This is an unusually short UR post. I apologize. I was actually going to complete and present my long-awaited World War II: Primary Source Anthology. But for once, current events beckon.
Briefly, reality as the faithful know it has torn itself asunder. All trust in authority is shattered. The Donation of Constantine is a medieval forgery; the Pope is a woman; the Archmonk, in the Tomb of Buddha’s Thumb, has found a dried-up gibbon toe. Otherwise, nothing is wrong at all. Your garbage will still be picked up tomorrow morning.
But the Institute of Physics, which is only the national physics society of the country that invented physics, has submitted its public comment to Parliament’s CRU inquiry—posted as Uncorrected Evidence 39. Which starts like this:
1. The Institute is concerned that, unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context.
Wow! (And note that no one has claimed that the emails are forged.) If you are unfamiliar with bureaucratic prose, this is extremely strong language. Basically, the IOP is demanding heads. And not just a professor or two, but the entire field.
And the submission keeps going. As Steve McIntyre puts it: “no mincing of words.” If you are not already convinced of the IOP’s perspective, read McIntyre’s own submission. Read it anyway—it’s short. Both are masterpieces of administrative English. If you find anyone who still believes there is nothing to see here, point that person to these two documents.
This revolt of the British physicists cannot be a mere bureaucratic accident. For the IOP to have defended climatology, a position for which no institution or individual—yet—has suffered any negative consequence, would have been expected. “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Even cautious silence on the matter would have been normal.
Almost all scientists today are bureaucrats. For scientists with administrative positions in professional societies, it goes without saying. But not all bureaucrats are evil, dishonest people. Far from it. For a successful bureaucrat to stick his neck out on a matter like this, however, he has to be very sure he’s right, and he needs a large army behind him. Whether he is leading the army, or the army is arresting him, cannot be discerned. UE39 was produced either by the goodness in someone’s heart, or the bayonets in someone’s back.
Or, I should like to think, both. Either way, it was produced. It cannot be un-produced. Now, consider the ramifications.
Having written about the matter earlier, I remain convinced that what we’re watching here is nothing more or less than the end of your regularly-scheduled 20th-century reality. Uncorrected Evidence 39 is the logical consequence of “a miracle just happened.” What further miracles may proceed are bounded only by the bounds of human history. Which is not, contrary to popular belief, over.
Not that the problem in climate science was not already clear to the curious, intelligent and open-minded. The curious, intelligent, and open-minded were already well aware of the problem, well before the emails were leaked. For one thing, they might have been reading UR. If Google Analytics is at all reliable, however, the curious, intelligent and open-minded are a very small percentage of humanity.
The percentage of humanity so wise as to trust only duly-constituted authorities is much larger. Always has been; always will be. This is the fundamental problem of UE39: a conflict between two infallible authorities, Science and the Press. They cannot both win. They cannot both be right. But the demise of either is unthinkable.
Even after UE39, that crack is still quite shallow and latent. All we see in UE39 is a developing fracture between British physics, which apparently has a Feynman or two left, and climatology. But as UE39 makes clear, this conflict is existential and cannot be resolved by any compromise.
For the first time, a major scientific authority of unchallenged official legitimacy has called this spade a spade. Climatology, as now generally practiced, at least in the picture revealed by the emails, is not science, but a corruption thereof. Not science, but pseudoscience. Not a few scapegoats, but an entire profession.
Fracture dynamics 101: cracks spread. Real science, being the best possible information by definition, is stable. Pseudoscience, not so much. The IOP is a tank any physicist can march behind. Physics is a tank any scientist can march behind. Science is a tank anyone can march behind. Anyone can follow legitimate, official authorities. Those who have been silent will speak; those who have been speaking will fall silent. When the Defence Minister criticizes the Minister for State Security, comrades, it’s always a big deal.
Pseudoscience and science cannot stably coexist. And since climatology is after all a branch of geophysics, it cannot retreat behind an interdepartmental firewall—like other junk sciences. (Indeed, all too many of the climatologists are failed physicists whose brains weren’t quite sharp enough for string theory.) It cannot possibly say to the IOP: who are you to criticize us?
Climatology cannot evade scrutiny of this level. It cannot survive scrutiny of this level. It cannot survive any meaningful scrutiny at all. After wearing its ring of power for three decades or so, it is pretty much garbage from ass to elbow. Its fudged statistics would prove nothing, even if they weren’t fudged; its models might as well be predicting the Super Bowl winner in 2051.
Yet climatology exists—because it is funded. If it continues to be funded, it will continue to exist. If it continues to be officially funded, it will continue to officially exist. (If it does not continue to be officially funded, it will not continue to be funded.) It is not the continued existence of climatology that is in question, but its continued legitimacy.
This is a very serious matter whose implications go far beyond a few degrees Fahrenheit. It is the Press (consider the NYT, with Governor Paterson’s freshly-pickled head on its mantel) that must decide the institutional fate of climatology. As this fascinating transcript of a panel discussion among British science journalists reveals, it is far at present from demanding heads. Quite far!
