Academia on the Verge of a New Dark Age

Leo Goldstein

Editor’s Introduction: It has been widely reported that President-elect Trump is considering cuts to NASA’s Earth division, which is a major source of “climate change” research.  Broadly speaking, climate change research has become a cause favored by the political left and dis-favored by the political right. 

The following article by Leo Goldstein is a strongly-stated criticism of global warming theory that focuses on the political left’s support for the theory. We publish it in the spirit of opening the door to discussion of an important topic, and we welcome contrasting views. One such contrasting view is presented by Bruce Gilley in "The Lack of Prudence of Fossil Fuel Supporters."

To be clear, the National Association of Scholars does not take a position on catastrophic man-made global warming. We are, rather, champions of scientific integrity, including skeptical examination of hypotheses and careful consideration of alternative hypotheses. To this end we uphold the importance of allowing dissenters in the scientific community reasonable space to make their arguments and to advance evidence that supports their critiques. 

The closing off of debate in several areas of legitimate scientific inquiry concerns us.  The most conspicuous example is the claim that climate science has reached a “consensus” of CO2-forced climate change and that those scientists who continue to dissent from the “consensus” do so in bad-faith.  The attacks on so-called “climate deniers,” however, are far from the only instance in which contemporary academe has circled the wagons around a favored view and prevented the more robust debates that would, in the long run, lead to more solidly grounded science.

Science is only a collection of methods, and scientists themselves are human, with all the vulnerabilities of humans.  Among those vulnerabilities are susceptibility to groupthink, psychological overinvestment in one’s opinions, confirmation bias, and unconscious self-interest.  These are inevitably factors that influence all scientists to varying degrees, and the pursuit of science requires a constant effort to neutralize that influence.  The most effective check on human fallibility is open debate in which each contributor must be ready to meet well-informed objections to his ideas.

Some areas of science, however, have found themselves in a whirlpool of circular reasoning to the effect that any and all doubts about a favored theory are to be seen as ill-informed, ignorant, or deceptive.  The whirlpool provides a rationalization for refusing to give any real consideration to dissenting views which, merely because they express dissent, are treated as illegitimate. 

There is such a thing as frivolous dissent that does not deserve much if any response from the scientific community.  It is late in the day to contest the value of the Planck constant.  But a great deal of non-frivolous dissent is often brushed into the same bin that serves as the resting place for crank formulations. 

The gate of contemporary academic science is also guarded by those who insist that any would-be challenger has to meet a very high threshold of evidence to warrant a hearing.  The principle is analogous to a boxing championship:  to challenge a champion, the challenger must work his way up the ranks.  This is a reasonable safeguard—provided the challenger is allowed to have those preliminary fights.  A system that forecloses the possibility of a serious challenge has a deep flaw.  


 

Academia on the Verge of a New Dark Age

by Leo Goldstein

One of the strongest and most longstanding political/social prejudices has been that Liberals represent Science and Reason, while Conservatives oppose them.  This opinion was probably imported from Europe, where it had some ground in the Enlightenment period.  But it has never been the case in America. The fact that overwhelming majority of post-WWII scientists held liberal beliefs is not evidence, because scientists comprised only a tiny minority of Liberal or Conservative supporters.

Over the last thirty years, in fact, Liberalism has been taken over by the hard Left, abandoned science and reason, and become a hotbed of obscurantism and oppression.  The myth that Democrats were the party of science but Republicans were anti-science played a significant role in this downfall.  One notable phenomenon is the rise of the so-called “postmodern science,” a product of cultural studies.

Al Gore’s War on Science

Al Gore played a unique role in corrupting and degrading the American scientific enterprise.  He belonged to the group of “Atari Democrats” who made an early alliance with the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but Gore had neither aptitude not training in science.  He was no friend of science.  Gore compared science to the Faustian bargain:

[W]e have chosen to escape the Malthusian dilemma by making a set of dangerous bargains with the future worthy of the theatrical legend that haunted the birth of the scientific revolution: Doctor Faustus. Some of these bargains have already been exposed …” (Al Gore, Earth in the Balance, 1992, pp. 127-128)

In 1993-2000, Vice President Gore removed many distinguished, independent-minded scientists from the leadership of the American scientific community, replacing them with his political allies—especially from the environmentalist movement.  For example, he fired Will Happer from the position of the Director of Science in the DOE, after Professor Happer suggested measuring the UV radiation impact of the alleged ozone layer depletion.  This and other symptomatic cases are described in Michael Gough’s excellent book Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking (2003). Gore’s staff further demanded that distinguished oceanographer Roger Revelle’s name be removed from an article against global warming alarmism that Revelle had co-authored.  Gore’s unsuccessful attempts to intimidate Professor Fred Singer and to manipulate Ted Koppel, then an ABC anchor, were well-publicized as well. 

