Deniers abuse power to attack climate scientists

Bad Astronomy
By Phil Plait
May 4, 2010 8:10 PMNov 20, 2019 5:37 AM


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If you attend a scientific talk on a controversial subject, you may be entertained or discomfited by the sometimes spirited discussion it can engender. Scientists love to pick apart new ideas, try to find their strengths and weaknesses. That's because they know that for an idea to survive scientifically, it must be attacked by scientifically experienced minds; any faults must be aired out. That which survives is stronger for the effort, and more likely to closely model reality. The key phrase there is "scientifically experienced". When this happens with people inexperienced with the methodologies of science -- or worse, those who actively oppose them -- then the situation is very different. It changes from a way to strengthen our ideas on the Universe into a witch hunt. Instead of warming up people to discovery, it produces a chilling effect. We're seeing this play out in spades in the field of climate science. To be clear: the climate is changing. There is zero doubt about that. None. Anyone telling you differently has an agenda to ram, and it's one that is decidedly not realistic.

And some of those people ramming through this agenda are using -- I would say abusing -- their power to do so. For example, über-conservative Virginia State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli -- the same guy who was so offended by the artwork of a naked breast he had it covered up on lapel pins -- is investigating climate scientist Michael Mann. Cuccinelli is claiming that Mann may have defrauded taxpayers while trying to get grants to fund his research. Mind you, Mann has survived such attacks before as fallout from the nonsensical climategate "scandal" (which was a completely manufactured controversy with no substance at all). The fact that someone, let alone a state attorney general, would start up something like this after an investigation already cleared Mann smacks of a very transparent political attack. This has all the marks of an attempt to chill academic research when it goes against someone's antireality stance.

"Hey, maybe I can stop global warmingby creating a chilling effect!"

And Cuccinelli isn't alone. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe -- a man so firmly entrapped in denialism that he has called climate change "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" -- is looking for ways to prosecute and criminalize more than a dozen leading climate scientists, again under the mantra of defrauding the taxpayers. Again, let me be clear: this is utter garbage. The scientists involved have been cleared of all wrong-doing (accusations which were politically motivated in the first place, and a colossal waste of time). Stunts like this from Inhofe and Cuccinelli are nothing more than government officials using their power to throw roadblocks into scientific inquiry they disagree with. The media, of course, are buying right into this; "climategate" got far more attention than it deserved. However, in some good news, one climate scientist is fighting back: Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist and member of the IPCC (which put out the report on climate change that made so many denialists' heads explode) is suing the Canadian paper National Post. He is saying they cast him in a false light, and he also says,

Who has two thumbs andno grasp on reality? This guy!

... that the National Post articles suggest he's a corrupt scientist who promotes global warming theories so he can obtain government research grants.

Sound familiar? This attack on the reputations of scientists is nefarious; reputation is extremely important when it comes to a scientist's career. Getting grants, invitations to talks, even being taken seriously, all can rest on the respect they get by other scientists and the public. I'm glad Weaver is fighting back. These attacks on science, on reality, are appalling. It is one thing for scientists to argue over the factual basis of claims in their field, trying to establish what reflects reality and what doesn't. But it's quite another for politicians blinded by their bias to suppress ideas they don't like.

Sheril and Chris have more on this as well. Tip o' the thermometer to Jay Dee Archer for the article on Weaver.

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