Jerome Ravetz and Post-normal science

UPDATE: Thursday 11th February 18.23

Scientist for Truth has provided a link to a very powerful essay on Jerome Ravetz and PNS at:

http://buythetruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/climate-change-and-the-death-of-science/

In it he sets out clearly the philosophical background to PNS. Scientist for Truth argues that PNS has little, or nothing, to do with science, and everything to do with a political philosophy. I urge readers to read it. All the comments here have been very stimulating and I think you will enjoy this  article which had slipped under my radar.

…………

The essay posted by Jerome Ravetz over at WUWT has caused quite a stir and provoked some heated debate. For those who haven’t read it I urge you to do so. It can be found here:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/02/09/climategate-plausibility-and-the-blogosphere-in-the-post-normal-age/

It is a closely argued analysis of Climategate and a defense of it within the context of post-normal science. Ravetz argues that we can understand the current climate hysteria if we understand that the scientists were practising normal (Kuhnian) science when in fact ‘climate science’ is actually post-normal. What do we mean by these terms and how does climate science fit into the picture.

As I understand it the Kuhnian view of science is rather analagous to the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution. We practise our science within a current paradigm and carry out experiments to falsify that paradigm. Over time observations that lie outside the explanatory power of the existing paradigm accumulate and when they reach a significant level a revolutionary phase in science occurs in which a new paradigm rapidly develops and takes over. Following this step change in understanding we are in a new period of stasis or equilibrium in which we fill out the new picture, using the scientific method and putting the bits of the jigsaw puzzle together. A good example might be Continental Drift. Whilst Wegener proposed, in the early part of the 20th century that the continents must have wandered over the planet because of the apparent fit of the continental margins most geologists still worked within the paradigm of geosynclines arguing that only vertical movements of the earth’s crust occurred rather than major horizontal movements. It was only with the discovery of magnetic stripes on the ocean floor, the mid-ocean ridges, and fault plane solutions for transform faults etc. that were inconvenient to the geosyncline view of the earth that we entered the revolutionary change in our understanding that we now know as plate tectonics. It is now inconceivable to us that any other view existed. We might also think of the earth centred and heliocentric views of the solar system, Newtonian gravity and relativity as other examples. It is important  to remember that at the time a paradigm is dominant it does have explanatory and predictive properties that allow us to test it’s key tenets. When the model fails it is proven to be in error and a new paradigm is required.

We can study components of the climate system in exactly the same way, developing hypotheses and using experiment to falsify these. Our paradigms are the currently understood laws of physics. We can apply these in hypotheses and develop experiments to test these. An example is the CERN CLOUD experiment which aims to determine if galactic cosmic rays can interact with the atmosphere to produce cloud condensation nucleii. Thus climate science is essentially using physics and chemistry to understand the way the climate system works and how it responds to radiative forcing.

In this Kuhnian view of science there is no role for advocacy. We objectively question nature and seek truth.

In contrast Ravetz argues that climate science is a post normal science. He suggests that the reason for the predicaments many climate scientists find themselves in is that they have been practising Kuhnian science in a post normal science field. This is a difficult concept to fully understand. However, what Ravetz suggests to us is that Kuhnian science is exact with little understanding of probability, errors, and uncertainties. He even suggests that science students today are taught little about these concepts. In contrast he characterises post normal science as one where the facts are uncertain, the values are in dispute, the stakes high and decisions are urgently needed. Thus we see that for Ravetz climate science is predicated on the fact that  the climate is warming at an alarming rate, that we have great gaps in our knowledge, and that urgent decisions must be made.

Because of the gaps in our knowledge the approach to post normal science is different to the Kuhnian approach. Ravetz suggests that there is a wide stakeholder community that should be included in peer review, the so called extended peer community. This peer community can bring their own ‘local knowledge’ or ‘extended facts’ to the debate. It strikes me that this is another way of trying to seek concensus, rather than knowledge, truth and understanding.  In many ways it strikes me as another description of what Feynmann would call ‘cargo cult science’.

To me Ravetz’s analysis is deeply flawed. The only approach we can take is that of the scientific method and use our knowledge of physics and chemistry to develop plausible hypotheses which we can test. If an idea cannot be developed into a testable hypotheses it remains just an idea. The theory of CO2 induced catastrophic global warming is just that: an idea that cannot be experimentally falsified. In the absence of any direct ability to test the idea we must apply common sense or Occam’s razor. For example the principle of uniformitarianism suggests that if CO2 is the dominant forcing component in the climate system then there should be abundant evidence of temperatures scaling with CO2 levels. As a first order test we can look at the Eemian intergalcial about 125,000 years ago. During this period CO2 levels were about 280ppm (100ppm below present day levels) and temperatures several degrees warmer than present. Here we see immediately that temperature is not a simple function of atmospheric CO2 levels and we have to look at other components in the climate system to explain the Eemian climate.

Where does this leave us. I suggest that post normal science is a social construct without meaning. It fits the current zeitgeist in which humanity is vulnerable to a multiplicity of disasters: epidemics, nuclear obliteration, global warming etc. The characterization of Kuhnian, and the scientific method as having no regard for probability, error, uncertainty and only being applicable to well controlled experimental systems in the laboratory is wrong. Finally, the only way we can fully understand the climate system is by using what we all know as the scientific method.

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64 Responses to “Jerome Ravetz and Post-normal science”

  1. harmonicoscillator Says:

    It has occurred to me that Wegener’s ideas on Continental Drift were villified largely because he was an ‘outsider’, a meteorologist. How could a meteorologist understand the concepts of geology?

    I can see real parallels here between Wegener and the attitude of many so-called climate scientists. How could you possibly understand and contribute, you’re not part of the club of climate scientists.

    Surely science is science. Biology, geology etc. are all underpinned by physics and chemistry.

  2. TCO Says:

    The linked essay was a snoozer. The topic itself is interesting, but the essay, for all its words, lacked insights. Definitely lacked tight writing. I won’t be surprised if the guy gets accolades from WUWT crew. They love anyone on their side. But what we end up with is mediocrity and a bunch of retirees patting each other on the back. I hope your entry into blogging is not similar, Paul.

    • Alan Wilkinson Says:

      ” I won’t be surprised if the guy gets accolades from WUWT crew.”

      It didn’t, so you obviously didn’t read the comments there which are more interesting than the essay which sparked them.

