From Integrated Questions

A Consensus Swindle Or An Inconvenient Fear?

The Great Global Warming Swindle (TGGWS) is a documentary produced by WAGtv, directed and written by Martin Durkin. Durkin bills it as ‘the definitive response to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth‘. Since it was aired by the UK Channel Four on the 8th of March this year, the documentary has been the subject of considerable controversy, both internationally and in Australia. The ABC has been attacked from several quarters, at first for supposedly refusing to screen it and subsequently for deciding to screen it. The most notable attacks are those from within its own ranks and the accusations of interference from its Board. As of writing this, the ABC intends to air The Great Global Warming Swindle this July.

When I first read about TGGWS, I was excited that finally there was a scientific production that stood rationally against the supposed scientific consensus. Further research has left me disappointed as yet again the opponents of climate change resort to crack science, misdirection, and erroneous facts to present their argument. It would seem that TGGWS contains even less sound science than the rhetoric so often sprouted by the radical climate change activists. I remain convinced that the term consensus is a misnomer and one that has the potential to wreck havoc on the reputation and respectability of the scientific community. I, for one, have lost much, nay most, of the respect and awe in which I once held the bastions of scientific discovery. Hypotheses are to be tested and re-tested, not blindly adhered to as the climate change activists would have us. Climate change is, or at least should be, a scientific hypothesis and not reverent, untouchable pseudo-religious dogma.

The Great Global Warming Swindle attacks the clearly dominant idea that global warming is real and anthropogenic (i.e. caused by man). This has created quite the stir in climate change activist circles, both scientific and lay. After its screening in the UK, several complaints were lodged with Ofcom – the United Kingdom’s independent regulator for telecommunications industries. As discussed above, the ABC has been attacked for merely considering whether or not to air the program. The evidence I have gathered strongly suggests that TGGWS is a poor construction full of scientific misrepresentation, shoddy journalism, and out-of-context quotes. Professor Carl Wunsch, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) has attacked the documentary, stating that he was misrepresented and taken out of context, as well as misinformed as to the nature of the work to which he was contributing. The blog, Thinker’s Podium, has a good discussion on the ABC and TGGWS entitled “The ABC enthralled to partisan attacks on science?

Modern science is based on one underlying principle to the exclusion of all else. It is arguable that anything that fails to follow this basic principle is not in fact science. The Scientific Method is as old as science itself, with roots in Islamic practices as far back as 800AD and earlier links to Aristotle in 320BC. It was first described as the ‘scientific method’ by René Descartes in 1637AD. The scientific method can be loosely described as ‘try and try again’, it holds that nothing can be proven, merely disproved. It follows that everything must be open to constant testing and retesting, such that the most accurate model of the universe can be built. Greg Anderson a senior scientist with the USGS, presented a lecture on the scientific method which summarised it as follows:

“1. Make an observation
2. Invent testable hypotheses
3. Test the hypothesis
4. If necessary, revise and test the revised hypothesis
5. Continue testing
6. If the hypothesis stands up to repeated testing, it gets to be a theory
7. Continue testing the theory
8. If the theory stands up to repeated testing, it gets to be a law
9. Continue testing the law” (source)

I would have assumed that any credible scientist would cleave to this method with a rigid fervour. I would have assumed that any credible scientist would be open to all criticism and to all attacks on their work. I would have assumed that any credible scientist would respond by coolly, calmly, and rationally defending their work with scientific, evidence-based, and factual arguments. I would have assumed that any credible scientist would never contemplate frothing at the mouth and launching scathing personal attacks.

Apparently my assumptions were incorrect.

It would be easier to overlook the temper-tantrums of various, high-strung, dogmatic activists if it wasn’t for the constant use of the word ‘consensus’. The general public has been lead to believe that the scientific community has reached a unanimous consensus about climate change.

It may be fair to claim a consensus that climate change is occurring (though this itself could be debated), but the public has been lead, and allowed, to believe that there is consensus on the causes of climate change and its likely effects. Indeed we have been lead to believe that the only topic on which a consensus has not been reached is exactly how high the emission reductions have to be. Any who dare to speak out against the consensus, or any component thereof, must by inference be a fringe, crackpot loony with no actual understanding of the underlying science. Certainly these dissenters could not possess respectable academic credentials.

Professor Timothy Bell, a retired Professor of Geography from the University of Winnipeg refutes the entire idea of global warming, arguing that the records are distorted and that the Earth has in fact been cooling down since 1940.

Hendrik Tennekes, a retired director of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, cites inaccuracies and inadequacies within the modelling techniques. His professional opinion is that these models are weak enough as to render any predictions they generate meaningless.

Reid Bryson is an emeritus Professor of Meteorology. William M. Gray is a Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Colorado State University. Marcel Leroux is a former Professor of Climatology at the Université Jean Moulin. They have all argued that global warming has natural causes and is not, as the ‘consensus’ holds, anthropogenic. Their views are shared by Fred Singer, a Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and more notably by the vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Yuri Izrael.

Robert C. Balling, Jr. is a Professor of Geography and the director of the Office of Climatology at Arizona State University. He shares the view that we can not, as yet, determine the causes of climate change with John Christy, an Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science and the director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Professors Balling and Christy’s view is held by arguably the most respectable and reputable scientist to disagree with the prevailing models. Richard Lindzen is the Alfred Sloane Professor of Atmospheric Science at M.I.T. and a member of the (US) National Academy of Sciences. He has previously argued that there can be only a limited consensus. When testifying to the UK House of Commons he presented the following as the furthest a consensus could be claimed, though some of my (admittedly limited) research suggests many would argue that even this goes too far:

In order to analyse the meaning of the Prime Minister’s claim, it is helpful to break the claim into its component parts. I won’t suggest that there is no controversy over details, but there are few that would fundamentally disagree with the following.

