system of the dominant paradigm are despatched electronically, dealing with the infectious ideas with all means at their disposal, including (but by no means limited to) typically anonymous posters to internet discussions.

One of the means commonly employed is the use of the term `denier', a rhetorically powerful signifier quite deliberately first used (as far as I can tell) by a couple of defenders of the faith reviewing Bjorn Lomborg's The Sceptical Environmentalist for Nature. It was used quite deliberately by Jeff Harvey and Stuart Pimm to liken Lomborg to a holocaust denier for daring to question the highly questionable estimates of the number of species extinctions that supposedly occur every year.

The computer-based estimates of species extinction range all the way from a few tens of thousands to 50-100,000 (if you can believe Greenpeace). The actual documented number accepted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature is around 800 over the 500 years for which we have records. While I'm prepared to accept we have missed more than a few, and I'm a passionate advocate for the conservation of charismatic megafauna (such as tigers and orangutans), I think the use of the term `denier' tells us more about the person using it than about the target. I think the use of it amounts to an example of Godwins's Law of Internet Discussions, which holds that eventually someone will liken someone else to Hitler, at which point rational debate is over. (Implicitly, the person using it loses). Unfortunately, the use of the term is rife in debates over climate change, where those on one side seem finally to have cottoned on to the point that scepticism in science is actually a good thing, and it was even used last year by the now minister responsible.

If it has served any purpose, this use of illiberal name calling serves to remind us of what is needed to ensure that noble cause corruption does not afflict the science informing public policy. Those of us who see value in both social democracy and liberal democracy - who are committed to humanist ideals but are open to evidence-based reasoning rather than ideology in determining how we are to advance them - must acknowledge that it is from liberal views of the celebration of different points of view, and the battle of contending ideas, that good science derives.

The philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend, warned that scientists might engage in all manner of devices - from the rhetorical to the reprehensible - to have their points of view prevail. It seems to me that the only protection against any kind of corruption in science is to celebrate the liberalism inherent in Karl Popper's philosophy of science, regardless of whether we share his political liberalism - though separating the two might be difficult in practice. Feyerabend's prescription was a kind of anarchism and a rejection of any kind of marriage between science and the state.

As I said at the beginning of this lecture, the history of science is replete with error and fraud. In science, the best kind of quality assurance is to celebrate sceptical dissent and to reject any attempt to tell us that we should bow to a consensus, that `the science is settled' on principle - not just even, but especially when it supports our preferences. Because as Carl Sagan once put it, `Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves.'"



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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