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CLIMATE WARS, SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE, AND THE FUTURE OF HOMO SAPIENS John Cairns, Jr. University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus Department of Biological Sciences Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, U.S.A. March 2012 SCIENTISTS ARE FRUSTRATED THAT THE AMOUNT OF SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE PUBLISHED IN PEER-REVIEWED, SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS HAS NOT PROPORTIONATELY ALTERED PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF THE CRISIS. Also ineffective in changing public perception is the fact that the National Academies of Science (e.g., The Royal Society) of all developed countries agree that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of climate changes since the Industrial Revolution. Without doubt, climate change science is complex and multidimensional, as are many other aspects of modern society. People trust physicians, pharmacists, airline pilots, and food sources (to mention a few professions) that have similar complexity. Where is the comparable trust for scientists? MOST COMPLEX, MULTIVARIATE PROBLEMS (E.G., CLIMATE CHANGE) ARE ADDRESSED BY TEAMS OF QUALIFIED SPECIALISTS WHO GATHER SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE OR USE INFORMATION AVAILABLE FROM PEER-REVIEWED JOURNALS. The goal of the team of scientists is to confirm or reject a specific hypothesis (e.g., anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are influencing global mean surface temperature). Once appropriate evidence (data) has been assembled, a synthesis (the combining of separate elements to form a coherent whole) is developed. The completed synthesis is reviewed, together with the evidence on which it is based, by qualified scientists who were not involved in the project. Errors or omissions found by qualified reviewers are corrected, and relevant omissions are included in the report. Then, and only then, is the information released to the scientific community and the general public. SCIENTISTS SPEND A GREAT DEAL OF TIME IN SYNTHESIZING AN ARRAY OF EVIDENCE ON A COMPLEX PROBLEM. The amount of time needed by a team of scientists to address a complex problem may explain the implication that climate scientists are engaged in a conspiracy, when, in fact, they are carefully carrying out a routine synthesis. After gathering scientific data, individual scientists routinely carry out a variety of quality control procedures, including such practices as statistical analysis. Conducting quality control procedures and other verifying tests should never be construed as manipulation of evidence – as some climate scientists have been accused of doing. CLIMATE WARS ARE NOT BEING FOUGHT ON A “LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.” SCIENTISTS ARE REQUIRED TO MAINTAIN HIGHER SCIENTIFIC AND EHTICAL STANDARDS THAN THE DOUBTERS/DENIERS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. “Why should scientists dedicated to uncovering the truth about the natural world deliberately misrepresent the work of their own colleagues? Why would they spread accusations with no basis? Why would they refuse to correct their arguments once they had been shown to be incorrect? And why would the press continue to quote them [doubters], year after year, even as their claims were shown, one after another, to be false? . . . a group of scientists who fought the scientific evidence and spread confusion on many of the most important issues of our time. . . . a pattern that continues today. A story about fighting facts, and merchandising doubt.”1 How should evidence-based scientists with well established ethical standards and inexperienced in “street fighting” respond to such a situation? Should they respond? If so, how? A WELL FINANCED, AGGRESSIVE CAMPAIGN IS SEEKING TO DISCREDIT WELL ESTABLISHED MAINSTREAM CLIMATE SCIENCE AND TO UNDERMINE ITS TEACHING, PARTICULARLY ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AND EVOLUTION IN THE CLASSROOM. Climategate was the media term for the “illegal hack of personal emails released just before the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 that some columnists pronounced to be the (approximately 132nd) ‘final nail in the coffin’ of global warming.”2 “First the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee exonerated the scientist at the centre of the tempest, Professor Phil Jones, finding he has ‘no case to answer’ and that his reputation ‘remains intact.’”2 “Then, Lord Oxburgh (former chairman of Shell-UK) and his panel likewise exonerated the researchers, finding their ‘work has been carried out with integrity, and that allegations of deliberate misrepresentations’ are ‘not valid.’”2 More, similar exonerations, plus belated apologies from the news media, have been offered, but no substantive, public outcry was voiced against the hackers or those who attempted to criminalize scientists who were making scientific investigations that benefited humanity. ATTEMPTS TO UNDERMINE EVIDENCE-BASED MAINSTREAM SCIENCE ARE DISTRACTING SCIENTISTS FROM BASIC RESEARCH ON THE UNIVERSAL LAWS OF BIOLOGY, CHEMISTRY, AND PHYSICS. Dr. Peter Gleick, who has received a MacArthur “genius award,” used tactics commonly used by climate deniers to obtain information