What follows is a sad story about ‘climate change’, contained in a statement and a letter from Roger Cohen, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, which he sent to 150 or so of the Fellows, explaining why he resigned from one of the APS activities. He also sent a copy to Anthony Watts, who republished it on ‘Watts Up With That’. I am summarising it here because it is a rare look inside a major scientific society, and how it goes about dealing with an important scientific and political issue. I wish I could point to an Australian example, but one will come in time.
Cohen explains that while other scientific societies, like the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society, had become theatres for the advocacy of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the APS had not done so until it had published a ‘Statement on Climate Change’ in 2007. As Cohen saw it, a small group of members, dissatisfied with the mild tone of the prepared statement, had unilaterally written another, and passed it off at the end of the Council meeting, when people were leaving to catch planes. (That’s a familiar enough dodge in Canberra, too.)
The new draft contained much more alarm, and included the statement: ‘The science is incontrovertible’. That did get people’s backs up. What, in any area of science, is ‘incontrovertible’? Cohen joined another small group that prepared a petition asking for the Statement to be moderated. The dissident group had impressive credentials generally and in the climate science field in particular. What happened? The APS set up a further committee, not nearly so stacked with talent in climate science, which spent months coming to the conclusion that nothing should be changed in the Statement. But it did add a 750-word ‘Commentary’ explaining what the Statement really meant!
Cohen wrote: ‘APS members were permitted to send in comments, but the comments were never made public. A survey was also conducted whose outcome we were told supported the Statement, but numerical results were never provided, and we know that a substantial fraction of the membership did not support it’.
People started to resign from the APS, including at least one Nobel Laureate. Cohen and others then worked with the APS executive to try and focus on the science, inside an officially sanctioned new topical Group on the Physics of Climate (GPC). But here the same process occurred: those with the power acted to exclude any discussion of science that did not conform to the AGW orthodoxy. And Cohen gave up: he resigned from the group, and has issued a public statement explaining why.
This is not a storm in a teacup. Across the world, scientific societies have been dragooned into supporting AGW, so that governments can say that their policies have the support of organised science. In part the compliance has been assisted by an unexpected pleasure at having an important role in policy formation, and in part by money, which has gone to the societies for one purpose or another, but always to assist the orthodoxy.
But, at least in my opinion, that compliance has been assisted because there are scientists and administrators within these bodies for whom AGW is a matter of faith, as well as of science. They have worked to enlist their society into the cause. For them, the drive to combat climate change is a supreme task for humanity, and anything that stands in the way must be dealt with. You can add to that the bureaucratic inertia that comes when any organisation delivers some kind of ‘statement’. These documents are hard to change after the event. And you can also add the comfort that comes from being able to point to other scientific bodies that have issued comparable statements. It is really hard to change things, as Cohen discovered.
It doesn’t matter that in the USA neither presidential candidate talked at all about climate change, or that it has gone off the radar here in Australia. The problem is that science is not about faith, but about reasoning and evidence. When some matters are not be talked about, or argued for, we are moving into the domain of religion. It is this shift in science that so worries me, and is at the basis of my interest in AGW. It is pernicious, and it will harm organised science — has already harmed it.
I’ll let Roger Cohen have the last words, from his concluding letter of resignation: ‘As you know the GPC was intended to channel strong APS member disagreement over the Society’s 2007 Statement on Climate Change into a productive scientific enterprise. But there was also a greater opportunity: to demonstrate that it is still possible to convene a forum that would present and discuss, as scientists, the broad body of climate science with all of its complexities, uncertainties, and interpretations. Alas, despite good efforts made by some, this opportunity appears to have been lost, and I fear that another may not come along soon.’