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This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.

The Myth of the Apolitical Scientist

It’s absurd to say scientists are only now speaking up. Reuters publishes egregious climate propaganda.

Matthew Green is not a naive teenager. He’s a seasoned journalist who has worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and who has written a book about a Ugandan warlord. So how do we explain the Reuters story he filed earlier this month, headlined Scientists endorse mass civil disobedience to force climate action?

Its major theme is that there’s something new going on, that the climate situation is so dire scientists have begun behaving in an extraordinary manner. 400 scientists from 20 countries have broken “with the caution traditionally associated” with their profession, he says. Having previously “shunned overt political debate,” they’ve now discovered “a moral duty” to “defy convention.”

Green quotes Julia Steinberger, an ecological economist:

We can’t allow the role of scientists to be just to write papers and publish them in obscure journals and hope somehow that somebody out there will pay attention. We need to be rethinking the role of the scientist…We can’t allow science as usual.

Lordy, where have these people been? Living in a cave for the past 50 years? Activist scientists who insist that “incalculable human suffering” will result if the world doesn’t prioritize their opinions above all else, are nothing new. Not even close.

In his 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, biology professor Paul Ehrlich declared that “the time of famines” had arrived. The only “hope for survival” was “drastic worldwide measures.” His book was a political treatise that advocated “brutal and heartless decisions” to solve a problem that never did materialize.

The 1972 bestseller, titled A Blueprint for Survival, similarly proclaimed that “a succession of famines, epidemics, social crises and wars” were inevitable if governments didn’t take specific, dramatic actions. Politicians and the public were urged to pay attention since “34 distinguished biologists, ecologists, doctors and economists” had attached their names to that blueprint.

Steinberger’s comments to the contrary, it has been a long time since we’ve had ‘science as usual.’ Here’s a quote from a book published in 1976:

In the past, specialists have often been reluctant to engage in political debate or to share their knowledge and fears with the general public…This generalization no longer holds true. In many branches of science there are radical movements. Increasingly, both in the rich and poor worlds, scientists are involved in active advocacy which they see as an intellectual and ethical duty.” [bold added by me]

In 1988, climatologist and activist James Hansen mainstreamed global warming as a planetary crisis. Since then, rather than expressing his political opinions lawfully, he has behaved in a manner that has resulted in his arrest on at least four occasions: June 2009, September 2010, August 2011, and February 2013. His actions have produced headlines such as Top NASA scientist arrested (again) in White House protest.

Canadian geneticist and household name David Suzuki has similarly declared it “crystal clear that the planet is losing a battle with the deadliest predator in the history of life on Earth” – humanity. That statement, and many others characteristic of a drama queen, appeared in his 1990 book, It’s a Matter of Survival. 29 years ago, the message from this scientist was unambiguous: adopt his advice or really bad things would happen.

In 2003, environmental biologist Stephen Schneider boycotted a scientific conference because the presentations made there would afterward be published by Cambridge University Press. Schneider said he’d only participate if that publisher withdrew Bjorn Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. Far from being neutral and dispassionate, this major figure in climate science was demanding the equivalent of book burning.

In 2007, Mark Serreze, a “senior scientist at the U.S. government’s National Snow and Ice Data Center,” told the Associated Press: “The Arctic is screaming.” Within the same article, a second scientist, Jay Zwally, was equally over-the-top with his language. Global warming had already become so serious, he said, “the canary has died.”

Elsewhere, I’ve explained how 5 of the 10 lead authors of a crucial chapter in a 2007 climate report had documented links to the activist lobby group, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Indeed, 79 individuals with ties to the WWF helped write that report.

In 2009, hundreds of Canadian scientists, as well as several scientific organizations, signed an open letter published in a national newspaper promoting particular responses to climate change. The letter was orchestrated by the WWF. And let’s not forget UK economist Nicholas Stern’s insistence that a 2009 climate meeting was absolutely our “last chance to save the planet.”

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In 2010, climate modeller Andrew Weaver (who went on to become the leader of the Green Party in the province of British Columbia), called Canada’s democratically elected Prime Minister a “dictator,” and compared Canada to Zimbabwe in a media interview that was anything but an example of dispassionate science.

In 2012, Canadian economist and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) author Mark Jaccard was among 13 people arrested after blockading a coal train. Meanwhile, a powerful member of the Obama administration, scientist Jane Lubchenco, flew to Australia to deliver a speech that urged other scientists to become passionate, engaged activists.

In 2014, when the IPCC released a portion of its new report, it didn’t stick carefully to neutral language. Instead, it presented itself as the planet’s saviour (see the image at the top of this post).

In 2015, twenty US academics publicly urged President Obama to target dissenting scientists with organized crime-type investigations. Also that year, dozens of “members of the scientific community” issued an open letter urging museums to spurn donations from people alleged to be large “contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.”

I could go on. And on. And on. For at least half a century, numerous scientists have spoken publicly about issues of the day. They have scolded and threatened us. They have frightened our children, and consumed police resources.

Do scientists who work hard at being neutral and dispassionate still exist? Of course. But it is laughably wrong for journalist Green to suggest that, only now in 2019, have matters become so urgent that scientists are crossing a hitherto uncrossed line.

That premise is so patently incorrect, it makes this Reuters news story look like pure propaganda.

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This entry was posted on October 28, 2019 by in activist scientists, James Hansen, media, World Wildlife Fund and tagged , , , , .
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