Memo To: Editors, New York Times
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Don't Be the Last to Learn
I'm sorry to bother you again about your one-sided reporting on global warming, but now that you have seen to apologize for the miserable job you did in covering the march to war in Iraq, I figure I might get you in a moment of humility. Even though your Andrew Revkin continues to report on any snibble of news in support of the idea that mankind causes global warming and your editorial page boosts those snibbles, I submit that if you took a fresh look with a fresh team, you would find the science is settled. Mankind does not contribute to global warming and the billions of dollars being spent by governments and the private sectors around the planet can be saved by admitting as much. Why? For well over a decade the global-warming computer models have been predicting higher temperatures and the satellites that measure the upper atmosphere find zero change. Revkin never brings this up, but instead points to temperature changes at ground level. You can forget the Kyoto Treaty, I think, because the Russians know the science is settled and this is another myth perpetrated by the greenies with the help of the Times.
I've been so mystified about why this hoax is not buried for once and for all that I called Pat Michaels of the University of Virginia, who has been in the forefront of those scientists debunking global warming over the years. For goodness sakes, I asked, how is this possible? It's like we know the earth revolves around the sun, but there are still scientists, politicians, businessmen and serious journalists who are insisting it is the other way around. Dr. Michaels said: "I'm glad you asked. I've just written a new book, 'Meltdown,' that covers all the science and adds a chapter at the end to explain what's going on." Here are pages 237-241, which explain a lot. Please at least note the last paragraph:
* * * * *
The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media
Chapter 12. Breaking the Cycle
This book details a natural process. As explained in Chapter 11, scientific paradigms compete with each other for a finite outlay of taxpayer funding. Paradigms, resistant to change to begin with, become even more calcified by the support structure that has evolved for science, largely a consequence of the federalization of science created by Vannevar Bush's Science: The Endless Frontier published in 1946. In this environment, scientists are rewarded and promoted in the academy largely on the basis of research productivity that must be funded from within existing paradigms. Those who do not support the existing paradigm are therefore not likely to be funded sufficiently for promotion. Scientific papers are reviewed by scientific peers, who are functioning within the same dynamic. The canon of science, as represented by the refereed scientific literature, becomes increasingly skewed and resistant.
Some will take offense with this argument, but the phenomenon is real and inescapable given the way that we do science. There are simply too many stories in this book that fit so neatly into this paradigm, with direct reference and discussion of dozens of important articles in top-line scientific journals implying peril from global warming and containing egregious errors that should have been caught in the peer-review process.
There are also dozens of instances in which prominent scientists gave alarmist quotes to the press that were far beyond the scope of the scientific publication to which that coverage referred. And there is a National Assessment of global warming based on models that can't simulate the climate of the nation. As a result of all of this, in the last five years, there are more than 50 examples in which the pioneer media uncritically accepted or embellished the vision of climate doom and gloom. There is simply no analogous balance on the side of moderation despite the fact that moderate climate change is much more likely in the foreseeable future than anything extreme.
How do we stop this spiral of exaggeration?
1. Break the Government Monopoly
Environmental science funding should not derive from a single provider, but such a monopoly will inevitably develop as long as the political process provides the vast share of scientific largesse. In this environment, private sources, meaning individuals and foundations, have little incentive to fund basic science. Why should a shareholder-owned corporation dilute its resources to support research with little or no direct financial gain for the company when that burden can be spread across the entire population?
One solution to the dilemma of predictable exaggeration is to take advantage of the relationship between science and its funders, recognizing that nothing is free. There is clearly a broad spectrum of interests on climate change, ranging from those who are threatened by regulations to those who will thrive from them. These interests are sometimes not intuitively obvious.
For example, some sectors of the fossil-fuel industry, particularly those associated with natural gas, are quite positively disposed toward carbon dioxide restrictions. Enron Corp., which both marketed gas and wanted to broker "permits" that industries could trade for the right to some limited emissions, repeatedly petitioned both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations to promote some Kyoto-like regulation. Some coal producers may view regulations as a threat, while others see global warming as a vehicle to create "clean coal" technologies. Those technologies attempt to sequester or remove carbon dioxide from the effluent of power production.
While producing much less carbon dioxide, these technologies will almost certainly be much less energy-efficient, requiring an increase in the combustion of coal for an equivalent amount of electricity. As long as that keeps coal competitive with natural gas (which will also lose efficiency with this technology), why would coal oppose such regulation? However, if "clean coal" technology is economically disadvantageous, obviously that industry will remain opposed to regulation.
