The release of the Climategate emails has been called a “smoking gun” for the global warming/climate change movement. It is perhaps the perfect metaphor, because the science behind gun control relies on similar deceptions.
Long-time readers may be shocked to know that once upon a time, I was what could be called a centrist on gun control: I supported the free use of hunting and sporting weapons, but thought that handguns and automatic weapons should be heavily regulated.
That was a mainstream position during the 1980s when I was growing up and the “science” of the time labored heavily to back it up. Shotguns were (and still are) fine for taking game or defending the home – and they weren’t particularly threatening. “Assault weapons”, on the other hand, were the province of survivalists and militia crazies. Just ban ‘em.
So went my thinking.
That began to change during the debate over the Assault Weapons Ban in the 1990s. For the first time, I began to actually study the matter and learned that the science wasn’t as solid as it seemed. When John Lott’s massive study on the effect of shall-issue laws burst onto the scene, I was skeptical but willing to be convinced if the facts were there.
Lott’s academic reputation has taken a (not entirely undeserved) beating since then, but what really pushed me into the gun rights camp was the compulsive dishonesty of the gun control advocates. These guys couldn’t ever make an honest argument; everything they said was twisted, spun or blatantly false. This got me to thinking: if your position is so strong, why weaken it with lies?
This is pretty much my rule now, and it has served me very well. Whether dealing with gun control or climate change, you can tell the strength of the argument by how much its supporters have to distort the truth to make it.
The question of climate change is, from a purely scientific perspective, a very difficult one to answer. The only way that we can even approach the truth is to take an open, collaborative attitude to research – basically we have to use the classical scientific method.
This method, where data is openly shared, where theories are constantly questioned – is what has allowed the Western world to make the quantum advances it has in less than a century. What the Climategate emails show is that the supporters of the globalwarmism are not interested in real science. Their agenda is too important.
They are driven by a moral certitude that is so overwhelming that it renders facts unimportant – it’s bigger than such trifling considerations. There is also a “bunker mentality” at work. These people simply cannot handle the thought of being proved wrong. They must be right, they have to be right, they know they are right – so they believe they are permitted to use any means necessary to win the public debate.
A few years ago, gun control was starting to falter. John Lott’s research had broken the debate wide open. Other criminologists, like Gary Kleck, were asking very uncomfortable questions about whether guns caused or prevented crime.
As the debate raged, the gun control advocates received news that powerful help was on the way: Michael Bellesiles was doing ground-breaking research to prove that guns in colonial America were rare and barely utilized, in effect undermining the core arguments in favor of the Second Amendment.
Bellesiles was an immediate hero and a great many academics fell over themselves praising him. His book, Arming America, won top prizes and became an instant best-seller.
And then it all fell apart, and it was the scientific method that brought him down. As more academics sought to replicate his research (in this case his sources rather than equations or methods), problems began to appear. His defenses became more convoluted and resulted in a series of embarrassing excuses and walkbacks until even his own institution was forced to fire him for academic misconduct. His prize was rescinded; his publishing contract terminated and he went from rising star to the Stephen Glass of the history profession.
Bellisiles misconduct also brought a great deal of discredit to the gun control supporters who had endorsed him and caused a new level of scrutiny on the science behind previous studies. It is no coincidence that public support for gun rights is now at an all-time high, and that even for Democrats, gun control is now a dead issue.
Climategate may have a similar effect. The warmenists in academia have been increasingly shrill and demanding over the years. Like gun control advocates, they had a set of policies they wished to see enacted and, like gun control researchers, they profited handsomely from the resulting attention.
Of course, their policies would have utterly reordered society to an extent far exceeding anything contemplated by gun control advocates. A natural response – a rational response – was to question if all this was really necessary. Was the science sound?
The answer is: we don’t know. But “not sure” isn’t enough to justify a transformative global government that will tax and regulate every single human activity. So these folks set out to prove the science was settled even though it wasn’t.
I suspect that like gun control, the climate change movement is now headed for hard times politically. A good many scientists may be sympathetic to the case (and grants and power) accorded by the global warming theory, but the sheer crassness of the behavior illustrated by these emails will cause them to hold back. Their entire profession has been brought into disrepute.
In a time of tight government budgets, the public is ill-disposed to funding junk science. They will have to police their own – whether through tenure hearings or Freedom of Information Act investigations – or the whole university edifice will take irreparable damage.
The public is rightfully skeptical of people who have to cheat to win. Fabricating and distorting data is no way to win an argument over the long term. The intellectual argument for gun control collapsed because of it. Climate change may go the same way.