Gordon Crovitz, who is both brilliant and a friend, has a column in Monday's Wall Street Journal on the very hot topic of the leaked emails of climate change scientists, which makes the scientific peer review process look political and closed-minded. He asks, "Why are scholars who review papers allowed to remain anonymous?" Earlier in the paper, he notes that the emails were "released by an apparent whistle-blower who used the name 'FOI.'" One question Mr. Crovitz does not address is the apparent contradiction in decrying the abuses that peer reviewers commit under the protection of anonymity while at the same time reveling in the disclosures of those abuses, disclosures made possible by a whistleblower operating under the protection of anonymity.
If scientific peer reviewers shouldn't get anonymity, why should sources of documents leaked to the Internet or the press? And if anonymity is good enough for the sources of the leaked documents, why isn't it good enough for the peer reviewers? Mr. Crovitz's column cites the importance of transparency, but sometimes, as in the case of this anonymous source who shed light on the workings of the peer-review process, or of the "Deep Throat" source who helped to guide the Washington Post's reporting on Watergate, anonymity serves the purpose of transparency. None of this is to defend the idea of shield laws to protect the leakers, or to deny that a lot of mischief is committed under the cloak of anonymity. But as the author of an admiring biography of Samuel Adams, who wrote in colonial-era newspapers under dozens of pen names, I'm sympathetic to "FOI" and his desire to get information out while protecting himself from retribution. Though if "FOI" broke laws by hacking into a computer to access the information and then make it public, that's another matter. A lot of the same folk on the right who are so ardent about the rule of law when it comes to Chrysler bondholders or illegal immigration seem less bent out of shape by the tactics that may have been used to access these emails. They may wish to recall that lawbreaking is lawbreaking, even when it is done for what may seem like a desirable end of humiliating the climate-change alarmists.
On the broader question of climate change science, the group-think suggested by the emails is bad for the scientific process, and as Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it's often a precursor to a paradigm shift that, when it comes, is adamantly resisted at first. Just ask Galileo. And for a flavor of the way that the elite reacts to the questioning of the climate change consensus, check out how the once-dignified New Yorker handled Superfreakonomics, and the way that handling was praised by the Nobel laureate New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Self-reinforcing orthodoxies have a way of being punctured in fields other than science, too, whether it is a single party's apparent dominance in Washington or mindless and widespread optimism about rising house prices.
For transparency's sake, your editor here at FutureOfCapitalism.com thinks there is some global warming, is agnostic on whether it is human-caused, and doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about it. To the extent that I have some family with low-lying coastal property, I have an interest in efforts to mitigate rising sea levels, even if I think that the probability of large and rapid increases in sea levels is significantly less than the climate change alarmists say.
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