The list goes on. Some automakers, notably Honda and Toyota, see advantage in front-loading technologies that would be economically advantageous in a Kyoto-like environment. Consequently, they have led in developing hybrid gas-electric automobiles, which enjoy an efficiency premium over pure-gasoline cars. American automakers see their own advantage in producing high-margin SUVs and aren't as likely to welcome emissions restrictions.
Obviously these competing interests have different hopes for global warming science. Why, then, constrain the base-of-bias to Washington, where lurid views and consequently expensive policy proposals are an inevitability of the way we do and fund science?
There is no way that science will ever be pure. Steven Schneider is right. Scientists are "human beings as well," and the way to take advantage of our humanity is simply to offer a wider choice of bias. That approach may not be pretty, but it is realistic.
2. Change the Peer-Review Structure
It is very clear from several examples in this book that there can be extremely cursory peer review in the scientific literature and that the review process itself must be biased in the directions predicted by the current dynamic of science. Destroying the federal monopoly is a prerequisite to a fundamental change in the review process.
Here's the modest proposal. Drop secrecy from peer review. Rather, at the end of each article, the reviewer names and institutions should be prominently featured, as well as highlights (just a few sentences) from the reviews. Right now the opposite situation persists. Not only are reviews secret, but also some academic journals are so bold that they will allow an author to submit a list of reviewers that he or she would not want the article sent to, although editors are not bound to abide by their wishes.
Why not simply publish the names of the reviewers and their reviews? That makes it easy for the journal to defend itself against the charge of cursory review as well as making the reviewers themselves a bit more circumspect. In addition, editors would no longer be subject to the criticism that they ignored critical reviews out of a desire to see a certain article get published.
Of course, this would be a dangerous practice and would certainly serve to intimidate reviewers if the funding bias remained as the current monopoly. But creating a larger bias base obviates this concern as each mutual interest is likely to be strengthened by a free exchange of information. The worst that could happen is that one group (or the authors) would be enraged by a review while others might be pleased, making this largely a zero-sum game for the reviewer but a clear net-positive for the scientific journal.
3. Abolish Academic Tenure
Academic tenure-lifetime employment granted after six years at most colleges and universities-was originally designed to protect academic freedom. The purpose was to prevent the arbitrary political dismissal of university professors, who, at public universities, are employees of their respective states. Without such protection, professors are subject to summary dismissal for airing unpopular views.
Given the nature of modem science and its attendant biases, a person might be tempted to argue for strengthening the tenure system to protect individuals who may call attention to these issues. But that paradigm, too, has changed. The fact of the matter is that the academic world has increasingly evolved in a diverse fashion, with the proliferation of a large number of university-like environments of various philosophical hues. These include the plethora of think tanks that pride themselves on academic research, ranging in Washington from very liberal to very conservative, as well as "neither," which is to say libertarian (such as the Cato Institute, the publisher of this book). The scholar is now much freer to choose than he once was.
More important, however, is that the tenure process in fact stifles dissent. Promotion and tenure are largely determined by academic publications that require massive research support, which mires the young scientist in the paradigm-political process. As long as the primary funding source remains a necessarily politicized federal monopoly, a lack of scientific diversity and a biasing in the lurid direction become predictable and unavoidable.
Just as important as academic publication are outside evaluations from senior figures established in one's field of study. As demonstrated repeatedly, the same biasing process that results from the current scientific process is likely to be active here. Consequently, the young scientist will rightfully avoid any research or scholarship that will offend either the funding apparatus or those who have already benefited from it by gaining lifetime employment.
There is an additional salutary effect of abolishing tenure: Professors will make more money. With everyone employed for life, there is little ability for lateral movement (and large pay raises) between universities. Abolishing of tenure will create a much more fluid market at the senior level, but more significant than that, it will free academics from the necessity of establishing a career of compliance in order to receive a promotion.
The costs of inaction will be dear. Vannevar Bush's legacy is that science issues tend to be distorted by competition for a single federal source of funds. The resultant exaggerations become tiresome, and life goes on. Decades of doomsaying about global warming collide with decades of prosperity. People notice and increasingly disregard science and scientists, a process that has already invaded several aspects of our lives. That is the ultimate tragedy that this predictable distortion of global warming causes: A society that can no longer rely on the wisdom of science can only be governed by irrationality and fear.