REVIEW | The Gods Themselves and climate-science Orwellianism: Is optimism still possible?

Three years after Isaak Asimov's The Gods Themselves (1972; winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards) first hit the shelves, an April 28, 1975 Newsweek article began,

"There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth...To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather...the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down."

Asimov's book portrayed power politics within and around academic departments. The interplay between academic views and political priorities operates to suppress important scientific truths in favor of incomplete, semi-scientific stories.


This is a topic right out of recent headlines. Yet we must take care to get straight any analogies between the book's storyverse and issues of our own real world. What is the heroic and suppressed truth? What is the officially sanctioned illusion?

In the real world, there tends to be a complex mixture of suppressed truths and falsehoods and sanctioned truths and falsehoods. The key is that the suppression or the sanction has no direct bearing on whether something is true or not. One must look instead into the science itself. Recognized expert status is also not a reliable indicator. The greater the status of an expert, the more they might know and the higher their vested interests in ongoing research funding might be, so factors may push in opposing directions. An outsider might know less, but also have less of a vested interest in a particular viewpoint.

In the book's storyverse, the antagonists ignore no less than the risk of the potential destruction of the entire solar system. They are on the trail of a nearly costless, clean source of energy and don't want to be obstructed.

I will leave it for readers of the book to discover what the source is, but will only note that the financial and political pressure is on the side of ignoring the underlying reality. A heroic and brilliant scientist who insists on exposing the real risks is marginalized, while a scientist who is either willing to ignore these risks or is not sufficiently insightful to understand them to begin with is elevated to academic star status.

I have run into one analogous example after another in my two decades of self-directed study of economic, historical, and scientific issues. The "global-warming consensus" has been one of these examples to me for years.

In a classic Orwellian twist, the global-warming consensus-making machine uses as a rhetorical tactic the image that the "real truth" is with them, while anthropogenic global warming skeptics are portrayed as cynically ignoring the real evidence that wise people all know about.

As I have read the debate and the science, however, the badge for ignoring and otherwise being selective about evidence clearly goes to promoters of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis themselves (See my Review: Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years as well as the book itself).

Discussing climate science, MIT Professor of Atmospheric Studies Richard S. Lindzen, in a presentation at Rockhurst University (HT to Stephan Kinsella via Mises Economics Blog), went so far as to say that, "Science has been compromised if not corrupted. For the moment, institutional science is part of the problem rather than part of the solution."

One can say the same about academic economics over at least the past century. There has been incredible pressure to suppress views and approaches that are not in line with consensus, and incidentally, also not in line with the aims and dreams of politicians to construct empires, monuments, and glory using other people's money.

Real economists expose the fallacies in such programs, shining light where it is not welcomed. Pet economists refrain from shining unwelcome light and instead direct their research into hyper-specialized topics or macroeconomic fantasy worlds that are unlikely to get them into much trouble. See my The gutting of economics as an anti-state force by fear of offending the powers.

The current resurgence of causal-realist economics in the tradition of Juan de Mariana, Carl Menger and Ludwig Von Mises has gained its fuel from institutions, such as the Mises Institute, that were established outside of or on the edges of the existing academic edifice.

This is just as one should expect. New paradigms, said Thomas Kuhn, do not grow from within old establishments. They grow on the outside and on the edges until the clearer grasp of reality that they facilitate eventually becomes obvious to enough people that the previous paradigm finally begins to lose force.

Asimov's book is built on a three-part structure labelled with the three parts of the expression from Friedrich Schiller's play, The Maid of Orleans, "Against stupidity, the gods themselves, contend in vain" (Die Jungfrau von Orleans, "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens").

Yet Asimov substituted a question mark for the pessimistic final period and dedicated his book, "To Mankind: And the hope that the war against folly may someday be won, after all."

Can we join Asimov in this daring touch of optimism?

To learn more on this topic, check the environment page at for a few select reading recommendations.

REVIEW | Unstoppable Global Warming by Fred Singer and Dennis Avery

Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years is not just a book, but a massive review of the scientific literature, citing hundreds of studies from all over the world. And while the emphasis is squarely on the science, it also presents some evidence as to the structure and motivations behind the fear-mongering and power issues underpinning this topic.

