Steyn’s essay is particularly interesting, because it demonstrates how the process of peer review can be corrupted by vested interests, so that the ‘expert opinion’ which this process is supposed to produce fails to be a reflection of the outcomes of the scientific process. Instead, it is reduced to representing only the views of those vested interests, which are then presented falsely as a scientific consensus.
Here is Steyn, I’ll quote him at length, for effect:
[H]ere’s what I had to say in my syndicated column five years ago. This piece is one of the “documents” Mann’s lawyers requested in discovery. Dunno why. You can Google it in five seconds. As you’ll see, I refer herein to “the fraud of Dr Mann’s global-warming ‘hockey stick’ graph”. He didn’t sue that time:
My favorite moment in the Climategate/Climaquiddick scandal currently roiling the “climate change” racket was Stuart Varney’s interview on Fox News with the actor Ed Begley Jr. — star of the 1980s medical drama St. Elsewhere but latterly better known, as is the fashion with members of the thespian community, as an “activist.” He’s currently in a competition with Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) to see who can have the lowest “carbon footprint.” Pistols at dawn would seem the quickest way of resolving that one, but presumably you couldn’t get a reality series out of it. Anyway, Ed was relaxed about the mountain of documents recently leaked from Britain’s Climate Research Unit in which the world’s leading climate-change warm-mongers e-mail each other back and forth on how to “hide the decline” and other interesting matters.
Nothing to worry about, folks. “We’ll go down the path and see what happens in peer-reviewed studies,” said Ed airily. “Those are the key words here, Stuart. ‘Peer-reviewed studies.'”
Hang on. Could you say that again more slowly so I can write it down? Not to worry. Ed said it every 12 seconds, as if it were the magic charm that could make all the bad publicity go away. He wore an open-necked shirt, and, although I don’t have a 76″ inch HDTV, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a talismanic peer-reviewed amulet nestling in his chest hair for additional protection. “If these scientists have done something wrong, it will be found out and their peers will determine it,” insisted Ed. “Don’t get your information from me, folks, or any newscaster. Get it from people with Ph.D. after their names. ‘Peer-reviewed studies is the key words. And if it comes out in peer-reviewed studies . . . ”
Got it: Pier-reviewed studies. You stand on the pier and you notice the tide seems to be coming in a little higher than it used to and you wonder if it’s something to do with incandescent light bulbs killing the polar bears? Is that how it works?
No, no, peer-reviewed studies. “Peer-reviewed studies. Go to Science magazine, folks. Go to Nature,” babbled Ed. “Read peer-reviewed studies. That’s all you need to do. Don’t get it from you or me.”
Look for the peer-reviewed label! And then just believe whatever it is they tell you!
The trouble with outsourcing your marbles to the peer-reviewed set is that, if you take away one single thing from the leaked documents, it’s that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the “peer-review” process. When it comes to promoting the impending ecopalypse, the Climate Research Unit is the nerve-center of the operation. The “science” of the CRU dominates the “science” behind the UN’s IPCC, which dominates the “science” behind the Congressional cap-and-trade boondoggle, the upcoming Copenhagen shakindownen of the developed world, and the now routine phenomenon of leaders of advanced, prosperous societies talking like gibbering madmen escaped from the padded cell, whether it’s President Obama promising to end the rise of the oceans or the Prince of Wales saying we only have 96 months left to save the planet.
But don’t worry, it’s all “peer-reviewed.”
Here’s what Phil Jones of the CRU and his colleague Michael Mann of Penn State mean by “peer review.” When Climate Research published a paper dissenting from the Jones-Mann “consensus,” Jones demanded that the journal “rid itself of this troublesome editor,” and Mann advised that “we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers.”
So much for Climate Research. When Geophysical Research Letters also showed signs of wandering off the “consensus” reservation, Dr. Tom Wigley (“one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change”) suggested they get the goods on its editor, Jim Saiers, and go to his bosses at the American Geophysical Union to “get him ousted.” When another pair of troublesome dissenters emerge, Dr. Jones assured Dr. Mann, “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”
Which in essence is what they did. The more frantically they talked up “peer review” as the only legitimate basis for criticism, the more assiduously they turned the process into what James Lewis calls the Chicago machine politics of international science. The headline in the Wall Street Journal Europe is unimproveable: “How To Forge A Consensus.” Pressuring publishers, firing editors, blacklisting scientists: That’s “peer review,” climate-style.
The more their echo chamber shriveled, the more Mann and Jones insisted that they and only they represent the “peer-reviewed” “consensus.” And gullible types like Ed Begley Jr. and Andrew Revkin of the New York Times fell for it hook, line, and tree-ring. The e-mails of “Andy” (as his CRU chums fondly know him) are especially pitiful. Confronted by serious questions from Stephen McIntyre, the dogged Ontario retiree whose Climate Audit website exposed the fraud of Dr. Mann’s global-warming “hockey stick” graph), “Andy” writes to Dr. Mann to say not to worry, he’s going to “cover” the story from a more oblique angle:
I’m going to blog on this as it relates to the value of the peer review process and not on the merits of the mcintyre et al attacks.
peer review, for all its imperfections, is where the herky-jerky process of knowledge building happens, would you agree?
And, amazingly, Dr. Mann does! “Re, your point at the end — you’ve taken the words out of my mouth.”
And that’s what Andrew Revkin did, week in, week out: He took the words out of Michael Mann’s mouth and served them up to impressionable readers of the New York Times and opportunist politicians around the world champing at the bit to inaugurate a vast global regulatory body to confiscate trillions of dollars of your hard-earned wealth in the cause of “saving the planet” from an imaginary crisis concocted by a few dozen thuggish ideologues. If you fall for this after the revelations of the last week, you’re as big a dupe as Begley or Revkin.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” wondered Juvenal: Who watches the watchmen? But the beauty of the climate-change tree-ring circus is that you never need to ask “Who peer-reviews the peer-reviewers?” Mann peer-reviewed Jones, and Jones peer-reviewed Mann, and anyone who questioned their theories got exiled to the unwarmed wastes of Siberia. The “consensus” warm-mongers could have declared it only counts as “peer-reviewed” if it’s published in Peer-Reviewed Studies published by Mann & Jones Publishing Inc (Peermate of the Month: Al Gore, reclining naked, draped in dead polar-bear fur, on a melting ice floe), and Ed Begley Jr. and “Andy” Revkin would still have wandered out glassy-eyed into the streets droning “Peer-reviewed studies. Cannot question. Peer-reviewed studies. The science is settled . . . ”
Looking forward to Copenhagen, Herman Van Rumpoy, the new president of the European Union and an eager proponent of the ecopalypse, says 2009 is “the first year of global governance.” Global government, huh? I wonder where you go to vote them out of office.
Hey, but don’t worry, it’ll all be “peer-reviewed.”
The lessons that I would like you to take from this essay are:
- expert opinion is valuable in giving us an understanding of the latest thinking on a phenomenon or problem; however, it is both possible and likely that experts will disagree;
- it is possible for the ‘peer review’ process to be corrupted by vested interests or to go awry because of incompetency;
- thus, for serious matters on which you have to form an opinion, you ought to take expert opinion as a starting point for your own investigations;
- you ought to examine critically all claims made by people who are asking you to support their policy proposal(s);
- make up your own mind, do not take another person’s word for something, even if they call themselves, or others call them, an expert – nullius in verba!