Pielke: Scientists as both experts and political myth-makers

By Larry Kummer. From the Fabius Maximus website.

Summary: Experts, especially scientists, wield increasing power in western societies. Roger Pielke Jr. looks at the political implications, and how this is boosting our dysfunctional political polarization.

© Whiteshoom. From Dreamstime.

Scientific Authority and Political Myth

Presentation by Roger Pielke Jr.

Given at a workshop on Democratisation of Science – epistemological issues and new perspectives.Held at Lyon, France on 30 May 2018.

In this presentation, Pielke discusses one of the vital but seldom mentioned issues of our time: the increasingly powerful role of experts in politics, and how their arrogance is contributing to political polarization in the West. In many ways the products of our university system, wielding their credentials, have become an special interest — like medieval priests. In some cases, with powerful expertise. In some cases, with actual expertise less than that of medieval priests.

  • Reconciling expertise with democracy is an unavoidable and eternal struggle.
  • Experts are essential to 21st century governance in and out of government.
  • .One important function of experts in democracy is to help create and sustain “political myth.”
  • “Political myth” refers to a shared narrative that explains past, present and future political events.
  • See the polarizing power politics of the Brahmin left (~2005 to present).
  • He critiques the large and growing risk of experts becoming a conventional, interest-based political movement.

See the slide show below, use the arrows to navigate:

The bigger issue

Pielke shows much about the rise of our new leftists Brahmins. He does not discuss the related but larger issue: do their credentials improve their public policy decisions. A look at western public policy suggests that under their direction, we might be sailing off a cliff. They are altering our society based on ideologies, without research, experiments, or tests. Communism was the product of Western universities. Much of the world is still recovering from that experiment.

Roger Pielke Jr
Roger Pielke Jr.

About the author

Roger Pielke, Jr. is a Professor of Environmental Studies at the U of CO-Boulder. He was Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is now Director of the Sports Governance Center in the Dept of Athletics. Before joining the faculty of the U of CO, from 1993-2001 he was a Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

His research focuses on science, innovation and politics. He holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science from the University of Colorado. In 2006 he received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research. In 2012 Roger was awarded an honorary doctorate from Linköping University in Sweden and the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America.

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June 14, 2018 2:52 am

On my laptop I couldn’t step through the slides using either Firefox or Chrome. I was able to see the slides using Edge. May be just my particular setup but if you experience problems try Edge or a different browser.

Reply to  Rocketdan
June 14, 2018 7:47 am

I use Pale Moon, a Firefox spin-off streamlined for Windows. Works fine.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Roy Denio
June 14, 2018 1:45 pm
June 14, 2018 3:01 am

“Communism was the product of Western universities. Much of the world is still recovering from that experiment.”
Wow, that’s a good one!
Bertrand Russell and John Dewey, in China during the crucial 1919-21 period, together led the effort to turn the May 4th Movement away from the republican principles of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The writings of both had already been translated and widely circulated in China during the 1910s. From their classes in Beijing and Shanghai emerged the core leadership of a communist movement.
True, later various Uni’s did propogate nazi-communism (the correct term), Sartre, Heidegger,le Man, Lacan… And of course Bertrand Russell’s ghost shambles the hallowed halls of many “leading” Uni’s.
Karl Marx was himself a protege of David Urquhart, the true founder of communism.

Typically today experts “will not go there” and actually discover what the hell is going on. Do I smell Lukacs’ political correctness again?
Who will save us from Western civilization?”
–Georg Lukacs, 1914
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Culture’s Got to Go”
–Stanford University students, 1988

Paul Johnson
Reply to  bonbon
June 14, 2018 7:35 am

The unifying principle here is that political and academic elites support socialist/communist/authoritarian systems because they never expect to have to live under such regimes; they intend to live on top of them.

Reply to  Paul Johnson
June 14, 2018 11:31 am
Percy Jackson
Reply to  Paul Johnson
June 14, 2018 2:38 pm

Would that be like Trump supporting Kim Jon Un and praising him while ignoring the 10’s of thousands of political prisoners, human rights abuses etc?

