POLITICS IN SCIENCE: FOLLOWING THE INVIDIOUS EMAIL TRAIL


In Australia, six months ago, I had dinner with a couple whom I have known for nearly thirty years.  The husband is a renowned physicist at one of the country’s leading universities.  At a point in the dinner, somewhere over roast chicken and potatoes, the conversation drifted onto the topic of global warming.    I proceeded to state my opinion  that the whole issue is guided far more by a political agenda than good, hard science.   The husband looked at me as though I had just burst into the Ave Maria in the middle of of a Yom Kippur service.

“What are you talking about?” he growled, a chill penetrating our otherwise warm exchange.   “Politics has no bearing on science. Scientists base their observations solely on a solid methodological approach and empirical data. As for man-made warming, it has the near universal consensus of climatologists around the world and it is absurd to suggest that the evidence is cooked.”

I remembered the conversation last week when ‘Climategate’ cracked open the records of some of the world’s leading climatologists and impugned their reputations, perhaps beyond reprieve.   The climate scientists at the world famous Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the U.K were revealed as palpable hucksters with email trails leading back as far as 15 years, suggesting that they had doctored climate records, administered collective punishment to dissenters, colluded to subvert the work of climate change skeptics and sought to shut down a magazine that had begun to publish the work of climate change doubters.  

Modern science was and is meant to be the expression of all that is rational in the human mind. Flowering in the late 16th Century, in the throes of the Renaissance, it has, since that time, offered us a system for acquiring knowledge about the natural world and through observation and experimentation, describing and explaining natural phenomena.

Over the centuries we have come to expect more and more from our scientists as their discoveries and inventions have led the way to an understanding  of space and time, the building blocks of matter, the harnessing of natural forces and life-changing breakthroughs in communication, transportation, sanitation and the prolongation of human life.

Revered for their assumed devotion to the cause of human progress and the quest for truth, scientists have come to represent a standard of intellectual inquiry which is generally believed to be unsullied by politics, religion, ideology or dogma of any kind.

Most of us find it hard to accept, then, that our scientists have biases, that they can indeed display a high level of prejudice and often exhibit a chauvinism that skews their reasoning and which can drive them, in a herd mentality, toward the brink of intellectual fascism. No one expects such men and women, who are, we believe, committed to truth, to erect deliberate hurdles or barriers to others with alternative or contrarian theories which could have a bearing on the ascertainment of truth.

Yet it happens.

It certainly did  in the case of Richard Sternberg.  In 2005, Dr. Sternberg, the recipient of two Ph.Ds – one in molecular biology and the other in systems analysis – was a research associate at the Smithsonian Institute, widely acknowledged as this country’s most prominent scientific institution.  As the volunteer editor of one of the Institute’s publications The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington,

he regularly received submissions for the journal.  Similar to any editor of a scientific journal, if he deemed a submission worthy for publication, he would send out the piece to a group of anonymous scientists for peer review.  If the returned general consensus was positive, he would publish the article.

One such paper arrived from Dr. Steven C. Meyer, an academic with high credentials (a Ph D. from Cambridge University and a host of articles published in peer review publications). The article was titled  “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories.”

Sternberg liked the piece and therefore submitted it for review.  

The returned consensus was positive.  Thus, in August, 2005, the article appeared.

All was quiet for a month, before a storm of protest howled forth from the ranks of the Smithsonian Institute.  The events which followed were deeply reminiscent of the kind of treatment Jewish professors received from their non- Jewish colleagues following the rise of Nazi Germany.

Complaining about a paragraph at the end of the piece which offered intelligent design as  alternative theory to evolution, Sternberg was systematically demoted from his position as a Research Associate . He was thereafter became the victim of a rampant campaign of harassment by both the  Smithsonian administration and his colleagues; his religious and political views were investigated; his library privileges were revoked and he was forced to move his office. His professional reputation, his private life and his ethics, were repeatedly impugned and publicly smeared with false allegations by government employees working in tandem with a non-governmental political advocacy group, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

The environment became so hostile that Sternberg was unable to conduct his research and felt no other option but to resign.

Sternberg’s plight did not go unnoticed.  Articles and editorials in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times, highlighted his case and eventually it was brought to the attention House of Representatives Commission on Government Reform which proceeded to launch an investigation.

The results of that investigation was a report with a scorching condemnation of the scientists at the Smithsonian Institute.  The email trail it uncovered produced incontrovertible evidence of group harassment, private and public humiliation and character assassination, condoned and sometimes even led by the Smithsonian administration itself. 

