frank_davis (frank_davis) wrote,

Noble Cause Corruption

I'm always on the lookout for parallels between climate science and antismoking 'science'. Last week they overlapped.

On Wednesday Sir Muir Russell's report on the Climategate affair is due out. It seems that one of the UEA scientists, Professor Mike Hulme, had sent Sir Muir a copy of Silencing science: partisanship and the career of a publication disputing the dangers of secondhand smoke by Sheldon Ungar and Dennis Bray, which looked at the barrage of abusive Rapid Responses to the 2003 report by Enstrom and Kabat published in the BMJ.

Last week, days before the Russell report was due out, a late submission to Sir Muir came from a number of climate scientists including Michael Mann - the author of the famous Hockey Stick of global warming much used by Al Gore -. Early on in it, the authors write:

One submission urged you to consider the fate of a paper on the health hazards of tobacco as “highly relevant” to your inquiry. The history of tobacco research is indeed relevant. It shows that, by manufacturing controversy (or the appearance of controversy), and by harassing, discrediting, and distracting scientists, it is possible to cloud scientific knowledge and forestall scientific progress for decades. The same strategy is now being used by many of the same players to attack climate science and climate scientists.

Perhaps Michael Mann doesn't know who Enstrom and Kabat are. Or, if he does, he appears to have neatly shifted the focus from E & K to the rather wider "history of tobacco research" in which unnamed players (presumably the evil tobacco companies) successfully cast doubt on antismoking science for decades. The "same players", vested business interests, are doing it again with climate science.

One has to wonder why Mike Hulme submitted this paper to Sir Muir Russell. Perhaps he was trying to portray climate scientists as being harassed by hordes of abusive critics in a similar manner to E & K. If so it was a daring role reversal in which the climate scientists become the noble underdogs fighting against a powerful establishment, rather than the other way round.

Apart from this, Mann and co, on the eve of the publication of the Russell report, make a number of suggestions to Sir Muir, including:

We believe that it is important to state unequivocally in your findings (and any summary of your findings) that nothing that you have seen calls into question the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

It will be interesting to see whether such an unequivocal statement will appear in the report, which is supposed to be about the circumstances surrounding the theft or leaking of the Climategate emails, and not the science itself.

For myself I was rather stunned that Mann and co felt able to write to Sir Muir Russell and tell him what they'd like him to say. It suggests that they see themselves as important people. People who should be listened to. Or else... It's a bit like sending a note to a judge at the end of a long trial telling him that you expect him to find you innocent of all charges, and to award you substantial damages, and to unequivocally declare you to be an honourable and upstanding pillar of society.

Interviewed last week, Anthony Watts of WUWT was asked about Noble Cause Corruption, which he felt applied to the climate science community. As originally framed in a law enforcement context:

Noble Cause Corruption is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means. In other words, law enforcement is engaged in a mission to make our streets and communities safe, and if that requires suspending the Constitution or violating laws ourselves in order to accomplish our mission, then for the greater good of society, so be it. The officers who adopt this philosophy lose their moral compass.

In the climate context, Watts said:

Noble Cause Corruption is a belief that what you're doing is so much more important than what anyone else is doing because your cause is noble, you're saving the planet, and because you're saving the planet, you are doing it for the good of mankind. Therefore your cause is much more important than everyone else's. There was a time when I actually felt that way, when I was doing a project related to planting trees, and having TV meteorologists plant trees back around 1990. It's easy to get caught up in that Noble Cause Corruption because it makes you feel good. It makes you feel important. It makes you feel powerful. And so all of those things combine to put a blinder on you as to what you're really doing.

If Noble Cause Corruption in law enforcement can also be discovered in climate science, then it can also be found in antismoking science in spades. What can be more noble than getting people to give up smoking? You're saving lives. You're doing it for the good of mankind. Nothing else matters. Certainly not smokers, or their pubs and communities. Nor even scientific probity and honesty. And antismoking zealots are blind to the enormous damage they are actually doing. They avert their eyes.

I think I'll adopt 'Noble Cause Corruption' as a useful term to describe one of the failings of antismoking zealots.
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