They have reached their own consensus and their consensus is that biologists are just tinkerers who are out to create a scientocracy not bound by morality or ethics or anything beyond the cold pursuit of violating nature.
While consensus still means the same as it always meant in science, to the public it now means voting and the votes of the public count just as much as that of a scientist. Climate scientists have to take some of the blame for that. A decade ago they didn't let the data speak for itself, they responded to criticism from anti-science detractors by invoking their consensus louder and louder. Frank discussion of the variability in models went by the wayside because global warming deniers would use that for gain, it was said. Objectivity was lost and we got weird conspiratorial madness like the events at East Anglia CRU.
Now with the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) being released (in four parts, concluding by November 2014) the knives are going to be out again, but it isn't just the popular trope that the right wing is applying a political litmus test this time around. Instead, the pressure for climate scientists to be political advocates is coming from environmentalists, says Tamsin Edwards, PhD and climate scientist at the University of Bristol.
What have things come to when a climate researcher, or any scientist, is called on to be more clear in their political beliefs? Yes, the right wing has done that, but in science media so does the left. Any time I am critical of progressives and their anti-science positions, someone on Twitter invokes that I must be a 'conservative.' Meanwhile, conservatives say I am a liberal whenever facts violate their world view.
We should be applauding a researcher who just wants to do science and let the data be culturally agnostic. Instead, both sides are instead hunting for clues to political affiliation.
"I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science," Edwards says, and some of that is true. But few in the public have ever really trusted science for a long time. Go back for the last 50 years and scientists have been reviled continuously over energy, food and medicine. Today is no different, climate change is just the latest front in a culture war.
It just may seem like there is more cultural damage because the Internet makes information far more available than was ever possible before. If blogging had existed in the early 1990s, for example, Democrats would be labeled as the anti-science party; The President and his Congress canceled the Superconducting Supercollider and a phenomenal nuclear power project and bragged about it.
Today, Pew Research reveals that Americans are more concerned about the federal government violating their civil liberties than they are about terrorism - the first time in the history of Pew Research polling that has happened - and it isn't because terrorism has stopped, as two raids by the military last week attest. What has science media been talking about instead? That the IPCC went from 90% to 95% confidence that global warming is man-made and therefore Republicans are stupid. Meanwhile, a propaganda-laced, anti-scientific screed against GMOs(1) is getting very little coverage in science media. There is no denying that being anti-GMO is a left-wing default.
The downside to biologists not engaging in partisan politics about the demographic of GMO deniers is that encroachment by activists isn't getting much media attention - but the upside is that most of the public don't assume biologists are politically motivated, the way many people on both sides do with climate scientists. In climate science today, environmentalists want to go after anyone in the field who isn't "reliable" politically and just lets the data speak for itself.
Climate scientists are taking the field back. In 2006, media talking points were portrayed as peer-reviewed science and the IPCC is being far more rigorous after the missteps of the last report. It will help to be less political, of course, and it will also help restore the public's faith in the field if science journalists ask the awkward questions this time around.
(1) A Skeleton in America's Closet By Alex Berezow, Real Clear Science
- Can You Be Pro-Science And Pro-Environment In 2012?
- Bernie Sanders Isn’t Pro-Science (and Neither Are Most Progressives)
- Climate Change: Where Republicans And Democrats Agree
- It's Been A Bad Decade For Union Of Concerned Scientists
- The Left Is More Anti-Science Than The Right Unless The Right Is More Anti-Science Than The Left