Three Great Legacies of Climategate


It’s been five years now since Climategate broke, and three years since Climategate II broke. The disclosures of thousands of emails, computer programs, and other documents from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia revealed scandalous scientific misconduct of monumental proportions—enough that it has crippled the credibility of an entire field of science (paleoclimatology) and seriously tarnished the reputations of the inner cadre of researchers in it.

Climategate I crippled treaty negotiations at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) 15 in Copenhagen, which I attended. Climategate II crippled them again at COP-17 in Durban. With COP-20 now underway in Lima, Peru, intending to lay the groundwork for a binding global agreement at COP-21 next year in Paris to reduce global warming by curbing carbon dioxide emissions, it seems appropriate to review the three great legacies of Climategate.

I’ve read hundreds of articles on Climategate and almost all of the first batch and hundreds of the second batch of the emails, including an exceptionally helpful collection and analysis of the first batch by physicist John Costella. Like many others, I’ve been stunned at the heights of mendacity, hubris, bullying, collusion, and contempt for the law, for truth and fairness, for fellow scientists, and for fellow human beings the documents revealed. In reading through the emails, one feels the need every once in a while to take a bath.



Perhaps most ironic—but why should it surprise?—is that the bullying disclosed in Climategate continued in efforts to squelch the spread of the damning information. Gavin Schmidt, of global warming true believers’ RealClimate, emailed blogger Lucia Liljegren saying,

As I am certain you are aware, hacking into private emails is very illegal. If legitimate, your scoop was therefore almost certainly obtained illegally . . . . you . . . might end up being questioned as part of any investigation that might end up happening. I don’t think that bloggers are shielded under any press shield laws and so, if I were you, I would not post any content, nor allow anyone else to do so.

Aside from his unsupported assumption that the emails were hacked rather than leaked from inside CRU—an assumption that still lacks any evidence—Schmidt should have known that emails by researchers as part of their work under government grants are not private but are subject to Freedom of Information Acts in both the U.S. and the U.K.—which indeed they were ruled, but too late to be of use, after investigation in the U.K. But when you’re trying to intimidate a foe, who cares about truth? Though he wrote “If legitimate,” Schmidt also almost certainly knew the emails were legitimate. Someone had managed to post them (albeit briefly) on RealClimate, and Schmidt had been able to examine them before he wrote to Liljegren. Many were his own.

Climategate’s First Legacy: On Climate, Appeals to Peer Review No Longer Trump

The first legacy of Climategate has been obvious from the beginning. Advocates of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) alarmism would never again be able to get away with appealing to peer review as their response to every criticism. Climategate showed that the peer review process had been utterly corrupted in climate-change science. Far from ensuring the quality of scientific work underlying published articles, it ensured only the conclusions—and shielded the underlying work from scrutiny.

Climategate’s Second Legacy: On Climate, Appeals to “Consensus” No Longer Trump

The second legacy of Climategate, to which the first led directly, is that the world began to recognize that the “scientific consensus” that recent global warming has been outside the bounds of historic variability in either rate or magnitude, that it has been driven primarily rather than only slightly by human emissions of greenhouse gases, that it threatens to become catastrophic to human and non-human ecosystems, and that the benefits of trying to reducing the warming by curbing carbon dioxide emissions will be worth more than the risks—that whole bundle of beliefs often labeled “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming” (CAGW)—never really existed. It was fabricated by a self-serving inner cadre of true believers epistemologically crippled by group think and determined to vilify and silence all who dared question them. In the wake of Climategates I and II, their control over scientific discourse in refereed journals is eroding. Dissenting scientists who were cowed into silence before are coming into the open, and the mirage of consensus is dissipating.

As my colleagues Roy Spencer, Ross McKitrick, and Paul Driessen and I wrote in 2006 in A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming, the existence of the consensus was open to serious challenge:

In 2004 Science published the results of a study by Naomi Oreskes claiming that “without substantial disagreement, scientists find human activities are heating the earth’s surface.” But an attempt [by Benny Peiser] at replicating the study both found that she had made serious mistakes in handling data and, after re-examining the data, reached contrary conclusions. Oreskes claimed that an analysis of 928 abstracts in the ISI database containing the phrase “climate change” proved the alleged consensus. It turned out that she had searched the database using three keywords (“global climate change”) instead of the two (“climate change”) she reported–reducing the search results by an order of magnitude. Searching just on “climate change” instead found almost 12,000 articles in the same database in the relevant decade. Excluded from Oreskes’s list were “countless research papers that show that global temperatures were similar or even higher during the Holocene Climate Optimum and the Medieval Warm Period when atmospheric CO2 levels were much lower than today; that solar variability is a key driver of recent climate change; and that climate modeling is highly uncertain.” Further, even using the three key words she actually used, “global climate change,” brought up 1,247 documents, of which 1,117 included abstracts. An analysis of those abstracts showed that

