Post Normal Ravetz Rumpus

Reply from Jerome Ravetz

As usual I am nearly overwhelmed by these replies, and I only wish that I could respond to each of them.

Let me try to handle some issues that came up repeatedly.

First, we can find it very useful to look at the correspondence in today’s London Independent newspaper between Steve Connor and the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson (here described as an ‘heretic’), on http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/letters-to-a-heretic-an-email-conversation-with-climate-change-sceptic-professor-freeman-dyson-2224912.html?action=Gallery.

Dyson makes a very basic point, that the uncertainties are just too great for any firm policy decision to be made. Connor, by contrast, presents a number of scientific claims, all of which he believes to be solid and factual. Then the argument shifts to more general issues, and Dyson eventually pulls out.

Now some people on this blog may believe that Connor is some paid hack or prostitute who is peddling alarmists’ lies; but it is also possible that he really believes what he is saying. For Dyson, it could be (and here I am mind-reading, on the basis of what I would do in similar circumstances) that he saw that short of taking a couple of crucial issues and digging ever deeper into the debates about them, he was on a path of rapidly diminishing returns. That left him looking like someone who didn’t want to argue, and so leaving the field to the expert.

For me, that is a reminder that before one engages in a debate one needs to be sure of one’s ground. And that requires an investment of personal resources, taking them from other commitments. That is one reason why I do not engage in detailed discussions of scientific issues, but try to do my best with the issues of procedure. Of course, that can seem cowardice to some, but so be it.

Now there is the fundamental point of the sort of science that ‘climate change’ is. The big policy question is whether there is enough strength of evidence for AGW to justify the huge investments that would be required to do something about it. That is not a simple hypothesis to be decided by an experimental test. There are the ‘error-costs’ to be considered, where those of erroneous action or inaction would be very large. The decision is made even more complex by the fact that the remedies for CO2 that have been implemented so far are themselves highly controversial. Therefore, although the issues of: the policies to adopt; the strength of the scientific evidence for AGW; the behaviour of the AGW scientists – are all connected, they are distinct. People can hold a variety of positions on each of these issues, and they may have been changing their views on each of them. This is why I tried to argue that the situation is best not seen as one of goodies and baddies.

As to Post-Normal Science, I was recently reminded of an example that was very important in setting me on the path. Suppose we have an ‘environmental toxicant’, on which there is anecdotal evidence of harm, leading to a political campaign for its banning. Such evidence is not sufficient, and so scientific studies were undertaken. But these used test animals, over short timespans with high doses. On the basis of those results a dose-response curve was obtained, which in principle should lead regulators to define a ‘safe limit’. But those results were from a temporary acute dose, while the policy problem related to a chronic low dose. And then (and here’s the kicker) it was realised that in extrapolating from the lab situation to the field situation, the method of extrapolation was more important in defining the dose-response relations in the field than was the lab data itself.

So Science was producing, not a Fact but an artefact. That for me became a good example for the PNS mantram. For that sort of problem, there was a classic paper about policy for environmental toxicants’, by A.S. Whittemore, published in Risk Analysis in 1983. In any real situation of that sort, there will be plenty of experts on both sides of the value-conflicted policy process, who really believe that their data is conclusive (children with unusual symptoms on the one side, lab rats with LD50 doses on the other). In practice, there is a negotiation, where scientific evidence is introduced and contested as one element of the situation.

Reflecting on that sort of problem in relation to PNS, I came up with point about science now needing to relate to Quality rather than to Truth. That was rather neat, but also a cause of much trouble, for which I issue another apology. My critics on this issue (notably Willis) have provided me with much food for thought. I don’t resolve these things in a hurry, and there are still others in the pipeline, but here’s how I see it now. In a recent post, Willis gave his definition of truth, which is a very good one relating to scientific practice. But for him (and I agree) it means that a scientific truth is a statement that might actually be false. From a scientific point of view, that’s good common sense; to imagine that any particular scientific statement ranks with 2 + 2 = 4 is the most arrant dogmatism. However, that means that our idea of scientific truth is quite different from the ordinary one, where there is an absolute distinction between ‘true’ and ‘false’.

One way out of that problem is to believe that scientific truth is indeed absolute. On that there is the classic pronouncement by Galileo: “The conclusions of natural science are true and necessary, and the judgement of man has nothing to do with them.” This is echoed in practice by generations of teachers, who present the facts dogmatically and discourage any questioning. I was one of those who reacted against that authoritarian style of scientific indoctrination. Now, if one is doing routine puzzle-solving research, the issue of truth is not too pressing; one can know that somehow, somewhere, one’s results will be superceded in one way or another; but that’s all over the horizon. But in cases of urgent policy-related research like the toxicant example I mentioned above, to believe that one’s anecdotes or one’s lab-rats give the truth about the danger of the toxicant, is mistaken and inappropriate. For when such conflicting results are negotiated, what comes into play is their quality.

Having said all that, I now see clearly that Truth cannot be jettisoned so casually. I have two paths to a rescue. One is to make the issue personal; to say ‘this is the truth as I see it’, or ‘to the best of my knowledge it is true’, or ‘I am being truthful’. This allows one to acknowledge a possible error; what counts here is one’s competence and integrity. And of course this has been at the core of the Climategate dispute, arising out of the CRU emails, the question of the correctness of their results is tangled with the morality of their behaviour.

The other path brings in broader considerations. Our inherited cultural teaching mentions a number of absolutes, including The Good, The True, The Just, The Holy and The Beautiful. These provide the moral compass for our behaviour. Now we know that these are goals and not states of being. Those who believe that they have achieved them are actually in a perilous state, for they are subject to delusion and hypocrisy. Perhaps someone reading this will take offense, for they might be sure that they have achieved perfection in one of these, and (for example) be perfectly good or just. If so I apologise, on a personal basis, for giving offense.

