Real Clear Politics

Robert Tracinski

I have written before about how the left loves to invoke the example of Galileo in order to present themselves as the great defenders of science against all of those knuckle-dragging religious bigots who don't believe in global warming. But these same people don't understand science very well themselves (remember amateur neurologist Janeane Garofalo lecturing us about the "limbic brain"?), so they end up using Galileo, a man who defied the "consensus" of his day, as a propaganda talking point to enforce the consensus of today.

It occurred to me a while back that there is something worse about this invocation of Galileo, because there is a modern-day equivalent to Galileo, specifically on the issue of global warming—and he's on the other side. In this more civilized age, he is thankfully not threatened with torture or any kind of persecution. But he is a pioneer of new and important scientific truths who is being ignored and vilified because his discoveries run counter to the quasi-religious dogma of our day.

That man is the Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark, who seems to have discovered the most important factor that actually regulates Earth's climate, and who is quietly in the process of proving it.

I linked last year to Svensmark's latest big breakthrough, but I didn't get a chance to discuss it much, so I want to give a little more detail now, then show one of the recent consequences of Svensmark's achievement.

Let me briefly sum up Svensmark's theory. The temperature of the Earth, he argues, is regulated by the intensity of solar radiation, but not in the obvious way. It is not that the increase is solar radiation heats the Earth directly. (It does, of course, but not to a sufficient degree to explain climate variations.) Rather, an increase in solar radiation extends the Sun's magnetic field, which shields Earth from cosmic rays (highly energetic, fast-moving charged particles that come from deep space). How does this affect the climate? Here is the crux of Svensmark's argument. When cosmic rays hit the atmosphere, he argues, their impact on air molecules creates nucleation sites for the condensation of water vapor, leading to an increase in cloud-formation. Since clouds tend to bounce solar radiation back into space, increased cloud cover cools the Earth, while decreased cloud cover makes the Earth warmer.

So if Svensmark is right, lower solar radiation means more cosmic rays, more clouds, and a cooler Earth, while higher solar radiation means fewer cosmic rays, fewer clouds, and a warmer Earth.

Those who have followed the global warming controversy over the years may recall that cloud-formation is one of the major gaps in the computerized climate "models" used by the consensus scientists to predict global warming. They have never had a theory to explain how and why clouds form or to account accurately for their effect on the climate. Svensmark has smashed through this glaring gap in their theory.

Like I said, Svensmark hasn't just put this theory out there. He has been working to prove it. He has done some studies that attempted to track measurements of cosmic ray flux against surface temperature and cloud cover, with some success. But his big breakthrough last year was a long-awaited experiment at Switzerland's CERN particle accelerator that demonstrated the most controversial part of Svensmark's theory.

It is widely accepted that the Sun's magnetic field helps shield Earth from cosmic rays, and it is also widely accepted that increased cloud cover cools the Earth (though expect this to suddenly come into question as Svensmarks' theory gains ground). What Svensmark needed to demonstrate was that cosmic rays form nucleation sites that seed clouds.

Hence the aptly named CLOUD experiment performed at CERN last year, with the results published last August. The experiment was actually more than a decade in the making, but as Lawrence Solomon explains, it was help back for years by the scientific bureaucracy because of its potentially unwelcome results.

The results are indeed unwelcome, at least for the advocates of the global warming consensus. Anthony Watts explained the experiment at his blog, Watts Up With That? The CLOUD experiment used CERN's particle accelerator to send a beam of artificially generated charged particles—simulated cosmic rays—into a gas-filled chamber and then measured the formation of aerosols, the kind of compounds that can serve as cloud nucleation sites. It found a direct and very significant relationship.

This is not a total demonstration of Svensmark's theory. The Nature paper on the CLOUD experiment notes that "the fraction of these freshly nucleated particles that grow to sufficient sizes to seed cloud droplets, as well as the role of organic vapors in the nucleation and growth processes, remain open questions experimentally." But last year's result is a clear demonstration of a crucial step in Svensmark's theory. It's certainly a lot farther than the warmthers have ever gotten in demonstrating the physical basis for their theory.

("Warmther," by the way, is a coin termed—if I recall correctly—by occasional TIA Daily contributor Tom Minchin. It's intended to put advocates of the global warming hysteria in the same category as the "truthers" and the "birthers.")

What impact did the CLOUD experiment have? Well, the global warming establishment set out to make sure it would have no impact. Like I said, this is a more civilized age, so Svensmark and his colleagues will not be subject to an Inquisition. They will just be ignored, for as long as the entrenched establishment can manage to do so.

