September 27, 2006
Dear Member of Congress:
On September 20th the British newspaper, The Guardian, published an article on a letter from the Royal Society, Britain’s equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences, calling for the silencing of groups, organizations, and individuals who do not conform to their views on climate change science and policy.
The Royal Society’s letter is truly disturbing and I write to you to inform you about it and the dangers the views expressed in the letter raise. As the Marshall Institute wrote in our reply to the Society, “That such a call comes from such a venerable scientific society is disturbing and should raise concerns worldwide about the intentions of those seeking to silence honest debate and discussion of our most challenging environmental issue– climate change.”
Simply put, the scientific process can not function if debate and discussion is denied and discouraged. A recent letter to the Royal Society from a group of eleven scientists makes this point most eloquently: “Dissent makes science stronger; diversity of viewpoint is essentially to learning. Even if our hypotheses are ultimately proven wrong, our scrutiny of these issues is a service to the body of science and will contribute, even by counterexample, to our understanding of nature.”
The Royal Society contends that the purpose of its letter is to check the spread of misinformation and inaccurate or misleading impressions. Yet, the proof they offer shows that the debate is really about how different interpretations can arise from the same set of data and studies when different assumptions and models are used.
Copies of the Marshall Institute’s reply to the Royal Society are available at http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=454 or by contacting the Institute at 202.296.9655 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The letter from the eleven scientists that I reference is attached.
September 26, 2006
The Royal Society
6-9 Carlton House Terrace
London SW1Y 5AG
We write today in order to express our grave concern regarding the Royal Society’s recent attempt to politicize the private funding of science and to censor scientific debate. We feel this unprecedented action is wildly inappropriate and in contradiction with the esteemed history and principles of the Society as an objective and neutral body dedicated to the free exchange of ideas.
It is essential that we remind you that the Society’s Latin motto “Nullis in Verba” translated informs us that scientific inquiry relies “on the words of no one.” Accordingly, the Society has been known for its commitment to gaining knowledge through experimentation rather than citation of authority. But now, in this its 346th year of existence, the Society seems to have made an extraordinary shift that it should be the one tyrannical authority which trumps experimentation.
It’s important to remember that the Society has its roots in controversy. Many respected members were at one time considered on the fringes of science; even Sir Isaac Newton was a practicing alchemist. The Society’s heritage lies with intellectual rebels, but today it seems to only have room for those who agree with its leadership.
Karl Popper, who is among the most influential philosophers of science in the 20th century and was a member of the Royal Society, advises us that scientific inquiry is unique because it requires falsifiability. We can only advance our understanding of the natural world by questioning our conclusions. The beauty of science is that no issue is ever “settled”, that no question is beyond being more fully understood, that no conclusion is immune to further experimentation.
And yet for the first time in history, the Royal Society is shamelessly using the media to say emphatically: “case closed” on all issues related to climate change. With all due respect, how can this be?
Think of the far-reaching implications of your actions. To begin with, this letter takes the Society down a slippery slope of engaging third parties for public reprimand. This could have a chilling effect in the future investment of all private funding, without which much of the knowledge we have gained today would not have been possible.
Furthermore, such bullying by the world’s leading scientific body will intimidate young students from thinking outside the mainstream. Innovation will be crushed before it has even been conceived. The leaking of your letter to a media outlet compromises your integrity and creates a new model where science is not communicated through academic literature.
The very nature of scientific inquiry is based on questioning and debate, yet the perpetuation of this practice will increasingly discourage these exchanges among colleagues.
Lastly, many of us find Mr. Ward’s comments particularly mean-spirited and unbecoming of the Society and the scientific community. It is personally and professionally insulting to imply as Mr. Ward clearly does that those of us that have worked on projects funded by private or corporate means have falsified, omitted, or manipulated research data and evidence in order to satisfy our patrons. Good people can arrive at different conclusions, Mr. Ward. Is there even a single member within the Royal Society that at one time during their careers has not accepted a scholarship, grant or other source of funding to advance their own intellectual pursuits? Are we to assume that they have altered their findings to meet the whims of their funders?
Dissent makes science stronger; diversity of viewpoint is essentially to learning. Even if our hypotheses are ultimately proven wrong, our scrutiny of these issues is a service to the body of science and will contribute, even by counterexample, to our understanding of nature. Colleagues who have devoted their lives to science deserve your respect even if you cannot give your endorsement. We ask the Royal Society for a public apology regarding this regrettable episode.
Dr. Tim Ball
Retired Professor of Geography (1971 -1996)
University of Winnipeg
Dr. William Gray
Director, Tropical Meteorology Project
Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science
Colorado State University
Dr. Gary Sharp
Center for Climate/ Ocean Resources Study
Dr. Ian Clark
Department of Earth Sciences
University of Ottawa
Dr. Patrick J. Michaels
Professor of Environmental Sciences
University of Virginia
Past-President, American Association of State Climatologists
Dr. Anthony Lupo
Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science
Department of Soil, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences
University of Missouri
Dr. Robert Balling
Former Director, Office of Climatology
Arizona State University
Dr. James J. O’Brien
Florida State Climatologist Emeritus
Director Emeritus, Center for Ocean and Atmospheric Prediction Studies
Robert 0. Lawton Distinguished Professor, Meteorology & Oceanography
Florida State University
Certified Consultant Meteorologist
Dr. Madhav Khandekar
Formerly with Environment Canada
Dr. Tim Patterson
Professor of Geology
Department of Earth Sciences
Carleton University in Ottawa