Who’s putting the “political” in climate science, now? – a note from Philip Machanick

Below is a excellent response from a fellow blogger Philip Machanick over at Opinionations regarding the recent article in The Australian newspaper by Don Aitken (social scientist, retired Vice-Chancellor and President of University of Canberra, in addition to being one of Senator Inhofe’s “concerned scientists“) – why this recieved front page coverage in such a prominent newspaper is beyond me, and Philip does an great job of debunking the rhetoric:

“On 9 April, The Australian published an article titled “Good science isn’t about consensus” on its front page.The New York Times‘s masthead motto is “All the news that’s fit to print.” The Australian‘s might as well be “All the news that fits our prejudice.”

Don Aitkin is of course entitled to his opinion (though as the late Senator Moynihan reminded us, he is not entitled to his own facts). The paper could have run his piece as an op ed on the inner pages (though for what purpose, I don’t know). But by running it with the prominence they have, you have to wonder at their motivation. Don Aitkin is a political scientist, no doubt eminent in his field. But no one can pretend he is an authority on climate science. What’s more, his article contains nothing of any novelty. So what purpose can there be in not only publishing the article, but in giving it the prominence of a page 1 placement? All I can think of is that The Australian wishes to continue to stoke controversy — whether to generate circulation (which doesn’t work with me, I stopped buying the paper) or to pursue its own agenda on climate science.

However, since they have done this, and in addition, posted a lengthier paper (an address he gave to the Planning Institute of Australia), his views demand rebuttal. Here it is, based on the lengthier paper.

  • Arguing about “consensus” is silly. There was a consensus before Einstein’s time that Newton had the Laws of Physics stitched up. Einstein found a more general theory. “Consensus” in science is not a deep concept — just a way of expressing the fact that most scientists do not see the point in arguing over something that has been shown to be valid, and no one has successfully invalidated. There was a similar “consensus” about the link between tobacco and cancer, which the relevant industry attacked vigorously, using similar language to the anti-AGW movement. That consensus remains to be overturned, despite the fact that we still have a lot to learn about the mechanisms of cancer.
  • He claims that he is “presently agnostic about the central Anthropogenic Global Warming…proposition” but this is not borne out by his article, which dwells on arguments against AGW. To quote Monty Python, that’s not debate, it’s contradiction.
  • The “panicky media mood” he talks about is no reason to trash the science, rather to be skeptical about the quality of science journalism in popular media. There was a similarly panicky media mood about global cooling in the 1970s (he quotes Newsweek further on) but if you actually search the scientific literature, there was very little basis in science for this. I don’t think you will find a “panicky mood” if you read Science or Nature. A paper has been published showing that 7 papers in the 1970s predicted cooling, compared with 42 predicting warming. The cooling papers attracted only 12% of the citations counted. In other words, even in the 1970s, the evidence available at the time — Newsweek and other popular media notwithstanding — was that warming was more supportable than cooling.
  • Einstein and Feynman on refutation and uncertainty in science: the anti-AGW movement can be accused of a higher degree of certainty with considerably less evidence on their side. Read Bob Carter’s polemics. Is there a hint in any of his writing the he could be wrong? On the contrary, there is a bellicose certainty in his writing which I have not found in the scientific literature — which I find odd from a scientist of his experience (here’s a classic example).

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