And how could it be otherwise? The malfeasance has been so enormous—again, of capital proportions. “Last year we just printed press releases on AGW if they came from people with the right credentials; that won’t do any longer.” Well, it will for some people! Then again, there are some pensioners in Moscow who’d still like Comrade Brezhnev back.
Again, what we see here is not a problem of power—the Press is as firmly-seated as ever, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Official status ensures eternal life. It does not ensure eternal legitimacy, however.
Thus the difficulty in which Official Journalism finds itself. It can acknowledge its error in assiduously, chronically and unrelentingly promoting these charlatans, and be doomed. It can conceal the error, and be doomed. History has little mercy for those whose power outlasts their legitimacy. The longer this inconsistency lasts, the more energy is released in its termination.
Meanwhile, for the poor, ignorant faithful, Science is their father and the Press is their mother. How can they be throwing plates at each other in the kitchen? The voting public, while not expert in physics, knows what stoneware is, has done a great deal of eating off of it, and doesn’t like to see Mom and Pop playing frisbee with it. Frankly, it scares them. Frankly, it should.
Therefore, UE39 poses an immediate practical problem to the entire journalism industry. At least as presently constituted, it is not constitutionally equipped for any of the following tasks: (a) arguing with physicists about physics; (b) agreeing that Rush Limbaugh was right; (c) embarking on a savage, McCarthy-style purge of climate science; or (d) ignoring matters entirely.
(d) is probably the most obvious, and probably some devious form of it will be constructed. But it has already become quite difficult, because Fleet Street is already on the case. TCP packets do not take long between here and London. As one NYT commenter notes:
I am grateful to Al Gore for inventing the internet so that I am able to read the foreign press coverage as well as the blogosphere.
Moreover, (d) will become much harder in the wake of UE39 and the like. Still, because it is only improbable, while all other options are impossible, it will have to be the mainstay.
The response, which I am grateful not to be responsible for, will probably be some variant of that famous Washington tactic, the modified limited hangout. That is: the damage, now inevitable, must and will be at some point contained. My guess is that some heads will roll in paleoclimate. My guess is that the social networks described in the Wegman report, and again alluded to by the IOP, will not be rolled up. Guess? No—color that a certainty.
There is simply no institution of government today capable of purging itself in any way, shape or form of any sort of left-wing malfeasance. Purging rightist deviation is a snap of the fingers. If climate science was permeated by racism, for instance, it could purge itself. Indeed, it would be required by law to do so. By definition, however, purging leftists is McCarthyism; by definition, environmentalists are leftists. J. Edgar is no longer in the building, and no agency of USG is anywhere near equipped to resume his work. Which was not, in any case, successful!
But this does not mean that everything is just hunky-dory and will go on as usual. For a time, it will. History is longer than that, however.
When among the faithful, one fact you believe both of Science and of the Press is that both are self-purging. Similarly, as a Catholic, you recognize human fallibility—you know that the Church is a human institution. Priests are men, bishops are men, cardinals are men, the Pope is a man. These men can go wrong, as all men do. But the institution is far greater than its human parts. Just as medium-term weather cannot be predicted, but long-term climate (according to climatologists) can, the Church can slip but not fall. In the long run, it is always right.
As always in the modified limited hangout, the message will be: this is an exception. It’s never happened before; we’ll make sure it never happens again. We can make sure it never happens again by taking measures X, Y, and Z, and retiring individuals A, B, and C. Who were, quite frankly, a little long in the tooth anyway.
Anyone who believes that global warming can or will be discredited, that this entire movement (which now employs millions of people) will dry up and blow away, that even paleoclimatology will dry up and blow away, will be quite disappointed. At most, the personal research empires of Professors Mann and Jones will just go away. At most, having been one of their students will be a black mark on the ol’ CV, not a gold star. The players will change, but they change anyway. The machine will keep ticking and ticking and ticking.
The problem is that these institutions—the University and the Press—cannot tolerate such exceptions. They are human institutions, not divine ones. They are fundamentally political. Their continued enjoyment of sovereign authority is not a matter of natural law. They rule by consent, not force; that is, by psychological domination of their subjects, not (solely) physical domination.
This control is encapsulated in the word I have used, legitimacy. If the subject views his regime as legitimate, the regime has achieved psychological security with respect to that subject. The converse of a legitimate institution is a corrupt one—not specifically one which engages in graft or any other self-serving practice, but more generally one which is not what it pretends to be.
Any government dependent on psychological security must maintain the illusion of permanence. All regimes do. All regimes, however, can be changed. And in the new regime, the governing institutions of the old dissolve like fairy-dust castles—and nowhere is this more true but in the psychological-security organs.
The University and the Press are power junkies. They rule. They know it. Ceasing to rule, they must cease to exist: this is history’s law. And their rule is a consequence of their legitimacy, which is a consequence of their perceived infallibility—or, to be more precise, their tendency to converge automatically on the truth.
If even a single exception to this rule appears, we see at once a string of questions which ascend in seriousness, and to which the answer as dictated by Occam’s razor is increasingly frightening.
1. If Mann and Jones were, as individuals, corrupt, why did paleoclimatology not purge them? Because paleoclimatology was, as a field, corrupt.