For example, it presents evidence of intentional, or at least criminally negligent, presentations of data in some key studies and official reports, especially UN reports on climate change, that are then happily splashed across headlines to sell media. There is even evidence of political editing of key UN reports – after the scientists have signed off on them – that fundamentally change the findings (and this all came well before the Climategate emails came to light).

Executive summary of what the reviewed evidence suggests:

1) The Earth is in the upswing of a medium-term climate cycle. While there are many overlapping cycles of various durations, this one has been happening about every 1,500 years for at least the past hundreds of thousands of years, utterly independent of human activity, most likely fueled by a solar output cycle.

2) A great number of the individual surface temperature readings that show greater warming are flawed due to changes in the environments immediately around the temperature recording stations, mainly from urbanization (for example, the construction of heat reflecting parking lots next to recording stations).

3) Climate modeling using supercomputers is incredibly flawed and the results cannot be trusted. In some cases, there is circumstantial reason to believe that key modelling studies supporting the man-made global warming hypothesis are based on flawed data and characterized by the careful selection of only that data that supports the hypothesis and the ignoring of data that does not.

4) Hard measures of temperature change that are reliable, including satellite data, tree ring studies, ice core studies, and studies of the movement of tree lines up and down mountainsides show compelling evidence from all over the world that supports the 1,500-year cycle hypothesis, and either does not support, or strongly contradicts, the man-made climate change hypothesis.

5) The long-term data does indicate that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been correlated with changes in temperature. However, these temperature changes follow such changes in carbon dioxide rather than preceding them, and do so with a lag of several centuries.

6) Oceans are not going to flood, islands are not going to sink, and species are not going extinct as a result of human carbon emissions (each of these topics is treated in turn).

7) And in any case, warmer climates are better for most life forms, for food production, and for reducing the incidence of violent storms, compared to periods of cooling.

Unstoppable climate-change scare-mongering enables a massive power grab for the state. Legitimate, valid, scientific evidence has little to do with it. Selection and bias are rampant, as are misinterpretation and misreporting by both researchers and the media. However, if you are interested in considering some legitimate evidence for yourself, Avery and Singer offer a great opportunity to access some, with plenty of references for follow-up.

The gutting of economics as an anti-state force by fear of offending the powers

Why has economics, the most potent potential political force in history, become to most people an incomprehensible and seemingly pointless exercise, or the mysterious incantations of an anointed priesthood conversing with one another in their own secret language?

The following quotes from a recent biography of economist Ludwig Von Mises shed light on this question and also helped me more clearly understand why I chose not to continue in the academic economics track in the early 90s, and not to enter graduate school, but instead to continue studying on my own.

Even as an undergraduate, I was politely “guided” toward “more practical” directions than my study of classic treatises in Austrian economics in the Mengerian tradition onward, a discipline that is eminently comprehensible and offers clear policy prescriptions. Fortunately, the college culture was “free thinking” enough that I was able to continue on my course and still complete my degree (that’s why I had chosen the college to begin with, in fact).

The discussion below is about the 1920s (emphasis mine).

“Because of this ostracism of genuine economists, those who held (or hoped to hold) academic positions in political economy became eager to avoid any behavior that could offend the powers that be. The most innocent strategy was to understate one’s findings when they risked upsetting certain powerful social groups.”

“In a similar vein, an increasing number of young economists turned their attention to abstract and technical problems that did not have any political implications unwelcome to their employers. This helps explain the success of mathematical economics, econometrics, Keynesian economics, and game theory after WWII.”

The transformation of economics into a self-absorbed technical discipline made it politically toothless. A mere ‘theory’ based on fictitious stipulations and therefore without scientifically valid implications for public policy was no threat to vested interests, and the champions of this theory did not have to fear reprisals. Clearly, this state of affairs suited the majority in the economics profession, both employers and employees. But it was disastrous for science, human liberty, and economic progress.”

Hülsmann (2007), Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, pp. 549-552.