Jerry’s response to my previous post, does not actually respond to the question of whether or not the climate “skeptics” are making good faith arguments – or are simply engaged in an act of deceitful parody, which starts with the act of calling themselves “skeptics.” He may well have a some sort of rationale for sounding like one himself – a different rationality from mine which has little relationship to science, but mostly, he has failed to convince me that his more recent material actually follows from his earlier ideas about Post-Normal Science, which I carefully drew on to make my case. This is an observation also made by Willard in a more active comment thread over in the Rabett hole.
While PNS has raised legitimate issues about the adequacy of scientific institutions and practices in what have become post-normal times, it does not provide an excuse for legitimizing incoherent arguments. The bottom line is that, if PNS is to retain any relevance going forward, it is important to be able to identify cranks and hold them to the same standard as real scientists when evaluating the quality of information. In other words: to be able to distinguish between those with legitimate disagreements and those who don’t accept the consensus either because they don’t understand the science, or for ideological reasons. Boundaries are also important, lest cranks become the evaluators…
Jerry also did not comment on any of the examples I used to illustrate bad faith, which included numerous references, links included. To quote ‘Lucy Skywalker’ (who he cites), apparently “no amount of good references is good enough for someone whose mind is already made up.” I’ll confess that I did not take the time to click through all of Skywalker’s links either, as anyone who evangelizes the plagiarized, misleading and discredited Wegman report to dismiss the hockey stick has simply lost their credibility. She also references Benny Peiser’s “challenge to the legitimacy of [Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming] CAGW’s claim of consensus”, but all three links she provides go to a code “401” non-existent page. Both of these cases were among the detailed examples I elaborated on, and for which some of the key source material can be found only using the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine”, because they are no longer available at their original locations. Could it be that they were taken down out of embarrassment after they were thoroughly debunked?
Instead, Jerry provided more anecdotes and vague assertions, but I will try to briefly respond to his main points, one at a time.
Regarding the “impassioned lecture by John Schellnhuber, detailing his ‘cascade of catastrophes’ as if they were sober predictions based on tested models”:
Without the direct quote from Schellnhuber himself, it is difficult to tell what was actually said and whether or not certainty was implied or overstated. But it is my understanding that, as a general rule, models leave out extreme events because their impacts depend heavily on when and where they happen, and models are simply not good tools for credibly capturing randomly timed and non-linear events. However, I do think it is important that such events be included in scenarios, and that it is important for scientists to make the case that such events are plausible, and are something we should worry about. It is also important to keep in mind that giving a speech is not the same thing as doing science, and that informed opinions of scientists should be welcomed, as long as they are stated as such.
The Meteorological Office statement that snow would become a distant memory is anecdotal, and also irresponsible – if it was actually said.
Even with climate change, it still gets cold, and even snows in the winter, perhaps even more so now that there is more moisture in the atmosphere. I did not see a citation for this one. Update: Actually, that is not quite what was said. Steve Bloom provides the background on this in the comments that I am now incorporating into the post:
Regarding the second item (the future of snow in the UK, it was a newspaper quote (in the Independent) of an individual scientist, not by the Met Office as such, and was anticipating conditions in 2020, so regardless it’s a bit early to be criticizing it.
But the 2020 prognosis is almost certainly wrong, although for a very interesting reason. (This is from recent work done by Francis and Vavrus, primarily.)
It is the case that there was a general expectation from the modeling results circa 2000 that climate zones would continue to shift poleward (consequent to expansion of the tropics) and that the already not-too-snowy UK climate would become even less so, especially if we’re talking London and southern England. That was all fair enough given the science of the time, but then polar amplification threw a large and unanticipated monkey wrench into the works in the form of changes in the northern jet stream.
While the climate zones indeed have continued their northward movement, the jet has slowed and increased its amplitude, making it possible for cold weather to set up and persist farther south than would otherwise have been the case. Worse than that for UK winters, a related change is the much-increased tendency for a persistent high to set up around southern Greenland, with a resulting downstream trough tending to channel high-latitude winter weather straight into the UK.