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Percy Jackson
June 14, 2018 4:53 pm

In the end, be mindful that Trump’s obligation lies with the people who elected him. It is their welfare that should inform his policies. A positive outcome for 312 million US citizens may not align with the interests of the disenfranchised and abused among North Korea’s citizens. Sucks to be them.

Reply to  Percy Jackson
June 15, 2018 1:27 pm

How could peace be achieved without negotiating with the person maintaining division? Progressive hatred is disgusting. How can anyone not support a chance for peace?

Eustace Cranch
June 14, 2018 3:57 am

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

-Richard Feynman

June 14, 2018 4:02 am

If you are going to manage something you have to be able to predict the outcome of your actions.

Experts are outstandingly bad at predicting outcomes. link We should keep them well away from the levers of power.

… there are no silver bullets for promoting economic development and that the best hope is to support economic, political, and personal freedom worldwide … The Tyranny of Experts

Dr. Michael Mann is an expert. QED

Roger Graves
Reply to  commieBob
June 14, 2018 4:15 am

“Expertise is one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.”
Robert Heinlein

Reply to  Roger Graves
June 14, 2018 4:47 am

Being a wealthy industrialist therefore does not make you knowledgeable about science – see trump and hairspray

Being an astrophysicist does not make you a climate change expert see Soon.
Being a founder of Greenpeace does not make you a climate change expert – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF7qJ1K4VOk

Reply to  thefordprefect
June 14, 2018 5:24 am

Being a PhD physicist does not make you an expert in dendroclimatology. See Mann.

Reply to  thefordprefect
June 14, 2018 6:19 am

Where has Trump ever claimed to be an expert in science.
Funny, Hansen’s an astrophysicist, yet you worship his opinions.

You don’t have to be a climate scientist to spot the problems with the theories they push.

At least you are willing to admit that he is a founder of GreenPeace, most of you trolls deny that.

Regardless, there are no degrees in climate science, so everyone, and I do mean everyone who claims to be an expert in that field was trained as something else. Pachurri was a railroad engineer for crying out loud. (Designed, not drove)

BTW, I love the way trolls dismiss as ignorant anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Ian Macdonald
Reply to  MarkW
June 14, 2018 8:56 am

Trump puts on an act of being stupid. It’s just his way of annoying his opponents.

Reply to  Ian Macdonald
June 14, 2018 3:50 pm

A strategy that works, including one beyond your understanding, is anything but moronic.

Reply to  Ian Macdonald
June 15, 2018 8:12 am

“Paris vaut BIEN une messe.”

J Mac
Reply to  MarkW
June 14, 2018 9:09 am

Socialist Democrat Maxim Myth #1:”If you agree with my narrow perspectives, you are a progressive and ’embrace diversity’. If you don’t, you are a (fill in the blank with hate speech) bigot.”

Reply to  thefordprefect
June 15, 2018 8:10 am

A child should see the most obvious problems with many “scientific facts” that are being pushed by so called “scientists”.

Reply to  Roger Graves
June 15, 2018 8:52 am

Especially anything about RUNNING THE WORLD !!
Saving the Planet is child’s play to these SUPER HEROES !!
Bob Geldof , “Bono” , “OnO” , Bruce Springsteen , Sting etc….it’s endless really !!

Reply to  commieBob
June 14, 2018 5:55 am

“The Tyranny of Experts” is from a von Hayek, Milton Friedman follower William Easterly. Such lofty sweeping utterances from authority are actually based on a rabidly insane ideology- von Hayek’s nuttiness, which London School of Economics’ von Hayek himself wrote is based on Bernard Mandeville’s “Private Vice, Public Good”, or the Grumbling Hive.
This ideology, parading as anti this-or-that is from the satanic Hell Fire Clubs of Mandeville. What is this doing in the 21st Century?
A rabid denial of economic scientific principles expounding spontaneous order in an unknowable way from the friction of free trade? This is the reason for the GOP floundering, and Trump’s problem.
Beware the authority declaring no ideology! Politicians are used to hidden agenda’s, but this one takes the biscuit.

