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August 01st 2010 print

Bob Carter

Closing out dissent

Bob Carter’s essay is a challenge to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to ensure that all voices are heard in a true debate over the science of climate change before decisions are taken which, if they are wrong, will destroy generations of Australian lives.

The phenomena of disinvitation and the brotherhood of silence

Scientists who venture to make independent statements in public about environmental myths soon come to learn about two post-modern-science tactics used to suppress their views – namely, disinvitation and the application of a brotherhood of silence. How these tactics work is explained in this article.

The modus operandi

A member of the organising committee for one or another conference comes to one of my talks, or chances to meet a friend who has attended. Enthusiasm thereby arises for me to speak at the conference that is being planned. Prompted by the member, the conference committee approves an invitation, which I accept. Later, the Council or governing body of the society in question gets to “rubber stamp” the conference program and someone says: “Bob Carter as a plenary speaker! You must be joking”. The disinvitation follows, sometimes well after the talk has been written and travel booked.

In a variation on this, earlier this year I was invited by our ABC to contribute an opinion piece about climate change to their online blog site, The Drum. The piece was duly written and tendered, only to be declined.

Similarly, strong control has long been exercised by public broadcasters ABC and SBS against the appearance of independent scientists on their TV and radio news and current affairs programs. I first encountered this in 2007, when I participated in a broadcast discussion about Martin Durkin’s epoch-making documentary film, The Great Global Warming Swindle. Before the broadcast I had the astonishing experience of being successively invited, disinvited, prevaricated with and then finally invited to participate again, as competing interests inside the ABC battled, as they obviously saw it, to control the outcome of the panel discussion.

I have generally viewed these and similar experiences over the years as amusing irritations that go with the territory of scientific independence. But the matter starts to become offensive, and indeed sinister, when it transpires that scientists from CSIRO, and other IPCC-linked research groups in Australia, have been behind particular disinvitations; or, even more commonly, have refused to participate in public debate on climate change.

The same self-appointed guardians of the sanctity of IPCC climate propaganda also strive ceaselessly to prevent invitations from being issued in the first place. For example, when it was suggested to a Sydney metropolitan university that I might give a talk on the campus, their Distinguished (sic) Professor of Sustainability responded that:

he would not be interested in allowing anyone to present a point of view which did not support the fact that human-generated carbon dioxide has caused global warming.

Que?

Engineers Australia (Sydney)

On July 8th this year, at the invitation of the Chairman of the Electrical & ITE Branch, Engineers Australia Sydney, I delivered a lecture on climate change in Chatswood to an attentive audience of about 55 practicing engineers, retired engineers and engineering students.

EA (Sydney) run a series of about 22 such lectures every year for the continuing professional development of their members. The intent is to impart knowledge to the engineering fraternity on current subjects of interest, and lecturers are generally recognized as leaders in the field of the subject that they present.

When controversial topics are involved, the institute attempts to attract speakers who will illustrate different aspects of the debate, as indeed they did on this occasion. For the lecture that I delivered was intended to be one of a pair, in which the other speaker would explain the reasons behind the federal government’s preference for using United Nations (IPCC) advice as the basis for Australian climate policy.

Significantly, CSIRO were asked, and declined, to provide such a speaker, thereby exemplifying the brotherhood of silence, i.e. the long-held ban that all IPCC-linked research groups strive to inflict upon independent scientists by refusing to debate with them as equals on a public platform. Earlier this year, CSIRO chairperson Megan Clarke boasted that her organisation had 40 persons involved in advising the IPCC, yet not one of them was available to talk to Australia’s major engineering professional institute? Pull the other one, Megan.

Well, if CSIRO is not prepared to explain the basis for government’s science policy then there’s always the universities, so a Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at another Sydney metropolitan university was approached to participate as the second speaker. He too declined on the grounds that the envisaged two-lecture format was "flawed", adding:

You would not have an "anti-gravity" person debate gravity and since there honestly is no debate in this space in SCIENCE the offer I made a little while ago of offering a full day to detail the science to your members stand(s).

Your society risks falling into the trap of the media in believing there is debate and that is sad, misleading and unfortunate.

