The Counterfeit Consensus
An Interview With S. Fred Singer
On July 24 '97, President Clinton held a press conference with a group of prominent scientists to announce that a scientific "consensus" has been reached on global warming and that the catastrophic effects of man's use of fossil fuels is now an accepted scientific fact, not just a theory. One of the most prominent voices raised in protest against this claim was that of S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the university of Virginia and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project in Fairfax, Virginia. (The Project maintains an excellent website at http://www.his.com/~sepp.) A few days after President Clinton's press conference, TIA Editor Robert Tracinski spoke with Dr. Singer about the alleged consensus for catastrophic global warming and about the real scientific facts.
TIA: At his recent press conference, President Clinton claimed that there is now a scientific consensus on global warming that it is now an accepted scientific fact, not just a theory. Does such a consensus really exist?
SFS: The answer is: No, there is not a scientific consensus. Nor is there ever a scientific consensus, truly speaking, on any issue. But in this particular case, it isn't just a small group of scientists who are holding out, or some crackpots who have a different view. It is in fact a mainstream non-consensus. The shoe is on the other foot. The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], the scientific group that advises the UN, consists of a small handful of the political type of scientists and a large number of cooperating scientists who supply information. The claim that these 2,000-odd scientists are all in agreement is sheer nonsense. They have never been polled, they have never been surveyed, and in fact when they do speak out, when their opinions have been recorded, they express grave doubt about the main conclusion of the IPCC, the main scientific conclusion.
So global warming is a theory. It has not been verified that is, it has not been shown to be as large, or even present, as the theory predicts. And the basic consensus is, as it should be, that we cannot at the present time at least verify the theory. Now the theory of course will change, it will be improved, and there will come a time when the theory and the observations and the facts will agree. But I predict that this will happen only after the theory scales down its predictions of future warming.
TIA: Scales down from a disastrous warming to a small warming?
SFS: Yes. I think most scientists believe that there should be a small warming produced in the next century. It may be so small that it will not even be detectable because of the natural fluctuations that will hide it. And certainly it will not be consequential it will not have any important consequences. I think that's the mainstream view now.
TIA: But there is a widespread perception that there is a consensus in favor of catastrophic global warming.
SFS: The word "consensus" is being used politically to hide the fact that the observations do not agree with the theory, or that the theory has not been validated. And you have to understand that all of the predictions of a future warming a major warming are based on theory. Since the theory has not been validated and cannot be validated, those who have a political agenda are trying to get around the scientific facts by claiming a consensus which in fact doesn't exist.
TIA: By what mechanism, then, has the appearance of a consensus been manufactured?
SFS: That's a very interesting question. As I said, the IPCC reports do list 2,000-odd names of people. By far the majority of them are not in any way, shape, or form climate scientists. The fact that should make one suspicious is that they include people all the way from Albania to Zimbabwe. And, you know, it is hard to believe that those names nobody's ever heard of are in fact climate scientists. These are people who are listed as "contributors," which means only that their name was used or their work was used in the report, but not that they were responsible for any part of the report. Or, most often, they are so-called "reviewers." The reviewers are given a part of the report and asked to express their opinion on it. If they give a negative opinion, they're still listed as a reviewer. And I recognize many names in this list of people who had negative opinions or skepticism expressed about the report, or parts of it, and they are still listed as reviewers and counted among the consensus.
TIA: That even includes some people who have prominently spoken out against the global warming theory?
SFS: Yes. They include such people as Pat Michaels, Robert Balling, Richard Lindzen, John Christie, and others.
TIA: Do you find it significant also that many of these reports are sponsored and funded by government agencies, so that you have people involved who have an interest in making it look like there's a need for regulation?
SFS: Well, you have to understand that government agencies get their money from Congress by telling the Congress that this is an important, vital problem affecting the future of the united States, and the future of our children, grandchildren, etc., etc. In other words they have a vested interest in stating that this is a serious problem.
Once they have done this and obtained the money, they then pass it on to scientists who make proposals, or to scientific groups that want to do certain projects and get grants or contracts. You can well imagine that they would be reluctant to give money to someone who comes up and says: I can show you by research that this is not a problem, that this is a phantom problem, or it is not a serious problem. So inevitably the money is spent on people who can convince the bureaucrats in the granting agencies that this is a problem and that their research will establish it.
