The article Bad Prescription for Science was published on November 17, 2023 and was translated by me and published with the permission of the author.

Climatic changesPhoto: Nitsuki,

Crafting a scientific consensus for political reasons corrupts the scientific process and leads to wrong political decisions.

An essay with excerpts from my new book Climate Uncertainty and Risk.

In the 21st century, humanity is faced with a multitude of complex societal problems characterized by profound uncertainty, systemic risks, and value disagreements. Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic are prime examples of such complex problems (evil)[1]. For these types of questions, relevant scholarship has become more and more like a judicial process, where the search for truth has become secondary to politics and the protection of rights that favor preferred political solutions.

How does politics affect the scientific process in issues relevant to society? Political biases influence research funding priorities, the scientific questions that are addressed, how results are interpreted, what is cited and what is canonized. Factual claims are filtered into assessment reports and the media for further political use.

How does politics affect the behavior of scientists? Scientists feel pressure to support consensus positions, moral goals, and appropriate policies. This pressure comes from universities and professional societies, activist scientists themselves, journalists, and federal funding agencies that control research funding priorities. Because peer review is so important to success in academia, it is easy to instill fear of social sanctions for expressing ideas that, while not necessarily proven to be factually or scientifically incorrect, are generally unpopular.

Scholar activists use their privileged position to advance moral and political causes. This political activism extends to professional societies that publish journals and organize conferences. This activism has a controlling influence on what is published, who is heard at conferences, and who receives professional recognition. Virtually all professional societies whose members have anything to do with climate research have published policy statements on climate change calling for action to eliminate fossil fuel emissions.

The most pernicious manifestation of the politicization of science occurs when politicians, advocacy groups, journalists, and activist scientists intimidate or try to silence scientists whose research is seen as interfering with their moral and political agendas.

Giving consent to authorities

A critical strategy for the politicization of science is the fabrication of scientific consensus on politically important topics such as climate change and Covid-19. The UN Climate Consensus is used as a call to authority in presenting scientific findings as a basis for urgent policy making. In essence, the UN has adopted a “consensus proposal to power” approach, which views uncertainty and disagreement as problematic and tries to mediate them to reach consensus. The consensus strategy, presented as a proposal to the authorities, reflects a particular vision of how politics deals with scientific uncertainty.

Between a scientific consensus and a the consensus of some scientists. When there is real scientific certainty, such as the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, there is no need to talk about consensus. In contrast, a “scientific consensus” is a deliberate expression of collective judgment by a group of scientists, often at the official request of a government.

Institutionalized consensus building promotes groupthink by acting to confirm consensus in a self-reinforcing way. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has worked for the past 40 years to reach a scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Thus, the IPCC consensus is a “manufactured consensus” that is the result of a deliberate process of its creation. The IPCC consensus has become socially canonized through a political process, bypassing the lengthy and complex process of scientific review to determine whether the findings are indeed true.

The flip side of fabricated consensus REFUSAL. Questioning the climate change discourse has become the highest form of heresy of the 21st century. Virtually all academic climate researchers have reached a so-called 97% consensus on human influence on the warming of the Earth’s climate. Which scientists are ostracized and labeled as deniers? The suspects are independent thinkers who do not support the IPCC consensus. Any criticism of the IPCC can lead to ostracism. Failure to promote CO reduction policies2 is suspicious. Even favoring nuclear over wind and solar will get you labeled a naysayer. The surest way to get labeled a denier is to associate yourself in any way with the so-called enemies of the climate consensus and their favored policies—oil companies, conservative think tanks, or even the “wrong” political party.

Covid-19 is a very interesting example of fabricated consensus. The consensus that COVID-19 had an entirely natural origin was confirmed by two papers in early 2020 published TheLancet in February and Natural medicine in March. In the edition of Lancet states: “We strongly condemn conspiracy theories that suggest that COVID-19 is not of natural origin“. The statements in these articles effectively shut down the investigation into the possible origin of the leak from the Wuhan lab. Articles in the mainstream press repeatedly stated that a consensus of experts had decided that a leak from the lab was ruled out or highly unlikely.

The vast difference between the actual state of knowledge in early 2020 and the confidence demonstrated in the two publications should have been obvious to anyone in the field of virology, or for that matter anyone with a critical mindset. There were scientists in related fields who said the same thing. The consensus was not overturned until May 2021 with the publication of a large article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which revealed a conflict of interest in the case of the scientists who wrote the article Lancet, hiding any connection to the Wuhan lab. This article caused a cascade of scientists to flee – the false consensus no longer applied.

What is troubling about this episode is not so much that the consensus was overturned, but that a false consensus was so easily imposed for more than a year. Several scientists spoke out, but social networks aggressively wrote them off. The vast majority of scientists, who understood that there was great uncertainty about the origin of the virus, did not speak out. It became increasingly clear that any virologist who challenged the community’s expressed views risked being labeled a heretic, banned from social media, and rejected on their next grant application by a group of fellow virologists who advise a government agency on grant allocation. The ugly politics behind this false consensus are only now being revealed.

The political and moral biases of a fabricated consensus can lead to widely accepted claims that reflect more blind spots in the scientific community than sound scientific conclusions. Fabricated consensus hinders scientific progress by not asking questions and not doing research. In addition, the imposition of consensus interferes with the self-correcting nature of science through skepticism, which is the basis of the scientific process.

The contract between science and politicians is broken

Speaking of consensus before authority, scientific consensus hides uncertainty, ambiguity, disagreement, and ignorance. Greater openness to scientific uncertainty and ignorance, as well as greater transparency to dissent and disagreement, are needed to give policymakers a more complete understanding of political science and its limits.

A fabricated consensus arises from an oversimplification of the problem, leading to limited policy space and false perceptions that the problem can be controlled.

Fabricated consensus on a complex issue and evil, such as climate change or Covid-19, leads to naivety when we think these are simple risks and to arrogance when we can control the risk. Even beyond the technical details, more realism is needed about the uncertainties and politics that underlie the drive to control complex societal problems.

The pandemic shows that our tools for solving a complex global problem—experts, precise scientific measurements, computer models, imposed restrictions—have led to far less control than desired. The global energy transition and global transformations towards sustainable development are much more complex than the global COVID-19 pandemic. The modernist paradigm of mastery, planning and optimization is inadequate to the problems evil 21st century

As a consequence of the exaggerated sense of knowledge and control over climate and Covid-19 policy, some very uncertain issues that should remain open to policy debate are being ignored in policy making. Premature exclusion of scientific uncertainty and failure to consider ambiguities associated with problems evilsuch as climate change and pandemics, leads to an invisible form of oppression that forecloses possible future options.

In terms of climate change, what is happening is more than politically motivated consensual coercion cancel cultures. Climate change has become a secular religion full of dogmas, heretics and moral tribes. The secular religion of climate change raises far more fundamental concerns than the risks of bad policy. At stake are the fundamental virtues of the scientific revolution and the freedom to question authority.

The way forward requires us to abandon the approach of imposing consensus and the culture of canceling dialogue around complex societal issues such as climate change. We must open the space for dissent and disagreement. By acknowledging scientific uncertainty in the context of better risk management and decision-making mechanisms combined with techno-optimism, humanity has a long way to go to thrive in the 21st century and beyond. – Read the entire article and comment on