Climategate: Plausibility and the blogosphere in the post-normal age.

I’m honored to offer this guest post by Jerome Ravetz, of Oxford University in the UK. Mr. Ravetz is an environmental consultant and professor of philosophy of science best known for his books challenging the assumptions of scientific objectivity, discussing the science wars and post-normal science. Read more about him at his personal web page here, his Oxford page here, or at his blog the Post-normal Times. Also, my thanks to WUWT regular “tallbloke” for his facilitation. – Anthony

Guest post by Jerome Ravetz

At the end of January 2010 two distinguished scientific institutions shared headlines with Tony Blair over accusations of the dishonest and possibly illegal manipulation of information.  Our ‘Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035’  of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is matched by his ‘dodgy dossier’ of Saddam’s fictitious subversions.  We had the violations of the Freedom of Information Act at the University of East Anglia; he has the extraordinary 70-year gag rule on the David Kelly suicide file. There was ‘the debate is over’ on one side, and ‘WMD beyond doubt’ on the other. The parallels are significant and troubling, for on both sides they involve a betrayal of public trust.

Politics will doubtless survive, for it is not a fiduciary institution; but for science the dangers are real.  Climategate is particularly significant because it cannot be blamed on the well-known malign influences from outside science, be they greedy corporations or an unscrupulous State.  This scandal, and the resulting crisis, was created by people within science who can be presumed to have been acting with the best of intentions.  In the event of a serious discrediting of the global-warming claims, public outrage would therefore be directed at the community of science itself, and (from within that community) at its leaders who were either ignorant or complicit until the scandal was blown open.  If we are to understand Climategate, and move towards a restoration of trust, we should consider the structural features of the situation that fostered and nurtured the damaging practices.  I believe that the ideas of Post-Normal Science (as developed by Silvio Funtowicz and myself) can help our understanding.

There are deep problems of the management of uncertainty in science in the policy domain, that will not be resolved by more elaborate quantification.  In the gap between science and policy, the languages, their conventions and their implications are effectively incommensurable.  It takes determination and skill for a scientist who is committed to social responsibility, to avoid becoming a ‘stealth advocate’ (in the terms of Roger Pielke Jr.).  When the policy domain seems unwilling or unable to recognise plain and urgent truths about a problem, the contradictions between scientific probity and campaigning zeal become acute.  It is a perennial problem for all policy-relevant science, and it seems to have happened on a significant scale in the case of climate science.  The management of uncertainty and quality in such increasingly common situations is now an urgent task for the governance of science.

We can begin to see what went seriously wrong when we examine what the leading practitioners of this ‘evangelical science’ of global warming (thanks to Angela Wilkinson) took to be the plain and urgent truth in their case.  This was not merely that there are signs of exceptional disturbance in the ecosphere due to human influence, nor even that the climate might well be changing more rapidly now than for a very long time.  Rather, they propounded, as a proven fact, Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming.  There is little room for uncertainty in this thesis; it effectively needs hockey-stick behaviour in all indicators of global temperature, so that it is all due to industrialisation.  Its iconic image is the steadily rising graph of CO2 concentrations over the past fifty years at the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii (with the implicit assumption that CO2  had always previously been at or below that starting level).  Since CO2 has long been known to be a greenhouse gas, with scientific theories quantifying its effects, the scientific case for this dangerous trend could seem to be overwhelmingly simple, direct, and conclusive.

In retrospect, we can ask why this particular, really rather extreme view of the prospect, became the official one.  It seems that several causes conspired.  First, the early opposition to any claim of climate change was only partly scientific; the tactics of the opposing special interests were such as to induce the proponents to adopt a simple, forcefully argued position.  Then, once the position was adopted, its proponents became invested in it, and attached to it, in all sorts of ways, institutional and personal.  And I suspect that a simplified, even simplistic claim, was more comfortable for these scientists than one where complexity and uncertainty were acknowledged.  It is not merely a case of the politicians and public needing a simple, unequivocal message.  As Thomas Kuhn described ‘normal science’, which (as he said) nearly all scientists do all the time, it is puzzle-solving within an unquestioned framework or ‘paradigm’.  Issues of uncertainty and quality are not prominent in ‘normal’ scientific training, and so they are less easily conceived and managed by its practitioners.

Now, as Kuhn saw, this ‘normal’ science has been enormously successful in enabling our unprecedented understanding and control of the world around us.  But his analysis related to the sciences of the laboratory, and by extension the technologies that could reproduce stable and controllable external conditions for their working.  Where the systems under study are complicated, complex or poorly understood, that ‘textbook’ style of investigation becomes less, sometimes much less, effective.  The near-meltdown of the world’s financial system can be blamed partly on naïvely reductionist economics and misapplied simplistic statistics.  The temptation among ‘normal’ scientists is to work as if their material is as simple as in the lab.  If nothing else, that is the path to a steady stream of publications, on which a scientific career now so critically depends.  The most obvious effect of this style is the proliferation of computer simulations, which give the appearance of solved puzzles even when neither data nor theory provide much support for the precision of their numerical outputs.  Under such circumstances, a refined appreciation of uncertainty in results is inhibited, and even awareness of quality of workmanship can be atrophied.