For the rest of us, life is a struggle, always imperfect, to achieve those of the goals that define who we want to be. Now, if we say that science is mainly devoted to achieving the goal of truth, and that every real scientist realises that as much as possible in his or her imperfect practice, then we have something that works. All this may be obvious or banal to those who never had this problem; I am inflicting it on you all because I have been exposed to so many scientists who sincerely believed that Galileo’s words settled the issue forever.

As usual, this is going on and on. Let me deal with my Quaker friend. I never said that I am a Quaker, only that I attended Swarthmore. I have looked up the site for Quaker Business Practice, and find it very inspiring. Although I do not express my beliefs in the same way, I find there an approach that expresses my own commitments. In particular, there are some recommendations about practice, which I shall quote (for brevity, out of context).

*A Sense of the Meeting is only achieved when those participating respect and care for one another. It requires a humble and loving spirit, imputing purity of motive to all participants and offering our highest selves in return. We seek to create a safe space for sharing.

*We value process over product, action or outcome. We respect each other’s thoughts, feelings and insights more than expedient action.

And, just as a reminder of the issues I discussed above,

*Friends would not claim to have perfected this process, or that we always practice it with complete faithfulness.

It might seem all too idealistic, to expect such attitudes to survive outside a rather special (and small) group of dedicated people. But I recall that some have seen the life of science as an approximation to just that. In the interwar period there were two distinguished scientists who involved themselves in public affairs, one on the far Left and the other on the Right; they were J.D. Bernal and Michael Polanyi respectively. Their disagreements were urgent and profound. But they both loved science, and saw in it an example, imperfect but still real, of the ideal community of selfless sharing in which they believed. I should say that the motivation for my first book was to see whether, and in what ways, that essential idealism of science could be preserved under the ‘industrialised’ conditions of the postwar period. What happened in that quest, and after, is quite another question; but the commitment is still there.

And finally. What I said about Sarah Palin was not about her but about me. It is one of the complexities of life that issues are there in a variety of dimensions, not all of our choosing. I have friends in the critical-environmental movement who are really grieved at my defection; and as I have seen all too clearly, there are those in the anti-AGW camp who think very ill of me. So be it.

Thanks for bearing with me through all this, and thanks for stimulating me to a better understanding.

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RACookPE1978

“We respect each other’s thoughts, feelings and insights more than expedient action.”
So why the absolute, economic-crushing, death-producing rush to destroy innocents’ lives by denying them energy, clean water, transportation, food, fuel, fodder, and farms by limiting their energy in the name of a NON-Proveable theory of CAGW when there is no penalty (except lost tax dollars, lost control, lost political power) by getting a real answer in 15 or twenty years?
Other than, of course, that very loss of political power and prestige as CAGW is proved false, but its legacy of death, recession, and destruction would have been started by the writer in such a rush.

Stevo

“Now some people on this blog may believe that Connor is some paid hack or prostitute who is peddling alarmists’ lies”
What a truly despicable way to pretend that other people are saying what you, in fact, are thinking.

carbon-based life form

“Perhaps someone reading this will take offense, for they might be sure that they have achieved perfection in one of these, and (for example) be perfectly good or just. If so I apologise, on a personal basis, for giving offense.”
Thank you, Mr. Ravetz, for sharing your thoughts with us. I don’t think, though, that you need to worry about offending a person who believes that he or she has achieved perfection in any of the traits you mention. They simply need a better mirror.
I am interested in your view of the “precautionary principle” which seems to be the “last refuge” of those arguing that the risk of inaction is so great that it overwhelms any present uncertainty.

James Sexton

Dr. Ravetz, “clearly, there are those in the anti-AGW camp who think very ill of me.”
I must confess, I didn’t read you prior posting, as per my custom, I will skim/speed read a posting. I’ll read the start to attempt to get the gist of the post and then work my way back up to the start, and then back down if I deem is necessary. When I skimmed through, and I read your reference to Palin, I went to Curry’s and Goddard’s blogs.
I don’t think ill of you. I consider you a person who is attempting to explain and trying to understand at the same time. This is a good thing. But, you have to know the inflammatory nature of climate science discussion and political discussions, especially when Palin is mentioned. I guess what I’m saying is, if you play with fire you’re going to get burnt. You managed in one post to ignite the 2 of most volatile topics of conversation in the U.S. I’m surprised you didn’t write something about Obama’s Muslim heritage, that could have been a triflecta!
Finally, ” The Good, The True, The Just, The Holy and The Beautiful. These provide the moral compass for our behaviour. Now we know that these are goals and not states of being.” —————– One day, we’ll get there in the by and by.

David Davidovics

It seems to me PNS is at worst, just another way to excuse pouring mud in the water, and simply cutting corners at best.
I accept the notion that science is rarely very certain, but that doesn’t mean we should lower our standards of verification simply because we “BELIEVE” ourselves to be so right that the ends justify the means.
I thank you for trying to clear that up, but I cannot yet accept your reasoning.

Thirsty

Steve Conner came across as an obnoxious twit.
The disrespect he showed Freeman Dyson was stunning.

DeNihilist

and in the end, Dr. Ravetz, a singularity.

Martin Lewitt

Dr. Ravetz,
“Now, if we say that science is mainly devoted to achieving the goal of truth …”
I’d say devoted not to “achieving” but rather to “pursuing” the truth, in fact, rather than “truth”, lets substitute “knowledge” or “understanding” or “insight”, it avoids the metaphysical baggage of truth.
The pursuit of knowledge is intellectual, it doesn’t require this kind of touchy feely stuff:
“A Sense of the Meeting is only achieved when those participating respect and care for one another. It requires a humble and loving spirit, imputing purity of motive to all participants and offering our highest selves in return. We seek to create a safe space for sharing.”
What it requires is intellectual honesty and the “space for sharing” does not have to be “safe”, lack of safety is just an emotional excuse for the climategate shenanigans. You don’t “share” in science, you expose your data and ideas to the critical light of day because what you really care about is getting the science right, and seeing it advanced further by yourself and others.
I would hope you’d be proud to be on the same side as Sarah Palin, she has the courage of her convictions and the willingness to stick to them despite popular opposition. After all, you are here where your ideas face some hostility, and perhaps take some pride in being willing to face the criticism and scrutiny. I embrace what Sarah Palin said, “Only dead fish go with the flow”. I think we get better science, when we don’t just go with the flow.

