Extraordinary scenes at Russian conference

by William Yeatman on July 20, 2004

in Politics, Science

The British scientific establishment reacted so badly to dissenting voices at a Moscow conference on climate change science that they disrupted the event.  The two-day seminar, entitled Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, had been organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences and was chaired by distinguished climatologist Yuri Izrael, a Vice-Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

On being informed that the program would include contributions from scientists who question the effects of global warming, such as Richard S. Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nils-Axel Morner of Stockholm University, and Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute, the British delegation, led by Sir David King, objected to their inclusion.  They first delayed the conference, then asked British foreign secretary Jack Straw to exert political pressure in an effort to get the program changed.  When this failed, there were reports that the conference was disrupted on at least four occasions (one reporter asked why security guards did not intervene).  In the end, Sir David, who is on record as judging global warming a worse threat than terrorism, walked out. 

Peter Cox of the U.K.’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research attempted to justify the British actions by telling Science magazine (July 16), We knew that we would not get to the scientific issues if we went down every rabbit hole of skepticism.

During the conference, Paul Reiter used a simple experiment to demonstrate the low relevance of climate to the spread of malaria.  He said, When I asked whether any of the Russian Academicians at the symposium had had malaria, nearly all raised their hands.  Several had contracted the disease in Siberia!

The French newspaper Le Figaro in reporting the controversy (July 16) commented, The clash was more than a minor diplomatic incident because it revealed a form of intellectual bullying that is beginning to dominate the scientific community on the question of climate change.

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