The revelation that climate scientists at the University of East Anglia manipulated data and conspired to corrupt the peer-review process has been very bad news for those hoping to enact laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
A December poll by CBS News and the New York Times found that only 37 percent of Americans now think global warming is a very serious problem and should be one of the highest priorities for government leaders, a whopping 15 percentage point drop since 2007. While the poll report attributes the drop to the economic decline during the intervening two years, it's safe to assume the scandal known as Climategate contributed to the change in public perception.
Such statistics surely are frustrating for climate scientists. The vast majority of them assert that the stolen e-mails did nothing to upend the balance of the literature, which still tilts heavily toward a consensus that warming is a big, man-made problem.
The public's skepticism toward the scientists is part of a bigger problem, one that threatens the fabric of our culture. Academe has been so politicized, and so radically disconnected from the population, that ordinary citizens no longer trust anything that it produces--even science.
The sad fact is that explicit or implicit political litmus tests are far more important than science at universities and so-called peer-reviewed journals. Universities may pay lip service to "diversity," but diversity of thought is taboo.
A 2007 survey of more than 1,400 professors by sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard University and Solon Simmons of George Mason University is as damning an indictment of an organization as you are ever likely to see.
The authors compiled the political affiliation and beliefs of the professors, who were asked to identify themselves along a spectrum from very liberal to very conservative. Across all fields, 44 percent identified themselves as liberal or very liberal, while 9.2 percent identified themselves as conservative or very conservative.
Strikingly, the data were even more tilted in the physical and biological sciences. There, 45.2 percent of professors identified themselves as liberal, while only 8 percent said they were conservative.
The authors dug deeper than many previous studies and established some startling findings.
In the social sciences, 24 percent of professors identified themselves as liberal "radicals" and 18 percent as Marxists. Only 4.9 percent of social scientists identified themselves as "conservative."
So there are almost five times as many self-identified liberal radicals on our faculties, and more than three times as many Marxists as there are conservatives. Last I checked, Marxism has been utterly discredited. Yet there are still Marxists everywhere, poisoning the minds of our children. Conservatives, on the other hand, are a rarity.
While there isn't enough data to address the question, it is safe to assume that no other profession is so tilted. In a society about evenly split between liberals and conservatives, achieving such a bias requires serious effort. It doesn't happen by accident.
If you want to run conservatives out, you need to discourage dissertations that might reach conservative conclusions. You need to shun young students if their work questions liberal orthodoxy. You need to control the academic journals, rejecting papers submitted by identifiable conservatives.
You need to celebrate work that supports the political bias of Democrats. If your research shows that higher minimum wages are terrific, an endowed chair is yours for the taking. Question whether a higher minimum wage might cause higher unemployment, and find your place on the bread line.
For years, I have watched the economic community act this way. The hacked East Anglia e-mails confirm that exactly this type of conspiracy is in place. They show climate experts plotting how to keep the lid on research that didn't support the prevailing view on global warming. In one e-mail, Michael Mann of Penn State University proposed boycotting an academic journal because it had published an article that provided evidence contrary to global warming canon.
Small wonder that our academic system can no longer claim the authority necessary to drive policy. The distrust that the academic community has rightly earned is devastating for society. We have lost the only institution that could deliver the widely acknowledged facts upon which rational policy could be based.
Fire Political Professors
If Americans can no longer trust anything, even science, then it is time for radical reform, starting with the elimination of tenure. When professors abandon science and take up politics, ask them to leave.
Second, universities and journals should engage in informal affirmative action for conservatives. While it is hard to say exactly how many conservatives it might take to ease concerns of bias, a safe place to start might be to make sure you have more conservatives than Marxists.
Finally, the spirit of open debate should be assiduously enforced, even on issues such as climate. Universities should teach students how to think, not what to believe. Debate is a necessary part of that process.
Such reforms are, of course, unlikely. So you can bet that policies will continue to fail if they rely on faith in science.
Kevin A. Hassett is a senior fellow and the director of economic policy studies at AEI.