Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sixteen Scientists Demur from Conventional Orthodoxy

Sixteen scientists have signed a letter to the Wall Street Journal claiming that there's no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. In other words, the panic about global warming is unwarranted, at least in their opinion. A list of signers appends the letter. It's an impressive bunch. Here are some excerpts from their epistle:
A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about "global warming." Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the "pollutant" carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Dr. Giaever. And the number of scientific "heretics" is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."

The lack of warming for more than a decade — indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections — suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause.

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of "incontrovertible" evidence.
For a decade now those who have expressed skepticism about the extent, causes, and consequences of global climate change have been subject to ridicule, scorn and, in some cases, loss of employment. Skeptics have been told that they should literally be treated as criminals. Media buffoons like Chris Matthews humiliate guests on his show who hesitate to accept the liberal orthodoxy on climate change as mediated by the scientific priesthood. Untenured professors who transgress liberal doctrine have their jobs threatened.

There's a very great irony buried in all this. Liberals have always preached the importance of maintaining a skeptical attitude toward authority. Ever since the sixties such an attitude has been held by liberals as among the highest of intellectual virtues. We should question everything and everyone, we were told, whether the authority was religious, political, cultural, or scientific. We should never allow our devotion to freedom of thought and expression to be stifled. Those who stood against the tide of conventional opinion were "bold," "audacious," and "heroic."

In the last several decades, however, the skeptical virtue has been turned against some of the great shibboleths of liberalism itself. Heretofore unquestioned dogmas about big government, darwinian naturalism, global warming and others have come under withering scrutiny from those who refuse to truckle to the authority of the liberal elites, and now the erstwhile champions of open-mindedness and the free exchange of ideas, those who were all in favor of these wonderful attributes when they could be used to undermine religious belief and traditional moral and political convictions, are aghast that anyone would think to question their beliefs.

Their response to the challenge posed by the skeptics is to censor them, pillory them, and force them to conform.

It's sad, but that's the path so much of modern liberalism has chosen to take.

Another Advance in Stem Cell Research

It may be hard to remember the media sturm un drang over the Bush administration's 2001 decision to end federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. From the intensity of the outrage you would have thought that Mr. Bush had ordered the immediate cessation of all funding for Social Security. John Edwards implied that Bush was keeping quadriplegic Christopher Reeves from ever walking again. Others were extolling the hope that hESC (human embryonic stem cells) would soon provide a cure Parkinson's and other diseases and that George Bush was an anti-science, red-necked Neanderthal.

Since then, however, research on stem cells has progressed apace and new sources of stem cells have been developed in adult tissues like skin. Many researchers who had previously worked with hESC have quietly switched over.

The difference between embryonic and adult stem cells is not trivial. Those who believe that an individual is a person from the moment of conception were understandably upset at the practice of extracting stem cells from living human embryos since the embryo was killed in the extraction. Contrarily, the use of adult stem cells which can be obtained from organs such as the skin, bone marrow, and umbilical cord blood is morally unproblematic.

Rebecca Oas reports at First Things on the recent development of hair follicles as another source of stem cells. These cells hold out the promise of curing a corneal condition that leads to blindness.

Despite such advances, when the Obama administration took office they quickly rescinded the Bush restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but court battles have made it unclear what the future of federal funding for this research will be. As it is, much of its support comes from private sources:
For all the national angst it generates, hESC research remains a surprisingly small part of stem-cell research. Over the past five years, it has received $530 million in federal funding, only about 3.5 percent of total stem-cell dollars.

Half of all private funding and 9 of 10 federal dollars go to stem cells culled from adults, bone marrow, umbilical cords, or animals. So federal funding for hESC research could dry up tomorrow and the field of stem-cell research would continue.

"Over 80 cures and treatments have been developed using adult stem cells or [umbilical] cord blood cells, and zero using embryonic cells," says Ron Stoddart, director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, one of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "Overwhelming advances have been made using adult stem cells. Why spend money to destroy embryos when it's not necessary?"
Why, indeed. There's private funding out there for labs which wish to continue hESC work. Why ask taxpayers who believe that to kill an embryo is to kill a human being to finance it?