Global warming real: attack on scientists, surreal

Peter Jackson
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With the flood of emails and comments I received after last week’s column, I could be forgiven for thinking tropical storm Leslie had arrived early.

As it turns out, there was a more innocuous explanation. Mark Steyn found my headline amusing and posted a link on his National Review blog (The Corner). Within short order, a brigade of devout Steynians had donned their robes and given me the Greek chorus treatment.

In the column, I’d discussed the fact that a prominent climate scientist, Michael Mann, had threatened to sue Steyn for libel after the latter called his work “fraudulent.” Steyn also echoed a comparison of Mann with Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky, simply because both were affiliated with the same university.

I talked about Mann’s famous 1998 “hockey stick” graph, on which he collaborated with others, and about how it has — along with various updates and replications — withstood the test of time. This, despite a widespread misconception that leaked emails in 2009’s so-called “Climategate” proved there was trickery at play.

My headline for the Sept. 5 column was “The only monkey at this trial will be Mark Steyn,” a reference to the Scopes monkey trial of 1925.

Frankly, though, I agree with most of Steyn’s choristers. The trial will likely never see the light of day, mainly because it’s de rigueur these days to ruthlessly smear scientists if you don’t like their results. There is nothing more surreal than this modern assault on science. It originated with the tobacco industry’s attempt to cover up its own findings on the dangers of tobacco.

Big Tobacco attempted to muddy the science by throwing up a front of so-called experts to counteract negative research. It didn’t work, of course, but at least one of those operatives, Fred Singer, is now an active player on the climate change denial circuit.

In his book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars,” Mann describes how deniers use the “Serengeti strategy” to single out scientists who seem vulnerable, in the same way predators seek out the weakest member of a herd.

I certainly got a small taste of it myself. I replied to most of the emails I received about my column, but advancing lions have no interest in reason or facts. They’re hungry for blood. It made me wonder how Galileo must have felt when the Catholic hierarchy was closing in on him. I wonder, did the church throw up Bible experts to counter his research and turn the mob against him?

The war on reason is regrettable enough in a country like the U.S., full as it is with right-wing hawks and fundamentalists. But it’s not just happening there.

At Carleton University in Ottawa last week, Harris/Decima pollster Allan Gregg described to a campus audience how Ottawa has also veered into some sort of Dark Age in terms of policy apparatus.

“Our government’s use of evidence and facts as the basis of policy is declining,” he said, quoted by The Hill Times, “and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency are on the rise.”

Among Gregg’s most interesting remarks were those on how the Internet, once seen as the great democratizer and educator, has instead become a useful tool to harness ignorance.

I leave the final word to him:

“If I believe the Earth is flat, (the Internet) puts me in touch with legions of fellow flat-Earthers and reams of pseudo-science to support that belief. As importantly, I never have to be exposed to any contrary views and can find total refuge in my community of flat-Earthers.

“The Internet, therefore, offers me the opportunity to have a completely closed mind and, at one and the same time, fill it full of nonsense disguised as fact. In a brand new way, therefore, the Internet democratizes not just individual opinion, but legitimizes collective ignorance and spreads a bizarro world of alternative reason. When this occurs, prejudice and bias is reinforced and the authority of real science and evidence is undermined, or even more likely, never presented.”

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email:

Twitter @pjackson_NL

Organizations: National Review, Carleton University, The Hill Times

Geographic location: Mann, Penn, Ottawa U.S.

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Recent comments

  • psher grant
    September 13, 2012 - 18:27

    Here is one for the science bashers regarding climate change due to fossil fuels. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobile gave a speach in late May or early June saying climate change is real, fossil fuels is a contributing factor, and man will just have to learn to adapt. If the CEO of a large oil corporation said such a thing that is opposed to its interest, why would he say such a thing. What struck me most about his statement was the adaption clause. Adapt under whose terms?

