In light of the recent email scandal at the University of East Anglia, James Hoggan’s new book, Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, is an amusing read. In the exposé, Hoggan, president of a public relations firm, details the dishonesty and chicanery of global warming skeptics. Aside from accepting money from Exxon, he asserts, skeptics have coerced the mainstream media to portray global warming as controversial among scientists, paying “junk scientists” to appear on Fox and CNN and inflating the list of scientists skeptical of manmade global warming. Oh, and they take money from Exxon.
Hoggan’s greatest fault in Climate Cover-Up is his apparent disdain for evidence. It’s remarkable how many of his arguments turn on a simple appeal to expertise, credentials, or repute. Indeed, the book is liberally peppered with more “experts” and “peer-reviewed journals” than could possibly be claimed to exist. Climate change believers are invariably “leading scientists” with “impressive resumes” and “dozens of scientific papers.”
In a token gesture of fairness, Hoggan shows grudging admiration for Stephen McIntyre, the Canadian statistician who exposed flaws in Michael Mann’s now iconic 1999 “hockey-stick” graph, first published by the International Panel on Climate Change in 2001. Hoggan then inform readers that McIntyre is “not a professional scientist” but has instead shown “dogged professionalism.” Further, he can’t refrain from cheap shots: McIntyre’s work, he says, has corrected a few “very narrow points of climate science” and is published in Energy and Environment, “a less than prestigious journal.” Hoggan’s underlying motive seems to be damage control; his colleague’s research did, after all, find that Mann’s “flawed computer program can even pull out spurious hockey stick shapes from lists of trendless random numbers.” McIntyre aside, the skeptics are a pitiful bunch, Hoggan suggests, with only a handful of scientific papers to their names and nary a true climate scientist among them. Skeptics may be scientists, but they’re over the hill—they are more often weathermen and lobbyists than scientists at all.
Hoggan is keen on reporting bad behavior among the skeptics, but shows little interest in investigating their stories from alternative points of view. It’s true that Exxon pours money into think tanks that spread skepticism about global warming. But by whom are climate scientists funded? Hoggan doesn’t say, but seems to believe their work is done in an apolitical vacuum of pure scientific inquiry. That Exxon merely wants to protect fossil fuels is, to Hoggan, an obvious and sufficient explanation for climate change skepticism. Corporate interests may well drive greed and dishonesty, but do not a good number profit from green technologies as well? Hoggan doesn’t care to investigate. In opposition to hundreds of “peer-reviewed” scientific papers, Mann’s hockey stick graph smoothed out well-established warming and cooling periods from the past millennium. How was that massive revision of climate history accepted so quickly and without opposition? Hoggan is curiously incurious.
Even the most prominent voices in the global warming debate earn little attention from Hoggan. Richard Lindzen, the Albert Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, earns only passing mention. In his one lonely reference, Hoggan seems to forget Lindzen’s wholly relevant credentials. He is also silent about Lindzen’s long 1992 article revealing the pressures lobbyists exert to drive scientific “consensus.” For that side of the story, we must refer to Christopher Booker’s The Real Global Warming Disaster. A columnist for the Telegraph, Booker quotes this choice bit from Lindzen’s analysis: “these lobbying groups have budgets of several million dollars and employ about 50,000 people” and use “global warming” as a “major battle cry in their fundraising” while “the media unquestioningly accept the pronouncements of these groups.” Lindzen’s article was apparently rejected by Science after editors concluded it would not interest readers. Science readers were, however, interested in a rebuttal to Lindzen’s work published some time later.
Now that the East Anglia emails have given us a glance behind the curtain of the “peer review” process and allowed us to see a bit of the jitterbuggery that goes on among climate scientists, Hoggan’s credibility as an author is more than suspect. Sad that a book has become a relic in the year of its publication.
As it happens, Ian Plimer, another scientist not mentioned in Hoggan’s book, wrote a compelling analysis of the limitations of peer-review before the East Anglia emails were made public. A geologist at the University of Adelaide, Plimer is the author of Heaven and Earth: Global Warming—The Missing Science, the book that serves as the bible of global warming skepticism. Plimer presents the historical evidence for warming and cooling on earth prior to the use of fossil fuels, and notes that global warming and cooling occurs on other planets, where petroleum emissions are presumably not present. The culprit in the climate change trial, Plimer argues in great detail, is the sun. Small variations in solar activity can have major effects on earth’s climate, a piece of evidence largely ignored by IPCC models.
In the final chapter of his book, Plimer examines the sociology of climate science. While “the peer review process of scientific journals is probably the best process we have,” it is “highly flawed. Editors can influence acceptance or rejection by their choice of reviewers, and even impartial reviewers “normally do not ask for the primary data.” Good scientific work is often done outside the peer-review circle, especially when it breaks no new ground. As a case in point, a study from Flinders University in Australia, showing that Pacific Ocean levels are static, was denied publication after scientists concluded that “nothing happened” in the study.
Hoggan’s relentless appeal to expertise is hollow from start to finish. Skepticism about global warming has always been, at its core, skepticism about scientific hubris. If the overreaching claims of global warming inadvertently encourage a climate of skepticism, the movement will have done a service to science, putting a chip in scientism and the cult of the expert—two of modernity’s most cherished idols.
Peter J. Leithart is Senior Fellow of Theology and Literature at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, and pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow.