To claim that climate change is a conspiracy is to misunderstand science in fundamental ways. To even imagine a scientific conspiracy suggests a lack in science education that scares me. Science is not a monolithic voting body in which what presses forward goes through some voting process, nor is it vetted by some panel to pass muster. Science is made up of scientists who are in a dog fight to have their idea’s pushed to the front. This is not to say that scientists are not influenced by certain cultural trends, or that there are not research programs that become dominant and entrenched. No, every scientist knows this and these defects are well understood. There are checks and balances, principally credentialing through a rigorous educational process and peer review, both of which are in place to insure standards of methodological quality and which are breathtakingly demanding. The other factor in science is transparency. How the data are collected and analyzed becomes a record in the peer reviewed literature. Certainly there are flaws and mistakes made, but overall, as a process, it tends to weed out the bad and let the good bubble to the surface. However, the best way to make your career as a scientist is to be the one who smashes current paradigms, who finds the flaw in the way data are being analyzed, to be the one who overturns expectations and presses current understandings of how things work in new ways.
This is not the kind of environment where conspiracy flourishes. Nay, I’ll say it more strongly, this is not the kind of place where conspiracy could even get a foothold. Consider the following exchange reported in the Feb 5th, 2010 Salt Lake Tribune (linked at beginning):
Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Holladay, questioned Gibson about the “conspiracy” wording in the resolution. “A conspiracy?” he asked. “By whom? To what end?”
“I’m not sure we’ll ever know the depths of it,” said Gibson, adding that it was hard to separate the hype because “we only hear one side of the argument.”
Shocking. Science has no hierarchy as such. There is no one who could organize such silence or widespread agreement such as conspiracy demands. Sometimes those who have failed in promoting certain scientific ideas that have been deemed to have no merit (The Discovery Institute’s Intelligent Design trickiness comes to mind) take to the airwaves (or Internet) to cry that they were suppressed or that they didn’t get a fare hearing.
So let me conclude this quoting myself in my very first blog:
“Many people think scientists are in a grand conspiracy together—that we all secretly agree on some cabalistic agenda, including, but not limited to evolution, global warming, the cell theory of organisms (it’s still only a theory we are made of cells, you know, but I find the evidence compelling), etc. They then think we defend its boarders against those who aren’t part of the club. Well, it’s sort of true. Scientists are not likely to let the new kids on the block play with the regulars until the supplicant proves him or herself in the crucible of the playing field. But conspiracy? Heavens no. Scientists are a bloodthirsty lot. Their currency of exchange is fame and glory. Eternal life in the pages of history. To have your ideas spread are the passion that motivates every scientist I know. Truth is the playing field, the goal of the game though is to get ahead; to become the next Einstein, Darwin or the professor on Gilligan’s Island (The greatest scientist I know). And it is bloody. Reputations are made and broken. Pedestals are erected and smashed. Lives ruined, tenure denied, papers rocketed into the sky only to be shot down with anti-ballistic missiles in the form of data that doesn’t fit your project. It is an ugly world of fierce competition. Only the fittest ideas persist.
Here is a metaphor: The public picture of science is the Dog Party in the children’s book Go Dog Go, up in the tree all toasting one another’s success (as a side note I have read this little treasure more times than any other book ever). The more accurate view of science is to move the dog party to the Roman Coliseum. Now turn them into pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, and German shepherds. Maybe throw in one of those wolf hybrids if you want. Now set them at each others throats. That is science. Scientists are like a great gladiatorial arena of fighting dogs. Each scientist quickly assesses the strength of their opponent then goes for the throat. A quick kill is the surest way to dislodge a weak and insubstantial enemy. This arena is fierce and unrelentingly competitive. The best way to get ahead in the game is to focus your attack on the top dogs and take them down. If you can replace the alpha theory-hypothesis-notion with your own you have the won the contest. So scientists scrutinize each other carefully, try hard to understand what others are saying so they can throttle those ideas if they can. It is not a conspiracy, it’s not a dog party, it is a Hobbesian war of all against all.
Most people don’t understand this. That’s because there are usually a few whiners whose ideas haven’t survived the bloodfest and cry, ‘We didn’t get a fair hearing!’ Ideas like Intelligent Design (ID), or ESP try to enter the arena, then fail in the fray and so these little high-pitched barking Chihuahuas take the case to the ever kind and gentle public. The defeated little dogs paint the event like this scientific hegemony has formed a wall that won’t let there ideas in. The truth is it’s a free for all. There are lots of causalities. That wall is the wall of the battles and skirmishes formed by the fighting dogs. If you’re driven out, the easiest and cheapest claim is that ‘The dogs wouldn’t let me in.” True enough. If you aren’t willing to scrap with them, and not tough enough to compete, they aren’t going to give you a ‘bye.’ And they are not kind. These whooped types, with tail between their legs, start appealing to the public who are much more fair-minded, less critical in the judgments and much nicer when it comes to that noble sense of being fair. Science has no sense of fairness. Ideas are tested, fought over, and are kept or discard in competitive contests with reality. The fight has rules, but like in my dog analogy, these are more about the teeth, claws and sinew of the fighting beasts. To be accepted you must survive. There are occasional alliances but they are short lived and easily subverted.
The fact is things like Evolution and Global warming have survived. Evolution has survived some of the bloodiest battles in the history of science (and I don’t mean between creationists and evolutionists, I mean among evolutionists). It’s as solid as anything I know. There are a few yapping toy breeds still barking at it from the outskirts of the battlefield, like ID, but the second they enter the fight, they are bitten bad and they go yelping back to the safety of public opinion’s lap. In the fray itself they are seen as non-combatants. If their ideas didn’t keep slipping away into the security of their masters, those ideas would be killed without mercy.”
Conspiracy? Not a chance.