Why Do I Fail to Believe the Climate Scientists?


by John Hunt, Casey Research:

Libertarians have a powerful bullsh*t detector. Libertarians ascribe to philosophies based in part on their internal consistency, which is a key component of what Doug Casey calls “soundness.”

Set against the backdrop of a sound and rational philosophy, BS sticks out.

When it comes to climate science, my BS sensor alarm goes off like a klaxon. Is it my disdain for newspeak, since they manipulatively changed the term from global warming to climate change? Or is it something more substantial that keeps triggering my alarm?

I admit that I am not a climate scientist. In this case, that may be a strength, as I’ll explain below. First, here are my biases: Like most, I appreciate a clean, healthy environment. I value human life above that of bees and trees. I consider nature to be amoral: Nature doesn’t care about you or your family, nor does it know right from wrong. And of course, I oppose initiation of force and fraud against my fellow man. I am dismayed when people try to deny their biases.

I learned the scientific method as an academic scientist (medical researcher). Now as a writer, I am an observer. And here is what I discovered by being at the nexus of science and observation: climate science, like many fields, is rife with self-reinforcing layers of bias. My distrust of climate science isn’t because I ignore facts, nor because I disrespect the scientific method, nor because I’m in psychological denial or brainwashed by oil companies. To the contrary, my skepticism arises because I’m aware of the weaknesses of the academic process that creates the climate scientist and the research he produces.

What leads a person to become a climate scientist? How might the selection process for entry and success in the profession create problematic bias?

1. It is reasonable to consider that children raised in “climate-conscious” families are more likely to become interested in the environment than their peers. This is the first step in the multiple distillation process. They’re more likely to undertake a science fair project about climate change. Given today’s politics and popular culture, climate change projects are more likely to win awards at middle school science fairs, overseen by mostly progressive teachers who are concerned about climate change. The winner—encouraged by the attention his victory gets—gains heightened interest in the climate. In high school, encouraged by his teachers, he writes climate papers. He’s more likely than most to pursue environmental science in college.

2. College professors encourage the most dedicated students in the introductory environmental studies class to pursue climate science as a major. Others—who are uninterested or skeptical—may never again see the inside of a climate science classroom after the semester ends. The distillation toward purity continues.

3. As undergraduates pursue their master’s degrees, the crop of future climate scientists is further winnowed and distilled. Those who don’t align with their professors’ views are less successful at getting into a PhD program. Later, success within PhD programs relies on abiding by one’s dissertation committee’s wishes, and progressing in ideological alignment with them. It’s a priesthood that demands orthodoxy; heretics aren’t welcome. Toe the line is the mantra here. Toe the politically correct line so as to get the PhD as fast as possible and start making money.

4. But who hires a PhD in a subject that doesn’t lead to a commercial product? Usually, it’s a university. So he needs to pursue funding. The newly minted PhD starts applying for grants—mostly from government agencies or his own university. He creates a project designed to prove something that he believes is likely to be true, and certainly wants to be true. For instance, CO2 causes the death of baby polar bears. He writes a grant application that will be reviewed by committees populated with scientists who make their living from government-funded studies of climate change. The wise new post-doc or assistant professor therefore designs a research project carefully to align with the views of the committee. If he fails to craft his project to appeal to the reviewers on the committee, he won’t get funded. He might wash out from academia.

5. Through this academic distillation, the most orthodox climate research projects get the funding. Funding allows the now-successful young academic to buttress his hypothesis and the beliefs of the grant committee that channeled funding to him. Never underestimate how research studies in any field are designed to accomplish the affirmation of the desired outcome, as opposed to examining the truth of a hypothesis. Confirmation bias is a poison within most every field. Also, the pressured academic will find ways to justify picking and choosing data consistent with his hypothesis, and even dispensing inconsistent data, perhaps convincing himself that something went wrong with the measurement system. If his project (done well or done poorly) appears to prove his hypothesis, he then publishes a paper. If the project fails to show that CO2 hurts polar bear babies, it’s unlikely that the young scientist will write a manuscript about it.

6. Even if a particularly ethical scientist goes through the effort to write a paper that fails to support climate change concerns, it will be harder to get it published. Peer reviewers will be more critical, because it doesn’t reinforce their worldview. But it will likely be rejected by the editor before going to peer review. Then, the author would have to go through the considerable effort of resubmitting the manuscript elsewhere or respond to the reviewers’ critiques by doing more studies.

And it just isn’t worth it, because publishing such a paper could only hurt his career, marking him as a rogue, dissident, or traitor. So, the young academic understandably sticks the rejected manuscript and its data in a desk drawer. This process of selective manuscript writing, editorial bias, peer-review bias, and selective resubmission, are four important reinforcing biases that further distill the scientific liquor. Because of these, it is highly unlikely we will ever see a published article concluding that CO2 doesn’t adversely affect polar bear babies.

7. Publication of manuscripts (which are mostly going to be orthodox) is important for the success of a young academic. It’s a cycle. Grants fund research. Research enables publication. Publication enables more grants. This is the academic hamster wheel of the successful climate scientist. A negative paper could throw a monkey wrench in the cycle. That’s dangerous for a young PhD. So the remaining few young academics foolish enough to get an unorthodox or negative manuscript published are more likely to wash out of the field and become TV weathermen or journalists.

8. To top it all off, it’s well known that even pro-orthodoxy climate research papers will only get attention from the lay press and mainstream media if it is REALLY BAD NEWS. If it bleeds, it leads. So we hear of the unprecedented increases in category 5 hurricanes, deadly forest fires in California, or more floods in New Orleans—all “caused by climate change” (a statement made with zero substantiation). As for reporting on a paper saying that sea levels aren’t going to rise 200 feet? What self-disrespecting mainstream click-baiting “journalist” would waste time taking such a story to their editor?

The process of nurturing and selecting the climate scientist starts in kindergarten, progresses through high school and college, then to grant funding, manuscript preparation, and publication, and is then only seen through the lens of the media’s selective presentation. The many reinforcing layers of bias create a distillate of pure concentrated climate orthodoxy for the world to imbibe.

We are told that 97% of climate scientists agree with their own scientific consensus. That’s a misleading statement, as that figure actually refers to 97% of climate scientists actively publishing in scientific journals, and we know how unlikely it is for a climate skeptic to join the field or to get published. It’s amazing that even 3% sneak through. For this reason and others, consensus ranks alongside expert opinion in its uselessness for the identification of truth. It should be no more surprising that 97% of actively publishing climate scientists accept the climate change orthodoxy than that 97% of seminary graduates would believe in their religion.

Agnostics rarely go to seminary. Likewise, the neutral and unbiased rarely become climate scientists or remain in the field.

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