  3. J Metcalfe Says:

    Most non-technical commentators I come across seem to have problems with the fact that science can be a debate, that sometimes we just don’t know. They seem much more comfortable with sticking with a known set of ideas, and appear happy to be told what to think, as long as it fits their paradigm. In contrast the engineers and scientifically trained one’s I meet tend to be sceptical, questioning, but also interested and open to alternatives. A wide generalisation I know, but that’s my experience. For those with strong attachment to their paradigm (TCO perhaps?) it seems very difficult for them to really accept that openess of thought, serious contemplation of alternative views, and debate are actually what have advanced the human condition. Given the way you’ve used the analogy of punctuated equilibrium, one could suggest that we’ve just seen the change from one state to another in the whole climate discussion.

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      I think there is great fear when asked a question of saying ‘I don’t know’. There’s no shame in not knowing. The shame is in not knowing and not wanting to find the answers. I’m excited that we may be at a turning point or to stick with the scientific analogies phase transformation in the science and debate. This is a great time to throw ideas into the melting pot and argue their merits with others.

      • J Metcalfe Says:

        Very true about the fear of not knowing. Years ago I was training a visiting academic on the use of a particular computer program. At one point I consulted the operating system manual for the detail on a particular command (in the days of command line interfaces!). They were surprised and relieved that I (as the ‘expert’ in the field) used the manual. They had been trying to learn everything, so that they could in turn appear to be the expert on their return. This lack of confidence, and misunderstanding of what is important (the thinking and applications, rather than the technicalities) actually acts to limit them – such thinking will hugely restrict any real achievement.

  4. Skeptical Chymist Says:

    If your summary that “Ravetz argues that we can understand the current climate hysteria if we understand that the scientists were practising normal (Kuhnian) science when in fact ‘climate science’ is actually post-normal” is accurate then surely Ravetz has got it backwards: the climate science establishment seems to be “post-normal” while their critics (the Prime Minister’s “flat-earthers”) are asking for Kuhnian (or Popperian) falsifiability.
    I could not ask for a better credo than your final paragraph.

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      I think you are right and Ravetz has got this one backwards. At least that’s my reading of his essay. I was enthusiatic about it on first pass but as I read it 2 more times it dawned on me that he was wrong.

  5. Rich Hickey Says:

    There is no “one answer” solution to a complex problem or idea. It’s like saying there’s only one way to do things in PERL. I’m saddened by TCO’s comments, but in a way glad that he (I’m assuming the name Paul is a male reference), made them. To find a solution one must look at the problem from multiple angles and views. So, that said, I’ll keep my personal opinions quiet and just say.

    Keep writing. I enjoy it when others think through a problem and then express their thoughts. That does open them up to criticism. So what. Think about what you write, and if it sounds good to you, post it. You’ll get slammed on occasion. Some by thoughtful argument, others by name calling. It is what it is.

    I look forward to reading your blog. So far, two thumbs up.

    Cheers.

    Found you via the link from WUWT. And nope, I’m not retired, I like opposing views, and mediocrity just irritates me. So, pthththth! to TCO. (-;

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      Thanks for the supportive comments. I’m fascinated when I come across a new approach to a problem, or a new way of thinking about the processes that may be going on in nature. I might not always agree but invariably the challenge of looking from a different point of view sparks off new ideas. One of the best things I’ve discovered when reading other peoples blogs is the huge range of talents and expertise out there bringing new insights.

  6. PhilJourdan Says:

    Thank you for bringing additional clarity to the concept of PNS. I can see now that it is not science as much as it is politics. We are constantly bombarded by PNS conclusions that when they do go through the true scientific course, are proved false (DDT being one of the most prominent).

    I will say one thing for revetz. I dont think PNS is going away, not because it will be discredited numerous times, but because every once in a while it will be right – and that will be used to justify the ends.

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      I think you are probably right about PNS Phil and the example of DDT is a very good one. What I’m very concerned about is the apparent need to arrive at a concensus that recognises the local experience of different communities. This sits very uneasily with my thoughts of science as a pursuit of knowldege and understanding.

  7. Richard J Says:

    My hostility to PNS remained unabated by Ravetz’s recent piece on WUWT and I still find the whole concept most disturbing. I am reminded of Eisenhower’s warning in his Farewell Address to the Nation January 17, 1961 this excerpt

    ‘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.’

  8. Alan Wilkinson Says:

    The complexity of earth’s climate can only be unravelled by hard work in very many different disciplines of science.

    “Climate Science” is essentially an attempt to capture the financial high ground – the bank vault of this work – and to control access to the funding, the politicians, the media and the professional publications.

    I hope the role of Climategate will be to destroy that monopoly and free a much wider range of scientific disciplines to work on the problems without an obligation a priori to bow to proscribed conclusions.

  9. Mike Ramsey Says:

    AGW tries to explain warming in the last half of the 20th century as primarily due to increases in CO2. The only true support for AGW are computer models that assume as a postulate that as CO2 causes surface temperatures to increase, specific humidity in the radiative zone must also increase. It is this positive feedback of increased humidity in the radiative zone that reduces OLR (Outgoing Long wave Radiation) resulting in global warming. If the specific humidity does not increase in the radiative zone then there is nothing stopping the OLR from radiating out into space. Note that the transport of latent heat by evaporation to the top of the convection zone means that increases in specific humidity in the convection zone are not a significant factor.

    Peer reviewed papers such as Paltridge’s “Trends in middle- and upper-level tropospheric humidity from NCEP reanalysis data” and Solomon’s “Contributions of Stratospheric Water Vapor to Decadal Changes in the Rate of Global Warming” show that specific humidity has gone down as CO2 has gone up; a negative feedback in contradiction to the assumptions built into all of the IPCC climate models.

    A key requirement of AGW has been contradicted by the data.

    Dr. Ravetz’s analysis of how the scientist got sucked into the political process and now find it very difficult to right the ship of science was most interesting to me. My takeaway was that as long as science can stay in contact with independent experimental confirmation then science will be fine. So called scientist that violated this key requirement deserve their fate.

    Mike Ramsey

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      Mike I think you’ve made a good case for 2 lines of evidence to refute the current ‘paradigm’ that states global warming is due to anthropogenic disturbance of the atmospheric carbon budget.

      I enjoyed the Ravetz essay, not least, because it made me stop and think about the issues. He makes some interesting points about how the scientists may have become embroiled in the political arena. I’m not sure I agree with them all. When we have statements that the science is so important for the future of humanity….if we are to continue to live on this planet….etc prefacing work then one has to start to wonder about hubris and their position vis a vis science and advocacy.

  10. Jimchip Says:

    I appreciated the Ravetz guest post and his willingness to share his perspective. I think that the idea of post-normal science he described with respect to Kuhn and Merton is inconsistent. Kuhn’s writing on the ‘structure’ has been considered to be a part of normal science regardless of the discipline or inter-discipline and I never have considered it to be ‘disenchanted’ nor anti-Popperian. I always thought Kuhn was simply being observational and rather matter of fact about how science works in some cases. I also think that Ravetz mischaracterizes Kuhn with respect to Merton or, perhaps, Merton is misrepresented.

