New normal or post-normal?

Posted February 8th, 2011 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times

After explaining what a normal climate is, Heidi Cullen asks whether there actually is a normal climate at all, given that each of the past three decades has been hotter than the previous one, with 2000-2009 being the hottest on record. But nevertheless, she goes on to refer to the “new normals”, defined as a region’s weather averaged over 30 years, which are updated at the end of each decade. These show that “on average, conditions were about 3.6 F warmer from 2001-2010 than from 1971-1980.” As it will likely take a long time before we actually reach a new normal, it seems like it is time for a new term to characterize this interim period.

Again, Welcome to Post-Normal Times! And note that I am no longer the only one using the term. Since Zia Sardar published his article in the journal Futures, characterizing it as a time of Chaos, Contradictions and Complexity, several others have written rejoinders that generally accept and elaborate on the premise, and on what might be necessary to achieve a new normal.

In a somewhat different context, even Joe Romm says that “these are Post Normal Times” and that we are now in a Post Normal Climate. His post was in response to Cuccinelli’s fishing expedition – i.e., a Civil Investigative Demand from the Attorney General of Virginia, which suggests that Michael Mann might have committed fraud for not disclosing the Post-Normal nature of climate science in a grant application, and conceding to operating in an environment of uncertainty. As if there ever were certainty in anything other than death and taxes, let alone science, and demonstrating that Cuccinelli has either unrealistic expectations of science and/or does not have a clue as to what he is talking about. Nevermind his attempt to criminalize the normal practice of science now pending in a circuit court.

Cuccinelli is not alone is spreading confusion around the concept of Post-Normal Science, at least as I understood the concept when I embraced it. However, I chose Post-Normal Times as the theme for this blog so as to shift the focus from a wonky discussion of science philosophy to the policy context.

This blog has been MIA as controversy has swirled around the concept of Post-Normal Science, beginning with Jerry’s posts last year at WUWT, which gave me a bad case of writer’s block, Judith Curry’s engagement of climate deniers as an extension of the peer review process, and continuing with the recent Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate. The latter has the Policy Lass wondering if PNS is tailor-made for the denialist crowd, and has Deep Climate wondering if the PNS concept has been hijacked altogether. Full-time work over the past two years took the oxygen out of this blog, just as climate deniers are paralyzing the policy process and sucking the oxygen away from finding solutions. I’m still here but comments on PNS and Lisbon etc are going to have to be a separate post, coming next.

53 Responses to “New normal or post-normal?”

  1. Jerry Ravetz says:

    Hello Sylvia and everybody -

    Sorry for long absence. Just to say that while some people see PNS as ‘tailor-made for the denialist crowd’, others see it as a substitution of political correctness for scientific integrity, and hence a cheats’ charter for the warmistas. I’ve also seen PNS quoted casually and completely erroneously. I suppose that all that is the inevitable price to pay for a concept becoming popular.

    Our Lisbon workshop on Reconciliation was a great success. Everyone was rather pleased to see that those on the other side were really quite human after all. And the spirit of civility really did work. There were some sharp exchanges, and also some useful technical discussions and agreement to work on particular disagreements.

    All the best -


  2. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Hello Jerry, and thanks for commenting. I have another post (that I think is near done) revisiting the basics of PNS. I still find the basic concepts valuable but also find that like many other areas of science, PNS too can be misused, and unless I am missing something, it has not adequately dealt with the corruption of the extended peer review process with deliberate disinformation. The context of the Lisbon workshop was your post on WUWT, now published as a journal article in Futures, which takes a number of claims at face value that have little if any merit. e.g., if one accepts the contrarian premises of “Climategate” one has to, at a minimum, say where one disagrees with all of the subsequent investigative reports that found nothing wrong. The extensively plagiarized Wegman report is also not a reliable source for doubts about “the hockey stick”. I will provide more details and links in my next post, which I swear is close to done.

    I know readers don’t come here for reasons I haven’t been blogging – mostly complexities in my personal life, but I would also like to get beyond arguing with contrarians and in the future, would like to bring the focus of this blog to creating a proper place for science (the notion of restoring it to a proper place rests on the assumption that it had one to begin with), and how it might help navigate the backloop to some new normal.

  3. [...] have gone down too well.  At least she’s stopped calling us ‘deniers’ after the quiet word I had on her site two years ago this coming week. But she obviously feels that the right way to [...]

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