1. The global mean surface temperature is always changing. Over the past 60 years, it has both decreased and increased. For the past century, it has probably increased by about 0.6 degrees Centigrade (C). That is to say, we have had some global mean warming.

2. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and its increase should contribute to warming. It is, in fact, increasing, and a doubling would increase the radiative forcing of the earth (mainly due to water vapour and clouds) by about 2 per cent.

3. There is good evidence that man has been responsible for the recent increase in CO2, though climate itself (as well as other natural phenomena) can also cause changes in CO2.

I will refer to this as the basic agreement. To this extent, and no further, it is legitimate to speak of a scientific consensus.” (emphasis added; source)

Professor Lindzen has also spoken out about the different ways in which the scientific community has reacted to those who toe the line with regards to the prevailing hypotheses and those who have rationally spoken out against it.

One can argue that a consensus is merely a general or widespread agreement and that the handful of names which appears above, no matter how qualified, respected, or renowned cannot possibly overcome the general agreement in the remainder of the scientific community. There are other examples available of bodies of scientists speaking out against the prevailing hypotheses of climate change. The most notable is a petition signed by more than seventeen thousand American scientists. Surely these numbers are sufficient to break the ‘consensus’ myth?

If you disagree, consider first how many other scientists have not spoken of their views for fear of retribution.

A question I have found myself forced to confront whilst researching the ‘consensus’ is why some of the most active proponents of a dominant hypothesis feel the need to overreach and claim a mythical consensus. Why is it that those with, supposedly, the strongest evidence and the most support need to claim to be more than they are? Surely their evidence is compelling enough without scare-mongering and exaggeration.

Stephen Schneider has been quoted in a large number of publications advocating the use of fear-tactics to convince the general public of whatever is deemed to be an important topic. He claims to have been misrepresented in these quotes and has written quite a lengthy rebuttal and discussion. I did not find his rebuttal to be convincing.

Both Al Gore and Professor Tim Flannery have successfully painted doom-and-gloom scenarios of climate change. Al Gore has stated that this is not his goal and yet this is what he consistently achieves in his presentations. I cannot help but wonder if it is this use of a doomsday-story approach to convince the general public that requires the establishment of a fictitious scientific consensus.

I must hasten to note that many, if not most, of the proponents of the dominant hypotheses of climate change have reacted in appropriately scientific and rational manners to TGGWS. Climate of Denial have released a point-by-point deconstruction of the documentary which is exemplary. Professor Wunsch’s reply is likewise a model example, as is his repeated criticism of fear tactics. The mainstay of the scientific community seem not to engage in these armageddon tales, yet they are complicit in their willingness to accept and defend a mythical consensus whilst stifling debate in a manner that borders on the sacrilegious.

I have been convinced, time and time again, by the evidence in favour of the dominant hypothesis of climate change. The Stern Report, a joint statement issued by the Science Academies of the G8 countries alongside Brazil, China and India and the latest IPCC reports are all convincing documents with a high level of credibility. The Great Global Warming Swindle is crack science, but it may harbour some valid points between the copious and egregious errors. For that reason alone it is worth watching if the viewer is capable of a critical analysis and as we all should relies on numerous pieces of evidence from a multitude of sources.

The reactionary scientists and journalists who rant against productions such as TGGWS instead of scientifically and rationally deconstructing them are, in my opinion, guilty of a crime as great as those who knowingly provide misleading evidence. Yet again I find myself directing my criticisms and ire at those who would subvert public debate with non-rational, non-evidence based approaches. These environmental reactionaries have succeeded only in strengthening my natural scepticism of all the information they present.

Is it not the scientific way to question everything presented to us? Why is it that these reactionaries demand that we accept their way or be condemned to immorality? When did science become as faith-based as religion? When did rational scepticism become evil? When did the desire to question become anathema? When did curiosity become a crime?

Daniel O’Brien.

Note One: I must apologise. If you follow some of the above links you will find yourself at a wikipedia page. Wikipedia has not been my only source for this information, unfortunately finding reputable online sources has proven more difficult than I had imagined. Foolishly, I neglected to take appropriate references when looking at hard copy materials (I believe my exact thought-lines went a little something like “Bah. It’s only a blog. And I’ll be able to find all of this stuff online somewhere to link to…”). Future posts will not use wikipedia (barring exceptional circumstances like a post about wiki…), and I will simply provide references to offline materials that people can look up for themselves if they feel so inclined.
Note to self: Always record details of every book you read.

Note Two: Since writing this piece a NASA Administrator, Michael D. Griffin, has spoken of his views surrounding climate change and has received a moderate level of public rebuking. During an interview he noted that NASA’s role in climate change is merely to provide data and evidence and that NASA has not been authorised or directed to act in a policy-forming role. He went on to state “I have no doubt that global – that a trend of global warming exists, I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.” I’ve not seen any follow-up to this since I first encountered it. (source)

Note Three: Some further reading has caused my mind to run down a line of thought that leaves me somewhat regretting some of the naiviety evident in the above post. There is no such thing as the scientific method. There are many, many methods and no single unifying theory. Ah, the sweet pain of an idealistic delusion shattered.
Thoughts along this line have also left me staggered at my comments surrounding the openness of science to debate and contrary ideas. How many times have we heard of the persecuted fringe scientists, laughed at by peers, unable to get published, whose theories are later revealed to be that extra step closer to the truth. One notable example that I can think of from the top of my head are the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winners – Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren – for their work on Helicobacter Pylori. I will resist the urge to lecture you all on one of my favourite stories.

2 thoughts on “A Consensus Swindle Or An Inconvenient Fear?

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