Reply to  bonbon
June 14, 2018 6:20 am

Translation: The world isn’t going my way, so the free market must be at fault. More government must be the solution.

Reply to  bonbon
June 14, 2018 8:44 am

Bon bon sez:
“This is the reason for the GOP floundering”

My comment:
Do you realize how many seats / power
Democrats have lost since their
peak in January 2009 ?

The decline of the Democrat Party
since then set a (dismal) record
for modern times.

As a libertarian, I prefer that neither Democrats
or Republicans gain too much power.

Democrats need to get their act together.

If you think the GOP is “floundering”,
then you may not understand
the definition of “floundering”.

Reply to  commieBob
June 14, 2018 4:47 pm

Thomas Sowell has an excellent book that has been out a while. “The Visions of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis of Policy.” It came out about the time one of my more senior “scientists” was the darling of one political party and news media in our state. He sold them the idea he was somehow an expert in marine mammals when his graduate work was as an invertebrate stream biologist from the mid-west. He had never seen the oceans until visiting our state looking for work. Even those in the news media that questioned how he did things didn’t want to hear what his background really was. Later the head of the state’s mercury program was a white-tailed deer biologists. All that matter to the politicians supporting him was that he had a PhD, didn’t matter his major.

Nik Lobachevski
June 14, 2018 4:56 am

If scientists wield increasing – especially political – power, it is due largely to the ignorance of the general public, of the media, and of politicians of even basic science knowledge, and of basic scientific principles and their proper application.

Wallaby Geoff
Reply to  Nik Lobachevski
June 14, 2018 6:16 am

I have number of friends with science degrees, one even a professor and they seem to accept the “C02 bad” point of view. What chance for the average citizen?

Reply to  Wallaby Geoff
June 14, 2018 11:35 am

I have a very intelligent in-law with a PhD in chemistry who whole heartedly believes in CAGW. He has not looked into the issue himself, says he doesn’t have time to. So why does he believe in CAGW? Because of there are peer reviewed papers saying it’s true. Can’t engage him on the subject either, he has decided “unqualified” people don’t know what they are talking about and refuses to talk about it. If you persist he leaves the room, his mind is made up and it’s not going to be changed.

So what chance is there for the average citizen? Better than the average hard headed scientist I would say.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Ulaanbaatar
Reply to  Darrin
June 16, 2018 9:27 am


You have perfectly described the meaning of the phrase, “the obscuring dust of acquired knowledge”.

It is very difficult to educate someone who has had a lot of schooling.

Reply to  Wallaby Geoff
June 15, 2018 10:09 am

The average citizen have a lot more chance of catching the epistemological absurdities, especially children, who are very sensitive about injustice.

June 14, 2018 5:37 am

I grew up in a small, rural town. I graduated high school in 1980. The population was about 1500 people then. The town had two plants where people who were not farmers and who had no college education could work: a textile plant that manufactured gloves and an aspirin plant. They both closed. The population is now 900.

According to Gallup, in 1958 only 4% of Americans approved of black-white interracial marriage. By 2013, 87% of Americans approved of black-white marriage. When’s the last time you heard about an authentic racial lynching? Or even a so called race based “hate crime” that didn’t turn out to be a hoax? Yet we are obsessed with pretending race is still a huge issue. The intellectual class and influencers are obsessed with race, but the biggest schism in America is between the “country folk” and “city folk”.

The schism is between the gentrified, credentialed, technocrat class who mostly live in large and mega-cities and the un-credentialed who live in rural areas; towns; and even small cities.

Those are the “haves” and the “have nots”.

Honest liberty
Reply to  Scott
June 14, 2018 6:23 am

Apparently you are unaware of last year’s kidnapping and torturing of a white retarded boy by four black thugs, one was a female, in their late teens to early 20s. Drove to an affluent community, stole him, took him to a warehouse or something similar, facebooked live the scalping, electrocuting (if I recall correctly), beating, etc, screaming fcuk white people, fcuk Trump!
This is not an isolated incident. CNN brought on a black racist foul human being who had the gall to claim it wasn’t a hate crime because they were oppressed by whites, or something to that effect.

