Dr. Ravetz Posts, Normally

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Dr. Ravetz, welcome back to the fray with your new post.  My congratulations on your courage and willingness to go “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more …”

You are putting AGW supporting scientists to shame with your bravery, most of them (with some conspicuous exceptions like Dr. Meier and Dr. Curry) post on some site where people will agree with them and pat them on the back and tell them how right they are. Here, nobody is right, everyone gets attacked (including me), and that is the strength of the site.

Onwards to your issues:

Now, many thanks to Willis for reminding me of the challenge to give an example of uncertain facts and high stakes. Let me try. In early 2001 there was evidence of an incipient epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in England. It was not at all certain, how infectious it would be, or what sorts of containment measures would suffice. There were conflicting values, although these were not made clear to the public at the time. These reflected the interests of the different stakeholders, including beef exporters, other farmers, non-farm users of the countryside, and politicians.

For each of them the stakes were high. The best-known stake at risk was the status of British beef exports, as certified FMD-free; this was worth some hundreds of millions of pounds in the increased price for such beef on the world market. But there were other stakes at risk, including the pedigree herds of cattle and sheep built up by farmers, and (largest of all, as it was later realised) the possible harm to all the non-farm activities in the countryside. And what was eventually realised to be the overriding stake was the political fortunes of Tony Blair, with an impending General Election which he didn’t want to have in the midst of an epidemic.

Coming back to ‘the facts’, these were to be determined by experts; but there were two opposed groups of experts. One was the government scientists, who generally had a conservative approach to the risks and to the science. The other was a group of academics, who had developed an expertise in epidemiological modelling. They made ‘pessimistic’ assumptions about the infectivity of the disease, and so their recommendations were on the side of a very aggressive approach. This suited Tony Blair’s political agenda, and so there was a severe quarantine and very extensive slaughtering. However one might criticise the government’s actions, the decision was indeed urgent, and there was a situation of high stakes, disputed values and uncertain facts.

My thanks in turn to Dr. Ravetz for providing the example. I now see the difference between his view and mine. What he sees as an unusual situation (facts uncertain, values in dispute) I see as everyday life.

Facts are rarely certain. Life is like that. Science is like that. It is very, very uncommon that we have scientific certainty about any complex real-world question. Despite that, throughout its history science has been of inestimable value in exactly these situations. This is because, rather than being based on something vague like beliefs or myths or “quality”, it is based on hard evidence and falsifiability and replicability. When facts are uncertain, we need more science, not less.

Regarding values, as long as there is more than one person involved (that is to say all of the time) values will likely be in dispute. Again, so what?

Since science has dealt quite well with these problems for centuries, why do we need a new post-normal “science”? How is the example different from any of the other public issues where science plays a part? Yes, as Dr. Ravetz clearly articulates, science often gets lost in the play of power politics … but that is a political issue, not a scientific issue.

Dr. Ravetz continues:

There is another lesson for PNS in the ‘foot and mouth’ episode. It was presented to the public as ‘normal science’: “here’s an epidemic, let’s apply the science and stop it”. The uncertainties and value-conflicts were suppressed. More to the point, the ‘extended peer community’ was nonexistent. Divisions among the scientists were kept under wraps. Damage to the rural communities was revealed piecemeal, and then as incidental to the noble effort of quarantine. Only the investigative journal Private Eye published the gory details of the exterminations.

I would put all of this under the heading of “transparency”. Again, this suppression and hiding is nothing new, nor is it a problem with science itself. Throughout history the people in power have sought to make their decisions in a way that is shielded from the public eye. See my discussion of the CRU Freedom of Information Act (FOI) debacle for a modern example.

I do not, however, see this as requiring any kind of “post-normal” change. It simply requires transparency, transparency, and more transparency. That’s why we have “Sunshine Laws” in the US requiring public meetings of governmental bodies. Thats why we have FOI laws. Not because of any problem with science, but because of a problem with humans and their power games. Sunlight is the best disinfectant for that disease, not a new kind of “science”.

Dr. Ravetz then discusses a couple of issues that had been raised by commenters in his previous posts.

Possible corruptions of PNS. These are inevitable. After all, what prophetic message ever escaped being converted into a battleground between priests and demagogues? But I should be more clear about which corruptions are most likely to emerge in PNS, and then to analyse and warn against them. It will painful, since I will be criticising colleagues who have been well-intentioned and loyal.

