An ambulance pulls up behind you. You know it’s an ambulance because you can read AMBULANCE in your rear view mirror. But you can also read it when you look at the vehicle directly; because the human visual system has the ability to quickly correct complete inversions or left-right reversals of letters. In fact, a complete inversion is easier to read than letters that are rotated only partially.
This human ability to process complete inversions more quickly than just partial distortions, alas, lends itself to exploitation by ruthless propagandists who seek to create a chimerical world in which up is down, left is right and good is smeared as evil.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the netherworld of attacks on climate scientists.
Remember “climategate”? The illegal hack of personal emails released just before the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 that some columnists pronounced to be the (approximately 132nd) “final nail in the coffin” of global warming? Remember the “errors” in the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? “Amazongate”, “Himalayagate” and so on?
What has happened to “climategate”? What’s happened is this.
First, the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Committee exonerated the scientist at the centre of the tempest, Professor Phil Jones, finding he has “no case to answer” and that his reputation “remains intact”. Then Lord Oxburgh (former chairman of Shell-UK) and his panel likewise exonerated the researchers, finding their “work has been carried out with integrity, and that allegations of deliberate misrepresentation” are “not valid”.
Another enquiry, chaired by Sir Muir Russell, found the scientists’ “rigour and honesty” to be beyond doubt. Two enquiries by his university also cleared professor Michael Mann – who presented the first of now innumerable “hockey stick” graphs – of all allegations. Ultimately, the United Kingdom’s (conservative) government concluded “the information contained in the illegally-disclosed emails does not provide any evidence to discredit … anthropogenic climate change.”
Not one, not two, but by now nine vindications.This comes as no surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the distinction between private chat and public actions.
And what has happened to the IPCC “Whatevergates”? What’s happened is this.
First, the Sunday Times apologised and retracted its “Amazongate” story. There is no “Amazongate”; there is only the Amazon rainforest threatened by climate change. Then the Dutch government accepted responsibility for erroneously informing the IPCC that 55% of the Netherlands are below sea level. In fact only 26% are at risk of flooding because they are below sea level, whereas the other 29% are, err, at risk of flooding from rivers.
And about a year after “climategate” broke, the BBC finally apologised to the University of East Anglia for its misleading coverage of the “climategate” pseudo-scandal.
All that’s left of the “Whatevergates”, therefore, is red-faced apologies and one indubitable IPCC error: the incorrect projection of the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers to 2035, as opposed to the more likely 2350. This error was drawn to the public’s attention by, wait for it, an IPCC author.
Can we now forget about “gate” in connection with “climate”?
Because there are too many real climategates that must not escape attention.
First, there was another batch of private emails posted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a “think” tank notorious even by American standards. Those emails — yes, a second hack — revealed the real climategate by being truthful, with one scientist stating: “Those who deny the biophysical facts of the world would deny … gravity,” and “we’re not in a gentlepersons’ debate, we’re in a street fight against … merciless enemies. Colleagues … are getting threatened with prosecution by … [US Senator James M] Inhofe.”
That is the second real climategate: the McCarthyite attempts by Senator Inhofe to criminalise climate scientists — attempts to criminalise those who, 35 years ago, predicted the temperature rise by century’s end to within one tenth of a degree.
This is no isolated incident: attorney general in the US state of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, has launched several frivolous lawsuits — despite losing an earlier one — against the University of Virginia in what the Washington Post called a “war on the freedom of academic inquiry”. And Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman evoked Pastor Niemoeller’s cry against the erosion of humanity under the Nazis: “First, they came for the climate scientists…”
The real climategate involves active censorship within NASA by George W Bush appointees, which the agency’s inspector general later found to have “reduced, marginalised or mischaracterised climate change science”.
The real climategate involves Bush White House staff replacing assessments of the National Academy of Sciences with a discredited paper by two individuals with no expertise in climatology. This paper, funded by the American Petroleum Institute, was so flawed its appearance in a peer-reviewed journal led to the resignation in protest by three editors and the publisher’s unprecedented acknowledgement of mishandling.
Those are not merely historical episodes, because the real climategate encompasses the ongoing complicity of some media organs.
In Canada, the real media climategate involves the ongoing list of defamatory articles by the National Post. The tabloid is finally being sued by professor Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria. In Australia, the real media climategate involves the national daily newspaper, whose misrepresentations of science are legendary and, sadly ongoing. Those real climategates are the tip of an iceberg of venality enveloping anti-science interests and their enablers.
And just a few days ago, another illegal release of personal emails among scientists was dumped on to the world in the lead-up to the next climate conference in Durban. First Copenhagen, now Durban. When the science is so rock solid that it can no longer be reasonably doubted, all that is left is to steal private correspondence in a desperate attempt to disparage those who are trying to protect the world from the risks it is facing.
Joseph Welch famously brought down Joe McCarthy with a simple question: “Have you no sense of decency?”
This year has already witnessed multiple events that break climate records: the drought in east Africa, the worst drought in Texas’ recorded history and record-breaking storms and floods in the southern United States. Those events, anticipated by climatologists decades ago, should remind us that those who persecute and harass scientists, or mendaciously misrepresent their actions and findings, have no sense of decency.
That is the real climategate.
Stephan Lewandowsky is Australian professorial fellow in the Cognitive Science Laboratories at the University of Western Australia.
This article was originally published on The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence.
Homepage image by 744219gxl