We Need Some Climate Skeptics
John Hunt, MD
Climate scientists are not prophets. Those who believe them on faith provide no good service to the pursuit of truth.
Those who blame climate change for every storm or forest fire are silly. Equally silly are those who claim that a particularly cold day proves that climate change is a farce.
Fear of environmental calamity has caused human destruction before, such as when Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, led to the banning of the pesticide DDT. As a result of the “success” of the environmentalist movement in banning DDT, an estimated 30-50 million people in Africa—mostly children—died from malaria carried by the renewed growth in the mosquito population. Malaria deaths increased from tens of thousands per year pre-ban, to millions per year post-ban. The story was similar in India. These were preventable deaths that resulted from stoked fears. Many in the environmental community have recognized their error regarding DDT, but they make new errors instead.
Now the target is carbon dioxide. We are told that 97% of climate scientists agree with their own scientific consensus. But that’s a misleading statement in an important way. The actual figure refers to “97% of climate scientists actively publishing in scientific journals.” To understand the relevance of this 97% figure, we need to know: what are the determiners of “actively publishing?”
Could the selection process for entry and success (“actively publishing”) in the climate profession create a bias that compromises the information we rely on to make our critical decisions about climate?
Let’s ask the question, calmly and rationally, and see where it takes us.
1. It is reasonable to consider that children raised in climate-conscious families are more likely to become interested in the environment than those raised by families who either don’t care or who deny. The climate-conscious children are more likely to undertake science fair projects and write papers about climate change. Climate work is rewarded in school. So it shouldn’t be any surprise if such children, more than others, later consider environmental science as a college major. If this occurs, which seems likely, this childhood process would be Distillation Step 1 in creating a future climate scientist. More speculatively, if sufficiently reinforced, some of these youth might even develop some neuronally hardwired (unchangeable) biases as the brain matures.
2. As is true in all fields, college climatology professors encourage the most dedicated students in the introductory environmental studies class to pursue climate science as a major. Other students—such as those who are skeptical—may never again see the inside of a climate science classroom. The selection of academic major is Distillation Step 2.
3. When students pursue their Master’s degrees, the crop of future climate scientists is further distilled. Those who don’t align with their professors’ views are less successful getting into a PhD program. Then, success within a PhD program relies (in any field) on abiding by one’s dissertation committee’s wishes so as to get their PhD in as few years as possible so as to finally make some money. During this phase, those who best comply will be more likely to obtain their doctorate and get set up in post-doc positions working for experienced senior scientists. Distillation Step 3 has occurred, along with further psychological reinforcement to agree with those more senior. The climate liquor is getting more concentrated.
4. To succeed in academia, the newly minted PhD must apply for grants—mostly from government agencies or his own university. He chooses hypotheses and writes his grant application with care, knowing he’ll need the approval of committees populated with scientists who are invested in promoting their previously published papers and who make their living from government-funded studies of climate change. If he fails to craft his project to appeal to the needs of the reviewers on the committee, he won’t get funded. Funding failure increases the likelihood that he will wash out of academia. This selection of research grants to write is Distillation Step 4.
The process of nurturing and selection of the climate scientist starts in kindergarten, proceeds through high school and college, then to grant funding, manuscript preparation and publication. His research is then only seen through the lens of the media’s selective presentation. The many reinforcing layers of bias create a distillate of pure concentrated climate orthodoxy, and this liquor is what we are offered to drink.
5. Successfully obtaining funding allows the young academic to perform a research project that will buttress the beliefs of the grant committee that channeled funding to him. Research studies are these days (improperly) designed to accomplish the affirmation of the hypothesized outcome, as opposed to examining the truth of a hypothesis. If his project (done well or done poorly) appears to prove his hypothesis, then he tries to publish a paper to join the ranks of the “actively publishing.” He will craft the conclusion and abstract to promote his bias (again, this is true in any field). By the way, we should not underestimate the pressured academic’s skill at justifying to himself the removal from his dataset of any data that adversely affect his ability to get a publishable p value of “less than 0.05” (an arbitrary cut off in statistics that is needed for publication).
Note that if the project fails to prove his hypothesis, the young scientist probably will never write a manuscript about it, and therefore he won’t yet be “actively publishing.” Oh, and often there are multiple hypotheses in a project, and if only one of them is proven, it will be the only one written up and submitted for publication. The disproven hypotheses will not be written up and never be seen by us. This is all part of Distillation Step 5.