Well, despite his warning of inevitability, “democracy” as a prophetic message seems to have done pretty well. “Liberty” hasn’t fared too badly either. “Marxism”, on the other hand, led to the death of millions of people. Post-normal “science”, like the Marxism that Dr. Ravetz followed for much of his life, is rife with possibilities for corruption. This is because it preaches that, rather than following a hard line of evidence and scientific replicability, we should follow a very soft mushy line of something called “quality”. Me, I agree with Robert Heinlein, who said:

“What are the facts? Again and again and again-what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”–what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”

Or as Homer Simpson said:

Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true!

It is only when people don’t like facts proving something that is remotely true that they start clamoring for a judgment based on something like “quality”. Dr. Ravetz goes on to discuss this problem of the vague nature of “quality”, saying:

Quality. On this I find myself reduced to arm-waving, that ‘we all know what Quality is’. But I can say that I am well aware that Quality is not a simple attribute, but is complex, influenced by history and context, recursive (who guards the guardians?), fundamentally a matter of morality (if the people at the top are crooked, the whole edifice of quality-assurance collapses), and of course fallible. This may seem a very insecure foundation for the sort of knowledge that we need, but it’s the best we have. And if one looks for better guarantees of truth even in Pure Science, one will be disappointed.

Although Dr. Ravetz claims that “we all know what Quality is”, count me among the ones who don’t have a clue what it is. Dr. Ravetz seems unable to define it, despite my repeated requests for clarification. I disagree entirely that “quality” is the “best we have” as a foundation for the sort of knowledge we need, as Dr. Ravetz categorically states. I don’t want something undefined (and perhaps undefinable) as the foundation for my knowledge. I prefer to build my edifices on data and evidence and mathematics and facts and replicability and falsifiability and the usual scientific foundations, rather than on “quality”, whatever that might be.

Dr. Ravetz then reveals his aversion to the concept of “truth”:

There is another unsolved problem, Truth. I realise that I have a case of what I might call ‘Dawkins-itis’ in relation to Truth. Just as Prof. Dawkins, however learned and sophisticated on all other issues, comes out in spots at the mere mention of the word ‘God’, I have a similar reaction about ‘Truth’. I must work on this. It might relate to my revulsion at the dogmatic and anti-critical teaching of science that I experienced as a student, where anyone with original ideas or questions was scorned and humiliated. I happily use the terms for other Absolutes, like ‘beauty’, ‘justice’ and ‘holy’; so clearly there is something wrong in my head. Watch this space, if you are interested.

I can see why, if that is his reaction to the word “truth”, he might be averse to science. For me, a scientific truth is merely something which we have not yet falsified. And until it is falsified (as most “truths” may be in time), it is our best guide. For me, scientific truth should be the “foundation for the sort of knowledge we need”, as Dr. Ravetz puts it.

Dr. Ravetz then defends himself against a straw man, viz:

Finally, for this phase of the dialogue, I would like to defend myself against a charge that has been made by various critics. This is, that I personally and intentionally laid the foundations for the corrupted science of the CRU, by providing the justification for Steve Schneider’s perversion of scientific integrity. First, there is no record of the guilty scientists ever mentioning, or even being aware, of PNS during the crucial earlier years. Also, shoddy and corrupted science in other fields did not wait for me to come along to justify it. My influence is traced back to a single footnote by Steven Schneider, citing an essay by me in a large, expensive book, Sustainable Development of the Biosphere (ed. W.C. Clarke and R.E. Munn), (Cambridge, University Press, 1986). PNS first came into the climate picture with the quite recent essay by Mike Hulme in 2007. That was a stage in his own evolution from modeller to critic, and came long after the worst excesses at CRU had been committed. I should say that I do not dismiss conspiracy theories out of hand, since some of them are correct! But this one really does seem far-fetched.

I neither think nor have I said that Dr. Ravetz intentionally laid the foundations for the corrupted science of the CRU. However, what he calls “Steve Schneider’s perversion of scientific integrity” fits perfectly into the framework of post-normal “science”. For those unaware of Schneider’s statement, it was:

To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

Call me crazy, but I prefer scientists who are scrupulously honest, regardless of whether or not they are effective. I don’t want “scary scenarios”. But post-normal AGW scientists seem to have no problem with Schneider or his claim. For them, “scary scenarios” are their bread and butter.

