Lawrence Solomon: And then there were three: Britain’s Royal Society rejects alarmism

Financial Post
Britain’s Royal Society, the UK’s preeminent scientific body, has joined national science bodies in India and France in validating the views of global warming sceptics.

The Royal Society’s decision, which follows a revolt by 43 Fellows of the Royal Society, will see it rewrite its position on climate change in a tacit admission that it and in particular its previous president, Lord May, had been acting more as lobbyists for a cause than as agents for scientific reason. Without canvassing his membership, May had famously stated that “The debate on climate change is over” and that “On one hand, you have the entire scientific community and on the other you have a handful of people, half of them crackpots.”

Following the revolt over the society’s recent history of alarmism and hyperbole, the current president, Lord Rees, by no means a sceptic, has nevertheless decided to take a more balanced view:  ”Climate change is a hugely important issue but the public debate has all too often been clouded by exaggeration and misleading information,” he said. “We aim to provide the public with a clear indication of what is known about the climate system, what we think we know about it and, just as importantly, the aspects we still do not understand very well.”

The Royal Society review of its position, expected this summer, comes at the same time that France’s National Academy of Sciences has asserted that it has taken no position on climate science, that it respects the views of both camps, and that, in the interests of furthering understanding, it will sponsor a high-profile debate this fall. This decision by the National Academy of Sciences has distressed the country’s manmade global warming camp, which had lobbied the Academy and the French government to denounce and even expel the sceptics.

India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change, published in 2008, was the first official national study to deny that the science was settled on climate change. “No firm link between the changes described below and warming due to anthropogenic climate change has yet been established,” the scientific report stated, before proceeding to list the many areas in which the science is not settled.

High scientific bodies in other countries, such as the National Academies of Sciences in the U.S., have also taken positions on global warming without canvassing their memberships to ensure that they reflected their memberships’ views. The decisions by these academies were typically made at the executive level, on a non-scientific basis. The case of Britain’s Royal Society has been especially egregious, given the organization’s long tradition of being above the fray, as seen in a statement that for two centuries graced its house journal, Philosophical Transactions: “… it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject, either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.”

To see the extent to which the Royal Society departed from its love of truth, see its notorious 2005 document, “A guide to facts and fictions about climate change.”

Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, May 31, 2010

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