The Age of Unenlightenment.
That slick expression you’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts, now has a deeper meaning in this latest stage of the post-enlightenment. If your facts plainly contradict someone else’s orthodox beliefs, then you are simply being “unhelpful” or even “harmful” and should therefore be suppressed. That’s to be done not by logical refutation or counter argument, but intimidation, bullying, shunning, character assassination and threats to a person’s career or livelihood.
Basically, the gloves come off and you get mobbed by a gang of like-minded thugs. Destroy the person, not the argument.
It’s the sort of behaviour one could expect of a medieval theocracy whose dominance is under threat by the advance of reasoned argument. Indeed, the humanists of Europe fought that battle from the late seventeenth century onwards, resulting in what’s commonly known as the Age of Enlightenment. There’s a lot more to it but from then on, a clear separation was to be made between things which could be proved by a process of reasoning and matters which were purely a matter of individual faith.
For the first time, a line between Church and State was being drawn. It was hard-fought by both sides since it was at heart more about who would control the minds of men; the clerics or what was called at the time the natural philosophers.
Last week, the distinguished Prof. Lennart Bengtsson, whom I’d term a warmist rather than an alarmist, resigned from an advisory committee of the GWPF, an unpaid post he’d barely been in for two weeks. The reason he’d been forced to resign was an intense campaign of vilification and intimidation. Former colleagues even refused to work with him and his papers in the publication process were suddenly being rejected for what was obviously non-scientific reasons. Bear in mind, he’d already had over two hundred papers published, so obviously knew what would be viable in terms of publication. Most tellingly, one of the rejected papers highlighted the glaring disparity between computer climate predictions and the real world data.
What’s most disturbing about the treatment of Prof. Bengtsson, is the people acting like common or garden thugs were supposedly men of science rather than outraged clerics stamping down on a heretic. As Marvin asked, what’s going on?
Even a casual acquaintance with the history of science teaches us one simple thing; it advances across a battlefield drenched in the blood of sacred cows. The Earth revolves around the Sun? Something falls to Earth because it’s being pulled by some invisible force rather than just having weight? Space can bend and time can run at different rates depending on where you are in something called a gravity well? Continents can actually move? Where’s your head? Are you insane?
Given that recurrent pattern of outrageous and heretical ideas becoming text-book orthodoxy, I do tend to think over carefully even the most startling ideas. More often than not, I see the flaw in the idea but I always examine the idea, not the person articulating it. If you don’t do that, you’re a believer rather than a person of reason.
It’s that sort of thinking which ultimately makes the practice of science an unforgiving profession. You can propose a really beautiful theory, but it only takes one person to prove it wrong, just one. Most cruel of all, your beloved brainchild can appear to pass all the tests for years but is later found out to be wrong or nothing more than a special case of a bigger, more complete theory and there goes your life’s work. Your attempt at being a someone of historical note becomes at best nothing more than a footnote annotation of you being that rather silly person behind the subsequently discredited theory of whatever. Everybody knew it was a rubbish idea all along.
It’s a tough gig and it’s all too human a temptation to start bending the rules as you begin to see the whole house of cards you’ve invested so many years in starting to wobble. Their first stab was something called post-normal science, which when you strip off the sociology verbiage and oily sophistry, was nothing more than a proposal to abandon the scientific method. Your theory was so important, so crucial, that it simply fell outside the passé science processes of the last few hundred years. It didn’t need things like that tiresome phase of testing your theory’s predictions against reality. Not even a largely cowed science establishment would grovel on its knees in abasement and come around to swallowing that.
The next line of defence was declaring that it was all settled. It had been so thoroughly proven, incidentally an impossible thing for any scientific theory, that it was no longer an open question. Move along now. The proof had been done by taking a vote and the novel idea of science by consensus rather than scientific method was born. There was to be no debate but it fell foul of that rebellious child it largely shaped, the skeptic blogosphere, which insisted on taking a can opener to every hermetically sealed debate, and so often found Blake’s great red dragon of chaos ready to emerge from it grinning in triumph.
By now, they were increasingly desperate men in a hurry towards some finishing line only they could see, and acted accordingly. It’s not very hard to get inside that.
You start to cheat, but somehow you know it’s not really cheating. You massage the data by tweaking it a little bit, just a teensy weensy little bit, moving it in the right direction. Once on that slippery slope, it becomes all too easy to get imaginative with the methods as well. By then, you’ve slipped so far into that mortal sin zone of science, all that’s left is stopping your ears to any criticism, shutting your eyes and defending it desperately at any cost. It’s your own inner voice making those carping objections. Nobody will notice, nobody will check.
But they did.
In the end, you’ve nowhere left to go but denying anyone wishing to replicate your work the data or details of your methodology. It’s all way too far over their head and anyway, they only want to use it against you. Anything but that sort of cooperation, because then the whole sordid game would be up. All would be lost. You fudge, you delay, you tell them the data is lost, it’s protected by commercial IPR agreements, you hide behind FOI legislation and in the end you threaten to sue them if they won’t leave you alone. At the same time, you play the martyr card; why are they persecuting me?
