Aliens Cause Global Warming

R. A. Hettinga rah at
Mon Jan 5 15:19:12 PST 2004


Aliens Cause Global Warming

A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going
to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more
precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the
way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming. Charting
this progression of belief will be my task today.

Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from
believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be
quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several
widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging
crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy
relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born
in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height
of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in
preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I
believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind.
Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a
world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass
manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science
held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and
working relationships across national boundaries and political systems,
encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to
fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world
might not be avery good place, but science would make it better. And it
did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has
been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our
troubled and restless world.

But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry,
cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also
expected science to banish the evils of human thought---prejudice and
superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be,
in Carl Sagan's memorable phrase, "a candle in a demon haunted world." And
here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving
as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the
more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt
our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not
benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.

But let's look at how it came to pass.

Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet
airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of
memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio
Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two
week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal
is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the
excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and
came up with the now-famous Drake equation:

N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

Where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction
with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting
life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction
where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates;
and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating
civilizations live.

This serious-looking equation gave SETI an serious footing as a legitimate
intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can
be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the
equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses-just so we're clear-are
merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be "informed guesses." If
you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there
is simply no way to make an informed guess. It's simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from "billions and
billions" to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing.
Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has
nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the
creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and
therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is
defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The
belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief
that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The
belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of
faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms,
and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is
absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a

One way to chart the cooling of enthusiasm is to review popular works on
the subject. In 1964, at the height of SETI enthusiasm, Walter Sullivan of
the NY Times wrote an exciting book about life in the universe entitled WE
ARE NOT ALONE. By 1995, when Paul Davis wrote a book on the same subject,
he titled it ARE WE ALONE? ( Since 1981, there have in fact been four books
titled ARE WE ALONE.) More recently we have seen the rise of the so-called
"Rare Earth" theory which suggests that we may, in fact, be all alone.
Again, there is no evidence either way.

Back in the sixties, SETI had its critics, although not among
astrophysicists and astronomers. The biologists and paleontologists were
harshest. George Gaylord Simpson of Harvard sneered that SETI was a "study
without a subject," and it remains so to the present day.

But scientists in general have been indulgent toward SETI, viewing it
either with bemused tolerance, or with indifference. After all, what's the
big deal? It's kind of fun. If people want to look, let them. Only a
curmudgeon would speak harshly of SETI. It wasn't worth the bother.

And of course it is true that untestable theories may have heuristic value.
Of course extraterrestrials are a good way to teach science to kids. But
that does not relieve us of the obligation to see the Drake equation
clearly for what it is-pure speculation in quasi-scientific trappings.

The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of
outrage-similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationist new
claim, for example-meant that now there was a crack in the door, a
loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific
procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the

Now let's jump ahead a decade to the 1970s, and Nuclear Winter.

In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences reported on "Long-Term Worldwide
Effects of Multiple Nuclear Weapons Detonations" but the report estimated
the effect of dust from nuclear blasts to be relatively minor. In 1979, the
Office of Technology Assessment issued a report on "The Effects of Nuclear
War" and stated that nuclear war could perhaps produce irreversible adverse
consequences on the environment. However, because the scientific processes
involved were poorly understood, the report stated it was not possible to
estimate the probable magnitude of such damage.

Three years later, in 1982, the Swedish Academy of Sciences commissioned a
report entitled "The Atmosphere after a Nuclear War: Twilight at Noon,"
which attempted to quantify the effect of smoke from burning forests and
cities. The authors speculated that there would be so much smoke that a
large cloud over the northern hemisphere would reduce incoming sunlight
below the level required for photosynthesis, and that this would last for
weeks or even longer.

The following year, five scientists including Richard Turco and Carl Sagan
published a paper in Science called "Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of
Multiple Nuclear Explosions." This was the so-called TTAPS report, which
attempted to quantify more rigorously the atmospheric effects, with the
added credibility to be gained from an actual computer model of climate.

At the heart of the TTAPS undertaking was another equation, never
specifically expressed, but one that could be paraphrased as follows:

Ds = Wn Ws Wh Tf Tb Pt Pr PeŠ etc

(The amount of tropospheric dust=# warheads x size warheads x warhead
detonation height x flammability of targets x Target burn duration x
Particles entering the Troposphere x Particle reflectivity x Particle
enduranceŠand so on.)

