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OK, this cartoon is lampooning extremest attitudes within the US Republican Party. But I think it is also very relevant to this whole “climategate” hysteria.

Relevant because some of the most extreme pronouncements from climate change deniers do smack of McCarthyism. To be honest they also remind me of the campaigns against scientists and intellectuals launched by Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot.

Have a brief look at some of the pronouncement in denier blogs and twitter tweets. The description of climate change science as a conspiracy. The accusations that honest scientists have lied, hidden and distorted data and interfered with scientific publication processes. And all on an international scale. The huge and authoritative IPCC reviews are being discarded unread as rubbish and lies.

The accusations that these honest scientists are criminals, that they should be prosecuted. Some of these bloggers and tweeters want immediate  punishment – they can’t wait for a trial, let alone an investigation.

And as for the official investigation of charges of violation of freedom of information laws, let alone scientific ethics, these critics scream “whitewash” beforehand. Justice and truth is the last thing they want.

Persecuting climate scientists

The label “McCarthyism” is so obvious, down to McCarthy’s tactics of persecution of victims and hearings. US Senator James Inhofe is actually demanding criminal investigation of climate scientists. He has even named 17 US and UK climate scientists he wants to prosecute.

Michael Mann, one of the US climate scientists Inhofe wishes to imprison or otherwise punish, has warned about the climate denier hysteria:

“I think the following quote characterises the situation best: ‘Continuous research by our best scientists … may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumours, gossip, and vilification.’ The quote wasn’t made during the last few months. It was made by US president Harry S Truman in 1948, in response to politically motivated attacks against scientists associated with the dark era of McCarthyism.”

Mann added:

“I fear that is precisely the sort of atmosphere that is being created, and sure, it impacts research. The more time scientists have to spend fending off these sorts of attacks and dealing with this sort of nonsense, the less time is available to them to actually do science, and to push the forefront of our knowledge forward. Perhaps that is the intent?”

He is right to warn us about the nature of the current anti-science hysteria.

But I think the cartoon also conveys an important point. These days McCarthyism (and Stalinism, Maoism and Pol Potism) is a sign of weakness. It is an extremely weak and rickety bandwagon to jump on to. These extremists sail so close to the wind that they will inevitably be exposed. Their whole edifice will collapse.

I suspect this collapse will become more and more obvious as we get the results from the current investigations into the “climategate” issue. It is likely that any real unethical or illegal activity found will be no greater than interference with freedom of information requests. And these may relate only to emails rather than data. After the dust is settle, after any real inappropriate behaviour has been dealt with, many people are going to look ridiculous.

Demand transparency from deniers

I only hope that we can spend some time investigating these people. What has been their attitude towards revealing their own sources of funding and treatment of data? How have they responding to information requests? How have they behaved ethically toward reporting scientific facts, let alone reporting the behavior of honest scientists?

Some of these people are journalists. Others bloggers. The there are the denier organisations and their websites. Should we place any trust in such people in the future?

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