In the course of the development of climate-change science, all sorts of loose ends were left unresolved and sometimes unattended.  Even the most fundamental quantitative parameter of all, the forcing factor relating the increase in mean temperature to a doubling of CO2, lies somewhere between 1 and 3 degrees, and is thus uncertain to within a factor of 3.  The precision (at about 2%) in the statements of the ‘safe limits’ of CO2 concentration, depending on calculations with this factor, is not easily justified.  Also, the predictive power of the global temperature models has been shown to depend more on the ‘story line’ than anything else, the end-of century increase in temperature ranging variously from a modest one degree to a catastrophic six.  And the ‘hockey stick’ picture of the past, so crucial for the strict version of the climate change story, has run into increasingly severe problems.  As an example, it relied totally on a small set of deeply uncertain tree-ring data for the Medieval period, to refute the historical evidence of a warming then; but it needed to discard that sort of data for recent decades, as they showed a sudden cooling from the 1960’s onwards!  In the publication, the recent data from other sources were skilfully blended in so that the change was not obvious; that was the notorious ‘Nature trick’ of the CRU e-mails.

Even worse, for the warming case to have political effect, a mere global average rise in temperature was not compelling enough.  So that people could appreciate the dangers, there needed to be predictions of future climate – or even weather – in the various regions of the world.  Given the gross uncertainties in even the aggregated models, regional forecasts are really beyond the limits of science.  And yet they have been provided, with various degrees of precision.  Those announced by the IPCC have become the most explosive.

As all these anomalies and unsolved puzzles emerged, the neat, compelling picture became troubled and even confused.  In Kuhn’s analysis, this would be the start of a ‘pre-revolutionary’ phase of normal science.  But the political cause had been taken up by powerful advocates, like Al Gore.  We found ourselves in another crusading ‘War’, like those on (non-alcoholic) Drugs and ‘Terror’.  This new War, on Carbon, was equally simplistic, and equally prone to corruption and failure.  Global warming science became the core element of this major worldwide campaign to save the planet.  Any weakening of the scientific case would have amounted to a betrayal of the good cause, as well as a disruption of the growing research effort.  All critics, even those who were full members of the scientific peer community, had to be derided and dismissed.  As we learned from the CRU e-mails, they were not considered to be entitled to the normal courtesies of scientific sharing and debate.  Requests for information were stalled, and as one witty blogger has put it, ‘peer review’ was replaced by ‘pal review’.

Even now, the catalogue of unscientific practices revealed in the mainstream media is very small in comparison to what is available on the blogosphere.  Details of shoddy science and dirty tricks abound.  By the end, the committed inner core were confessing to each other that global temperatures were falling, but it was far too late to change course.  The final stage of corruption, cover-up, had taken hold.  For the core scientists and the leaders of the scientific communities, as well as for nearly all the liberal media, ‘the debate was over’.  Denying Climate Change received the same stigma as denying the Holocaust.  Even the trenchant criticisms of the most egregious errors in the IPCC reports were kept ‘confidential’.  And then came the e-mails.

We can understand the root cause of Climategate as a case of scientists constrained to attempt to do normal science in a post-normal situation. But climate change had never been a really ‘normal’ science, because the policy implications were always present and strong, even overwhelming.  Indeed, if we look at the definition of ‘post-normal science’, we see how well it fits:  facts uncertain,values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent.  In needing to treat Planet Earth like a textbook exercise, the climate scientists were forced to break the rules of scientific etiquette and ethics, and to play scientific power-politics in a way that inevitably became corrupt.  The combination of non-critical ‘normal science’ with anti-critical ‘evangelical science’ was lethal. As in other ‘gate’ scandals, one incident served to pull a thread on a tissue of protective plausibilities and concealments, and eventually led to an unravelling.  What was in the e-mails could be largely explained in terms of embattled scientists fighting off malicious interference; but the materials ready and waiting on the blogosphere provided a background, and that is what converted a very minor scandal to a catastrophe.

Consideration of those protective plausibilities can help to explain how the illusions could persist for so long until their sudden collapse.  The scientists were all reputable, they published in leading peer-reviewed journals, and their case was itself highly plausible and worthy in a general way.  Individual criticisms were, for the public and perhaps even for the broader scientific community, kept isolated and hence muffled and lacking in systematic significance.  And who could have imagined that at its core so much of the science was unsound?  The plausibility of the whole exercise was, as it were, bootstrapped.  I myself was alerted to weaknesses in the case by some caveats in Sir David King’s book The Hot Topic; and I had heard of the hockey-stick affair.  But even I was carried along by the bootstrapped plausibility, until the scandal broke. (I have benefited from the joint project on plausibility in science of colleagues in Oxford and at the Arizona State University).

