Climate Skepticism: Today’s Witch Hunt and McCarthyism

Although the Salem witch trials took place in the 1690s, witch hunts are still used as a tactic of social persecution and a means to censure and demonize those who do not conform to the climate orthodoxy. From Salem to McCarthyism to today’s increasingly strident attacks on so called “climate skeptics,” witch -hunts are a cancer that eats away at the fabric of a free society.

In the past week, the New York Times wrote an article based on a Greenpeace-initiated attack on Dr. Willie Soon, a scientist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The lead paragraph said, “For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity”. The article also said of documents that Greenpeace obtained, “The documents shed light on the role of scientists like Dr. Soon in fostering public debate over whether human activity is causing global warming. The vast majority of experts have concluded that it is and that greenhouse emissions pose long-term risks to civilization”.

The comment about a “handful” and the “vast majority” suggests that the Times knows fairly exact numbers. What it knows it has obtained from a biased, poorly-conducted, and now discredited literature assessment that concluded that 97% of scientists agree that greenhouse gases are causing damaging climate change. The notion of a “vast majority” is a fiction and has been shown to be so, which the Times should have known if it was interested in factual reporting. As the late Michael Crichton once observed, consensus is about politics and if it’s consensus, it is not science.

The Times article is based on making the case “that corporations trying to block legislation that hurts their interests have employed a strategy of creating the appearance of scientific doubt, usually with the help of ostensibly independent researchers who accept industry funding”. What about special interests that have adopted a strategy to promote legislation that advances their self-interest? Is the Times familiar with the “Bootlegger and Baptist” theory of public choice?

Nowhere in its article does the Times raise questions about who Greenpeace and other environmental groups fund to produce models and analyses that indict CO2 as the driver of global warming and climate change. Shouldn’t good journalism be even-handed and factually based?

The Greenpeace “inquisition” has led several members of Congress to send letters to 100 organizations and 7 universities about funding of research that raises questions and doubts that human use of fossil fuels is causing climate change and funding to scientists labeled as “skeptics.” The misguided assumption, behind what appears to be a politically-orchestrated attack on the credibility of those who question the climate change orthodoxy, is that their findings and science-based views are for sale to the highest bidder. The problem with this assumption is that it implies that scientists and researchers who rely on public or environmental group funding for their climate work are not motivated to tailor their research to the beliefs and policy views of their funding sources.

In 2005, the Marshall Institute published, Funding Flows for Climate Change Research and Related Activities ( It concluded that “private foundations spend $35-$50 million on climate change and related projects” while the federal government spends “in the range of $1.5-$2 billion on climate change activities…”,representing almost two orders of magnitude greater than funds spent by private foundations. A serious inquiry and review of funding for climate research and related activities would look at all funding on the issue, not just a small percentage. This is especially true after evidence that surface temperature data has been manipulated, the “Climategate” scandal of 2010, and the discrediting of the infamous “Hockey Stick” by an independent panel of statisticians.

This current case of witch hunting and McCarthy-like tactics against a select group of scientists is not new. In 1994, Vice President Gore tried it on an ABC Nightline segment, “Is Environmental Science for Sale?”. At the end of the program, the Anchor, Ted Koppel issued this admonishment to Mr. Gore: these ”… issues (climate change and ozone depletion) have to be debated and settled on scientific grounds, not politics. There is nothing new about major institutions seeking to influence science to their own ends. The church did it, ruling families have done it, the communists did it, and so have others, in the name of anti-communism. But it has always been a corrupting influence, and it always will be. The measure of good science is neither the politics of the scientist nor the people with whom the scientist associates. It is the immersion of hypotheses into the acid bath? of truth. That’s the hard way to do it, but it’s the only way that works.” That is the criterion that should be applied to Willie Soon’s work and that of scientists like him who do not embrace climate change orthodoxy.

Greenpeace, which has demonstrated a reckless disregard for rights that are the foundation of a free society, has proven over the years to be driven by zealotry. And that must be the case of those who are joining in the use of McCarthy-like tactics against those who don’t genuflect at the altar of climate change orthodoxy. As Rich Lowry’s commentary in Politico this week concluded, “The kind of people who run inquisitions may lack for perspective and careful respect for the facts and evidence. But they never lack for zeal. This campaign has much zeal but no substance.