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Climate change bias and the ethics of science

By Mal Fletcher - posted Monday, 19 May 2014

The ethics of some sections of the scientistic community - particularly within climate science - have again been called into question with the news that some journal editors may have suppressed findings on the rate of global warming because the data is considered 'less than helpful' to their cause.

A front page report in The Times today showed how research by the University of Reading has been rejected by one of the world's leading academic journals. One of the authors of the study says that he suspects intolerance on dissenting views is behind the blocking of his research.

Professor Lennart Bengtsson's data challenges the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which insists that if the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was allowed to double there would be a temperature rise of up to 4.5C.


The team behind the research believe that the world's climate is not as sensitive to these gases as has been claimed by the IPCC.

In 2009, the University of East Anglia, a leading climate research centre, rejected the findings of several experts after a reviewer declared their work 'harmful'.

As a result, critics of mainstream thinking on climate change felt their views were being ignored in the lead-up to the important - but arguably, in the end, ineffectual - Copenhagen climate conference.

Science today is treated with a respect bordering on reverence. We treat the prognostications of certain eminent scientists as being almost inviolable.

Science has become an important tool for helping us to understand the complex and often seemingly inexplicable world in which we live. In our desire to reach clarity on difficult questions and to prove ourselves responsible global citizens, we are perhaps inclined to rush to judgment on the basis of news reports and the scientific journals that feed them.

In the process, we may ignore the fact that science is as much about questions and debates as it is about certainties, and often more so. It is about posing questions and challenging existing models in order to arrive at better, well-tested paradigms.


We also overlook the fact that science is a pursuit undertaken by human beings, with all the frailties they bring to any process. Scientists are just as prone to obsess over status or material gain as the rest of us and to use their skills for essentially self-centred ends.

The fact that this story featured on page one of The Times reflects the wider public search for a 'New Ethic' in all the areas of public life that will affect our future, including politics, economics, business and science. (I wrote more about this in Fascinating Times.)

As they seek to square the rapid advance of science with maintaining a humane society, a generation of young adults have made unlikely cult heroes of ethicists such as Harvard academic Michael Sandel.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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