Climate Change Denial: the Lysenkoism of the present-day Republican Party

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian         is   an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian      is an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine

By: Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian

Recently, the House Science Committee held a hearing on climate change that stacked the deck of testimony at the hearing to be 3 to 1 climate change deniers, while climate scientists at large are 97% to >99% in agreement that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are leading to a warming planet. The only scientist present that represented the overwhelming conclusion of the scientific community was Prof. Michael Mann, of Pennsylvania State University (as well as an Advising Board Member of 314 Action). 

The controlling Republican Party Congressmembers stacked the hearing in such an unrepresentative way in order to push their own political interest above that found from proper scientific methodology. Prof. Mann appropriately referenced what the leading Congressmen were doing with their science denialism as akin Stalinism. Why is that? For nearly forty years, Soviet political leaders supported a theory of evolution called Lysenkoism, which was based on the long discredited Lamarckian evolution. It was the basis of state-planned agricultural policy that led to devastating results, resulting in famines. Why would this happen and why would it take so long for policy change when confronted with failing policy? Lysenkoism was a favorite theory of Stalin himself, with the Soviet propaganda machine presenting Trofim Lysenko as a home-grown genius going against the overwhelming consensus of scientists outside of Soviet influence. The policy based on the debunked ideology lead to not only widespread famine, but the execution arrest, imprisonment and/or firing of about 3,000 mainstream biologists in the Soviet Union. Fortunately, we are not yet at that point in America, but House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith has harassed and subpoenaed government and university scientists that are in the mainstream due to their work.

The charge of Stalinesque behavior by the GOP Congressmen by Prof. Mann was rebutted four times by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, turning it on to climate scientists in consensus as being Stalinesque in a kind of childish “I know you are but what am I?” For those aware of the history, it is clear why the politicians are worthy of the label. Lysenkoism is metaphorically used “to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.” By rejecting the overwhelming scientific consensus in favor of a clear party-driven ideology, the Republican Congressmen are playing the role of Lysenkoists in the present day. The fact that human carbon dioxide emissions are the prime cause of climate change are as certain in science as whether you will fall if you jump off a cliff. Detrimental environmental impacts are happening even now. More dire environmental and social impacts are certain if carbon dioxide emissions continue on a business as usual path.

House Science Committee members Representatives Lamar Smith, Dana Rohrabacher and Steve Knight are targeted by 314 Action’s Under The Scope program for good reason. Lamar Smith has once railed against environmentalists nd the media for buying the ‘climate-change religion.’” Dana Rohrabacher has called climate change “a total fraud,” and Steve Knight has said “California has embarked on a rash mission to curtail global warming.” Their motivations are clear, including leading campaign support from the oil and gas industry, as well as nationalistic, anti-globalization sentiment.

The reason why these House Science Committee members are so detached from the science is that they are simply non-scientists who are particularly uninterested in learning what science does and what it can provide. Most importantly, science provides a methodology and mechanism to make robust predictions. The leading Republican members of the House Science Committee are instead lawyers, whose method of determining the “truth” is what one can be persuaded to believe by a series of arguments. They view climate scientists as just persuaded by one set of arguments, and in a “cabal” to squash dissent, while their experience as trial lawyers makes them view themselves as just as qualified to convince people what they purport to be just as valid: a view that denies the basic conclusions of climate scientists.

The difference of course is that the ideas that the Congressional denialists hold have actually been thoroughly tested by data, models and simulations. The science is not simply rhetoric. The numbers reveal that ongoing climate change is caused by human carbon dioxide emissions by a factor of 10,000 to 1 against that it is caused by natural variations. The implications of continuing carbon-based energy policy causing global climate change will not only be isolated to America. Global agricultural stresses from climate change will likely lead to greater global food insecurity, and will potentially displace hundreds of millions of people globally due to sea level rise, including about 20 million Americans.

The leading Republican Science Committee members and many other anti-science denialists miss one basic element of the scientific method when they purport that science is simply another form of rhetorical argument that maintains a power-based, dissention-killing consensus: Science provides a structure very willing to change its paradigms when confronted with new evidence and more predictive theories. Convincing, science-based dissension is rewarded, not suppressed. Albert Einstein is not famous for proving Isaac Newton right, he is famous for proving Isaac Newton wrong!

The kinds of dangerous statements coming out of the House Science Committee—in hearings 314 Action supporters appropriately tag as an #antisciencecircus—shows exactly why America needs more actual scientists and supporters of science in Congress and on that very Committee: we need men and women that understand the difference between the nuances of science versus brute argumentation. Find and support candidates that are scientists or strongly pro-science who will bring science to the table in Congress and other elected positions, and certainly support 314 Action’s efforts to unseat those unqualified Congressmen specifically Under the Scope.