Though the fear of man-made global warming has come to dominate our cultural discourse, the science behind the scare is looking increasingly uncertain. David Evans is representative of scientists who have become disillusioned with the theory that industrial carbon dioxide emissions are the root cause of global warming: as he points out, the computer models don’t seem to fit the data, while at the same time evidence is mounting in favor of alternative hypotheses, like the idea that climate change may be caused in large part by fluctuations in solar radiation. A series of articles by Lawrence Solomon, who has profiled prominent climate-change dissenters, demonstrates that Evans is hardly alone—and calls into question the often-parroted assertion that there is some sort of scientific “consensus” on the issue (whatever that might mean).
One of Evans’s interesting asides is that “the integrity of the scientific community will win out in the end, following the evidence wherever it leads.” Although this is true in the long run, it’s a bit simplistic. Once a theory gains ascendancy, it may take years or even decades before its adherents are willing to abandon it, even in the face of contradictory data. (See Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a picture of this phenomenon.) At the most basic level, scientists have their jobs and reputations to think about; it’s only natural to resist the suggestion that one has spent one’s career trying to prove, or solve, a nonexistent problem. No doubt this would be true even in the absence of external pressure. But with the political stakes now so high, scientific integrity is at a decided disadvantage.
With the U.S. military effort in Iraq having bogged down, with Islamists winning elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, with the rebirth of democracy in Lebanon thwarted by Syrian and Iranian intervention, the momentum of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which had flowed high in the “Arab spring” of 2005, has ebbed. The Conference on Democracy and Security, which met in Prague June 4-6, grew out of former Soviet dissident and leading Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky’s sense of the need to reinvigorate the Bush administration’s flagging project of promoting democracy in the Middle East.
Sharansky found the ideal co-convener of the conference in Vaclav Havel. The former Czech president and the circle of one-time dissidents close to him (such as deputy prime minister Sacha Vondra and the Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky) have demonstrated an unflagging and unparalleled dedication to the cause of freedom in the eighteen years since they won their own. They have, for example, set up a committee to monitor Beijing’s human-rights record during the 2008 Olympics and have had their diplomats succor dissidents in Cuba. In addition to their unusual dedication to principle, these Czech freedom-fighters keep a wary eye on Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s success in restoring dictatorship and a bullying foreign policy has put all of the former subject states of the Soviet empire on the qui vive.
Leaks of vital U.S. intelligence secrets can get Americans killed. They can also place Americans in a great deal of danger.
As of yesterday, Iran has seized four Iranian-Americans and charged them with spying. They are Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning consultant associated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a “peace activist” from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who is reported to have traveled to Iran on private business, has been missing since March.
Do these developments have anything to do with a 2002 leak about a highly classified U.S. intelligence program?
Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World
Yale. 320 pp. $26.00.
Across the globe, China’s diplomatic presence is growing with astounding speed. In Maputo, Mozambique, the ministry of foreign affairs—built with Chinese money—sports an elaborate pagoda roof. In Songhkla, Thailand, the building formerly housing the American consulate now houses political and economic emissaries from Beijing—a disturbing image of China’s influence waxing as America’s recedes. And in dozens of other nations, China’s power is expanding equally quickly. In Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World, Joshua Kurlantzick explains how the Chinese are increasing their reach and, in the process, helping rogue leaders, causing environmental degradation, and undermining the United States.
Readers of COMMENTARY will be familiar with this narrative. Kurlantzick, a special correspondent for The New Republic, outlined elements of this thesis in COMMENTARY’s October 2006 issue. It is, however, an important story and well worth telling in book form.