This stance was supported by an experienced NSW power engineer who wrote to EA at about the same time to malign my professional standing, and who included, for good measure, a gratuitous remark about the well-regarded London publisher of my recent book on climate change, viz.:

It appears that Bob Carter is representative of the group of the relatively little-published 2% group of scientists who generally are not mainly working in real climate science (Bob Carter is a geologist not a climate scientist, and is published in You-tube and popular magazines, not peer-reviewed journals), who oppose the real climate science consensus. This appears to be correct based on your notice of the meeting and his website. In this case he does not deserve equal time to the 98% of scientists regularly published on climate change in peer-reviewed journals. There is no counter consensus! I question the wisdom of giving this man the Engineers Australia podium.

Furthermore, Stacey International is a publisher of popular works and has no specific scientific credibility.

These examples both involve the citation of private letters. Other engineers blatantly attain the same ends of denigration or censorship in full public gaze. For example, ANU’s Tony Kevin wrote recently in an invited address in Canberra to the Australian Council of Engineering Deans:

I am not going to dwell on climate change denialism. The science is in. Climate crisis denialism should simply be condemned as a socially disruptive cognitive disorder. It seduces people who are psychologically unwilling to admit limits to economic growth. Denialists cling to the arrogant “mechanical philosophy” of mankind’s infinite right and capacity to exploit and transcend his natural environment. Or, they suffer from a kind of morally indifferent, fatalistic nihilism.

Like other cognitive disorders that have in the past caused great suffering to humanity, climate denialism is impervious to observed facts. As the climate crisis worsens, denialism perversely flourishes even more, confusing the community and eroding public support for sound risk-averse policies.

Needless to say, all these statements, both the private and the public, are a confused farrago of mostly ad hominem nonsense. It is disturbing, to say the least, that organisations and persons who would be quick to claim professional status consider that it is their current duty to disparage, or to refuse to debate with, or to muzzle scientists whose views on climate change they apparently disagree with.

Disturbing too is the fact that for at least the last twenty years the practitioners of environmentalism and climate alarm have made it their business to exert special influence on our younger citizens. Many parents have shared the experience of being horrified by the imbalance of information that their children from time to time come home from school with about iconic environmental issues. The indoctrination continues, of course, at university, and through into the junior workforce.

An exemplary case follows next of the way in which the views of young Australians are manipulated.

AMUNC, Sydney

On March 18th this year (4 months ahead), I was invited by a student organizer to

speak as a panelist at the Asia-Pacific Model United Nations Conference 2010 being hosted by the Sydney University Model United Nations Society in July this year. The event is a large, annual tertiary student conference attended mainly by law and politics students …. Each year it attracts 500- 600 university students from across Australia, New Zealand, East and South-East Asia and beyond. AMUNC 2010 will be a celebration of academic excellence, youth diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding.

Model UN is a special form of tertiary student conference in which delegates engage in a simulation of the practices, actions and debates of a number of global multilateral institutions. Delegates represent assigned countries across a number of committees of the United Nations and associated bodies, from the archetypal Security Council to the International Court of Justice, International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organisation.

The invitation continued:

Issues related to the environment and the effects of climate change are now dominating discussions across all international institutions. As such, with your expertise on climate change and your position as an Adjunct Professional [sic] Research Fellow at James Cook University, the AMUNC 2010 Secretariat would be honoured to have you partake in our Environment and Technology panel discussion. The recent UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen has provided much debate for university students and questions over the integrity of scientific evidence cited by governmental bodies and institutions such as the IPCCC are also on the rise. In response to this, our panel will be discussing issues surrounding Australia’s environmental policies, as well as the correlation between human activity and global warming, and other topics pertaining to climate change.

Having spent an entire professional career educating young persons, I was of course delighted to accept appointment to the panel on "The Challenge of Climate Change", the purpose of which is further outlined in the following programme extract:

The disinvitation

Arriving in Sydney on other business about a week before the conference, I received a letter from AMUNC Secretary General which, inter alia, conveyed the following:   

In light of some concerns which have been brought to my attention, the AMUNC Secretariat have determined that there is a need to try and separate out the issues of climate change science and solutions to climate change. This is because the other speakers on the panel may lack the capacity to advocate the majority view on climate change in response to any arguments you might make. While we have endeavored to find a climate change scientist to include on the panel, because we have been unable to do so, there is a risk that discussion could become quite uneven. 

As a compromise, one of our panelists, Dr Mark Diesendorf, who while not a climate change specialist, has agreed to debate with you on climate change science in the lead up to the Environment & Technology panel (so from about 13:00-13:20). I would propose this would include an opening statement from each, questions and answers from the audience followed by closing remarks. However this would mean that you would not be able to participate in the Environment & Technology panel as a speaker.