Part of the historic significance of Climategate is that the scandal was so effectively and quickly exposed.  Within a mere two months of the first reports in the mainstream media, the key East Anglia scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were discredited.  Even if only a fraction of their scientific claims were eventually refuted, their credibility as trustworthy scientists was lost.  To explain how it all happened so quickly and decisively, we have the confluence of two developments, one social and the other technical.  For the former, there is a lesson of Post-Normal Science, that we call the Extended Peer Community.  In traditional ‘normal’ science, the peer community, performing the functions of quality-assurance and governance, is strictly confined to the researchers who share the paradigm.  In the case of ‘professional consultancy’, the clients and/or sponsors also participate in governance.  We have argued that in the case of Post-Normal Science, the ‘extended peer community’, including all affected by the policy being implemented, must be fully involved.  Its particular contribution will depend on the nature of the core scientific problem, and also on the phase of investigation.  Detailed technical work is a task for experts, but quality-control on even that work can be done by those with much broader expertise.  And on issues like the definition of the problem itself, the selection of personnel, and crucially the ownership of the results, the extended peer community has full rights of participation.  This principle is effectively acknowledged in many jurisdictions, and for many policy-related problems.  The theory of Post-Normal Science goes beyond the official consensus in recognising ‘extended facts’, that might be local knowledge and values, as well as unoffficially obtained information.

The task of creating and involving the extended peer community (generally known as ‘participation’) has been recognised as difficult, with its own contradictions and pitfalls.  It has grown haphazardly, with isolated successes and failures.  Hitherto, critics of scientific matters have been relegated to a sort of samizdat world, exchanging private letters or writing books that can easily be ignored (as not being peer-reviewed) by the ruling establishment.  This has generally been the fate of even the most distinguished and responsible climate-change critics, up to now.  A well-known expert in uncertainty management, Jeroen van der Sluijs, explicitly condemned the ‘overselling of certainty’ and predicted the impending destruction of trust; but he received no more attention than did Nikolas Taleb in warning of the ‘fat tails’ in the probability distributions of securities that led to the Credit Crunch. A prominent climate scientist, Mike Hulme, provided a profound analysis in Why We Disagree About Climate Change, in terms of complexity and uncertainty.  But since legitimate disagreement was deemed nonexistent, he too was ignored.

To have a political effect, the ‘extended peers’ of science have traditionally needed to operate largely by means of activist pressure-groups using the media to create public alarm. In this case, since the global warmers had captured the moral high ground, criticism has remained scattered and ineffective, except on the blogosphere.  The position of Green activists is especially difficult, even tragic; they have been ‘extended peers’ who were co-opted into the ruling paradigm, which in retrospect can be seen as a decoy or diversion from the real, complex issues of sustainability, as shown by Mike Hulme.  Now they must do some very serious re-thinking about their position and their role.

The importance of the new media of communications in mass politics, as in the various ‘rainbow revolutions’ is well attested.  To understand how the power-politics of science have changed in the case of Climategate, we can take a story from the book Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirkey.  There were two incidents in the Boston U.S.A. diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, involving the shuffling of paeodophile priests around parishes.  The first time, there was a criminal prosecution, with full exposure in the press, and then nothing happened.  The second time, the outraged parents got on their cell phones and organised; and eventually Cardinal Archbishop Bernard Francis Law (who had started as a courageous cleric in the ‘60’s) had to leave for Rome in disgrace.  The Climategate affair shows the  importance of the new IT for science, as an empowerment of the extended peer community.

The well-known principle, ‘knowledge is power’ has its obverse, ‘ignorance is impotence’.  And ignorance is maintained, or eventually overcome, by a variety of socio-technical means.  With the invention of cheap printing on paper, the Bible could be widely read, and heretics became Reformers. The social activity of science as we know it expanded and grew through the age of printing.  But knowledge was never entirely free, and the power-politics of scientific legitimacy remained quite stable for centuries.  The practice of science has generally been restricted to a social elite and its occasional recruits, as it requires a prior academic education and a sufficiency of leisure and of material resources.  With the new information technology, all that is changing rapidly.  As we see from the ‘open source’ movement, many people play an active role in enjoyable technological development in the spare time that their job allows or even encourages.  Moreover, all over IT there are blogs that exercise quality control on the industry’s productions.  In this new knowledge industry, the workers can be as competent as the technicians and bosses.  The new technologies of information enable the diffusion of scientific competence and the sharing of unofficial information, and hence give power to peer communities that are extended far beyond the Ph.D.s in the relevant subject-specialty.  The most trenchant and effective critics of the ‘hockey stick’ statistics were a University-employed economist and a computer expert.

Like any other technology, IT is many-faceted.  It is easily misused and abused, and much of the content of the blogosphere is trivial or worse.  The right-wing political agendas of some climate sceptics, their bloggers and their backers, are quite well known.  But to use their background or motivation as an excuse for ignoring their arguments, is a betrayal of science.  The  blogosphere interacts with other media of communication, in the public and scientific domains.  Some parts are quite mainstream, others not.  The Climategate blogosphere is as varied in quality as any other.  Some leading scholars, like Roger Pielke, Jr. have had personal blogs for a long time.  Some blogs are carefully monitored, have a large readership and are sampled by the mainstream media (such as the one on which this is posted, Wattsupwiththat.com).  Others are less rigorous; but the same variation in quality can be found in the nominally peer-reviewed scientific literature.  Keeping up with the blogosphere requires different skills from keeping up with traditional literature; it is most useful to find a summarising blog that fits one’s special interests, as well as a loyal correspondent, as (in my case) Roger ‘tallbloke’ Tattersall.