  • only 1 percent explicitly endorsed what Oreskes called the “consensus view”;
  • 29 percent implicitly accepted it “but mainly focus[ed] on impact assessments of envisaged global climate change”;
  • 8 percent focused on “mitigation”;
  • 6 percent focused on methodological questions;
  • 8 percent dealt “exclusively with paleo-climatological research unrelated to recent climate change”;
  • 3 percent “reject[ed] or doubt[ed] the view that human activities are the main drivers of the ‘the [sic] observed warming over the last 50 years’”;
  • 4 percent focused “on natural factors of global climate change”; and
  • 42 percent did “not include any direct or indirect link or reference to human activities, CO2 or greenhouse gas emissions, let alone anthropogenic forcing of recent climate change.”

More recently, in attempts to revive belief in overwhelming scientific consensus on CAGW, three articles based on surveys have prompted mistaken claims that “97 percent” or “98 percent” of climate scientists hold the alarmist view of global warming.

The first, Peter Doran and Maggie Zimmerman’s “Examining the Consensus on Climate Change” (EOS, January 2009), concluded, “It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.” However, the two questions asked in the survey were framed such that even the most ardent skeptics—like Fred Singer, Richard Lindzen, and Roy Spencer—would have answered “Yes”:

  1. “When compared with pre‐1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”
  2. “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

As Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast observed, “At issue is not whether the climate warmed since the Little Ice Age or whether there is a human impact on climate, but whether the warming is unusual in rate or magnitude; whether that part of it attributable to human causes is likely to be beneficial or harmful on net, and by how much; and whether the benefits of reducing the human contribution will outweigh the costs, so as to justify public policies aimed at reducing it. The survey is silent on these questions.”

The second, “Expert credibility in climate change” (PNAS, April 9, 2010), by William Anderegg, James Prall, Jacob Harold, and the late Stephen Schneider, reported that a survey of publication and citation data of 1,372 climate researchers found that 97 to 98 percent believed that “anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for ‘most’ of the ‘unequivocal’ warming of the Earth’s average global temperature over the second half of the 20th century.” But this falls short of finding that these scientists consider global warming a crisis or believe the science is sufficiently sound to be the basis for public policy, as Bast points out. Bast then goes on to show how publication bias could account for much or most of the apparent consensus.

The third, John Cook et al.’s “Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature,” purported to find that “Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.” That paper was critiqued in another paper by David Legates et al., who argued that the actual consensus supportable by the abstracts on which Cook et al. based their judgment of 97% was only 0.3%. They critiqued only Cook et al.’s statistical methodology and methods of interpreting the literature; they didn’t look at the quality of the selection process by which Cook et al. determined which papers to include and which not to include in the ones counted in their survey.

But another scholar did look at the selection process and found it “multiply fraudulent.” SoJosé Duarte called for Environmental Research Letters to retract Cook et al. He pointed out that although Cook et al. had claimed to have excluded papers on “social science, education, research about people’s views on climate,” they had in fact included many such—and he gave examples. He also listed some of the many properly scientific papers that Cook et al. ignored but should have included and that would have counted against their 97% consensus conclusion.

“The Cook et al. (2013) 97% paper included a bunch of psychology studies, marketing papers, and surveys of the general public as scientific endorsement of anthropogenic climate change,” Duarte wrote. He went on:

Let’s walk through that sentence again. The Cook et al 97% paper included a bunch of psychology studies, marketing papers, and surveys of the general public as scientific endorsement of anthropogenic climate change. This study was multiply fraudulent and multiply invalid already – e.g their false claim that the raters were blind to the identities of the authors of the papers they were rating, absolutely crucial for a subjective rating study. (They maliciously and gleefully revealed “skeptic” climate science authors to each other in an online forum, as well as other authors. Since they were random people working at home, they could simply google the titles of papers and see the authors, making blindness impossible to enforce or claim to begin with. This all invalidates a subjective rater study.) But I was blindsided by the inclusion of non-climate papers. I found several of these in ten minutes with their database – there will be more such papers for those who search longer. I’m not willing to spend a lot of time with their data – invalid or fraudulent studies should simply be retracted, because they have no standing. Sifting through all the data is superfluous when the methods are invalid and structurally biased, which is the case here for several different reasons, as I discuss further down.