    • David
      September 15, 2012 - 14:20

      If you don't even know the actual name of the oil company, it hardly speaks to your credibility to be quoting the CEO. Secondly, givern the widespread, self-righteous, general hatred of oil companies by the public (who nonethelss continue to be addicted to their products), what else would any very astute, savvy company executive do but tell the customer that they're right ? Are you simply obtuse? If it makes you feel better to flll up with Esso over another brand because you think he really believes the tripe, not a bad bit of PR work for no cost.

  • Grace
    September 13, 2012 - 13:55

    Thanks for this great article. We need more like it, particularly in the current anti-science political environment. I'm not sure how climate change deniers can continue their absurd tirade when the evidence is all around us, but I guess it is always easier to do nothing than to accept the facts and face the challenge ahead.

  • Ed Power
    September 12, 2012 - 20:38

    Poor David takes offense to he and his climaticly challenged compatriots being compared to Flat Earthers. I would agree, Flat Earthers can be forgiven for being amusingly eccentric. I think a comparison of David and his friends with another scientifically illiterate group - Young Earth Creationists - would be more apt.

    • David
      September 15, 2012 - 14:11

      Insults, slurs and captialitalizing on the weak-minded, uninformed idealism of young people......the biggest blunders in history were supported unanimously.

  • baie boy
    September 12, 2012 - 19:30

    Not one shread of evidence in this column that Anthropogenic global warming is real. Comparsions to big tobacco unfounded. I told people 40 years ago that you only had to look at the inside of a chimmney to know smoking was no good for you. The climate has been changing for thousands of years. There was a time the earth was unhabitual and it may occur again but CO2 emissions will not be the cause.

    • Eli
      September 13, 2012 - 14:24

      And this according to what edict? Surely it's not the Gospel of Baie Boy. Perhaps you havn't noticed the Arctic icecap is going tits-up.

  • Brian
    September 12, 2012 - 15:12

    Thanks for the article. I'll stay off the band wagon. One of the issues I take with band wagon are the potential consequences of trying limit CO2. I'm quite fine with reductions in uses of fossil fuels as long as the alternatives are workable and make sense in all parameters. However, making direct attempts at intervention can and do come with unintended consequences. For example, some 10 or 15 years ago the EPA in the US legislated that gasoline would contain 11% oxygenate. It was done to make gasoline more clean burning, i.e. less VOC's and CO at the tailpipe. At the time, the chemical of choice was MTBE, methyl t-butyl ether. It has the feature of increasing octane rating and gives gasoline a rather sweet odour. It is unfortunately also quite miscible with water. It went into use and ended up in a large number of underground storage tanks across the continent. Some of which were leaky. The MTBE found it's way into ground water sources poisoning the same. It has since been banned. Be careful what you ask for!

  • Randall Parkinson
    September 12, 2012 - 14:40

    Only in America! This skepticism is causing the U.S. to lag behind as all other nations work on clean energy and green technology to address climate change and twilight of fossil fuels.

  • sam
    September 12, 2012 - 14:30

    Try reading this for several minutes. Your brain will not explode.

  • Brian
    September 12, 2012 - 14:14

    Anthropogenic global warming. Nice sciency sounding phrase. Never heard that one before. So, what problem do I have with it? The same one, I've always had. CO2 has only a few absorption bands in the IR spectrum. And it's only a few hundred ppmv in the atmosphere. Water vapour and many other compounds with much greater concentrations have more and more significant absorption bands. I've asked this question and have never gotten an answer. Why is CO2 supposedly causing all the supposed trouble with other those compounds being present? I'll jump on the band wagon if someone could please explain that in a proper fashion. And without all the bullying, please. That behaviour is rather tiresome:P

    • david
      September 15, 2012 - 14:30

      Brian you must just shut down your mind and go along with the Earth-saving zombies on this...scientific debate, objectivity, open-mindedness....none of that has any place here. Just embrace self-righteousness (exactly like the totally uninformed, yuppie, city-dwelling anti-seal hunt crowd did in 1975) and join the comfort and accetance of the herd. Moooo.

  • paulm
    September 12, 2012 - 13:16

    Just ignore the kuffufle and keep writing about the issue is the best course of action.

