Opinion – Reinaldo José Lopes: USP scientific journal sets the stage for climate crisis deniers

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Veteran meteorologist Luiz Carlos Molion is something of an itinerant preacher of the gospel of pseudoscience. A few years ago, he traveled around the interior of the country, on the pay of a tractor dealership, offering his pontifical blessing to the 12 tribes of agriculture. In his lectures, he assured the shock troops on the Brazilian agricultural frontier that deforestation does not interfere with the rains (wrong), that carbon dioxide emissions do not heat the Earth (wrong) and that, in fact, we are heading towards a phase of global cooling (wrong).

There are less squalid ways to end a supposedly scientific career, but it seems that Molion really believes what he says. What really strikes me as unbelievable, however, is that a scientific journal published by the largest university in Latin America opens its doors to the invectives of a former researcher like him.

That’s what happened in the last issue of the magazine Khronos, edited by the Interunity Center for the History of Science at USP. In a section entitled “Debates”, Molion published the article “Anthropogenic global warming: a controversial story”. In it, Molion rehashes (pardon, Lord, the voluptuous pun) his musty denial’s lunchbox, attacking the supposed inability of the IPCC, the UN climate panel, to accurately predict the future climate of this little planet using computer models (wrong).

The outrage was such that it provoked formal protests from several prestigious researchers at the university, members of the council of the uspian center. In the letter signed by them and other colleagues, they recall that Molion has not had any relevant publications in scientific journals on the subject of climate change for decades and that, to make matters worse, the article does not even refer… to the history of science, that is the subject of the publication, to begin with.

The response from the editor of the Khronos periodical and director of the center, Gildo Magalhães, could not be more disheartening. Faced with the protests of the professors, here is what he said: “It is not up to the academic environment to censor ideas. At the university there should not be a single party. Anyone who follows the debates at international climate congresses knows that, outside the mainstream media, anthropogenic global warming is a scientifically controversial matter. Summarizing a different opinion from the orthodox with the mere scientific denial, as was the case in Brazil with the vaccine against Covid, impairs understanding and does nothing to help dialogue.”

I don’t know if Magalhães is deliberately lying or is just very misinformed, but the claim that man-made warming is a contentious matter at congresses in the area is false. Monitoring scientific journals unequivocally shows that questions like Molion’s are not taken seriously by virtually anyone. The controversy mentioned by Magalhães does not exist.

It’s kind of embarrassing to have to explain this to a professor at USP, but references to the debate of “ideas” and “one party” have no place in science. If your ideas are not based on rigorously conducted experiments and observations and submitted to the scrutiny of other members of the scientific community, they should not have a place in an academic journal. There is no multipartyism about the law of gravity or ideological pluralism about the theory of evolution. To deny this is to open the door to historical setbacks.

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