Scientists pay now, or must pay with interest later

Peter Ridd is an Australian geophysicist who has spent a lifetime studying the Great Barrier Reef, and recently won a court case against his dismissal from James Cook University, in which the judge was utterly scathing about the dirty tactics used to muzzle his academic freedom of speech and to discredit him as an individual.

Apart from his interest in the science of coral reefs in general, and the Great Barrier Reef in particular, he has also been concerned with greater issues in science like the replication crisis, after he discovered by experience the Catch 22 situation that although science is only properly validated by replication, research funding policies restrict grants to original research. That alone makes modern science a fundamentally broken system.

When one of his colleague’s research articles showed photos of the reef dying, ostensibly because of climate change, the photos themselves looked suspicious, and the claim did not match his extensive observational experience. So he sent staff out to where the research was done, and found the reef healthy. The research was mistaken, or fraudulent.

The whole story of his subsequent silencing and sacking is told on this video, and if you have any interest at all in the problems besetting the scientific enterprise today, you should invest an hour in watching it:

Ridd’s opponents have tried the usual tactic of suggesting he sacrificed his career and reputation to gain money and fame, which is a little implausible given that he’s the kind of old fashioned  guy who never even accepted payment for chapters in books, on the basis that writing on science was what his university paid him for. It was simpler just to live on his salary. It is pretty evident from the video that he’s honest, and if anything a bit naive in the dirty political ways of the world.

The most concerning message of the video, to me, is the lack of any sign of change in policy from his university, or of others, after the damning court judgement against them. But worse than that, actually, is the lack of any significant support from working scientists, either in his own field or in others, on the matter of academic freedom. Ridd suggests that since most scientists are doing uncontroversial work in their own fields, and have no interest in replicating old work or challenging accepted paradigms, they simply don’t want to get involved. If you’re a scientist, is that you?

But scientists are also aware of the dire personal consequences of speaking out freely, from the few examples that exist of whistle-blowers. For example, consider Nils-Axel Mörner, who as head of the Paleogeophysics & Geodynamics Institute at Stockholm University, specialising in sea-level changes, was appointed to review the papers produced for the IPCC on sea-level change. He considered most of the science amateurish, with student-level errors, conclusions in one case being refuted by the diagram in the text. The IPCC’s response, in that case, was simply to remove the diagram and leave the false conclusions intact. But they also sacked Mörner, since when he has been vilified as a “climate science denier” throughout the world. Who would want to go through that, even for the millions of euros of oil company and Neo-nazi money regularly claimed to be the motive for sacrificing lifelong professional integrity (but see here where you can check where the real oil bucks go)?

So, you scientists, it’s a whole lot easier to go with the flow and assume that those like Mörner and Ridd are, as every right-thinking person knows, troublemakers who got what they deserved. Except that, in Ridd’s case, “the judge did not agree, and he told them so” (to quote Maxwell’s Silver Hammer). If you are one of those who think that the Dover trial dealt the death-knell to ID, then to be consistent you must also accept that all is not well in the practice of science in universities, and ask whether those in your country are exempt. I can think of examples in mine that show they are not.

Now, science has been corrupted by politics and groupthink before, as I’ve documented in posts in the past. To take a couple of examples, consider the popularity of Eugenics, which was mainstream thinking in the 1930s amongst the scientific intelligentsia, only superstitious Catholics and degenerate hicks being against it. The result of the Second World War enabled all the blame for the Holocaust to go on to Hitler whilst those who had both encouraged and financed German Eugenics amongst allied nations quietly dropped it from their discussions, or at least the word. “Population Control” remains popular with many.

The story of acid rain and the imminent death of the world’s forests is another example – this doomsday scenario was endorsed by the NAS in America, the Royal Society in Britain, and equivalent prestigious bodies round the world. The US government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an investigation – but by the time it was presented (only one senator turned up, I’m told) the science was discredited, for forest die-back was mainly due to soil acidification from the kind of trees planted, not fossil fuels, and now acid rain is largely forgotten. But once again, the groupthink of the worldwide scientific establishment could be quietly buried, because by that time they had begun to unite around a new apocalyptic prophecy, now called climate change.

Now, I have become thoroughly convinced that the science around global warming has been, from the start, fatally politicized (“When politics and science meet, politics always wins – the politics gene is dominant”), often corrupt, and undoubtedly pushed far, far, far beyond what even the compromised science says by self-serving politicians and fanatical NGOs. But for all that, the climate has been warming so far, and so it’s conceivable that the Maldives will indeed sink, the Barrier Reef will die, and civilization will be destroyed by tornadoes, heat waves, forest fires, floods, Brexit and Donald Trump.

And if that were to happen, no doubt you scientists would be hailed as heroes and prophets by the public, despite the poor quality of the science and the worse quality of the IPCC reports for policy-makers. To turn out to be right covers a multitude of inadequate reasons for being so. However, given the inevitable failure of green energy to reverse the disaster (since we’ve been missing remedial deadlines for the last forty years and show every sign of continuing to do so as emissions continue to rise), it would only be a Pyrrhic victory as the world would probably become too post-apocalyptic for the luxury of science. No doubt appreciative neighbours would teach you how to hoe the desert sand yourselves.

