Commentary

Censorship Threatens Truth on Climate

Censorship is always imposed in the supposed public interest, to protect people from being corrupted by errant views. In fact it is a device for the powerful to silence dissenters and manufacture an artificial truth.

Patrick Michaels, a member of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has accused the climate establishment of trying to manufacture a consensus in peer-reviewed academic journals by censoring or squeezing out dissenters. He should know he is a victim.

IPCC scientists, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, are not unanimous on climate change. A few like Patrick Michaels and John Christy say fears of global warming are greatly exaggerated. The climate establishment dismisses most dissenters as the equivalent of Holocaust deniers. It cannot so easily dismiss Michaels or Christy, who are distinguished members of the Nobel Prize-winning team.

Climategate is the recent scandal revealing that establishment scientists like Phil Jones and Michael Mann, at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of East Anglia University, sought to destroy emails, hide data, and evade freedom of information requests in order to thwart dissenting voices. Mann and Jones claim that the censorship attempts were minor, and do not affect the truth on climate. Really? Then why try to censor something so minor? What will these worthies do if something major comes up that really threatens their establishment view?

These clumsy censorship attempts are merely the tip of the iceberg, says Michaels in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The bible of scientists is peer-reviewed literature in academic journals. Establishment scientists now seek to squeeze dissenters out of these journals, and close down journals that do not toe the line. This attempt to fix the academic literature and manufacture a bogus “scientific consensus” suggests there might be something to hide.

The academic climate literature, including IPCC documents, held in the 1990s that the medieval warm period around 1100 AD was warmer than the 20th century. Then, in 1999, Mann proposed the ‘hockey stick’ hypothesis. Using multivariate statistics and questionable data weighting, he wiped out both the medieval warm period and the subsequent ‘little ice age’ (a cold period from the late 16th century to the mid-19th century), leaving only the 20th-century warming as a big temperature outlier. The IPCC establishment eagerly embraced this re-writing of the entire history of climate change. In any other discipline, the hockey stick thesis would have gone down as one more plausible hypothesis. But the IPCC has, in effect, wiped out all the earlier historical literature in one stroke!

Then Climate Research, a refereed journal, published two papers offending the establishment. One paper in 2003 by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas (of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), analysed dozens of “paleoclimate” studies and concluded that 20th-century temperatures could not confidently be considered warmer than those a thousand years ago. This reaffirmed the existence of the medieval warm period. The establishment also disliked a paper by Michaels in Climate Research in 2002, showing that the magnitude of warming in CRU’s own data was not as great as predicted by the IPCC models. This suggested that the models might be exaggerating the impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Normal academic practice would have required the establishment to rebut these views. Instead, Mann suggested putting Climate Research out of business, or at least hiding information from it. He wrote in one of his emails , “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the Climate Research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal… We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board.”

After establishment scientists threatened a boycott of publications and reviews, half the editorial board of Climate Research resigned. Scientists like Michaels found it increasingly difficult to get published. Some dissenters like Sallie Baliunas stopped trying, “tiring of summary rejections of good work by editors scared of the mob”.

Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) is another popular refereed journal. Climategate exposed emails between establishment scientists wanting to oust one of the editors of GRL suspected of climate scepticism. “It’s one thing to lose Climate Research. We can’t afford to lose GRL.” The establishment succeeded in ousting the editor, and then exulted in an email, “the GRL leak may have been plugged up now w/ new editorial leadership there.”

Regretably, the IPCC itself is now getting tainted by this attempt to capture academic journals and censor dissenting views. Objecting to some dissenting papers, Mann is reported to have said, “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

As a UN body, the IPCC must not allow itself to be captured by one scientific faction or another. It needs to give fair representation to all views. Indeed, the IPCC is supposed to take into account all peer-reviewed literature, including dissenting views.

Is this actually happening? No, says Michaels. “The last IPCC compendium on climate science, published in 2007, left out plenty of peer-reviewed science that it found inconveniently disagreeable. These include articles from the journals Arctic, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Earth Interactions, Geophysical Research Letters, International Journal of Climatology, Journal of Climate, Journal of Geophysical Research, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Quaternary Research.”

This is a formidable indictment. Michaels is not a sceptic: he sees evidence of warming, but thinks it is much exaggerated. So, this is not a case of the establishment trying to silence a sceptic: it is trying to silence even a non-sceptic with insufficient religious zeal.

Scientific methodology usually beats attempts at manipulation. The problem here is that the IPCC has won a Nobel Prize. Establishment scientists are only human, and can be expected to spin everything and anything to prove that they did indeed deserve the award. That will seem to them a more worthwhile goal than mere scientific truth. There lies the danger.

Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar is a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.