    The recently released CRU emails do not point to post-normal scientific events but to abnormal scientific events. Climate Science is not post-normal. It may not fit the Ravetz notion of textbook, disciplinary, science but only because it is inherently inter-disciplinary. One of Merton’s major ideas is that the medium of exchange in science is the data and knowledge acquired (certainly requiring trust). The abnormal science that is evidenced is a violation of that fundamental principle, the hoarding of data, the refusal to share, and in this case it was primarily publicly funded. The refusal to share data with respect to published works is a violation of Merton’s idea of the structure of science, not Merton’s ethics of science. Ravetz, being a philosopher, will interpret works differently.

    Ravetz does make many good observations with respect to the pitfalls that exist with respect to scientists involvement with political or socially charged issues. Others have encountered similar problems; The medical profession is a common reference example. That does not require notions of post-normal science. It simply requires good science and perhaps the integrity to resist any siren calls for advocacy in opposition to good scientific practice. Ravetz also asks a very good question. How does society deal with inherent uncertainty and how do scientists convey legitimate opinions in the face of uncertainty? A good posture for scientists should always be avoidance of the sirens and and reliance on good scientific practice when rendering their professional opinions.

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      Jim thank you for this thoughtful contribution. I agree with everything you say. There is an interesting question to be asked about how we deal with uncertainty and how we express that, especially to policy makers and the greater public. Of course the key word here is trust. Scientists must build trust. The only way to do this is to engage and debate, to throw open the doors of the ivory tower and allow others to have a true stake in what we do.

  11. Ed Forbes Says:

    Good post…I found it an interesting read.

    My training has been in engineering with grad studies in political science (public admin). I went for my studies in public admin in 1998. I was very caught up in the climate debate that was really starting to heat up about this point.

    Lectures in Environmental Science (as in social) on CO2 and climate change about drove me nuts attempting to keep my mouth shut so as not to piss off the prof. I just wanted to get my “A” and move on, not change his mind.

    I would submit papers referencing Lamb, Ponte, Fagan,Grove, Wigley……and so on, showing that climate change over the last 1000 yrs or so, including glacier advance and retreat, had quite a bit of natural variance and that CO2 could just possibly be not quite as large a player in climate change as some thought.

    His answer: “But what if you are wrong!” The fact that there was ANY chance CO2 was to blame was good enough for him and a large number of other profs I interacted with.

    The experiance reinforced my decision to stay with practical engineering

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      Ed, the very sad thing is that your experience is almost certainly not the only example. There often seems to be a closing down of debate by the…’what if you’re wrong? question’.

    • ScientistForTruth Says:

      I was asked this “What if you’re wrong?” question on my blog once:

      “What if you and all the other denialists are wrong? What if you’re wrong and global warming is real and it causes various catastrophes? What then? What are you going to say then?”

      The question, I think, is best answered by asking another question because this flushes out the perverse bias in someone invoking the Precautionary Principle in a one-sided way. I replied:

      “What if you and all the other alarmists are wrong? What if you’re wrong and we find no significant anthropogenic causes of climate change but various catastrophes occur through natural causes? What then? What are you going to say when you’ve utterly wasted all your hundreds of trillions of dollars, and compelled and cajoled everyone else around the globe to waste theirs, on a big white elephant and there’s nothing left to help people who are still suffering from the natural catastrophes? What are you going to say then?”

  12. cloud10 Says:

    An excellent essay. We are in this predicament because we have failed to use the scientific method correctly.
    I was interested in the posting by Jerome Ravetz not because I agreed with it but because of its tone. It felt as if we are getting down to bedrock here, to the digging out of the foundations for the next steps. Your essay is a sign of that attempt to rebuild confidence.
    I consider there is a need to establish a trusted source for information and reasoned debate with reference to the scientific method.

  13. Paul Dennis abre blog contradiciendo a Ravetz y su ciencia “postnormal” « PlazaMoyua.org Says:

    [...] primer lugar merece la pena el artículo en contra de lo de la “ciencia postnormal de Ravetz [-->], que mencionábamos ayer [...]

  14. Never-a-dull-moment Says:

    Post normal science strikes me as being at best non-science at worst nonsensical science.

    It seems to me that climate research has opened a side door and allowed superstition to get back into science.

    What next?

    A return to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum perhaps!

  15. dearieme Says:

    Mr Blair, I suppose, was guilty of post normal honesty.

  16. Gareth Says:

    “It strikes me that this is another way of trying to seek concensus, rather than knowledge, truth and understanding. In many ways it strikes me as another description of what Feynmann would call ‘cargo cult science’.”

    Politicians and the IPCC want to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand they were proclaiming the science as settled and slating anyone with a different set of priorities* as deniers and flat-earthers, while on the other hand they are still trying to build a post-normal science consensus beyond their own very narrow one. If you have settled science you don’t need the consensus. To do both is… illogical.

    If everyone is in agreement then the correctness of the science doesn’t actually matter as you are all pulling in the same direction and there will be no conflicts of views. However the IPCC and Governments have been somewhat shifty by misrepresenting the science as settled as a shortcut to creating the wider consensus they seek.

    Would it be cheeky of me to point out that the file hot-proposal.doc in the escaped CRU zipfile explains why they believed normal science was not appropriate, how the consensus was to be built and most amusingly, the pitfalls of excluding contrarian views? It admits much is unknown about the climate and that the science is always in flux. This makes policy decisions based on actual science all but impossible. As a result the only way forward (as it had already been decreed that ‘something must be done’) is to create an environment where the science is immaterial – which is where the constructed consensus comes in.

    * Those who view other factors as more important in climate change, those who place humanitarian and development issues much higher up the ladder of priorities, those who think a warmer world is better than a cooling one and even those who will have to pay for it all have largely been excluded from the consensus building process and so long as they are all slated as ‘flat-earthers’ they will continue to be. As long as they are excluded there can be no consensus.

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      Gareth, thank you for your insight. I’m very persuaded by your comment that if everyone is in agreement then the science doesn’t matter, and that what governments actually are trying to do is force that agreement by misrepresenting the science as settled.

    • PhilJourdan Says:

      Gareth,

      Politicians and the IPCC want to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand they were proclaiming the science as settled and slating anyone with a different set of priorities* as deniers and flat-earthers, while on the other hand they are still trying to build a post-normal science consensus beyond their own very narrow one. If you have settled science you don’t need the consensus. To do both is… illogical.

