Global Warming: Science in Service to Politics
“Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know.”
Scientists Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling Jr. deliver what the title implies in their new book, "Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know." The authors agree the planet is warmer, but provide a concise, fun and effective unmasking of unscientific global-warming doomsday scenarios and a discussion of why prophets of doom trump sober science in public policymaking. If you want to join the battle, here is your armory.
Logical rules run the universe, but they are discovered by scientists with human flaws. An extreme but not isolated example of this is Arthur Eddington and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. In 1935, Chandrasekhar, still a graduate student, discovered what we now call the "Chandrasekhar limit" — proof that either black holes or neutron stars must be created when a star of a certain size dies. The discovery was vigorously rejected by Eddington, a leading astrophysicist and a disbeliever to his dying day that black holes existed. Eddington's hostility was so intense and his reputation so great that few would publicly defy him and support Chandrasekhar's theory. Thinking his career in jeopardy, Chandrasekhar abandoned one of his greatest discoveries and didn't return to it for decades.
Though Chandrasekhar paid an unfair price for his "heretical" thinking, he avoided scientific purgatory. He lived to see his discovery accepted and won a Nobel Prize.
But what if a scientist like him were accused by critics of advancing an idea that threatened the very survival of humanity? And what if this allegation came from powerful members of the media and prominent politicians with influence over science funding?
No matter how correct a scientist believed himself to be, and no matter how defensible his views, he might easily choose to stay quiet to retain his job, reputation, research money and chance to live in peace.
Those causing such a "Climate of Extremes" are the real danger portrayed by this book. "Blacklisted" appears on the dust jacket to define the intimidations directed at scholars — such as Michaels and Balling, both climatologists — who accept the premise of a warming globe but do not believe the evidence supports a "gloom-and-doom vision of climate change." Michaels explains that he will be departing his job as Virginia's official climatologist — which he has held since 1980 — because the governor of that state will no longer abide Michaels' heresies. He introduces two other state climatologists under similar pressure from other politicians. Media accounts comparing climate disaster skeptics to Holocaust deniers are retold.
And former Vice President Al Gore makes an appearance on Page One and checks in regularly thereafter. Despite the attention Gore has drawn to climate issues, his pronouncements have not always comported well with the actual science of climate change.
As the chapters roll by, theories of global warming causing more dangerous hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, droughts, heat waves, rain, snow, cold snaps and other maladies are each disproven by a multitude of credentialed experts in the relevant fields speaking from peer-reviewed science journals. The flawed assumptions behind some iconic symbols of the warming doom cult — such as the famed "hockey stick" graph - also get revealed in a readable and entertaining fashion. And along the way, you'll get a wonderful tutorial on what causes various forms of nasty weather.
Throughout it all, politicians and various media outlets unintentionally provide embarrassing examples of what happens when selling an agenda trumps telling the truth. The New York Times and Washington Post serve up some of the worst errors. One example: A 2001 Post story fingers global warming as the cause of disappearing glaciers in Peru. Unfortunately, going back three decades, no record of net temperature change for that region could be found.
Many of these media mistakes have a basis in research that was mischaracterized or exaggerated, or that was overruled by subsequent research. Other problems are caused by the scientists themselves. A particularly troubling example is the creator of the temperature history used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Michaels and Balling describe his refusal to provide the supporting data for his work to a skeptical researcher because of his belief that the researcher would "try and find something wrong with it." Such stonewalling throws critical inquiry out the window.
Keeping secrets to avoid criticism is very rare in scientific research, as are public exaggerations and personal vilifications. But all of these are, sadly, common in politics. "Climate of Extremes" is a valuable read because it makes abundantly clear that a powerful scientific culture may be becoming corrupted by politicians' worst behavior.
Unfortunately, the authors' scientific discussion is followed by only a single "modest proposal" — that academic papers be subjected to more transparent peer reviews. This is a solid idea, and they certainly make a strong case for it. But after providing a long list of errors and misunderstandings about global warming in public debate, the authors probably need to help fix more than academic procedure. Hopefully, the authors will write another terrific book giving us some better ideas about how to keep politics from overwhelming science.
Ken Braun is the senior managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.