I contacted the journal – Environmental Research Letters – in June, and called for the retraction of this paper, and it’s currently in IOP’s hands (the publisher of ERL). I assume they found all these papers already, and more. The authors explicitly stated in their paper (Table 1) that “social science, education and research on people’s views” were classified as Not Climate Related, and thus not counted as evidence of scientific endorsement of anthropogenic climate change. All of the papers below were counted as endorsement.

Following that Duarte listed 19 papers that Cook et al.’s criteria should have excluded but that were included instead—and remember, he expressly said that he had found these in just the first 10 minutes of looking at the database.

Aside from the existence and meaning of the alleged consensus, the very appeal to consensus is itself a tell-tale sign that one has moved from science to politics. As Spencer, McKitrick, Driessen, and I pointed out in 2006, “First, unlike politics, but like truth, science is not a matter of consensus but of data and valid arguments. Second, as Thomas Kuhn so famously pointed out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, great advances in science, often involving major paradigm shifts, occur when small minorities patiently—and often in the face of withering opposition–point out anomalies in the data and inadequacies in the reigning explanatory paradigms until their number and weight become so large as to require a wholesale paradigm shift, and what once was a minority view becomes a new majority view. Indeed, [as philosopher of science Robert K. Merton put it in 1938,] skepticism is essential to science: ‘Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.’”

Further, Judith Curry has argued persuasively that consensus among scientists is of any significance at all only if it is spontaneous, but that the “consensus” on global warming—such as it might (or might not) be—was assiduously sought, promoted, constructed, by leaders of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “The manufactured consensus of the IPCC has had the unintended consequences,” she wrote, “of distorting the science, elevating the voices of scientists that dispute the consensus, and motivating actions by the consensus scientists and their supporters that have diminished the public’s trust in the IPCC.”

Climategate’s Third Legacy: Pal-to-Pal Review Replacing Peer Review

The third legacy of Climategate is one that I didn’t recognize at the outset, and for the long-term function of science it might be the most important. James Delingpole brought it to my attention in How Climategate Killed Peer Review. His article led me to Patrick Courrielche’s three-part series titled “Peer-to-Peer Review: How ‘Climategate’ Marks the Maturing of a New Science Movement” (Part IPart IIPart III).

Courrielche’s series not only provides the best concise history of Climategate (on which Steven Mosher and Thomas Fuller report at much greater length in their book Climategate: The CRU-tape Letters, and A.W. Montford in The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science), and shows just how devastating it is to the entire case for dangerous AGW, but also explains just how the third consequence of Climategate has come about. The failure of the vaunted peer review process to detect profound, and often elementary, errors, some of them clearly the result of dishonesty, in data gathering, data reporting, and statistical methodology was laid bare by a different process that Courrielche calls peer-to-peer review.

In traditional peer review, a scholar submits an article to a journal, whose editor then sends it out to several recognized experts in the field for their evaluation. They might point out weaknesses and call for revisions, or find it acceptable pretty much as is, or report that its flaws are so great as to disqualify it from publication. Ideally, the peer review process should be blind—the reviewers don’t know who the author(s) are, and vice versa. They should not be involved in a small network publishing in the same field. And personal commitment and opinion as to the “right outcome” of a study should be completely irrelevant.

Sadly, in climate change science, and especially in paleoclimatology, peer review has been irretrievably compromised by at least two factors. First, a scientific orthodoxy took over, making affirmation of dangerous AGW a prerequisite for publication. Second, the community of scientists working in the field became incestuous. They reinforced each other’s work and failed to interact with other specialists who might have alerted them to basic errors arising from their lack of specialized training (e.g., in statistical methods).

Along the way, the anonymity of peer review disappeared. Scientists committed to the same orthodoxy, often having co-authored published studies, reviewed each other’s submissions and shielded each other from serious critique. As long as the conclusions were right, the articles were recommended for publication.

As the Congressionally commissioned Wegman Report, which found that Michael Mann’s now infamous “hockey stick” graph of historic temperatures rested on cherry-picked data and basic fallacies in statistics and that criticisms of it by Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrickwere “valid and compelling,” rather mildly put it, “authors in the area of paleoclimate studies are closely connected and thus ‘independent studies’ may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface. We note that there is no evidence that Dr. Mann or any of the other authors in paleoclimatology studies have had significant interactions with mainstream statisticians.”