Some mainstream publications are now saying nice things about the blogosphere.  Had such sentiments been expressed a while ago, the critical voices might have had a public hearing and the Climategate scandal might have been exposed before it became entrenched so disastrously.  And now the critical blogosphere does not need to be patronised.  Like any extension of political power, whether it be the right to believe, to protest, to vote, to form trades unions, or to be educated, it can lead to instabilities and abuses.  But now the extended peer community has a technological base, and the power-politics of science will be different.  I cannot predict how it will work out, but we can be confident that corruptions built on bootstrapped plausibility will be less likely in the future.

There is an important philosophical dimension to Climategate, a question of the relation of personal scientific ethics to objective scientific facts.  The problem is created by the traditional image of science (as transmitted in scientific education) as ‘value-free’.  The personal commitments to integrity, that are necessary for the maintenance of scientific quality, receive no mention in the dominant philosophy of science. Kuhn’s disenchanted picture of science was so troubling to the idealists (as Popper) because in his ‘normal’ science criticism had hardly any role.  For Kuhn, even the Mertonian principles of ethical behaviour were effectively dismissed as irrelevant.  Was this situation truly ‘normal’ – meaning either average or (worse) appropriate?  The examples of shoddy science exposed by the Climategate convey a troubling impression.  From the record, it appears that in this case, criticism and a sense of probity needed to be injected into the system by the extended peer community from the (mainly) external blogosphere.

The total assurance of the mainstream scientists in their own correctness and in the intellectual and moral defects of their critics, is now in retrospect perceived as arrogance.  For their spokespersons to continue to make light of the damage to the scientific case, and to ignore the ethical dimension of Climategate, is to risk public outrage at a perceived unreformed arrogance. If there is a continuing stream of ever more detailed revelations, originating in the blogosphere but now being brought to a broader public, then the credibility of the established scientific authorities will continue to erode.  Do we face the prospect of the IPCC reports being totally dismissed as just more dodgy dossiers, and of hitherto trusted scientists being accused of negligence or worse?  There will be those who with their own motives will be promoting such a picture.  How can it be refuted?

And what about the issue itself?  Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming?  If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse. There is very unlikely to be a crucial experience that either confirms or refutes the claim; the post-normal situation is just too complex. The consensus is likely to depend on how much trust can still be put in science.  The whole vast edifice of policy commitments for Carbon reduction, with their many policy prescriptions and quite totalitarian moral exhortations, will be at risk of public rejection.  What sort of chaos would then result?  The consequences for science in our civilisation would be extraordinary.

To the extent that the improved management of uncertainty and ignorance can remedy the situation, some useful tools are at hand.  In the Netherlands, scholars and scientists have developed ‘Knowledge Quality Assessment’ methodologies for characterising uncertainty in ways that convey the richness of the phenomenon while still performing well as robust tools of analysis and communication.  Elsewhere, scholars are exploring methods for managing disagreement among scientists, so that such post-normal issues do not need to become so disastrously polarised.  A distinguished scholar, Sheila Jasanoff, has called for a culture of humility among scientists, itself a radical move towards a vision of a non-violent science.  Scientists who have been forced to work on the blogosphere have had the invaluable experience of exclusion and oppression; that could make it easier for them to accept that something is seriously wrong and then to engage in the challenging moral adventures of dealing with uncertainty and ignorance.  The new technologies of communications are revolutionising knowledge and power in many areas.  The extended peer community of science on the blogosphere will be playing its part in that process.  Let dialogue commence!

——————-

My thanks to numerous friends and colleagues for their loyal assistance through all the drafts of this essay.  The final review at a seminar at the Institute of Science, Innovation and Society at Oxford University was very valuable, particularly the intervention from ‘the man in the bus queue’.

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Robinson

First class. An excellent essay.

I am much taken with the fact that in such a learned, if determinedly philosophical, discussion of the scientific lapses involved, there is no mention of the untidy prospect that “money talked” in this instance, that otherwise reputable scientists proved all-too-human in their inability to resist the blandishments of grant money and other sources of lucre in reaching their ever-more-tendentious and strained analyses of the data. Can that have been the product of nothing more than oversight? And by remaining silent about such a matter, can it possibly be said that the cause of trust in science has been advanced? I think not.

DirkH

Climate science always fulfilled the “post-normal science” description perfectly. And wrecked its reputation for good. That doesn’t mean that everything before climate science was good. Sturgeon’s Law applies. And before we all hail the blog as such, let us rest in silence for a minute and think about…
RealClimate

Schrodinger's Cat

Excellent observations and analysis.

Steve Goddard

Very nice analysis. Which college at Oxford?
Perhaps the Hockey Stick was Saddam’s WMD?

Rhoda R

“And what about the issue itself? Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? ”
This is the fundamental question. I’ve seen no good support for the idea.

Nam

First time posting here. Just wanted to say that was an excellent analysis of the state of AGW science. It doesn’t take fraud or conspiracy to have gotten to the point we are now. All it takes is basic human nature and a recognition of the adage that states: ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’
The essay was perfect until the final paragraph where the word ‘robust’ is used. Almost made it!

Stephen Wilde

Normal science = generally good science.
Post normal science = generally bad science.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Stunning, a tour de force.
A very, very useful examination of the deepening (scientific) contortions that have galvanised many of us into blog action.

James Sexton

Great read!!! Wonderful analysis!!! Hopefully, the conclusion to this essay will be a reality in regards to climate change. “Let dialogue commence!”