Sam Hall

You say: “Now some people on this blog may believe that Connor is some paid hack or prostitute who is peddling alarmists’ lies; but it is also possible that he really believes what he is saying.”
It doesn’t matter at all what he believes is the truth. What matters are the facts and that comes from the data and the methods. Both of which the “Team” has gone to great lengths to conceal. Until the “Team” makes public their data and their methods, they get nothing from me but contempt, because they aren’t scientists.
You see, the stakes are very high. If we do what the “warmists” preach, then millions are going to die.

Roger Carr

Jerome Ravetz: “And then (and here’s the kicker) it was realised that in extrapolating from the lab situation to the field situation, the method of extrapolation was more important in defining the dose-response relations in the field than was the lab data itself.
That is the most telling sentence relative to post normal science in all you have written in these essays, Jerome. It provides a reference point, a benchmark, for consideration of the value and validity of PNS.

TBear

It would help if Dr. Ravetz could learn the virtue of brevity, and get to his point with more efficiency. I mean, who cares if Ravetz is or is not a Quaker? What on earth has that to do with anything?
Having read the Connor/Dyson debate, I cannot agree that Dyson’s decision to discontinue `… left him looking like someone who didn’t want to argue, and so leaving the field to the expert.’ Dyson quit because Connor was a repetitious bore and to contiue would have been an utter waste of time.

gcapologist

Dr. Ravetz writes: “The other path brings in broader considerations. Our inherited cultural teaching mentions a number of absolutes, including The Good, The True, The Just, The Holy and The Beautiful. These provide the moral compass for our behaviour. Now we know that these are goals and not states of being. Those who believe that they have achieved them are actually in a perilous state, for they are subject to delusion and hypocrisy.”
You nailed it Dr. Ravetz. This describes the majority of environmental activists I have gotten to know over the years.
Ironically (?) one of them once wrote that Sarah Palin is “pure evil.”

James Sexton

Thirsty says:
February 25, 2011 at 7:13 pm
Steve Conner came across as an obnoxious twit.
The disrespect he showed Freeman Dyson was stunning.
=====================================================
And stupid. He was so blinded by his perspective he gave up an incredible chance to probe the mind of Dyson. If he’d conducted the interview properly, he’d still be in Dyson’s buddy box. Could you imagine having that mind available for comment? As a science journalist he blew it.
This was the tell though, Dyson “we have seen great harm done to poor people around the world by the conversion of maize from a food crop to an energy crop.
Conner totally ignores that statement, but in his very next e-mail….Conner “it may be true that more people die from cold than heat, but how many die of drought and famine?”
Apparently, Conner thinks starving people while crops get turned to fuel is way better than potentially starving people from an imaginary famine.

Scott

It’s really not that complicated.
The risk of adverse selection with respect to policy increases greatly in the presence of asymmetric information and moral hazard. This is the main problem with climate science today. In today’s complicated world, this matter comes up a lot in most of our dealings with people and institutions. Indeed, one could probably trace the first example of this to the Original Sin.
The continued obsification by many in the AGW community, scientific industry (academics and journals) and political interest groups have convinced me not to accept, prima facie, their main thesis. There is no point in entering into a debate when one party simply does not trust the other. This is not my problem to deal with. It is theirs if they want something from me.
To move forward is simple, just two ideas are required; transparency and good will.
Data must be freely shared and those with strong vested interests need to excuse themselves from the debate. If this isn’t possible then the proponents of the AGW theory bear the heavy burden of proof as they will also need to help others to prove their own case is wrong. If AGW is really that much of a concern then this is a sacrifice they should be willing to make for the sake of the planet.
Those not in the know need to be able to trust the scientific process. It’s incumbent on those who claim to be in the know (the scientists) to go out of their way to assure the rest of us due process has been followed in a free and transparent manner. It’s a basic point which has less to do with science and more to do with common sense.

cba

falsehood in science is an absolute. It is the discrepancy between our understanding or theory and the observations of nature’s behavior. Truth is not really the antithesis of falsehood but rather the absence of a discrepancy between observations of nature and our theory of nature.

Hector M.

Regarding what Roger Carr says (February 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm): In fact, all science is about method and procedure, not actual content at a given time. A theory that is the best attainable theory at time t may be disproved or superseded at time t+k, but both will be scientific theories if they were worked out by using scientific methods. Also, at a given time there might be two (or more) theories claiming to explain the same phenomena, and there may be impossible for the moment to tell which is best. That is the sorry situation in which imperfect humans are as regards the growth of scientific knowledge.
If everybody presents their scientific ideas in a calm and moderate voice, there might emerge a modicum of agreement on which they can report to politicians, possibly much less than politicians would wish. At that point politicians may make a proposal (which scientists would in turn evaluate, assessing pros and cons) and finally take action, with the risk of making an horrendous mistake albeit basing it on the best advice available.
For this to happen, scientific institutions such be functioning properly. There are many who have worked out proposals about such institutions of science, such as Merton and his CUDOS. It is unfortunate that such is not the setting on contemporary climate science. As in other inflammatory fields (stem cells, abortion, heritability of cognitive abilities, “race”, and more) the discussion is torn apart by partisanship and faith-based prejudice, and many go so far as to distort the scientific method and process (with indictments pointing at many, from Cyril Burt about heritable intelligence to our esteemed colleagues at CRU and UPenn about proxy reconstructions of past temperatures). At that point, rather than helping the politicians to attain better decisions, science (or what passes as science) is actually creating harmful noise. This is compounded, in the case of climate, by the call for the urgent allocation of enormous fiscal effort to policies derived from one of the partisan fields of scientific opinion, with huge economic consequences. Time to take pause, I would suggest.