So, while it would appear that those snow-bearing storms won’t largely taper off (i.e. turn to rain) by 2020, none of this reflects poorly on the scientist who made the statement except insofar as he failed to anticipate an unknown unknown that has made things worse.
Lord Robert May could have done better than to simply base his argument on his own position of authority – which may work better in the UK than in the US, but there is deep consensus around Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), if not about the particulars, such as feedbacks and regional impacts. Science can be wrong, but given what is known and accepted by “all but cranks”, it would require extraordinary evidence to overturn that consensus.
Climategate exonerations may not have been universally accepted but I fail to see where they were lacking in candour, as is alleged in the New Scientist. Nor has anyone made a credible case that the scientists involved were not acting in good faith, even if documentation and record keeping practices could be improved in light of unforeseen demands for greater public accountability as climate science moved from the lab to the policy arena.
Sir John Beddington may have made a poor word choice, but we should be grossly intolerant of cranky and deceitful arguments, even if we might have some sympathy for those who make them – it is unsettling to have ones world view challenged. Given that good science tends to do just that, cranky reactions come with the territory. I could even respect the cranks if they made honest arguments and conceded to value differences, in which case I would no longer dismiss them as cranks.
I have looked at the “critical blogs” Jerry suggests, and I am going to admittedly cherry pick, since they also aren’t worth spending much time on. Tallbloke apparently believes a theory has been confirmed that would overturn Einstein’s theory of relativity… (with thanks to MikeH for noting this one in the comments). As I am not a physicist, I am not even going to try to explain arguments about ether.
I should perhaps revisit Judith Curry’s posts on PNS, but I did recently read her paper on Consensus, and it actually pointed me to a few good references. However, while concluding that the “consensus seeking process used by the IPCC has had the unintended consequence of introducing biases into the both the science and related decision-making processes,” nowhere does she provide any examples to make the case that this has actually happened, or say more specifically why she disagrees with the AGW consensus.
She also writes “consensus among a reference group of experts thus concerned is relevant only if agreement is not sought. If… arrived at by intent, it becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant…” which is quite a broad statement. As she is quoting someone else (Lehrer), I’m not sure I can call it another one of her unsubstantiated allegations, or whether it implies she really thinks that most climate scientists are part of a global conspiracy. She concludes from this passage that “with genuinely well-established scientific theories, ‘consensus’ is not discussed and the concept of consensus is arguably irrelevant.”
As I discussed in my paper, consensus is not sufficient because it tends to exclude processes that are not well understood for which there is insufficient information on which to agree, leaving large uncertainties that are not in our favor. However, Curry, like Joe Bast, apparently rejects a consensus approach without saying how policy could otherwise be informed by what science can offer. Should we act on information that does not have broad acceptance by peers? Or just accept Judge Judy’s verdict? Or only act on tacit knowledge that is so broadly accepted that it is not even discussed? That doesn’t seem to be working – as shown by Oreskes (2004) many if not most journal articles on the subject of global climate change accept the AGW consensus implicitly or do not even question it – which suggests that AGW is a genuinely well-established scientific theory that should fall in the category of “accepted by all but cranks.”
Jerry’s statement: “now that we have had some considerable time without continued warming,” is a gross misinterpretation of what the UK Met Office actually said. He may have cherry-picked this statement from the BBC article he linked to: “If the forecast is accurate, the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades.” But the article also contains this quote from a Met Office spokesman: “this definitely doesn’t mean any cooling – there’s still a long-term trend of warming compared to the 50s, 60s or 70s.” Further clarification can be found on the site of the Met Office itself: “Small year to year fluctuations such as those that we are seeing in the shorter term five year predictions are expected due to natural variability in the climate system, and have no sustained impact on the long term warming.” There is further analysis at Skeptical Science, concisely explained also in this video clip:
Jim Hansen, cited on Judith Curry’s blog, elaborates a bit:
The current stand-still of the 5-year running mean global temperature may be largely a consequence of the fact that the first half of the past 10 years had predominantly El Nino conditions, and the second half had predominantly La Nina conditions.
The approximate stand-still of global temperature during 1940-1975 is generally attributed to an approximate balance of aerosol cooling and greenhouse gas warming during a period of rapid growth of fossil fuel use with little control on particulate air pollution, but quantitative interpretation has been impossible because of the absence of adequate aerosol measurements.