Theo Goodwin

Jerome Ravitz writes:
“As all these anomalies and unsolved puzzles emerged, the neat, compelling picture became troubled and even confused. In Kuhn’s analysis, this would be the start of a ‘pre-revolutionary’ phase of normal science.”
Invoking Kuhn is to give far too much credit to Jones, Mann, and the others. Climate science is not a science consisting of a theory or theories that has enjoyed some successes but has recently run into anomalies and unsolved puzzles. There is no theory behind so-called climate science. That is extremely easy to prove. No one can state the theory. Ask a climate scientist for his theory and all you will get, if anything, is a discussion of the properties of the CO2 molecule. There is no theory of climate change in the properties of the CO2 molecule. The folks who created the “Ozone Hole” panic of the Seventies did a much better job. They could tell you how chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) reached the same level of the atmosphere as Earth’s ozone shield, how certain chemical reactions took place between CFCs and ozone, and how the result was destruction of the ozone layer. No such thing has ever been forthcoming from climate science. The only thing they have that strikes some people as theoretical is computer simulation. Yet everyone knows that their simulations are woefully inadequate as a model of Earth’s atmosphere and that, at this time in history, no useful predictions can come from them. Again, my evidence is that no one will present a computer model, to refute my claims, because there is none. Finally, the case of Jones, Mann, and CRU. Their work involved no theory whatsoever. They were looking in nature for records of temperature change. In that kind of endeavor, where you are simply counting tree rings, there is little work that can be called theory. Of course, there are statistical calculations to be made, but Jones and crew refused to share their raw data and, consequently, their work could not be checked. Jones’ refusal to share data does not require an explanation from the philosophy of science. It is simple, straightforward fraud. As for your talk of postmodern science and political pressures, you will accomplish nothing but give a veneer of respectability to some criminals. I too want to see philosophy of science flourish. God knows we need it. However, in the case of Climategate, the only philosophy of science that is needed is absolutely basic and, for that reason, beyond dispute.

Alan S

Everyman (15:19:34) :
I am much taken with the fact that in such a learned, if determinedly philosophical, discussion of the scientific lapses involved, there is no mention of the untidy prospect that “money talked” in this instance, that otherwise reputable scientists proved all-too-human in their inability to resist the blandishments of grant money and other sources of lucre in reaching their ever-more-tendentious and strained analyses of the data.
I don’t think this needed to be said outright.
The critique of the corruption was spot on you must agree.

rogan

This is the best article on the subject I have ever read.

Everyman (15:19:34) :
I am much taken with the fact that in such a learned, if determinedly philosophical, discussion of the scientific lapses involved, there is no mention of the untidy prospect that “money talked”

In the UK, security of tenure in academia is becoming increasingly dependent on ‘delivering the goods’ in the form of grants from central government and elsewhere. I agree with you that this is a dimension which is missing from Jerry’s piece. Not that there isn’t plenty to get our teeth into anyway.

slow to follow

It’d be nice to see Watts Up added to the rather one sided blogroll at Post Normal Times.

Stephan

British met office needs to be closed down ASAP!
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/4436934/Snow-is-consistent-with-global-warming-say-scientists.html
Surely they must see they are a laughing stock?

Ed Moran

Wow!

View from the Solent

This is amazing. <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/hacked-climate-science-emails"http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/hacked-climate-science-emails. Click on “Help write the full story”. The comments section is open.
The Guardian is a rabidly socialist supporter of AGW and the current UK government (sorry for the tautology).
My suspicion, though, is that this is an attempt to draw as many tin-foil hat-wearers as possible so that they can point at them and cry “nutters”. So approach with caution. I take nothing from them at face value. If they realy wanted to investigate, they would first have sought opinions from recognised sources.
(OTOH, that could just demonstrate that I wear tin foil on my head)

Chip

I appreciate this essay immensely. I have been concerned about the impact on science in general from what I have certainly perceived to be zealots, and I have experienced ridicule myself (initially from own school aged son) for expressing what I thought were well reasoned doubts. I think Professor Ravetz should add hypocrisy to his analysis – nothing turned me against the idea of global warming as much as the high living of its proponents and the obscene carbon indulgences (offsets) available to anyone with enough of the other green. I am thankful for John Daly (miss you, man), Anthony, Steve, M&M and the others who have opened my eyes though the years.

Steve Goddard (15:24:37) :
Very nice analysis. Which college at Oxford?
Perhaps the Hockey Stick was Saddam’s WMD?

http://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/centres/insis/associatefellows/Pages/jerryravetz.aspx
The Hockey Stick was the weapon of choice of the Woman of Mad Destruction. You know who I mean.

