Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

‘Climategate,’ Universities, and Human Nature


One of the least surprising aspects of the “Climategate” saga is its apparent origin — at least in part — in the university research community. As anyone who’s peeked behind the college curtain can tell you, professors are very, very human. In fact, the nature of the modern university tends to exacerbate the worst aspects of their flawed humanity — rendering even scholarly “consensus” almost inherently suspect.

On issue after issue, the phenomenal groupthink of the one-party academic establishment is combined with (and often results in) an almost overwhelming self-righteousness. When this groupthink and self-righteousness is magnified by an often adoring mainstream press, the result is, well, predictable. Human beings typically don’t show their best selves in the absence of real accountability.

Speaking as someone who lives and works in the heart of the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” I think the unending mainstream-media scrutiny of our organizations and efforts has some positive side effects. Accountability is good — even if it comes from hostile sources. Human beings are not inherently altruistic, we’re still flawed even when we’re at our best, and the notion that we may be called out for our sins is an undeniable incentive to make sure that our means and ends embody our ideals.

Yet for a global-warming community that relies — in large part — on the absence of debate to make its case, then accountability can be seen as wholly bad. Questions and criticisms chip away at the wall of unanimity (“This is settled science!”), so critics have to be demonized, and there’s a strong incentive to smooth out troubling quirks in the data.

Do any of the revelations mean that climate alarmists are ultimately wrong? Nothing seems conclusive on that front. Instead, these revelations affirm (once again) that we should never, ever trust scientific assertions without real accountability and transparency.  


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review