PNS is not an excuse to legitimize crank arguments

Posted February 2nd, 2013 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Interfaces of science and policy

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. ]

43 Responses to “PNS is not an excuse to legitimize crank arguments”

  1. “Tallbloke apparently believes a theory has been confirmed that would overturn Einstein’s theory of relativity…”

    Hi Sylvia, thanks for linking to this old and interesting post on my website. I hope you’ll permit me to provide a brief response to your observation of my apparent ‘crankiness’.

    There are actually several ways in which Dayton Miller’s empirical observations can be reconciled with relativity theory. I won’t bore you with the technical details, but I will point out that it was Einstein, not me, who said that his theory would be overturned if Miller’s 1920′s experimental results(successfully replicated in 2002 by Galaev) were correct.

    “I believe that I have really found the relationship between gravitation and electricity, assuming that the Miller experiments are based on a fundamental error. Otherwise, the whole relativity theory collapses like a house of cards.”

    — Albert Einstein, in a letter to Robert Millikan, June 1921 (in Clark 1971, p.328)

    “My opinion about Miller’s experiments is the following. … Should the positive result be confirmed, then the special theory of relativity and with it the general theory of relativity, in its current form, would be invalid. Experimentum summus judex. Only the equivalence of inertia and gravitation would remain, however, they would have to lead to a significantly different theory.”

    — Albert Einstein, in a letter to Edwin E. Slosson, July 1925

    Like you, I’m not an astrophysicist, and so as a historian and philospher of science, I content myself with flagging up interesting results which call out for further examination and thought, rather than sweeping ‘inconvenient truths’ under the dusty carpet of history.

    As Einstein said: Experimentum summus judex – Experiment is the final arbiter. Feynman agreed with him. So do I.

  2. Steve Bloom says:

    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.

  3. An alternative interpretation to Steve Bloom’s would be that the Arctic Oscillation turns negative around seven years after the ~65yr Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation does, and this increases the occurrence of blocking highs over Southern Greenland. It last happened in the late 1940′s and there were heavy snowfalls in northern Europe as a result.

    An old farmer I was talking to three years ago told me he was snowed in on his farm near Hawarth W. Yorks in 1947 – in June.

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    Sure, Rog, for the moment I’ll take your word about the similarity of the late ’40s in the UK (pointer to data, please), but now explain the rest of the global pattern. Don’t forget you need a physics-based explanation, not just a convenient confluence of cycles (one of which, note, arguably doesn’t even exist).

  5. Steve Bloom says:

    Also, Rog, re your first comment, I looked at your Einstein post and all I can say is: Ether, srsly?

  6. Hi Steve,

    As interplanetary and interstellar space continues to fill up with more and more newly discovered (or at least theorised) virtual pairs, Higgs bosons, electromagnetic plasma tubes, post-normal string and so on, it becomes clearer that ‘the cold empty vacuum of space’ spoken of in obsolete text books isn’t so empty after all.

    What name one might choose to apply to this dynamic medium is obviously a matter of personal taste, but for a mirthful wag like me, Aether seems to cover it quite nicely. ;-)

    Remember that Einstein’s early papers postulated an Aether too.

  7. Steve: “explain the rest of the global pattern”

    I have no intention of filling Sylvia’s delightful website with an in-depth theory of climate. If you’re interested in cyclic phenomena and what their causes are, visit mine.

    By the way, Nature just published an article stating that my cosmo-climate theory, as expounded by Abreu et al, “is definitely not Astrology. This is science.”

    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/nature-print-edition-features-solar-planetary-theory/

  8. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Steve, Thank you very much for filling in the blanks with respect to predictions of future snowfall in the UK – I have updated the post to include your comment.

  9. Sylvia A further detail you might want to correct is that the ‘individual scientist’ was Dr David Viner, scientific adviser to the government. Jerry’s point about the UK’s subsequent unpreparedness for the severe winter weather since is apropos. The number of pensioners dying from cold related illnesses has more than trebled in the last four years to over 25,000/annum. A shocking indictment of failed policy.