Next, as ScientistForTruth pointed out in his comment on Dr. Ravetz’s earlier essay, the influence of post-normal “science” on climate science does not trace to “a single footnote by Steven Schneider”, nor did it come into the discussion “long after the worst excesses at CRU had been committed.” To the contrary, Dr. Ravetz himself linked the two back in 1990, and the link was cited by Bray and Von Storch in their 1999 paper, “Climate Science: An Empirical Example of Postnormal Science”. So the idea that it all came to pass after the CRU excesses is nonsense, it was in play a decade before that. ScientistForTruth provides further examples as well, his comment is worth reading.

As to whether post-normal “science” is totally in tune with and accepted by the AGW proponents, consider the list of recommended blogs in the blogroll at Post-Normal Times. Post-Normal Times is the main website espousing post-normal “science”, and Dr. Ravetz is listed as one of the Editors. Here are the blogs that they think represent good, honest science:

Science & Policy Blogs

A few things ill considered

Al’s Journal [Al Gore]


Climate Progress





Dot Earth


Effect Measure

Environmental Economics

Hybrid Vigor

James’ Empty Blog

jfleck at inkstain


Neverending Audit

Only in it for the gold

Rabett Run


Resilience Science

Skeptical Science


The Intersection

Other Science & Policy Links

Network for Ecosystem Sustainability and Health (NESH)


Real World Economics Review

SciDev Net

Stephen H. Schneider, Climatologist

Union of Concerned Scietists [sic]

We have Steven Scheider’s link, and links to RealClimate, Rabett Run, Skeptical Science, Stoat, deSmogBlog, Deltoid, and the rest of the un-indicted co-conspirators. Many of these blogs ruthlessly censor opposing scientific views, in what I suppose is the best post-normal fashion. We have the blog of the noted climate scientist, Al Gore.

But not one blog which opposes the AGW “consensus” is listed. No Watts Up With That, which was voted the Best Science Blog last year. No ClimateAudit, voted the Best Science Blog the year before that. Not one real science blog, just dissent-suppressing apologists for AGW pseudo-science. Color me unimpressed, that is as one-sided a list as I can imagine. How is that scientific in any sense?

So while Dr. Ravetz may disavow any responsibility for the AGW debacle or the CRU malfeasance, it is quite clear that the concepts of post-normal “science” are central to the anti-scientific philosophy espoused on those AGW blogs, and by the AGW movement in general. Coincidence? You be the judge …

Yes, I agree that Dr. Ravetz did not, as he says, “personally and intentionally [lay] the foundations” for the nonsense that passes for science in the AGW camp, from the CRU on down. But his philosophy has most certainly and quite consciously been used as a guiding star by those who would prefer that we do not look at the man behind the curtain … and that is no coincidence at all. Like Marxism, post-normal “science” is a perfect philosophy for those who would propound their own ideology while hiding behind a pseudo-scientific shield of “Quality”.

Finally, you may have noted that I have called it post-normal “science” throughout this essay. This is for a very good reason.

— It may be post-normal … but it is not science by even the most expansive definition of the word. —

Let me close by saying that despite my (obvious) distaste for Dr. Ravetz’s philosophy, he has my highest admiration for putting his ideas out on this forum. That, to me, is real science. Science progresses by people making claims in a public forum, whether in journals or blogs or other media, and other people trying to falsify the claims. At the end, what is left standing is “truth” … at least until it is falsified at some future date. In this manner (if in no other), Dr. Ravetz is following the scientific method, and has my respect for doing so.


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hear hear


An excellent reply. Thanks for clarifying what was murky.

Well, hopefully one day you scientists will figure out what science is.
In the meantime, I’ve code code to write.


This is crazy talk. “Alien invasion” BS. But arguably with the same degree of scientific certainty I see in SciFi movies. Of course those are fiction. And CO2 AGW is also.

Lance H.

Kudos to Dr. Ravetz for presenting his ideas in a forum that he knows will be trying to discredit them or at least severely challenge them.
Typo alert!
Here’s the blogs that they think represent good, honest science…”
Here are the blogs may be what you meant?

Al Gored

Excellent reasoned response Willis. Well done. And that list of blogs provided the icing on the cake.
I entirely agree with your view. Real science please.

Richard Sharpe

I think that’s “Once more unto the breach …”

Willis, that was an utterly fantastic piece of writing.


