Blacklisting sceptics

By Mark Lawson

A mini ice age may be about to start, at least according to an alternative and heavily disputed theory of climate, but the major concern of the climate science community is to ensure that those who push such theories can’t have jobs. They are being put on a blacklist – in which Australians feature prominently – and shunned.

A case in point is that of senior climate scientist Professor Judith Curry who, until 2012, was Chair of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech in the US. In an early February article in the US Forbes magazine, fellow academic Roger Pielke Jr says that despite a long and eminent career in science and science administration Curry’s subsequent attempts to get a senior position in science have proved fruitless.

The problem is that Curry’s dissenting views on climate quickly show up in any Google search on her name, with an attempted debunking of her views on the site SkepticalScience at the very top. In this case Skeptical, spelt with a k as Americans do, means being sceptical about the arguments of climate sceptics.

Individual universities may not be greatly impressed by such treatment from a site with no scientific standing – Australian cartoonist John Cook is one of the founders and the site advertises his books – or care much about the arguments over climate which have now been going more than thirty years. But they know that hiring Curry would result in strong protests by student activists, including possible sit-ins in the Dean’s office, and complaints from staff members. They don’t want the hassle.

But Curry is, in turn, just one name in a lengthy list of those peddling ‘climate misinformation’ kept on the site. Although its not called a blacklist on the site, those on it, including Pielke, an academic in science and technology policy at the University of Colorado, describe it as such. Pielke, whose views on the climate wars are well known, says that its influence may mean he will have to follow Curry out of academia.

Australians are certainly well-represented on the list. The science section of it includes the redoubtable Ian Plimer, a professor of geology who has pumped out best-selling books on climate scepticism, as well as Professor Bob Carter. A paleontologist and marine biologist who was head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University in Townsville until 1998, Carter remained adjunct professor at JCU until 2013. The university then decided not to renew his status and asked for other, minor connections to be terminated. At the time the university was careful to avoid saying it disagreed with Carter; only that staff found his views difficult to defend. Carter died in 2016.

Tony Abbott is at the top of the politicians section of the list and prominent sceptic William Kininmonth, former head of the National Climate Centre for the Bureau of Meteorology, is listed in the meteorologist section.

Although the list emphasises climate science rather than what might be described as climate effects there are some surprising omissions such as another JCU professor, Peter Ridd, who was effectively sacked for public comments casting doubts over the quality of research concerning the Great Barrier Reef. As scientists have for years repeatedly forecast the imminent death of the reef and attributed enormous damage to climate change, while the increasing numbers of tourist visitors to the reef don’t seem to have noticed any damage, Professor Ridd’s views would seem worthy of a second look.

Instead, the university not only sacked Ridd but it has fought his subsequent unfair dismissal claim in the courts. Ridd has since won in the Federal Circuit Court with the case focusing solely on a standard part of his employment agreement which gave him the right to speak his mind on matters concerning his own field, rather than the health of the reef. However, the university promptly announced it would appeal.

Another omission is Susan Crockford, previously adjunct assistant professor at the University of Victoria in Canada for thirteen years before having her application for renewal of her post rejected in October 2019 without explanation. Crockford’s crime was to publish and speak out about her research showing that polar bear populations are stable, even thriving, rather than, as activists insist, plummeting as sea ice shrinks. Activists often counter these examples of apparent bias by claiming that scientists who support the climate change thesis have also often been sacked for their views, but it is difficult to find any examples of this.

While universities are busy quashing any dissent on climate, Professor Valentina Zharkova of Britain’s Northumbria University has released research forecasting a major reduction in the sun’s magnetic activity, a symptom of which will be a drop in the number of sun spots through to the 2030s. Zharkova’s work (published in a Nature open access journal Scientific Reports in June) relies on a dynamic model of the sun with a number of different layers and slow moving waves in those layers. A similar drop in sun spots, a phenomenon known as Maunder’s Minimum, is known to coincide more or less with a climate phenomena known as a little ice age.

Her research and presentation to Britain’s National Astronomy Meeting, which tied in other, known sun spot minima and cooler periods in the earth’s climate, passed more or less unnoticed. But it received considerably more publicity when Zharkova told journalists in Britain earlier this year that the Grand Solar Minimum she forecast may result in global temperatures falling by up to 1 degree Celsius. She also said that a marked cold snap in Canada in January (temperatures went down to -50 degrees Celsius) and in Iceland in December are the start of this.

Needless to say, this view is bitterly and strongly disputed with other scientists pointing out that the sun’s energy output does not vary much no matter what the state of its magnetic activity, and that Maunder’s Minimum can be explained by other factors including volcanic eruptions. Zharkova is also often described as a ‘controversial’ figure.

One advantage of Zharkova’s forecast, however, is that it is easy to test. If global temperatures actually start falling, rather than increasing slightly as they have been doing for the past two decades, and scientists can be made to admit this, then our knowledge of the link between climate and sun will have greatly improved.

In the mean time climate orthodoxy rules and any scientist who dares to contest that orthodoxy will find themselves out of a job, and on a blacklist.

 

This article appeared on the Spectator Australia website at https://www.spectator.com.au/2020/02/blacklisting-sceptics/