Robert Austin

Dr. Ravetz,
Another thought provoking post. Thank you.
Your “environmental toxin” scenario is very apropos. Society can indulge in the “precautionary principle” and act politically where no definitive scientific answer exists in cases where the cost of the heeding the “precautionary principle” is perhaps painful but not crushing. So when Freon was banned, refrigerant producers with patents on other refrigerants deemed more “ozone friendly” made big bucks and the public paid, but not to the extent of great hardship.
Then we up the ante to the saga of the banning of DDT. For the sake of the alleged effects on raptors and other wildlife, how many people have died due to the banning of DDT?
Then extrapolate to the world wide measures dictated by the (precautionary) measures required to achieve Hansen’s 350 ppm. We presently have no realistic substitute for fossil fuels except for nuclear and there will be a substantial portion of the ecological faction that will vehemently oppose nuclear once they are sure fossil fuels are made a pariah. Any actual attempt to achieve 350 ppm will result in the crippling of the developed world and sentencing of to the third world to eternal poverty and want. The cost of action based the “precautionary principle” in the case of CAGW is simply unconscionable. The staggering consequences of implementation of the carbon reductions demanded dictate a standard of scientific proof for CAGW goes far beyond the inchoate climate science of today.
When there is so much at stake, can there be an amicable conversation?

Doug in Seattle

Dr. Ravetz, it wasn’t the science that turned me around – at least at first.
What caused me to reject the CO2=Climate Catastrophe theory was the behavior of the TEAM.
Their behavior, toward Steve McIntyre in particular, but also toward others who disputed their work, in turn caused me to looked deeper into the science, which made me aware of just how poorly understood and uncertain the foundation of that theory is. It also showed just how far they had strayed from scientific principles in their activism.
Finally, with a better understanding of science behind AGW theory, I could no longer support the kind of policy actions that were being demanded on the basis of what I now know to be an extremely shaky foundation.

Dishman

TMy first item is nit-picking:
The big policy question is whether there is enough strength of evidence for AGW to justify the huge investments that would be required to do something about it. That is not a simple hypothesis to be decided by an experimental test.
I believe the second sentence to be incorrect. I have performed an experiment three times, each with less ambiguous results, that actually indicate that no investment is required. The results are now unambiguous to me, but not likely unambiguous to others. The trick is, as always, to ask ‘the right question’.
Suppose we have an ‘environmental toxicant’, on which there is anecdotal evidence of harm, leading to a political campaign for its banning.
Selenium came to mind. Sodium Chloride also works. Both have both LD50s and minimum daily allowances.
“The conclusions of natural science are true and necessary, and the judgement of man has nothing to do with them.”
I hold that statement to be both true, and misused. The problem is that while the first part holds true, all understanding of them is “the judgement of man”. Reality works exactly the way it works, and our understanding of it is unavoidably flawed.
Pulling these all together, I believe that ‘the right question’ is almost always easy to answer. Unfortunately, getting ‘the right question’ is the hard part.
A little humility goes a long way. If you can’t admit you’ve been barking up the wrong tree, it makes it a little difficult to find the right one.

P.G. Sharrow

Re Freeman Dyson / Steve Connor letters; If you actually read the exchange you would have see a “journalist” try to create the answer at the start of the question.
Steve Connor is a pinhead. Right off “let us assume”, trying to box Dyson into a loosing argument. Dyson even gave him 2 out of 6. I would only give him 1. Conner should have asked questions and listened instead of expounding over and over the same lame positions. I would suggest Dr Ravetz go back and reread and evaluate the exchange. Dyson ended the exchange as it was a waste of his time. I concure pg

RockyRoad

Now some people on this blog may believe that Connor is some paid hack or prostitute who is peddling alarmists’ lies; but it is also possible that he really believes what he is saying.

It doesn’t matter if he [Connor] “really believes what he is saying” or not. Science isn’t a belief system. So your argument dies at that point, Mr. Ravetz.
It also doesn’t matter what he does in his off-hours (hack, prostitute); Mr. Connor could be the Spruce Goose for all I care. What really matters is whether the hypotheses he supports can be falsified, and they can’t.
Sorry, but what does all this blather about beliefs and off-hour activities have to do with the SCIENCE?!?
(I’m convinced that in the term “Post Normal Science”, the “Science” part simply doesn’t fit–it was rejected along with logic.)

Pooh, Dixie

Dear Dr. Ravetz,
If your reference (to Quaker) was to my post, I was a obscure. Sorry. “Quaker background” was ambiguous in that it could be read both ways (member or influenced by). I hope my conclusion (that you use “non-violence” in a Quaker sense) is correct. The abusive word “Raqa” (~imbecile) in Mt 5:22 is an example of the violence that one should avoid in debate. Although I am not a Quaker, I think their understanding is worthy of respect, if not adoption.