Re the picture: Post Normal Science IS like the Charge of the Light Brigade: ‘good’ intentions, chaotic understanding of the situation, inept leadership distanced from the consequences of their decisions, catastrophic results…
Truth, however defined, is under-rated in modern academia. Willis Eshenbach, despite his minimalist, Popperian definition, shows a fine appreciation for this ‘quality’. Thanks for the investigative journalism here, Willis: enlightening to see what blogs are linked to Post Normal Times! The desire for democratic input into science on the part of PNS apologists seems to be somewhat one-sided.


From Giordano Bruno, to now. How the mighty have fallen. It’s no longer a question of standing up for principle, but how quickly one can lay down in the name of being politically correct. Science, the heretofore vangard of Western advancement, is now laying wasted in the heap of postmodernism.


It appears that the picture at the top of this posting (Lady Elizabeth Butler?) represents “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (Tennyson) and not the exhortation of
Henry V to his companions at “The Battle of Hafleur” (Shakespeare). It is a good picture, though.

Bill Parsons

he has my highest admiration for putting his ideas out on this forum. That, to me, is real science. Science progresses by people making claims in a public forum, whether in journals or blogs or other media, and other people trying to falsify the claims. At the end, what is left standing is “truth” … at least until it is falsified at some future date.



I’m getting some cognitive dissonance from the Henry V rhetoric and the Charge of the Light Brigade imagery. . .

“For me, a scientific truth is merely something which we have not yet falsified.”
Willis, I sincerely hope not! surely not “merely”. A Scientific Truth is a theory or idea supported by the data, and able to accurately predict phenomena.
It is not any idea that hasn’t been yet falsified – there are many ideas impossible to falsify. Of course, “What is truth” has been a problem for well over 2000 years as well attested by Pontius Pilate.
I think Dr Ravetz’s Post normal Science is just trying to bend Science to Post Modernism. In Post modernism, there are no absolutes, and “Truth” is simply what Man defines it as. This requires an elite to do the defining, of course. And how dare we disagree.
Truth is never democratic, or defined by a consensus. It is, dare I say it, what IS true.

Thank you, Willis and Dr. Ravetz, as well as Anthony, the moderators and respondents. We are all richer for the experience of contributing, discussing and exploring.
Now, if only the climatology community would learn these lessons of open debate without advocacy…I don’t expect that to ever happen.

Mike Davis

Judge a man by what he does not by what he says! It may be selective memory or a form of “Post Normal” interpretation of his past writings that he is referring to.
Thank You Willis!

Henry chance

Mr Ravetz just did a drive by post. I saw no follow up responses.
The stakes are rather high posting on this site and sharing opinions without supporting data.

Craig Landrith

Fantastic. Although a 4 to 5 year reader, I have never commented before. I love the fact that both sides are now commenting on Anthony’s WUWT. What a wonderful thing is now happening. Kudos first to Anthony (and his team) and secondly to Dr Eschenbach, Dr Ravtez, Dr Weir and Dr Curry and the entire scientific team ( I know I have not mentioned some important names and for that I apologize) for bringing the discussion to a level not here-to-fore achieved. WUWT is begining to achieve what most others have not, a true discussion of the issues. With a MS in ME in energy transfer, and a leaning towards being a skeptic, I want to know the truth. This site (along with some few others) will help us accomplish that. Kudos to all.


Good stuff Willis, the touchy feely stuff doesn’t do a lot for me either, but I’m no scientist .
I’ve read Paul Johnson’s “Intellectuals” and I’m sorry but old Karl Marx plus his mate Engels didn’t float my boat either.
A couple of the recent biographies of Mao and Stalin showed them to be opportunistic psychopaths and murderers just like so many of the totalitarians favoured by the left.
Hitler was cut from the same cloth as far as I’m concerned as well as most of his murderous followers.

Eyal Porat

Couldn’t write it better.
Especially the motto which sadly many scientists have forgot:
“For me, a scientific truth is merely something which we have not yet falsified.”