And all because Sternberg had allowed an article to be published in an Institute journal which challenged Darwinian orthodoxy.
This Kafkaesque drama has played out repeatedly in academic circles in recent years, but no more so than the case of Guillermo Gonzalez, denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2006.

In 2004, Gonzalez had co-authored a book The Privileged Planet The book’s thesis supported the theory that the Earth is uniquely placed in the universe for the development of life and that the emergence of such life elsewhere should be exceedingly rare to find, given the combination of factors needed to support it.   This idea rebuts the popularly accepted Principle of Mediocrity, made popular by the late Carl Sagan – that the earth has no special function or purpose and is certainly not unique in the universe in supporting life.

The implicit implication of Gonzalez’s book – that the universe itself reveals aspects of intelligent design – is anathema to many ideological astrophysicists who support Mediocrity and so it was to Gonzalez’s colleagues.  When Gonzalez’s nomination for tenure came up for review, they launched a furious campaign of denunciation and defamation, successfully derailing his application.Nothing further would have occurred if the main actors in the tenure process had not been forced to produce their email exchanges under the Freedom of Information Act.   What the email record reveals is a secret cabal of vilification and ridicule by colleagues in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who explicitly wanted Gonzalez removed because of his pro-intelligent design views. In voting to reject tenure for Dr. Gonzalez, members of the faculty at Iowa State had all but ignored recommendations made by the majority of their own outside scientific reviewers, who clearly thought Gonzalez deserved tenure.

 In October of this year, AFA itself learned first hand how this system works.  

After contracting with the California Science Center in Los Angeles to screen two films, one pro- evolution and  the other pro-Intelligent Design, as part of its event series, The Darwin Debates, our organization was informed that we had violated the contract and that the screening in the Center’s IMAX Theater was to be cancelled.

The supposed violation of the contract did not occur as alleged and a Freedom of Information Act Request (since CSC is a public institution all its email records are regarded as public domain) revealed that the allegation was merely a pretext.  The email trail shows dozens of scientists from all over the country weighing in on the issue and applying inordinate pressure upon the CSC to cancel the event.  In addition, an email from a representative of CSC, in what was almost certainly an inadvertent admission, was sent  to us claiming that the screening of the pro-ID film was likely to affect the Center’s relationship with its affiliate, the Smithsonian Institute.  That, for all appearances, seems to be the true reason for the cancellation of the contract.

In all three cases the email trail shows ideology trumping both intellectual integrity and academic freedom.  Now has it seemingly done the same thing in “Climategate.”  Information, vital to an assessment of the extent of anthropogenic global warming was dismissed and its proponents vilified and harassed for no other reason than that that they opposed the consensus view.  The whole episode has reinforced the notion that science is not immune from the pressures of either politics or ideology and that sometimes it will bend itself to accommodate both.

This has troubling implications for our society and civilization.  If we cannot rely on the integrity of our scientists to allow unfettered discussion of issues of global concern, free of ideology or politics, what value is there to the notion of open inquiry?  If scientists are revealed to be petty, vengeful antagonists who care less about the veracity of their own scientific ideas and theories than about the protection of their careers and reputations, what value are we to place on their pronouncements and claims to expertise?

The email trail of the global warming alarmists will, I predict, lead to some genuinely alarming revelations.  It will display the complicity of the scientific community in a fraud perpetrated by some of the world’s top climatologists in league with the leaders of  the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) –  all of whom have vouchsafed the reliability of the calamitous climate figures.  In this event the whole edifice of the global warming movement is likely to collapse, revealed as a hollow shell with false, doctored science at its core.

This may well vindicate those among the climate skeptics who have railed for years against the scientific hogwash and the political gamesmanship behind claims of anthropogenic global warming.  But where will it leave humanity’s faith in the authenticity of science? 

That should be our most pressing concern in the weeks and months ahead as the reptilian carcass of ‘Climategate’ is slit open and spills forth its bundle of secrets.

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3 Responses to POLITICS IN SCIENCE: FOLLOWING THE INVIDIOUS EMAIL TRAIL

  1. Have you ever considered adding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m more of a visual learner,I found that to be more helpful well let me know how it turns out. Keep up the great works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll. This is a great article thanks for sharing this informative information.. I will visit your blog regularly for some latest post.

    • avidavis says:

      Thank you for that response and I deeply appreciate your interest. We will consider adding video content. Thank you for the suggestion.

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  2. […] in the Weekend Wall Street Journal this week, adds to the list of malfeasants outlined in my piece Politics in Science. Besides pointing out some of the more egregious Climategate examples he […]

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