A little over two decades ago, Dr. Irving Janis, professor of psychology at Yale University, published Groupthink in which he explained how a group of like-minded people could share a common belief or goal whilst completely ignoring any evidence that challenged that belief.
Janis provided the tragic example of the Challenger spacecraft disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986, when a rubber O-Ring failed to contain rocket fuel, allowing it to leak and explode.
A subsequent inquiry showed that the Challenger explosion and the deaths of all 7 astronauts should have been avoided.
The report into the cause of the Challenger accident concluded that a flawed decision-making process ignored warnings about possible problems with the spacecraft prior to launch.
This happened, despite NASA having always taken the position that any launch should be canceled if there was any doubt about the safety of the vehicle.
Engineers from Morton Thiokol, the company that manufactured the booster rocket, had warned that the launch might be risky because freezing temperatures forecast for the morning of the launch might adversely affect the O-Ring seals.
Fifteen Morton-Thiokol engineers argued that NASA shouldn’t launch Challenger because of the low overnight temperature. They pointed out that the O-Ring seals had never been tested below 11.5°C. Morton Thiokol engineer Roger Boisjoly gave evidence and testified that:
“Getting the O-Rings to seal gaps with the temperature in the 20s (Fahrenheit) was like trying to shove a brick into a crack versus a sponge.”
The same engineers expressed doubts about the Challenger launch with NASA personnel. Their concerns were dismissed and the engineers were urged to reconsider their recommendation that the flight should be delayed.
Janis was convinced that the Challenger tragedy was similar to other examples of Groupthink he defined as:
“A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
Janis added that Groupthink occurs when members of a group share a feeling of solidarity and a desire to maintain relationships within the group. He pointed out that the “superglue” of solidarity within the group often causes their thinking to be impaired:
“The more amiability and spirit de corps among members of a policy-making in-group, the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink.”
Janis emphasized that:
“The social constraint consists of the members’ strong wish to preserve the harmony of the group, which inclines them to avoid creating any discordant arguments or schisms.”
Janis reflected on the Challenger disaster and the attitude that:
“Everything is going to work out alright because we are a special group.”
Groupthink within those special groups leads them to close-mindedness and rejection of any arguments that are contrary to the group’s views. Amongst other notable cases, climate alarmism driven by a number of activist scientists stands out as a prime example.
The emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia pointed to a group of scientists, intent on promoting the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) meme, ignoring evidence to the contrary and defending their climate alarmism at all costs.
Those scientists were closely affiliated with the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and therein was the problem.
The IPCC’s brief was to investigate the idea that human activities are the main cause of (imaginary) global warming. There was little prospect that the IPCC would look closely at any of the many other factors that influence climate.
We were told by the IPCC that:
“Review by experts and governments is an essential part of the IPCC process.” (My emphasis)
Common sense tells us that, if the IPCC was about scientists looking dispassionately at all the evidence, there would be no need for any review by governments.
Alarmist scientists from the CRU (and other IPCC affiliates) abandoned scientific integrity and vilified any scientist who challenged their alarmism. This is in direct opposition to Karl Popper’s advice:
“If you are interested in the problem which I tried to solve by my tentative assertion, you may help me by criticizing it as severely as you can; and if you can design some experimental test which you think might refute my assertion, I shall gladly and to the best of my powers, help you to refute it.”
IPCC Groupthink has already led to political decisions that are both irrational and expensive for taxpayers. Leaked emails from the CRU showed how the climate Groupthink worked.
Examples emerged as to how the alarmists not only ignored empirical evidence that challenged their position but, with the full support of the media, took every opportunity to promote their lie.
They claimed that few peer-reviewed, published papers were skeptical of the climate alarmist’s view. This ignored evidence to the contrary, such as: “1,350+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments Against ACC/AGW Alarm.”
Alarmist groupthink led them to prevent a number of papers that refuted their climate alarm from being published.
They took the extreme measure of discussing how journal editors who were prepared to publish skeptical papers might be removed from their position.
This wouldn’t have surprised Janis who observed:
“When like-minded people find themselves speaking only with one another, they get into a cycle of ideological reinforcement where they end up endorsing positions far more extreme than the ones they started with.”
