James Delingpole, in Climategate: Time for the Tumbrils, noting the public collapse in credibility of AGW “science” utters a fine rant summed up in this wise (parochial references to British political figures and organizations omitted):
I’m in no mood for being magnanimous in victory. I want the lying, cheating, fraudulent scientists prosecuted and fined or imprisoned. I want warmist politicians booted out and I want fellow-travellers who are still pushing this green con trick to be punished at the polls for their culpable idiocy.
For years I’ve been made to feel a pariah for my views on AGW. Now it’s payback time and I take small satisfaction from seeing so many rats deserting their sinking ship. I don’t want them on my side. I want to see them in hell, reliving scenes from Hieronymus Bosch.
I too long to see the frauds and the fellow-travellers in the hell they’ve earned for themselves. But revenge, while it’s a tasty dish that long-time public “deniers” like Delingpole and myself are now thoroughly enjoying, isn’t the best reason to hound them and their enabling organizations out of public life. The best reason not to relent, to name and shame the fraudsters and shatter their reputations and humilate them — ideally, to the point where there’s a rash of prominent suicides as a result — is this:
If we don’t destroy them, they’ll surely ramp up yet another colossal, politicized eco-fraud to plague us all.
To explain why I’m sure this is so, let me start by reprising a comment I wrote in late November in response to someone who asked whether I bought conservative Senator James Inhofe’s theory that the climate scientists are all involved in a monolithic AGW conspiracy. Here’s what I said at the time:
If Inhofe actually believes that the entire scientific community is embroiled in monolithic AGW conspiracy, he’s an idiot; I agree with that. What I believe is actually going on is a lot more complicated and ambiguous than that. There are a lot of players in this dance. I’ll round up a few:.
First, the scientists. Most are caught up in, or struggling against, an error cascade of humongous proportions. What’s an error cascade? Somebody gave one of the type examples upthread, over the mass of the electron. This is not conspiracy, it’s a result of a tendency to use seniority or authority as a shortcut when it’s technically difficult to evaluate evidence and socially difficult to be skeptical. All humans do this, even scientists.
Next, the Gaianists: a term I made up for people in whom “Save the Earth!” has psychologically substituted for traditional religion (in more or less chiliastic forms). They mean well, they really do; they recycle as an act of virtue, they worry about composting and buying local produce – and they’re totally subject to being manipulated by the other players, which is important since most of the action is going on in democracies. They’re not usually manipulated directly by the scientists, except occasionally a very wealthy one (er, think dot.com millionaire) might get hit up for funding. The Gaianists aren’t a conspiracy; they’re not organized enough. There’s some overlap with the scientists at the non-chiliastic end of this group.
Next, the green-shirts. These are political hacks of all varieties who just love the ideas of more carbon taxes, more regulation, and the general expansion of state power, especially if they can posture as virtuous eco-saviors while they’re arranging this. They’e not a conspiracy either, just a bunch of careerists who compete for the Gaianists as a voting bloc. They sometimes behave a bit like a conspiracy, but only because their behavioral incentives tend to push them all in the same direction. Er, they’re not scientists. They’re Al Gore, or they’d like to be, only with political power too.
Any conspiracies in sight? Yes, actually…
Conspiracy #1: Most of the environmental movement is composed of innocent Gaianists, but not all of it. There’s a hard core that’s sort of a zombie remnant of Soviet psyops. Their goals are political: trash capitalism, resurrect socialism from the dustbin of history. They’re actually more like what I have elsewhere called a prospiracy, having lost their proper conspiratorial armature when KGB Department V folded up in 1992. There aren’t a lot of them, but they’re very, very good at co-opting others and they drive the Gaianists like sheep. I don’t think there’s significant overlap with the scientists here; the zombies are concentrated in universities, all right, but mostly in the humanities and grievance-studies departments.
Conspiracy #2: The hockey team itself. Read the emails. Small, tight-knit, cooperating through covert channels, very focused on destroying its enemies, using false fronts like realclimate.org. There’s your classic conspiracy profile.
My model of what’s been going on is basically this: The hockey team starts an error cascade that sweeps up a lot of scientists. The AGW meme awakens chiliastic emotional responses in a lot of Gaianists. The zombies and the green-shirts grab onto that quasi-religious wave as a political strategem (the difference is that the zombies actively want to trash capitalism, while the green-shirts just want to hobble and milk it). Pro-AGW scientists get more funding from the green-shirts within governments, which reinforces the error cascade – it’s easier not to question when your grant money would be at risk for doing so. After a few times around this cycle, the hockey team notices it’s riding a tiger and starts on the criminal-conspiracy stuff so it will never have to risk getting off.
Overall, is this conspiracy? No. Mostly it’s just people responding to short-term incentives, unaware that they’re caught up in an error cascade and/or being politically fucked around. Nobody involved is what you could reasonably call evil – well, except for the zombies. It would be pretty evil if the hockey team had planned all this, but I’m not cynical enough to believe that. Not yet, anyway, but I haven’t read all the emails either.
OK, now it’s months later and I’ve read enough of the emails to be fairly sure that the “team” did not in fact plan all this. Nor, I’m pretty sure, did the green-shirts or the zombies; they merely exploited an opportunity to do what they wanted to do anyway. The key point — and the reason the AGW frauds need to be shamed and punished — is that the political background conditions favoring this kind of fraud are still in place.
That is, the zombies and green-shirts still have a powerful interest in magnifying scientific errors that suit their agendas into politicized crusades that could produce error cascades just as huge. Somewhere out there, there are now-innocent scientific research groups who could become the next decade’s version of the “team”, degenerating into fraudulent conspiracies as careerism draws them in, the political villains cheer them on to rationalize the power-grab of the week, and the Gaianists gamely but stupidly try to do the right thing.
I’m even prepared to hazard a guess where the next fraud would be ginned up from: environmental toxicology and what are called “endocrine disruptors”.
The most effective way to prevent a recurrence is for there to be real penalties — political, social, and criminal — attached to playing the environmental-panic con game. It’s not a good outcome for any of us if the scientists who committed criminal data fraud and denied FOIA requests get a soft landing to positions elsewhere in academia. And the green-shirts who used that fraud as cover for their ambitions should absolutely be hounded out of public life so that politics in future will be a bit less toxic.
As for the zombies — well, hanging them all from lamp-posts would be ideal, but distinguishing them from their more-or-less innocent dupes is difficult. At least, by destroying the reputations of everyone who promoted this fraud, we might impair the zombies’ past ability to operate Gaianist organizations like so many sock puppets.
The most optimistic take on the long-term outcome is that the collapse of the AGW fraud might at least partially immunize us against future attacks of environmental junk science. I wish I were in fact that optimistic, but I’m not. In any case, a round of public excruciations of the villains in this one is certainly called for, pour encourager les autres.
UPDATE: I thought of killing myself, says climate scandal professor Phil Jones. Instead, this fraud and bully plays the tearful-victim card. The man truly has no shame.