McCarthyism and the Climate Debate?

Washington, D.C., May 20, 2014 – The stench of McCarthyism has begun to permeate the debate over climate science. Some of the extreme devotees of the doctrine of the indelible fingerprint of mankind on a warming world are adopting the tactics of the odious and late Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.

Most readers of this post, I suspect, are too young to remember the bullying and boozy McCarthy (and his poisonous U.S. House counterpart, the Committee on Un-American Activities). I am old enough remember the time when anyone who questioned the orthodoxy of McCarthy and his anti-Communist lynch mob was publicly slandered, shamed, often driven underground and rendered unemployable. Not just Communists, but conventional liberals with left-leaning views. One of my vivid memories, although I was only 10 years old at the time, was the television hearings of the congressional inquiry that led to the end of the demagogic McCarthy. “Have you no sense of decency,” said McCarthy’s nemesis Joseph Welch, as he brought McCarthy down.

Now, it appears to me, McCarthy’s tactics are unwittingly being applied to well-credentialed scientists who challenge what has become the climate orthodoxy: that the world faces an existential crisis driven by man-made carbon dioxide emissions. The attacks on these men and women are intolerant and anti-science. They are utterly repugnant, particularly coming from the pale-green residue of the American left, which ought to know better.

This has come to a head with the recent case of Lennart Bengtsson, a prominent researcher at the UK’s University of Reading, He recently resigned from the advisory board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a British organization that is critical of some of the science behind the most hyperbolic claims of global warming. He had joined the organization only three weeks before, in order to share his growing skepticism about the current state of climate orthodoxy. He immediately got slammed and vilified for joining an organization that does not toe the politically correct line on climate.

Bengtsson, a Swedish climatologist, has published some 200 papers on the topic, according to the Daily Mail. He said the joined the board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, headed by prominent climate skeptic and social scientist Benny Peiser, because, he said, he “thought joining the organization would provide a platform for me to bring more common sense into the global climate change debate. I have been very concerned about tensions in the climate change community between activists and people who have questions.”

The Times of London reported that Bengtsson said he came under such an assault from those who don’t share his scientific views that the pressure “has become virtually unbearable. It is a situation that reminds me of the time of McCarthy.” At 79, Bengtsson can well remember that time. Bengtsson said that the strongest attacks came from scientists and policy advocates in the U.S. “It was the climate science community in the U.S. which took this very negatively.” That’s shameful.

Bengtsson isn’t the only scientists critical of the conventional scientific view of global warming who has been personally attacked by scientists on the other side. They have assumed the role of commissars of correctness and inquisitors of heresy. In 2009, the Breakthrough Institute, hardly a hotbed of climate heterodoxy, linked former Clinton administration energy official Joe Romm, now at the Center for American Progress, with McCarthy. Romm has long been known as a practitioner of ad hominem attacks upon those with whom he disagrees.

Judith Curry, a leading climatologist at Georgia Tech, who has been critical of the technical basis of the climate models that are the foundation of the current orthodoxy about global warming, has also been the target of scientists who viciously disagree with her views. Examining the Bengtsson case, she recently wrote of “a disgraceful display of Climate McCarthyism by climate scientists, which has the potential to do as much harm to climate science as did the Climategate emails,” a reference to how climate scientists appeared to collude to cloud criticism of their research, which came to light in 2009 with a leaked flood of emails.

John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville and his colleague and former NASA scientist Roy Spencer have also been personally attacked for their challenges to the global warming liturgy. Both Spencer and Christy have significantly advanced the understanding of the climate through their work with NASA satellite temperature records over more than 30 years.

This isn’t how science is supposed to work. In the long run science and the rigor of scientific endeavor will win out over these ultimately trivial disputes, which are mainly aimed at influencing politics. But the current mess of personal attacks, vilification, and bullying of those who are not in the mainstream turns my stomach.