6. Even if a scientist goes to the effort to write a manuscript that fails to support climate change concerns (which would be called a “negative manuscript” as it negates the hypothesis), it will be harder to get it published. Such “negative manuscripts” are, in any field, commonly rejected by the editor before going to peer review.
If a negative manuscript does get to peer review, the reviewers will be more critical because the manuscript will conflict with their prior publications. Then the scientist would have to go to the considerable effort of resubmitting the manuscript elsewhere or to respond to the reviewers’ critiques by getting more grant money and doing more studies, which will prove difficult. And it just isn’t worth it, because publishing such a paper could only hurt his career. So the young academic understandably sticks the rejected manuscript and its data in a desk drawer, never to be seen again. This is Distillation Step #6.
Selective manuscript writing, editorial bias, peer-review bias, and selective re-submission are four important biases in any field. This could be a reason—completely unrelated to scientific facts—as to why the climate literature slants the way it does.
After these multiple distillation steps, almost all impurities have been distilled away. Perhaps only 3% remain. It should be no more surprising that 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree with the climate change consensus than that 97% of actively preaching seminary graduates should believe in their religion.
7. Those who make it onto the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), are the most highly distilled, fully vetted climate scientists of all. Pure 200 proof. For this reason and others, consensus at the level of the IPCC is even less useful than “expert opinion.”
In response to some climatologists’ complaints that the IPCC is biased against nuclear power, Jonathan Lynn, an IPCC spokesman, rejected the accusation, telling Axios: “We completely reject the idea we are biased about nuclear power or anything else.”
I suspect Mr. Lynn’s statement is psychological denial. Of course the IPCC are biased. Everyone who cares, one way or the other, is biased. To say otherwise is poppycock.
8. Now, if it bleeds it leads. The lay world only hears the most dramatic climate stories. What self-disrespecting mainstream click-baiting journalist will bother to read anything beyond a research abstract, or would waste their editor’s time with anything positive (or even innocuous) regarding climate change? Answer: none. Furthermore, journalists now manage to stick a scary line about climate change in any article they can. Bees, birds, ticks, human migration… It’s all climate change. This continual exposure to unsubstantiated statements from journalists will bamboozle many readers.
What we in the lay world get to read and hear is a highly distilled climate change liquor, and the most catastrophic fears of what climate change may cause. The climate-concerned lay reader is unlikely to be presented with, or click on, a climate story that opposes his worldview. Those with defensive personalities will reflexively lash out with vitriol at an author of such an article, as if the author were an infidel, often without reading past the title.
We need to get our heads around the climate in an intellectually comprehensive way. We need science to do that. Unfortunately, the politicized climate field has many reinforcing biases entrenched within it. This must lead to the dissemination of biased or incomplete facts, and biased conclusions.
Yet it is important we don’t get this wrong. Because people suffer and die when science becomes unquestioned dogma.
And what if something else is a far more important threat to our environment and to humanity, and the climate scientists have their minds made up already, so aren’t watching for it?
We need private watchdogs who go to the effort to examine the research that the climatologists produce, looking for biases, omissions, misrepresentations, malincentives, and even manipulations. Instead of demonizing such skeptics, we need to encourage and respect such people who work hard to identify where biases have interfered with the pursuit of truth.
I recognize the importance of a healthy climate. I am not ignoring facts, and I respect the scientific method. I’m not brainwashed by oil companies nor in psychological denial. To the contrary, any skepticism I have arises because I do not deny the weaknesses of the academic process that creates a scientist and the research he produces. Reinforcing layers of bias can occur in any field, but politicization exaggerates it.
Let’s remember what saved the whales. It wasn’t Greenpeace. It was, rather, the successful distillation of petroleum that replaced the demand for the renewable fuel known as whale oil. That distillation made petroleum purer, and more flammable. The distillation of climate science makes it purer too, and more incendiary.
Policy makers, teachers, journalists, environmentalists…all of us…really know nothing about climate change beyond what trickles down from the climate scientists’ desks. Are the many reinforcing layered biases of the climate field sufficient to cause relevant effects on the research results that are presented to us? Are the climate scientists missing something, getting some of it wrong, or maybe exaggerating it?
It has happened before—with DDT—with horrific consequences.
And the climate change field is even more politicized.