Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Climate DENIERS as latter-day Alexander Flemings

      If you are a very attentive reader of SVE - and I have good reason to doubt that you are - you will have noticed I took down my first few names from my  ENEMIES  list and added a few unsuspected ones.
     I had started with the usual suspects - the ones you see and laugh at on every denier-watcher blog.
      But I quickly saw they were in fact contrary to my position on the whole 'Deny-Me-Not Movement'.
    The usual climate deniers are almost ridiculously easy to mock - but they are also, in my view, just stalking horses, a false front for the more serious and subtle backroom climate denying activities, performed by the sort of names I put up to replace them.

    More about those new names, in a later post.
    But right now, what insights does my current research on wartime penicillin bring to bear upon these pathetic stalking horses of climate denial ,these Walter Mittys of Science, circa 2012 ?
   Easy to see the pattern: these deniers are almost always elderly male 'applied science' type scientists, who had at best modest careers in scientific terms and are now retired.
   All too soon, they will be dead and forgotten.
   Most people have a realistic sense of their modest talents and are gratefully for whatever life dealt them.
    But a sizeable percentage have always had an ego and an estimation of their own talents out of all proportion to how others regard them. This inconvenient truth rankled them while in employment and it burns now with a new intensity, upon retirement.
   But, now at least they are free as well as forgotten : freed at last of the restraints of peer-reviews, tenure committees and funding committees .
    Now they can say whatever they want, without doing any of that complicated  scientific fact-checking-stuff , while still coasting on the claim that they are (were) scientists, (all bow down).
   Admittedly, they pay a high price by exposing themselves to endless ridicule from many in the media/public and from other (more prominent) scientists, all for just being so willing to say in public what about 10%-20% of the population daily say so freely in private.
   But there are many compensations.
   They are keynote speakers at conferences organized by the rich and nearly famous - who hang on their every word, never belittle them (at last) and cheer them to the rafters. It is totally addictive to receive fame - unexpected fame - so late in life.
   Their speeches are uncritically reported in conservative national and international media, media of the sort that they themselves have read and admired all their lives.
   They travel the world, best hotels and food, press interviews, limos, handlers smoothing the way at their elbow.
   Getting paid for all this seems unnecessary - but some do take money , but only for offering "scientific advice" of course.
   In other words, they experience what I call "The Sir Alexander Fleming Effect".
    I am totally certain that if others hadn't done the hard work of developing penicillin to save lives, and thus accidentally made Fleming very famous, he would have retired virtually unnoticed, despite his own very high opinion of himself.
   And that Fleming would have then developed some 'out-there' scientific hobby horse and devoted the remainder of his life to it.
   It might end up helping or hurting Humanity, but most importantly it would finally give him the press and public attention he had always craved.
    When WWII ended in September 1945 and travel between nations could resume, Fleming was six months away from retirement.
     Unexpectedly, he could instead spend the rest of his life travelling the world on someone else's dime, being feted, awarded, giving interviews, all while being cheered by adoring audiences of kings and peasants.
   Fleming knew he had actually done only a little to bring penicillin to the dying millions, but what little he had done was critical, so he took all this fame as his birthright and decided to make his peace with the Devil in the Afterlife.
    I would highly recommend Robert Gwyn Macfarlane's Alexander Fleming, the Man and the Myth to anyone and everyone seeking to understand the mind of the public denier scientists.
  There are at least two other excellent biographies of Fleming, by admirers, rather than by a critic like Macfarlane, (Kevin Brown's Penicillin Man and Andre Maurois's Life of Sir Alexander Fleming ), but I have found all three end up supporting my thesis.
   Rather it isn't my thesis - I think it was first expounded by Henry Harris, Sir Howard Florey's replacement at Oxford University, who said something like ' the first life that Florey ever saved with penicillin was Alexander Fleming's ' . Perhaps Ronald Bentley said it.
    But in either case, wickedly funny - but bang on.
    Public Climate Change Denial may be having the same life-saving properties as wartime penicillin - for hundreds of has-beens and never-was-es ....

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