Way, way back in April 2017, scientists around the world participated in the ‘March for Science’ as a show of force and unity against an allegedly anti-science Trump administration. Their motto was “science not silence”: many wrote that mantra on pieces of duct tape and stuck it across their mouths.
March for Science organizers claimed that “the best way to ensure science will influence policy is to encourage people to appreciate and engage with science. That can only happen through education, communication, and ties of mutual respect between scientists and their communities — the paths of communication must go both ways.”
But that was so three months ago.
Many scientists are now rejecting an open debate on anthropogenic global warming. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt appears ready to move forward with a “red-team, blue-team” exercise, where two groups of scientists publicly challenge each other’s evidence on manmade climate change. The idea was floated during a Congressional hearing last spring and outlined in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steve Koonin, former undersecretary of energy in the Obama administration. Koonin said the public is unaware of the intense debate in climate science and how “consensus statements necessarily conceal judgment calls and debates and so feed the “settled,” “hoax” and “don’t know” memes that plague the political dialogue around climate change.”
It would work this way: A red team of scientists critiques a key climate assessment. The blue team responds. The back-and-forth continues until all the evidence is aired and refuted, followed by public hearings and an action plan based on the findings. It happens entirely out in the open. Koonin said this approach is used in high-consequence situations and “very different and more rigorous than traditional peer review, which is usually confidential and always adjudicated, rather than public and moderated.” (Climate scientist Judith Curry has a good primer on this concept here.)
Pruitt is prepared to pull the trigger on this idea, according to an article in E&E News last week. In an interview with Breitbart News on June 5, Pruitt touted the red-team, blue-team initiative, saying that “the American people need to have that type of honest open discussion, and it’s something we hope to provide as part of our leadership.”
Instead Of Dialoguing, Climate Scientists Preach
Now you would think the scientific establishment would embrace an opportunity to present their case to a wary, if disinterested, public. You would think the 97 percent of scientists who supposedly all agree human activity is causing climate change would eagerly line up to vanquish climate deniers, especially those in the Trump administration. You would think the same folks who fear a science-averse President Trump would be relieved his administration is encouraging a rigorous, forensic inquiry into the most consequential scientific issue of our time that has wide-ranging economic, social, and political ramifications around the world.
You would think.
But instead, many scientists and activists are expressing outrage at this logical suggestion, even advising colleagues not to participate. In a June 21 Washington Post op-ed, three top climate scientists repudiated the red-team concept, offended by the slightest suggestion that climate science needs fixing. Naomi Oreskes, Benjamin Salter, and Kerry Emanuel wrote that “calls for special teams of investigators are not about honest scientific debate. They are dangerous attempts to elevate the status of minority opinions, and to undercut the legitimacy, objectivity and transparency of existing climate science.”
In a July 1 post full of irony, leading climate scientist Ken Caldeira blasts the climate contest: “We don’t want red team/blue team because science doesn’t line up monolithically for or against scientific positions.” What? Never mind the 97 percent consensus claim that’s been shoved down our throats for the past decade. (Caldeira also wrote just a few months ago that “the evidence for human-induced global warming is now so strong that no sensible person can deny a human role in these temperature increases. We can argue about what we should or should not do … but the argument is over.”)
Caldeira then smugly questions why “politicians who have never engaged in any scientific inquiry in their lives believe themselves to be the experts who should tell scientists how to conduct their business?” (Shall we then ask why scientists who have never engaged in any legislative or political endeavor in their lives believe themselves to be the experts who should tell lawmakers how to conduct their business?)
Climate Scientists Fear Losing Power, Nothing Else
Then there is the interminably-petulant and prosaic Michael Mann, who routinely dishes out the “denier” name to anyone who crosses him, and recently compared himself to a Holocaust survivor. Mann told ThinkProgress that the red-team concept is “un-American” and a ruse to “run a pro-fossil fuel industry disinformation campaign aimed at confusing the public and policymakers over what is potentially the greatest threat we face as a civilization.”
Aha! Right there is the key objection to the entire exercise: the risk to their political power. These activists know that climate change long ago stopped being about science. It is a liberal, big-government agenda wrapped up in a green cloak of superiority and virtue. For the past decade, the pro-climate crusaders have ruled policymaking, from international organizations to federal agencies down to your local park district. The Trump administration poses the first threat to their dominance, and instead of being up to the task of defending it — in public, with evidence and not platitudes, facing scientists they have smeared for not being part of the ‘consensus’ – they want to walk away.
That’s why I hope Pruitt proceeds with it. Let the blue team have an empty bench that will show American exactly what they think of ‘science’ – and them.