Oh, there is definitely violence and racism, and one particular group is guilty of consistent mob violence fueled by racism, and hint… It ain’t whites

Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 5:43 am

This is a very random wandering ill-thought out article that is basically trying to link AGW proponents to a bunch of crazy radjcal lefties who want to take over the world.

Well even investment managers are getting serious about climate change – they do not see it as a hoax. And the managers of a huge company like Legal and General with billions under management are not “crazy radical lefties”:


Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 6:01 am

behind paywall:

13 Jun: UK Times: Emily Gosden: BP flashes red light as growing coal use hits green power
The world’s reliance on burning fossil fuels for electricity has barely changed in two decades and global carbon emissions rose last year despite efforts to tackle climate change, BP has warned…

Spencer Dale, the oil major’s chief economist and a former member of the Bank of England’s rate-setting monetary policy committee, said that the analysis of the global power mix was “really worrying” and was a “wake-up call” for action on generating green electricity.
“How much progress have we made in 20 years? None,” he said…

Reply to  pat
June 14, 2018 6:04 am

13 Jun: EcoWatch: Global Carbon Emissions on the Rise Again Due to Coal Comeback
Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy use increased 1.6 percent in 2017 following three years of stagnation, according to a new report from British oil giant BP…

The report, called the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, also pointed out that the world’s fuel mix has “strikingly” not changed in the last 20 years.
The report revealed that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions was driven by a 2.2 percent increase in global energy demand last year, as well as increased coal consumption for the first time in four years, led by growing demand in India and China…

While renewable power generation grew by 17 percent, with wind and solar driving much of that growth, the success of clean energy was clouded by the world’s increased appetite for fossil fuels. Oil demand grew by 1.8 percent and natural gas consumption up 3 percent and production up 4 percent, BP found…

BP: CO₂ emissions

Reply to  pat
June 14, 2018 6:22 am

There seem to be a few postings by “crazy radical lefties” this morning.

Reply to  pat
June 14, 2018 5:03 pm

Pat, you do realize that neither China or India have changed their plans to develop their economies based on reliable and cheap energy, something so call renewable cannot provide their countries. Why anyone would be listening to anyone from BP is beyond anyone that has been paying attention to the details and not just reading the hype. Do you imagine for a second BP is going to give up their fossil fuel businesses anytime in the near future?

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 6:11 am

Only because they invested heavily in a “Green” future….Guess they didn’t see “The Trump Train” coming !! …..S.P.L.A.T. !!

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 6:11 am

The motivations for joining the pseudoscientific CAGW bandwagon are many and varied. Greenwashing is one such motivation. Often though, the rationale is a political one. They Believe (as do you) because it matches their political ideology, and it is convenient to do so.

Roger Graves
Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 6:12 am

I think what we are seeing here is conceptual inertia. As a concept is expounded more and more relentlessly, eventually it will suck in otherwise calm, sober people who, up to now have resisted or ignored it. However, the concept may well be on its last legs and be about to be discarded.

Aircraft production in Nazi Germany reached a peak just as the Reich was crumbling at the end of World War II. Anyone looking only at aircraft production figures at the time could be forgiven for believing in a thousand-year Reich, even as the Russians and the Allies were invading the German homeland.

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 6:18 am

My business sells financial research to fund managers in many countries and has been doing it for 30 years. I read about this yesterday and the guy has abandoned probity for political activism. Fiduciary responsibility is gone and those responsible for corporate pension monies should withdraw them from his management immediately.
He is a “crazy radical leftie”.
Bob Hoye

Reply to  bonbon
June 14, 2018 6:52 am

The fund manager is using what is essentially trust money to advance his personal concerns about climate.
Highly offensive.
Think of a fund manager in Germany in 1933 backing the Nazis because they would bring order to the beleaguered country.
Of course, the Left will bring order to the climate.
Bob Hoye

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 6:22 am

Does anyone else ever notice that ivanski never actually bothers to refute anything, he just claims that it’s stupid, then he comes with a far left link or a link to his own blog.

