Unfortunately for him, it's about defamation and it's about science, about which Steyn knows little. And he demonstrates this with every post he makes on scientific topics.
For example, the other day he wrote
Science advances through dogged contrarians testing the "settled science", not through glassy-eyed consensus acolytes prostrating themselves before "one proven answer".This is just wrong. Worse, it's silly.
Science does not advance by testing "settled science." There are no scientists today testing Newton's laws with ever more precise micrometers. Geologists do not repeatedly do analyses to confirm or deny the theory of plate tectonics. No one is yet again measuring the mass of the electron, to be sure it's isn't wildly different from the consensus number.
Science advances by testing the edges of knowledge, where things are still not settled. Scientists -- real scientists -- accept the existence of, say, he greenhouse effect -- because that's what the evidence shows. They aren't endlessly verifying its existence or replicating the evidence for it -- what would be the point, any more than doing endless lab bench experiments on colliding marbles to see if energy is conserved.
In fact, there are essentially no "dogged contrarians" (Steyn's term) in science, because they invariably look like poseurs and fools and real scientists don't have time for such people. Because such people aren't intellectually serious.
Being a good scientist is, to a very significant degree, about knowing where to look for problems -- about understanding what has been proven, and then going to its edge to test and probe for weaknesses, deviations, and new phenomena. But these only occur at the edge of scientific knowledge, never at the middle of scientific knowledge.
This is a very real and very large part of why science has been so successful for the last 400 years -- when it knows something, it knows it. It doesn't spend endless time repeatedly confirming old knowledge, as if the second law of thermodynamics is true only by opinion, like what is the best Frank Sinatra song. Opinions change. Bodies of scientific knowledge don't.
This is something contrarians usually get wrong. Michael Crichton liked to say that consensus had no place in science. Wrong! There is consensus all over science -- about Newton's Laws of Motion, the Laws of Thermodynamics, the existence of quarks, the basics of radiative transfer, and countless other things.
If there is new knowledge to be found, it will be at the edges of existing knowledge, not at its middle. Maybe Newton's laws don't hold over scales larger than galactic. Maybe quarks behave unusually at very high densities of quark-gluon plasmas. Maybe internal climate variablity occurs a little more rapidly than models simulate.
But the basics are sound. Ken Caldeira said recently, "...we have as much confidence in the basic climate science as we have in the fundamental science of plate tectonics or biological evolution." Go to any science conference, and you will hear what scientists are talking about -- it certainly isn't an endless rehashing of the basics.
There is consensus about the basics: CO2 is a strong greenhouse gas. It causes at least 2 C of warming when doubled. 2 C is a lot of warming.
This is the "settled science." And what's unsettled -- perhaps, as many lines of evidence suggest, equilibrium climate sensitivity is more like 3 C, or even larger -- isn't necessarily reassuring. Uncertainty cuts both ways, and its error bars are far more serious than those on Shirley Temple's greatness.