The climate alarmist’s groupthink encouraged them to promote the lie that the skeptics were in the minority even though they were clearly outnumbered by a vast number of skeptics.
More than 4,000 scientists, including 70 Nobel Laureates, have signed the Heidelberg Appeal:
In 1998 (and onwards) more than 31,000 scientists, including geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and environmental scientists, signed the Oregon Petition:
They ignored the document:
“More Than 1,000 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming.”
Groupthink led the climate alarmists to control the publication of journal articles that were skeptical of their catastrophic anthropogenic global warming message.
In 2009, Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen from Hull University testified before the UK Parliament pointing out that, as editor of the journal Energy & Environment, she was aware that a “coalition of interests” opposed the publication of any papers critical of climate alarmism.
Boehmer-Christiansen pointed out that she had been a peer reviewer for the IPCC and came to realize that:
“The IPCC, was expected to support the hypothesis of man-made, dangerous warming caused by carbon dioxide …”
“Most climate change since the late 1980s has been government- and grant-funded with the clearly stated objective that it must support a decarbonisation agenda for the energy sector.”
Worse was to come. Boehmer-Christiansen described how she:
“ .. became the target of a number of CRU manoeuvres. The hacked emails revealed attempts to manipulate peer review to E&E’s disadvantage, and showed that libel threats were considered against its editorial team. Dr Jones even tried to put pressure on my university department.”
Boehmer-Christiansen noted that the group of climate alarmists, centered on the CRU, expressed anger over her publication of papers that questioned Dr. Michael Mann’s ridiculous “hockey stick” graph and the CRU’s highly questionable temperature data.
Dr. Boehmer-Christiansen reported how the CRU’s Dr. Phil Jones had contacted her head of department, suggesting that he needed to reconsider the association of Boehmer-Christiansen’s journal with Hull University.
A number of climate scientists, usually those associated with the political/ideological IPCC, continue to express their certainty that the trivial emissions of anthropogenic carbon dioxide will lead to climate disaster.
This despite there being no empirical evidence to support such alarmism with ample evidence to show that carbon dioxide has never driven global temperature at any time over the last 500 million years.
So what is the climate alarmist’s motivation for their unfounded climate alarmism?
Perhaps they share the United Nation’s political/ideological quest to promote de-industrialization and the transfer of money from successful Western countries to developing countries. Saving the world from capitalism appears to be “The UN’s Cause.”
Perhaps some scientists know that climate alarmism will bring more research funding into their institutions and assist their careers.
The above reasons may well be true but the emails leaked from the CRU strongly point to their extreme position having been reached via Groupthink in which Janis identifies the following:
Members of the group possess a firm belief in their power and morality so they ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their actions.
Members of the group demonstrate closed-mindedness that shuts out alternative viewpoints and evidence that might challenge their views. They readily ignore the tens of thousands of scientists that disagree with their alarmism.
Members of the group experience pressure from others in the group, should they express any arguments that oppose the group’s stated position.
Dr. Phil Jones, when Director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, knew that global warming had stopped at the end of the last century. He also knew he had to comply with the group’s position, saying:
“The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK, it has, but it is only seven years of data and it isn’t statistically significant.”
Later, on the 13 February 2010, Dr. Jones admitted to the BBC:
“There has been no statistically significant warming over the last 15 years.”
This remains the case in 2020.
We also see other members of the CRU clique privately expressing their doubts about the group’s claim of recent unusual global warming. On the 22 September 1999, Briffa emailed group members Mann, Jones, Karl, and Folland:
“I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the temperature proxy data but in reality the situation is not quite so simple .. I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago.”
Briffa was certainly feeling pressure from the group, emailing on April 29, 2007, how he wanted to do the right thing by the group whilst heeding what the science really said:
“I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC which were not always the same.”
Indeed, they never have been.
Briffa then expressed further concern that the group would not be happy about his reservations:
“I worried that you might not think I gave the impression of not supporting you well enough while trying to report on the issues and uncertainties.”
Groupthink permeated the group of climate alarmists to the extent that they had to massage data to hide the fact there has been no unusual global warming over several decades. Privately they lamented this lack of warming.