Alexander Harvey

Post Climategates, there should come a time when one has to ask whether the war is over. Like it or not we need our climate scientists, otherwise how are we ever going to get to the bottom of the issues. To discredit all of climate science due to its poor perfomance in certain critical areas could cut off ones nose to spite ones face. We are not there yet and not perhaps close but it is never to early to consider how we will know when normalcy has been restored and that futire hostilities will be no more than gratuitous blood letting.
Alex

Paul K

Two years ago while on Jury duty, one lawyer asked me what I thought about lawyers in general. My answer was, “Lawyers are like members of any profession, there are reputable ones and ambulance chasers.” I thought at the time that if asked the same question about scientists (and I am a scientist) I would have answered virtually the same way…maybe ‘hacks’ instead of ‘ambulance chaser’. Needless to say the essay here is spot on in my opinion.

hmccard

The Union of Concerned Scientists suffers from the paradox of Post-Normal Science that Professor Ravetz describes:
http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GGLL_enUS359US360&q=union+of+concerned+scientists+global+warming

Onion

I have to disagree with a lot of this. Like Mike Hulme, this chap proposes a full frontal attack on the discipline of science, hidden in this long essay. To take a quote:
“Indeed, if we look at the definition of ‘post-normal science’, we see how well it fits: facts uncertain,values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent. ”
So what other scenarios would fit with the definition of post-normal science?
Well if you’re a Mayan, you are uncertain whether or not the Gods are placated. The stakes are high and decisions are urgent. So do you or do you not sacrifice that child? We are actually engaging in an indirect form of that with biofuel crop plantation driving food inflation, shortages and starvation.
The whole point about science is facts are uncertain. With CAGW, it is most definitely not clear that decisions are urgent. I would argue that since Hansen’s original predictions in Science 1982 have been falsified (that CO2 warming would overwhelm all other causes of climate change from 2000 onwards), decisions in this field most definitely aren’t urgent. So what is needed is real science, not value-laden post-normal science.
The other problem with this essay is a lot of the uncertainty referred to is actually a result of climate being a chaotic system.
Treat post-normal science with suspicion. It will never deliver the extraordinary truths we have gleaned from plain vanilla science. It is a branch of the social sciences. And it may lead you to conclude that sacrificing babies is the way to save the World (after all they are the CO2 emitters with the highest potential output of all the ages of man)

EdB

I hate the word “robust”. This taints the essay for me.
Where were the high minded philosophers when they were needed? Right.. collecting fat salaries but AWOL!!
??? “post normal science”… na.. just the usual suspects, crooks, creeps and cretins.

Pat Moffitt

One makes a mistake to think climate change is a recent scientific “failure”- climate change followed a very tried and true approach of skewing environmental science to fit a social agenda. The “science” of toxicity, acid rain, ozone, species definition, etc and a complicit MSM is no less polluted than is climate change—but these issues did not have the internet. (Hope springs eternal).
If anyone thinks climate change is unique and want a “change of pace”- take a look at EPAs new proposed ozone standard. Nowhere on EPAs site will one see the role of natural sources of ozone precursors (isoprenes, terpenes from trees, NOx from soil bacteria or chlorides from sea spray). All the climate change tactics are present– carefully choosing monitor siting, questionable data, flawed models, the absence of a mass balance, health disasters and a whole universe of chemistries we do not fully understand (see Cal Techs work on epoxides). Climate change is not a “one off”- climate change is just business as usual.

Telboy

A good essay, somewhat spoiled by the penultimate paragraph in which he says
“Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse.”
Up to that point I thought he was talking about science, not faith, and that certainly gave me pause.

NickB.

This really is quite a breathtaking read – Well done Professor Ravetz!
Gratz as well to Tallbloke and Anthony!

Bryn

I find the idea of “post-normal science” troubling. Is it a science equivalent of “post-modern” thought that has led the arts and social sciences into those often fatuous positions, perhaps too simply referred to as Political Correctness?
Science is the use of careful observation, logic and reason in the quest for knowledge. Nothing has changed. Everyman (15:19:34) astutely observes that the Professor does not mention money. Complex scientific projects require money; honest science for payments rendered. Unfortunately, like all endeavours where large sums of money are involved, individuals are likely to be tempted to gain more than their due or entitlement. Anything involving others’ money should be effectively audited.
Scientists have the additional temptation before them of fame and recognition [In my student years, I learnt that the initials FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) after one’s name would be the pinnacle of achievement]. Hence audits must be doubly effective.
Scientists are humans. Period. The seven deadly sins are applicable to all.
But “post-normal” science? Bah! Humbug! Science is science.

JimV

Whew, that was tough to get through. Good thing I’m a slow reader as that piece had to be read very slowly to understand. 🙂
I think I’d prefer to keep it simple and just follow the money.

PaulH

Excellent analysis. Definitely worth bookmarking and rereading.

David Segesta

If AGW was simply a matter of science I would have been happy to let the scientists debate to their heart’s content. But it very quickly became a political issue with people like Al Gore convincing congress to ban light bulbs, and pass taxes and create Cap and Trade schemes. All of which would increase energy costs to the public and change our way of life. And there were plenty of crooks lining up to profit from the Cap and Trade schemes. At that point it stopped being an academic issue and became a matter of intelligent people refusing to be hoodwinked.
Yes science has suffered a well deserved black eye because of this. Now the people may be reluctant to believe scientists. Let’s hope this doesn’t end like the story of the Boy who Cried Wolf, with the wolf being a real impending disaster such as an asteroid with our name on it.

C Gentile

Brilliant.

Stephen Brown

Would the author of this fascinating essay agree to its being posted to representatives of the MSM? I’m sure that the Daily Telegraph (UK) would enjoy reading it.

mdjackson

‘pal reviewed’. I like that.

