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Letter: Intersection of Science and Politics

To the Editor:

I’m writing to take exception to the Aug. 22 op-ed “Science and Politics Make a Poisonous Mixture” by Clive Crook. Most of the column is devoted to criticizing the linguist Steven Pinker, because Pinker comes perilously close to asserting that science can decide what’s good for us. This is fair enough — Pinker seems to have decided that he knows everything, which makes him a pretty easy target. But then Crook turns his attention to climate science, and here he seriously misrepresents the situation. He points to the so-called Climategate scandal as evidence that climate scientists are acting as policy advocates, and later in the column says that “the science isn’t settled.”

Climategate was trumped up using thousands of stolen emails quoted out of context — multiple investigations showed no wrongdoing. Crook does a serious disservice by referring it to it as a “scandal.” Crook’s assertion that “the science is not settled” also does not stand up. There is a huge amount of very clear evidence that the globe is warming rapidly, and that the carbon dioxide emitted by human civilization is the main cause. In scientific circles there’s essentially no doubt remaining about this. Given this obvious and very serious threat, climate scientists of course feel they must sound an alarm. But contrary to Crook’s assertion, very few are claiming to know what policies we should follow to mitigate the problem.

The appearance of scientific controversy where there actually is essentially none, is carefully nurtured by a powerful public relations effort aligned with fossil-fuel and right-wing interests. Former Dartmouth professor Naomi Oreskes shows this in her book Merchants of Doubt . By casting aspersions on the scientists who understand this problem best, Crook is serving as a mouthpiece for this PR effort.

John Thorstensen