But the media and academics believed that science had no enemies on the left, so these misdeeds were largely ignored.  The publication of Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (1994) by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, the Sokal affair (in which physicist Alan Sokal submitted an article of deliberate gibberish phrased in politically correct cant to Social Text, and got it published), and similar expressions of academic dissent were too little and too late. Other processes leading to the corruption of National Academy of Sciences and scientific societies are outside the scope of this article.

“Postmodern Science” and Climate Change

A scientific theory must match empirical observations.  This is the essence of the scientific method, universally accepted for at least four centuries.  Francis Bacon formulated it in 1620.  A liberal arts education has long included sciences and required observations of nature or lab experiments.  More recently, Karl Popper refined our understanding of the scientific method.  It is currently accepted that any scientific theory must be testable (“falsifiable”) – the theory must have a non-trivial inference which is observable and can be demonstrated to be wrong (“falsified”) if the theory is incorrect.  A theory contradicting natural or experimental observations must be rejected. 

But then came “postmodern science,” with its constructivist epistemology, which declared science to be nothing more than what scientists say is true.  In the postmodern framework, physical laws are just social conventions.  If we were to take these postmodernists (or cultural constructivists) seriously, we would have to believe that gravity comes and goes as scientific opinion changes. This nonsense seems too absurd to do any real harm in the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, it has seriously harmed scientific institutions and scientific education, not least because it became a cornerstone of the climate pseudo-science.  For example, the climate models of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are “validated” by comparing their results to other IPCC models rather than to actual climate change data. 

Every day the popular media tells us to ignore physical reality, to disregard scientific measurements (such as satellite temperature measurements), and to forget that carbon dioxide is a plant food, but to listen to the alleged consensus of the UN-appointed scientists.  In the process, there appeared a whole new area of studies, measuring the alleged “scientific consensus on climate change.”  Never mind that these studies always come up, with remarkable unanimity, with the same unsubstantiated figure of “97% scientific consensus” that first appeared in 2004.

In hindsight, it seems that climate alarmism unleashed itself from its last attachment to the scientific method around that same year.  By that time the physical research had shown that potential surface warming from the anthropogenic release of carbon dioxide did not merit public concern.  In 2001, even the IPCC acknowledged that, sotto voce, by removing the qualifier anthropogenic from its definition of climate change.  The last remaining justification for public concern about climate change was Michael Mann’s ‘hockey stick’ chart, which was disproven by Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick in 2003.  But climate alarmists have paid no attention to how their scientific position has been undermined.  Their reaction to their scientific critics instead has been defunding, firing, media smear, and legal and illegal threats.

This should cause no surprise. After all, alarmist “climate scientists” have openly and brazenly rejected the scientific method and instead resorted to “postmodern science.”  A 2010 lecture by Dr. Stephen Schneider, one of the scientific leaders of climate alarmism and a founder and editor of the Climatic Change journal, provides representative examples of attempts to justify that philosophical turnabout: “Climate system science, like others, it is really a preponderance of evidence based outcomes, it is not falsifiable. … There are still some people who think [climate science] operates on the basis of falsification.” Having thus acknowledged that “climate science” was not a real science, Dr. Schneider explained that its theories are based on decisions by what he called “the scientific community” rather than on empirical evidence:

By the scientific community, I do not mean non-climate scientists, who drop in opinions from the outside, I am talking about those people who actually do the work. … The critics almost never showed up at scientific meetings. They just write blogs and screeds and do ‘audits’ without really being members of the community.  So they’re not welcome. That’s absolutely true because they’re not part of the debate. That’s cultural. That’s not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. [1]

Thus, he acknowledged that the “climate scientists” were an insular group, refusing collaboration with real scientists.  In other words, his “scientific community” essentially has been using cult methods, and their activity has been to defend and develop the cult’s dogma.  Dr. Schneider became a “climate science community organizer,” and rejected empirical evidence and scientific method in his other works as well: “But science is not empirical when you’re discussing the future. There is nothing empirical about the future.”[2]

This misses the point entirely.  From Archimedes' principle through Newton’s laws to the latest developments in pharmacology, science has justified itself by its predictive power—by scientific theories’ ability to pass empirical tests.

Practically all American universities have either enthusiastically embraced the climate pseudo-science, or have quietly assented to it.  For a long time, natural and technical sciences have been replaced with environmental and “interdisciplinary” studies.  And in some cases (e.g. explaining greenhouse construction), even high school physics and biology are taught incorrectly to fit the climatist narrative. The intellectual insufficiency of “climate science” has not prevented it from going from triumph to triumph. Truth is great, but it does not prevail without human endeavor to stand for it.



Leo Goldstein is a mathematician and software engineer who lives in Texas.

 

[1]  February 4, 2010 lecture in Stanford University. Quoted from Darwall, Rupert. The Age of Global Warming: A History (2013), Kindle Ed., loc. 11160-73, and the author’s transcription from the video at youtu.be/mmlHbt5jja4.

[2]  Schneider, Stephen H. Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate, 2010, p. 47.

 

Image: Galileo e Viviani, 1892, Tito Lessi

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