Recently, there have been repeated denigrations of researchers because of scientific findings that contradicted the opinions of skeptics – especially people who believe that COVID-19 is no worse than a flu (“if the virus exists at all”) and that the undeniable climate change is not man-made.

In this context, we were sent an article that deals with how researchers are attacked with sometimes unfair methods to defend opinions that contradict scientific knowledge. This is also striking in relevant forums, for example in a Facebook group for a referendum against the CO2 law.

The fact that people do not shy away from falsifying statements and Facebook profiles is a worrying development. It is perhaps understandable because the transformation of the economy towards a sustainable and climate-neutral economy threatens the existence of various powerful players if they fail to adapt in time. So one could well come to the idea that they are fighting back with disinformation campaigns, but until the proof is provided, this belongs to the realm of speculation and conspiracy myths.

The NZZ reported on 09.03.2019 how researchers are attacked.

A few extracts:

Reto Knutti, climate researcher at ETH Zurich, describes the attacks on his science in five stages: making noise, sabotaging, attacking, defaming, threatening. In December he once again experienced stage four: defame.
It was in the radio show “Kontext”, which was broadcast on SRF 2. In it Knutti answered questions about climate change. At the end, moderator Monika Schärer said: “On your Facebook page I found the sentence: ‘I’m doing my best to save the world. What exactly are you doing?”
Knutti paused to cover up this moment of irritation in this way: “I’m not sure I said that. Knutti never created a profile on Facebook. But someone else did.
Reto Knutti is Professor of Climate Physics and the figurehead of Swiss climate researchers. That makes him a target.

Fake Facebook profile that does not belong to Prof. Knutti

The Facebook profile is the second attack on Knutti’s identity: in 2017 the American fake news site “Before It’s News” published a fake interview with the researcher that was also distributed in Russia. In it, “Knutti” predicts the “horror” of an impending apocalypse, in prophetic sentences such as “In Switzerland you still have three years”.

Sounds absurd, but serious enough to make journalists from Bulgaria to Russia believe that Knutti actually made these statements. Knutti, who co-authored the last two major reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Gangster gang IPCC”

And so someone took the trouble to falsify Knutti’s statements. “That scared me,” he says at the Institute for Atmosphere and Climate at ETH Zurich. “‘The IPCC gang of gangsters belongs in prison,'” Knutti quotes from the e-mails of critics. “‘It is a question of time when you will be dragged to the European Court of Justice.'”

Knutti used to find such e-mails unpleasant. Today, he says: “What is bad is when statements are falsified and I lose control over my argumentation. Because that aims right into the heart of the researcher: his competence.

The story of Reto Knutti is the story of all prominent climate researchers in the world. Always the same plot, with interchangeable deniers.

One of them is Paul Bossert, 80, who as a former civil engineer is probably as knowledgeable about climate research as Knutti is about building houses. Nevertheless, he even complains about the researcher to Federal Councillors. Or to the ETH Vice-President for Personnel and Resources: “Mr. Knutti does not want to bring proof of a causality between CO2 and global warming,” he wrote in January.

Bossert fulfills the same attributes as almost everyone who plays a role in this research: They are male, retired or emeritus. They describe themselves as scientifically competent without being established climate researchers. And they sow doubt.

One can divide these men into categories: 1. climate deniers. They doubt the existence of global warming or the human influence on rising temperatures. 2. climate skeptics. They doubt the size of the human contribution, the problematic consequences of climate change and the effectiveness of protective measures.

The subtext is always the same: there is no scientific basis for them that would justify environmental policy intervention. And so there is a sham war for scientific facts, in reality it is a war for money, power and ideologies.

Mainstream? In 1988 the Nasa researcher James Hansen explained the effects of the greenhouse effect to the American Congress. When the scientific consensus was called into question again many years later, historian Naomi Oreskes examined all the studies that had appeared in journals between 1993 and 2003 under the heading “global climate change”.

None of the 928 peer-reviewed papers denied that most of the observed warming is man-made. Today, 97 percent of the studies and most-published climate researchers also come to this conclusion.

Starting in 1998, more than 31,000 so-called scientists signed a declaration that considers man-made climate change to be a hoax. The declaration was also signed with names like Charles Darwin. The National Academy of Sciences, the most famous association of US scientists, distanced itself from the petition.

Nevertheless, it is still used as counter-evidence today – even in the arguments of politicians. SVP National Councillor Walter Wobmann, for example, still refers to the “31,000 researchers” in an interview 20 years later. “Nobody can prove whether humans are to blame for climate change,” he says. “Its CO2 emissions are insignificantly small.”

In this country, the “BAZ” and the “Weltwoche” form a media storm front against the scientific climate consensus.

Naomi Oreskes advises scientists to publicly duel only with established researchers. “If your opponent is someone who presents alternative facts as facts, you have lost,” says the Harvard professor at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where she is talking to the “NZZ am Sonntag”. Skeptics want to give the impression that there is something to debate.

Oreskes has written a book with the science historian Erik M. Conway that reads like a thriller. It is called “The Machiavelli of Science” and shows how serious researchers are defamed by paid lobbyists and how campaigns are launched to spread false information in the media.

“People underestimate the power of the fossil industry,” says Oreskes. “It does everything to protect their interests.” In doing so, their lobbyists use the same strategies as tobacco companies once did: since the 1950s, internal investigations have proven that smoking is harmful and causes cancer.

So much for the most important statements in this article, which, however, contains much more information about various skeptic networks and reads like a crime novel.

The full length of the article is available here (in German).

Conclusion: Skepticism is good if it is genuine and if you are open to new insights. To doubt scientific consensus only because it does not fit one’s own opinion has nothing to do with skepticism, but with denial of reality.

“The reasonable is what is generally considered reasonable and true. Deviating from this is subject to justification”, Christoph Bopp in today’s Limmattaler Zeitung.

Or in other words: whoever rejects a broadly supported scientific consensus must be able to justify this well, comprehensibly and with facts. The freedom of thought is infinite, but the freedom of knowledge is limited by comprehensible and verifiable facts.


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