That’s a delaying stratagem you can play for a few years but the day finally arrives when someone else demonstrates that the results of applying your grand theory simply don’t match up to the real world data.
When that happens, all you’ve got left is to attack them for threatening your theory with real world data. That’s the terminal madness, the final naked abandonment of any lingering threadbare pretence of being a scientist. Go after the man, and simply ignore whatever it is he’s saying. Threaten him, destroy him, eviscerate him, smash him down into the ground, stamp on his face and somehow all will be well again.
To answer Mr Gaye’s question, that’s how we arrived at the Bengtsson scandal.
Intolerant belief is clawing back the ground it lost in the age of enlightenment, but the people doing it this time around are actually crusading fundamentalists pretending to be scientists. They’re nothing more than a new age sect of clerics who’ve allowed their messianic beliefs to swamp their judgement to the point where they’ve essentially traduced a branch of science, but for the best of all possible intentions. They are, after all, on a mission to save the very planet.
What’s particularly appalling about what can only be termed this wave of counter enlightenment, is that it’s mainly being driven from the universities and centres of higher education, the very institutions which were the original driving force behind the age of enlightenment. In too many areas, there’s a rigidly orthodox view and woe betide any lecturer, never mind a sprog undergraduate, who dares question it.
This imposition of uniformity and stifling of dissent can only lead to a medieval academic sterility, and in my opinion it already has. Yes, our technology has advanced geometrically but that’s just been a simple process of engineering refinement; double the power, halve the size, go for the manufacturing economies of scale and consequently sell it to them cheaper and cheaper. It’s nothing more than Moore’s law in motion, if you’ll excuse the alliteration. There’s actually nothing fundamentally new coming out of what’s supposed to be our ideas factories.
What we haven’t had is an original Einstein-class theory emerge from academia for nearly four decades. It’s all been refinements. Given an agreement with that assessment, you either assume we’ve discovered every one of the big secrets of the universe, which would be a first in the whole history of science, or something is very seriously wrong.
Bengtsson had to be destroyed. Not only was he opening up a dialogue with the climate skeptics, which meant he was straying away from the teachings of the one true church, but he’d also called into serious question the ability of the computer models to generate credible climate predictions. They are taken to be oracles by the church, incapable of error and far surpassing such primitive efforts as Delphi. The fact that the models’ predictions have been demonstrably wrong for nearly two decades is irrelevant.
This is end of days behaviour. They’ve been cast out alone into the political wilderness, governments are backing away from green agendas, the media and general public are bored with climate scares, research grants are getting cut everywhere, nobody can afford the renewables, the common people hate windmills and are organising against them, carbon legislation is dead in the water, the annual climate conference has become a cynical joke and young people not only don’t give a damn about saving the planet, but have started to snigger at those who persist in lecturing them about it.
Their very public and violent intimidation of Bengtsson will probably ensure there won’t be another attempt at rapprochement by a high-profile warmist with the skeptics. They are in effect skipping over the bargaining phase in the death of their belief system.
As someone who’s a skeptic of catastrophic global warming, that suits me fine since since I think the only way we can now lose this struggle is to enter into negotiations to achieve some unnecessary compromise when to all intents and purposes we’ve already won. It’s just the trivial exercise of the endgame we’ll be playing out for the next few years. Mate in two with no way of stopping it.
As someone who loves science, I regret it won’t be possible to come up with some fig leaf deal of damage limitation for science as a whole, a way of letting them retire discreetly from the field in defeat, and will instead now have to stand and watch climate science becoming a complete laughing-stock, and undoubtedly by implication, science in general. The true believers will ensure this thing is doomed to go down all the way to the equivalent of Berlin, April ’45, the last bullet and complete destruction.
I’ll take no pleasure in that, but it wouldn’t stay my hand for an instant. I’m quite happy to watch them burning themselves right down to the ground, and we’ll rebuild the seared reputation of science afterward. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s had to be done and it’s not a priority of mine.
There’ll be a week or so of tut-tutting but in the end the sect will get away with yet another Pyrrhic victory and continue to do so, until the leadership in science grasps the nettle and finally decides to stand up to them. The reality check for that leadership is that the cat is out of the bag. The window of opportunity to get your own house in order is fast closing and the standing of science as a whole is now downrange of the firing line. Wield the scalpel now and cut out the cancer, or prepare to lose the patient.
Inexorably, the general public have come to think global warming might have been nothing more than a bogus scare, but what they do know for sure is that it was scientists doing the scare mongering. That’s why for instance the Australian government can feel free to do a savage 90% chop of its spend on climate change, knowing there won’t be any great outcry from anyone other than the grant money junkies. Nobody else gave a peep. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of how much collateral damage mainstream science is going to take with the crash of climate science.
The indulgent “in” joke of how silly, corrupt and degenerate climate science actually is, has now moved well outside the smug and knowing smirks of the science club insiders. If you’ve any doubt about that, then you haven’t thought about the significance of last Friday’s front page of the Times.
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