Watt about Lysenkoism?

Watts Up With That (WUWT) called Lysenkoism and Global Warming Theory. I had never heard of Lysenkoism, so had to look it up. Lysenkoism is named after a Russian scientist called Trofim Lysenko who claimed to have developed a new, revolutionary agricultural technique. His ideas were so supported by the Soviet propaganda machine, that other scientists produced results that supported his theory, despite the fact that it was completely wrong.

Lysenkoism is therefore

“the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives”.

The claim that Anthony Watts, who wrote the WUWT post, makes is that climate scientists are guilty of Lysenkosim. His exact statement is

Those who promote the theory are favored with billions from government grants and neo-Marxist environmentalist largesse, and official recognition and award. Faked and tampered data and evidence has arisen in favor of the politically correct theory. Is not man-caused, catastrophic global warming now the only theory allowed to be taught in schools in the West?

Let’s acknowledge that one can’t prove that this claim is not true. I would say, however, that if someone is going to use conspiracy theory to explain why one idea is well-regarded, while another is largely dismissed, they should probably provide some fairly strong evidence or else they will seem a little paranoid. The other thing I would say is that there is a great deal of agreement in the scientific community about climate change. Some see this as a sign of some kind of conspiracy and that this general agreement means that alternative ideas are dismissed without being properly considered. One should at least, in my opinion, be willing to consider the alternative that the agreement implies that this area is now quite well understood and that other ideas are dismissed because they’re typically wrong.

I was, however, going to make an additional point, and that relates to what is called the “scientific method”. There is a very good article by Brian Cox and Robin Ince called Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science, that discusses the scientific method. The basic idea is that science is very complex, especially world-leading, cutting-edge science. You can’t really expect a few “experts” to pass judgement on all bits of scientific work because no one person could possibly be sufficiently expert to do so. Instead there is a process in which scientific work is submitted for publication, reviewed by between one and three “peers” and – if judged to be worthy – published in a peer-reviewed journal. This work will typically also be presented at various conferences and meetings.

Once published and presented, others can consider the work, pass their own judgement and can check if it stands up to scrutiny. Sometimes it won’t, sometimes it will, and sometimes new evidence will cause researchers to adapt their interpretation and change their models. Over time, this process will lead the field to progress towards a general agreement about this particular science area. This doesn’t mean that it is completely settled and that the results are now fixed in stone, it just means that there is a general understanding about the fundamentals and that it is unlikely to change dramatically as new evidence comes to light. The existence of the scientific method makes it very difficult to see how a particular science area can continually promote ideas that are wrong because someone credible should have pointed out, by now, the flaws in the existing ideas. The scientific method has been remarkably successful in many different areas and so one would need to show why climate science is somehow special and why the scientific method is failing here, but working everywhere else.

The other issue I have with the claim that climate scientists benefit – and hence can’t be trusted – from their claims about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is that this doesn’t really make sense to me. Climate scientists are typically university scientists who (like me) earn good but not fantastic salaries. Whatever they do, they will never earn massive amounts of money (unless they change career). They compete for funding that, worldwide, probably totals a few billion dollars spread between a few thousand scientists. Sounds like a lot, but this money does not go to them. It pays their research costs. It would also probably exist even if climate science was not indicating that AGW might be a problem. On the other hand there is the fossil fuel industry. I spend about 10% of my income on energy, most of which is probably provided by fossil fuels. The world economy is about $70 trillion. It seems reasonable to conclude that the fossil fuel industry is worth a good few trillion dollars. If climate scientists’ claims about AGW have merit, this industry’s entire business model is at risk.

I’m meant to believe that climate scientists cannot be trusted because they, at best, benefit minimally from suggesting that their results indicate that AGW is something we should be addressing. An industry, on the other hand, that stands to lose trillions if the results of climate science are correct, is as pure as the driven snow and is not influencing – in any significant way – the rather vociferous group who keep claiming that climate scientists cannot be trusted and that their results (at least those results that support AGW) are horribly flawed. I don’t have any evidence to suggest that the fossil fuel industry is acting to undermine the results of climate science, and I’m not suggesting that they are doing any such thing. Similarly, however, Anthony Watts has no evidence to suggest that climate science is suffering from Lysenkoism. If, however, the credibility of the claims made by an industry/organisation/group is related to how much they stand to lose or gain – in the general area of AGW, climate scientists seem, to me, to be the most credible of all the possible groups involved.

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One Response to Watt about Lysenkoism?

  1. There’s an interesting – and related – comment from richardscourtney on a post called Spencer slays with sarcasm. You can find the comment here. I won’t repeat the whole comment, but what I found interesting were two major statements. One was (and I quote)

    Dealing with the pseudoscientists can only be accomplished by defeating them with science. It cannot be accomplished by combating them with alternative pseudoscience,

    followed a short while later by (and I quote)

    Simply, the AGW-hypothesis is pure Lysenkoism. Like the original activities of Trofim Lysenko, AGW can only be overcome by championing adherence to the realities of true science and the scientific method.

    So, hold on a minute. You can only deal with climate scientists by sticking to the science, followed by a claim – without any scientific evidence whatsoever – that the AGW-hypothesis is pure Lysenkoism. How is that “defeating them with science”. As far as I can tell, that is defeating them with an opinion that – as yet – has no basis in reality.

    You might think that it is a little unfair to highlight a comment by one individual. This individual, however, comments more than almost anyone else on the site (with a few exceptions), dominates many of the discussions, and is held in quite high-regard by some. Given that, I think that this individual’s comments reflect the views held by many on the site and his comments have a big influence on the credibility (or lack thereof) of WUWT.

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