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: firstname.lastname@example.org.