The perversion of science by the Royal Society and its Canadian counterpart
When Lord Robert May — a distinguished British population biologist — told a journalist: “I am the president of the Royal Society, and I am telling you the debate on climate change is over,” he was risking the reputation of the venerable institution he headed.
Presidents of national science academies are not meant to engage in ex cathedra statements, but to promote objective research.
However, according to a devastating report this week from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the Royal Society — former home to Newton and Darwin — has adopted a stance of intolerant infallibility over climate science and, even less appropriately, over policy.
The report, Nullius in Verba: The Royal Society and Climate Change, by Andrew Montford, is important to Canada not merely because of the continued threat of climate alarmism, but because the Royal Society of Canada has twice attached its name to intensely political statements from its British counterpart.
The phrase “Nullius in verba,” the Royal Society’s motto, means “on the word of no one” and implies that science should always be determined by objectivity rather than the say-so of any “authority.” For ordinary folk like us, however, (including lazy and/or crusading journalists, and even scientists in other specialities) authority is all we usually have to go on, which explains the catastrophists’ relentless emphasis on the “consensus” of those 2,000-plus weighty “experts” who craft the reports of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC.
The burden of allegedly “settled” climate science lingers at every policy level, from electricity bills boosted by outrageously expensive wind and solar energy, to vast schemes to transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to developed countries for a climate crime that was likely never committed.
Mr. Montford identifies Bob May as the man who started the society’s campaigns of radical advocacy and media manipulation. This approach continued under his successor, cosmologist Martin Rees, while current president, Nobel geneticist Paul Nurse, has continued to castigate skeptics.
Of pivotal importance to public opinion was action taken by the society in 2001, when promoters of catastrophic man-made climate change were focused on the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report — whose star exhibit was the so-called “Hockey Stick Graph,” which purported to show a thousand years of constant temperatures followed by a Nike swoosh upwards in the 20th century — and efforts to ratify Kyoto. The society took the lead in organizing a total of 17 national science academies to issue an editorial statement, which appeared in the journal Science. Lord May made it clear that he was particularly eager to counter skepticism expressed by U.S. President George W. Bush.
The 2001 statement, supported by the Royal Society of Canada, made the dubious statement that “It is now evident that human activities are already contributing adversely to global climate change.” It backed the IPCC as “the world’s most reliable source” on climate science, and demanded action on Kyoto.
Ironically, the IPCC has since been sharply criticized by a report from the InterAcademy Council, the representative body of national science academies, and more recently been lacerated by two dedicated Canadian researchers, economist Ross McKitrick and blogger Donna Laframboise. Meanwhile another independent Canadian researcher, Steve McIntyre would, along with Prof. McKitrick, break the Hockey Stick.
The 2001 editorial claimed that there was much that could be done to “reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases without excessive cost.” That obviously wasn’t true because it didn’t happen. Emissions reductions were trivial; costs were enormous.
The president of the Royal Society of Canada who signed this document, Dr. Bill Leiss, told me that he consulted with RSC science members before adding the society’s name. He also suggested that signing such documents is “the sort of things national academies do for each other.” However, another former head of the RSC, who did not want to be identified, suggested that the society had no mechanism for validating such support, and said that he disagreed with signing such documents.
In 2005, the RSC signed another multi-academy political document designed to pressure the G8 ahead of its meeting at Gleneagles in Scotland. The same year, the British Royal Society issued a misleading pamphlet rebutting skeptics, which Mr. Montford describes as “a low point in the society’s history.” Worse, it pressured the media not to publish dissenting views.
Towards the end of his term of office, Lord May characterized those who questioned the official science of climate thus: “On one hand, you have the entire scientific community and on the other you have a handful of people, half of them crackpots.” He pointed to the existence of a climate change “denial lobby,” funded by the “hydrocarbon industry.” Successor Sir Martin Rees came out strongly in support of the U.K. government-sponsored Stern review on climate change, whose economic assumptions were widely ridiculed. He also presided over a campaign against Exxon Mobil.
In 2010, by then Lord Rees was replaced by Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel geneticist, who tried to bury the significance of the 2009 release of embarrassing internal emails between prominent IPCC scientists known as “Climategate,” claiming that it was “the greatest scientific scandal that never happened.” (Former RSC head Dr. Reiss suggested to me that there was no Climategate unless one was an “ideologue.” He also denied — as far as he knew — that there had been any halt to the trend in global warming. The latest official figures suggest it has been stalled for 15 years.)
The Royal Society of Canada has recently, with the help of Dr. Leiss, produced a well-regarded and well-balanced report on the impact of the oil sands (although it was inevitably ignored by radical environmentalists) and another on marine issues. However, by linking itself with politicized statements, it risks its own reputation.
As for its British equivalent, Mr. Montford concludes that “Each year that temperatures refuse to rise in line with the nightmare scenarios trumpeted by one president after another, the risk grows that the society becomes a laughingstock.”
Unfortunately, perverting science to promote draconian and poverty-inducing global controls is hardly a laughing matter.