vigilantfish

Dr. Ravetz,
I sympathize with your reaction ‘against that authoritarian style of scientific indoctrination’ – although I am no philosopher it was Feyerabend who helped propel me into the history of science (his warning of the need to protect society against science). However, I have an equal reaction against the authoritarian style of politically correct environmentalist indoctrination, which in many cases sees human existence as the Original Sin (as someone posted on another thread).
Environmentalism as a religion emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in part in response to the moral vacuum in the universities in that era. Morality was being superceded by science and students were told to keep their moral views based on the old Judeo-Christian understanding to themselves in academic discussion and writings (I experienced this.) But also there was a strong reaction, owing in part to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the Viet Nam War, against the human arrogance of the technocratic society.
In the 1950s and 1960s there was a strong belief that human intelligence and industry could solve all problems using science. Too many organophosphate pesticides were used with little regard to the effects on field workers or toxic drift. DDT was used recklessly as a total pesticide in agriculture, reducing its effectiveness as an antimalarial. There are many other examples. On top of that, corporate malfeasance, such as the use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline in spite of the existence of less damaging and cheaper anti-knock ingredients, in the name of profits, damaged the environment, human health, and trust of science because science was so often invoked in support of these ‘solutions’.
But the environmentalist reaction against these abuses quickly reached the opposite extreme, and unfortunately, was strongly infected by the Club of Rome and its scare-mongering. All of humanity is now implicated as guilty in destroying Nature’s Garden of Eden (i.e. the ideal of a humanity-free earth). All of our productions are guilty by association, and the fear of chemicals that developed from some of the abuses just mentioned, as well poorly-tested drugs etc, enabled environmentalists to trigger scares such as the Alar scare, which proved to be unfounded but did enormous damage to apple production.
Those promoting the CAGW debacle emerged from the Club of Rome roots, which is hardly value neutral. The anthropocentric belief that our carbon-dependent lifestyles are having an impact so great that we can ‘damage’ the world’s climate is almost the mirror image of the delusion that humanity could solve all our problems through applied science. Nobody here disputes that we can have a local effect through deforestation or urban heat island effect, but the idea that our collective breathing, cooking, and travelling etc will have a lasting effect in comparison to nature’s vast cycles is highly questionable.
I think one of my biggest problems with the whole PNS thing is that nobody is value neutral, and our politically correct ethical climate virtually guarantees that skeptics cannot get a fair hearing.
One last point: you write ‘I should say that the motivation for my first book was to see whether, and in what ways, that essential idealism of science could be preserved under the ‘industrialised’ conditions of the postwar period’. My father was a historian, and like you, an idealist. To the end of his life he considered himself a liberal (he was British) because he held onto the early 20th definition of the word. He refused to acknowledge that in North America (where he lived) the word by 2005 had a different series of connotations. Meanings shift.
We are not still living in the post-war industrialized society of the mid-20th century. Society’s ideals have shifted.
I think what I am trying to say is that perhaps you are holding on to past ideals and past understandings, and things have changed in ways that idealists like yourself in the older generations don’t understand — because they do not have the lived experience of growing up and experiencing how the values, preconceptions, views and ideals of the current generation of scientists like Mann and other scientists of that generation were formed. Of course, a huge influence was the environmentalist religion (belief system) that formed in the 1970s and 1980s.
PNS will be mired in this belief system as a consequence – and what is worrying to me is that this environmentalist belief system does not value humans or their productions – including, incidentally, science.
(Oh, how I wish I could channel Willis when I write).

Noelene

I read that e-mail exchange between Connor and Dyson.I just thought Connor believes the message.The message that says we must do anything and everything to change the temperature.I didn’t see him as a prostitute.
The same as I don’t see Palin as a bible bashing hillbilly.
The one person who is corrupt is Al Gore.He doesn’t care what his hysteria brings,as long as it is money for him.Compare Al Gore’s mansions to Palin’s house.Right there you have the real value of the people you are placing your trust in.
I look and look for some concern,any concern for the women and children that have to live with the consequences of western governments deciding whether they get cheap food or access to basic stoves(they could only dream of a house with electricity).I see it nowhere in the writings on AGW by the people who believe.It is the sceptics that point out the misery being inflicted on people who had the bad luck to be born in a certain place.
Dyson made this point,Connor ignored it.
Al Gore does not care if Chinese children are dying in hovels racked by disease and pain,with no access to medical care,The only way they will get medical care is if the country keeps right on doing what they are doing.Took them a while to discover progress,and it will be a long time before children have access to basics,and in some areas they probably never will.You only have to read the news every day to know that the Chinese population’s lifestyle is improving every year.People like Hansen and Gore want to keep those children in hovels,so their grandchildren can be guaranteed safety.Selfish,selfish people.No time for them at all.
luckily the Chinese government doesn’t give a fig for AGW.They pay lip service,and keep right on developing.More power to them,I say.Go for it China and India,pollute as much as you like.One day you may reach western standards of living.Standards of living that was brought about by pollution.

bubbagyro

The crux of this entire matter was foreseen by an unlikely prophet. Eisenhower, in his farewell address to dartmouth College, said:
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Freeman Dyson threw his hands up and left a discussion that he seemed beneath his station. The hypotheses of the warm-earthers have been falsified on many levels, especially the physico-chemical ones. These hypotheses failed on issues that were proven by Isaac Newton centuries ago, and well understood by Dyson: issues of optics, radiation, thermodynamics and such. I can easily “imagine” that Prof. Dyson, at his age and esteem, could no longer suffer a fool gladly.
Dyson, I also “imagine”, is not “captive” or captivated in any way by this group of elitists.

bubbagyro

Again, I strongly resist the notion that science is open to debate. That is the sorry state into which “science” has descended.
Isaac Newton’s theories were not “debated”. He wrote them down and subjected them to scientific discourse and the scientific method. He was not reputed to be a politician or orator. He let his equations do the talking.
If his papers could not survive the rigor of scrutiny of scientific method, then all of his pontificating in the hallowed halls would have amounted to nothing, and would have appropriately perished to posterity.
As, I guess, (should the scientific method be properly applied) shall be the fate of the cAGW hypothesis.