2. If paleoclimatology was, as a field, corrupt, why did climate science not purge it? Because climate science was, as a department, corrupt.
3. If climate science was, as a department, corrupt, why did science, as a faculty, not purge it? Because science was, as a faculty, corrupt.
4. If science was, as a faculty, corrupt, why did the university, as an institution, not purge it? Because the university was, as an institution, corrupt.
5. If the university was, as an institution, corrupt, why did the government, as an institution, not purge it? Because the government was, as an institution, corrupt.
6. If the government was, as an institution, corrupt, why did the press, as an institution, not purge it? Because the press was, as an institution, corrupt.
By question 6, we have reached the position of the mainstream American conservative or libertarian. This person is not at all sure about how he wants to purge the Press; but, broadly, he would like it to disappear as a business, ignoring the facts that (a) privileged access to inside information will always be a good business (see under: Reg FD), and (b) if the “MSM” blows this advantage so completely that it fails as a business, it has a thousand and one ways to continue operating as a nonprofit.
The democratic conservative or libertarian believes that his government is bad because it pursues the wrong policies; it pursues the wrong policies because its elected officials are the wrong people; and its elected officials are the wrong people because they were elected by bamboozled voters, miseducated by information sources 1 through 6 as described above.
Here is a question you can ask any conservative or libertarian. Granting that the MSM, today, is not supplying the People with accurate information, causing them to support misguided and counterproductive policies: when did this become true? When did it start?
If the American people of 2010 are, by and large, misinformed by their own journalists, until what date were they well-informed and capable of properly fulfilling their democratic function? 1980? 1960? 1930? 1910? If considering dates between 1856 and 1900, I recommend first consulting this historical sketch by Charles Francis Adams, Jr.
Thus we may continue our questions:
7. If the press was, as an institution, corrupt, why did the electorate, as an institution, not purge it? Because the electorate, as an institution, was corrupt.
8. If the electorate was, as an institution, corrupt, why did the constitution, as an institution, not purge it? Because the constitution, as an institution, was corrupt.
And here we rest. UR’s answer to the question is, of course: never. Never—neither in the age of American democracy, nor in the Athens of Cleon the Tanner—has there ever been anything like a prudent, intelligent and well-informed democratic electorate. None of these three criteria has ever been achieved, least of all the third. Not in the 20th century, not in the 19th, not in the 18th, and not in the 5th BC.
As for the self-enforcing constitution, the magic parchment that compels all to abide by natural law, without any force of sovereign compulsion that could become corrupt, it strikes me as even more fantastic and impossible than democracy itself. When government becomes corrupt, to cry for its absence is only natural. Nothing is more foul than a corrupt government. But as for natural law, nature’s first is this: she abhors a vacuum. Paper cannot rule. Some person or persons are always in the throne, or fighting for it. I prefer the former condition.
Hence I cannot share either the conservative dream of restoring the Old Republic, or the libertarian dream of no republic at all. The lies of the past, it’s true, may have been more noble and gracious than the lies of the present. In fact, let’s just say they were. The political engineer still faces a vast task in exhuming and rehydrating them; and, the task complete, what does he have but lies? Can he beat new lies with old lies? Color me skeptical.
Thus, the task is not that of reforming these institutions; for they cannot be reformed. It is not that of destroying them; for, corrupt as they are, they remain vastly superior to those of Somalia. Rather, as Carlyle wrote in Past and Present (1843):
The Toiling Millions of Mankind, in most vital need and passionate instinctive desire of Guidance, shall cast away False-Guidance; and hope, for an hour, that No-Guidance will suffice them: but it can be for an hour only. The smallest item of human Slavery is the oppression of man by his Mock-Superiors; the palpablest, but I say at bottom the smallest. Let him shake off such oppression, trample it indignantly under his feet; I blame him not, I pity and commend him.
But oppression by your Mock-Superiors well shaken off, the grand problem yet remains to solve: That of finding government by your Real-Superiors! Alas, how shall we ever learn the solution of that, benighted, bewildered, sniffing, sneering, godforgetting unfortunates as we are? It is a work for centuries; to be taught us by tribulations, confusions, insurrections, obstructions; who knows if not by conflagration and despair! It is a lesson inclusive of all other lessons; the hardest of all lessons to learn.
For instance: if we grant that global warming is not a real problem, we must grant that global warming could be a real problem. It is certainly a member of a set of problems, one or more of which may be real. While it is valuable to know that the pseudoscientific techniques currently used to evaluate the problem are worthless, all it tells us is that we know nothing at all. The problem may still be a problem! And even if it is not, we may encounter other real problems, which are real but quite insusceptible to hindcasting or modeling.
If we grant that the scientific method can produce no mechanical decisions in this matter, that anyone claiming the contrary is a quack, and that present authorities are quite incompetent to decide the matter on our behalf, whether by ox-entrails or bristlecone pines, we have come far—but not so far. For we have only solved Carlyle’s smallest problem. The large problem, the problem of who shall decide, remains. No one, of course, is working on it.