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Transcript
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.