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Book review: The Inquisition of Climate Science

Posted on 8 October 2011 by John Cook

The Inquisition of Climate ScienceDuring the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church persecuted Galileo for espousing the view that the Sun, not the Earth, lies at the centre of the solar system.  In modern times, climate scientists are being subjected to a similar inquisition, waged by those who deny the science.  The persecution of climate scientists and of science itself is thoroughly documented in a new book, The Inquisition of Climate Science, by former Reed College president and National Science Board member James Powell.

Climate scientists, like Galileo, turn to empirical evidence and the scientific method as the basis of our understanding of how the world works.  In contrast, climate "skeptics", conservative think tanks, ideologues and the fossil fuel industry now play the role of the "establishment", waging a war on science. Powell's book documents the industry of denial and their many prongs of attack on climate science:

  • A small group of scientists who regularly appear at conferences, media interviews, in book lists and on think tank advisory lists.
  • The fossil fuel industry, who have poured millions of dollars into PR campaigns to confuse the public. Over 8 years, the most profitable company in history, Exxon Mobil, gave $16 million to think tanks that deny global warming science. Fossil fuel companies also give millions of dollars to politicians such as Joe Barton and James Inhofe, who vehemently oppose climate action.
  • Prominent non-scientists such as the conservative columnist George Will, the late science-fiction author Michael Crichton and Christopher Monckton (trained in journalism and the classics).
  • Conservative think tanks, adopting lofty names like "Africa Fighting Malaria" while arguing against climate action. These think tanks receive millions of dollars from fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil.
  • Prominent public figures such as Sarah Palin who characterise climate science as "snake oil science" while Senator James Inhofe describes global warming as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people". Inhofe and Virginian attorney general Ken Cuccinelli have attempted to take climate scientists to trial.
  • Even the mainstream media have unwittingly contributed to the chorus by granting the same few climate misinformers an equal voice with the overwhelming scientific consensus.

However, Powell points out one distinction between the Roman Inquisition and the modern day Climate Inquisition.  At least the Roman inquisitors had an alternative theory - Ptolemy's 2nd Century theory of Earth-centered astronomy.  The Climate Inquisition have no alternative theory that can explain the many lines of evidence that point to human caused global warming

The persecution of Galileo is highly instructive in putting today's climate controversy in proper context. The Inquisition Of Climate Science, available in hard cover and as an e-book that can be read on Kindle, iPad and computer, is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the full scope of the denial industry and their modern day persecution of climate science.

Note: SkS have also reviewed James Powell's books 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming and Rough Winds: Extreme Weather and Climate Change.

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Comments 51 to 60 out of 60:

  1. But we're getting way OT here and should probably wind this down ...
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  2. Dave123#36: "in the US we believe deeply that one person's opinion is as good as another's. And it's all opinion you know. The resentment of there being people who actually know more or are smarter runs deep" That's a relatively recent development. Not all that long ago, the US believed in science and technology; we valued expertise, not opinion. We could build large-scale projects: we went to the moon based on the work of experts. Now we value opinion; anybody who 'can't see climate change in his own backyard' has an equal say in the 'debate.' Coincidentally, we have a country that can't get much of anything done. Is it any wonder we can't deal with complex issues? Is it any wonder we deny climate science and investigate scientists? We have an education system that ranks slightly behind Estonia. But who needs a good education when only opinion matters.
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  3. Agreed, dhogaza--on both comments--though I'd add that for me it was the idea of unions-as-progressive that was deflating. One more note for muon: let's not forget the contradiction in the social response to technology in the last sixty years. There was a great deal of fear of technology and science, expressed in thousands of SF movies and novels. I've always thought that Gilligan's Island is a powerful commentary on the response to the modern world. Anyway . . .
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  4. Reading your comments, both from the US and Australia, maybe my over-simplistic idea of the prevailing self-interest value is just part of the picture. Indeed, you showed that in many instances it did not prevail. This is not unique to the US, though, be sure that it applies to single european countries and to the whole European Union as well. Yet, at least when dealing with global problems the balance seems to be shifted more on the global interest side. Americans, and australians as Stevo suggests, seem to be more torn apart between the two opposites as if they can't find their preferred balance. We may add that the crisis started a couple of decades ago, when the USA political and economic leadrship started to decline and which, like any crisis, tend to make people or nations try protect themselves from the outside world. This translates, as muoncounter says, in not being able to take the necessary steps. I'm trying to understand how come that a great nation decide to turn its back to the world and steadly point backward. We know from history that great civilizations may and do collapse; if a society denies the very existence of a problem it won't be able to solve it for sure. I am optimistic, though. I belive that the american people are able to show a strong will once they face the unavoidable conclusion. In some sense, the climate Pearl Harbour didn't arrive yet and this is what we're here for, avoid another (worse) Pearl Harbour.
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  5. DSL#53: "Gilligan's Island is a powerful commentary" Recall that GI included 'The Professor' among the castaways and the others did not blame him for their misfortune. A more modern version of this would have him 'voted off the island.' But the common theme to the bullet points in this post is not fear of technology, it is money talks.
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  6. No money buys you an echo chamber where you hear what you want to hear. Yes, many in the fossil fuel industries are trying to cause consusion over climate change. But first they are confusing themselves. And it is not just profits. It is their sense of vocation, their belief that they are doing something beneficial to their societies that is threatened.
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  7. DSL#48: "another look into the minds of US conservatives," Here's yet another revealing look, highlighting some key traits: denial of scientific evidence, use of government to censor science. Rice professor accepts Gulf article's fate
    A Rice University oceanographer said he accepts a decision by the state's environmental agency to kill an article he wrote on sea-level rise in Galveston Bay, ending a standoff over the article's references to rising sea levels and human-caused environmental change. "I'm willing to live with not having it published," John Anderson said Tuesday. "I refuse to have it published with their deletions."

    TCEQ is Texas' environmental quality agency; from their mission statement: "Our goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste." The agency's director, Texas A&M Biological and Agricultural Engineering Professor Bryan Shaw, was appointed in 2007 by Gov. (and current presidential hopeful) Rick Perry. Dr. Shaw is on record as disagreeing with the unanimous opinions of the TAMU Atmospheric Sciences department (Andy Dessler, John N-G, et al) and supports his Governor's opinions on climate change. Inquisition? Nah, just censorship. But you will recall that the Church banned Copernicus' book before putting Galileo on trial.

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  8. Climate Progress nicely covers the censorship of any mention of sea level rise in Texas, including the markup of the chapter written by Anderson with edits. It would be astounding, if it were not happening in Rick Perry's Texas. “We can’t even present a conservative viewpoint” The edits are stunning. For example: the very existence of Galveston Bay is attributed to sea level rise. It is ironic that its future will be strongly regulated by the now-rising sea. A must-read.
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  9. 1. From where do the figures on funding from industrial sources come from? 2. How much money has been spent on supporting AGW research, and where does it come from?
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  10. 1. Here's a sourcewatch wiki on Koch Industries, with references. Readers can do their own explorations from that starting point. You should add no. 3, Sasquatch, if you want to provide complete coverage: "Where does the industrial funding money come from?" Remember, the government isn't the only economic entity that engages in taxation (it's just the only one that offers representation (such as it has become)).
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