Richard Lindzen on “Global Climate Alarmism and Historical Precedents”

Richard Lindzen, Professor Emeritus at MIT, and now a Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Center for the Study of Science here at Cato, has just published a paper called “Science in the Public Square: Global Climate Alarmism and Historical Precedents.” The paper is in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Lindzen begins with what he calls “The Iron Triangle,” an analog to a very popular aphorism coined by Ronald Reagan, that describes the generic and mutually beneficial relationship between Congress, the media, and special interest groups. Lindzen’s version is between scientists who make “meaningless or ambiguous statements” on climate change, which are translated into alarmist declarations by the global warming lobby, to which politicians respond by shoveling more money to the scientists. Dr. Lindzen cheekily calls this version the Iron Rice Bowl, the same phrase coined by Mao Zedong to describe lifetime employment in exchange for support of the communist state.

Lindzen, whose article is available here, notes this type of symbiosis supported two other particularly bad ideas. One was early 20th Century eugenics, which was enshrined by law in the United States, politically very useful in 1920s Germany, and institutionalized into the holocaust in the succeeding decade. For an exhausting and exhaustive insight on this process in Germany, you still can’t beat Robert J. Lifton’s 1986 book, The Nazi Doctors.

A similar dynamic surrounded the institutionalization of the obviously incorrect paradigm of  “the inheritance of acquired characteristics,” championed by Soviet agronomist Trofim Lysenko, under the enthusiastic support of Josef Stalin, who thought it would help bring about “The New Soviet Man,” by changing human nature genetically through physical experiences of the organism. The logic is as simple as this: if one, say, pumped iron incessantly with just the left arm, your children would be born with muscular left arms. Hogwash, but effective for a public that both feared its government and was scientifically illiterate. 

“The Situation in Biological Science,” published (and translated) by the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the U.S.S.R. in 1949 sits very close to Lifton’s book on my shelf at Cato. It is an exhaustive compendium on Lysenko’s “new genetics.” It claims authority, and if you spoke against it as a scientist, a trip to Siberia (or worse) wasn’t far away. With global warming alarmism, we are much more humane. Speak against it, and you will lose your government funding and maybe your job, but not your life.

Lindzen finishes with a bit of optimism, noting that the eugenics and Lysenkoism lasted about thirty years, which would mean that the Iron Triangle of climate alarmism is getting a little long in the tooth (it started in1988). 

Methinks Professor Lindzen is a bit optimistic. After all, most regulation of ionizing radiation and carcinogens is based upon the obviously wrong notion that a single photon or a single molecule can induce cancer. That was enshrined in the 1950s and lives on today.