Since the dawn of history, decision makers have always made decisions wherein the cause and effects, data gathering and analysis are of doubtful quality but the stakes are high in the context of their operating environment. Today we may take the past decision makers problems as mere trivial and unscientific. We may even dismiss or laugh at how the aincients look at the stars and the heavenly bodies for answers or decision making guidelines to the high stake such as starting to plant or prepare for war. The stakes may look inisignificant today. That those were high stakes in the past. Kingdoms and empires were lost because of bad decision made. It would be too arrogant for us today to reserve judgement to our current state of knowledge and problems faced as the pinnacle of human existence. As the state of science and knowledge increases, we could expect future generations to look at todays problem as trivial and our state of knowledge as primitive bordering on superstition.
Second, “science” or the “knowledge base for decision making” has always been running and intertwining into two main streams. The first stream is pure science.The other branch is “applied science”, the branch of “science” or “knowledge base” that has to build and provide the tangible infrastructure for the decision maker. Applied scientist knows, the knowledge base is incomplete, corrupted and uncertain, but he has to build the infrastructure for the decision maker may it be a temple, a canal, or weapons, etc. The applied scientist does not strive for the knowledge base to be purified and firmly established. He has to make a decision and as such he applies a factor safety or factor of ignorance to his decision making. However, investigations in applied science tends to focus on improving efficiency, that is reducing the factor of ignorance. Research and development is focused on the factor of ignorance or the unanswered question. Applied science grows because of skepticism. Applied sicence has to produce the tangible object needed by the decision makers. If the infrastructure fails or is less efficient, then it fails and the decision maker and the applied scientist must face the consequences.
The difference in climate science from normal science are (i) resources for research and development are provided to further advance the decision made by the decision makers. It is similar to old alchemist getting more money to bolster his patron wrong concept. Having made a trillion dollar decision, then the research and development budget should go to the sceptics to reduce the trillion dollar decision. (ii) the decision maker is relying more on applied scientists and hence the need for PNA, rather than just going through the normal decision making process with applied scientists at the forefront. So we end up with research for more modeling rather than infrastructure and (iii) politics has merged with pure science and hence the need to get PNA as a new discipline getting politics and pure science together. It is more like the astrolgers king of the past except that today most of humanity will not just surrender to an eclipse predicted by the astrolger king.

Louis Hissink

Well stated; but is it post-normal science, or pseudoscience we are dealing with?
Pseudoscience deploys the scientific method to test deductions framed from an initial idea not based on any empirical observation, but from some agreed on, assumption. The methodology then reduces to proving the deduction, rather than falsifying it, because it is essentially a verification of an idea, not an empirical, physical observation; ideas in themselves can’ t be falsified, but they can be agreed to by peer assent.
So post-normal science then is what, a synonym for pseudoscience?
Or is post-normal science a third category?


this is how i see PNS:
UNFCCC: Article 1
For the purposes of this Convention:
2. “Climate change” means a change of climate which is attributed directly
or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global
atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed
over comparable time periods.
2005: Joint science academies’ statement:
Global response to climate change
Climate change is real
Notes and references
1 This statement concentrates on climate change associated with global
warming. We use the UNFCCC definition of climate change, which is ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’.
Embargoed: Not for release until 12:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time
Sunday, 18 February 2007
AAAS Board Statement on Climate Change
Approved by the Board of Directors American Association for the Advancement
of Science
9 December 2006
The conclusions in this statement reflect the scientific consensus
represented by, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(www.ipcc.ch/), and the Joint National Academies’ statement
encarta: climate change: change in global weather patterns: long-term alteration in global weather patterns, especially increases in temperature and storm activity, regarded as a potential consequence of the greenhouse effect.


I do have an idea of what quality is.
Nature itself does a 80-20 thing (and variation on the ratio).
80% of gold will drop out in the first sluice, after which a new drop will take 80% of the 20% that missed being caught in the 1st drop.
80% of the bugs in software occur in 20% of the code. Problem areas.
If you wish to use a cable to repeatedly lift 25 tons, you get a 5-1 ratio cable to weight lifted. You need a 125 ton rated cable.
Until climate science can break down the problem into it’s core parts and build a model that fits these drivers, no amount of tinkering with the 20% outliers problems is going to fix the 80% problems.
That is what is wrong with the GCM’s. They run on the outlier (form behavior) but totally miss the big picture, and fail when run into the future.
It’s easily picked at because reality unmasks the underlying defects, and it is currently snowballing. The cosmetic application of data monkeying and pal reviewing did nothing but delay the inevitable.
The testing began when people like McIntyre and Smith began digging into the data. They took AGW and dropped it. It cracked.
Anthony, you participated in the quality testing with your surfacestation project. You dropped it and it broke even more.
HARRY_READ_ME did a white box test on some of the code. It broke in his hands too. When the Climate Gate emails & data got out, more testing was enabled, blackbox and whitebox.
It shattered like glass.
Quality: comes from testing.


