A DISCUSSION OFThe Science Police
In a response to my article “The Science Police” (Issues, Summer 2017), Stephan Lewandowsky, James Risbey, and Naomi Oreskes write: “Keith Kloor alleges that self-appointed sheriffs in the scientific community are censoring or preventing research showing that the risks from climate change are low or manageable.”
That is a complete mischaracterization. My article discussed how political considerations have influenced two high-profile disciplines: conservation biology and climate science. I delved into the experiences of well-regarded researchers who have been affected by unusual efforts to “police” their work and of those who pushed back on such efforts. I did not discuss any scientific research that even hinted—nor did I imply—that “the risks from climate change are low or manageable,” as Lewandowsky et al. suggest in their framing of my article.
As I wrote, Lewandowsky and colleagues published several papers that seemed intended “to foreclose certain lines of scientific inquiry,” such as the study of natural variability. The letter writers assert that this is a “fabricated claim” by me. I can rebut this by simply pointing to the reaction of highly respected climate scientists in 2015, after a related paper published by Lewandowsky et al. appeared in the journal Global Environmental Change. I did not “fabricate” how climate scientists reacted to this paper; I reported on it.
For example, coverage of the Lewandowsky paper by the British newspaper the Guardian included one article headlined “Are climate scientists cowed by sceptics?” Peter Thorne, a professor of physical geography (climate science) at Maynooth University in Ireland, left this comment at the Guardian: “To maintain that we as scientists should not investigate the pause/hiatus/slowdown [there, I used the phrase…] is downright disingenuous and dangerous.” And Richard Betts, a climate scientist and head of the climate impacts strategic area at the United Kingdom’s Met Office, left a similar comment and also wrote an extensive rebuttal to Lewandowsky et al., which I referenced in my article.
In short, my article correctly captured how numerous climate scientists felt after some climate communication scholars suggested that recent research on natural variability was prompted by climate contrarians, when in fact it was a continuation of a long line of inquiry.