Mike T

Professor Ravetz’s longer article, and Everyman’s short additional comment, strike me as both being about equally valuable. Professor Ravetz’s comments on the non-material reasons for this scandal sound valid, but we will continue to wait for a comprehensive analysis on which of these scientists (and politicians and journalists) simply sold their souls for filthy lucre. The whiff, or more than a whiff, of totalitarian mindsets that one smells everywhere in this scandal is perhaps even more frightening than the idea that some scientists are simply lying crooks. There need to be many books written on what the hell happened here that allowed such deception to go so far. Surely sizable parts of our government, the science community and the mainstream media can’t all be this cowardly and unprincipled? Can they?

Jaye

Very good…

Theo Goodwin

EdB writes:
“Where were the high minded philosophers when they were needed? Right.. collecting fat salaries but AWOL!!”
Well, since you ask, I have been posting like hell all over the internet, but I cannot reveal my identity because I like my job. Most folks are in the same boat. Yes, it is earthshakingly sad. (By the way, the salaries are only middle class.)

Pat Frank

Jerome Ravetz wrote, “Issues of uncertainty and quality are not prominent in ‘normal’ scientific training, and so they are less easily conceived and managed by its practitioners.
Speaking as a practicing experimental scientist, in the extended company of other scientists, you are entirely mistaken.
Also, “Where the systems under study are complicated, complex or poorly understood, that ‘textbook’ style of investigation becomes less, sometimes much less, effective.” is quite, quite wrong, as exemplified, e.g., by the relatively new field of chaotic systems, which field emerged entirely from “that ‘textbook’ style of investigation.”
It seems to me that your analysis is opportunistic and tendentious.

Onion (16:01:46) :
I have to disagree with a lot of this. Like Mike Hulme, this chap proposes a full frontal attack on the discipline of science, hidden in this long essay. To take a quote:
“Indeed, if we look at the definition of ‘post-normal science’, we see how well it fits: facts uncertain,values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent. ”
So what other scenarios would fit with the definition of post-normal science?

Deciding what is and isn’t going to be allowed int he field of genetic manipultion, for example.
Jerry Ravetz used to sit on medical ethics committees grappling with those issues. Not easy.
I think people from both sides read what they want into his concept of ‘post normal science’. A lot of people, maybe you included, think he is formulating a prescription for how he thinks modern science should be done, and disagree. I think he is analysing how science sometimes is done, like it or not, it’s the way it is. At least he gets it out in the open, where it can be dealt with.

Larry

I do not think the motives were quite so clean. It seems to me there are some scientists hired on their environmental beliefs first and their scientific credentials second – if at all. Soft science like this is easy to manipulate.

AndrewWH

Perhaps Professor Ravetz would consider forwarding this essay, or tailored versions of it, to various MSM organizations directly. It would certainly be beneficial as there seems to be a lot of comments in various MSM outlets about Climategate being a storm-in-a-teacup event that does not alter the soundness of the original science.
I hope that Professor Ravetz is thick-skinned though. I have a feeling even posting here once will have someone raking through the muck trying to find some dirt to stick.

I’m amazed. Looking at the ecstatic comments, I think most of you are about as happy as the Trojans who wheeled the horse, a gift from heaven they thought, within their walls and got drunk, only to find that night that their city had been infiltrated and lost after years of battle. Beware! Ravetz is a very bright guy, and very perceptive, but Ravetz and Hulme have done their utmost to dispatch ‘normal’ science. Now their ideas will destroy you. More on Ravetz and Hulme here:
http://buythetruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/climate-change-and-the-death-of-science/

Toto

There are many good points here.
The Climate Change mantra should be: “It’s more complex than we thought”.
“The parallels are significant and troubling, for on both sides they involve a betrayal of public trust.” Another good parallel is with priests abusing their position of trust and power and to how the church dealt with the problem. Scientists are often called high-priests, since others have no way to challenge their proclamations. Another parallel might be the police; we want to assume that they are good but police forces may be set up in a way which allows corruption. The thing these have is common is the thin line which separates protection of the institution from protection of the principles it is based upon.
But the words ‘scientists’ and ‘academics’ are often confused. The failures of the academic/publishing system are also found in other scientific and medical and non-scientific fields. Academic fads and fashions can go wrong (deconstructionism and post-modern literary criticism) and they can last a long time (Freud).
The other day someone said “the plural of anecdote is not data”. I agree, but for soft science it is. It worked for Freud.

JamesS

I dislike taking a negative view of a guest article by a distinguished scholar, but I have to pick a few nits with Professor Ravetz’s article. It seems to me to be an attempt to explain a classic “failure to do good science” with the sort of untested and unproven philosophical theories that tend to pop up in the business world every decade or so, and which promise to unfailingly create a successful company. Just as the professor says “The near-meltdown of the world’s financial system can be blamed partly on naively reductionist economics and misapplied simplistic statistics,” it seems to me that the post-normal scientific analysis of “what went wrong in climate science” is its own attempt to find a reductionist philosophy and simplistic method to “keep science from going wrong.”
When the professor says “the early opposition to any claim of climate change was only partly scientific; the tactics of the opposing special interests were such as to induce the proponents to adopt a simple, forcefully argued position,” it doesn’t really seem to me he’s saying anything wrong about that opposition. The first reaction to any new, radical claim should be that which Carl Sagan expressed: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That’s not precisely a “scientific opposition,” but it is the proper one for science to take. “Prove it!” Is as old as the schoolyard, but still a fundamental and very scientific position. If that response induces the proponents to adopt the forcefully argued position of “You’re as bad as a Holocaust denier!” then it becomes instantly apparent that whatever is going on here is not science.
Later Professor Ravetz says “We have argued that in the case of Post-Normal Science, the ‘extended peer community’, including all affected by the policy being implemented, must be fully involved.” But what does “all affected by the policy” really mean? It sounds as though he means this to carry down to the level of the ordinary non-scientist citizen who’s electric bill might increase by a factor of ten because of a cap-and-trade tax implemented by politicians sold on AGW, but then he states