    While you’re in the mood for correcting your post, please would you emphasise it was Einstein and not me who said his theory would be overturned if Miller’s empirical observations not “theory” were to be verified (which they were in 2002).

    Many thanks.

  10. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Roger,

    Here is a direct quote of your own words in that post:

    “This does not bode well for Big Bang or General Relativity. Einstein himself knew that if Miller’s experiments were successful, the jig was up:”

    So at least at the time your wrote the post, you appeared to believe it. Now, in your comments you say you believe these can be reconciled. If you can back that up,you may post a link rather than “bore us with the technical details” but as I am in no position to judge, I am not going to incorporate it into the post.

    Are you blaming scientists that there was poor preparedness for an unknown unknown? According to the article in the Independent, UK was already experiencing warmer winters:

    “The effects of snow-free winter in Britain are already becoming apparent. This year, for the first time ever, Hamleys, Britain’s biggest toyshop, had no sledges on display in its Regent Street store. “It was a bit of a first,” a spokesperson said.”

    “Fen skating, once a popular sport on the fields of East Anglia, now takes place on indoor artificial rinks. Malcolm Robinson, of the Fenland Indoor Speed Skating Club in Peterborough, says they have not skated outside since 1997. “As a boy, I can remember being on ice most winters. Now it’s few and far between,” he said.”

    But Viner is quoted as saying:
    “Heavy snow will return occasionally, says Dr Viner, but when it does we will be unprepared. “We’re really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time,” he said.”

    Link to article: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

  11. Viner was at the same workshop in 1999 as Mike Hulme, where Hulme presented a paper on uncertainty containing this passage:

    “Numerous examples were presented throughout the first Workshop to illustrate important uncertainties
    needing to be accounted for at different stages of an impacts assessment. A number of standard techniques
    were also described for addressing these uncertainties. The fact that climate change impact studies seldom
    apply such procedures suggests that proper guidelines are urgently required by the research community. It
    also draws a shroud over much of the published research on climate change impacts which may, at best,
    be understating the uncertainties, and at worst, providing blatantly misleading information. This is an
    uncomfortable situation for informing the decision process.”

    Yet there is David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia a couple of years later, misleading the public in daily newspapers and the government behind closed doors by making cocksure statements about highly uncertain scenarios. Even though he’d been made fully aware by his colleague Mike Hulme that unknown unknowns made prognosis well nigh impossible.

    he even co-edited the conference papers with Hulme afterwards, so “I took a comfort break while he said that” isn’t going to suffice.

    http://www.pik-potsdam.de/members/cramer/publications/edited-books/ew-2_full.pdf

    My summary of what Einstein said is just that. A summary of what Einstein said

  12. willard says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Sylvia.

    You might notice that a frolicsome bunny appeared at Eli’s just after the discussion about PNS. If you read the guest appearance over there, you’ll notice similarities between the frolicsome bunny and Roger’s.

    First, there is this use of memes, like the British Socialists Kills the Elderly, which has been used over and over again at Bart’s and Keith’s, among other places.

    Second, there is this outright falsity:

    > My summary of what Einstein said is just that. A summary of what Einstein said

    Here was the quote you provided:

    > This does not bode well for Big Bang or General Relativity.

    I swear I could hear Roger talking when I read those words, not Albert, and that Roger is expressing some kind of judgement there regarding some anticipated result.

    Roger should know already that philosophers are usually good at the quoting game.

  13. Eli Rabett says:

    Thank you Silvia. Having read this series and contemplated, Eli thinks it necessary to introduce a new concept, pre-normal science (TM Eli Rabett). The stage at which something has been observed but no one quite knows where it came from, what it means (science) or what to do about it (policy).

    For many issues the science is sufficient and there is really no need to do anything, but the initial flailing about for a scientific solution can produce long lasting post normal science policy responses which are pernicious, and involve serious denial of both reality and the nature of the policy incursions.

    Take, for example, relativity. The impetus, the Michelson Morley experiment, was reconciled by Einstein’s theory of special relativity followed by the general theory, but in the ~15 years before it became established as normal science (e.g. before a strong consensus grew) there was all sorts of off the wall hand waving which, some of those who disagreed with Einsteins theories did so as a matter of taste and coupled their objections to political critiques of science and Einstein which echo down to today.

