The Illusion of Scientific Consensus

by Chris Skates

This column is in response to Electric Light & Power columnist Dan Watkiss’ “Taking It Into Account” column “What Will Drive Investment: Peer-reviewed Science or Ideology?” on Page 18 of the March/April issue.

Watkiss begins by celebrating the book “Merchants of Doubt.” He writes, “I became engrossed in their investigation of how four once-eminent cold warrior physicists became doubt merchants, the go-to authorities for denying peer-reviewed science showing that greenhouse gas emissions are changing the earth’s climate and will do so increasingly if not abated.”

Watkiss paints with an incredibly broad brush. The implication is to categorize anyone who disagrees with anthropogenic climate change as nothing more than a shameless mercenary (although the article opens the possibility later that so-called deniers might only be stupid). But by whose measure are these four mystery physicists “go-to authorities”?

I have researched climate change these past four years for my latest book, “Going Green: For Some It Has Nothing To Do With The Environment,” and I have not come across any such goblins.

I have seen peer-reviewed scientific studies by highly accredited scientists–including pre-eminent climatologists–in scientific journals that point to natural causes for climate change and raise serious questions about the peer-reviewed research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Watkiss ignores this peer-reviewed research. As a chemist and author, I understand that according to scientific method, theories should be tested.

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in his book “A Brief History of Time” writes, “A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations.”

Hawking writes, “Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.”

Again, the implication of the article is that we should pay no attention to the peer-reviewed research behind the curtain; instead, we should pay attention only to the research that favors an anthropogenic cause. Watkiss writes that members of the U.S. House of Representatives are so credulous as to base all their policy decisions on the mercenary claims of these four physicists. There is no mention of the congressional hearings conducted with several of the aforementioned scientists.

Watkiss further writes that the deniers’ proposed solution to the alleged anthropogenic problem is that “it is cheaper to cope with the symptoms such as famines, floods and extreme weather “” or that “humanity could pack up and migrate out of those parts of the earth no longer capable of sustaining them because of climate change.”

This accusation is ludicrous. No books, peer-reviewed scientific studies or transcripts of congressional testimony I have read even imply such a proposed solution. What the “deniers,” as Watkiss labels them, say is that climate change is not a human-caused phenomenon and thus will not be human-cured. Futile attempts to mitigate something that is not a root cause–carbon emissions–will have serious economic repercussions.

Watkiss assumes that all motives of all people–no matter how credentialed–who cast doubt on anthropogenic theory are sinister or at least ignorance-based. Does he assume that all motives of Al Gore, the IPCC and anthropogenic proponents are pure and beyond question? Wasn’t it Gore who sat before Congress and repeatedly cited the demonstrably fraudulent hockey stick graph? Wasn’t it the IPCC that, after months of denials, apologized for allowing an unfounded quotation from an environmental activist group’s brochure to make its way into an IPCC report it called scientific research?

Let us refer back to the article’s title, “What Will Drive Investment: Peer-reviewed Science or Ideology?”

Allow me to register a vote for peer-reviewed science–all of the peer-reviewed science.

Chris Skates is a novelist and chemist with 21 years of experience in nuclear power, as well as fossil-fueled power generation. Much of his work has involved environmental compliance. His new novel is “Going Green: For Some It Has Nothing To Do With The Environment.”

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