I stumbled across a document the other day that rendered me speechless. ‘This can’t be right,’ I said to myself. ‘You’ve been parked in front of this computer so long you’ve begun to hallucinate.’
But my eyes were not, in fact, deceiving me. In December 2009 hundreds of Canadian scientists really did choose to publicly align themselves with a left-leaning advocacy organization. They actually thought this was a smart strategy – that this is how you persuade a Tory national government to take action on climate change.
I mean, come on.
Here’s what happened: just prior to the Copenhagen climate summit, the Canadian wing of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) penned an open letter to our Prime Minister and other members of our national Parliament.
It urged them to commit Canada to a fair global greenhouse gas reduction treaty. It talked about our historical responsibility and declared that every year of delay would be more costly for future generations. It said Canada should be a global leader.
On the WWF website this letter is headlined Scientists Have Spoken. But none of the above-mentioned ideas have anything to do with science. They’re a reflection of people’s values – aka their personal political beliefs.
Apparently the cold winters here in the great white North have taken their toll. Or perhaps there’s something in our drinking water. Whatever the explanation, the leaders of no less than 12 bodies that are described by the WWF as scientific organizations were incapable of figuring out that scientists are respected by the public because they’re perceived as being above the fray.
It apparently occurred to none of these PhDs that the fastest way to squander your scientific authority is to stride noisily onto the political stage under a huge, flapping WWF banner. Here’s the yes-our-judgment-is-impaired list:
- Canadian Association of Physicists
- Canadian Society of Zoologists
- Canadian Society of Soil Science
- Society of Canadian Ornithologists
- Canadian Society of Plant Physiologists
- Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution
- Society of Canadian Limnologists
- Canadian Society for Ecological Economics
- Canadian Quaternary Association
- Canadian Botanical Conservation Network
- Entomological Society of Alberta
- Canadian Aquatic Resources Section of the American Fisheries Society
According to the WWF, 800 individuals also thought it was a smart idea to link their hard-won scientific credentials to this activist-organized-and-funded ad campaign. Among the signatories to this letter were:
- Gordon McBean, a University of Western Ontario professor who has served as a lead author and review editor for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate modeler and longtime IPCC participant who’s now a lead author for the edition of the climate bible currently underway (see p. 6 here)
- Ken Denman, an Environment Canada climate modeler who has twice been an IPCC coordinating lead author
- Barry Smit, a University of Guelph professor who served as an IPCC lead author for the 2007 report and is currently doing so again (p. 18)
- Danny Harvey, a University of Toronto professor who’s now an IPCC lead author (p. 24)
All of these people occupy respectable positions at reputable institutions. How does one attain those sorts of positions and yet be so clueless concerning the implications of certain kinds of behaviour?
Actions have consequences. Once you publicly align yourself with an activist organization your scientific judgment becomes forever suspect.
The public has no way of knowing, going forward, whether it’s your scientific expertise talking or whether you’re merely expressing personal beliefs regarding how ordinary people today should sacrifice for the sake of tomorrow’s hypothetical future generations.
On the right-hand side of this page, the WWF says it ran this ad in the national Globe and Mail newspaper as well as the Hill Times – a capital-city-based publication aimed at national Parliamentarians.
Please also note that the WWF describes these people as “Canada’s leading scientists” – in much the same way the IPCC claims it has recruited the world’s top experts. In both cases, no attempt is made to substantiate that claim. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?
If these really are Canada’s leading scientists, and if this appallingly poor judgment is typical, heaven help us.