Dr. Kevin Trenberth was the Lead Author of the 1995, 2001, and 2007 IPCC Scientific Assessment of Climate Change.
On the 12 October 2009, he emailed Michael Mann, Stephen Schneider, Myles Allen, Peter Stott, Phil Jones, Ben Santer, Tom Wigley, Thomas Karl, Gavin Schmidt, James Hansen, and Michael Oppenheimer, saying:
“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.”
As more skeptical papers were coming forward, the alarmists felt the need to respond with more vigor.
We started to witness a world of difference between genuine Peer Review and the kind of Pal Review that reared its head when it came to papers submitted by some of the climate alarmists.
Peer Review should be a process where scholarly papers are submitted to journals with the expectation that peers will dispassionately evaluate the work to ensure that the submitted paper is: “…rigorous, coherent, uses past research and adds to what we already knew.”
The review should be a “double-blind” process in which the evaluators do not know who submitted the paper and the author(s) of the paper are not told who the evaluators will be.
This process should apply to all scientists yet the National Academy of Sciences Committee, headed by statistician Dr. Edward Wegman, when examining the flawed “Hockey-stick” paper by Dr. Michael Mann, pointed to the poor reviewing process more akin to Pal Review rather than Peer Review.
The Wegman committee commented:
“There is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.”
The Wegman Committee added:
“As statisticians, we were struck by the isolation of communities such as the paleoclimate community that rely heavily on statistical methods, yet do not seem to be interacting with the mainstream statistical community. The public policy implications of this debate are financially staggering and yet apparently no independent statistical expertise was sought or used.”
In the incestuous world of climate alarmism, where billions of dollars can be obtained from governments by scientists who claim to know how they can stop the imaginary climate emergency, there appears to be little or no double-blind, peer review.
It has been suggested that, If a climate alarmist heard that a paper was in the review pipeline and that paper was challenging climate alarm and might derail his/her grant application, the journal editor might be persuaded to hold back that particular paper until an article was prepared to counter it.
Better still, the editor might be persuaded to have it rejected.
Dr. Patrick Michaels observed how:
“If you are a member of the National Academy, you can submit four manuscripts a year, called “contributed papers” as long as you do the “peer review” yourself! That’s right: you send your manuscript to two of your friends and then mail your paper along with their comments. Again, pal review.”
The leaked “Climategate” emails have revealed how the peer review process was compromised and how a paper by Douglass, Christy, Pearson, and Singer that was critical of the alarmist climate message met with:
“Inappropriate behavior, including (a) unusual cooperation between authors and editor, (b) misstatement of known facts, (c) character assassination, (d) avoidance of traditional scientific give and take, (e) using confidential information, (f) misrepresentation (or misunderstanding) of the scientific question posed by the authors, (g) withholding data and more.”
Sinclair Davidson referred to Dr. Tom Wigley, former Director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, saying:
“The result of all this is that our refereed literature has been inestimably damaged and reputations have been trashed. Mr. Wigley repeatedly tells news reporters not to listen to “skeptics” (or even non-skeptics like me) because they didn’t publish enough in the peer-reviewed literature – even as he and his friends sought to make it difficult or impossible to do so.”
We have clearly seen the group blocking skeptical papers. An email from Dr. Phil Jones showed that he didn’t like two critical papers. He emailed his colleagues:
“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer‐review literature is!”
In fact, the IPCC ignored many skeptical peer-reviewed published papers that appeared in various journals including:
Arctic, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society; Earth Interactions; Geophysical Research Letters; International Journal of Climatology; Journal of Climate; Journal of Geophysical Research; Nature; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Quaternary Research.
Dr. Judith Curry and Dr. Mike Hulme referred to the Mann et al. Groupthink as “tribalism.” Curry opines that it is: “..tribalism in some segments of the climate research community that is impeding peer review and the assessment process.”
Hulme agreed and pointed to the leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Hulme said:
“It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”
Perhaps the final word should go to Dr. Stuart Ritchie from Kings College, London. In his book, “Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype in Science,” Ritchie says:
“Peer review is far from the guarantee of reliability it is cracked up to be, while the system of publication that’s supposed to be a crucial strength of science has become its Achilles heel.”
Irving Janis would totally agree.
Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in geosciences with special interests in climate and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.
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