  • j beck
    September 12, 2012 - 13:13

    In the aftermath of WWII , the Allies faced a problem. What exactly was the crime the Nazis had committed and how were we going to prosecute them in Nuremberg? The people they had murdered were all (forced) citizens of Germany or territory seized by Germany at the times of the murders ad thus under the legal jurisdiction of Germany. The execution of a citizen by a government is not a criminal offense, irrespective of how offensive the law under which that citizen was found guilty was. Neither were they guilty of violating the first through third Geneva Convention , since the civilians they murdered weren't soldiers and wore no uniform. So the Allies did something unusual. They invented a law on the spot, a law they called Crimes Against Humanity. The idea of Crimes Against Humanity had been kicking around intellectual circles for a while, but there was no actual law with which to charge the Nazis with. Until there was. What we did at Nuremberg was create a retroactive law and then charge the Nazis with breaking it post-hoc. Obviously, the Nazis' complained and in a not-very-narrow legalistic sense, they were right. It goes to the core of what constitutes a fair judicial system that defendants aren't going to be charged with breaking laws that did not exist at the time they were charged with breaking them. But the charging, trying and subsequent hanging of the Nazis did in fact happen and Americans - quite rightly - look back on Nuremberg with pride. Somehow, the messy legal process through which that particular piece of historical sausage was drawn didn't diminish it delicious taste for Americans. It probably had something to do with the horrendous damage the Nazi's had inflicted on the millions of members of innocent humanity. So also with the purveyors of denial. Their defense will be simple- I really believed it at the time! Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. That will be, however immaterial. Just a justice found a way in Nuremberg, so also justice will find a way here. Specifically, the post-modernist take on reality that Koch, Steyn and all deniers, including those at the National Review , have grasped on to - to wit, that you have YOUR reality but I have MY reality, and both realities are somehow equally valid is not going to sustain a defense for them. Their bad judgement or "alternative belief system" or "alternative science" is not going to save them from the demands for justice any more than professing a sincere conviction in Nazi ideology and all that was supposedly impelled by that belief saved the Nazis. If there can be said to be one, fundamental tenet of Western civilization it's that there is ONE reality, not many, and that reality is discovered through the process of science. We regard people who attempt to set themselves up with their own reality as lunatics, and people who endanger others of doing so as criminals. Reality is one way, not many. When that reality asserts itself, and it's going to because that's what reality does, then it's game over for all deniers , for all the climate-denying conservatives and their "movement" , for science-rejecting Christian fundamentalists and ideologically driven "libertarians" . Your children will hate you and all you "stood for"- which is nothing more than the systematic extermination of tens of millions of people through a process of distortion of reality ...and all for what? For personal profit and finally, just ego, just an unwillingness to admit you were wrong. Reality in one way, not many. Science is the greatest truth-detection / falsehood-rejection machine humanity has ever devised. Consensus scientific opinion is always and without exception the best description of reality humanity can produce. That's what science IS. It is a crime to attempt to forestall action consensus science tells us we must take in order to avoid mass death. It's a crime no one is going to get away with. a rise in temperatures of 6 degrees would catapult the planet into an extreme greenhouse state not seen for nearly 100 million years, when dinosaurs grazed on polar rainforests and deserts reached into the heart of Europe. It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles. Very few species could adapt in time to the abruptness of the transition, he suggested. "With the tropics too hot to grow crops, and the sub-tropics too dry, billions of people would find themselves in areas of the planet which are essentially uninhabitable. This would probably even include southern Europe, as the Sahara desert crosses the Mediterranean. As the ice-caps melt, hundreds of millions will also be forced to move inland due to rapidly-rising seas. As world food supplies crash, the higher mid-latitude and sub-polar regions would become fiercely-contested refuges. The British Isles, indeed, might become one of the most desirable pieces of real estate on the planet. But, with a couple of billion people knocking on our door, things might quickly turn rather ugly. The world is spinning toward a catastrophic climate change scenario, with temperatures now far more likely to rise by 6C by the end of the century, a leading international team of scientists has warned. An increase of 6C would have irreversible consequences, rendering large parts of the globe uninhabitable and destroying much of life on earth. The study by Professor Corinne Le Quere, from the British Antarctic Survey and East Anglia University, is the most comprehensive so far of how economic changes and shifts in the way people used land over the past 50 years have affected CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. From Nobel physicist and Secretary of Energy Chu: Right now, the climate scientists feel that if all humans shut off carbon emissions today, it will still glide up by about 1 degree centigrade. In the business-as-usual scenarios, Nicholas Stern says there's a 50 percent chance we may go to 5 degrees centigrade.... And certain tipping points might be triggered. We can adapt to 1 or 2 degrees. More than that, there is no adaptation strategy. So the big fear is that once the tundra thaws, those microbes wake up, they digest all that carbon. It goes up in the atmosphere. At that point, no matter what humans do, its out of our control. This is the realization in the last decade that has caused many of us to get very, very concerned. Adaptation at 1 or 2 degrees will be painful, it will cause a lot of hurt and pain, but adaptation at 5 or 6 degrees—I'm terribly frightened that thats catastrophic. From A conference in Melbourne next week featuring a who’s who of climate scientists will explore what warming of 4 degrees or more means, including for Australia. Apocalyptic is the only word for it, and understanding the implications is equally important for policymakers, business and the community. Keynote speaker Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute and climate adviser to the German Chancellor and to the EU, has said that in a 4-degree warmer world, the population carrying capacity estimates [are] below 1billion people. Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in Britain, was quoted in The Scotsman ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen conference saying the consequences were terrifying. For humanity its a matter of life or death ... we will not make all human beings extinct, as a few people with the right sort of resources may put themselves in the right parts of the world and survive. But I think its extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4 degrees. If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving. from