from the Heartland Institute. These tactics are not acceptable to scientists, and he immediately regretted his actions and apologized for them: “My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts to attack climate science.”3 As a consequence, science has lost – at least temporarily – the full services of a productive scientist. The climate wars will probably stress other scientists as well, and humanity cannot afford to lose even a portion of the evidence they generate. “THE SCIENTIST [Michael E. Mann] WHO HAS BORNE THE FULL BRUNT OF ATTACKS BY CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS, INCLUDING DEATH THREATS AND ACCUSATIONS OF MISAPPROPRIATING FUNDS, IS SET TO HIT BACK.”4 “Yet all that Mann had done was publish a study suggesting, in cautious terms, that Earth had started to heat up unexpectedly in the past few decades.”4 “Thousands of emails have been sent to Mann, many deeply unpleasant. ‘You and your colleagues . . . ought to be shot, quartered and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families,’ said one. “I was hopin [sic] I would see the news and you commited [sic] suicide” ran another.”4 Many investigations have not found any wrongdoing, but the investigators continue. “MANN BECAME A CHIEF TARGET OF THE CLIMATE CHANGE CONTRARIANS FOR BEING THE OUTSPOKEN AUTHOR OF AN ICONIC GRAPH OF GLOBAL WARMING SCIENCE KNOWN AS THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ — THE MOST POLITICISED GRAPH IN SCIENCE . . .5 Mann makes an important point on the hacked emails: “What they [the deniers] are trying to do is to blur the distinction between private correspondence and scientific data and methods, which of course should be out there for other scientists to attempt to reproduce.”6 Getting other opinions before publication is the norm in science and many other professions. Mann makes another important point: “It’s frustrating that to some extent all of that context [caveats in a Nature article] had been lost and the result has been caricatured. Often the error bars are stripped away, making it [the graph] appear more definitive than it was ever intended.”6 THE LOS ANGELES TIMES OPINION STAFF7 SUMS UP THE CLIMATE WAR ON MANN AS FOLLOWS: “RIGHTLY SEEING MANN’S GRAPH AS A POWERFUL CALL TO ACTION FOR ENVIRONMENTALISTS, THE DENIAL MACHINE — WHICH BY THE LATE 1990S HAD BEEN HONED INTO A POWERFUL TOOL INDEED, WITH MULTIPLE THINK TANKS AND INDUSTRY GROUPS ARISING SUCH AS THE HEARTLAND INSTITUTE, THE AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE, AND THE AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE AND MANY OTHERS — WENT IN TO OVERDRIVE TO FIGHT PASSAGE OF A CLIMATE BILL IN CONGRESS.” It is too early to know how this will affect scientific researchers, students considering becoming scientists, or the general public, but the climate wars could affect anyone who publishes in a scientific journal since any publication viewed as a threat to special interest groups might engage the author in the climate wars or something similar. “THE EVIDENCE SUGGESTS THAT WE MAY BE WITHIN A FEW YEARS OF CROSSING TIPPING POINTS TO DISRUPT SEASONAL WEATHER PATTERNS THAT SUPPORT THE AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES OF HALF THE HUMAN POPULATION, DIMINISH CARBON SINKS IN THE OCEANS AND ON LAND, AND DESTABLIZE MAJOR ICE SHEETS THAT COULD INTRODUCE UNANTICIPATED RATES OF SEA LEVEL RISE WITHIN THE 21ST CENTURY.”8 There are no “gated” refuges on Spaceship Earth to protect wealthy individuals and corporations from the consequences described above. Does humanity’s failure to acknowledge present and probable catastrophes confirm the intelligence that Homo sapiens believes separates it from other species? Acknowledgments. I am indebted to Darla Donald for transcribing the handwritten draft and for editorial assistance in preparation for publication and to Paul Ehrlich, Paula Kullberg, and Peter Leigh for calling useful references to my attention. References 1Oreskes, N. and E. M. Conway. 2010. Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsbury Press, New York, NY, p. 8-9). 2 Lewandowsky, S. 2011. Attacks on climate scientists are the real “climategate.” The Guardian 23Nov http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/23/attacksclimate-scientists-real-climategate?newsfeed=true. 3 Gleick, P. H. 2012. The origin of the Heartland documents. Huffington Post 20Feb http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-h-gleick/-the-origin-of-the-heartl_b_1289669.html. 4 McKie, R. 2012. Death threats, intimidation, and abuse: climate change scientists Michael E. Mann counts the cost of honesty. The Guardian 3Marhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/mar/03/michael-mann-climate-changedeniers. 5 Conner, S. 2012. Michael Mann: The climate scientist who the deniers have in their sights. The Independent 16Jan http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/michael-mann-the-climate-scientistwho-the-deniers-have-in-their-sights-6290232.html. 6 Mann, M. E. 2012. the Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 7Los Angeles Times Opinion Staff. 2012. Michael Mann’s counterstrike in the climate wars. 28Feb http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2012/02/mann-climate.html. 8UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme). 2009.Year Book. Chapter 3: Climate change, p. 28.