Science and an open society

By Dr Simon Buckle, Grantham Institute

Professor Lennart Bengtsson’s resignation from the GWPF (Global Warming Policy Foundation) Academic Advisory Council has received wide coverage and raises important issues.

Whatever anyone’s views are on the role, motivation and integrity of the GWPF in this matter, it is up to individual academics whether or not to associate themselves with it in an advisory role.

It is regrettable that perceived political stances on the climate issue are apparently so affecting academic activity.  The Grantham Institute at Imperial has always opposed such behaviour, believing that scientific progress requires an open society.  We try to engage with a wide range of figures, some with radically different views on climate change.

The outcome in this case is probably a reflection of the “us and them” that has permeated the climate science debate for decades and which is in part an outcome of – and reaction to – external pressure on the climate community.  But we must be clear: this is not a justification.  Concerted external pressure – if that is what it was – on Professor Bengtsson to resign from his GWPF role was wrong and misjudged.

Academic work on climate science and responses to climate variability and change should be politically neutral.  Policy towards climate is inevitably value-based and hence political.  We need the insights from high quality research and analysis to ensure our policy and political choices are as well informed as can be – importantly including social, political and economic research as well as that from the physical sciences and engineering.

What we learn from this event is that maintaining a healthy separation between science and politics – on either side of the political debate – is a continual but necessary challenge.  We have to keep the scientific endeavour as free as possible from political contention over policy responses.  All serious scientific voices on climate change therefore deserve both respect and to be heard. But given the enormity of the issues, these views require rigorous scrutiny and testing.

This episode should not distract us from the fact that we are performing a very dangerous experiment with the Earth’s climate.  Even by the end of this century, on current trends we risk changes of a magnitude that are unprecedented in the last 10,000 years.  How we respond to that is a matter of public policy, on which of course scientists have both a voice and often strong opinions, but as citizens not as policy experts.

2 comments for “Science and an open society

  1. Please adopt the policy of defining acronyms in Grantham Institute articles.
    GWPF, for example.
    Thank you, JW

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