But for myself, I think the global warming scam is going to come crashing down in a few years, just as eugenics and acid rain did before. Every prediction from climate change models, and from the politicians and activists who laud them, has proved wrong so far, and I see no likelihood of that pattern changing. At some stage the temperatures will either level off, so that no new tweaking of the data will provide an even vaguely plausible fit to the models, and/or it will become obvious that nothing much has become extinct, that Manhattan is still not underwater, that the ice-caps and walruses still exist – and, in short, that the natural world hasn’t changed much.

Only this time round, the difference is that the propaganda has been so relentless that even if nature is as it always was, the human world will have changed, and greatly for the worse. Fuel poverty will have caused worldwide political upheaval, democratic freedoms will have been crushed by the war-footing so eagerly adopted already by governments like ours and Canada’s (many argue that such a totalitarian world government is the real plan anyway), and, at very least, people will have realized that they sacrificed hard-earned trillions upon trillions of dollars, pounds, euros and yen for a lie.

You would assume that mass anger will, under such circumstances, be vented on those who have propagated that lie: politicians, journalists, environmentalists, billionaire “philanthopists” – and behind them all, the scientists, 97% of whom were said (demonstrably falsely) to be fully behind the global warming agenda. But true or false, that 97% never denied the claim in public, because it was somebody else’s problem, or because they didn’t want to be seen as the only soldier marching in step. The world political and economic order will have been devastated, whilst those who were in the best position to challenge it said nothing.

But think on this: If Greenpeace and the WWF end up discredited, they will simply disband – where are CND or the Animal Liberation Front now? If the IPCC is dismantled, there will be nobody there to throw bricks at. Greta Thunberg will be an adviser to some government, probably on economics or PR, and everyone will forget her role in climate activism – and if they don’t, she will remind them that she only told them to listen to the scientists.

The politicians both at national and international level may be voted out of office, but they will always be able to join the Bilderbergers or do lectures on their failures for large sums. Moreover, they will have the cast-iron excuse that, as they urged others to do, they listened to the scientists, and those scientific experts did the work that they, as non-experts, had no choice but to to rely on.

The journalistic media, who told outright lies to push the agenda along will, be able to say that they, too, only got their material from the IPCC, from government experts and from NGOs like Greenpeace whose non-peer-reviewed reports were authoritative enough to be used by the IPCC. In other words, they will say, don’t shoot the messenger – we got the stuff from the scientists.

Everyone, in other words, will pass the buck to the scientists, who currently bask in the aura of being the infallible priesthood of the coming apocalypse. And when the prophecies fail it will not just be the climate scientists who are discredited, but that allegedly vast consensus of scientists who, either by their words or by their acquiescence, put their expertise behind the punitive taxes, and the Extinction Rebellions, and the faked documentaries, and the totalitarian state control.

It will not make a scrap of difference if you’re actually working on something entirely unrelated like robotics or molecular biology: it is “Science™” which is currently heralded as the Priesthood of Climate Change, and whose consensus is reportedly only challenged by the mercenary troublemakers who are rightly ostracized by the Academic community (as even those scientists posting on Peaceful Science appear to agree, by their response to my piece on “Walrusgate”). But if climate change were discredited, it would be that whole consensus, the whole profession of science, that would lose its intellectual and sociological authority. The fact that paedophile priests are a tiny minority has still tarred the whole Catholic Church by the same brush, and especially those priests who said nothing when they had the opportunity to know the truth.

That’s bad for science as an institution – imagine a return to the pre-Huxley days when only moneyed gentlemen could afford to do science. No taxpayer would fund a discredited enterprise, or send their kids to university to join it. Is that what you want?

It’s bad for individuals, who may not only find their careers abruptly terminated, but also find that admitting to being a “scientist” has much the same effect on people as being discovered as a “collaborator” in France in 1946.

But of course, it is worst for society, which actually does need rigorous science to progress – as indeed it has even since before Bacon, as intellectuals studied how to build clocks and improve ploughs. A discredited politics leads to anarchy. A discredited religion leads to moral and spiritual collapse. And a discredited science leads to an ignorant culture.

I suggest that such unpleasant outcomes are a very real possibility for a profession that, in its public face, is putting all its eggs in the anthropogenic climate disaster basket, if that basket turns out to have a hole in it.

There will, however, be a few brave souls who will research the data and make it their business to speak, despite the personal cost. For myself, I’d rather be remembered as an Alexandr Solzhenitsyn than as an Eric Hobsbawm . How about you?

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Politics and sociology, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Scientists pay now, or must pay with interest later

  1. GD GD says:

    The case of Ridd highlights the difficulties faced by scientists within a highly political environment. The normal workings of peer review can be messy and a lot is subjective, but overall the results are acceptable. Peer review however, breaks down when the scientific community becomes polarised into those for and against.

    The major difficulty(s) are attempts to model and quantify the impact(s) of increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is established, so there is no argument, as is the carbon cycle. Just how do these major natural cycles interact and what are the results? Here we get pinion polarised, with scare-mongering on one side, and scoffing and negating on the other. Peer review cannot cope.