    Consider some of the issues that have arisen over the past thirty or forty years, AIDS/HIV, stratospheric ozone destruction by cfcs, environmental tobacco smoke, acid rain, climate change, etc.

    As these issues gained attention, we entered the pre-normal science stage. What was the cause? How could they be dealt with? Every sort of crazy idea was proposed and indeed they were. Normal science sorted through these, discarding the ones that were falsified by further, targeted and more detailed observations.

    But did the off the wall theories really go away. Well, no, their proposers still clutch them strongly, but, mostly they are ignored except on obscure blogs (Hi Reg:)

    Where it gets tricky is if there is a persisting economic interest that arose in the pre-normal science stage. Even when normal science has reached a consensus it is economically or philosphically (see evolution) impossible for some to accept that consensus and they are willing to invest in the post normal science policy blockade.

    The key is to realize that choosing up sides happens in the Pre Normal Science stage before the scientific consensus emerges, but it persists afterwards but is only important if there are economic or philosophical drivers blocking acceptance of the science.

  14. Truthseeker says:

    Let me suggest an idea that will probably not go down well who think that “post normal science” (the concept, not this website) has any validity whatsoever.

    The universe only works one way. There is only one (often complex) reason why any particular observed effect occurs. The universe is not a democracy and is not swayed by what people think, regardless of how many people think it. Consensus means nothing to the universe or the correct understanding of it. Verifiable observations, repeatable methodology and specific results is what science is. Taking good science and building something that works in the real world is what engineering is. Anything else is speculation.

    Computer models are just confirmation bias powered by terra-flops of CPU cycles. There is nothing in a computer model that was not put in there by the authors, by definition. Regardless of the quality of the input data, the interactions are only those that the model authors believe exist. This is not science. The spectacular failure of climate models is a relevant example of this departure from real science to a post normal version of it.

    Anyone who is concerned with a consensus is concerned about politics, not science. Opinions are irrelevant. Qualifications are irrelevant. Consensus is irrelevant. Observations, methodology and results are everything. There is nothing else as far as real science is concerned.

  15. Hi Willard,
    I am not an anonymous coward. My sole contribution to Josh Halpern’s thread is in response to his comment on Jerry’s status as a senior philosopher here:
    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2013/01/reader-rabett.html?showComment=1359830253421#c5466123528145084767
    My name is Roger Tattersall and I gained my history and philosophy of science degree at Leeds, long after Jerry Ravetz ran the department. I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of seminars he gave there after he had moved to new pastures. I remade his acquaintance after alerting him to an article on PNS written by someone who doesn’t understand it.

    You may be interested in a couple of short essays Jerry wrote for publication on my website:
    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/?s=ravetz

    The article about Dayton Miller some like to use as a stick to beat me with was written three years ago just after I started my site. and I was using a provocative style to try to get some lively debate going. However, it is factual, and even my statement that you highlight is fair comment because all scientific theories are eventually superseded.

    There are hypotheses which could reconcile Miller’s undoubtedly firm results (successfully replicated with modern equipment by Yuri Galaev in 2002), with relativity, although Einstein couldn’t have known that at the time. I didn’t either, until I investigated further after that article was published.

    Einstein’s worries were translated into consensus action to erroneously falsify Miller’s results. Something we’ve seen plenty of over the last 20 years in climate science too. For an example, have a look at Benestad and Schmidt’s hatchet job on Nicola Scafetta and his reply to them, which was stonewalled by the authors and journal editor, even though they knew full well his criticism was spot on. Benestad is even still citing the fatally flawed study in further work.
    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/nicola-scafetta-comments-on-solar-trends-and-global-warming-by-benestad-and-schmidt/

  16. [...] berating Jerry for pointing out the negative consequences of alarmist claims made 12 years ago. It’s a bit of a rant, but not bad as spectator sport. The assembled warmista are trying to damn Ravetz by linking to one [...]

