“Unsettled? What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters”, By Steven E. Koonin, ISBN 978 1 950 665792, 306 pages (2021).
Anyone who has been paying attention for the last 20+ years will find nothing surprising in Prof. Koonin’s rather successful book. (The copy I bought was from its 8th printing). Grant-dependent publish-or-perish academics churn out papers mostly biased towards the politically-favored “consensus”. The academics & government scientists selected to compile the various official reports on “climate change” tip-toe carefully around data that does not fit the pre-approved narrative. The bureaucrats who summarize the scientists’ work present conclusions that are not supported by the technical text. And the scientifically-illiterate media types who relay the bureaucrats’ summaries to the citizen body simplify the message to “PANIC”.
Prof. Koonin does deserve some credit, though. He began as a nuclear scientist at Caltech, and has over 200 peer-reviewed papers. Unsurprisingly for an academic, he is a self-admitted Democrat. From 2004 to 2009 he was Chief Scientist for well-known polluter British Petroleum. From 2009 to 2011, he was Under Secretary for Science in the extreme Obama Administration’s Department of Energy. But now he has gone and done it! He is undoubtedly no longer on the invitation list for any of the best parties in the D.C. Swamp. Writing this book certainly took some courage.
However, one point in his book stopped me dead in my tracks. In 2014, Koonin was asked to lead an effort to update the American Physical Society’s public statement on climate. It was only during this effort that he realized climate science was “far less mature” (as he diplomatically puts it) than he had supposed. Where had he been for the previous two decades?
Just to pull off the shelf a few relevant books of the kind a Department of Energy scientist might have been expected to have read:
1998 – Bjorn Lomborg, “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, where he accepted the hypothesis of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) but explained there is no need for panic.
2000 – P. J. Michaels & R. C. Balling, “The Satanic Gases”, where they demonstrated the great scientific weakness of the AGW hypothesis.
2002 – C. Essex & R. McKitrick, “Taken by Storm”, where they explained the limitations of both the data and the computer models tortured to support the dubious AGW hypothesis.
2004 – Michael Crichton, “State of Fear”. A rather unusual foot-noted scientifically-solid popular novel in which Crichton blew the warm-mongers out of the water.
2007 – S. F. Singer & D. T. Avery, “Unstoppable Global Warming, Every 1,500 Years”, where the authors put the very mild recent warming trend into geological perspective.
From Prof. Koonin’s admission, it seems that a prestigious insider scientist knew less about the climate controversy than any peon who had visited a public library in the last two decades. And yet this is the kind of person who was part of the machinery of government which grinds us peons into the dust. It is an astonishing glimpse into the insularity and outright ignorance of our rulers.
Now his eyes have been opened, what does Prof. Koonin suggest? Back in 2004, Michael Crichton advanced the concept of subjecting any science which is proposed as a basis for official policy to a good old-fashioned public adversarial trial between representatives of the official line and powerful well-funded Devil’s Advocates. Prof. Koonin waters this down to an internal government Red Team/Blue Team exercise – which would be about as meaningless as depending on the Republicans to present any coherent opposition to our Democrat rulers.
Probably unintentionally, what Prof. Koonin’s book demonstrates is that the politicization of science is a symptom of a deeper problem in our governance structures rather than being the problem itself.