by Judith Curry
The motto of the Royal Society is:
Nullius in verba: on the word of no one
“…it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion as a Body upon any subject either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.”
The ‘advertisement’ to The Philosophical Transactions, 1753.
Andrew Montford’s new report provides a lucid account of the transformation of the UK Royal Society.
GWPF has issued a news release:
The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is calling on the Royal Society to restore a culture of open-mindedness and balanced assessment of climate science and climate policy.
In a new GWPF report, written by science author Andrew Montford, the Royal Society is urged to ensure that genuine controversies are reflected in its public debates and reports and that the full range of reputable scientific views are being considered.
“As the Society’s independence has disappeared, so has its former adherence to hard-nosed empirical science and a sober detachment from the political process. Gone are the doubts and uncertainties that afflict any real scientist, to be replaced with the dull certainties of the politician and the public relations man,” said Andrew Montford, author of the new report.
In his report, Andrew Montford describes the development of the Royal Society’s role in the climate debates since the 1980s. He shows the Society’s gradual closing of critical scrutiny and scientific impartiality and the emergence of an almost dogmatic confidence that climate science is all but settled.
In recent years, the Society has issued a series of highly political statements demanding drastic action on energy and climate policies from policy makers and governments. On the issue of climate change, it has adopted an increasingly political rather than scientific tone. Instead of being an open forum for informed scientific debate, the Society is at risk of turning into a quasi-political campaign group.
The GWPF report criticises the Society for being too narrow minded in its assessment of climate change and for failing to take into account views of eminent scientists and policy experts that do not accord with its own position.
In his foreword to the report, Professor Richard Lindzen (MIT), one of the world’s most eminent atmospheric scientists, warns that “the legitimate role of science as a powerful mode of inquiry has been replaced by the pretence of science to a position of political authority.”
As the Society’s independence has disappeared, so has its former adherence to hard-nosed empirical science and a sober detachment from the political process. Gone is its former focus on natural philosophy as a way to solve the world’s problems and in its place is a new science that seeks to conjure up, in the words of Mencken, ‘an endless series of hobgoblins’ – a stream of apocalyptic visions with which to assail the public. Gone are the doubts and uncertainties that afflict any real scientist, to be replaced with the dull certainties of the politician and the public relations man. As one of the fellows interviewed in the wake of the rebellion of the 43 said:
“I can understand why this has happened – there is so much politically and economically riding on climate science that the Society would find it very hard to say ‘well, we are still fairly sure that greenhouse gases are changing the climate’ but the politicians simply wouldn’t accept that level of honest doubt.”
The ability to speak scientific truth to the powers that be is the Society’s only raison d’etre, but even this has now been usurped: there is nowadays a network of science advisers throughout the government machine – if the government and the bureaucracy already have scientists’ advice on tap, why should they need the Royal Society? The answer is, of course, that the Royal Society is an independent voice – or at least it was until swamped with taxpayers’ money, when it became something more akin to a government department. Without its independence, there is no point in the Royal Society.
The reputation of the Society is now on the line – the fellows and much of the general public know that there is something seriously amiss and that the leadership do not speak for everyone within the organisation. Each year that temperatures refuse to rise in line with the nightmare scenarios trumpeted by one president after another, the risk grows that the Society becomes a laughing stock. If government money is a drug of which the Society cannot or will not rid itself, its leadership could at least remind itself of those words of Lord Adrian over 50 years ago:
“It is neither necessary nor desirable for the Society to give an official ruling on scientific issues, for these are settled far more conclusively in the laboratory than in the committee room.”
JC comments: In my recent presentation to the IAC, discussed on the thread Questions on Research Integrity and Scientific Responsibility, I stated that I felt that issues of institutional integrity and responsibility were arguably issues of greater concern than the ethics and behavior of individual scientists. Montford has lucidly described the “what.” I am trying to understand the “why.” I have an idea why individual and groups of climate scientists have been behaving this way (see my previous essay reversing the positive feedback loop), but why the Royal Society?
I encountered Lord May at the Royal Society Uncertainty Workshop, and I liked his presentation Science as Organized Skepticism. However at the end, or in the questions, he dismissed climate change skepticism. Lord May is a biologist, where does his conviction on climate change science come from? I am trying to understand this.