  17. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Eli: good observation, which would seem to explain why economics advances one funeral at a time. What you are calling the Pre-Normal Science phase is also important because these preconceptions, as well as vested interests can frame research agendas. If many of the “skeptics” had their way, there would be no government funding for science (other than for defense purposes), and no studies of climate change to begin with.

    Truthseeker: without models, how would you project future trends in a complex system? Do you think this can be achieved within error-bar levels of uncertainty? And without consensus, how can action be taken on what is learned through science when there are conflicting results and/or interpretations?

    Willard: you must be referring to the person who keeps bringing up “Mike”…

    Tallbloke – In response to the post on your site:
    You give yourself too much credit for my choice of terminology. The reason I started to use the term “cranks” instead of “deniers” is because of a slide in a presentation by Jeroen van der Sluijs, which reminded me that it is the term used by Funtowicz and Ravetz in a table in their 1990 book on Uncertainty and Quality in Science for Policy. In my comments on Jerry’s recent work, I wanted to adhere as much as possible to the terminology used in PNS. As a bonus, used with the term “climate”, and or “contrarians”, it forms an alliteration – much easier on the tongue, as well as easier to remember.

    I never argued that climate science is perfect or does not face institutional challenges with respect to policy – there are legitimate critiques of science even if it is difficult to make them in the current context. The argument in my posts is simply that this is not an excuse for legitimizing crank arguments.

    Why now? Because the issue did not just go away on its own. I would have preferred not to have to write about this at all. But Jerry’s WUWT article was actually published as a journal article and somebody has to respond to it. As someone with a publication on PNS, and a blog inspired by it, I have a stake in the PNS discourse, but I have also been doing other things and could not respond properly without revisiting the literature and reviewing new material. As much as I have been inspired by it, if PNS cannot come to grips with cranks, I will also have to consider whether or not to dissociate myself from it and stick to Gregory Bateson, who, in 1958, alluded to a “new kind of science” for which there was “as yet no satisfactory name.”

  18. willard says:

    tallbloke,

    Thank you for your heartfelt testimony.

    In my previous comment, I made two points.

    The first and main one was that your refusal to admit expressing a judgement has no merit. I fail to see where your remarks on Miller nor your latest post acknowledge this point. An honourable commenter would address one’s main point, tallbloke.

    The second was that you used memes, not unlike a frolicsome bunny. This second point was not to suggest that you might be the frolicsome one. It was only there to show that you argue in the same spirit as him. See for instance your coatracking of Benestad’s name into our discussion.

    This lacks honour.

    ***

    If you read again that latest thread at Eli’s, and if you also read the thread at The Policy Lass referenced in the comments at Eli’s, even you should see that I always took Jerry’s defence.

    Sylvia’s point is quite simple, really: Jerry might have a point in saying that we should pay due diligence to the contrarians’ brands (paraphrasing, of course), but he should at least come up with good examples. So far, he has not. To me, this is almost an existential proof that Jerry’s a philosopher.

    No, I’m not even kidding. Philosophers like Ian Hacking made their bread and butter out of looking into historical documents to show how philosophers’ rational reconstructions beautified the development of science. Philosophers who work akin to conceptual archeologists are keen to go where no rationalists have went before, not even Eli: there is a point in going back in “pre-pre-normal times”, a concept I now released under Creative Commons Share-Alike.

    ***

    These two points should provide you the secret handshake your “anonymous coward” point is seeking. Speaking of which, I think I’ve just proved that publishing one’s name is not enough to communicate with honour.

    My name is willard. The work under my name is my honour.

    What about yours, tallbloke?

    PS: WP has a problem with my comments. This third try is the correct one.

  19. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Willard: Comments should post immediately from anyone who has commented before, and that I have approved. Did you post the previous one from a different computer?

  20. willard says:

    Yes, Sylvia. I use at least four different computers. I believe WP has a problem with my identity (w’s name, w’s email, and w’s site). I can’t post at Steve’s anymore.

    You could add login using a Twitter account. But even then, it does not seem to work at tallbloke’s.