“Its particular contribution will depend on the nature of the core scientific problem, and also on the phase of investigation.  Detailed technical work is a task for experts, but quality-control on even that work can be done by those with much broader expertise.  And on issues like the definition of the problem itself, the selection of personnel, and crucially the ownership of the results, the extended peer community has full rights of participation.”

This appears to put the cart before the horse, or maybe to have horses at both ends of the cart. For if the detailed technical work is for experts, how can an extended peer community (of presumed non-experts) be qualified to determine the definition of the problem to begin with, much less choose the personnel to do the technical work and then claim ownership of the results? How can one claim ownership of a scientific study one is not technically qualified to perform?
The professor also states that “Hitherto, critics of scientific matters have been relegated to a sort of samizdat world, exchanging private letters or writing books that can easily be ignored (as not being peer-reviewed) by the ruling establishment.” I would argue that this “samizdat” state of affairs is nearly unique to this particular scientific theory, and that the history of science is rife with examples of competing theories battling it out in the peer-reviewed literature without one side using its influence to censor the other. For example, J. Harlen Bretz battled in the journals for forty years to prove his glacial lake origin theory of the Channeled Scablands in Washington state; Alfred Wegener proposed “continental drift” back in 1912 and the idea was argued in the journals until the word by Hess, Mason, Benioff and Wadati put the finishing touches on plate tectonic theory.
It appears to me that in this case, the professor’s philosophy of post-normal science has it exactly backwards: rather than there being a crisis for which we have to make critical decisions without full understanding of the problem, we are instead in the position of not knowing if there even is a crisis without much more information.

Double Plus good!!!!!!!!

Absolutely fantastic.
Thank you for posting this.

David L. Hagen

See website for: Philosopher at Large, Dr. Jerome Ravetz
See his summary of his work.

I agree that the influence of money [including the unstated threat of losing one’s job for speaking out] is a very effective leash, and maybe should have been mentioned. No doubt Prof Ravetz had his reasons for not writing about it.
But money doesn’t explain all of the behavior. There is also status, which is hard-wired into us. In a prehistoric tribe, status could easily mean the difference between survival and death.
From a report in the Economist about a psychology experiment, here is an example of how social status works: when people were asked whether they would prefer to earn $100,000 a year, when everyone else they knew was earning $50,000 a year, or whether they would rather earn $150,000 a year, when everyone they knew was earning $300,000 a year, the answer invariably given was that they would prefer to earn the lower amount — as long as it was more than other people they knew earned, they were happy. Greater social status is more important than an arbitrary number of dollars.
Another example of status: during the Roman civil war, when Caesar’s army was marching in the Alps they came upon an extremely destitute, dirt-poor village. One of Caesar’s lieutenants jokingly asked Caesar how he’d like to be the head man of that no-account village. Caesar answered, “Better head man here than second man in Rome.” Status is deeply ingrained. It goes back to Cain and Abel, and it trumps money.
When someone buys into an idea, such as a belief in AGW for which there is no measurable evidence, status predominates. There is no doubt that Phil Jones is taking his loss of status very hard, even though it only amounts to loss of his title; his pay, benefits, and office were not taken away, only the title of Director. It is easy to sniff at Jones’ lamentations, but there is no doubt that he takes the loss of his name-plate extremely hard. He is acutely aware that he is diminished in the eyes of his peers.
For the rank-and-file followers of AGW, including many other well educated people who should know better, their belief system is all-important. It allows them to feel superior to the hated “denialists,” because they believe they have inside knowledge — even when they are decisively proven wrong:

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth, if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
~Leo Tolstoy

maz2

Is this paste allowed, AGW asks?
It’s the NYT. Gotta be important when it speaks. No?
Here’s the punch(sic) line:
“its judgments provoking passions normally reserved for issues like abortion and guns.”
Sells papers.
…-
“Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel ( NY Times says something….)
The New York Times ^ | February 8, 2010 | ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist’s version of sainthood: A vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations’ climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore.
But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri’s resignation last week.
Critics, writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm — a claim he denies.
They have also unearthed and publicized problems with the intergovernmental panel’s landmark 2007 report on climate change, which concluded that the planet was warming and that humans were likely to blame.
The report, they contend, misrepresents the state of scientific knowledge about diverse topics — including the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers and the rise in severe storms — in a way that exaggerates the evidence for climate change.
With a global climate treaty under negotiation and legislation pending in the United States, the climate panel has found itself in the political cross hairs, its judgments provoking passions normally reserved for issues like abortion and guns.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com …”
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2447879/posts