Curry simply dismisses this as simplistic, based on “GWPF reports on the latest decadal simulation from the UK Met Office, which basically predicts no warming for the next 5 years.” This is because, she has more confidence in UKMO predictions than in “Hansen’s back of the envelope reasoning” – which leads me to wonder if she actually read the UKMO statements themselves. Perhaps she can explain how they differ from Hansen’s statements? Note also that the GWPF, aka, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, is directed by Dr. Benny Peiser – who cannot tell the difference between uncertainty about whether or not global warming is human induced, from uncertainty about possible impacts, or between studies of the climate itself from studies of climate policies, or between uncertainty and lack of consensus! (for more on Peiser see the paper attached to my last post)
Jerry often quotes Angela Wilkinson on the “evangelical science” of global warming, but without context or citations, it is difficult to know what she meant by that. In his paper, Jerry suggests that the leading practitioners of this science “propounded, as a proven fact, Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming” leaving “little room for uncertainty.” Since science doesn’t provide “proof”, and I haven’t actually heard any climate scientists say that, he is going to have to back that one up. It is, of course, common to find evangelizers on all sides of any issue of broad scope – I am reminded of Lucy Skywalker’s “conversion” by Al Gore, which was apparently followed by some sort of reversion, which is more typical of “true believers” than of scientists.
One cannot blame Al Gore for becoming a polarizing figure as a result of a media campaign that set out to make him one! I still think we all missed an opportunity for leadership by someone who gets the complex and systemic nature of global issues, not only on climate change, which I probably first became aware of as a result of his first congressional hearings on the subject in the late 1970s – when there was still time to take early action. Spurred by the oil embargo as well as Three Mile Island, there was even momentum towards renewables. Unfortunately Ronald Reagan was then elected, the solar panels came off of the White House, and a few people I know had to switch careers.
I fail to see the relevance of Jerry’s statement about the “consensus focused on the evils of fat while ignoring those of sugar” – even if I agree with it, from my own experience with the evils of sugar, which I have found it best to avoid for many years. Climate change science has at least strived to be an integrated science, in spite of the feudal institutional barriers to cross-disciplinary work. I’ll save that rant for another time, but it has come a long way, even if it still has a long way to go with respect to the social sciences. Again, it is important to distinguish the kind of science that has led to unintended consequences, from the kind of science that investigates those consequences, and tends to lead to a questioning of the legitimacy of existing institutions that got us where we are. But both kinds of science are rooted in the same dysfunctional institutions, because that is all we’ve got. In other words, the practice of science is messy. I agree with Willard, that there is no Normal Science “except perhaps when Kuhn studied it at the dawn of the militaro-industrial complex.” The problem is that it still exists in the public image and expectations of science. And beliefs drive human behavior and decision-making…
And with that, I hope I’m done responding to crank arguments, which are a diversion from the critical challenges presented in Jerry’s earlier work, on how science can support a transition to sustainability – which cannot be achieved without addressing climate and also equity, and which is where I would prefer to focus this blog. I’m happy to continue the conversation with Jerry if we can stick to that.
[Updated, 2-2-2013, 3:35 pm est to incorporate Steve Bloom's comment on the Met Office statement, and to correct a few typos. ]
Following is a response to my last post that I received from Jerry Ravetz this afternoon. He still hasn’t convinced me. I will respond before the end of the week. (Revised Jan 15, 6:45 am)
Letter from Jerry Ravetz:
I have written at great length on ‘climategate’ without convincing Sylvia of my case, or even of my rationality and integrity, so this time I will make only a few brief remarks. I think that our deepest difference is in our perceptions of the opposed sides in the debate. She sees a consensus of the established, high-quality scientific community on the one hand, with an assortment of cranks, prostitutes and self-deluders (as myself) on the other. By contrast, I would argue that one important source of strength and conviction among the opposition has been the perception of bad practice among the mainstream. For that a very important source is the autobiographical account by ‘Lucy Skywalker’, who describes how she was converted by Al Gore, and then painfully discovered ever more shoddy and tendentious science among the ‘alarmists’ (#1). I had my own experience of that sort, when I heard an impassioned lecture by John Schellnhuber, detailing his ‘cascade of catastrophes’ as if they were sober predictions based on tested models. Later I discovered that while not essentially implausible, his scenario was highly speculative. Also, here in the UK many will recall the assurance by the Meteorological Office that by 2010 winter snow would be a fading memory. This had direct consequences on policy, for local authorities then cut their budgets for coping with snow, and when severe winters occurred later in the decade, they were underfunded and unprepared.