Peer review having failed abysmally in climate-change science, scientists devoted to the free exchange of ideas on a level playing ground created, probably unintentionally, a substitute: peer-to-peer review.

You might picture peer-to-peer review as a swarm of piranhas hungrily tearing apart an animal that’s fallen into their waters. The picture isn’t pretty. There’s a seething, frothing turmoil in the water as hundreds of the voracious fish, with their rapier teeth, tear off chunks of flesh. In short order, all that’s left of the animal is its skeleton. It’s been picked clean of all the soft, edible parts.

In peer-to-peer review, the hapless animal is any published scientific study that happens to raise suspicions in a scientist reader proficient in cyberspace. He detects a soft spot in the study, attacks it, and sees where it leads. His initial reports quickly attract other peers, who look for more soft spots, or try to deepen the penetration of the first one. The hypotheses of a strong article survive, perhaps with some revisions, the peers perhaps having disclosed a few minor mistakes. A weak article gets shredded.

Peer-to-peer review is in principle really no different from how science has worked for centuries. Good scientists are notoriously skeptical. Given time, they test and re-test each other’s conclusions, and the respected hypotheses or theories of one generation are the discarded rubbish of the next.

What makes peer-to-peer review different is its rapidity, made possible by the medium of the Internet. Weblogs like Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit, Lucia Liljegren’s The Blackboard, Jeff Id’s The Air Vent, Bob Tisdale’s Climate Observations, Anthony Watts’s Watts Up With That?, and others enable rapid-fire dissection of newly published articles by people who are absolute sticklers for detail. An author who has fabricated, fudged, exaggerated, cherry picked, or suppressed data or who has used bogus statistical methods simply doesn’t have a chance. He and his article will get ripped apart like a pig in the Orinoco River. Truth will out. As Jesus said, “there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known” (Matthew 10:26).

Has Peer Review Ever Really Improved the Quality of Science Publications?

Frankly, it’s to the benefit of science and society alike that peer-to-peer review may be replacing peer review. Drummond Rennie, Deputy Editor of the Journal Of the American Medical Association and intellectual father of the international congresses of peer review that have been held every four years since 1989, has said, “If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market,” and went on to say, “Peer review would not get onto the market because we have no convincing evidence of its benefits but a lot of evidence of its flaws.”

“No convincing evidence of its benefits but a lot of evidence of its flaws.” Yes.

In a blog piece at June 9, 2011, meteorologist Chip Knappenberger presented and discussed the implications of communications from MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen documenting bias in and corruption of the scientific peer-review process against “climate skeptics,” focusing on the case of his recent submission to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that was refused there under suspicious circumstances but later accepted by the Asian Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences.

“The unfortunate side-effect of this differential treatment,” writes Lindzen, “is that a self-generating consensus slows the forward progress of scientific knowledge—a situation well described by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

have discussed peer review failure and corruption in climate science, where high-stakes politics and business have driven it to extremes.

It now arises that the failures occur not just in climate science but across the board, as Richard Smith’s “Classical Peer Review: An Empty Gun” (published in the peer-reviewed [the irony is intentional] journal Breast Cancer Review)  reveals:

… almost no scientists know anything about the evidence on peer review. It is a process that is central to science—deciding which grant proposals will be funded, which papers will be published, who will be promoted, and who will receive a Nobel prize. We might thus expect that scientists, people who are trained to believe nothing until presented with evidence, would want to know all the evidence available on this important process. Yet not only do scientists know little about the evidence on peer review but most continue to believe in peer review, thinking it essential for the progress of science. Ironically, a faith based rather than an evidence based process lies at the heart of science.

Smith identified six serious drawbacks of peer review:

  1. Firstly, it is very expensive in terms of money and academic time. … The Research Information Network has calculated that the global cost of peer review is £1.9 billion [10]. The cost in time is also enormous, and many scientists argue that time spent peer reviewing would be better spent doing science.
  2. Secondly, peer review is slow. The process regularly takes months and sometimes years. Publication may then take many more months. A friend of mine, a fellow of the Royal Society, has written a paper that I think very important for global health. As I write, it is still unpublished after two years of being reviewed by several ‘top’ journals. None of the reviewers have raised a major flaw with the study.
  3. Thirdly, peer review is largely a lottery. Multiple studies have shown how if several authors are asked to review a paper, their agreement on whether it should be published is little higher than would be expected by chance [11].
  4. A fourth problem with peer reviews is that it does not detect errors. At the British Medical Journal we took a 600 word study that we were about to publish and inserted eight errors [13]. We then sent the paper to about 300 reviewers. The median number of errors spotted was two, and 20% of the reviewers did not spot any. We did further studies of deliberately inserting errors, some very major, and came up with similar results.
  5. The fifth problem with pre-publication peer review is bias. There have been many studies of bias—with conflicting results—but the most famous was published in Behavioural and Brain Sciences[14]. The authors took 12 studies that came from prestigious institutions that had already been published in psychology journals. They retyped the papers, made minor changes to the titles, abstracts, and introductions but changed the authors’ names and institutions. They invented institutions with names like the Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential. The papers were then resubmitted to the journals that had first published them. In only three cases did the journals realise that they had already published the paper, and eight of the remaining nine were rejected—not because of lack of originality but because of poor quality. The authors concluded that this was evidence of bias against authors from less prestigious institutions. Most authors from less prestigious institutions, particularly those in the developing world, believe that peer review is biased against them.
  6. Finally, peer review can be all too easily abused. Reviewers can steal ideas and present them as their own or produce an unjustly harsh review to block or at least slow down the publication of the ideas of a competitor. These have all happened.

Four years ago, Robert Higgs also discussed peer review with considerable insider’s insight:

Peer review, on which lay people place great weight, varies from being an important control, where the editors and the referees are competent and responsible, to being a complete farce, where they are not. As a rule, not surprisingly, the process operates somewhere in the middle, being more than a joke but less than the nearly flawless system of Olympian scrutiny that outsiders imagine it to be. Any journal editor who desires, for whatever reason, to reject a submission can easily do so by choosing referees he knows full well will knock it down; likewise, he can easily obtain favorable referee reports. As I have always counseled young people whose work was rejected, seemingly on improper or insufficient grounds, the system is a crap shoot. Personal vendettas, ideological conflicts, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, sheer self-promotion, and a great deal of plain incompetence and irresponsibility are no strangers to the scientific world; indeed, that world is rife with these all-too-human attributes. In no event can peer review ensure that research is correct in its procedures or its conclusions.

That last sentence sounds like it was written to describe the Climategate emails. Remember that the next time somebody tries to shut down debate by saying, “But is your source peer reviewed?”

In October  2011 Nature reported that while the rate of publication of scientific papers had risen by about 10 percent from the early 2000s to 2011, the rate of retraction had risen by an astonishing 1,333 percent. A year earlier Dr. Ferric C. Fang, editor-in-chief of the journalInfection and Immunity, discovered misconduct by the author of several papers in his journal, resulting in their retraction. He and a colleague then began searching to find out how common retractions had become. “And before long they reached a troubling conclusion,” the New York Times reported April 16, 2012: “not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem—‘a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,’ as Dr. Fang put it.” (Pardon me for a moment while I relish the similarity between “a dysfunctional scientific climate” and “a dysfunctional climate science.”) Dr. David Korn of Harvard Medical School agreed that “there are problems all through the system.”

One might think the failure of peer review is at the bottom of the rising rate of retractions of papers published in peer-reviewed science journals, but that seems unlikely. It might be so if there were evidence of eroding quality of peer review, but it seems peer review’s quality has never been better than its currently miserable state. Perhaps, instead, the rising rate of retraction is due precisely to the replacement of peer review with peer-to-peer review. As theNew York Times reported, “because journals are now online, bad papers are simply reaching a wider audience, making it more likely that errors will be spotted. ‘You can sit at your laptop and pull a lot of different papers together,’ Dr. Fang said.” And that is just what peer-to-peer review is.

The demise of peer review by the politicization and ideologization of science is sad, but its replacement by peer-to-peer review should be celebrated. Peer-to-peer review is the free market of ideas at its best.

How Much Climate Science Isn’t Really Even Science?

As Climategate and other transgressions of fundamental scientific procedure by global warming alarmists continue to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that a great deal of what’s been called “climate science” isn’t science at all. It’s ideological propaganda, often religious (but certainly not Biblical [see page 3]), masquerading as science.

In Climate Change and the Death of Science, British scientist Kevin McGrane nails practitioners of post-normal science fair and square, in their own words, demonstrating that even they know and admit they’re no longer doing science but politics. To put it bluntly, they stabbed real science in the back. The article strikes at the very root of many environmentalists’ routine practices.

McGrane explains brilliantly how science got hijacked by post-normal science along the hurried way to the “overwhelming scientific consensus” on manmade global warming. He points out that one of the world’s leading global warming alarmists is himself a devotee of post-normal science and therefore a traitor to real science.