James Sexton

TBear says:
February 25, 2011 at 7:27 pm
I mean, who cares if Ravetz is or is not a Quaker?
=======================================================
Apparently, someone had brought it up, so Ravetz felt compelled to address it.
Here were a couple of surprising comments. I’m a bit disappointed, not that anyone should care about how I fell about it. But we’re usually in a bit better form than that. Even to people we may disagree with.
“…..Dioxide, but is those promoting the Con as you’re doing. You say you are a Quaker -”
“You might have been raised as a Quaker ……..”
I’m very glad I skipped that post.

bubbagyro

Finally:
Vigilantfish—very well said. Very well, indeed.

Pooh, Dixie

Let me suggest a couple of bones of contention to pick together:
1) “Quality” means meeting requirements. If the requirements for scenarios have been set assuming a driver and a policy solution, the results must be uncertain if other drivers are excluded.

Carter, T.R. 2006. General Guidelines On The Use Of Scenario Data For Climate Impact And Adaptation Assessment. IPCC, June. http://www.ipcc-data.org/guidelines/TGICA_guidance_sdciaa_v2_final.pdf
(Page 36) 3.2.1. Criteria for selecting climate scenarios “Criterion 1: Consistency with global projections. They should be consistent with a broad range of global warming projections based on increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.”

2) Among the characteristics found in Post Normal Science are uncertain knowledge, high stakes and urgency of decision. The high stakes of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming occur only if the models and feedback are correct. If they are not, then the issue is not urgent. Warming of 1.2oC is well within adaptions used today. Catastrophic policy measures would not be required.

Al Gored

vigilantfish says:
February 25, 2011 at 8:58 pm
Great post.

Colonial

I want to compliment Dr. Ravetz. In his two previous posts, he repeatedly used the word “violence” to describe discussion, debate, and dissension. There were many who called him on it, myself included. In this third post, he has chosen to eschew that misuse of the English language. A laudable step, indeed!
It’s difficult to conceive of anything that is more damaging to communication than a full frontal assault upon the very essence of one party to the debate. Yet that’s what elements of the AGW crowd have been engaging in for years. The “consensus” lie carries with it the implication that those who disagree are, at best, poor scientists, and at worst, steeped in evil. Warmists continually claim that skeptics are in the pay of EEEEvil corporations, while the truth is that it is the AGW side that has raked in tens of billions of tax dollars over the last 30 years. Bumping it up a notch, there are also those on the AGW side who have called for the establishment of “Nuremberg-style Courts” to try skeptics, those who have threatened that “we know where you live,” and those who published a supposedly “educational” video about blowing up those with whom the AGW crowd disagree.
All most skeptics are looking for is a reasoned debate, without the lying, obfuscation, and withholding of data that seems to be the Climate “science” norm. While it may seem like a small thing, not being implicitly accused of violence because of our refusal to agree with every jot and tittle of AGW dogma is in reality a big step in the right direction. Thank you, Dr. Ravetz!

Brian H

You can see hints in his comments, but elsewhere (? lost the link) Dyson observes that it would be many times quicker and cheaper to slightly/moderately modify siliviculture and agricultural practices if we really wanted to change the CO2 base level. He cites the diurnal and seasonal swings (many multiples of the base level changes discussed) as proof of the efficacy of the biosphere.

Bernie

Dr Ravetz:
What struck me from the Connor/Dyson exchange was that Dyson appeared to view the exchange as an inquiry, while Connor acted like he was trying to persuade Dyson. Such assymetric discussions are in my experience seldom productive.
I do believe that the Quaker process is fine, but for me the question is what do people actually do when the process breaks down. This is crux I believe of your toxin example. Once the sides become polarized or entrenched, can genuine dialogue be re-generated? Rightly or wrongly, the standard way of resolving such impasses is to simply choose, directly or indirectly, an option that leaves one party more aggrieved than the other. The choice is seldom based on the then available science but on who can muster/control the required resources. Thus we muddle forward (or backwards on some occasions) with sub-optimal decisions.

Stephen Rasey

This has been educational. I did not know what “Post-Normal Science” was. I find Ravetz is an originator. Under “Criticisms” I find a Feynman reference to “Cargo Cult Science”
The term cargo cult science was first used by the physicist Richard Feynman …. in 1974, to negatively characterize research in the soft sciences … arguing that they have the semblance of being scientific, but are missing “a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty”.
Which brings us full circle to Climategate.
“Gimme that Old, Kind of Science,
Gimme that Old, Kind of Science,
It was good enough for Feynman,
And its good enough for me.”

John Whitman

Jerome Ravetz says “One way out of that problem is to believe that scientific truth is indeed absolute. On that there is the classic pronouncement by Galileo: “The conclusions of natural science are true and necessary, and the judgement of man has nothing to do with them.” This is echoed in practice by generations of teachers, who present the facts dogmatically and discourage any questioning. I was one of those who reacted against that authoritarian style of scientific indoctrination.”

———
Jerome Ravetz,
I think there is a problem with the educational institution you mentioned being authoritarian and dogmatic. You cannot attribute their shortcomings to Galileo.
Do you think Galileo was saying individual science findings and associated scientists are infallible? In the context that Galileo was living in a time of the Roman Catholic Church’s complete control of the total society, Galileo was saying that nature revealed (through the scientific process) decides scientific truth , not any judgment of a society totally dominated by Christian religious processes (or any religion).
The parallel today is that neither the judgment of US government funding institutions nor IPCC have the means to judge scientific truth independent of what nature is actually telling us; nature still decides the truth that science and scientists are showing us.
John

AusieDan

Dr. Ravetz,
There are several things that you said that I dispute. Thr first being:
QUOTE
And of course this has been at the core of the Climategate dispute, arising out of the CRU emails, the question of the correctness of their results is tangled with the morality of their behaviour.
UNQUOTE
In fact, the two things stand or fall together.
Their own doubts about the robustness of their findings led them to a certain style of behaviour, whch some would say would not live up to best practice, as seen through the eyes of a member of the Quaker faith.
I trust that I make myself clear.