Over here, again, the idea that leading mainstream scientists have been sober and cautious in their pronouncements is not borne out by experience. Lord Robert May, in particular, has been a fervent advocate of the cause. Roger Harrabin has a revealing comment about Bob May (#2) . As to ‘climategate’ itself, the various commissions that exonerated the CRU scientists have not had a broad acceptance; the very critical words of New Scientist are significant (#3). If Sylvia wants a sample of intemperate remarks, she could not do better than to read John Beddington’s lecture, where, referring to some unidentified opposition elements, recommends that we should be as ‘grossly intolerant’ of them as of as racialists and homophobes (#4).
I do recommend to Sylvia that she have a look at some of the critical blogs. In particular I recommend Tallbloke’s Talkshop, where mainstream scientists are welcomed into the technical debate, and Judith Curry’s blog, where philosophical questions are discussed. From my experience, the only thing that unites the ‘denialists’ is their denial that ‘the science is settled’. Now that we have had some considerable time without continued warming, and the Met Office has referred to the ill-understood low-frequency effects that might be responsible, it would seem that Bob May was indeed premature in foreclosing further debate (#5).
Making sense of all this is a big job. One could start with Angela Wilkinson’s description of CRU as ‘evangelical science’, an originally radical message that had its ‘Constantine moment’ around 1995. Or one might recall that earlier socially responsible science, eugenics. Just now I am thinking about Nutrition. In one sense this should be a straightforward natural science. People need food of the right sort and quantity; why shouldn’t science be able to advise them? And of course in many ways it does. But then at the fringes, and sometimes right at the core, there is not merely fashion and fads in the science, but also crankiness and corruption. For how many decades was the scientific consensus focused on the evils of fat, while ignoring those of sugar? Such a science is inevitably post-normal; sometimes I wonder whether it is actually ‘wicked’. Given what we know about the difficulties of ‘climate’ as an object of scientific inquiry, elaborated by Mike Hulme (#6) the analogy would seem to be useful.
The question is then, what is a good person to do? In pondering on that, I am pondering on the insights of existentialism, achieved in response to the contradictions and tragedies of left-wing politics. Of course we have to choose our activist cause, but unless we do so with our eyes open we risk being destroyed, politically and ethically. Stalin destroyed Socialism as a noble endeavour, so it is not outlandish to suggest that Al Gore might have done the same to Environmentalism. Zionism has come a long way from the kibbutzim to the settlers. Even the U.S.A. ‘conceived in liberty’, enshrined the sub-humanity of Africans into its Constitution with the ‘three-fifths’ rule for the electorate in slave states. Some would say that these betrayals and contradictions were inherent in the situation as it developed; for others, they could have been avoided. We can never know who was right, and that includes ourselves.
I know that these issues are particularly difficult and painful in the U.S.A., where climate change has been involved in the vicious culture wars between ‘coastal’ and ‘middle’ America. But even this is not new. George Orwell could not find a left-wing publisher for his account of the tragedy of Catalunia. They didn’t want to disrupt the anti-Fascist movement, and then Stalin did it for them shortly afterwards with the Pact of Molotov and Ribbentrop. For me, the most important thing to remember is that when science leaves the lab (as in the climate change issue) it becomes political. Its simplicity is gone, and it then shares all the complexity of politics. This includes ‘night battles’ where friend and foe are confused, shifting alliances, savage internecine struggles, and sudden changes in the deeper significance of events, so that sincere and self-sacrificing activists are always at risk of being stranded. When we understand all that, we will be able to cope, and also to retain our love and compassion for those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement.