Ravetz’ post-normal science is based on Kuhn’s idea of normal science, which is rather different from how many people, and scientists, think of it. There seems to be a disagreement about whether Kuhn is applicable to AGW theory, and more specifically, whether some of the problematic aspects of it are “normal” rather than abnormal. Put in perspective, when climate scientists cling to their theories when faced with evidence that might be seen as falsifying them (such as global temperatures not rising), is that an aberration motivated by politics and corruption, or is it similar to what happened just before Einstein, when Newtonian mechanics was having serious trouble explaining some observations and physicists tried their best to reconcile the new observations with the old theory? Kuhnian “normal science” solving puzzles when hindsight would indicate it might have been better off questioning the theory itself.
I think it’s a little of both. The scientists who are steeped in AGW theory think of it as being well-established. To them, the idea that the theory, or parts of it, may have been falsified, are “extraordinary claims” that require “extraordinary evidence”. Objectively, you might say the analogy between Newtonian physics and AGW is flawed for any number of reasons, but subjectively from the scientists’ point of view, I think they’re similar.

Al Gore's Holy Hologram

A large drum of infected blood was found which was being used to spread disease to British cattle. As soon as this piece of news broke, which included photos and video of the discovery, it was quickly covered up. This was European sabotage of the British meat industry. It wasn’t the first time either, or the only method. The EU subsidises Spanish fishermen to the tune of millions of Euros, none of which comes from Spain, who are the most guilty of overfishing in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Those same Spaniards trawl British waters and we are powerless to stop them because the EU says it is fine despite being illegal by British law.
They’re just trying to bankrupt Britain the same way they did to Greece and are going to be doing to other nations. Watch out for Ireland. They’re going to bust a big hole in that proud country.


CRS, Dr.P.H. (21:59:10) :
If the climate modelers don’t open up to testing without advocacy (as in ok, folks, what’s wrong with this thing?) then they will be forced to stare at their own errors which they cannot see until hell freezes over. Climate Models are software, and as such, they are not immune to the pitfalls the programmer faces in any other software project.

Very well said, Sir Willis!
What I found most disturbing about Dr. Ravetz’s latest post was his blatant “revisionizing” of his own history; but then this seems to be a feature of post-modernist (and its off-spring, “post-normal”) discourse.
I remember seeing that blogroll at Post-Normal Times when he made his debut here, and thinking to myself that – at the very least – he could have made certain that there were a few “token” skeptics on the list. And if not then, certainly by now!
vigilantfish (21:49:36) :

Post Normal Science IS like the Charge of the Light Brigade

Considering the PNS legacy of wind turbines etc., I’d be more inclined to think we are dealing with the Charge of the Blight Brigade!


Dr. Ravetz said,
“There is another unsolved problem, Truth. I realise that I have a case of what I might call ‘Dawkins-itis’ in relation to Truth. Just as Prof. Dawkins, however learned and sophisticated on all other issues, comes out in spots at the mere mention of the word ‘God’, I have a similar reaction about ‘Truth’. I must work on this. It might relate to my revulsion at the dogmatic and anti-critical teaching of science that I experienced as a student, where anyone with original ideas or questions was scorned and humiliated. I happily use the terms for other Absolutes, like ‘beauty’, ‘justice’ and ‘holy’; so clearly there is something wrong in my head.”
so I want to point out a problem with the way we use the words “truth” and “true”. When we say that someone speaks “truly”, or that what he says is “true” we recognize that the word refers to the quality of representation or meaning of the words spoken in relation to the objective facts of the matter. We easily accept that there are degrees of accuracy when one speaks “truly”. But when we say that someone has spoken the “truth” we often fall into a mental trap which amounts to confusing the map with the territory, regarding a statement as “untrue” if we perceive even the slightest discrepancy between the speaker’s meaning as we understand it and our perception of the facts. From which, eventually, I suggest, stems the whole of that post-modernism which gives us people for whom the proposition that “there are opinions about the way things are” implies the proposition that “the way things are is a matter of opinion”. There is a subtle distinction here between being and knowing, or epistemology and ontology. Science properly done can enable you to know more or less “truly” but nothing can enable you to know the “Truth” if by the “Truth” you mean the state of affairs in and of itself (Kant’s “noumenon”). The words “true” and “truth” should never be used without consciously adverting to the adjectival form “truly” in which lies its “true” meaning.