This campaign began immediately. James Delingpole's overview of the reaction to CLOUD quotes the statement given to the press by Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN.

I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them. That would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate. One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters.

I don't know what I find more amusing about this quote: the fact that he is directing scientists not to draw conclusions from data, or the fact that he then proceeds to assert his own interpretation of the data, that "cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters." Well, no, if Svensmark's theory is right, it is not "only one of many," it is the central factor, far more important than human emissions of carbon dioxide. But thanks for telling us all ahead of time what we're supposed to think.

Heuer's statement is an example of an old warmther practice of releasing scientific results to the media only on the condition that upper-level science bureaucrats, the ones who want to increase or preserve the funding they get from government, provide the politically appropriate "spin" to the press. In this case, the appropriate spin is, "move along, nothing to see here."

The BEST study provides an example of a different kind of spin. BEST, which stands for Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, was a study begun in response to the Climategate scandal. Part of the Climategate scandal, you may recall, was the refusal of prominent climate scientists to share their raw data on global temperatures, as well as evidence that this data was unreliable. So Berkeley scientist Richard Muller, a believer in global warming who nonetheless publicly criticized the Climategate miscreants, started a program to examine the accuracy of global temperature measurements and make the data publicly available. As part of his team, he drafted Judith Curry, a scientist with a history of sympathy for global warming skeptics.

But Muller is still a warmther, and old habits die hard. So he released the study's first set of data shortly before an international global warming conference—then pulled the old warmther trick of summing it up in a press release promoting the politically correct conclusions, claiming that this data "proved you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer." Curry was then forced to go the newspapers to contradict this spin, telling the Daily Mail that "There is no scientific basis for saying that warming hasn’t stopped. To say that there is detracts from the credibility of the data, which is very unfortunate."

The Daily Mail, being a London tabloid, present the controversy in very sensational terms. But here is the crucial passage that indicates what is going on.

[A]lthough Prof Curry is the second named author of all four papers, Prof Muller failed to consult her before deciding to put them on the internet earlier this month, when the peer review process had barely started, and to issue a detailed press release at the same time.

He also briefed selected journalists individually. "It is not how I would have played it," Prof. Curry said. "I was informed only when I got a group email. I think they have made errors and I distance myself from what they did."

I am afraid Professor Curry has been a bit naïve, because this is an exact repeat of the technique long used by the organizers of those United Nations global warming panels. The technique is to get a bunch of honest, legitimate scientists to contribute to your report and be listed as "co-authors," so long as their contributions are safely buried in the dense minutiae of the body of the report, which no politician or reporter is going to bother reading. Then, without their knowledge or consent, you "summarize" the work of these "co-authors" in a politically slanted press release and claim all of them as part of the "consensus" for your political conclusions.

So there you have the rules of the game, as played by the political-scientific establishment. If you have a study that you think backs up the global warming dogma, preface it with a press release drawing wildly speculative conclusions from the data. If you have a study that contradicts the global warming dogma, preface it with a press release declaring that no conclusions can be drawn.

But that's not going to work, which brings me to the recent news item that I mentioned at the beginning. James Delingpole's Daily Telegraph blog alerted me to the latest. In Germany, where the global warming dogma has been very deeply entrenched, one of the founding fathers of Germany's environmentalist movement, Professor Fritz Vahrenholt, has converted into a global warming skeptic and is promoting his views in a new book and a series of article in Bild, a major German newspaper. What caused the change? According to one account:

Vahrenholt’s skepticism started when he was asked to review an IPCC report on renewable energy. He found hundreds of errors. When he pointed them out, IPCC officials simply brushed them aside. Stunned, he asked himself, “Is this the way they approached the climate assessment reports?”

Vahrenholt decided to do some digging. His colleague Dr. Lüning also gave him a copy of Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion. He was horrified by the sloppiness and deception he found.

But longtime skeptic Benny Peiser also notes another factor: "the work of the Danish researcher Henrik Svensmark and other climate scientists convinced [Vahrenholt] that the fluctuating magnetic field of the sun is a driver of climate change."

This is the way things are going to be from now on. The discoveries of the Galileo of global warming—to appreciate the irony, call Svensmark's view the heliocentric theory—is out there, the evidence for it is building, and that fact can no longer be hidden or ignored. If more brutal methods of suppression couldn't stop the truths spoken by Galileo, today's soft suppression of science isn't going to work, either.