Climate Science And The Process Of Orthodoxy Enforcement

Recently several of my posts on the subject of climate change -- including one last week titled "In Climate Science, Predictions Are Hard, Especially About The  Future" -- have attracted large numbers of comments.  Most of the comments have been supportive, but many have been critical -- which is not surprising.  Among the critical comments, several of the most thoughtful have raised similar questions, that go something like this:  If there is really nothing to this global warming scare, then how and why have so many people calling themselves climate scientists gotten together to conspire to promote this story to the public?  After all, how would such a conspiracy even work?  Do hundreds of them hold clandestine meetings where they recognize each other with some kind of secret handshake?

As examples of relatively balanced comments raising this point, there are two from a guy named Steven Wangsness.  Excerpts:

What I want to know is why 95 percent or more of the world's climate scientists, most of whom drive gasoline-driven cars and probably own oil stocks in their 401Ks and IRAs, are engaged in a massive, world-wide conspiracy to push the idea of global warming. What is the incentive for all these presumably normal, well-educated folks to engage in such a pernicious hoax? . . .  

You also assume that thousands of PhDs around the world are engaged in a massive conspiracy and not one of them has broken ranks and busted the hoax.     

It just seems implausible to Mr. Wangsness, and many others, that such a "conspiracy" could be formed.  And perhaps, if thought of as a conspiracy, they are right.  But now think about the processes by which orthodoxies are created and enforced.  There are many, many examples in human affairs of large numbers of people -- even into the billions -- agreeing on the precise details of a complex belief system, otherwise known as an orthodoxy.  What processes lead to such huge numbers of people to enter into such an agreement?  Clearly part of the process relates to specific rewards and punishments handed out by the people who run the orthodoxy system.  But I would suggest that a far bigger part of what makes orthodoxies work is the universal human desire for peer acceptance.  If you don't go along with our official belief system, we will ostracize you!

Consider what is undoubtedly the archetypical example of a strictly-enforced orthodoxy system, namely the Catholic Church.  As background, I should mention that I was raised as a Catholic.  I continue to have large numbers of friends who are practicing Catholics, and I respect them both as people and for their beliefs.  I also have great respect for the Catholic Church as an institution (less so for its current head).  I do not regard Catholics as stupid or evil for having signed on to the Church's orthodoxy.  But, here we have a perfectly clear and, you will have to admit, somewhat quirky orthodoxy to which some 1.2 billion people have subscribed in great detail.

The bishops of the early Catholic Church gathered in 325 AD in the city of Nicaea, and agreed upon something called the Creed that states the fundamental beliefs of the religion.  With some minor modifications made in later years (mostly in 384 AD), every Catholic recites this list of beliefs at every mass, under the leadership of a priest.  Do they really all deeply believe every detail of this statement?  They certainly say that they do, at least once a week.  It's a basic requirement of being a practicing Catholic.  

For those who are not Catholics, I'll give you some examples of what's in the Creed.  I'm including the relevant Latin text, as well as the English translation:

  • "I believe in one God."  (Credo in unum Deum.).  This is a monotheistic religion.  
  • Oh, but it is one God in three persons, the Holy Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Is this a contradiction?  We all agree that it is not.
  • The Son was initially "born of the Father" (ex patre natum) at a time "before all ages" (ante omnia saecula), by a process described as "begotten not made" (genitum non factum).
  • Later, the Son "became flesh" (incarnatus est) by a process in which the Holy Spirit impregnated a virgin (de Spiritu Sanctu ex Maria Virgine).
  • The Holy Spirit "proceeds" not just from the Father, but also from the Son (Et in Spiritum Sanctum . . . qui ex Patre Filioque procedit).  The business about the Holy Spirit proceeding "also [from] the Son" (Filoque) is the basis of the rift between Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox religions.  The Eastern guys insisted that the Holy Spirit "proceeded" only from the Father.    

There are plenty of other items.  Does every Catholic actually fully understand and believe each of these precepts?  It doesn't really matter.  In return for regularly expressing these beliefs, they get to participate in the religion, which includes being part of a community of family, friends and peers, of ceremonies and sacraments, and of a promise of a happy afterlife.  The rewards are almost entire mental and spiritual, rather than material.  And on that basis some 1.2 billion people subscribe.  In the case of priests, adherence to the orthodoxy is further enforced by a hierarchy that controls access to the jobs, as well as promotions to positions of Monsignor, Bishop, Archbishop, and so forth.  If you demand a change to the Creed, you can't be a priest, period.

The Catholic Church is just one example of a detailed orthodoxy subscribed to by a huge number of people.  The Islamic religion is another example of comparable size, although I don't know the details of what they have agreed to as their orthodoxy.

Now apply the principles of orthodoxy creation and enforcement to the field of "climate science."  A commenter responding to Wangsness made this point:  "The answer is simple. Follow the money."  I'm not saying there's nothing to that, but note that in the case of the Catholic Church (and for that matter Islam and any other religion) money has little to nothing to do with why people subscribe; and yet huge numbers do.  The main factor is peer pressure and acceptance; the second major factor is the forcible exclusion of heretics.  So consider what surrounds you if you want to be in the field of "climate science" today:

  • In order even to start out, you need to get a job at an academic institution.  If you let it be known that you are even slightly skeptical about "climate science," you get branded as a heretic, and in all likelihood you will never get hired.
  • To advance in academia, you need to get articles published in prestigious academic journals.  The most prestigious journals in the fields of science are Science and Nature.  In recent years those journals have been controlled by global warming zealots who have made it their business to be sure that no even slightly skeptical article in the climate field can see the light of day.  From 2013 to 2016 the editor of Science was one Marcia McNutt.  McNutt published an editorial in her magazine in 2015 that said about climate science: "The time for debate has ended. Action is urgently needed. . . .  [D]eveloped nations need to reduce their per-capita fossil fuel emissions even further. . . ."   In 2016 McNutt was elected as the head of the National Academies of Science. As a young, skeptical climate scientist, how are you going to buck this?
  • For more examples of ruthless orthodoxy enforcement as to climate change in the academic world, see my posts here and here.

But here's the amazing thing:  given the relentless peer pressure to conform in climate science, and the ruthless exclusion of heretics from rights to publish and from awards and recognition in the field, in fact the level of subscription to the climate orthodoxy among people in relevant areas is far less than the 95% that Mr. Wangsness cites.  The frequently-made claim of a "97% consensus" among climate scientists famously originated in an article by Cook, et al., in 2013, that was then quickly debunked in multiple places, for example here and here.  

When Wangsness says that "not one of them has broken ranks and busted the hoax," he is wrong.  There are scores of top scientists in relevant fields like atmospheric physics and meteorology who have broken ranks and scream as loudly as they can on a daily basis that there is nothing behind this alarm.  Just last October I was involved in submitting a letter to EPA from 65 top scientists demanding a reconsideration of EPA's "Endangerment Finding" because of lack of scientific basis for climate alarm.  The list of skeptics among the very top people in physics includes the likes of Freeman Dyson ("My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models.") and Will Happer of Princeton, Richard Lindzen of MIT, and Ivar Giaever of RPI.  It is truly an embarrassment to the profession of journalism that a relatively well-informed citizen like Mr. Wangsness can be unaware of this.