April 26, 2008
Fred Singer, one of the world’s renowned scientists, believes in Martians. I discovered this several weeks ago while reading his biography on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. “Do you really believe in Martians?” I asked him last week, at a chance meeting at a Washington event. The answer was “No.”
Wikipedia’s error was neither isolated nor inadvertent. The page that Wikipedia devotes to what is ostensibly Fred Singer’s biography is designed to trivialize his long and outstanding scientific career by painting him as a political partisan and someone who “is best known as president and founder (in 1990) of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, which disputes the prevailing scientific views of climate change, ozone depletion, and second-hand smoke and is science advisor to the conservative journal NewsMax.”
Innocent Wikipedia readers would be surprised to learn that Dr. Singer is no conservative kook but the first director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Center; the recipient of a White House commendation for his early design of space satellites; the recipient of a commendation from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for research on particle clouds; and the recipient of a U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award for the development and management of weather satellites.
He is, in short, a scientist of the highest calibre, with a long list of major scientific achievements, including the first measurements, with V-2 and Aerobee rockets, of primary cosmic radiation in space, the design of the first instruments for measuring ozone, and the authorship of the first publications predicting the existence of trapped radiation in the earth’s magnetic field to explain the magnetic-storm ring current.
Honest accounts of Fred Singer and his accomplishments have been available on Wikipedia, and on hundreds of occasions. Those occasions don’t last long, however — often just minutes — before the honest accounts are discovered and reverted by Wikipedians who troll the site. Such trolls continually monitor Wikipedia’s 10 million pages to erase any hint that the science is not settled on climate change. Dissenters by the dozens have been likewise demeaned — to check for yourself, just look up Richard Lindzen, Paul Reiter, or any of the other scientists or organizations that have questioned the orthodoxy on climate change.
In contrast to the high-handed treatment that greet global warming skeptics, those who support the orthodoxy are puffed up and protected from criticism, their errors erased and their controversies hushed.
This is the case with Naomi Oreskes, a scientist with a PhD who had arrived at an absurd finding: That no studies in a major scientific database questioned the UN view of climate change. To bolster her standing, those who troll for Wikipedia have done their best to dress up her CV — they note that she won a National Science Foundation’s Young Investigator Award in 1994, that she has been a consultant for various government agencies, and that in July she will become provost of an as-yet unnamed college of the University of California, San Diego. While these accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at, she is no Fred Singer.
In any event, her Wikipedia page is not really about her but her study, which has been thoroughly discredited by credible journalists and scientists. To suppress these critiques, the trollers apply Wikipedia’s bewildering rules as to what can and can’t appear, and when the rules are inadequate, the trollers make up new ones on the fly.
Several weeks ago, as I described in an earlier column, I attempted to correct passages on the Oreskes page that would lead readers to think her study had been vindicated and also to think that U.K. scientist Benny Peiser, one of her critics, had abjectly withdrawn his criticisms. Wikipedia’s rules thwarted me, used to revert my corrections, again and again. Those who came before me in attempting to make corrections, and, I would find out, those who came after, were similarly thwarted.
Wikipedia refused to accept Peiser’s critique, or his interpretation of his own views, or an account of his views that he had provided to me, or an account of his views published in a peer-reviewed journal, or an account of his views published in The Wall Street Journal, or an account of his views published by the U.S. Senate committee on environment and public works.
Instead, the Wikipedia trollers insisted that all of the above sources were disqualified or irrelevant under Wikipedia rules, and that the trollers’ own understanding of Peiser’s views trumped all others.
Just as the trollers insist on characterizing Fred Singer as believing in Martians. When it is the Wickipedian trollers who are from Mars.