Michael Gerson
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This attitude is demonstrated, not only by private e-mails, but also by the public reaction of prominent scientists to those e-mails. They show "scientists at work." They are "pretty innocuous." They are "understandable and mostly excusable." "We are all humans; and humans come with dogma as standard equipment." This "kind of language and kidding goes on verbally all the time." Criticism is based merely on "ignorance" and critics have "more screws loose than the Space Shuttle Challenger." It is the scientific equivalent of discounting Watergate as a "second-rate burglary."

Climate scientists are clearly accustomed to deference. It is a community coddled by global elites, extensively funded by governments, celebrated by Hollywood and honored with international prizes.

But outside the Copenhagen bubble, the field of climate science is deep in a crisis of professional credibility, which many scientists seem too insular to recognize. Fifty-nine percent of Americans now believe it is at least somewhat likely that some scientists have falsified research to prop up global warming claims. If the practices at East Anglia are dismissed as "scientists at work," skepticism will rise as surely as temperatures.

It often goes unnoticed how much we rely on the self-enforced standards of professions -- journalists who bury their biases to report the news, judges who suspend their own views to enforce the law. If we view these professionals as politically motivated, we no longer trust the information or judgments they provide.

This professional objectivity is precisely what the hacked e-mails call into question. Some of these scientists are merely activists, deeply invested in a predetermined outcome. They assume that political change is the goal; the scientific enterprise is the means -- like a political ad or a campaign speech. But without trust in disinterested, scientific judgments on climate, most non-scientists will resist costly, speculative, legislative actions. When the experts become advocates, no one believes the experts or listens to the advocates.

It is an irony of the first order. Having accused others of a "war on science," it is climate scientists who are assaulting the authority of science more effectively than anyone else.

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Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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