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Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Science by intimidation" by "A Desperate Man"

The title of today's blog is made from the title of two great, must read articles: "Science by intimidation" in today's Globe and Mail of Canada by CBC Commentator Rex Murphy, and "A Desperate Man" in IBD Editorials Monday.

Mr. Murphy's article starts with two general comments:

Truth may enter the world by many doors, but she is never escorted by force. I thought that was a lesson learned long ago, and learned by none more tellingly than scientists. Real scientists, actually, have learned it. A new amalgam has emerged however, the scientist-activist, and for that specimen it's a lesson passed by.

In the dawn of the Enlightenment, it was scientists who were hauled before tribunals and inquisitions. Galileo is the arch example, the pioneer empiricist who rejected the ancient Earth-centric model of the (then known) universe, and for his pains earned the attention and wrath of the distinctly unscientific Inquisition.

while the IBD ediotorial was more to the main point:
Radicalism: In another example of junk science run amok, NASA scientist James Hansen wants oil executives put on trial for giving "misinformation" about his global warming theory. Is this where society is headed?
As both articles respond to the idiotic character calls himself a scientist by the name of James Hansen. He is Algore's "leading scientist" but no one else' s. He recently made some rancid testimony in the congress that made some "main-stream" drive-by media types huff and puff insanely such as the U.K. Guardian's Sheppard. I am happy to bring up these two sober reactions the sane world needed.

As the IBD editorial summarized Hansen's nonsense in essence:
Put the oil men on trial, he says, because it's "a crime" for them to "have been putting out misinformation" that places doubt on his unproved — and unprovable — premise that man's use of fossil fuels is warming Earth.

We wonder: Will it be up to NASA's secret police to make the arrests that will be necessary to drag these men before the tribunal?

Al Gore, the most famous face of the global warming-industrial complex, has been saying for years that the debate is over, that science has declared humans are responsible for climate change.

He, of course, is wrong. There are skeptics in the scientific community, literally thousands of them.

Many are on the leash, however, afraid to speak out for fear of being bullied, denied research grants and ostracized for expressing politically incorrect doubt. For them, the debate is indeed over.

Those who refuse to be browbeaten, though, are in danger of seeing their careers ruined or, perhaps someday, sharing a prison cell with the oil executives Hansen wants to try.

Criminalize dissent: That's one way to ensure the debate is over.

Hansen's comment is revealing. It's the sort of declaration made by a desperate man trying to hang on to his declining relevance.

Hansen knows the climate of fear he has stoked is receding as more people start to see through his nonsense. He's just trying to stir up some storm clouds.

A small caveat: Hansen is a NASA bureaucrat, somehow I doubt NASA fully embraces Hansen's nonsense. But I could be wrong. Anyway IBD correctly sounds the alarm that allowing Hansen's nonsense means "we are headed for a dangerous place. Only in totalitarian systems is dissent a criminal offense."

As Mr. Murphy points out:

Not all the world shares Dr. Hansen's vision of imminent ecological Armageddon. Serious minds, seriously disinterested in the subject, throw up caveats all the time. They question the models of climatological speculation; they question the peculiar mix of man-made and other likely sources of climate dynamics; they question some of the data gathering and some of its interpretation; and they question the very maturity of the highly complex, and experimentally deficient science of global warming itself.

They seriously question, too, the massive policy prescriptions that are being insisted upon as necessary in response to the scientific determinations of man-made global warming. There is lots of room for different, honest opinion on questions so large and complex, questions at the terribly complicated intersection of science, politics and economics.

But, to Dr. Hansen's agitated mind, those who raise such questions, who inject skepticism into the global warming debate, are "deniers." The word here is becoming commonplace, but it remains a singular slur. A clutch of the global warming believers like to cast all who would argue with them into the polemical pit, the pit being that dissent from orthodox opinion on global warming as the equivalent of Holocaust denial. It is a shameless and vicious tactic, and hardly accords with the nobility that is suppose to drive the conscience of those out to save the planet. Dr. Hansen is overfond of the specious and chilling analogy: He has written of the "crashing glaciers serv(ing) as a Krystal Nacht" and, although he later repented of the metaphor, compared coal trains to "death trains - no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species." This week, Dr. Hansen went a step even more noxiously forward.

He called for a tribunal, or as I prefer to call it, an Inquisition, to put on trial for crimes against nature and humanity, the CEOs of the big oil companies who, according to Dr. Hansen's frantic view of things, feed the public "misinformation" about the climate crisis. Again the implicit model is to Nuremberg, as the man attempts to put concern for a future - let us call it a probability - on a moral and factual par with the unquestioned, historical, shattering enormity of the Nazi Holocaust.

Is this a scientist speaking? If so, it is more than curious that in the 21st century it is the scientist calling for the secular equivalent of an Inquisition. More to the point, are these the words of a man really certain of his truth, or one who - with the anxiety of the fanatic - is trying to shield it from all rigour of skepticism and inquiry? In either case, I do not question at all the assertion that it is the voice of a man who is neither a friend to reason or science. This is the voice of the scientist-activist consumed with his own virtue and fearful of all dispute.

Science has no need of tribunals or trials, no need of Nuremberg justice, or analogies with the Holocaust. James Hansen's words this week were an offence, an offence against inquiry, against science, against moral seriousness. They were a piece of insolence against the idea of debate itself.

Indeed James Hansen is "a man who is neither a friend to reason or science"! I have heard Hansen talk once in an AGU meeting. What I found strange of that talk was that he kept alluded to the name of Jule Charney and claimed that he collaborated with Charney. As Noman Phillips puts it, Jule Charney (1917-1981) WAS "one of the dominant figures in atmospheric science in the three decades following World War II. Much of the change in meteorology from an art to a science is due to his scientific vision and his thorough commitment to people and programs in this field." I can see the desire of many trying to connecting themselves to Charney in order to impress people. But Charney passed away 7 years before Hansen latched himself to his Godfather Algore and making global warming mumble jumble, I have serious doubt if Jule Charney had ever knew Hansen or care about his work. Hansen is just a little person in science that no scientist in their right mind would willing to admit any association with him. So he had to resort to dropping the names of dead giants who can't talk back. He has been a desperate man for a long time!

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