The Inquisition of Climate Science
By James Lawrence Powell, Columbia University Press, 2011, 232 pp, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-231-15718-6 (cloth); ISBN 978-0-231-52784-2 (ebook)
Reviewed by William H. Ingham
In fifteen short chapters, this book provides a stout defense of the consensus view of climate scientists that global warming is genuine and that human-caused carbon emissions are responsible. In technically careful but vivid prose, Powell makes his points with sharp wit (and sharp elbows for the skeptics that he brands as "deniers").
In preparing to read and review this book, I read Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming (Harvard University Press, 2003), which had sat unread on my bookshelf for far too long. That book and Powell's provide a powerful one-two intellectual punch on the subject of global climate and human impact. Weart's book is mainly a narrative of the development of modern climate science, while The Inquisition of Climate Science concentrates on the protracted battles between climate scientists and their detractors. Powell doesn't hesitate to name names on both sides. The book's dedication is to "James E. Hansen, Michael E. Mann, Benjamin D. Santer, and the late Stephen H. Schneider – SCIENTISTS OF COURAGE AND INTEGRITY" (capitalized in the original). On the side of the skeptics, a diverse group of individuals (scientists, industry consultants, writers, and politicians) receive Powell's greatest scrutiny and criticism. These include physicists Freeman Dyson and Frederick Seitz, MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen, Bjorn Lomborg, best-selling author Michael Crichton, S. Fred Singer, former Apollo astronaut and US Senator Harrison Schmitt, Patrick Michaels, US Senator James Inhofe, and last but not least Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.
In the book's preface, Powell writes, "What are my credentials? I am not a climate researcher. I like to think that may be an advantage, as I have no axe to grind, no position to defend. I do have a PhD in geochemistry from MIT. I have received research grants and written scientific articles and books. President Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush each appointed me to the National Science Board, where I served for twelve years. That experience informed me about how science works at the level of national policy. Ultimately, of course, any book has to speak for itself."
This reader found that the book spoke for itself very well indeed. Whereas Weart's book is a scholarly historical narrative, Powell's book is righteously indignant. Before reading these two books, I was sympathetic to the consensus scientific view, and Weart's book convinced me. As I began Powell's book, I wondered about the appropriateness of a title that recalls Galileo's clash with Church authority, and I was struck by Powell's sometimes strident tone. However, he musters the technical evidence very well and argues clearly from it. By the time I finished The Inquisition of Climate Science, I was cheering him on. We are in James Lawrence Powell's debt, for he has taken on the climate-change skeptics in a hard-hitting but technically sound manner. He has done a fine job of fighting fire with fire – something that too few with advanced scientific training are willing to do. I heartily recommend this book.
William H. Ingham
James Madison University
These contributions have not been peer-reviewed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.