Son of Climategate

Paul Greenberg

3/15/2012 12:01:00 AM - Paul Greenberg
It's the latest chapter in a continuing saga: Still another climateer has been caught monkeying with the evidence. All to prove that man-made Global Warming/Climate Change isn't just a debatable theory but an established fact. Any doubters must be gagged, or at least discredited.

Or as a young reporter once told me years ago when I begged to differ with him on some issue that was all the ideological rage at the time: "That is a mindset that must be crushed!"

This time the target was the Heartland Institute, a relatively small, relatively obscure think tank that sponsors an annual conference of scientists who dare express dissenting views about climate change.

I should say once obscure because an attempt to smear it has given it a new prominence and respectability -- much the way Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" letter backfired and gave George W. Bush a boost in the 2004 presidential campaign. And ended Dan Rather's tenure at CBS. So do the worst-laid schemes o' mice and anchormen gang aft agley.

Now the Heartland Institute found itself accused of engaging in a nefarious plot aimed at "dissuading teachers from teaching science."

The proof? A memo from the institute that one Peter Gleick, who used to be a respected scientist, seems to have stolen, then hoked up and circulated, claiming it was leaked to him. Some of the details are still foggy, but not this: At some point Mr. Gleick ceased being a scientist and became a true believer who thought the ends justified the means -- which is the standard defense when they don't.

By now he's confessed to "a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics...." He's currently on leave, at his own embarrassed request, from the Pacific Institute, which he led for more than 20 years, while his conduct is investigated.

If all goes as it did with earlier miscreants in the continuing story called Climategate, some excuse will be found for him, and he'll be back lecturing the rest of us -- on ethics, no doubt -- after a brief pause in the climateers' regularly scheduled programming.

Would you believe that said Mr. Gleick is also the chairman of an American Geophysical Union "task force" on scientific ethics? Or at least he was until a few weeks ago. Fanaticism has exacted its usual price -- embarrassment, if not worse -- from those who fall under its spell.

Here is one more episode that has to make an observer wonder why, if man-made global warming is such an established fact, those who believe in it have to play these disreputable games to establish it. And set out to suppress, discredit and generally tar those scientists, however few or brave or distinguished, who take a different position.

Whenever any dissent from their dogmas is expressed, the high priests of the Cult of Climate Change have a simple response. Shut up, they explain.

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The spirit of the whole enterprise was summed up in an email from the all too ample archives of the Climategate scandal. The email emphasized the need to keep the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change free of any dissenting views: "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to define what the peer-review literature is."

If some balky scientist didn't toe the climate-change line, then his article simply wouldn't make the official report. As if it had never been written. Problem solved. As neatly as it was by the notorious hockey-stick graph that turned out to be too neat to be credible.

The current state of the debate over climate change, its causes and effects, was put into just a few comprehensive words by that eminent political scientist Randy Newman: "It's a jungle out there/ Disorder and confusion everywhere...." Which is what happens when scientists decide they have to be politicians, activists, propagandists or all of the above in a righteous cause, or at least a self-righteous one. They wind up getting carried away, and their judgment vanishes along with their ethics.

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After all, anything's fair in love and war -- and debates over climate change. The result isn't science but ideology.

See the misadventures of one Peter Gleick. And, before him, the whole, encyclopedic saga of Climategate with its cache of emails showing scientists being anything but scientific. Instead, they sounded like a cabal of Grand Inquisitors determined to protect the faith by expelling any heretics from their closed ranks.

It's a story as old as Galileo's trial, and the climateers' attempts to suppress dissenting opinions may prove just as futile. For no matter how determined the censors are, some scientist somewhere is going to refuse to shut up. Much like Galileo Galilei, after being forced to recant his heresy about the Earth moving around the sun, is said to have muttered under his breath: Eppur si muove! And yet it moves.

These days a professor may not lose his head for saying what he believes but his academic tenure. Or he may find he can't get his research published. Even if censoring him requires monkeying with a memo or redefining the whole peer-review process. Yet some scientists will speak up anyway, if only in private. Or maybe at a small, intimate gathering sponsored by the Heartland Institute.