The Inquisition Strikes Again

This painting, by French artist Edouard Moyse, is entitled "Inquisition."

This painting, by French artist Edouard Moyse, is entitled “Inquisition.” (public domain image)

Dr. Lennart Bengtsson is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading’s Environmental Systems Science Centre. When it comes to climate scientists, there are few more distinguished. He has been awarded the Descartes Research Prize (for outstanding scientific and technological achievements resulting from European collaborative research), the International Meteorological Organization Prize (for outstanding contributions to meteorology, climatology, hydrology, and related sciences), and the Rossby Prize (the highest award for atmospheric science given by the American Meteorological Society). He currently has 238 papers published in the nationally-recognized, peer-reviewed scientific literature, focused mostly on climate science. Obviously, his credentials speak for themselves.

About a month ago, he accepted an invitation to join The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a think tank devoted to climate science and its effects on public policy. They say they are focused on “Restoring balance and trust to the climate debate,” and their members have a wide range of views on the science behind global warming. Some agree with the opinions of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that human beings are causing the planet to warm and the results are potentially catastrophic. Others do not think the scientific evidence is strong enough to make such a statement, while others think the scientific evidence indicates that the climate changes we are seeing now are mostly the result of natural cycles which have been going on for a long, long time. In short, their membership represents the same variety of opinions that is found in the climate science community.

Unfortunately for Dr. Bengtsson (and science as a whole), this is considered unacceptable by the Inquisition, which seeks to enforce orthodoxy among scientists. According to the Inquisition, the science is settled. Despite the fact that the data are far from conclusive, the Inquisition has decided that to even suggest there might be something wrong with the “scientific consensus” on global warming is downright heresy. As a result, Dr. Bengtsson was bullied into resigning from his position at the GWPF. In his own words:

I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety…I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years. [Please note that English is not Dr. Bengtsson's mother tongue.]

On May 16th, an editorial by Matt Ridley was published in The Times. It quite correctly decried this kind of McCarthyism, saying that it has no place in science. As a part of his excellent piece, Ridley asked the following question:

What is going on in academia when demonising and silencing your opponents has become so acceptable?

I think I know the answer to that one. It became acceptable when it was applied to creationists. Once the Inquisition saw that it could use bullying tactics to silence the scientific opposition to materialistic evolution, it realized that the same method could be used to silence criticism on any issue. As a result, it became “open season” on skeptics of any topic that his been lifted to the level of Orthodoxy in modern science (see here, here, and here, for example).

Ridley’s opinion piece ends with this statement:

Truly, the old joke is becoming ever more true: what’s the opposite of diversity? University.

I couldn’t agree more. Even back in the 1990s when I was on the faculty of Ball State University, there were speech codes in place that limited what the professors and students could say. The situation has just gotten worse since then. As long as we allow the Inquisition to stay active in the scientific community, the progress of science will be slowed.


  1. Matthew May 19, 2014 8:41 am

    I look at these debates with Darwinism in mind.

    People create a negative selective pressure by saying that creationism is not science and demonizing proponents.

    Creationists do not enter the relevant fields of research as often as evolutionists do (though many certainly exist to the chagrin of evolutionists) because of the stifling atmosphere.

    Thus you get a lot of creationist general members of the public, engineers, and business owners, but not scientists.

    You get a homogenous conceited mass of scientists that think they know everything. They create a bubble of alternate reality that most outside the scientific community do not truly believe. It has nothing to do with the truth.

  2. Jacob May 19, 2014 11:39 am

    I think that as the anticipated “disastrous effects” that Climate Change is supposed to unleash on the world have become steadily less plausible, the proponents of the idea have gotten nastier and nastier. Dr. Wile, I figure you saw the little gem posted to YouTube, where those 97 scientists debated those silly 3 Climate Change deniers? Bill Nye has certainly become quite the atheist champion, hm?

  3. Benjamin Porter June 2, 2014 11:45 pm

    Dr. Wile,
    I used your science textbooks through high school and they did me a lot of good preparing me for college.

    I have a question though. If global warming is not being caused by humans, what practical implications does that have? Do you suggest that most of the environmental concerns today are untrue, or just human-caused climate change?

    • jlwile June 3, 2014 8:11 am

      Benjamin, there are some real environmental problems in this world. Water pollution is a real problem, for example. So is habitat destruction, some species on the brink of extinction, radioactive waste, etc. While I think it is valuable to continue to research climate change, since there are a lot of things we don’t know about it, I just think we should spend our money on environmental problems that we know are real.

      Thanks for letting me know that my courses prepared you for college! That was an important goal for me when I wrote them.

  4. Benjaming Porter June 3, 2014 2:03 pm

    Thanks for the response! That is a very good point that global warming gets a lot more attention than more definite issues.