Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

What would Galileo say about climate change?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 25, 2009

What's the worst thing a reasonable person could say about the way the Catholic Church treated Galileo?

Let's not set the standards too high. Never mind whether or not the historical complaint against the Church is accurate. Let's only say that it must be plausible enough so that one could make the complaint at an ordinary neighborhood barbeque party, or in the refectory of a Jesuit residence, without fear of being contradicted immediately.

The complaint, I think, would be that Church leaders used political pressure to suppress a scientific theory.

We can debate the Galileo case some other time. For the sake of the present argument, let's assume that complaint is entirely justified. How is that different from what government officials-- and a shocking number of professional scientists-- are doing in today's debate about climate change?

For several years now, the leading proponents of the theory that mankind has changed the world's climate by increasing carbon-dioxide emissions have done their utmost to silence their scientific critics. Anyone who dares to question their theories has faced public ridicule, ostracism from the scientific community, barriers to publication of scholarly papers, and obstacles to securing funds for research projects. The climate-change theorists have dominated the field not because they have answered all their critics but because they have muffled the skeptics' voices.

Now we have learned that leading climate-change scientists deliberately suppressed some data, used tricks to manipulate statistics, and conspired to keep their opponents' work out of scientific journals and conferences. It's true that the evidence was obtained illicitly-- by hackers who broke into a university's computer network. But the evidence of scientific misconduct is mountainous. In email exchanges, scientists boast of using "tricks" to skew statistical results, referred to professional colleagues as "idiots," and discussed the inconvenient bits of evidence they planned to hide. In one message that neatly sums up these researchers' attitude toward scientific objectivity, one scientist vowed to keep a critical piece out of circulation "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" The emails seemed to show ample evidence of scholarly misconduct: a "smoking gun," as many commentators put it. But one climate-change skeptic said that metaphor was inadequate: "This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud.”

When public leaders exert pressure on scientists, hoping to influence their findings, they injure the cause of truth. When scientists themselves intimidate other scientists, their offense is still more serious because they violate the canons of their own vocation. Scientists who deliberately distort their results, or suppress evidence and arguments to fit their own preferences, endanger public confidence in all scientific research, and handicap the true scholar's quest for truth. Anyone who loves science should be quick to condemn the misconduct exposed in these pirated email exchanges. The fact that other serious climate-change theorists have not denounced their manipulative colleagues speaks volumes.

The climate-change theorists have sustained a serious blow to their credibility. Yet it appears-- for now, at least-- that they will retain their dominance in the public discussion. The mass media have fully embraced the climate-change hypothesis, and now show no inclination to question it. (Diogenes points out that the New York Times has cited public opinion as the reason not to scrutinize the data more carefully.) The world's political leaders-- who are already planning sweeping policy changes in response to the supposition that mankind has caused climate change-- are not ready to second-guess their own premature conclusions.

In short, the climate-change hypothesis is popular among the people who control political affairs and public opinion. Galileo's views, on the other hand, were unpopular with Church officials. Otherwise, what's the difference between the two cases?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Dec. 01, 2009 10:04 PM ET USA

    What we are seeing in global warming is the "white swan" syndrome, meaning if all scientists can see are white swans they simply conclude there are no black swans. In other words, they don't undertake to prove there are no black swans, they just accept as fact there are none because every swan they've seen is white. This is bad science, and so is what's going on in global warming where no real effort has been made to show the warming could be a normal cycle occurring every few thousand years.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Nov. 26, 2009 10:05 AM ET USA

    Happy Thanksgiving! I guess what frustrates the most is, apparently, most people are not interested in the truth (Truth) but rather what everyone else thinks...or controlling what everyone else thinks. We use the gift of science (and it's tools) at the service of God and man. ...for the betterment of mankind and to better understand our world & universe. I guess even science will suffer the results of living in a broken and sinful world. Thank you God for your Son, Jesus.

  • Posted by: JARay - Nov. 26, 2009 6:51 AM ET USA

    Indeed, climate change is the new religion of the age. As all new religions are, it is bunk. Anyone who dares disagree is automatically a heretic. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church continues to be the But of all the climate change orthodox and the new-age religionists.