    ***

    I tried to post this at tallbloke’s

    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/sylvia-tognetti-cranking-up-the-volume-far-post-normal/

    This was in response to the comment that starts with:

    > Ah! A visit from one-name-man. The guy who insinuated I had posted on [Eli's] website anonymously rather than using my regular handle.

    I have no reason to believe you are the frolicsome bunny over there, tall one:

    http://rabett.blogspot.ca/2013/01/reader-rabett.html

    Your persona might not appreciate sock puppetry and the comments do not sound like you.

    What I said was that you were using the same kinds usual bag of tricks. This “anonymous coward” is one of them, incidentally.

    Using this trick helps you shy away for answering my criticism. No, tall one, collective nouns are not more kosher than individual ones. On the contrary, in fact, for nominalists.

    You’re applying a double standard, tall one, and your tricks won’t distract me from this point.

    ***

    Here are my strictures on labeling:

    http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/post/1001133215

    I still have three more to go to make it **Seven Strictures on Labeling**, to echo a famous nominalist.

    You should go take a look, Sylvia.

    Perhaps Jerry should too.

    ***

    This is the third time now I try to post this comment, btw.

  21. willard says:

    Please check your spam filter. I’m tired of trying to solve people’s tech problems.

  22. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Willard,
    found and unspammed all of them – did not approve all of them because the rest appear to be duplicates – if any of your comments are still missing let me know.

  23. willard says:

    All is well. Sorry for my impatience. I needed to make dinner.

  24. Sylvia: My copy of ‘Mind and Nature’ sits on my ‘treasured books’ shelf, alongside Lovelock’s ‘Gaia: A new look at Life on Earth’. Indispensable.

    However, there are some serious problems with climate science, both structurally as Jerry Ravetz and Mike Hulme ponted out in their BBC piece, and scientifically, e.g. in the lack of standards for data acquisition, storage, retrieval and statistical manipulation. I find it strange you didn’t engage with my take on those more pertinent issues, rather than dredging up the same old post on speculative cosmology I explained the shape of to you fully two years ago. It makes it look like you’re looking for a cheap shot-easy win, rather than engaging with the substantive issues.

  25. willard says:

    Look, a substantive squirrel.

  26. Jerry Ravetz says:

    Eli Rabett makes a very good point with his idea of ‘pre-normal science’. That is, that sometimes a policy issue arises, which requires decision, and on which the scientific basis is inadequate. Then, as he says, there is a very messy debate, since the normal quality-assurance systems of science cannot operate. People and institutions get invested in one side or another, sometimes scientists also – see Roger Pielke Jr.’s category of ‘stealth advocates’ – who really believe that they are being objective scientists when they are actually advocates. Eli has given examples of such ‘pre-normal’ situations, and there are lots more in the recent publication ‘Late Lessons from Early Warnings’, published by the European Environment Agency. The argument there is that polarised positions, sometimes driven by economic or bureaucratic vested interests, can continue long after the science becomes established. The great example there is Asbestos, which was recognised as a poison in the nineteenth century, and took more than a century to be banned. I have found that many people find it difficult to comprehend that science can indeed be inadequate, and become very emotional when someone says that Truth cannot be attained in such circumstances. I hope that Eli has agreed with me up to this point, for what I have been describing as his ‘pre-normal science’, is also what I have promoted as ‘Post-Normal Science’. There is the motto: ‘facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent’.
    Continuing the dialogue, I would even say that the term ‘pre-normal’ is very useful, for it carries the idea that hopefully the science will some day be adequate, and ‘normal’. If it doesn’t, then the situation can become what has been called a ‘wicked problem’, which is a whole other scene.
    Becoming philosophical, I would say that much of the trouble has been caused by the common assumption that every scientific problem has just one solution, precise to three digits. This is what students learn by example for many years, and it is hard for scientists to adjust their thinking to what happens out there in the world of policy-relevant science, be it pre-normal or post-normal.

  27. willard (@nevaudit) says:

    Asbestos is your friend, as long as you don’t breathe it:

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/environ/asbestos-amiante-eng.php

  28. Jerry: “There is the motto: ‘facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent’.”

    No-one’s about to fry. A lot froze in Siberia this winter though.