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 7:01 am

If you want to know what people really think on a topic, look at what they do, not what they say. The “less educated” have figured this out but the Brahmins, not so much.

J Mac
Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
June 14, 2018 9:23 am

Thanks for that very random wandering ill-thought out comment……

June 14, 2018 6:26 am

Fox News : “Identity politics ruining the sciences?”


June 14, 2018 6:30 am

Politics is and was the essential driver of what we simply call the “climate” debate. It must be attached to any digression to attempt to segregate it to a pure science debate as the Mann/Moore/Curry “debate” which was half baked by design.

Skeptics have their own would be cartel who will never win the debate based on their obtuse capitulation of the essential political motives that drives consensus Climate authority ambitions.

Roger Knights
June 14, 2018 6:33 am

A lab coat is the emporer’s new clothing.

Reply to  Roger Knights
June 14, 2018 9:15 am

Hey, some of us have worn white lab coats with pride. I’ve searched the internet for pictures of Michael E Mann wearing a lab coat, and found none.

Steve Keohane
Reply to  michael hart
June 14, 2018 9:48 am

He’d probably have it on upside-down.

Reply to  Steve Keohane
June 14, 2018 12:23 pm

Nope. Stuff would fall out of his pockets.

Reply to  michael hart
June 14, 2018 12:16 pm

In the past 40 years, I’ve only worn a white lab coat once, to play a film role.

June 14, 2018 7:40 am

Its not just science being deployed by a new priesthood, witness the recent deluge of austerity-is-bad commentary from academic economists, migration is good from just about all disciplines, the white West is guilty of a multitude of sins from historians, and society is hell from experts on diversity and gender studies.

No wonder many distrust “experts”, especially when most of the media totally fails to do likewise.

Walter Sobchak
June 14, 2018 8:08 am

Does anybody know how to download that slideshow as a pdf or ppt?

J Mac
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
June 14, 2018 9:21 am

At the lower right of the slide frame is the “IN SlideShare” logo. Click on “IN” and it will take you to their website where down loads are available. You may have to create an account….

June 14, 2018 9:18 am

got to slide 22 our of 72 and fell asleep. Sorry.

Reply to  Greg
June 14, 2018 12:25 pm

We’re boring you, Greg?


Joel O'Bryan
June 14, 2018 2:53 pm

Went through all of Roger’s slides, trying to understand his arguments.
While he makes some good points, and brings up interesting behavioral phenomenon (as a phenomenology)….
Seems to me he is still missing some important pieces.

– The economic factor for the many PhDs (now over-produced) is to pay off student loans, start families and play social-society keeping-up with less-educated, but better paid professionals peers. In this regard, job competition is much heightened. And here, Upton Sinclair’s line is very important:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
How can a young atmospheric scientist, newby PhD, espouse anything but consensus if he/she wants a Post-Doc or tenure track job in academia?

I think about a young Einstein who had to work as a patent clerk to support himself and his wife, but in his annus mirabilis wrote 4 physics altering papers in his spare time. Back in 1905, there weren’t the academic journal gate-keepers that exist today to pressure editors to enforce consensus views. (There were of course rampant anti-semitism at many institutions in Europe and the US then). Today editors routinely enforce consensus not just on climate, but on environmental problems, health and safety of pesticides/herbicides. There have been concerted efforts to put consensus enforcing editors in-place at many of the leading science and environment journals. This bias has become ever-more self-reinforcing on scientists, who must publish or perish.

Another point that seems missing is the factor that Nassim Taleb calls “skin in the game”, which is the title of his latest book. This is the same set of essays where Taleb lays out his “intellectual, yet can still be an idiot” descriptions, the so-called “IYI” (intellectual yet idiot). This “skin in the game” is essentially what for me exposes politicized scientists. Taleb writes, “Never trust anyone who doesn’t have skin the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them.”

