Scientists, sheep and buses

The climate change bandwagon depends for its progress on an engine powered by journalists and scientists. Unfortunately, both professions have taken a bit of a knock recently. Under the headline “The myth of the noble scientist”, an article by Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, suggests that peer review in key journals can easily become a closed shop. “If a well-known scientist submits a paper, it will probably be accepted; if an unknown submits one, it will probably be rejected.”

He cites the case of Barbara McClintock, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1983, who could not get her original research on gene jumping published in prestige journals because she could not get peer reviewers to accept it.

Establishment science tends to be conservative: once a theory is accepted, it is stuck to like glue – hence the difficulty in getting radical ideas about the climate in print. “Peer review was always an illusion,” says Mr Kealey.

Philosophically, this is probably because scientists, like the rest of us, behave rather like sheep. An experiment carried out by researchers at Leeds University found that people will blindly follow “one or two individuals who seem to know where they are going”.

Even if they don’t.

Journalists are like that too – perhaps even more than most people, and much more now than used to be the case.

Young people want to become journalists because they like the idea of investigating to find out the truth. But of course it’s not like that. As Sam Leith reminds us in a review of Flat Earth News, by Nick Davies, “Untruths pass into common currency not because journalists are liars, but because they simply do not know whether what they are writing is true and do not have time to find out.”

The quote is from Mr Davies, who says that journalism has become “churnalism”. As such it is “exceptionally vulnerable to manipulation”. This, of course, suits the green machine down to the ground, because it knows how to make something sound right, and how to paint opponents as demons.

As so often, the wise cannot get their wisdom across, and would-be dictators get a ready audience.

Round the world

The EDP’s environment correspondent, never one to avoid a cliche, tells us that four “intrepid travellers” are visiting six countries on the “trip of a lifetime” with “one topic on their minds – climate change”.

Bravely emitting carbon as they go, they will take in America, Brazil, Mexico, Bhutan, China and Japan. I hope they notice that China is in the grip of its worst winter for 100 years, and parts of America have just had 70 inches of snow.

Maybe they could take a couple of detours and register that sea ice between Canada and Greenland is the most voluminous it has been in the last 15 years, Iran has had its worst snowfall in living memory, and Greece and Turkey are under several feet of snow.

It’s been a bit chilly here in England, too. Not really, really cold, but cold enough to stop a bus. If the bus is running on biodiesel, that is.

Eleven Norwich buses were put out of action when the temperature crept below freezing, which doesn’t bode well if the global warming enthusiasts are wrong and the chilling stars scientists are right.

But reassurance is at hand. A spokesman for the producers of the biodiesel said it was OK – they knew that cold “does have a specific effect”. I wonder if they told the bus company what the specific effect was.

Anyway, not to worry. “People certainly shouldn’t be put off using biofuels. They have a number of very good properties.” Bit vague, isn’t he? I wonder if the good properties outweigh the fact that the buses won’t actually start when it gets chilly. We might try doing surveys at a few bus stops. The promised compensation should do it. Coupled with the increased fares to pay for it.

I made that last bit up. I’m sure the bus company won’t be increasing fares.