Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
20 American academics think unorthodox climate views should be subjected to an organized crime investigation.
Alternative climate perspectives are apparently so intimidating, distressing, and frightening that some people want police to get involved. Yesterday, climate scientist Judith Curry objected strenuously to a 2-week-old letter sent to US President Obama and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Signed by 20 academics, it calls for an investigation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). When it became law back in 1970, RICO was intended to help authorities convict Mafia leaders of murders they’d ordered but hadn’t personally committed. Those found guilty under this legislation can be sent to prison for 20 years.
A few days ago, I explained that activists frequently accuse those who express unorthodox climate views of being deliberate liars. According to this line of reasoning, skeptics aren’t sincere in their beliefs. They’re just bad people. In league with the devil. Whom no one should listen to. Because they’re bad people.
This is precisely the circular logic on display in this letter. These 20 signatories – who have presumably all benefited from academic freedom and taxpayer-funded academic tenure – “strongly endorse” a RICO investigation of
corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change. [bold added]
On what basis should such an investigation be launched? According to this letter:
The actions of these organizations have been extensively documented in peer-reviewed academic research (Brulle, 2013) and in recent books including: Doubt is their Product (Michaels, 2008), Climate Cover-Up (Hoggan & Littlemore, 2009), Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conway, 2010), The Climate War (Pooley, 2010), and in The Climate Deception Dossiers (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015). [links added]
It’s important to parse this paragraph carefully. The alleged extensive documentation is not, in fact, found in peer-reviewed academic literature. Only one, lone, journal article gets mentioned here. The final publication on the list is a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists – which has been described as “one of the most ideological of all the green groups.” Since anyone with a credit card can join this Union it is not, in fact, a group of scientists. Which means that people complaining about deception have cited as one of their sources an organization whose name misleads the public seven days a week.
Please also note that two of the books listed use the word doubt in their title as if it were a sin: Merchants of Doubt. Doubt is Their Product. Rather than being the think-for-yourself brigade, this is the Inquisition. A third book, Climate Cover-Up, is written by public relations specialist James Hoggan. He’s the founder of the orthodoxy-enforcing DeSmogBlog.com, is chairman of the board of the ultra-green David Suzuki Foundation, and is an Al Gore climate trainee. Only gullible individuals think the PR industry is about straight-up, dependable facts rather than just another brand of spin.
All of these sources of alleged evidence make essentially the same claim: industries that have invested heavily in their own products and infrastructure have a history of seeing matters from their own perspective – and of arguing vigorously in their own defense. Just like green groups, they have a history of hiring lobbyists and other professional mouthpieces to help them get their message across. Like green groups, they fund research and are associated with think tanks.
This is called free speech and legitimate democratic activity. Only people who think certain industries are evil per se could possibly object to them communicating their own point-of-view. Only people who fundamentally embrace the You’re in league with the devil and therefore have no right to be heard argument see a conspiracy to deceive the public rather than a marketplace of ideas in which multiple perspectives jostle for ascendancy, knowledge continually evolves, and social mores can change dramatically from one generation to another.
Judith Curry’s detailed response to this letter is worth reading in full. She is a quiet, sane, normally unemotional voice who can be forgiven for viewing this letter as a demand by 20 of her academic colleagues to burn her at the stake:
What you have done with your letter is the worst kind of irresponsible advocacy, which is to attempt to silence scientists that disagree with you by invoking RICO. It is bad enough that politicians…are playing this sort of political game with science and scientists, but I regard it as highly unethical for scientists to support defeating scientists with whom you disagree by such methods.
Call in the police. The 20 people – whose names on this contemptible letter should not soon be forgotten and are therefore listed below – are apparently in such doubt as to the strength of their own climate evidence, they’re petitioning the powers-that-be to criminally investigate those who express alternative ideas.
If it becomes routine for the police to get involved in scientific disputes, what do these 20 people suppose will happen to them once political winds change?
It’s also worth noting the names of the academic institutions now tarnished by this anti-free-speech document. George Mason University appears to be a hotbed of anti-democratic thought with six signatories, Columbia University has three, while U of Washington, U of Maryland, and Florida State have each contributed two.
Jagadish Shukla, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Maibach, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Dirmeyer, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Barry Klinger, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Schopf, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
David Straus, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Sarachik, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Michael Wallace, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Alan Robock, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Eugenia Kalnay, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
William Lau, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO
T.N. Krishnamurti, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Vasu Misra, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Ben Kirtman, University of Miami, Miami, FL
Robert Dickinson, University of Texas, Austin, TX
Michela Biasutti, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Mark Cane, Columbia University, New York, NY
Lisa Goddard, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Alan Betts, Atmospheric Research, Pittsford, VT