When I read that, I can’t help but think of Al Gore, James Hansen, that make wild climate change predictions whose failures have never seemed to dent their ability to continue to make evermore wild climate predictions, and live large carbon-footprint lifestyles while telling others to limit theirs. Their mistakes do not seem to have come back to haunt them.

As for the political polarization and the skewing of today’s so-called academics toward the Left (that is, Democrats in the US), so much of that mirrors the academic lifestyle of universities and colleges, and the “good life” that academic tenure brings. These folks don’t have skin in the game.

Which reminds me of the old observation about how maturity develops. It goes something like this:

“If you are not a Liberal when you are 19 or 20 years old, then you have no heart.
If you are not a Conservative when you are 30 years old, then you have no brain.”
– Unknown

One huge shift that is occurring in our society is that women are having children later, men are not maturing as fast (starting careers), marriage — if at all, all being delayed. Delaying starting families allows them to remain “woke”, radicalized, and agitated to support the likes of Socialists like Senator Barry Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They don’t have to grow-up, they can remain Peter Pan’s forever, no skin in the game. They can believe the climate change lies as it gives them something to believe in, and the crooks and fools feeding on their behavior benefit.

Maybe this is just the Millennial moving back home after college, living still at home, struggling with student loans or a poor jobs economy. I don’t know. But I do know if this continues for much longer, serious, irreparable changes in our society will occur.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
June 14, 2018 5:19 pm

Joel, the quote is from Winston Churchill. He said it several times in different ways though not quite like you did.

When the idea of a PhD first came into being it was for an elite few, that had made significant advances in a field of study, advances that changed how that field of study actually went forward. I managed scientists with all sorts of degrees, in a variety of fields. The older scientists, the ones with PhDs were special. While a bit left of center politically they were critical thinkers and would readily admit when they were wrong. They had all worked their way through school. Jumping a head, we had several “professional audits” on how to improve our organization. Even though we were considered one of the best, with most of our staff well published, the number one recommendation was we needed to hire more PhDs. The newer, right out of school PhDs we hired were cut from a different cloth. Few had worked at all while in school. All were heavily in debt. They were also amazed that they were not going to get rich studying in their field working for us. Nor could they understand how some university had not come running to them to offer a tenured position.

Yet generally our universities have gone down hill not just in the sciences. Even smart, critically thinking young students must face the far left social environment that exists on campus and worse in the classroom.

K. Kilty
June 14, 2018 5:08 pm

Had to be there, I guess.
I didn’t see the point of the talk.

June 14, 2018 8:23 pm

THAT really says it all !
It is an ABSOLUTE MIRACLE that there are SOME SCIENTISTS still able to
view the world through HUMAN EYES , willing to cast off the
SUPREME RULER mantle and actually mingle with we plebs !
Judith Curry is taking a substantial risk with her career prospects
( as is anyone else who doesn’t toe the SCIENTIFIC ELITE’S line ! )
and I can only hope that we plebs can garner sufficient POLITICAL CLOUT
being promoted by the UN and which is the DRIVING FORCE behind the great
SCIENTIFIC SCAM that is CAGW , CACC , whatever !!
It seems that POTUS Donald Trump is our BEST HOPE of achieving that at present.
ALL the other “World Leaders” ( and “we” elected them !!!! Look in the mirror for any blame !! )
are CAPTIVES of the UN IPCC propaganda……..except Russia , India , and possibly China
which has it’s own cynical agenda !
Australian Politicians are “head-in-the-sand” ( which is ANOTHER MYTH ! )
and are trying to elicit votes ANYWHERE they can. Meanwhile , the LEFT and the
EXTREME LEFT ( Greens and eco-nuts ) are consolidating their hold on the
media , the education system & Academia and the “touchy-feely-sensitive-stupid”
“Who will rid us of these troublesome priests ?? ” ( misquotation I know…….but
where are a few decent bloodthirsty , righteous knights when you need them ! ??)

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