Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

Putting the ‘Activist’ in Scientist

29 people have submitted a statement regarding the Keystone Pipeline. Purely political opinions are being camouflaged as ‘scientific judgment.’  

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I grew up thinking that scientists were the source of untainted knowledge – that I should pay attention to what they said because they were society’s truth tellers. It was a scientist’s job to deliver the naked, unadorned, inescapable facts.

The manner in which various political factions and vested interests might later attempt to use those facts wasn’t a scientist’s concern. He was above the fray. Integrity shone from his brow. He was incorruptible.

How pathetically naive I was.

Yesterday Inside Climate News, a website dedicated to unabashedly activist journalism, published a story titled Scientists: Key Parts of State Dept Keystone Review Are ‘Without Merit. It tells us that 29 people have submitted a joint statement about the proposed Keystone Pipeline, which is intended to ship Alberta oil across the Canada/US border to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico.

Within the course of that article these 29 people are described as:

  • “Dozens of leading scientists”
  • “the group of luminaries”
  • “a group with strong credentials in science, health and environmental policy circles”
  • “the scientists”

We’re told that several of the 29:

have played prominent roles in the decades-long work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which has produced the overarching scientific consensus on the risks of climate change due to human pollution, mostly from burning fossil fuels.

We’re also informed that, within their statement, they refer to “Our scientific judgment.”

The message of this fawning article is that these people are high priests. They’re uniquely informed truth tellers – SCIENTISTS in full caps – whose scientific opinions deserve to be heeded.

But this is exactly what they are not. One of these 29 people is James Hansen. By no means can that man be considered a neutral, dispassionate scientist. Surely readers deserve to know a few pertinent facts. As I observed recently:

Hansen is a full-blown [climate] activist. Not the peaceful, law-abiding kind, but the sort who feels the need to repeatedly break the law and get himself arrested. The last occasion was 10 weeks ago. Before that, he was arrested in September 2011, in September 2010, and in June 2009.

We’re told that the statement of these was 29 people was:

submitted on behalf of the group by William R. Moomaw, a professor of international environmental policy at Tufts University and a leading IPCC author… [link in the original]

What we aren’t told is that Moomaw “is a chemist turned policy scientist” whose bio says he now focuses on “integrating science…into international agreements.”

In other words, he left the chemistry lab behind long ago and is now a thoroughly political animal. International agreements – understandings between nations – are about high-octane politics.

Back in 2007, when the IPCC released its last report, Moomaw told the New York Times:

we’re looking for an energy revolution that’s as comprehensive as the one that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century when we went from gaslight and horse-drawn carriages to light bulbs and automobiles… [bold added, news story backed up here]

We’re looking for a revolution. One green website ran with that idea in the title of a post: Latest IPCC report calls for world social revolution, says author.

Either the IPCC prepared a scientific document – or it produced a political treatise calling for a revolution. The two are mutually exclusive. Before installment number one of its next report is made public this coming September, it would be useful if we made up our minds as to which activity the IPCC is engaged in.

Incidentally, you know who else talks about an energy revolution? Greenpeace. The World Wildlife Fund. The Sierra Club.

The first page of the statement submitted by the 29 contains the subheading “No Need for Additional Oil.” On page four, they complain that the US State Department has failed to consider “environmental justice issues.”  Rather than being scientific questions, these are matters of opinion (the full statement is backed up here).

It is the job of a scientist to collect and report on data. How our community decides to respond to that data is an entirely separate discussion in which everyone is entitled to participate.

These 29 individuals have stepped out of the scientific realm and into the political arena. There would be nothing wrong with that if the media coverage they received noted that they, like anyone else, deserved a voice.

But that’s not what’s going on. Instead, we’re being told that they’re the anointed. That their day jobs gives them special, privileged insight. That their supposedly “scientific judgment” deserves more attention than the non-scientific judgment of the rest of us.

They’re scientists, they know what’s best. No, they’re activists camouflaging their personal, philosophical, and political worldview as “scientific judgment.”

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Some other familiar names among the 29:

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