December 4, 2009
Global warming's new clothes
By Rosslyn Smith
Some are unhappy that the Copenhagen conference on climate change is going forward. I think that it is entirely appropriate in light of the revelations coming out of CRU/IPCC. After all, Copenhagen was where Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published The Emperor's New Clothes in 1837. While we tend to remember the little boy who called out "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" we often forget that the entire story was about far more than a vain ruler.
It begins, after all, with two con men who promise they can weave cloth of unsurpassed beauty to the enlightened but which would be invisible to any man who was unfit for his office or unpardonably stupid. They would then tailor that fabric into a fabulous suit of clothes for the emperor. The emperor invested in the venture because such traits would be useful to someone like himself as emperors tend attract both sycophants and self serving manipulators.
The emperor gave the weaver/tailors all the luxury materials they asked for and they immediately began a lavish charade of diligent labor in front of empty looms. One by one the emperor sent trusted people to check on the progress as he fed more and more resources into the project. Lest they admit to their own apparent unfitness, one by one the trusted advisors returned to rave about the beauty of the cloth being made. To a man they had accepted the con men's premise that they could weave a magic cloth and they ended up doubting their own abilities, not those of the con men. Thus they were doubly wrong, Not only did they fall for the con, they also failed in their duty to the emperor. When the emperor himself came for a fitting, the con men acted every bit the tailors, working invisible fabric with imaginary pins and needles and even the vain emperor began to doubt himself.
I can almost excuse the politicians and the speculators who promoted AGW. Like Anderson's emperor, they invested in a tool that would advance their self interest. Representative democracies are supposed to have checks and balances to help keep such self-interest within reasonable bounds. In addition to the way the researchers themselves violated scientific standards, the actions of our journalists and educators who jumped on the AGW bandwagon made matters worse. People in these positions are supposed to promote healthy skepticism. Journalists see themselves as the guardians of transparency in government and educators in the pursuit of enlightenment. In fact, our legal system grants special rights to journalists because of their role as the watchdogs and whistle blowers.
So who are the weavers and the tailors in the tale of AGW? Certainly the scientists at CRU/IPCC, but they had a great deal of help.
For decades now appalling orthodoxy has been ossifying many academic disciplines. As a result students are never exposed to competing ideas and attitudes. Increasingly that orthodoxy has spread to the political class in general. Writes David Bernstein:
... it's clear that many liberal-leaning institutions, starting with the universities, are sufficiently engaged in groupthink that they lack the most basic curiosity about or knowledge of what their ideological adversaries believe, and are instead inclined to dismiss them entirely as mere evil reactionaries. [And they are sufficiently isolated from contact with conservatives that they don't have personal experiences to suggest otherwise; it's easy enough, for example, to go to a top university, on to a major journalism school, and from there to the New York Times or MSNBC or The Huffington Post without ever having had a serious intellectual discussion with a conservative colleague or mentor.]
The transformation of journalists from whistleblowers to cheerleaders became obvious to many Americans during last year's presidential election. So pervasive is the leftist atmosphere that ambitious people in other industries and in many urban settings have learned that to even express curiosity about conservatism instead of accepting the crudest of caricatures of the political opposition might stigmatize them as unpardonably stupid and unfit for their high status jobs. Those who used to love to say that dissent is the highest form of patriotism have been assiduously working to assure that dissent from the agenda they have been weaving will be considered the lowest form of stupidity.
The moral of the "Emperor's New Clothes" certainly applies to AGW and many of those who accepted the assertions by non scientists with political agendas that the science was settled. The emperor's advisors and subjects were so afraid of appearing stupid that they suspended their judgment. Thus they ended up demonstrating to the entire world that they were indeed stupid.
How appropriate that the busy weavers of the left and those who still refuse to see that there is nothing at all to see in AGW will be going to the home town of the emperor who put all his shortcomings on full display