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Too much faith in humanity

Christie Pesavento | Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Last November, an unknown source leaked more than 1,000 e-mails and technical documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain to the Internet. These documents reveal that a number of scientists within the Unit had engaged in some disturbingly unprofessional behavior in order to downplay, or in some cases eliminate, data that raised doubts about the anthropogenic causes of global warming. From data manipulation and deletion, to suppression of evidence in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, to blacklisting journals whose editorial boards contain climate change skeptics, to subversion of the peer-review process, and finally to at least one threat of violence, it appears that these scientists would stop at nothing to prove that climate change is man-made.  
(For those interested, all the documents are available online at www.climate-gate.org).
What is even more troubling than the e-mails themselves is the reaction to the revelations. A number of media outlets have refused to scrutinize the emerging scandal. Two weeks after the damning documents were released, ABC and NBC have only acknowledged their existence in an offhand manner. Instead of scrutinizing the evidence, they still maintain that “the science is solid” and “the evidence is overwhelming that man is behind climate change.” 
The Obama administration has also failed to moderate its global warming alarmism, and is working in “full speed ahead” mode toward negotiations at Copenhagen’s climate change summit that the President will be attending.
For its part, a working group for the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change released a statement stating that it “condemns the illegal act which led to private emails being posted on the Internet and firmly stands by the findings of the AR4 and by the community of researchers worldwide whose professional standards and careful scientific work over many years have provided the basis for these conclusions,” despite previous calls for a full investigation of the documents.
Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, responded with this account of the situation: “Our collective understanding of how the Earth is warming … rests on a wealth of scientific information that is very diverse and comes from multiple sources and multiple groups. Regardless of what happened in one place, it doesn’t undermine the totality of what we know.”
Ms. Lubchenco’s reassurances, however, do little to quell the concerns among many as to the credibility behind the science of global warming, a speculative science that is based on computer models, which in turn rely on incomplete data and hardly-proven assumptions about how earth’s climate works. Denying this reality, especially when researchers have come under fire for pursuing a political agenda, will not make it go away. 
Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, weighs in on the serious international and domestic policy implications of the scandal: 
“Without the IPCC there would be no cap-and-tax legislation awaiting debate in the Senate. There would be no meeting in Copenhagen, where, next month, world leaders will attempt to globalize cap-and-tax. There would also be no pledge from President Obama to emissions reductions that have never been passed by the Senate.” 
One would hope that experts and analysts would reconsider their conclusions about the imminent threat of global warming in light of possible corruption and data manipulation, especially when billion-dollar legislation is at stake. Instead, the Obama administration, the United Nations, the media, and even some in the scientific community have refused to recognize the gravity of the situation. 
David Harsanyi of the Reason Institute explains why:
“To many of these folks, the science of global warming is only a tool of ideology. To step back and re-examine their thinking would also mean — at least temporarily — ceding a foothold on policy that allows government to control behavior. It would mean putting the brakes on the billions of dollars allocated to force fundamental economic and societal manipulations through cap-and-trade schemes and fabricated “new energy economies,” among many other intrusive policies.”  
When science, aided by allies in the media and politics, becomes an ends-oriented endeavor rather than an objective search for truth, the basis for knowledge crumbles, and society suffers the consequences. The emails and subsequent attempts at a cover-up may not disprove anthropogenic climate change, but they do cast serious doubt on the methods and motives of the scientists behind the claims. Climategate should provide ample reason for all to pause and reconsider the tremendous faith we have placed in the hands of mankind not only in the scientific field, but in all realms of life. It may turn out that man’s capacity to control and manipulate the world is not a sound as some, particularly those who favor governmental engineering of social and economic systems, would like to think. 
As prominent 18th-century statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke once wrote, “Vainglorious man, in the role of guide, equipped with a map compiled from his own abstractions, would lead society to destruction.”
Christie Pesavento is a senior who is majoring in political science and sociology. She can be reached at cpesaven@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not 

necessarily those of The Observer.