    The result is the worst outcome possible, with inconvenient truths and convenient lies abounding.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      The problem with Ridd in particular is the way that a polarisation on one subject becomes rampant in disparate fields. The doom of the Barrier Reef became (like polar bears and walruses) a poster-child for selling one side of the story to the public.

      So someone challenging the state of the reef comes to be regarded not just a dissenting voice in that field, but as an enemy of the overarching narrative of climate change. So it goes beyond peer review failure to character assassination and unjust dismissal from his post.

      I gather (though I’ve not looked) that the vilification has continued over at Josh Swamidass’s Peaceful Science, and I have been included in it for writing this blog. Not all from scientists, it seems, but they seem no more susceptible to objectivity.

  2. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    Excellent points, GD, especially:

    “Peer review however, breaks down when the scientific community becomes polarised into those for and against.”

    “Here we get [o]pinion polarised, with scare-mongering on one side, and scoffing and negating on the other. Peer review cannot cope.”

  3. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    “So someone challenging the state of the reef comes to be regarded not just a dissenting voice in that field, but as an enemy of the overarching narrative of climate change. So it goes beyond peer review failure to character assassination and unjust dismissal from his post.”

    Well said, Jon. Over at Peaceful Science, the pseudonymous biology worker t. aquaticus has not actually listened to the Peter Ridd video, and isn’t interested in doing so, but nonetheless responds to it as if Ridd’s challenge were primarily about the overarching climate change narrative, rather than about coral reefs. The reasoning seems to be that anyone who criticizes the majority of his scientific peers about anything must be a contrarian by nature and therefore must disagree with the current consensus on global warming. (And therefore is rightly condemned, t. aquaticus appears to be uttering, sotto voce.)

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Eddie

      Sadly, it’s like the way neither T_aquaticus or others bothered to examine the *evidence* I presented on the faked walrus footage in Attenborough’s documentary.

      The logic is the same used in more purely political spheres now, in which you know that X is a Neo-nazi because everyone does, and therefore you refuse to discuss any issues with them on some dubious moral grounds, though it is considered moral to stand in fron to them spitting in their face, or sounding a klaxon.

      So both in the case of the walruses, and Susan Crockford, and the Barrier Reef, and Peter Ridd, the role of the “peaceful scientist” is to identify (from hearsay) that they are “denialists,” at which point one must ignoire them, whilst the thought police somewhere else do the necessary silencing.

      Needless to say, that’s not how I was taught to do science, but we seem to have moved forward now… and hence the replication crisis, and so on. That’s why my OP is an appeal to scientists to fight to get their house in order, for acquiescence is support, and the public has begun to notice on a large scale, and it is dangerous.

      Why else do people think that educated people are becoming vaccine-refusers and even, in significant numbers, flat-earthers? That indicates a wholesale loss of trust in scientists, and we don’t need to look far for the reasons.

  4. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    By the way, Jon, have you heard this one?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqzcA7SsqSA

    It’s quite good.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Saw this one early on, thanks to the Peaceful Science guys’ accusations that I was a denialist, prompting me to reserach whether I ought to be. I then backed it up by looking at some of the scientific (and sociology of science) literature arising from Mann’s hockey-stick fiasco.

      What can one say? One of the worst aspects is that his work ironed out climatic changes that millions of people actually remember, such as the 1930s dust-bowl years and the doomsday reports of global cooling in the 60s, or that are well known from even school history, like the mediaeval warm period and the little ice age. You’re going to be on a hiding to nothing with ordinary people when you tell them to believe your doctored proxy-model rather than their own lying eyes.

      The Roman warm period I knew about 30 years ago, without any reference to global climate, from seeing pelican bones from an iron-age lake village not far from here – they are the commonest bird remains on the site, so were an abundant food source. Not even listed as a rare visitor in my 1966 book, the Dalmatian pelican has occasionally been spotted more recently far from its eastern Mediterranean/Black Sea home. But in Roman times it bred very successfully on the Somerset levels. Seems it was far warmer then than now, but that’s all been lost in the hockey stick.

      For interested folks, one critique is that the proxy used for older (apparently level-tempereatured) periods was grafted by Mann and Co. on to observation data for the current hot spell. The proxy has a sensitivity of, at best, decades, thus ironing out even large variations, and the modern measurements are instantaneous, thus accentuating short-term changes. Totally illegitimate, as far as I can see – quite apart from numerous other issues.

  5. Ron S says:

    Love the line and the thoughts behind the comment, “the infallible priesthood of the coming apocalypse”. It appears EVERYONE believes the world is about to end, for one reason or another…

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Ron

      It is rather ironic that Christians, who invented the idea of an end to history (deriving from the Jewish Scriptures, of course), have had two thousand years to develop caution about the signs of the end.

      Historically, we attribute predictions of an end in 12 years, or whatever, to extremists of one bent or another. Now it’s mainstream and secular.

      Which isn’t to say the antennae aren’t up, as were those of the Baptists who founded my church c1650: there was a strong feeling at the time that things were so bad that Christ would return in 1666. But it seems to me a final political catastrophe is rather more likely than a final climatic catastrophe.

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