Between my initial invitation in March and the receipt of this letter I had published an entire book that “separate(s) out the issues of climate change science and solutions”; this was apparently an inadequate qualification to participate in the AMUNC panel. The sweet irony appeared to escape the Secretary General that the purpose of the pivotal Chapter 11 – in what has been described as “an enthralling book, a sunrise of calm analysis and penetrating good sense“ – was precisely to provide a sensible, effective and politically realistic policy path on climate change.

I replied:

I am a senior professional scientist with a long career behind me. It is not my custom, and nor should it be the custom of any well-balanced scientific speaker, to present a partial “side” to a scientific debate. Whomever has advised you (i) that there is a settled “majority (scientific) view” on climate change; and (ii) that I might make arguments that require to be “rebutted” by “advocacy” from others is ignorant of both scientific method and climate science …..

My public talks on climate change are scientific presentations. They therefore set out to do what scientists do, which is to test hypotheses. In the context of the public debate on climate change, the hypothesis to be tested is that human carbon dioxide emissions are causing, or will cause, dangerous global warming”. Thereafter, and prompted by the current state of global warming debate in Australia, the latter part of my talk focuses precisely on providing a practical, sensible and politically realistic solution to the real climate change threats that Australia faces – an approach which I am interested to hear your Secretariat has independently concluded is a prerequisite for sensible debate; I agree.

I remain happy to contribute to your meeting in line with your original invitation and intentions. If you now wish to add an additional program item of a debate with Mark Diesendorf, or with any other qualified speaker, then I shall be happy to agree. However, I am not prepared to withdraw from the panel session as speaker, for …. such an action would result in an unbalanced discussion regarding any environmental issues that relate to climate change, and there are already far too many unbalanced presentations of this type.

My intentions towards young people have not changed throughout a 45 year-long career. They are to educate and inform, and to encourage critical thinking with one’s own brain. Propagandizing, or taking advocacy positions, is simply not my bag.

Please let me know what you would like me to do.

To which I received the further reply:

The points made in my initial email still stand. Based on the expertise of the panel and our standing as a Model UN conference, it is imperative that the panel discussion does centre on the best responses to the threats that have been laid out in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. If we could have found a fully-fledged climate scientist to represent what does constitute a majority view (this is not to say that such scientists are being ‘partial’ but rather that their hypotheses and conclusions represent the consensus within the scientific and political community), as was our initial aspiration, this would have been fine. But we have not been able to do so. In such circumstances it would be disingenuous of us not to be concerned about the integrity of the panel.

While Dr Diesendorf has volunteered to debate you in the lead up to the panel, he does not have a specific background in climate change science, though he does have some familiarity with the arguments. He has made it clear that he has no intention or desire to be engaged in discussing the science of climate change in the panel but rather, reflecting the expertise of the rest of the panel and his own background, focus on solutions to climate change.

However regrettable this might seem: the initial offer I made still stands. I feel that this represents the best compromise I can find to try and ensure that our delegates can receive all the information they might feel they need, especially at such short notice. Unfortunately if you are still opposed to this course of action then I must, in compliance with the directive from my Secretariat, withdraw your invitation to AMUNC 2010. Naturally any incurred expenditure in terms of flights would be reimbursed by AMUNC 2010.

Remarkably, in the roughly four months between March 18 and July 8, my participation in AMUNC had changed from “…the AMUNC 2010 Secretariat would be honoured to have you …..” to the AMUNC Secretariat believes that your Panel participation carries “….a risk that discussion could become quite uneven”, as a result of which my invitation to participate was withdrawn. 

In essence, because an anonymous person or persons made unspecified complaints, I was disinvited from Panel participation and instead asked to “debate”, on an unknown topic, a CSIRO person who claimed to have no climate science expertise. Needless to say, I declined involvement in AMUNC on such terms.

Close scrutiny of the two letters from the AMUNC Secretary General (above) reveals that the main reason for the Secretariat changing their mind was their inability to find an IPCC-related scientist willing to participate in public discussion with a scientist of equal stature who might ask them embarrassing questions. What a simply wonderful message to deliver at a prestigious international youth forum, that the forum’s leaders were unable to find a single qualified speaker who was prepared to defend publicly the IPCC’s alarmist advice on climate change that forms the basis for Australia’s current policy.