The similarity to the Drake equation is striking. As with the Drake
equation, none of the variables can be determined. None at all. The TTAPS
study addressed this problem in part by mapping out different wartime
scenarios and assigning numbers to some of the variables, but even so, the
remaining variables were-and are-simply unknowable. Nobody knows how much
smoke will be generated when cities burn, creating particles of what kind,
and for how long. No one knows the effect of local weather conditions on
the amount of particles that will be injected into the troposphere. No one
knows how long the particles will remain in the troposphere. And so on.

And remember, this is only four years after the OTA study concluded that
the underlying scientific processes were so poorly known that no estimates
could be reliably made. Nevertheless, the TTAPS study not only made those
estimates, but concluded they were catastrophic.

According to Sagan and his coworkers, even a limited 5,000 megaton nuclear
exchange would cause a global temperature drop of more than 35 degrees
Centigrade, and this change would last for three months. The greatest
volcanic eruptions that we know of changed world temperatures somewhere
between .5 and 2 degrees Centigrade. Ice ages changed global temperatures
by 10 degrees. Here we have an estimated change three times greater than
any ice age. One might expect it to be the subject of some dispute.

But Sagan and his coworkers were prepared, for nuclear winter was from the
outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign. The first
announcement of nuclear winter appeared in an article by Sagan in the
Sunday supplement, Parade. The very next day, a highly-publicized,
high-profile conference on the long-term consequences of nuclear war was
held in Washington, chaired by Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, the most famous
and media-savvy scientists of their generation. Sagan appeared on the
Johnny Carson show 40 times. Ehrlich was on 25 times. Following the
conference, there were press conferences, meetings with congressmen, and so
on. The formal papers in Science came months later.

This is not the way science is done, it is the way products are sold.

The real nature of the conference is indicated by these artists' renderings
of the the effect of nuclear winter.

I cannot help but quote the caption for figure 5: "Shown here is a tranquil
scene in the north woods. A beaver has just completed its dam, two black
bears forage for food, a swallow-tailed butterfly flutters in the
foreground, a loon swims quietly by, and a kingfisher searches for a tasty
fish." Hard science if ever there was.

At the conference in Washington, during the question period, Ehrlich was
reminded that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists were quoted as
saying nothing would grow there for 75 years, but in fact melons were
growing the next year. So, he was asked, how accurate were these findings

Ehrlich answered by saying "I think they are extremely robust. Scientists
may have made statements like that, although I cannot imagine what their
basis would have been, even with the state of science at that time, but
scientists are always making absurd statements, individually, in various
places. What we are doing here, however, is presenting a consensus of a
very large group of scientistsŠ"

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise
of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an
extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its
tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of
scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is
already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on
something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with
consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary,
requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he
or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In
science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.
The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke
with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't
science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.

In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is
nothing to be proud of. Let's review a few cases.

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following
childbirth . One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon
of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was
able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes
claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence.
The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary
techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his
management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him
from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the
start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and
twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of
the prominent "skeptics" around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and
ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of
thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra.
The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary
was to find the "pellagra germ." The US government asked a brilliant young
investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger
concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded
to the germ theory. Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the
disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious
by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his
assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from
pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra
rashes in what were called "Goldberger's filth parties." Nobody contracted
pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in
addition, a social factor-southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as
the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued
to deny it until the 1920s. Result-despite a twentieth century epidemic,
the consensus took years to see the light.

Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to
fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the
continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental
drift for fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great
names of geology-until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors
were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to
acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and
smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory,
fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therap6yŠthe list of consensus
errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is
invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not
solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2.
Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It
would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

But back to our main subject.

What I have been suggesting to you is that nuclear winter was a meaningless
formula, tricked out with bad science, for policy ends. It was political
from the beginning, promoted in a well-orchestrated media campaign that had
to be planned weeks or months in advance.

Further evidence of the political nature of the whole project can be found
in the response to criticism. Although Richard Feynman was
characteristically blunt, saying, "I really don't think these guys know
what they're talking about," other prominent scientists were noticeably
reticent. Freeman Dyson was quoted as saying "It's an absolutely atrocious
piece of science butŠwho wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear
war?" And Victor Weisskopf said, "The science is terrible but---perhaps the
psychology is good." The nuclear winter team followed up the publication of
such comments with letters to the editors denying that these statements
were ever made, though the scientists since then have subsequently
confirmed their views.

