Laboratory Wars & the Lure of Climate Change Denial

Posted on May 11, 2010


Now let’s talk about an arena of ruthless and relentless striving.  Intrigue.  Ambition.  Testosterone.  Glory.  Failure.  Money.  Sex.  Cyclotrons.

The usual stuff.

Let’s talk about science.

My first presumption is that the Larson cartoon of thug-like factions of astronomers in labcoats commandeering a shift in the observatory is merely a bit of comic exaggeration.  Science, like many another aspect of human life, is filled with various individuals and groups jockeying and positioning themselves for recognition, prestige, power, money, sex, speaking engagements, whatever.

Because it is a necessity to have a Ph.D to even get into the contest of science means already that the contest will not be kind to the mediocre (barring luck, leverage and/or PR skills.)  Science is filled with journeyman drudges of whom no one will ever hear.  Nor—even if you achieve prominence in your field—does that prominence necessarily linger long in your court once you’re past your prime.  Most prominent scientists have a hard time remaining prominent, unless they head a strong team or have acquired a monopoly on some important corner of whatever field they are working in.

Maybe she or he and the resourceful Dr. Skar have gained control of the cyclotron, for instance.

So let us say you are a scientist, clever but maybe not quite clever or lucky enough to achieve what your ambition says you ought to achieve.  And you haven’t got control of the cyclotron.

You wear a tartan labcoat and the laboratory puts up tartan wallpaper.  You grow a little beard; your lab mate waxes his moustache like Salvador Dali.  You’re working on the Unified Field Theory, but you have writers block.  And now with your career treading water that tall and glorious post doc with the red hair and the bawdy sense of humour is starting to share belly laughs with some smart-aleck new wunderkind, and you realize that you are losing the laboratory wars.

What do you do?

One of the things you can do, given the “climate” we are living in, is get into the field of climate denial.  All the speaking engagements on the other side are fully booked with prominent scientists who agree with the scientific consensus.  There are thousands and thousands of them, many of them actually engaged in doing climate science, who the media could speak to about the subject.  Face it.  The media will never get around to asking you about it, and, if you were honest, it probably wouldn’t be worth their time talking to you anyway.

On the other hand, if you get into climate denial, the field is wide open.  Denial being a negative thing, you never actually have to prove anything yourself.  You just have to stand on the sidelines saying, “Is that all you got?  Is that all you got?  You call that proof?”

Your side of the argument doesn’t have to be rational, or strong, because the media doesn’t care.  And they—most of them—lack the means to judge anyway, just as much of the public does.  They know that nobody understands the science but everybody understands a fight, so the media are always ready to showcase a fight.

Or something that looks like a fight.

(You know, as a scientist, that the real fight is happening in the peer-reviewed scientific journals, but you also know that the media doesn’t care, because the real scientific battle can’t be filmed and released as a 30 second spot on the six o’clock news.  And, on the other hand, you can be.)

So fame and prominence can be yours if you get into the field of climate denial.  And you don’t even have to be a climate scientist.  Heck, you don’t even have to be a scientist.

Climate science denial:  easy pickings for the washed up, the mediocre and the just-plain contrary.

Just don’t expect any scientifically literate person to take you seriously.