AusieDan

Dr. Ravetz, here is my second point. You wrote:
QUOTE
The big policy question is whether there is enough strength of evidence for AGW to justify the huge investments that would be required to do something about it. That is not a simple hypothesis …….. UNQUOTE
Yes indeed, that is the issue exactly.
By now all the basic “evidence”and here I’m not talking about peripheral issues like polar bears and frogs. No the really key issues.
All of the alarmist claims have now been shown to be based on a very poor and shaky understanding of statistics, on unproven assumptions and untested computer models.
We are still back to square one – there is no valid evidence that human CO2 emissions are having a significant adverse effect on the climate of the planet as a whole.
Why then are we even contemplating embarking on a massive experiment to reshape modern industrial economies, with little chance of benefit and great possibility of serious damage to human health and welfare?

Mark

Dr Ravetz,
This portion of your interesting post tries to establish a dichotomy where there is none. I believe this error may be of central importance.
“On that there is the classic pronouncement by Galileo: ‘The conclusions of natural science are true and necessary, and the judgement of man has nothing to do with them.’ This is echoed in practice by generations of teachers, who present the facts dogmatically and discourage any questioning. I was one of those who reacted against that authoritarian style of scientific indoctrination.”
The following two statements are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, are both true:
A) The judgment of man has nothing to do with the conclusions of science.
B) Science can be taught non-dogmatically, with tremendous encouragement of endless questioning, in a non-authoritarian style.
One statement does not preclude the other. Perhaps this was your experience of science education (and you would have my sympathy) but it was certainly not my experience as a young scientist.
My science education was full of joy and discovery. It freed my mind from the chains of dogma and taught me how to pose insightful (and falsifiable) questions worth pursuing. There was only one absolute “dogma” and that was “There is an objective reality that exists independent of observers’ subjective perceptions of it.” Science is then defined as the continual process of pursuing increasingly more accurate understanding of that reality. We need to agree that there is an objective reality simply because if there isn’t then we each exist in a different reality and what is actually true in yours may be actually false in mine, making the whole endeavor of understanding reality rather pointless.
The fact that we humans seem to all have different internal perceptions of that objective reality is why we need such rigor in our scientific methods and precision in our communications. It is unlikely that we can ever attain an absolutely perfect and complete scientific understanding of any particular aspect of reality. However, we can pursue an understanding that is perfect enough and complete enough to be highly useful for a given purpose. Your toxicant scenario is an instructive example. I see nothing wrong with the principles of science in your scenario. The error was the choice of an inappropriate proxy. Testing rats for some weeks was not a suitable proxy for impact on humans over years (I’ll leave the obligatory joke about tree-ring proxies as an exercise for the reader).
Successfully solving the dire toxicant scenario does not require the invention of a new kind of science or changing the standards of our current science. We just need to be very clear about what degree of certainty is required for the science to be useful. Perhaps in this scenario children should have avoided exposure to any elevated level of the toxicant until a study was completed with a proxy more appropriate to the needs of the situation (perhaps a sufficiently longer trial with primates). If the cost of being wrong is high enough, further independent auditing, replication and verification may be warranted.
If obtaining an adequate level of confidence should happen to entail egregious hardships and astronomical costs (as all the best hypotheticals seem to) then science’s role is to accurately present the data that is currently known along with the associated confidence levels (especially lack thereof) and work diligently to ensure this data is clearly and fully presented including prominent focus on caveats, alternative viewpoints, conflicting data, possible weaknesses in methodology and, of course, the null hypothesis. The role of science is then concluded (at least until another question is asked). From that point difficult ethical, moral, economic or political decisions may need to be made based, in part, on the science. However, the scientific process itself should remain independent of these social issues because they involve subjective value judgments outside the domain of science.

John Whitman

Mr. Jerome Ravetz,
Your treatment of the Conner and Dyson interaction is neither civil nor objectively accurate about the cause of the behavior of both individuals involved.
As a scholar discussing another scholar, did you have the courtesy to contact Dyson or his associates to do fact checks on his reason for withdrawal, etc?
Is this your PNS in operation?
John

Paul Deacon

“Dyson makes a very basic point, that the uncertainties are just too great for any firm policy decision to be made. Connor, by contrast, presents a number of scientific claims, all of which he believes to be solid and factual. Then the argument shifts to more general issues, and Dyson eventually pulls out.”
Dr. Ravetz – this is not an exchange of letters, or a jounalistic interview. It is a bulldozer (the journalist) attempting to run over a man of reason (and failing).
“Now some people on this blog may believe that Connor is some paid hack or prostitute who is peddling alarmists’ lies; but it is also possible that he really believes what he is saying.”
Dr. Ravetz – nobody cares whether Connor is a “prostitute” or as Lenin might say a “useful idiot”. The outward behaviour, constant changing of subject, and obstinate refusal to engage in debate or discussion are the same in both cases.
All the best.

AusieDan

Dr. Ravetz, I now come to my final point for today. you wrote:
QUOTE
The other path brings in broader considerations. Our inherited cultural teaching mentions a number of absolutes, including The Good, The True, The Just, The Holy and The Beautiful. These provide the moral compass for our behaviour. Now we know that these are goals and not states of being. UNQUOTE
Your goals do disturb me.
I understand and try to speak truthfully and see that as both a good and a useful moral compass for behaviour. I won’t go into the other terms that you have used as I want to make a different point. Turning such concepts as beauty and justice into proper nouns in this way only serves to mystify them in a completly unecessary sudo religious manner.
To me your ideas of post normal science tempt us down the slipery road which has ended in a very bad case of “just cause corruption”.
The road to hell is said to be paved with good intentions.
It seems to me that this is the underlying explanation for the AGW cult.
It is now necessary for us all to get back to the scientific method.