    During the latter half of the C20th the Sun was well above averagely active, co2 rose and temperature rose.

    Now, co2 continues to rise, the sun has gone sleepy byes for a couple of decades and temperature has levelled out.

    Nature is performing the crucial experiment for us so we can find out which is the more important driver.

    Al we need to do is keep calm and carry on our preparations for being ready to cope with whatever the weather throws at us.

  29. willard says:

    > [H]opefully the science will some day be adequate, and ‘normal’.

    Demanding parents can testify how it feels like to live with such an ideal for a whole childhood.

    Science is good enough as it is.
    It can better itself, of course.
    And it will, of course.
    But it might never be “normal”.

    For more on the concept of “good enough”, see

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Winnicott

  30. Eli said:
    “choosing up sides happens in the Pre Normal Science stage before the scientific consensus emerges, but it persists afterwards but is only important if there are economic or philosophical drivers blocking acceptance of the science.”

    However, if ‘the consensus’ is itself a political contrivance achieved by suppressing alternative legitimate scientific viewpoints, then those rebels/cranks (TM NUSAP) will persist not because of economic or philosophical considerations, but because they care about scientific ‘truth’ as they see it.

    And when they see ‘the consensus’ gathered together in a single place debating amongst themselves about climate sensitivities ranging from:

    “one of them stated quite openly in a meeting I attended a few years ago that he deliberately lied in these sort of elicitation exercises (i.e. exaggerating the probability of high sensitivity) in order to help motivate political action.”

    to

    “say S falls to ~2.5K. Does it mean the sceptics are correct and we can all go to the pub and forget about AGW?”

    to

    “1.77 K – over 1 K short of the unsupported 2.8 K number that you plucked out of the air.”

    then the rebels/cranks (TM NUSAP) perceive that there is no such thing as ‘the consensus’ but a ragtag mixture of rent-seekers/ranters/liars/realists who don’t own ‘the science’.

    Oceanologist Professor Judith Curry probably knows better than Sylvia (who cheerfully admits her inexpertise) how to distinguish the various elements.

    http://julesandjames.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/a-sensitive-matter.html

  31. [...] Tognetti said: Science can be wrong, but given what is known and accepted by “all but cranks”, it would [...]

  32. [...] 2013/02/02: PNT: PNS is not an excuse to legitimize crank arguments [...]

  33. willard (@nevaudit) says:

    Our tall one omitted the last sentence of the paragraph he quoted from James:

    > It’s essentially the Lindzen strategy in reverse: having firmly wedded themselves to their politically convenient long tail of high values, their response to new evidence is little more than sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “la la la I can’t hear you”.

    Please note how our tall one is tap dancing, Jerry.

  34. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Roger,

    If “cranks” can have “legitimate scientific viewpoints” then the term “science” is also meaningless, regardless of the type.

    As for the persistence of “scientific ‘truth’ as they see it,” I am reminded of an observation made by the anthropologist Roy Rappaport, that when non-quantifiable issues that are important to people are reduced to numbers, conflicts escalate to matters of high principle that “are no longer resolvable by fact, logic, or even self-interest.” (Rappaport 1996 pdf here)

    The context was an issue in which certain kinds of risk were being ignored or downplayed using oil spill risk analysis models. In the climate context, science may well be downplaying risks also (see discussion and references in my paper – I’m leaving aside climate sensitivity for the moment because I have a class to prepare for). But the distrust is coming from those who don’t even want to recognize that there is a problem and whose world view is perhaps being challenged. As there is consistency among different lines of evidence, perhaps it will help to move away from the obsession with uncertainties in models, and consider value conflicts.

  35. andrew adams says:

    The number of pensioners dying from cold related illnesses has more than trebled in the last four years to over 25,000/annum. A shocking indictment of failed policy.

    Umm, citation needed. That doesn’t seem to tie in with what I see here

    http://www.poverty.org.uk/67/index.shtml

  36. andrew adams says:

    Just to be clear, it’s the “trebled in the last four years” bit I have a problem with, I’m not disputing the 25,000 figure but this is a long-standing problem.

