Written by Dr Cathy Foley, President, Science & Technology Australia.
Lord Christopher Monckton has one thing in common with all scientists, politicians, business leaders, media outlets and the general public: we all wish climate change was not real. I’m willing to bet Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wish climate scientists across the globe are wrong, as I’m sure did their predecessors Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. I’d wager Green leader Bob Brown and mining company chief Gina Reinhart have also hoped it isn’t really happening.
But it is. And it is beyond reasonable doubt. Scientists can say so with confidence because of the weight of decades of peer-reviewed research behind them – the best and most reliable information available to us.
This week Lord Monckton begins his tour of Australia to share his views on climate science. His views must be treated as just that — his views. They are unsubstantiated and untested opinions. They are views that have never been subjected to the rigorous process of being reviewed by other scientists. Therefore, they are views that be must given a different weight to the base of scientific evidence that he is contesting.
The truth is, Monckton’s ideas have been repeatedly shot down by climate scientists as fabrications, misrepresentations and, at times, sheer nonsense.
Even the scientists whose evidence he holds up to support his arguments claim he that he is misrepresenting their work.
By any standard, his credibility is nil and will remain so until he is willing to subject his views to the rigorous peer review process.
It was done to counter the misleading claims about climate science, which are spilling over into attacks on the vital work of scientists in other disciplines. Commercial radio presenters have used their platform to suggest that science can’t be trusted because recommended medical treatments have changed over the years. This scaremongering is harmful and fails to acknowledge that it is the robust nature of scientific experimentation and the peer review process that allows us to improve our understanding and alter our practices accordingly.
We need to respect the science produced by our best and brightest and the methodology used to produce it more than ever before.
And more than ever we need cool minds and rational thinking. It is high time we reject those who seek to confuse, mislead and cast doubt over the integrity and validity of science.
Science is not a belief system that we can choose to opt in and out of at our leisure. We can’t on the one hand heed the advice of the Bureau of Meteorology when it comes time to preparing for a cyclone about to hit Australian shores, and on the other hand reject the very same bureau’s evidence about climate change.
Counted among some of Australia’s most impressive scientific achievements are the discovery of penicillin, technology that drives WiFi, the development of spray-on skin used to treat burn victims; climate-ready crops so farmers can thrive in difficult circumstances; and new mining techniques that help us find natural resources in remote places.
All these discoveries have been tested and retested using the same scientific method used to test climate science. And when scientists get it wrong, the self-correcting nature of the peer review process has allowed knowledge to be refined, giving us all the confidence to take medication; trust the food we harvest and to dig to greater depths.
Scientists have no harsher critics than other scientists. Before the community agreed that climate change is real, years of research was tested, contested and debated by the best experts, predominately other climate scientists.
We can’t pick and choose the scientific evidence we like or dislike. Inevitably science will present us with problems as it will solutions – some may make us feel uncomfortable and others will save our lives.
What we can do is respect the peer-reviewed science as the best information we have and make decisions about our future accordingly.
Dr Cathy Foley is president of Science & Technology Australia. She has had 82 refereed papers published in international journals.