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Environment

Michael Gerson Attempts Thoughtfulness on "ClimateGate," Then Gives it Up

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The latest column by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post is a fascinating read. He starts out with a well reasoned account of why the stolen climate emails from East Anglia cannot be taken to undermine the global edifice of climate science:

But the hacked climate e-mails reveal a scandal, not a hoax. Even if every question raised in these e-mails were conceded, the cumulative case for global climate disruption would be strong. The evidence is found not only in East Anglian computers but also in changing crop zones, declining species, melting ice sheets and glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising sea levels. No other scientific theory explains these changes as well as global warming related to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Over millennia, the climate shifts in natural cycles. But we seem to be increasing the pace of change so rapidly that plants, animals and humans may not be able to adequately adjust.

Bravo! This is better than I could have put it. And yet unfortunately, Gerson then somehow goes on blame the scientists quoted in the emails for undermining the whole scientific enterprise:

This professional objectivity is precisely what the hacked e-mails call into question. Some of these scientists are merely activists, deeply invested in a predetermined outcome. They assume that political change is the goal; the scientific enterprise is the means -- like a political ad or a campaign speech. But without trust in disinterested, scientific judgments on climate, most non-scientists will resist costly, speculative, legislative actions. When the experts become advocates, no one believes the experts or listens to the advocates.

It is an irony of the first order. Having accused others of a "war on science," it is climate scientists who are assaulting the authority of science more effectively than anyone else.

I'm not saying that every scientist whose emails have been quoted in "ClimateGate" behaved in a perfectly appropriate manner. However, although he whirls around the phrase "war on science," Gerson clearly doesn't know what it means.

What it means, among other things, is that the very scientists now in question were at that moment, when they were writing those emails, subject to politically motivated data requests, harassment, and attempts to seed the scientific literature with questionable papers, all activities tied to fossil fuel interests and their supporting think tanks and politicians. All of this is documented amply in The Republican War on Science.

So for Gerson to describe the scientists as arrogant, "a community coddled by global elites, extensively funded by governments, celebrated by Hollywood and honored with international prizes"--this is ludicrous. These are people who are regularly slandered, pulled before Congress, and indeed, subject to email hacking. They have been under intense and politically motivated fire for years. And, yes, they developed a bit of a siege/herd mentality as a result. Who wouldn't?

The East Anglia emails cannot be read in any other context but this one.

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