  37. willard says:

    Perhaps Jerry should compare and contrast our tall one’s rendering of Nic Lewis:

    > 1.77 K – over 1 K short of the unsupported 2.8 K number that you plucked out of the air. (You can check the 9% change back to my original, detailed, calculations.) (Nic Lewis)

    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/consensus-what-consensus-the-lie-comes-undone/

    with James’:

    > I have some doubts about Nic Lewis’ analysis, as I think some of his choices are dubious and will have acted to underestimate the true sensitivity somewhat. For example, his choice of ocean heat uptake is based on taking a short term trend over a period in which the observed warming is markedly lower than the longer-term multidecadal value. I don’t think this is necessarily a deliberate cherry-pick, any more than previous analyses running up to the year 2000 were (the last decade is a natural enough choice to have made) but it does have unfortunate consequences. Irrespective of what one thinks about aerosol forcing, it would be hard to argue that the rate of net forcing increase and/or over-all radiative imbalance has actually dropped markedly in recent years, so any change in net heat uptake can only be reasonably attributed to a bit of natural variability or observational uncertainty. Lewis has also adjusted the aerosol forcing according to his opinion of which values are preferred – concidentally, he comes down on the side of an answer that gives a lower sensitivity. His results might be more reasonable if he had at least explored the sensitivity of his result to the assumptions made. Using the last 30y of ocean heat data and simply adopting the official IPCC forcing values rather than his modified versions (since after all, his main point is to criticise the lack of coherence in the IPCC report itself) would add credibility to his analysis. A still better approach would be to use a model capable of representing the transient change, and fitting it to the entire time series of the various relevant observations. Which is what people like Aldrin et al have done, of course, and which is why I think their results are superior.

    http://julesandjames.blogspot.ca/2013/02/a-sensitive-matter.html

    Does the first comment count as en extended-peer review?

    The tap-dancing around the concept of consensus also deserves due diligence.

  38. Bill Hartree says:

    Tallbloke said:

    “Sylvia A further detail you might want to correct is that the ‘individual scientist’ was Dr David Viner, scientific adviser to the government.”

    Hi, Rog, can I suggest that it is from Jerry that you should request a correction, since he stated that the claim about an end to snow in Britain was made by the UK Met Office, which is quite separate from Viner’s institute. Jerry has, it would seem, libelled the Met Office – something he has in common with numerous climate contrarians.

  39. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    I just posted this reply to Tallbloke on the Talkshop:

    ReTallbloke comment: “By the way Sylvia, much as I hate to say it, I think that the PNS ‘brand’ was probably irreversably tarnished after Stephen Schneider took it up.”

    I met Stephen Schneider at a workshop, a year or so before he passed on, and actually had a conversation with him about this. If you are versed in PNS literature, you might recall I wrote an article on PNS, “Science in a double-bind” revisiting Bateson, which I mentioned to him because of his writing on science as being in a “double-ethical-bind.” His reply, “I lived it..” If you read the paper attached to my first post, there is some mention of Schneider’s experience. But neither you or Jerry have responded to any of the substantive points raised in either of my posts – instead, changing the subject and trying to get me to respond to your blog. Pardon me for being selective in the use of my time. Good bye.
    ~~~~
    Since the thread started here, I would rather keep it here, and on topic. I also turned down a post from Jerry that simply pointed to another post at the tallbloke’s as an example of constructive discussion, which is what we have tried to have here. He is welcome to post it in the comments if he wishes.

