Thin green line is bad science

Debra J. Saunders

11/17/2005 12:05:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

There is a myth in the American media. It goes like this: The good scientists agree that global warming is human-induced and would be addressed if America ratified the Kyoto global warming pact, while bad, heretical scientists question climate models that predict Armageddon because they are venal and corrupted by oil money.

A Tuesday Open Forum piece in The San Francisco Chronicle, written by a UC Berkeley journalism professor and a UC Berkeley energy professor, provides a perfect example of this odd view that all scientists ascribe to a common gospel: "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N.-sponsored group of more than 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, has concluded that human activity is a key factor in elevated carbon-dioxide levels and rising temperatures and sea levels that could prove catastrophic for tens of millions of people living along Earth's coastlines."

The piece also cited research by "Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at UC San Diego, who reviewed 928 abstracts of peer-reviewed articles on climate change published in scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 and could not find a single one that challenged the scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is real."

The authors then attacked best-selling author Michael Crichton because Crichton accepted an invitation to testify from Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., "who is heavily supported by oil and gas interests" and who -- horrors -- dared to ask whether the global-warming scare is a hoax. That is the sort of McCarthyist guilt by association that one would not expect to encounter in the name of science.

Crichton spoke at an Independent Institute event Tuesday night with three apostate scientists. It's odd that Oreskes couldn't find a single article that didn't follow the thin green line on global warming. Panelist and Colorado State University professor of atmospheric science William M. Gray, a hurricane authority, announced that he thinks that the biggest contributor to global warming is the fact that "we're coming out of a little ice age," and that the warming trend will end in six to eight years.

Said Gray, sagely, "Consensus science isn't science." No lie. In fact, it's a bizarre argument. Why do global-warming believers keep pushing this everyone-agrees line when consensus uber alles is so, well, unacademic? The ideal should not be scientists who think in lockstep, but those in the proud mold of the skeptic, who takes a hard look at the data and proves conventional wisdom wrong.

Independent Institute President David Theroux hailed that trait in this year's winner of Nobel Prize for medicine, Barry Marshall, who believed ulcers were caused by bacteria, when the establishment knew that Marshall's theory was "preposterous" -- except that Marshall turned out to be right.

Crichton focused on the many times that fad science has been wrong. Remember Y2K? Ho-hum. The population-bomb scare? Yawn. Then there's Yellowstone, the national park that declined due to rangers' misbegotten (and often fatal for the wildlife) conviction that they knew what was best for the animals -- in this case, they killed wolves and overprotected elk until the whole ecosystem suffered.

On Tuesday, Inhofe issued a statement from Capitol Hill that noted how scientists with independent views don't get on too well with the IPCC. Witness Chris Landsea of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who resigned from the IPCC this year because he believed an IPCC top hurricane scientist wrongly linked severe hurricanes to global warming. As a result, he wrote, "the IPCC process has been subverted and compromised, its neutrality lost."

I've seen this when covering failed educational fads: Curriculum boards chase out the free thinkers, then smugly announce that all the experts agree with them -- so they must be right.

What did Gray think of the Oreskes report? "It shows you how we've all been brainwashed."