      Actually not when you think about it. The one hand (proclaiming it as settled) is trying to convince the populace, while the other hand (PNS concensus) is trying to recruit the hold out scientists to re-inforce the one hand.

      Not that I agree with what they are doing, I do think it is disingenuos, but it does make sense in a twisted logic way. It is like the pundits proclaiming before the first ballot is cast that the election is over and X has won. The “consensus” is not there, but if they repeat it enough, they may get the populace to pick up the mantra.

      • Gareth Says:

        It’s like there being different types of ‘fair’. It looks illogical to me but not to politicians!

        There is another benefit to proclaiming the science as settled – you can build a wider consensus based on that lie* without influencing the policy decisions that have already been taken based on a much narrower consensus.

        If it was a form of PNS that enabled politicians, lobby groups and the IPCC to come to their narrow consensus despite the uncertain science it certainly isn’t a PNS type consensus they are now trying to build. Our views are not able to influence the policy decisions – they have already been made and we either like it or lump it. Join the chorus or rail against it. That is not building a consensus but leading a herd.

        * An alternative is that they truly believe the science is settled and the consensus and policy decisions stem from that error. hot-proposal.doc explains on page 20 that “A type-III error occurs when certain information about a problem is excluded and subsequently a (more or less) ‘right’ solution is found for the ‘wrong’ problem.”

        Either way what the IPCC and Governments have done is effectively brought the scientific method to a halt. Transparency, replicability and debate with scientific papers standing the test of time has been replaced with a secretive groupthink that keeps data and method to themselves lest they give sceptics an ounce of ammunition and has reduced peer-review to ‘I’ve got a paper published therefore I am right’.

        I must confess to never having heard of PNS until recently. You *can’t* make headway without filtering and ordering the inputs in a decision making process somehow but the minute someone starts deciding who is and isn’t a stakeholder, what is and isn’t a valid opinion and what weight opinons must have the consensus is surely coloured by the views of the people doing the organising. People expect vested interests in politics. People (perhaps unfairly) expect impartiality in science. Is meta-analysis will always be skewed by the view of the analyst? PNS appears to me to be a means to dress politics up as science by pretending bias can be eliminated. The Emperor’s New Clothes in reverse if you like.

  17. Vic Smith Says:

    I have no formal science background but I am concerned that science does not lose the trust of the general public. I think that this is a real risk if climate-change opinion continues to be presented as ‘science’.

    When this ‘science’ is seen to fail any serious tests and trust in it is lost, there is a possibility of real science being tainted by association. This is not to say that climate-change opinion should be ignored. It should take its proper place as informed opinion and cease claiming to be science.

    Thank you for your interesting and informative discussion.

    • Alan Wilkinson Says:

      The indecent and uncritical haste with which so many professional bodies jumped on “The Consensus” bandwagon has made certain the whole of science will indeed suffer the inevitable public backlash.

  18. Harrywr2 Says:

    “and that what governments actually are trying to do is force that agreement by misrepresenting the science as settled.”

    The EU and Japan have an energy security problem. The way to fix the energy security problem is adopt somewhat more expensive non-fossil based alternatives.

    Of course if the EU and Japan act unilaterally in their own security best interest, this will disadvantage their industries which would not be in their own economic interest

    A ‘casus belli’ was needed to force all nations to move away from fossil based energy in order to maintain an economic equilibrium.

    A funny thing happened while the debate raged, the Chinese looked into their own coal mines and determined that they too had a looming energy security issue.

    The science no longer needs to be settled. Among the major industrial powers, energy security concerns have become a fairly level playing field and are driving change far faster then ‘settled science’.

  19. PaulM Says:

    Paul, so if you think Ravetz is deeply flawed, what do you think (if anything) has gone wrong with climate science? I hope you will do a post on this sometime soon to let us know where you stand.

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      Paul I hope to make some further comments in the near future. Before I do, however, I’d like to do some postings on palaeoclimate analysis and the limits to our ability to determine past climates.

  20. ScientistForTruth Says:

    I appreciated your post. Would you mind me mentioning the link to my own earlier post, because it was I who blew the whistle on Ravetz and Hulme and post-normal science back on October 31, before ‘Climategate’ blew up. There was precious little exposure of the dangers of Ravetz and PNS before that posting.

    http://buythetruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/climate-change-and-the-death-of-science/

    • harmonicoscillator Says:

      I’m very glad you’ve put a link to your earlier post. I remember reading it when you originally posted about it and had forgotten all about it until you brought it to our attention again. First let me say I laughed at the cartoon. The very sad fact is it is so very apt and closer to the truth than many may realise. The climate change meme has infiltrated so many activities and disciplines. A while ago I was sent a technical paper to review on gas diffusion in butyl rubber septa that are used in gas sampling vials. The opening sentence was along the lines ‘With the onset of man made global warming………’
      I’m going to return to your posting tonight and will leave some comments after re-reading it.

    • Alan Wilkinson Says:

      I also would like to acknowledge the lead and quality of ScientistForTruth’s excellent critique. It was his links and article that first stimulated real insight on WattsUpWithThat.

  21. ScientistForTruth Says:

    “in contrast he characterises post normal science as one where the facts are uncertain, the values are in dispute, the stakes high and decisions are urgently needed. Thus we see that for Ravetz climate science is predicated on the fact that the climate is warming at an alarming rate, that we have great gaps in our knowledge, and that urgent decisions must be made.”

    Ravetz likes to include climate change in the set of things where urgent decisions must be made. I have pointed out in a comment on my blog that climate change, on the face of it, doesn’t fit that context. It is not like a bleeding patient who presents at the hospital, where you know that there is something wrong but there is still uncertainty. But if we look at recent climate changes in the light of what we can deduce occurred over the last few thousand years, we don’t see anything particularly unusual. I wrote:

    “Ravetz is seen to be begging the question – not a good sign in a philosopher. To include “global climate change” in a list with increasing incidences of new-variant CJD, infertility, and asthma is completely disingenuous. Those things and their trends are all relatively easily measured and diagnosed. Ravetz is not stupid – he was originally a mathematician – and he knows a lot about numbers, so he knows that he is pulling the wool over our eyes by including climate change in a list of diseases that affect populations of discrete entities. Is the incidence of “global climate change” increasing? Do we have a population of thousands of other similar earths with which to compare our earth?