1. “Lucy Skywalker”, Curious Anomalies in Climate Science, http://www.greenworldtrust.org.uk/Science/Curious.htm)
2. I remember Lord May leaning over and assuring me: “I am the President of the Royal Society, and I am telling you the debate on climate change is over.”
Lord May’s formidable intellect and the power of his personality may have made it hard for others to find a corner from which to dissent. “The debate is over” was a phrase used in order to persuade Tony Blair that policies were needed to tackle the rise in CO2.
Roger Harrabin, Harrabin’s Notes: Getting the message, 29 May 2010 / BBC News – Science & Environment.
3. Some will argue it is time to leave climategate behind. But it is difficult to justify the conclusion of Edward Acton, University of East Anglia vice-chancellor, that the CRU ‘has been completely exonerated’. Openness in sharing data, even with your critics, is a legal requirement.
But what happened to intellectual candour – especially in conceding the shortcomings of these inquiries and discussing the way that science is done. Without candour, public trust in climate science cannot be restored, nor should it be.
Editorial, New Scientist, 17 July 2010.
4. Sir John Beddington, FRS, closing remarks to an annual conference of 300 scientific civil servants, 3 February 2011.
John Dwyer and Laura Hood, Beddington goes to war against bad science,
5. David Shukman, Climate model forecast is revised, BBC News, Science 7 Environment, 8 January 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20947224
6. Mike Hulme, Why We Disagree About Climate Change, Cambridge U.P. 2009.
Special to the Post-Normal Times
Although the concept of Post-Normal Science (PNS) was a major source of inspiration for The Post-Normal Times (PNT), I was as surprised and baffled as anyone else at turns taken by Jerry Ravetz ever since he posted an essay back in February 2010 at the climate “skeptic” blog WattsUpWithThat (WUWT). The essay, which has long since been published as a journal article, appears to accept what has become the “Climategate” myth at face value. It was followed by a workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate, held January 2011 in Lisbon, for which Jerry was the lead organizer. The agenda of that workshop was to discuss points of agreement and disagreement on some scientific issues, such as the Hockey Stick, regarding which there is little if any actual disagreement within the scientific community and which are well supported by peer reviewed literature, but that are often contested from outside of the normal scientific process, following a very different set of rules.
As if all of the above were not confusing enough, there have also been some non-sensical interpretations of PNS, made not only by the Heartland Institute at its 2011 Sixth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC6), which have little to do with the concept as it was defined by Funtowicz and Ravetz in 1991. These essentially blame PNS for the “abandonment of the scientific method” which presumably led to “Climategate.”
Another incident was the Civil Investigative Demand filed by Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, who went so far as to allege that Michael Mann committed fraud because he did not disclose the post-normal nature of climate science in a grant application. That case was ultimately dismissed by the court on a technicality, with prejudice, without ruling on whether this claim might be considered a valid cause of action.
For anyone just tuning in, PNS has come a long way since the term was coined in 1991, and is now recognized even in the journal Nature, where a recent editorial about a workshop in Hamburg states: “Science becomes ‘post-normal’ when facts are uncertain, stakes high, values in dispute and decisions urgent; in such cases, societal needs must be taken into account to avoid costly mistakes.” As I started graduate school in 1993, after having worked at both the National Academy of Sciences and the former Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, I found that the concept explained a lot with respect to what has been a dysfunctional interface between science and policy, and still does. However, without some common understanding of the term, it could become a meaningless one.
When I started the PNT in 2005, Jerry became an advisor and occasional contributor – and although I have discussed this subject with him, he has not contributed to PNT since he changed course. As for the future, we will just have to see where this discussion goes.
For reasons of practicality, I decided to focus this blog on post-normal “times”, I.e., the context or situations, rather than on what can easily become obtuse discussions of science philosophy that don’t lend themselves very well to the blog format. However, In this very long and long overdue post, I am going to revisit the basic definition of PNS, at least as I understand it, and the role of “extended peer review” as a basis for public participation in science-based decision-making as. In the process, I will address a few questions that were raised in the course of these events, that I refrained from commenting on because I did not have pithy answers:
- Is PNS “tailor made for the denialist crowd because it speaks of science in negative terms”? ( as was suggested by the Policy Lass) or
- Has PNS simply been hijacked? (as was suggested by Deep Climate).
