By Anthony J. Sadar and Stanley J. Penkala
It certainly didn't take long for someone, a British academic this time, to couple the tragedy in Japan to the specter of future tsunamis caused by global warming. In 2004, Michael Crichton's State of Fear had the plot line of an extreme environmental group planning to trigger a tsunami using a massive underwater explosion, with the intention of blaming it on man-made climate disruption. Sadly, Japan's tsunami is now being used to stoke the dying embers of climate-change mania.
Even before nature's fury ravaged Japan, meteorological mischief was contemplated to awaken the world's interest in climate change. This effort would take the form of coordinated messages using political rhetoric in the media to blame climate change on the industrialized nations of the world.
But, after studying the climate-change science "business" for the past thirty years, many of us old-timers see the situation as clear and settled as ever: The global climate changes and humans play a negligible role in that change.
The revelations of Climategate and ten years of stagnant global temperatures have produced a decline of public belief in human-induced climate collapse. But, rather than strengthening the foundations of climate science by increasing transparency in data analysis, releasing raw data for third party evaluation, and allowing their hypotheses to be debated in the literature, government-funded scientists instead have decided it's best to just change their method of messaging. The latest tactic is for these man-made global-warming faithful to sharpen their communication skills and tighten their influence on the editorial boards of the environmental journals of record. The intent is to deflect or bury challenges to their climate-catastrophe canon, not defend their hypotheses.
Professional communicators and PR experts are assisting with the propaganda, as was evident from activity at the December 2010 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. In a special workshop, speaker after speaker advocated for a more successful war of words, rather than clarifying their application of scientific principles to the study of climate. In addition, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado hosted a seminar last month to help their climate scientists better understand critical communication issues. The speaker was the author of The Republican War on Science. And, the theme of the January 2011 annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society was "Communicating Weather and Climate," which pushed some of the same polished-prose tactics as the AGU gathering.
But, authentic unvarnished Truth in Science doesn't need political claptrap or Shinola to convey its message. Integrity in Science requires clearly stated hypotheses, reproducible data and results, and robust statistical interpretations of that information to test each. Science doesn't condone its practitioners in "bending the data" to champion personal beliefs or causes. Calling in the PR flacks is fine when you're trying to sell something using glitz and fast talk, but we hoped that, of all things, science wouldn't be up for sale.
In the aftermath of weak decisions and unenforceable agreements at Cancun and Copenhagen, radical environmentalists with their spin doctors in tow are redoubling their efforts to sell the idea of anthropogenic emissions as the only significant agent of climate disruption. Any competing mechanisms that do not buy into that conclusion will simply be dismissed as non-science.
To help assure that outcomes from future climate summits tilt the way of "consensus opinion," a UN-type group called the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP) has stepped up efforts to hawk their brand of science. The IAP, founded in 1993 in New Delhi, is a global network of the national science academies. According to IAP's website, their primary goal is "to help member academies work together to advise citizens and public officials on the scientific aspects of critical global issues." The IAP has more than 100 members, in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. IAP issues statements to the world on such topics as population growth, human reproductive cloning, science education, science and the media, bio-security, evolution, ocean acidification, and of course climate change.
Input from a variety of perspectives is valuable to science. However, for the academics of the IAP to speak as the world's authority on science limits other legitimate input. Non-member academies and societies, industry scientists and engineers, and even private consultants, all have their own valuable insights into addressing global challenges. Yet, the IAP strives to exert undue influence on international politics by advancing their version of "facts" (read: certainty of anthropogenic climate disruption) as opposed to "irrational opinion" (read: doubts about the significance of human impacts). Such hubris ultimately does not serve society, or science, well.
Nature is the ultimate teacher. Humility and a willingness to go where the data leads are fundamental virtues for an ethical scientist. Arrogance is especially dangerous in the world of science, as it can blind a researcher to the possibility that their favored hypothesis is inconsistent with reality. Unfortunately, humility seems to be an unfamiliar, even unwanted, trait among certain climate scientists. In the "science is settled" group, humility is a sign of weakness, a loss of respect among peers and popularity in the press, and can result in the financial loss of beaucoup bucks in government funding.
So it's not surprising that those who have broken ranks from the "blame humans" crowd have been atmospheric scientists and professors of a certain stature. They include, for instance, physicist Dr. Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and meteorology professor Dr. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These are scientists who have either retired, who do not rely on government coffers for their research, or who have just been gutsy to pursue an honest quest for knowledge.
Science is never "settled." It is a never-ending journey of investigation, with hypotheses proposed, and data gathered and analyzed to prove or disprove them. Climate investigations are particularly complex, because the scope of the test platform is literally global. The assertion by anyone or any group, even in the wake of a terrific natural disaster, that the cause of climate disruption is clearly settled, and due primarily to human action, is and should be characterized as pure political drivel.
Anthony J. Sadar is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist and primary author of Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry (CRC Press/Lewis Publishers 2000). Stanley J. Penkala, Ph.D., is a chemical engineer and President of Air Science Consultants, Inc.