The Dangers of Playing Politics With Science

Al Gore’s “Tragic Indifference to the Human Consequences”

Last August Vice President Al Gore told a captive audience of science students at the National Geographic Society that “global warming is real and we should act together now so that in the future our families will not have to suffer more extreme weather of all kinds.” The VP linked his statement with a presentation of arctic ice core samples that some analysts believe indicate an historical correlation between rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and the warming-cooling cycle of the earth.

Sounds pretty definitive, doesn’t it? But wait. Astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas of the Wilson Observatory (a real scientist) argued recently in the Wall Street Journal that there is a close correlation between warming and cooling trends and the pattern of sunspot activity. Baliunas tracked this correlation back to the 18th century, pointing out that climate change models that assume carbon dioxide causes warming have failed to predict what is actually going on in the atmosphere, and indeed are contradicted (and constantly revised) by real-world measurements of temperature in the upper and lower atmosphere as well as on the earth’s surface.

Who is right? We can’t know for sure. But the difference between Al Gore and Dr. Baliunas is that the Vice President is absolutely, definitively certain he knows what causes warming and that only the Clinton administration climate change agenda (subsidizing renewable energy fads, creating artificial energy scarcity) can Save the Planet from the predations of modern man. Sallie Baliunas, on the other hand, simply proposes a possible scientific explanation for what’s going on in the climate, one that responsible analysts need to factor into the equation before imposing rigid energy and growth controls on the world economy. That is, Baliunas, while critical of so-called global warming science, applies the true scientific method, proceeding from an observed correlation to postulate an explanation for climate change. She doesn’t ask for a massive global initiative to regulate sunspot activity and ‘stabilize’ the climate. As Dr. Baliunas says, “Discoveries about the causes of climate change, like a varying sun, are the key to creating better models.” She wants to add to our store of knowledge about the climate, not lock us into Al Gore’s ‘frozen science’ of global warming.

In fact, this is the critical difference between warming ideologues like the Vice President and researchers devoted to the true spirit of scientific inquiry. Gore and his allies selectively choose the research and data that support their agenda (most politicians do) and aggressively attack any objective science that contradicts what they want the public to believe. Politicizing science in this way is truly dangerous, as history should remind us—think of Galileo, Copernicus, or in modern times the ideology-driven human experiments of the notorious Dr. Mengele in Nazi Germany, or the eugenics movement of Margaret Sanger. Al Gore is no Dr. Mengele, but the two have in common a tragic indifference to the human consequences of their politicized science: In Gore’s case, the poverty, suffering, and economic deprivation that will inevitably follow from his vision of an energy-poor, wealth-destroying policy of artificial scarcity and global economic controls.

And as in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, those least able to defend themselves—minorities, the poor, particularly in the Third World—would be the principle victims of ideological pseudo-science.

The human consequences of politicizing science are frightening, but equally troubling is the rejection of the true spirit of objective scientific inquiry. Scientific and technological progress, like economic growth,are dynamic in nature, and require a willingness to follow the facts, guided by the inspiration of the human mind and reasoning from the store of knowledge and theory accumulated over the centuries, wherever they may lead. The global warmers refuse to do that: When their predictive models they don’t work, they come up with new excuses and fine-tune their forecasts a bit. Take a recent example reported in the Financial Times, where Cambridge University physicist Nigel Weiss is quoted as saying that global warming will lead to…a new ice age! This despite the fact that Weiss attributes historic changes in the global climate to solar activity, but current warming (if it exists) to carbon dioxide emissions. This is beyond the realm of science or politics: It’s postmodern fun-house science, choosing pieces of different facts and different hypotheses to construct an argument that is nothing more than propaganda.

As James B. Conant points out in Science and Common Sense, “The dynamic view in contrast to the static regards science as an activity; thus, the present state of knowledge is of importance chiefly as a basis for further operations. From this point of view science would disappear completely if all the laboratories were closed; the theories, principles, and laws embalmed in the texts would be dogmas; for if all the laboratories were closed, all further investigation stopped, there could be no re-examination of any proposition.” Conant himself opts for the dynamic view—but just as in economics, Al Gore is the modern standard-bearer of the static view of what he calls science. But it’s not science at all—it’s a government-driven research agenda designed merely to strengthen the hand of politicians at all levels of government in controlling economic and social activity.

Genuine scientific inquiry has brought us the wonders of modern medicine, the green revolution in agriculture, the internet, and countless enhancements of the human condition in all its aspects. We can’t allow the global warmers—truly the flat-earthers of the late 20th century—to steal that precious inheritance. Scientists and researchers really dedicated to their mission should rise up in protest against global warming hysteria, saving science from the dead hand of politics and restoring it to its proper place in the pantheon of human achievement.

CEI Distinguished Fellow Jack Kemp is a co-director of Empower America.