The Climate Change Inquisition

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an article highlighting accusations that our friends over at the American Enterprise Institute are trying to bribe climate scientists to take shots at a forthcoming UN report on climate change, an article which aped an earlier piece in The Guardian.  Shocking stuff.  Apparently, AEI scholars Ken Green and Steve Hayward commited the unpardonable sin of asking scientific experts to critique the upcoming report for a book of collected essays on the subject in return for a $10,000 honorarium.   

Although the blogosphere has gone wild, it’s unclear to me why.  While the letters they sent out soliciting contributions for the book highlighted their concerns about the IPCC process overall and the spin their work products are given in the media, they apparently did not stipulate what the authors were to say or the arguments they were to make.  For instance, the letter to Prof. Steve Schroeder at Texas A&M stated:

We are looking for an author who can write a well-supported but accessible discussion of which elements of climate modeling have demonstrated predictive value that might make them policy-relevant and which elements of climate modeling have less levels of predictive utility, and hence, less utility in developing climate policy.

Well, God forbid somebody write an article like that!  And may God doubly forbid the possibility that one might want to be paid for writing an article like that!  And may God strike down in righteous fury the scientist willing to air even a whiff of critical thought concerning the report in question.

The fact that some environmentalists are trying to characterize the Green & Hayward letters as demonic invitations to lie for profit is understandable enough.  The fact that prominent reporters are willing to give these accusations column inches in crowded newspapers is not. 

Even more distressing is the emerging concensus among the intellectual elite that some UN documents are akin to holy script that cannot be challenged, criticized, or even examined critically in civilized company.  Since when did scientific reports earn the status of the Hadith or the Koran?  Since when did science rule critical examination of popular hypotheses (no matter how well grounded) to be out of line?  And when exactly did otherwise smart people come to the conclusion that ad hominem attack was a perfectly good and reasonable line of argument?

For a more detailed examination of the issues in play - more than this story really deserves - see Jonathan Adler’s riff on the Volokh Conspiracy.