The brotherhood of silence

In both the examples given above, the brotherhood of silence tactic was invoked by all scientists who were approached to participate in a public discussion at which the IPCC’s science conclusions and climate policy advice would be critically examined. In the first case, that of Engineers Australia, my invitation to speak was nonetheless honoured, despite strenuous efforts being made to derail it; in the second case, that of AMUNC, my invitation to participate was withdrawn.

To my certain knowledge, the brotherhood of silence tactic has been applied routinely for many years against all well known, qualified sceptical scientists, both in Australia and overseas. It is a code that IPCC-related scientists dare not break, for they understand better than most that they will lose any science debate that is allowed to take place on equal terms under a neutral chairperson.

As I have written elsewhere:

It is for this …. reason that IPCC scientists are so reluctant to appear in formal debate against other well qualified, independent scientists. As many who have tried have found out, a persistent and intransigent refusal by IPCC scientists to debate their critics in public is the main reason why conferences do not occur at which equal numbers of scientists, and equal time, are allocated to both main sides of the debate. After all, when you hold the high ground of having institutional science, national government and United Nations support, as do the climate alarmists, why would you demean yourself by debating your opponents in public; for you have everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Conclusions

The scientific behaviour described in this article is pathological, for the essence of scientific methodology is the free sharing of data, and the unfettered and unprejudiced discussion of those data. Issuing statements of “consensus” or “authority” is antithetical to good science, and especially so in circumstances where the originating organisations have been established with political intent, have acted to restrict public debate or have a financial conflict of interest. Those familiar with the global warming issue will know that (IPCC) authority rules, despite it being well known that some IPCC practitioners of warming alarmism have flouted correct scientific procedures since the 1990s. And, anyway, a science truth is so not because the IPCC, the Royal Society or the Minister for Science asserts it to be so, but because it is based upon a hypothesis that has survived repeated testing by many independent scientists.

The behaviour is not just pathological. It is also part of a much wider pattern of science degradation that has developed since the 1980s. The change has been caused in part by the insistence of politicians that taxpayers’ money must be used in support of scientific research that is “useful” or “in the national interest”. Such superficial diktats are attractive to bureaucrats and businessmen, but they have proved to be a recipe for turning scientists from experts in problem solution into experts in (insoluble) problem creation. Given the persistence of such attitudes, Australia will never see the Tasmanian forests, the Murray-Darling River or the Great Barrier Reef “saved”, and nor will we ever be free from the ogre of human-caused climate change.

More widely, the degradation of scientific methodology stems materially from the rise of the virus of post-modernist thinking. Though post-modernism developed within university arts and social science faculties, later it also came to infect quasi-science organizations like the IPCC. Now, unhappily, post-modernist thinking, and a development of it that has come to be called Post Normal Science, can be found even within many traditional science departments.

The historical development of these phenomena has been described succinctly by Doug Edmeades, a senior New Zealand agricultural scientist, in the following statement.

In brief, from the age of enlightenment we have emerged into the philosophy of post-modernism which sets aside evidence as the authority and asserts that the ‘truth’ is what you believe – if you believe it, then it is your ‘truth’. Importantly all opinions are to be given equal authority irrespective of the where the evidence may lie. These ideas have progressed to what is now called ‘Post Normal Science’. This holds that science is subservient to the story that must be told. The role of science is no longer about discovering new ‘truth’ but supporting the ‘story’ which is perceived to be the truth. This gives rise to the notion of “noble-cause science”, which allows scientists to ignore contrary evidence, or worse, manipulate the evidence, if the cause is noble. We have seen evidence of this in the climate change debate.

It doesn’t have to be so. But nothing much is going to change until we have a science minister with the courage, and the support of his or her government colleagues, to radically restructure the way in which science is performed and funded in Australia, within both government and university research institutions.

The processes by which government supports and uses scientific research should focus on achieving the highest quality outcomes, and that in a way that is strictly quarantined from social mores and political influence. World experience is that such outcomes are best achieved by using arms-length, competitive funding agencies, such as the Australian Research Council.

At least equally important, it is also unwise for governments to rely exclusively on policy advice from organisations, however well pedigreed or custom-designed for the purpose, that are dominantly or significantly supported by public purse funding. For if there is one thing that the global warming imbroglio teaches us, it is that contestability needs to apply to science policy advice every bit as much as it does to science research funding

Professor Bob Carter is a stratigrapher and marine geologist.

His new book in the Stacey International Independent Thinkers series is Climate: the Counter Consensus, which summarises the scientific and sociological and policy aspects of the global warming debate.