    Moreover, if a patient presents with CJD, you know from experience that it’s life threatening and not the natural state. You might have difficulty finding the causes and dealing with them, but you know for certain that this is not the normal state of affairs. The same can’t be said of “global climate change”. Ravetz has absolutely no grounds to say that “global climate change” is a “serious, perhaps very threatening problem”, nor should he include it in a list of things that are measurably increasing and deleterious. People have died of asthma and CJD, so there cannot be the slightest doubt that they are “serious…very threatening” – we know the likely prognoses. But climate change has been happening for thousands of years, and no one has yet been able to demonstrate that this is anything but a normal state of affairs – natural variation – nor can we make any realistic prognosis. What Ravetz has done is assume that climate change is an unnatural phenomenon with a deadly causative agent (anthropogenic, of course!) – he assumes the ‘normal’ science can tell him that, so that the ‘post-normal’ science can be applied to the allegedly difficult problems it throws up. But you don’t need policies to deal with things that haven’t been shown to be problems in the first place– don’t waste your time chasing those shadows when there are plenty of real problems in the world that can be diagnosed and dealt with.”

  22. ScientistForTruth Says:

    Many climate scientists are still operating as ‘normal’ scientists: these are the ones who are being marginalized (and they are not all ‘sceptics': for example Roger Pielke Sr is pretty neutral). The dirty dealing has been done by those who would masquerade as ‘normal’ scientists to get the benefits therefrom, while operating with a different agenda (not in every case ‘post-normal’, but a perversion of ‘normal’) to get one over everyone else before they realize. Mike Hulme is now candid enough to admit that climate science is operating post-normally, and that the IPCC process is post-normal. The thing is, many of the contributors and authors, many of the journalists and politicians, and certainly most of the public believe this is a process and a body working along the venerable lines of ‘normal’ science. Somebody should have blown the whistle on this long ago and educated the contributors, the media and the politicians that the IPCC process was not about matters of fact and truth: it was NOT speaking truth to power, it was speaking what power wanted it to speak. So many politicians and advocates such as Al Gore appeal to the IPCC as some kind of ‘authority’ as if it were the best of ‘normal’ science. The truth of it is that what comes out of the IPCC process is nothing like ‘normal’ science, but it is being sold as if it were.

  23. manacker Says:

    The article by Jerome Ravetz is a thought-provoking treatise on Climategate and its causes.

    Ravetz starts off lamenting the “betrayal of public trust” at IPCC (Himalayagate) and UAE (FOIA violations). He compares “the debate is over” with “WMD beyond doubt”.

    He concludes that Climategate was created by “people within science”, rather than from outside influences (greedy corporations or an unscrupulous State).

    This conclusion is either contrived or naïve, as it ignores the fact that the “State” is financing those very “people within science”, and that this same “State” is looking for scientific justification for its plan to impose major new “carbon taxes” (see Mencken on “hobgoblins”).

    He states we should look at what “fostered and nourished” Climategate. Then brings in his idea of “Post-Normal-Science”, which Wiki defines, as follows:

    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”. It is primarily seen in the context of the debate ove global warming and other similar, long-term issues where we possess less information than we would like

    For me there is a basic problem of logic here. On the issue of AGW it is clear that “facts are uncertain and values are in dispute”. But it is anything but clear that “stakes are high and decisions are urgent”. The very fact that the “facts are uncertain and values are in dispute” raises serious questions about the claim that the “stakes are high and decisions are urgent”. The stakes are only high and urgent decisions are only required if we believe that the scientific support for this premise is valid. If this scientific support is based on bad, manipulated or agenda-driven “science” (as we are beginning to see), then the case for “high stakes” and the need for “urgent decisions” no longer exists.

    Ravetz’ next frightening statement could have been taken direct out of Orwell’s 1984 (or a script from Hitler or Stalin):

    When the policy domain seems unwilling or unable to recognise plain and urgent truths about a problem, the contradictions between scientific probity and campaigning zeal become acute. It is a perennial problem for all policy-relevant science, and it seems to have happened on a significant scale in the case of climate science. The management of uncertainty and quality in such increasingly common situations is now an urgent task for the governance of science.

    “Governance of science” by the makers of policy has an ominous “big brother” sound.

    Ravetz then goes on to examine “what went seriously wrong”, blaming a part on the “evangelical science of global warming”, which allowed the observation of a general warming trend, along with the known greenhouse properties and the increasing human emission of CO2, to be parleyed into an impending threat of dangerous AGW, as a “proven fact”.

    The scientists are given the largest share of the blame here for oversimplifying the case for AGW to make it understandable to politicians and the public. It is certainly true that the myopic fixation of IPCC on anthropogenic climate forcing factors to the essential exclusion of natural factors has led to oversimplified and even simplistic claims.

    But I would question Ravetz’ logic in claiming that this oversimplification was caused by the scientists, largely because of difficulties is explaining their complex science to politicians and the public.

    Instead, I believe it was programmed into “the DNA” of IPCC from its inception. IPCC was set up by politicians and bureaucrats to investigate human impacts on climate and identify possible mitigating steps to avoid negative impacts on society and the environment.

    No potentially threatening human-caused impacts = no need for IPCC to continue to exist.

    So it is clear that the oversimplification was not caused by the scientists, but rather by the politicians and bureaucrats, who then provided financial support for the “science” that would justify their political agenda, in other words “agenda driven science”.

    Ravetz points out the weaknesses of computer simulations in “normal science” involving complex scientific situations with high degree of uncertainty:

    The temptation among ‘normal’ scientists is to work as if their material is as simple as in the lab. If nothing else, that is the path to a steady stream of publications, on which a scientific career now so critically depends. The most obvious effect of this style is the proliferation of computer simulations, which give the appearance of solved puzzles even when neither data nor theory provide much support for the precision of their numerical outputs. Under such circumstances, a refined appreciation of uncertainty in results is inhibited, and even awareness of quality of workmanship can be atrophied.

    Ravetz points out that the global temperature models depend more on the assumed “storylines” that on anything else that and the assumed ranges in climate sensitivity are so high that any predictions are, by definition, questionable. Projected end-of-century temperature increase ranges from a barely noticeable 1°C to an alarming 6°C, based on these shaky assumptions.

    He then explains how “a small set of deeply uncertain tree-ring data for the Medieval period” was used to rewrite the historical evidence for the MWP, in the Mann et al. “hockey stick”, including the latest revelations of the “trick of hiding the post 1960 decline” in the reconstructed figures. But he fails to point out that the “hockeystick” had already been comprehensively refuted and discredited on scientific grounds as a fake prior to the current revelations.

    The predictions of severe weather events caused by AGW were politically necessary to frighten the public into accepting the AGW story. But, as Ravetz points out, they were based on even shakier science than the already shaky global temperature projections upon which they were based.

    Ravetz looks for rationalizations to explain the actions taken by the scientists when “facts are uncertain and values are in dispute”.

    He acknowledges that the political pressure was strong to find simple explanations of the imminent dangers in what had become a crusading “war on carbon”.