At the time, there was a concerted desire on the part of lots of people to
avoid nuclear war. If nuclear winter looked awful, why investigate too
closely? Who wanted to disagree? Only people like Edward Teller, the
"father of the H bomb."

Teller said, "While it is generally recognized that details are still
uncertain and deserve much more study, Dr. Sagan nevertheless has taken the
position that the whole scenario is so robust that there can be little
doubt about its main conclusions." Yet for most people, the fact that
nuclear winter was a scenario riddled with uncertainties did not seem to be

I say it is hugely relevant. Once you abandon strict adherence to what
science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference,
then anything is possible. In one context, maybe you will get some
mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get
Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always
there, if you subvert science to political ends.

That is why it is so important for the future of science that the line
between what science can say with certainty, and what it cannot, be drawn
clearly-and defended.

What happened to Nuclear Winter? As the media glare faded, its robust
scenario appeared less persuasive; John Maddox, editor of Nature,
repeatedly criticized its claims; within a year, Stephen Schneider, one of
the leading figures in the climate model, began to speak of "nuclear
autumn." It just didn't have the same ring.

A final media embarrassment came in 1991, when Carl Sagan predicted on
Nightline that Kuwaiti oil fires would produce a nuclear winter effect,
causing a "year without a summer," and endangering crops around the world.
Sagan stressed this outcome was so likely that "it should affect the war
plans." None of it happened.

What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the
lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an
aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and
in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After
that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over
without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook
application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was "responsible for
approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults," and
that it " impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of
people." In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based
its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they
collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For
reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or
for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.)
Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95%
confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified
second hand smoke as a Group A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on
smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public
smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian
Science Monitor was saying that "Second-hand smoke is the nation's
third-leading preventable cause of death." The American Cancer Society
announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The
evidence for this claim is nonexistent.

In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had
"committed to a conclusion before research had begun", and had "disregarded
information and made findings on selective information." The reaction of
Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: "We stand by our scienceŠ.there's wide
agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second
hand smoke bringsŠa whole host of health problems." Again, note how the
claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn't even a consensus
of scientists that Browner evokes! It's the consensus of the American

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large,
seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have
well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for
example, that second hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point
you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people
would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don't want people
smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke?
Nobody, and if you do, you'll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big
tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported
by the grossest of superstitions. And we've given the EPA a bad lesson in
how to behave in the future. We've told them that cheating is the way to

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard
scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this
was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in
part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in
part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been
enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great
part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of
fact. The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country.
When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer
differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix
both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science-or non-science-is
the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global
warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most
magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of
the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Evidentiary
uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching
policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that
are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who
won't get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as
outsiders and "skeptics" in quotation marks-suspect individuals with
suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply
anti-environmental nutcases. In short order, debate ends, even though
prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done.

When did "skeptic" become a dirty word in science? When did a skeptic
require quotation marks around it?

To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming
controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in
the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a
conclusion: "These results are derived with the help of a computer model."
But now large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in
themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data
from the real world-increasingly, models provide the data. As if they were
themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward.
There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only
model runs.

This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well.
Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if
you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the
complex point where the global warming debate now stands.

Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we're asked to
believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future? And make
financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the modelmakers is
breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they
know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system-no one is sure-these
predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point,
even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the
sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is
simply absurd.

Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would be
profitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea was so
crazy that it must be a scam?

Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about
people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people
get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse
pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century
later, with so many more people riding horses?

But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And
in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was
unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more
than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn't
know what an atom was. They didn't know its structure. They also didn't
know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a
computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite,
interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing,
gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar,
prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic
explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction,
superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step,
ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser
surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDSŠ None of
this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn't
know what you are talking about.

Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it's even worth
thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future. They're
bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment's thought knows it.

I remind you that in the lifetime of most scientists now living, we have
already had an example of dire predictions set aside by new technology. I
refer to the green revolution. In 1960, Paul Ehrlich said, "The battle to
feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines-hundreds
of millions of people are going to starve to death." Ten years later, he
predicted four billion people would die during the 1980s, including 65
million Americans. The mass starvation that was predicted never occurred,
and it now seems it isn't ever going to happen. Nor is the population
explosion going to reach the numbers predicted even ten years ago. In 1990,
climate modelers anticipated a world population of 11 billion by 2100.
Today, some people think the correct number will be 7 billion and falling.
But nobody knows for sure.