Willis Eschenbach

Lance H. (21:34:10)

Typo alert!
“Here’s the blogs that they think represent good, honest science…”
Here are the blogs may be what you meant?

Thanks, fixed.


Oh, Willis, doncha know? Quality and Beauty are all there is to know, and all ye need to know.

Willis Eschenbach

Richard Sharpe (21:44:05)

I think that’s “Once more unto the breach …”

Quite right, thanks, fixed.


This is the first time I’ve seriously looked into post-normal science in detail and, I gotta say, the whole concept has got to be the most scary and dangerous thing I can think of. The accumulation and refinement of scientific truth is the only marker of human progress. Putting the latest moral or cultural fashions on par with real science is insanity.

D. King

As an engineer working sensor systems, I never had
the luxury of time for PNS (Pipe-N-Snifter). There
were usually lives at stake, just as there are now in
the third world. Another good one Willis.


Not sure if that is the Lightbobs in the picture. I think it might be the Scots Greys.

Bob (21:50:34) :
It appears that the picture at the top of this posting (Lady Elizabeth Butler?) represents “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (Tennyson) and not the exhortation of
Henry V to his companions at “The Battle of Hafleur” (Shakespeare). It is a good picture, though.

Nup. It’s “Scotland Forever” — the charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo. But Lady Butler was indeed the artist.

Where oh where did my little post go?


I’m open to the idea that post-normal science is particularly open to corruption. But I’m not convinced. Any noble principle may be abused, as Orwell showed us.
‘…“democracy” as a prophetic message seems to have done pretty well..’ Perhaps, but the communist states of Eastern Europe used to call themselves “The Democratic People’s Republic of…”, so it’s clearly capable of being perverted.
To generalize, it seems to me that the most politically dangerous ideas about science are the ones make it seem simple and easy to decide scientific issues. Along the lines of “just apply the scientific method”. This kind of thing will deter people from critical thinking. It will induce them to uncritically accept what “the scientists” say, since obviously scientists use scientific method. Those in power will tend to win the superficial argument; propaganda will reign. This also applies to the concept of “junk science”, which Willis Eschenbach himself has used.


Looks to me like Dr Ravetz’s philosophy is Augustinian. That is, why St Augustine thought it was wise to pray to God.
If you pray to God and he exists, then you win. If you pray to God and he doesn’t exist, then you’ve lost nothing. If you don’t pray to God and he does not exist, then you’ve neither gained nor lost. If you don’t pray and God does exist, you’re damned. The only way to win is to pray to the God of your choice and hope that he does exist.
Therefore, we must all pray to Gaia.


He mentions foot-and-mouth and if you ask anyone in the ‘know’ the slaughter of all the cattle was well over the top, then we had swine flu that had the entire world stock 100 millions of pounds of vacine (Funny how the WHO also has ties to the Pharmaceutical industry), now we have AGW (Again cardon trading should help the believers, believe more).
I’m sorry one more wolf and i’m removing scientists from my friends list.


Willis: “Since science has dealt quite well with these problems for centuries, why do we need a new post-normal “science”?”
That question has no inner logic. We need new frameworks today, because risks that come from futuristic technologies and man’s potential impact on the planet warrant the new frameworks. You failed to answer to this objection in the previous thread. There were no such risks involved with 18th century technology. So to equate the two is merely rhetoric.
Willis: “[Ravetz’s] philosophy has most certainly and quite consciously been used as a guiding star by those who would prefer that we do not look at the man behind the curtain”
Seriously, what evidence have you got for this? How does Bray and Von Storch’s paper prove that “the team” would have been well read in Ravetz’s philosophy, nevermind would of used it as a “guiding star”? Such a jump in logic from couple of references amounts to a baseless assumption, nothing else. An assumption which I’m quite certain is false.
Dynamics of group think, career protection, thirst for recognition and status, and psychological defense mechanisms involved have resulted in corruption of research standards and politicization of the results. This has happened in science before and will happen again. Mainstream psychology was hijacked by pseudoscientists, freudian psychoanalysts and Watson/Pavlov/Skinner behaviorists for half a century. There are precedents that show very similar patterns to CAGW. No imagined finger pointing is required.


Just to be awfully pedantic. ‘Once more unto the breach’ is from Shakespeare’s Henry V; the picture appears to be the Charge of the Light Brigade. Or possibly a scene from Waterloo.