    But he then gets into rather theoretical and philosophical discussions about Thomas Kuhn and a “’pre-revolutionary’ phase of normal science”, where the scientists felt they were surrounded by uncertainty on one hand, but under pressure to provide a clear and compelling (if oversimplified) case to support the premise of potentially serious AGW on the other:

    Global warming science became the core element of this major worldwide campaign to save the planet. Any weakening of the scientific case would have amounted to a betrayal of the good cause, as well as a disruption of the growing research effort.

    Ravetz is explaining why the scientists manipulated and fabricated data to support the notion that AGW is a serious threat, i.e. to “save the planet” and BTW to get additional funding from the politicians to avoid “disruption of the growing research effort”.

    This explanation is only a small part of the story and Ravetz ignores the real cause for the bogus and massaged data.

    The root cause was political pressure to provide scientific support for a policy agenda (massive taxes on carbon). The policy makers who wanted to make these policy changes needed a “scientific” rationalization for the need for “action”. These same politicians controlled the funding for climate research. IPCC, which had been specifically set up to investigate human-caused climate change and its impacts on our society and environment, was the logical vehicle to spread the case for the urgent need for action.

    Ravetz mentions how these pressures caused scientists to corrupt the “peer review” process and withhold information from critics or independent auditors.

    We can understand the root cause of Climategate as a case of scientists constrained to attempt to do normal science in a post-normal situation. But climate change had never been a really ‘normal’ science, because the policy implications were always present and strong, even overwhelming. Indeed, if we look at the definition of ‘post-normal science’, we see how well it fits: facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent. In needing to treat Planet Earth like a textbook exercise, the climate scientists were forced to break the rules of scientific etiquette and ethics, and to play scientific power-politics in a way that inevitably became corrupt.

    Again, this is a rationalization of the behavior of the scientists resulting from “facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent” (i.e. the conditions for “post-normal science”, per his definition).

    It is undoubtedly true that facts were uncertain (they still are) and values were in dispute (ditto). But stakes were only high and decisions urgent if we believe the exaggerated claims that were made by the scientists based on these uncertain facts and disputed values to support the political “war on carbon” (and provide the justification for a major new tax on carbon). In other words, the sense of urgency was fabricated by “agenda driven science”.

    Ravetz then discusses the “debate is over” syndrome and the subsequent rapid “unraveling” of the science behind the AGW premise with the revelations of Climategate, etc.

    To explain how it all happened so quickly and decisively, we have the confluence of two developments, one social and the other technical. For the former, there is a lesson of Post-Normal Science, that we call the Extended Peer Community. In traditional ‘normal’ science, the peer community, performing the functions of quality-assurance and governance, is strictly confined to the researchers who share the paradigm. In the case of ‘professional consultancy’, the clients and/or sponsors also participate in governance. We have argued that in the case of Post-Normal Science, the ‘extended peer community’, including all affected by the policy being implemented, must be fully involved.

    There is no question that the peer review community has been extended, even to the blogosphere, as Ravetz states. Errors, omissions, exaggerations and just plain “bad science” in the IPCC reports have been pointed out by many critics, largely on the various blog sites, including WUWT, which published the Ravetz essay.

    The absurd and arrogant statement that “the debate is over”, was a key precursor to the demise of the AGW premise. (The debate is never over in “normal science” and no one likes arrogance, especially if it is being funded by the taxpayer).

    Ravetz states:

    We can understand the root cause of Climategate as a case of scientists constrained to attempt to do normal science in a post-normal situation.

    To me this is simply a gobbledygook rationalization of bad scientific behavior by a cabal of highly influential publicly funded climatologists who had become activists in the “war on carbon” rather than impartial scientists.

    Was it a “post-normal situation” that climate science funding (by the politicians) depended on delivering the scientific message to support the policy agenda of the politicians giving the grants?

    Or was that just “politics as usual”, several hundreds of billions of dollars at stake and “agenda driven science”?

    Ravetz makes a strange observation:

    And what about the issue itself? Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse.

    In other words the credibility of “science” in our society stands or falls with the validity of the premise that we are experiencing AGW and that it is a potentially serious threat for our society and our environment.

    This observation does not make sense. If the AGW premise is, indeed, refuted by the scientific evidence before us, then this gives “climate science” a new chance to redeem itself by doing real impartial science to find the “truth” about our planet’s climate rather than provide the “proof” to the politicians in order to support a politically motivated agenda.

    All in all, I would say that Ravetz’ essay is a “Trojan horse”. Its hidden agenda is to sell the concept that the impact of AGW could be so devastating that, despite the fact that we do not have all the scientific answers and facts, we must nevertheless act urgently to stop the potentially disastrous consequences.

    This is the whole basis for his concept of “post-normal science”. This is a bogus concept, which does not pass the test of logic.

    Ravetz tries to make his message palatable to AGW skeptics by starting out with accurate observations of what occurred to create Climategate, including “mea culpas” along the way.

    But by rationalizing the difficulties encountered by the scientists and seeing this as the primary problem that eventually led to Climategate, Ravetz ignores the real root cause of the problem.

    It is the politicians, not the scientists, that created AGW by setting up the IPCC and then purchasing the scientific community with public funding, in order to provide legitimacy for their political agenda.

    The problem was not the limitations of “normal science”, which require the application of “post-normal science”, as Ravetz postulates, it is that the whole AGW craze was based on “agenda driven science”.

    Max

    • Jimchip Says:

      manacker, I’ll agree almost in toto except for some aspects of your ’causes’ statements. Who caused what? From my US perspective and speaking about the US branch of ‘the team’, I don’t think there was a political causation or a scientific causation, etc. I agree with your IPCC DNA statement completely.

      As I see it, there were some scientists and some politicians and some journalists and some PR people who found each other. A relatively small but, in many ways powerful group. They ’caused’ it. Perhaps that’s what makes me disagree with Ravetz the most. He’s taking an abnormal ‘event’ and trying to fit it in, or at least expand into ‘post-normal’, in order to account for the aberration.

      Having found each other and sharing common goals they used the skills from their respective disciplines to further their goals. I don’t know that the scientists involved were doing science any longer, for example.

  24. harmonicoscillator Says:

    Max thanks for this well argued contribution. The level of discussion of the Ravetz essay has been very high and I think all of us are in agreement. I have to say on first reading I was nearly taken in by Ravetz, being seduced by his accurate description of some of the events. I even nearly bought his PNS storyline for a few minutes. The more I follow the debate here and elsewhere the more concerned I become that PNS is usurping science as I know it. It seems to be nothing more than a social and political construct and bears no relationship to science as an objective search for understanding. In PNS objective facts are replaced with a nebulous concept of ‘quality’.

