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We must be open to climate views

By Tim Florin - posted Wednesday, 13 November 2013


Last month, The Guardian's Graham Readfearn lamented that "wrongheaded and simplistic views on climate denialism are a regular feature on the letters page of many newspapers".

On his Planet Oz blog, he added that if "a newspaper or other media outlet is publishing content which it knows is factually questionable or demonstrably wrong, does it have a responsibility to keep such pseudo-science statements off its pages?".

Readfearn is absolutely correct to ask where a newspaper should strike the balance and how to administer that balance. Not all views merit equal weighting. But it is important to remain open to a range of different viewpoints in order to advance a more nuanced discourse about climate science.

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There is a premise underlying the politics of democratic institutions that a majority opinion is best. It sometimes leads to crazy outcomes, but on the whole it has proved to be the best system for government. Scarce research funds, including for climate science, are also allocated using the same democratic or consensus principles in Western countries.

Yet consensus is not the way that the scientific method works. Consensus is anathema to the scientific method. The scientific method involves continual testing and retesting of experimentally testable hypotheses in a process that leads to refining of current hypotheses and occasionally to major (paradigm) shifts in hypotheses.

In the past, political or religious ideology has often determined what was taught. The scientific method has won out in most instances, but it has never been easy. An example is the Lysenko affair in the USSR, which severely retarded Soviet capability in biological sciences.

Trofim Lysenko, the director of the Institute of Genetics from 1940-1965 within the USSR's Academy of Sciences during Stalinist times, taught anti-Mendelian doctrines of genetics. He succeeded in having scientific dissent from his theories formally outlawed in 1948.

This is only subtly different from what the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and The Guardian are advocating (and practising) regarding anthropogenic global warming climate change.

It is not that the warmist theories have no validity. It is that the bulk of people who advocate for them deny any validity for those who disagree with them. Science does not, and should not, work like this.

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Interestingly, a version of Lysenko's non-Mendelian theories - epigenetics - is now an accepted paradigm. This is a result of non-ideological scientific research. The Guardian should desist from using "denier" when describing those people who disagree with the current scientific paradigm as broadcast by itself, the IPCC and other media outlets. The word denier is clearly associated with denial of the Holocaust in the minds of many of us familiar with 20th-century history.

The Guardian should be leading discussion, not playing the censorship card. There are many qualified climate scientists whose views are in synch with the IPCC. There are also many persons with some knowledge in the area and many more persons with no ability in the area who agree with it.

There are many reputable climate scientists, however, who do not agree with the IPCC paradigm. These include, but are certainly not limited to, Freeman Dyson, Mike Hulme, Judith Curry, Ross McKitrick, Nigel Calder, James Lovelock (originator of the Gaia hypothesis), Roy Spencer, Stephen McIntyre, Richard Lindzen (meteorologist, lead author IPCC AR3) and Ivar Giaever (Nobel laureate in chemistry).

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This article was first published in The Australian.



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About the Author

Tim Florin is a medical doctor, physician, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Queensland. He has a training in physical and biological sciences and is an NHMRC-funded fellow, who heads a laboratory team in medical research.

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