  • kelly anspaugh
    September 12, 2012 - 10:21

    If one is looking for an analog for the child molester Jerry Sandusky, it would be not Michael Mann but the global warming deniers, who intellectually abuse and molest the public by feeding them pernicious anti-science. Given what is at stake in regard to climate change, this behavior is not simply wrongheaded but irresponsible to the point of being criminal. / / Interesting that you mention Gregg's comments made at Carleton U but don't mention that Carleton was subject to scandal a few months back when it was revealed that a climate denier from the right-wing Heartland Institute had been invited to shop his idiot wares to Carelton students for a number of years. The vandals in the temple.

    September 12, 2012 - 09:40

    David, science doesn't "prove" anything. However, there is no alternative theory that has been offered, either in publication or in blog, that covers both the data and the physics. Nothing. All the professional doubting gang can do is perform little toothpick attacks on a handful of individual publications and contort another handful of publications to squeeze out something that looks kind of like it might be some rough possible maybe support for a position that kind of goes against some extreme version of the general theory of AGW. Unfortunately, the general public doesn't have the time, energy, and/or training to do fact checking on this issue, and the professional doubters know it. What I find astounding is that people who talk incessantly about responsibility and integrity are able to simultaneously engage in this kind of disinformation campaign, a campaign the implication of which is that a massive fraud and hoax is in process, necessarily involving tens of thousands of scientists over the course of over a century. How about answering a direct question, David: where does the theory of anthropogenic global warming fail for you?

    • David
      September 14, 2012 - 12:34

      If climate change is so basic and obvious a truth, why would any researcher involved in it be so stupid and reckless as to put themsleves in the career-ending situation of getting caught falsifying data to supprt their conclusion? And yet....

  • David
    September 12, 2012 - 08:59

    And BTW, "Flat Earthers" ? Yet another cowardly slur of the debate-challenged. Surely, in ths remarkably incomparable, wonderful age of high technology, enlightenment and "intelligentsia" (like your ilk), there could not POSSIBLY exist a situation where proponents of something as obvious and blatant as your 'climate change' could not prove it scientifically, and beyond a scintilla of a shadow of a doubt?! ....Surely!

  • David
    September 12, 2012 - 08:51

    You're just a "Steyn Denier" ! ....Now, how does it feel to be 'smeared' and dismissed out of hand with a "condition" that someone just pulled out of their arse? THAT'S what regularly happens on this alleged "climate change" issue, pal...not the other way round.