  25. Bud Says:

    Paul, or harmonicoscillator (what do you prefer to be called, assuming it’s not the initials of the latter…?)

    The very first article you link to in a serious post on this blog, and it’s one which calls mainstream science a socialist conspiracy, accuses climatology of being a religion and invokes Hitler and Stalin to tar its opponents.

    You’ve clearly set out your political leanings, and that’s fine, but don’t pretend that your analysis is academic or free from politics. Laying claim to a phrase you want to use to beat your political opponents with does not exclude you from being guilty of the same thing you accuse others of. Your scientific disagreements – and I’m going to be generous and assume this is the case – with colleagues have led you to give very serious public credence to the idea that they are involved, willingly or otherwise, in a socialist conspiracy. Does this not at the very least make you sit back and question whether you yourself are guilty of allowing external factors to cloud your science?

  26. dearieme Says:

    Since the most obvious analogy for much of “climate science” is astrology, or perhaps alchemy, it would seem to be more sensible to call it prenormal science.

  27. harmonicoscillator Says:

    Bud, Paul is fine with me and thank you for your comment. You make some interesting points that deserve careful consideration.

    I don’t think that either I, or the article at buythetruth, suggests that mainstream science (if by that you mean normal science) is a socialist conspiracy. Neither do I think that PNS as espoused by Ravetz, Hulme and others is the sole reserve of a socialist point of view (though that might be the argument at buythetruth). I linked to the article because it gave an analysis of PNS that was different to mine and provided an interesting counterpoint to Jerome Ravetz essay at WUWT that was written long before November last year. I think both are serious articles that deserve to be read and considered carefully.

    I actually believe that most people who study the climate system follow the scientific method and in that sense practise Kuhnian science. In my article I actually state….’Thus climate science is essentially using physics and chemistry to understand the way the climate system works and how it responds to radiative forcing.’

    My critique of the Ravetz view is one in which he states that the problems for climate scientists is that they are practising normal science when they should have been practising post normal science. I think this is a flawed analysis based on a flawed concept of PNS.

    I wouldn’t ever pretend that my analysis was academic, but would suggest if you read my essay again that it is free of politics. Further, I don’t think I have expressed a scientific disagreement with colleagues, at least not here or anywhere else in recent weeks. The press may have made that claim and then backed it up with a publication of mine which was about rapid warming in Antarctica! Thus I don’t think it possible to assert that I have given public credence to any notion that colleagues are involved in a socialist conspiracy. I don’t believe that for one moment and am happy to make that clear.

    I always sit back and reflect what I am doing, especially when it comes to analyzing my scientific data. I am always concerned that there might be external factors that are affecting the way I design an experiment, the way I’m interpreting data etc. It’s the easiest thing in the world to fall into the trap of proving ones own predispositions and I’m very aware of that. That’s why the concept of falsifiability is so important. We should design experiments to falsify hypotheses and not to provide data to support a hypotheses.

  28. Jack Hughes Says:

    PNS = BS

  29. inversesquare Says:

    # harmonicoscillator Says:
    February 11, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Reply

    I always sit back and reflect what I am doing, especially when it comes to analyzing my scientific data. I am always concerned that there might be external factors that are affecting the way I design an experiment, the way I’m interpreting data etc. It’s the easiest thing in the world to fall into the trap of proving ones own predispositions and I’m very aware of that. That’s why the concept of falsifiability is so important. We should design experiments to falsify hypotheses and not to provide data to support a hypotheses.

    As I stated in an earlier post, I’m just a lowly sound guy, but I approach my work in exactly the same way as you describe, always questioning my reasoning. I found this AES lecture a few weeks back and I think a principle that applies to what you are talking about here is clearly demonstrated about 5mins and 20secs into this video…

  30. Perry Says:

    The scientific method of gathering of knowledge has stood the test of time. In 1948, an agronomist, T. D. Lysenko led a group of ambitious men in an effort to establish Michurian genetics, by the exercise of political influence and power. Scientific dissent from Lysenko’s theories was extremely dangerous and several of his opponents were purged and imprisoned. Today much of Lysenko’s agricultural experimentation and research is largely viewed as fraudulent.

    The 1964 words of physicist Andrei Sakharov echo in my ears, “He (Lysenko) is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists.”

    I find parallels between the concept of Post Normal Science & Lysenkoism.

    As stated, Ravetz characterises P. N. S. as one where the facts are uncertain, the values are in dispute, the stakes high and decisions are urgently needed. That, to me means demanding money, lots of it, with menaces & make it snappy, before the cops arrive. Trust P. N. S.? Not a chance!

    A harsh comparison, but the “ManBearPig” claque is an abomination.

  31. dearieme Says:

    “Finally, the only way we can fully understand the climate system is by using what we all know as the scientific method.” True, but the most powerful tool in the scientific toolbox is the controlled experiment. How are those to be performed on the climate?

  32. ScientistForTruth Says:

    Bud:

    “The very first article you link to in a serious post on this blog, and it’s one which calls mainstream science a socialist conspiracy, accuses climatology of being a religion and invokes Hitler and Stalin to tar its opponents.”

    You are presumably referring to my post, and I don’t say such things at all. Please read the post again more carefully to understand what I’m really saying. My beef is with Ravetz and his post-normal science. That it came out of Marxist thinking is a point that the post establishes, as it does that Mike Hulme has embraced ‘climate change’ in a politico-religious sense. I have quoted extensively from Ravetz and Hulme’s own writings – they speak for themselves. It’s useful for readers, many of whom have never heard of PNS before, to have some idea from where it emerged.

    I certainly do not call or think that mainstream science is a socialist conspiracy. Not even a little bit.

    I don’t think climatology is a religion either – it’s a perfectly good field of scientific study.

    My criticism with PNS is that it (by its own definition) abandons the pursuit of truth and substitutes ‘values’. But whose values? Those who can’t make their case by normal science have taken to PNS like a duck to water, so it is an absolute boon for politicians, advocacy groups and religion, especially Islam. Islam has always been opposed to normal science, or modern science, which it regards as ‘Western’. But PNS – now you’re talking! PNS is very attractive to Islam because Islam can infuse its values into science and control it if PNS is adopted. I’m not making a point for or against Islam, don’t get me wrong – I’m merely stating the facts (is it a fact ? Yes it is – I’ll put up a separate posting here to prove it). It happens to be a fact that is easily verified that both Marxism and Islam believe in the ‘institutionalization’ of science.

    My position is that whenever science is in the service of particular political or religious worldviews (the technical term is ‘institutionalized’) then it is always deformed – that is just what happened under Hitler and Stalin, which is why they are mentioned in my post – they are classic cases well attested in history. I am completely against the institutionalization of science – whether that be to fascism or socialism, Islam or Christianity or Atheism, the Greens or the Libertarians.

