Scared of Science

When I saw last Friday's Wall Street Journal editorial, "No Need to Panic About Global Warming," my first instinct was to burst out laughing. The Journal found a whopping 16 "concerned scientists" who declared that fears about climate change were exaggerated, and that we can just keep on burning as many fossil fuels as we darn well please.

The Journal has been pushing climate change "skepticism" for decades, so the editorial was nothing new. What made the piece funny was how lazy the arguments for inaction were.

As Peter Frumhoff of the real Union of Concerned Scientists notes,

[T]he op-ed repeated a number of deeply misleading claims about climate science. To take just one example, the authors claim there has been a "lack of warming" for 10 years. Here's what we know: 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record. Over the past decade, record high temperatures outpaced record lows by more than two to one across the continental United States, a marked increase from previous decades.

Those who believe that global warming is a legitimate problem, and even those who are unsure about the seriousness of the problem but who recognize that the phenomenon of global warming is not a hoax, have long since recognized the sort of game the Journal always plays on this issue: just find a couple of "concerned scientists" (usually ones affiliated with libertarian think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry) who claim that the science isn't settled, and voilà, you can successfully declare that there's no real need to take action to reduce carbon emissions.

Peter Gleick of Forbes points to another example of the Journal's con game:

But the most amazing and telling evidence of the bias of the Wall Street Journal in this field is the fact that 255 members of the United States National Academy of Sciences wrote a comparable (but scientifically accurate) essay on the realities of climate change and on the need for improved and serious public debate around the issue, offered it to the Wall Street Journal, and were turned down. The National Academy of Sciences is the nation's pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn't publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation.

Science magazine -- perhaps the nation's most important journal on scientific issues -- published the letter from the NAS members after the Journal turned it down.

Why does the Journal insist on pushing the idea that science isn't science? Ed Kilgore's theory is compelling:

[Y]ou'd think in all this tough-minded truth-telling about those with a financial stake in the climate change debate the Journal might have noted in passing that the most powerful economic interests on the planet have an interest in doing nothing about it.

But then that's the Journal's core constituency, and I suppose it is predictable its editors remain willing to threaten the credibility of its usually solid news-gathering operation to tell those who would melt the ice caps without a moment's hesitation exactly what they want to hear.

However, the Journal has another constituency: those who have adopted the view that global warming is a politically correct issue, something that is promoted by the left to advance big-government goals. I used to be a member of this constituency, until I started studying the facts.

My declaration that I no longer believed global warming was some sort of Communist plot led to the end of numerous friendships; I don't regret losing those "friends," as I now realize that the only thing I had in common with those "friends" was the fact that we had mutual political hatreds. Every "friend" who objected to my change of heart on climate saw the global warming debate as an example of political correctness -- and they all saw themselves as avowed enemies of political correctness.

The problem, of course, is that science is not political correctness.

My "friends" could not view global warming through a scientific perspective, only through a political perspective. Thus, they could not understand why I no longer shared their view that Al Gore and Carol Browner cooked up global warming as a backdoor way to implement Keynesian economic policies.

I laughed at the Journal editorial because I envisioned my former friends lapping up the piece without criticism or skepticism. I laughed because the piece was clearly motivated by the Journal's fear -- fear that the Republican Party's self-destruction will lead to a second term for President Obama, the retention of the Senate by the Democrats, the loss of the GOP majority in the House, and, perhaps, a serious effort toward putting a price on carbon and putting America on the path to cleaner energy.

I laughed because the folks who deny scientific facts deserve to be laughed at, and scorned.