Academia is probably the largest echo chamber on Earth. On most college campuses, within the vast hallowed halls protected by ivory towers, lies an insular society that shields progressive educators from experiencing the hard facts of the messy outside world.
Behind the marble walls, fellow faculty and malleable students will construct ethereal edifices and buttress them with complementary concoctions. The college community offers its own absolutes of good and bad, up and down, black and white. And woe to anyone who dares dissent.
When Naomi Schaefer Riley, a commentator hired to provide conservative views to the blog connected with the Chronicle of Higher Education, dared to question aspects of doctoral dissertations from African-American studies departments, the echo chamber reverberated with a cacophony of hundreds of outraged academics. A common, predictable accusation was that Naomi was a racist -- she was, after all, white and dared to criticize something black. She was eventually fired to smooth the ruffled feathers. Too bad nobody thought to ask Naomi's African-American husband whether he thought she was a racist. Then again, given that Jason Riley is a member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, maybe his testimony wouldn't count with the self-enlightened elite.
Academics are not just brilliant at spotting racists. With its unique brand of groupthink, the academy can sell scholastic soothsaying of almost any kind with unabashed certainty. In the 1960s and '70s, it was worldwide disaster from overpopulation and global cooling. But because the news media were a little more objective back then and the public much more level-headed, many of the lofty proclamations were tempered by skeptical listeners.
Today, greater complacency and a more compliant media leave a bewildered public with more difficulty in sorting out fact from fiction. For instance, the Chronicle headlined a recent University of California, Berkley-led report with "Earth Is Headed for Disaster, Interdisciplinary Team of Scientists Concludes." The article notes that Paul Ehrlich (the '60s population disaster guru) continues to foresee "a series of dire threats to humanity ... including climate change, water shortages, and the widespread use of man-made toxins."
But, take climate change, for example. Global temperatures continue to level off, despite predictions from vaunted computer climate models and strident claims of climate catastrophe within and beyond the college campus. The mantra seems to be that every time temperatures go up, humans are to blame; and, every time temperatures go down, it's nature somehow offsetting humanity's adverse atmospheric affect.
Whatever happened to good old common sense -- for example, Ockham's razor, and the idea that the real problem might lie in the models themselves? As with Naomi Schaefer Riley's challenge to questionable dissertations, has it become anathema to question audacious prognostications that purport to provide detailed global temperature patterns through the end of this century? Is it unreasonable to voice doubt that even really, really smart professors can see distant doom based on their confidence in their own abilities to model anything as complex as the weather so far in advance?
The answer may only be clear to those willing to step outside the academic echo chamber long enough to hear the rational voices outside with a bit less distortion.
Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist. His new book, "In Global Warming We Trust: A Heretic's Guide to Climate Science," will be released this summer by Telescope Books.