Climate change deniers are using COVID-19 as a cover for questioning scientific integrity,Alfie Hoar,The Skeptic

“The coronavirus crisis has triggered the biggest crisis of science in modern history.” This what the Director of the climate change denying Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Dr Peiser, proclaimed in a post on the Foundation’s website. Why so? Well, many across the political right are proclaiming that faulty modelling and non-scientific methods used in epidemiology have resulted in a large overreaction from many countries to COVID-19. While there has been much discussion in the press as to whether their claims of inaccuracy are true or false, the troubling suggestions for how to ‘fix’ science aren’t getting as much attention.

Tory MP Steve Baker, a trustee of the GWPF and prominent critic of COVID-19 lockdowns, tweeted:

I’m blaming the whole system for allowing that extraordinary pessimistic models did so much harm… we must now have an Office of Research Integrity.

An Office to check over scientific advice neutrally and honestly isn’t a bad thing, but I have doubts over whether that’s what Baker and his cohort want.

Calls to change how science works have been coming from climate change deniers for several years. In 2017, a group of contrarian scientists presented to a US Congressional committee calling for ‘red teaming’ in science to fix the ‘broken’ climate science. Red teaming is a process of peer review, where a group of researchers play devil’s advocate and criticise an author’s work throughout the process of research, to improve the quality of the work. The contrarian scientists’ call in 2017 was echoed by the GWPF, and Dr Peiser called for the red teaming process in science again in 2020, this time citing COVID-19 research as evidence that science is broken.

It’s unclear if red teaming is exactly what Baker wants to implement, but the rhetoric is very much the same. In his tweet he attached a link to an article in the Daily Sceptic – formerly known as Lockdown Sceptics, a regular source of COVID-19 misinformation throughout the pandemic – which contained a criticism of an epidemiological model by a computer programmer, who labelled the model unscientific. Allusions to the idea of poor practice in mainstream science like these, and calls for a revision of how science and scientific advice works have been used against climate change for years, and now they’re being used against disease study.

Red teaming science doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but there’s a lot of potential for damage here. Prof. Michael Mann pointed out at the 2017 committee meeting that this call for changing how science works was deeply biased. Mann was the only one not proclaiming science to be ‘broken’, and he was the only speaker who didn’t have a history of denying the consensus view on climate change. Policies like red teaming have a very real potential to exacerbate this issue.

By implementing a red team policy there’s potential to give contrarian scientists disproportionate influence. One speaker at the Congressional committee stated that red teaming was necessary since “consensus science isn’t science”, yet if this is the attitude we go in with, all that’s going to come from these modifications is that a very small minority of scientists will be given a platform with massive overrepresentation.

The idea of consensus science not being science has been an issue within climate change rhetoric for decades now. For many years, climate change denying scientists were given way too much airtime and publicity in order to balance out the ‘debate’, so it’s no surprise that this group wants this pattern to return. Steve Baker and the GWPF are now doubling that push, including both climate science and epidemiology – two disciplines that are massively important to society.

Considering this overall pattern and where the calls are coming from, its clear to see what the policies proposed by Baker and other would result in. The view of science that is being pushed by this group leaves the question of what science is actually useful for. Science and scientists are already subject to an extensive peer review process. This could always be improved, but if we allow policies with the specific aim of dismantling consensus in science to be introduced, science becomes a mere mental exercise.

Consensus isn’t everything in science, but it is very important especially with public policy. How are the public and policy makers meant to know how serious a threat a new disease is without some element of consensus from the scientific community? We only have to look at the 1990s and early 2000s rhetoric around climate change to see how misleading narratives can be constructed about a research field if scientific consensus is dismissed. Or at the HIV/AIDS-link denial in the 1980s and 90s contributing to more infections.

Trying to improve research systems and peer review processes in science isn’t a bad thing, but it has to be done with the sincere intention of improving science’s contribution to society. Steve Baker and rest of the climate change denying cohort are consistently anti-science, and, if we want to keep science as the useful tool it currently as, they need to be kept away from policy decisions in this area.

The post Climate change deniers are using COVID-19 as a cover for questioning scientific integrity appeared first on The Skeptic.

When calls for greater scrutiny of scientific integrity come from climate change deniers and lockdown ‘sceptics’, we would be right to be wary of their intentions
The post Climate change deniers are using COVID-19 as a cover for questioning scientific integrity appeared first on The Skeptic.

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