Adopting Ravetz’ (2006) criteria of “negotiation in good faith” as a basis for evaluating the quality of an extended peer review process, and using illustrative cases, I will then want to address the question of how one can:
- distinguish a “good faith negotiation” from a sham – in the context of science for policy,
- identify cranks, and
- evaluate the quality of scientific information when cranks are at the table.
I had a chance to talk with Jerry and other leading PNS practitioners at another Lisbon workshop held in May 2011 in honor of the retirement of Silvio Funtowicz. I also had an opportunity to ask Joseph Bast, the president and CEO of the Heartland Institute, just what he understands “post-normal science” to be. Since ICCC6 was held in Washington DC last year, and they welcomed bloggers as press, I attended it as a correspondent for The Post Normal Times, free of charge.
While at the conference, I happened to sit next to a very pleasant woman from the Ayn Rand Institute, who gave me a book entitled The Logical Leap – which seemed a fitting description of the entire affair. Although PNS does speak about certain kinds of science in negative terms, my overall argument is that the tale of corruption in climate science, as told by cranks and contrarians of various persuasions, only appears to fit this negative narrative if one takes a flying leap over crucial distinctions between the kinds of science that have led to unintended consequences – in which risks tend to be downplayed, and the kinds of science used to understand and address those consequences. It is also important to consider distinctions between different types of knowledge, uncertainty, and peer review – all distinctions that Jerry himself has observed.
That tale of corruption is only believable because of unrealistic public images and expectations of science, e.g., that it provides “proof”, or that it is some sort of a crystal ball. Although skepticism is inherent in the practice of actual science, for reasons that should be obvious, I also argue that many of those who call themselves “skeptics” are actually cranks and contrarians who are performing something like a parody of science. Missing is the crucial wink/nod to indicate it as such – thereby crossing the line from parody to outright deception (see Nachmanovitch 2009), as the act gets mistaken for the real thing by those least informed, and/or cannot tell the difference. The paradox is that parody only sticks when it has some element of truthiness, which means there are lessons in all of this for the practice of science as it enters the policy arena.
Since I still don’t have pithy answers, and it seemed useful to keep this all in one piece as a reference document, I have posted these reflections as a pdf. In response to comments, I may follow-up with shorter posts on some of the sub-topics. Click here to download.
1-10-2013: Updated to fix broken links.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The Word – Sink or Swim|
Apparently expecting the future to be like the past, last week, North Carolina GOP legislators circulated a bill that begged for and just received the Colbert Report treatment. The bill not only dictates that estimates of sea-level-rise (SLR) are to be based only on historical trends, post 1900, and may not take into account scenarios of accelerated rates of SLR. It also forbids state public entities from making policies based on any estimates not produced by the only state agency authorized by the bill to make them – the NC Division of Coastal Management, which may only do so at the request of the Coastal Resources Commission, using said method. Eli the Rabett sniffed out the back story, with lots of links – with more added in the comments.
The bill, apparently based on the advice of one John Droz, was prepared in response to a report of a state science panel that recommended adoption of a 1 meter (39”) rise in sea level by 2100 for purposes of policy and planning. Droz, a retired real estate developer with a degree in physics, and not a single peer-reviewed publication on climate or any other topic, and science advisor to an NC-20 (an advocacy group representing coastal counties) “says he consulted with 30 sea-level experts, most of them not named” in his critique of the science panel estimates. Which is not how science works.
As a consequence of this “fight against sea level rise predictions”, if the bill were to pass, state agencies would be unable to plan for and respond to actual sea level rise, even when using federal funds. According to the Charlotte Observer, a $5 million federally/FEMA funded study being carried out by the NC Division of Emergency Management, would only be able to report a projected range of SLR from 3.9 to 15.6 inches rather than 1 meter.
Which will lead to even higher costs as the state attempts to stabilize beaches already eroding as a result of coastal development patterns.
[Long promised and long overdue post revisiting Post-Normal Science in Post-Normal Times, coming soon….]