Peter Schwartz: Science as Political Orthodoxy

  • Date: 30/06/19
  • Peter Schwartz, Real Clear Politics

There is an intellectual orthodoxy being imposed by the left, abetted by much of the news media. Certain viewpoints are forbidden — not simply regarded as wrong, but not permitted to be considered.

We can observe this attitude at our colleges, where speakers who challenge leftist premises have been forcibly silenced. But it is most entrenched in discussions about global warming, in which non-orthodox views are treated the way religionists treat challenges to biblical dogma. A striking example is provided by a recent New York Times front-page story.

The print-version headline reads: “In Climate Fight, Trump Will Put Science on Trial.” On the continuation page, the headline is even stronger: “. . . Put Science Itself on Trial.” (The online headline is not quite so aggressive: “Trump Administration Hardens Its Attack on Climate Science.”)

The article presents what it calls the Trump administration’s “attack on science,” which will “undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.” What exactly is being proposed? “[T]he U.S. Geological Survey … has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040 rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously.” Consequently, the reporter notes, “parts of the federal government will no longer be able to fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet.”

The Times thus presents this as a conflict between those willing to learn about such future effects and those who aren’t — between the forces of science and the forces of anti-science.

Yet the article itself quotes a spokesman who explains the new policy: “The previous use of inaccurate modeling that focuses on worst-case emissions scenarios, that does not reflect real-world conditions, needs to be thoroughly re-examined and tested if such information is going to serve as the scientific foundation of nationwide decision-making now and in the future.”

That is, the changed policy reflects only a disagreement over the scientific validity of the projections being made 80 years into the future. The supporters of the new policy simply claim that current computer models aren’t accurate — and even then, their contention is only that the models cannot reliably predict the climate far beyond 2040. The computer programming is complex, and they want an honest re-evaluation of it. (I don’t mean to imply that President Trump, who is militantly oblivious to objective truth, is somehow committed to a search for facts, only that some of his policymakers might be.)

Why then is there no examination of these claims? Shouldn’t the reporter investigate the computer models? How were they designed? What assumptions do they make? What has been their record of temperature forecasts over the past several decades? Are there credible objectors to the programming? Nowhere in the article are such questions pursued. Why not?

Because the reporter, like many who warn about global warming, does not really regard it as a scientific issue, where evidence is objectively weighed, and challenges are welcomed and dispassionately assessed. Instead, it has simply become an article of faith that government must prevent the greedy oil companies from devastating our planet. It’s a belief not open to questioning, any more than the belief that government must provide welfare to the poor.

And if some do question it, how are they to be answered? Not by factual refutation, but by scornful dismissal. They must be smeared. They must be portrayed as deluded enemies of science, whose views warrant no attention.

This is why people, including reputable scientists, who raise objections about global warming are routinely maligned as “climate deniers.” They are lumped together with those who deny that millions of Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust. The climate skeptics, however, are not denying demonstrable historical facts, but the interpretation of certain facts. They question whether today’s 1.42-degree (Fahrenheit) increase above the 20th century average in global temperatures portends disaster for mankind. They question whether factors other than carbon dioxide emissions are significantly affecting temperatures. They question whether ending our reliance on fossil fuels is beneficial or harmful.

There is virtually no inquiry by the news media into the basis for such questioning. There is no concern for ascertaining the facts. Although the media readily provide platforms for the most groundless assertions — from the claim that vaccines cause autism to the claim that genetically modified foods cause cancer — no hearing is given to the skeptics of catastrophic warming. All we get is a peremptory disparagement of their position.

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