Yale law professor Stephen Carter has written an imaginary address to America's Class of 2014, which is currently busy disinviting truckloads of distinguished speakers from their graduation ceremonies. In the course of his remarks, Professor Carter observes:
The literary critic George Steiner, in a wonderful little book titled "Nostalgia for the Absolute," long ago predicted this moment. We have an attraction, he contended, to higher truths that can sweep away complexity and nuance. We like systems that can explain everything. Intellectuals in the West are nostalgic for the tight grip religion once held on the Western imagination. They are attracted to modes of thought that are as comprehensive and authoritarian as the medieval church.
Oddly enough, Professor Carter doesn't so much as mention "climate change", but "Nostalgia for the Absolute" fits, doesn't it? "Higher truths that can sweep away complexity and nuance"? If you sweep them away as thoroughly as climate absolutist Michael E Mann, you find yourself sitting across the table from an interviewer who believes that, if it's 10 Celsius today and 15 Celsius tomorrow, that means it's 50 per cent warmer. And you don't mind the company you're keeping, because when it comes to your "higher truth" this guy believes, he believes absolutely - which is all that matters.
Swedish climatologist Lennart Bengtsson, on the other hand, tried to wiggle free of "the tight grip". The story of what happened when the Clime Syndicate had to jump him in the alley and hockey-stick him back into line has received big play in Fleet Street, including the front page of yesterday's Times.I confess I don't quite know what to make of Professor Bengtsson. As far as I can tell, he's not a warmist-turned-denier so much as a warmist who thought he might benefit from a wider range of acquaintances. So he joined the advisory board of Nigel Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation, which he has now been forced to unjoin. Where he goes next is unclear. So put him to one side. And also set aside the responses of Lord Lawson and his GWPF colleagues, which are uniformly more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger, deeply regret his decision but understand the enormous pressures, etc, etc.
Instead, consider the self-proclaimed side of virtue in this debate: the Conclave of Settled Scientists. Bishop Hill has a couple of their reactions. First up, atmospheric scientist Bart Verheggen on Bengtsson's charge of "climate McCarthyism":
Would it be McCarthyism if evolutionary biologists expressed dismay about a colleague joining the Creationist Institute?
Next up, Peter Gleick, the American Geophysical Union's "scientific ethics" chairman whose scientific ethics include using a false name to acquire confidential documents from the Heartland Institute. Gleick on Bengtsson:
Sailor joins flat earth society; doesn't understand why shipmates won't sail with him?
"Nostalgia for the Absolute" runs rampant through the Settled Science reactions. As Bishop Hill says, the only "scientific difference" between Gleick and Verheggen, on the one hand, and the GWPF, on the other, is really on the question of climate variability, a murky and imprecise topic. A round earth and a flat earth are two stark, mutually incompatible choices: one side is going to be 100 per cent right, and the other 100 per cent wrong. As the 17-year warming "pause" suggests, in climate science nobody's 100 per cent right; it's a field of "complexity and nuance", and somewhere in the grey blur people pick different points to pitch their tents. There is no Team Round and Team Flat. Steve McIntyre doesn't talk this way, nor does Nigel Lawson, nor does Richard Tol nor Judith Curry. Only the Settled Science enforcers do.
Bishop Hill calls this "the bigotry of the consensus". As one might expect, the worst reaction from among the Warmanos, in both its shallowness and repulsiveness, was that of Michael Mann. Yesterday morning, apropos the Times front page on Bengtsson, he Tweeted approvingly:
REAL story via @NafeezAhmed "Murdoch-owned media hypes lone meteorologist's #climate junk science"
So to Michael Mann Lennart Bengtsson is now "junk science"? For a decade, he was director of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology. For another decade, he was Director of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. He's won the Descartes Prize, and a World Meteorological Organization prize for groundbreaking research in numerical weather prediction. Over the years, he and Michael Mann have collaborated on scientific conferences. But a half-century of distinguished service to climate science - the directorships, the prizes, all the peer-reviewed papers, the shared platforms with the great Dr Mann - is swept into the garbage can of history, and Bengtsson is now just another "denialist" peddling "junk science."