The article quotes post-normalist (and therefore not to be suspected of presenting post-normal science in a bad light) Eva Kunseler distinguishing normal and post-normal science thus:

Normal science

[Normal] Science is a logic inductive process leading to theory formulation, while all the way put through critical tests that have been deductively derived from the theory; Popper’s critical rationalist concept of science is an objective progression toward the truth. . . . The term normal science refers to the routine work of scientists within a paradigm; slowly accumulating knowledge in accord with established theoretical assumptions. . . . The paradigm is enlarged and frontiers of knowledge and techniques pushed forward.


The exercise of scholarly activities is defined by the dominance of the Mertonian CUDOS norms of science. They include:

  • (C)ommunalism – the common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which scientists give up intellectual property rights in exchange for recognition and esteem;
  • (U)niversalism – according to which claims to truth are evaluated in terms of universal or value-free criteria;
  • (D)isinterestedness – according to which scientists are rewarded for acting in ways that appear to be selfless;
  • (O)rganized (S)kepticism – all ideas must be tested and are subject to structured community scrutiny.

Post-normal science

A new concept of science was introduced by Funtowicz and Ravetz during the 1990s …. The concept of post-normal science goes beyond the traditional assumptions that science is both certain and value-free …. The exercise of scholarly activities is defined by the dominance of goal orientation where scientific goals are controlled by political or societal actors …. Scientists’ integrity lies not in disinterestedness but in their behaviour as stakeholders. Normal science made the world believe that scientists should and could provide certain, objective factual information. … The guiding principle of normal science – the goal of achievement of factual knowledge—must be modified to fit the post-normal principle. … For this purpose, post-normal scientists should be capable of establishing extended peer communities and allow for ‘extended facts’ from non-scientific experts …. In post-normal science, the maintenance and enhancement of quality, rather than the establishment of factual knowledge, is the key task of scientists …. Involved social actors must agree on the definition of perceptions, narratives, interpretation of models, data and indicators … scientists have to contribute to society by learning as quickly as possible about different perceptions … instead of seeking deep ultimate knowledge.

If real scientists don’t rise up and point out that this emperor—“post-normal science”—has no clothes, the whole scientific enterprise will die. And the world will be a much poorer place for its demise.

To illustrate that people right at the top of the pecking order of alarmist climate-change “scientists” know exactly what they’re doing—post-normal science, not real science—McGrane presents these telling quotations from Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Centre and Professor of Climate Change (note that title—not of climate, but of climate change) at the University of East Anglia, home of the Climate Research Unit, of Climategate infamy. Hulme prepared climate-change scenarios and reports for the British government, the European Commission, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations Population Division, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (as a lead author for the chapter on “Climate scenario development” for the 2001 Assessment Report and a contributing author on several other chapters), and the World Wildlife Fund. Says Hulme:

It has been labelled “post-normal” science. Climate change seems to fall in this category. Disputes in post-normal science focus … on the process of science—who gets funded, who evaluates quality, who has the ear of policy …. The IPCC is a classic example of a post-normal scientific activity.

Within a capitalist world order, climate change is actually a convenient phenomenon to come along.

The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow … exchanges often reduce to ones about scientific truth rather than about values, perspectives and political preferences.

… ‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth-seeking … scientists—and politicians—must trade truth for influence. What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy. …

The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved …. It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change—the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals—to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.

Climate change also teaches us to rethink what we really want for ourselves … mythical ways of thinking about climate change reflect back to us truths about the human condition. …

The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us. … Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.

… climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences … climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes…climate change has become “the mother of all issues”, the key narrative within which all environmental politics—from global to local—is now framed. … Rather than asking “how do we solve climate change?” we need to turn the question around and ask: “how does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations …?”

The warfare between post-normal science and real science is important not just in the debate over “climate change” (see The REAL Climate Change Deniers), but in all kinds of issues in which science interfaces with policy. Like the pseudo-Christian cults that borrow vocabulary from Christianity but redefine all the terms, post-normal science is simply the application of rhetoric borrowed from the sciences to policy debates, cloaking one particular policy preference with the authority of “science,” and successful at doing so only to the extent that policy makers and the public are ignorant of the fact that post-normal science—and much “climate science” is precisely that—isn’t science at all.


About the Author(s)

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.

Dr. Beisner is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance; former Associate Professor of Historical Theology & Social Ethics, at Knox Theological Seminary, and of Interdisciplinary Studies, at Covenant College; and author of “Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate” and “Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future.”


Error | Climate Realists


The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.