TIA: Do you think this has the effect of suppressing people who might otherwise speak out and challenge the alleged consensus?
SFS: Yes, I think it has an effect, particularly on younger researchers in universities. You have to understand that the young researchers, assistant professors, let's say, who do not have tenure, get tenure generally by showing that they've done important publications. To do important research publications, you have to do important research. To do research, you have to have funds. To get funds, you have to write proposals that get funded. So you have a chain of events here that predisposes these people to go in for research that looks as if it supports a global warming catastrophe.
TIA: There are a number of voices--you, Patrick Michaels, Hugh Ellsaesser--who have spoken out against global warming. Do you think that there are enough people and that they have a significant chance of being heard?
SFS: I think that the number of people who have spoken out is growing. And you can also tell that they are becoming fairly influential by the fact that they are being attacked everywhere. I see attacks on Pat Michaels and others everywhere. Some of these attacks are scurrilous, ad hominem some of these tell lies.
A classic attack has come from an author by the name of Ross Gelbspan. He has written a book called The Heat Is On, in which he attacks individuals who have expressed skepticism. Of course, it doesn't go into the science at all. All of these attacks avoid the science and concentrate on smears. Gelbspan's book, for example, attacks me also, and claims I did not deny, for example, getting support from the Reverend Moon. Of course, if he'd asked me, I would have told him that we do not get support. But he bluntly states that I did not deny this you know, this is a wonderful way of letting the reader think that he's actually talked to me.
TIA: I saw on the Science and Environmental Policy Project's website a review you wrote of a similar book by Paul Ehrlich.
SFS: Paul Ehrlich has also attacked people. His book is called The Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future. It's a particularly bad book because it also hands out pseudo-science. At least Gelbspan just attacks people. He doesn't pretend to do any science or to get involved in science. But Ehrlich thinks of himself as a scientist, although he has no credentials in climate science whatsoever.
TIA: I like the point you made in your recent Wall Street Journal editorial ("A Treaty Built on Hot Air, Not Scientific Consensus," July 25), that "science doesn't operate by vote"--that even if there were a consensus, if the consensus contradicts the facts, it's wrong.
SFS: I think that's well established, among scientists certainly. We know that scientific advances are usually made by a small group, sometimes just a few individuals, sometimes just one individual, who disagrees with the accepted wisdom, and states his arguments, and eventually his view wins out.
TIA: What are the facts concerning global warming? What does the scientific evidence support?
SFS: In a nutshell ... I think the crucial observations are those made from weather satellites, which show no evidence of any global warming in roughly the last 20 years since we've had data available. Independently, we have data from weather balloons, which give exactly the same results. So this is very strong evidence, because it is independently supported, showing no warming. Whereas the climate models predict a very strong warming taking place right now as a result of increasing carbon dioxide. There is no question that carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere, but we do not see a corresponding warming. So we have to accept the fact that even though carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, for some reason the warming does not appear.
Now there are many ideas as to what may be causing this discrepancy, but the fact that there is a discrepancy is important and needs to be stressed. If you look at the IPCC report, you will find that they hide this fact, that they do not even mention the existence of satellites. And they certainly ignore the satellite data. So they only list the data that would tend to support their view. And one piece of data they list is the fact that the climate has warmed in the last hundred years, by one degree Fahrenheit. Well that's true, but it warmed before 1940. Now you see how they cleverly distort the evidence, because if they told you that the warming took place before 1940, you would immediately realize that it had nothing to do with human activities. Industrialization took hold mainly after 1940, after World War II.
I think the important thing is to be scientifically correct, because if you don't have a problem, you shouldn't be looking for solutions.
The above originally appeared in the print version of TIA, September 1997.
Copyright © 1997, by TIA Publications, Inc. Permission to distribute this article in electronic form is hereby granted provided that the article is reproduced whole and without modification and is accompanied by this notice. This editorial originally appeared in the The Intellectual Activist and is posted in the TIA web pages at www.IntellectualActivist.com. The Intellectual Activist is published twelve times per year; for a one-year U.S. subscription, send $48 to: TIA Publications, Inc., PO Box 262, Lincroft, NJ 07738. (Student, foreign and multi-year rates may be obtained from the TIA subscription page or from the preceding address.)
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