The history of science is the history of one collapsing consensus after another

I have a natural bent towards scepticism about what everyone seems unquestioningly to believe. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have become a Catholic: the secularism in which I was brought up crumbled in the end under my natural scepticism’s dissolving acids. What is sound doesn’t crumble; that’s why real scientists have scepticism built in: and why the “scientific consensus” presently damning all “climate change scepticism” as simply impermissible is so deeply intellectually disreputable.

Scepticism, of course, in a society in which, as Peter Hitchens memorably puts it, “hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think, can be an uncomfortable option. We all remember, for instance, when eurosceptics were consistently treated like idiots or lunatics. This was the semi-official position of the BBC until very recently. Only last year, Rod Liddle wrote in his Sunday Times column of being summoned to see his boss at the BBC following a complaint about the Corporation’s bias against Eurosceptics. The complaint had been made by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, then a Tory peer. “The [BBC] panjandrum”, wrote Liddle “listened to my nervous musings and then held aloft Lord Pearson’s latest letter and said: “Rod, you do realise that these people are mad?”

Well, we’re all Eurosceptics now; hardly a single politician is prepared to admit that he or she was ever in favour of this country’s entry into the eurozone.

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And I am now prepared to make a prediction; that in just the same way, climate change scepticism will – at some time during the next decade – become as normal as Euroscepticism is now. Here, for instance, is another example of what one might call the “Climategate” syndrome, that is, the tendency of some climate scientists (or climate ideologists, it’s often the same thing) either to suppress or distort evidence in order to drive home the conclusion they want us all to accept as an article of faith: that global warming is taking place at a rate which will lead to ecological disaster at some time during the next century, and that this effect is what they call “anthropogenic”, in other words, it’s caused by us. If you refuse to accept this, the implication is, you are doing something as intellectually disreputable as denying that the earth revolves round the sun, or even as denying the Holocaust: the accusation here is of climate change “denial”, as though it were some kind of crime.

Here’s the story.

Professor Richard Muller, of Berkeley, and colleagues from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures project team (BEST) published a study last week designed to show that the planet has warmed by almost a degree centigrade since 1950 and is still warming. Their work was widely quoted as showing that only major carbon dioxide reduction measures can save us all, by reporters and commentators from the BBC, the Independent, the Guardian, the Economist and, of course, many newspapers and TV news services all over America.

According to the Washington Post, the BEST study has “settled the climate change debate” and has demonstrated that anyone who remains a sceptic is committing a “cynical fraud”.

Well, cynical fraud yourself, whoever wrote that: for, according to one of the report’s lead authors, Professor Judith Curry, head of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Prof Muller’s claim that the report has proved global warming sceptics wrong is quite simply a “huge mistake”, with no scientific basis. She also said that this claim had to be compared to the notorious “Climategate” scandal two years ago.

In fact, she insisted, the project’s research data show there has been no increase in world temperatures since the end of the 90s. “There is no scientific basis for saying that warming hasn’t stopped,” she said. “To say that there is detracts from the credibility of the data, which is very unfortunate.”

The data, quite simply, show that though CO2 in the atmosphere has continued to rise, there has been no global warning at all for 13 years, none at all: nada, niente, zilch.

Prof Muller nevertheless denies warming is at a standstill. “We see no evidence of it [global warming] having slowed down,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. There is, he added, “no levelling off”. Pressed by a Mail on Sunday journalist, however, he admitted it was true that the best data suggested that world temperatures have not risen for about 13 years. But, he said, this might not be “statistically significant”, although, he then went on to say, it was equally possible that it was. “I am baffled,” responded Professor Curry, “as to what he’s trying to do”. She also repeated that “To say this is the end of scepticism is misleading, as is the statement that warming hasn’t paused.”

The trouble is, that no matter how often one points out very simple facts, such as the fact that (as Professor Curry points out) since 1998 there has been no global warming, and nor has there been any convincing explanation from the man-made CO2 bunch why this should be; they just carry on intoning their mantra, which has taken on a dogmatic weight almost impossible to shift.

Mentioning Peter Hitchens just now reminded me of a piece by him published a year or two ago, which is well worth reading in full: it includes nothing which isn’t true, so far as I have been able to check, including the following, which begins with the subject of Al Gore’s ludicrous film An Inconvenient Truth (which got him the Nobel Prize, for heaven’s sake):

…take, just for example, the famous picture of polar bears on a melting ice-floe, supposedly doomed victims of global warming.

The USA’s ex-vice president, the propagandist Al Gore, got audiences going “Aaah!” by saying the bears had “nowhere else to go”. Really? The picture was taken in August, when the Alaskan ice always melts. The polar bears were fine. Think about it.

They can swim and they weren’t far from land. Recent studies show that most polar bear populations are rising.

The world was warmer than it is now in the early Middle Ages, long before industrial activity increased CO2 output, a fact that the warming fanatics have worked very hard to obscure.

Oh, and the most important greenhouse gas by far is not CO2 but water vapour, which is not influenced by human activity at all.

All this is in fact the case. Take that apparently polemical accusation that “the warming fanatics have worked very hard to obscure” the fact that the world was warmer than it is now in the early Middle Ages. It is absolutely true: they have. Consider the following testimony given to the US Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works in December 2006 by Dr David Deming, of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Earth and Energy:

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, and distinguished guests, thank you for inviting me to testify today. I am a geologist and geophysicist. I have a bachelor’s degree in geology from Indiana University, and a Ph.D in geophysics from the University of Utah. My field of specialization in geophysics is temperature and heat flow. In recent years, I have turned my studies to the history and philosophy of science. In 1995, I published a short paper in the academic journal Science. In that study, I reviewed how borehole temperature data recorded a warming of about one degree Celsius in North America over the last 100 to 150 years. The week the article appeared, I was contacted by a reporter for National Public Radio. He offered to interview me, but only if I would state that the warming was due to human activity. When I refused to do so, he hung up on me.

I had another interesting experience around the time my paper in Science was published. I received an astonishing email from a major researcher in the area of climate change. He said, “We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period.”

The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was a time of unusually warm weather that began around 1000 AD and persisted until a cold period known as the “Little Ice Age” took hold in the 14th century. Warmer climate brought a remarkable flowering of prosperity, knowledge, and art to Europe during the High Middle Ages.

The existence of the MWP had been recognized in the scientific literature for decades. But now it was a major embarrassment to those maintaining that the 20th century warming was truly anomalous. It had to be “gotten rid of.”

I’m not saying that all those involved in trying to foist on us the notion that climate scepticism simply isn’t a permissible intellectual option are actually dishonest. But some of them certainly are. Ex-vice president Al Gore is a charlatan; and I have a list of other persons about whom something more disobliging than that could be and probably should be asserted. But I know how far I am allowed to go.

Meanwhile, there is at present no global warming. Maybe it will start again; maybe it won’t. But there is no proof at all that any of it ever had very much to do with man-made carbon dioxide.

Finally, the question of that so-called ”scientific consensus”. The history of science is the history of one collapsing consensus after another. It is quite possible – I would have thought likely (eg Professor Curry) – that this one, if it actually exists, will collapse too. Remember, when it happens; you read it here first. If you did, that is.

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