Ian H

Nicely said.
When sociologists theorise about the nature of science the results are seldom anything that a scientist would recognise. The problem is that scientists study objective reality whereas sociologists aer coming from the position that objective reality does not exist. To them reality is always subjective. They therefore persist in trying to view science as only one of many alternative and equivalent `ways of knowing’. This drives me nuts.
The sharpest illustration of the difference that I have heard was in the context of a radio discussion about the effects of PMS in the context of a court case involving a claim of reduced responsibility due to PMS. The radio station interviewed two people – a specialist on brain function who had done extensive research on the effect of hormones on brain function, and a feminist sociology lecturer.
The sociologist’s argument was that hormones COULD NOT effect brain function in this way because women with PMS might then be disqualified from positions of high responsibility (e.g. finger on the nuclear button type positions) and that outcome would be politically unacceptable.
The brain researcher on the other hand was talking about chemical pathways and receptors and the results of experiments like any good scientist should.
The two women just talked totally past each other.
The sociologist seemed completely unable to accept that the effect of hormones on women’s brains was an objective matter. The scientist was completely unable to accept that the way chemicals work in the brain was determined by politics. No communication was possible between these two completely incomptible philosophies.
Dr Ravetz is not quite so disconnected from reality as that but is heading in this direction with his ideas of mixing politics with science to create some kind of hybrid. I tend to think trying to blend the two is about as useful as trying to cross a dog with a cat.


The picture above is of the Scots Greys Charge at Waterloo. Not the ‘Charge of the light brigade’. Picky, I know, but you talk of truth and quality, investigative journalism, enlightenment etc. All fine values, not achieved by hasty comparisons.

In his personal narrative of coming to PNS, Ravetz presents a simple picture of normal science as about absolute truths taught as dogma – as a school textbook taught as dogma. To this he opposes the uncertainty of PNS.
This is not Kuln’s idea of ‘normal’ science and we should be careful therefore not to fall back to a defence of normal science in this image. Willis does this admirably (although not exactly in the terms I would use) in his discussion of ‘uncertainty’ and ‘truth.’ We can meet post-mod social theory half way and say that what we call reasonable scientific controversy over facts is what they call a battle of competing narratives. Where we hold firm against absolute relativism would be that that these narratives refer to our agreement on our shared experience (of nature), and they are orientated and so and grounded such.
For more on the affinity of PNS with the Academic Marxism of the social sciences see Revolutionary Science: Post-Normal Climate Science and neo-Marxism.

Obviously not a lot of military history buffs here!
The painting is of the charge of the Royal Scots Grey’s at the battle of Waterloo.
Nothing to do with Henry V or the charge of the light brigade in the Crimean war!

C. Moore

There is no absolute truth, therefore human’s cause global warming.
But since this is not true, then human’s do not cause global warming, but since this is false …
From: “How to make an android’s head explode”
by Mr. Spock


My apology for typing Higilantfish in error.


Thanks to Anthony, Willis, Jerry (for his journey into this “normal” zone), et al I am now aware of yet another diabolical evolution of the never ending elitist/dictatorial effort to dominate populations out of arrogance. Nothing new here from the ancient effort except, essentially, for terminology.
Tonight I had to look into all this PNT baloney and went through a number of realizations. Willis, you’ve done another outstanding service enjoining Ravetz for the readers here. I explored a bit at the “post-normal times.org” site and was quite alarmed at that group, their associates and philosophy.
The PNT crowd, as they distance themselves from the simple action/reaction reality for the intellectual rationalization of selective insights wish to subject all to an increased unstable existence rather than one anchored through scientific fact as best we can certify. I suggest everyone read the “Another Welcome to Post-Normal Times” post at http://postnormaltimes.net/wpblog/. Incredible. A leader of this group appears to be the UN Secretary General Moon. There is no doubt that many of the world’s “elite” are adherents to the PNT/S, etc philosophies.
It IS worse than I thought, however, thanks to Willis/WUWT I now know who the enemy are and a bit about more their heads. “God” helps those who help themselves and we must always be diligent and continue to maintain the raw integrity of factual, open, contested science as best we can – opposing the temptations of the selective “science” of PNT/S. Most enlightening – thanks!
have become


It IS worse than I thought, however, thanks to Willis/WUWT I now know who the enemy are and a bit about more their heads. should read:
It IS worse than I thought. However, thanks to Willis/WUWT I now know who the enemy are and a bit more about their heads.