What a sad dead husk of a human being Michael Mann is to do such a thing to a professional colleague.
And who is this Nafeez Ahmed whose "REAL story" on Bengtsson's "junk science" Mann enthusiastically promotes to his groupies? As with the Irish Percentage Boy above, Mann's insistence on complete ideological fealty leads him to keep some very odd company. Nafeez Ahmed is, in the late Christopher Hitchens' summation, "a risible individual wedded to half-baked conspiracy-mongering" last heard from promoting the theory that climate change is responsible for kidnapping the Nigerian schoolgirls. Mr Ahmed believes that al-Qaeda is "an instrument of Western statecraft, a covert operations tool". He argues that ten of the named 9/11 hijackers are still alive and on the big day had their identities usurped by men trained by the US military and the CIA.
When you enforce the ideological purity tests that Mann does, and wind up casting Lennart Bengtsson, John Christy, Mike Hulme et al overboard, eventually you find yourself in an echo chamber with only a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and a man who thinks the temperature is going to increase by 25 per cent in the next 30 years for company. A Nostalgia for the Absolute has led Michael Mann to consort with absolute loons.
But the damage he does to science and scientists is very real. Dr Judith Curry writes:
As a result of smearings by Romm, Mann, et al., I am excluded from serious consideration for administrative positions at universities, offices in professional societies, consideration for awards from professional societies, a number of people won't collaborate with me, and anyone who wants to invite me to be a keynote speaker has to justify this in light of all the cr*p that shows up if you google 'Judith Curry'. Does any of this really 'matter'? I've convinced myself that it doesn't (well not as much as my own conscience and integrity), but I suspect that such things would matter to most scientists.
Joe Romm engaging in such practices is reprehensible, but it is an issue of much greater concern when other scientists do it (notably Michael Mann).
Indeed it is. And a person who does it on the scale that Mann does is not, either principally or temperamentally, a scientist at all. He's operating out there on the same fringes as his buddy Nafeez Ahmed, peddling "systems that can explain everything", from Antarctic ice to Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, Dr Nicola Gulley, the editorial director at the Institute of Physics, purports to give us the real reason why Environmental Research Letters declined to publish Lennart Bengtsson's latest paper. Don't believe all that stuff from Bengtsson about it being rejected because it was too "helpful" to "climate sceptics". Oh, no, Dr Gulley eighty-sixed Bengtsson because his paper "contained errors, in our view did not provide a significant advancement in the field, and therefore could not be published in the journal".
So what were these "errors"? The anonymous peer-review Dr Gulley appends to her statement identifies only one: Professor Bengtsson's paper is about the way reality refuses to agree with the climate models, and the reviewer says this is a "false" comparison because "no consistency was to be expected in the first place".
As Steve McIntyre concludes his analysis:
Given the failure of the publisher to show any "error" other than the expectation that models be consistent with observations, I think that readers are entirely justified in concluding that the article was rejected not because it "contained errors", but for the reason stated in the reviewers' summary: because it was perceived to be "harmfulâ€¦ and worse from the climate sceptics' media side".
The only "error" here was Bengtsson's careless assumption that the "higher truth" of Mann et al was subject to the same tests as real science.
This was not a good week for the climate cultists. The Climategate intimidation was done in the back rooms, sotto voce. This time they did it out in the open, to an eminent 79-year old scientist. The ugly truth about Mann's climate of fear is harder and harder to avoid.
~We're continuing to prepare for trial, both for Mann's defamation suit against me for calling his stick "fraudulent", and my countersuit against him for his chilling effect on free speech, a chilling effect that, as we saw, now reaches all the way to elderly Swedes across the ocean. Nevertheless, someone has to put an end to this, and, with your support, I'm confident we can do it. If you'd like to support my pushback against this appalling bully, I hope you'll consider buying a SteynOnline gift certificate or one of our new Clash of Sticks products.