  40. What is problematic is that good scientists are always self-critical, and anti-scientist evangelicals always see this as weakness. We went through this in epidemiology for several decades, during which experimentalists used epidemiologists’ own arguments for uncertainty to trash the whole approach. But what I find most distressing (and immoral) is to see intelligent people debating fine details of uncertain predictions when millions of people and other species (mostly not in the countries where these theoretical debates are occurring) are now suffering dire personal consequences of the increased frequency and amplitude of extreme weather events associated with global warming. The fact that these consequences are embedded in complex relationships among population increases, consumption patterns, politics and land use seems to be taken as an excuse for inaction. It’s like saying, in the face of people dying from an epidemic, well, the causes are complex, so we can’t act, when in fact a few relatively simple, evidence-based actions can at least slow down the rate of new infections. And then we continue to learn on the go. Just because we can’t understand or predict everything doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. I am not convinced we can stop the unstable climate that is now upon us. But I know people can find creative ways to adapt and live on this planet (in fact I see many communities and networks using PNS – although they wouldn’t call it such – to move in more adaptable directions), some of which will have the double benefit of mitigating the original stimuli.

  41. Sylvia S Tognetti says:
    February 4, 2013 at 10:07 am
    Roger,

    If “cranks” can have “legitimate scientific viewpoints” then the term “science” is also meaningless, regardless of the type.

    Sylvia, if sociologists are to sit in judgement on whose scientific views are legitimate and whose are “cranky” then that is what will make “science” meaningless.

    As Jerry points out regarding your pejoritive use of half a label (Cranks/Rebels) from one of his NUSAP diagrams:

    “The difference between a crank and a rebel may become clear only in retrospect. Which was Galileo? He spent a huge part of his working life on a theory that anyone could have told him would never succeed.”

    If the definition of “crankiness” is to be “views with contrary implications to those of the institionalised science consensus” then all you have is an appeal to authority. That’s a logical fallacy.

    “those who don’t even want to recognize that there is a problem and whose world view is perhaps being challenged.”

    The world has many problems. Fortunately the level of co2 in the atmosphere isn’t one of them. This is because the hydrological cycle has massive redundancy in its capability to adjust the general circulation of the atmosphere as a negative feedback to any increased co2 forcing. Forget positive water vapour feedback, it’s a failed conjecture.

    “As there is consistency among different lines of evidence,”

    This is too woolly to reply to in a specific way. Paradigms accrete lots of confirmatory narratives – that’s ‘normal-science’.

    “perhaps it will help to move away from the obsession with uncertainties in models, and consider value conflicts.”

    I can see why anthropologists, and policy people, and climate scientists who know perfectly well that their models can’t predict the future would want to do that. But it doesn’t change the fact that the underlying co2-driven-climate theory is fatally flawed.

    “can I suggest that it is from Jerry that you should request a correction, since he stated that the claim about an end to snow in Britain was made by the UK Met Office, which is quite separate from Viner’s institute.”

    “According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

    CRU/UEA works very closely with the MET office, as Bill Hartree knows full well.

  42. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Roger,

    It isn’t the sociologists making judgments on legitimate scientific views. It is the climate scientists themselves, whose views have been expressed not only through journal articles but also through several scientific societies, National Academies, the IPCC, etc.
    Science is, in essence, a process of validating information, aka, a gatekeeping activity if you will. Are you saying that all of those organizations are part of a conspiracy? I view it as a valid and legitimate basis for authority. Galileo backed up his claims with valid reasoning.

    I know all about confirmatory narratives and mutual reinforcement, but scientists are inherently skeptical and to disconfirm the existing narrative, you have to come up with a valid reason, i.e., that has been accepted by peers. If you and Jerry cannot respond to fallacies in the arguments of the “skeptics” that have been repeatedly raised in the climate blogs, I don’t see why I should spend the time to dissect what appear to be dubious arguments on your blog.

    Your quote from Dr. Viner sayd he is associated with CRU/UEA, not the Met Office.

    On the aether matter – I’ll admit that I pointed to that one because it was a quick and easy way to make a point. Does it have any kind of a connection to your views on climate? I noticed that you drew on information from James de Meo . I’m not familiar with his aether ideas but someone once brought his “Saharasia” hypothesis to my attention. Interesting idea but reading it set off my BS detector, big time. He also doesn’t think that HIV is caused by the AIDS virus, or something like that…

    Sylvia

  43. […] jury will get to decide whether they were making good faith arguments, or not. In a few previous posts, I reviewed some of the hockey stick allegations to make that case that these so-called climate […]

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