But it is impossible to ignore how closely the history of global warming
fits on the previous template for nuclear winter. Just as the earliest
studies of nuclear winter stated that the uncertainties were so great that
probabilities could never be known, so, too the first pronouncements on
global warming argued strong limits on what could be determined with
certainty about climate change. The 1995 IPCC draft report said, "Any
claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to
remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability
of the climate system are reduced." It also said, "No study to date has
positively attributed all or part of observed climate changes to
anthropogenic causes." Those statements were removed, and in their place
appeared: "The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence
on climate."

What is clear, however, is that on this issue, science and policy have
become inextricably mixed to the point where it will be difficult, if not
impossible, to separate them out. It is possible for an outside observer to
ask serious questions about the conduct of investigations into global
warming, such as whether we are taking appropriate steps to improve the
quality of our observational data records, whether we are systematically
obtaining the information that will clarify existing uncertainties, whether
we have any organized disinterested mechanism to direct research in this
contentious area.

The answer to all these questions is no. We don't.

In trying to think about how these questions can be resolved, it occurs to
me that in the progression from SETI to nuclear winter to second hand smoke
to global warming, we have one clear message, and that is that we can
expect more and more problems of public policy dealing with technical
issues in the future-problems of ever greater seriousness, where people
care passionately on all sides.

And at the moment we have no mechanism to get good answers. So I will
propose one.

Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to
determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other
policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such
as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from
those who verify them. The fact is that the present structure of science is
entrepreneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from
organizations which all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the
research-or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for

Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this
country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private
philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so
that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund
more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the
verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know
their results will be checked by other groups. In many cases, those who
decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the
data will not analyze it. If we were to address the land temperature
records with such rigor, we would be well on our way to an understanding of
exactly how much faith we can place in global warming, and therefore what
seriousness we must address this.

I believe that as we come to the end of this litany, some of you may be
saying, well what is the big deal, really. So we made a few mistakes. So a
few scientists have overstated their cases and have egg on their faces. So

Well, I'll tell you.

In recent years, much has been said about the post modernist claims about
science to the effect that science is just another form of raw power,
tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivity that really
have no basis in fact. Science, we are told, is no better than any other
undertaking. These ideas anger many scientists, and they anger me. But
recent events have made me wonder if they are correct. We can take as an
example the scientific reception accorded a Danish statistician, Bjorn
Lomborg, who wrote a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The scientific community responded in a way that can only be described as
disgraceful. In professional literature, it was complained he had no
standing because he was not an earth scientist. His publisher, Cambridge
University Press, was attacked with cries that the editor should be fired,
and that all right-thinking scientists should shun the press. The past
president of the AAAS wondered aloud how Cambridge could have ever
"published a book that so clearly could never have passed peer review."
)But of course the manuscript did pass peer review by three earth
scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, and all recommended publication.)
But what are scientists doing attacking a press? Is this the new
McCarthyism -- coming from scientists?

Worst of all was the behavior of the Scientific American, which seemed
intent on proving the post-modernist point that it was all about power, not
facts. The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only
came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was
"rife with careless mistakes." It was a poor display featuring vicious ad
hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocaust denier. The issue
was captioned: "Science defends itself against the Skeptical
Environmentalist." Really. Science has to defend itself? Is this what we
have come to?

When Lomborg asked for space to rebut his critics, he was given only a page
and a half. When he said it wasn't enough, he put the critics' essays on
his web page and answered them in detail. Scientific American threatened
copyright infringement and made him take the pages down.

Further attacks since have made it clear what is going on. Lomborg is
charged with heresy. That's why none of his critics needs to substantiate
their attacks in any detail. That's why the facts don't matter. That's why
they can attack him in the most vicious personal terms. He's a heretic.

Of course, any scientist can be charged as Galileo was charged. I just
never thought I'd see the Scientific American in the role of mother church.

Is this what science has become? I hope not. But it is what it will become,
unless there is a concerted effort by leading scientists to aggressively
separate science from policy. The late Philip Handler, former president of
the National Academy of Sciences, said that "Scientists best serve public
policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics. If
the scientific community will not unfrock the charlatans, the public will
not discern the difference-science and the nation will suffer." Personally,
I don't worry about the nation. But I do worry about science.

Thank you very much.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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