Brian H

Pooh, Dixie says:
February 25, 2011 at 9:34 pm

The high stakes of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming occur only if the models and feedback are correct. If they are not, then the issue is not urgent. Warming of 1.2oC is well within adaptions used today. Catastrophic policy measures would not be required.

Indeed. It always seems to circle back to a demand to accept the presumption before beginning discussion. And rage when that wee concession is refused.

Brian H

AusieDan says:
February 25, 2011 at 10:59 pm

You do the TEAM a major favour when you presume they are inspired by the Noble Cause. Less generous and naive souls, like me, don’t believe it for a minute.
BTW, is “sudo” REALLY how Aussies spell “pseudo”?

KenB

I don’t follow O’Connor, but from your description, sounds like many who are blessed with the ability to regurgitate points (of whatever value) in the hope that it makes them seem smarter than they really are. While I appreciate links for the purpose of learning, I often see the denizens of RC come out with Blitzkrieg reams of their overwhelming “proof” which means nothing, sadly till time is taken (or wasted) to wade through their crud. That some have the patience and time to do this is amazing and I, personally am very thankful. Joe public though can be fooled (well at least once!!).
That leads me to PNS which could be described in its worst form as “jumping to conclusions” with the attendant and strident calls to act immediately, there is no time, your children’s children will hate you for delaying action. I say, that the minute the two are put together, the “precautionary principle” must be invoked to give that set of godlike conclusions a more rigorous going over IMHO!.
Is the “science” word in PNS just added to give the researchers conclusion more credibility to their sense of urgency and thus ignore or avoid more rigorous scientific validation and testing, i.e. just another appeal to authority?
Unfortunately the peer review system that should have given us “some” confidence, that the work and conclusions were valid, didn’t do this, due to being less rigorous than touted, and even worse prostituted/corrupted by some.
IF PNS is to be accepted as better than just jumping to convenient conclusions, it needs a more formal and rigorous examination before using in any policy decision making. A good precautionary principle to be applied for starters!

Jeff Wiita

Hi Jerome,
Thank you for your clarification of Sarah Palin. I do not know if she is presidential material, but what I do know is that she is vilified in the main stream media. Kinda like the AGW skeptics.
Jeff Wiita

Dr. Ravetz. We agree, you and I, on may points; we differ on some, perhaps the differences are more definitional then anything else. Mostly we differ in our view of what science is all about. We scientists may think and wish and perhaps strive for the truth. However, in science we do not achieve truth and we do not even seek it. We seek and strive for falsification of our ideas. That is the best we can do. On my blog I have over 100 short essays, that address many of these points from that specific scientific view. Just hit my name and the link will be established.
It is most critical that we understand as scientists, that following the scientific method and philosophy, our efforts are amoral. What we do with or how we interpert those amoral findings is governed by our ethical and moral beliefs. This is where the process of science leads us or is supposed to lead us. I, like you, have chosen to focus on that process rather then overly concern myself with the intimate and often mathematical details. It is the philosophy of science, the process, that is most critical.
As your moral musings points out, the best we can do is search for that middle ground between the extremes, knowing, mostly by observation, the extremes are almost always in greatest error.

Roger Carr

Jerome Ravetz: “As to Post-Normal Science, I was recently reminded of an example that was very important in setting me on the path. …
Contemplating that paragraph, Jerome, and in both the light of my original posting here (February 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm) and the response of Hector M. (February 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm) I conclude that it is the terminology “Post Normal Science” which can be faulted for instigating, perhaps even corrupting, the present debate.
“Post Normal” and “Science” are not a fit. You write: “…the method of extrapolation was more important in defining the dose-response relations in the field than was the lab data itself.”; but “the method of extrapolation” is science, too.
What is “post normal” about that? Nothing.
The description on Wikipedia “Post-Normal Science is a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, attempting to characterise a methodology of inquiry that is appropriate for cases where “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent” (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991). It is primarily applied in the context of long-term issues where there is less available information than is desired by stakeholders.” sounds very fine; it could also be very useful if the “post” and “normal” were replaced with a simple word such as “complex”; which would also remove its affront.
See what Silvio thinks.

The only THING I think Ill of is Post Normal Science.
Aethestic Religion..
People defend their own ideas to the end, however wrong they are.
We attack the idea, not the man..
The post normal approach to everything ‘difficult’ is leading to the fall of Western science.

Also Science is about Facts – Not ‘Truths’

John Whitman

How about some Quiz Time?
Quiz Subject Concepts => CAGW Pre-cautionary Principle Concept vs. Soviet Era Pre-emptive Nuclear Strike Concept vs. Original Sin Concept Man by the Ideological Environmentalists
Question – Which of the 3 subject concepts has any basis scientific; especially any validation by observations of nature?
Answer – None. Hey, thought I would throw the Soviet Era Military Strategy Craziness in the just for entertainment value. : )
So, Mr Jerome Ravetz, please do not mislead us by often implying a relationship between the term ‘pre-cautionary principle’ and terms involving ‘science’ in the same paragraph or sentence or post. Science, per se, as a conceived in the tradition of Western Civilization does not do pre-cautionary principles. If pre-cautionary principles are used, it is by something else, not science.
But I think it may be possible to relate the terms ‘PNS’ and ‘pre-cautionary principle’ since neither has to do with the science of the Western Civilization; but it is also possible that PNS and pre-cautionary principles are unrelated.
Good luck with reviving PNS since it was never alive. Not alive in this 21st century and wasn’t alive in the 18th or 19th or 20th centuries either.
Jerome Ravetz, what has changed that makes you think it (PNS) can now have life? Is it because CAGW has reduced the stature in our society of the concept of science to such a low point that Western Civilization will grasp at any non-scientific alternative?
John