    Whenever science is institutionalized, the pursuit of truth is abandoned, funding is subverted, ‘political correctness’ and censorship rule, ‘values’ become dominant, and in next to no time science is fossilized into dogma.

  33. Bud Says:

    Paul, thanks for your comments. I’m heading out in a few minutes so don’t have time to post a proper response now, but I’ll do it ASAP. ScientistForTruth, ditto.

  34. inversesquare Says:

    Wow,

    This guy calls it Hermetic Jargon :)

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/02/12/scientist-i-don%E2%80%99t-want-to-remain-a-member-of-an-organization-that-screws-up-science-that-badly/#more-16353

  35. Bud Says:

    Paul:

    Apologies in advance for the length of this comment, but there’s a lot to discuss. Just to clarify, I never intended to call into question your attitude to your own scientific work, with which I am not familiar (though I’m sure you’ll have plenty to say about it on this blog, and I’ll certainly look out for it). If I gave that impression I apologise. I also want to clarify that my assertion that you “give public credence to the notion that colleagues are engaged, willing or otherwise, in a socialist conspiracy” was not intended to suggest that you yourself hold that view, and that though I’m happy you made that clear I did not believe it to be your view.

    However, I stand by my assertion.

    I am happy to believe that you have the most objective of intentions, but unfortunately do not believe your post to be free from politics. This is because the concept of PNS and its application to the current scientific zeitgeist is itself political and controversial. You claim the three articles – SFT’s, Ravetz’s and your own – offer different points of view on the PNS question, and they do, in a way. But the two articles you link to are both highly sceptical of global warming and offer a particular interpretation of the climategate/swifthack issue which multiplies any controversy, misunderstands or distorts factual issues and ignores any viewpoints from either the victims of the hacking or other scientists in climate-related fields. In short, they are political interpretations of a controversy.

    Your own article does not comment on the controversy, and therefore of course does not present an opposing point of view either. You are under no obligation to do this if you don’t believe their analysis of the climate issues themselves are incorrect, and you may also argue that there are no climatologists or AGW bloggers discussing the PNS issue (understandably in my view, since adherence to the concept is itself a political decision). Yet your analysis by implication takes those climate-sceptic views as given, and by emphasising a non-political, objective tone in your writing you are by extension placing these views in the centre ground.

    The impression you give is of three seperate analyses circling around that centre, barricading it from what is still actually the dominant viewpoint surrounding global warming, and from any opposing viewpoint on the CRU hacking or the scientific zeitgeist in general. And that is most certainly political, as is any grab for the centre ground.

    I don’t have time to go into depth on the Ravetz article right now – although the rise in invocation of this amorphous and transluscent concept of PNS has done more than anything else to make me resolve to start a blog of my own and start writing about issues I am horribly underqualified to talk about (being but a lowly student)! However, the SFT article very clearly – with its cartoon at the top – taps in to this pernicious ‘climatology as religion’ meme which has been doing the rounds amongst the sceptics lately, as little more than an empty smear. You say in a comment here that it makes you laugh. It says of science: “It is now a tool in the hands of socialists, and the smart money is flowing into the pockets of ‘scientists’ who will serve their agenda.” It would take some pretty impressive semantic gymnastics to assert that an article largely about the science of climate and making a claim that science is in the hands of socialists doesn’t imply that climate scientists are involved in a socialist conspiracy. It claims: “this is not science as we know it. Science has to re-invent itself as a political tool, just as it was under Hitler and Stalin.” Forgive me for being a little bit sceptical, but even pretending I agreed with the prior analysis of the state of science, there is no reason whatsoever to invoke historical science except to fear-monger.

    There is much else in the article about environmentalist infiltration of scientific institutions, other inflammatory accusations from the fringe of politics. And your comment?

    “Scientist for Truth has provided a link to a very powerful essay on Jerome Ravetz and PNS. In it he sets out clearly the philosophical background to PNS. Scientist for Truth argues that PNS has little, or nothing, to do with science, and everything to do with a political philosophy. I urge readers to read it. All the comments here have been very stimulating and I think you will enjoy this article which had slipped under my radar.”

    Such endorsement has the effect of normalising minority views and ugly accusations from political fringe by giving them credence. Nothing wrong, of course, with the normalisation of fringe views per se, and no view – however wrong – should be prevented from being heard. But the fact remains that these views include quite serious and, if I might say, extreme smears on your colleagues’ scientific integrity, indeed the scientific integrity of a whole country. If you normalise these views, you give credence to their possibility, whether you believe them yourself or not.

    Apologies again for the length of this post, but there was a lot to say! SNT, since I invoked your essay quite a bit then I suppose you could consider it a reply to you too, with due apologies for the rudeness of not addressing you directly.

  36. manacker Says:

    Bud

    I believe the key phrase in your last post to Paul was from the direct quotation:

    PNS has little, or nothing, to do with science, and everything to do with a political philosophy.

    This is the crux of the problem. Post-normal science is a “control” of the scientific method to make it fit a preconceived political notion.

    When totalitarian regimes did this for the “common good” or the “good of the state”, history later criticized this as an immoral political subjugation of science.

    In his treatise, “The Philosophical Uses of Science”, Philipp Frank discusses how totalitarian regimes deal with science.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=iAkAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA125&lpg=PA125&dq=science+misused+by+totalitarian+regimes&source=bl&ots=IWv56-wtgJ&sig=w3k8ekAJMW-ri8YMwUUmWV8TZr0&hl=en&ei=Ump4S_D6BJL8tAOBtonLCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CAwQ6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    Frank points out that in the Third Reich scientists were “prevented from working out their own generalizations, with this task reserved to the teachers of party philosophy”. He quotes a Nazi minister: “Since science is service to truth, it must necessarily be service to National Socialism.”

    The author points out that the Soviet Union had a similar attitude toward science. “The party authorities were to decide which scientific contribution could be trusted”.

    Frank tells us that these approaches were not that much different from the attitude of the Church toward the Copernican system. They are also not that far off from the “Big Brother knows best” philosophy behind post-normal science.

    And to me that is the key problem that makes it unacceptable.

    Max

  37. Bud Says:

    Manacker – I’m well aware of the crux of the PNS argument. However, the very assertion that we are under a PNS situation is itself a highly political one, its application to debates about the scientific environment relying on conjecture, conspiracy theory, and selective interpretation of events. There are transparent attempts to normalise and to make as given that we are in a PNS situation, when the truth is a hell of a lot more complicated. This is what I’m objecting to.

  38. manacker Says:

    Bud

    I get the point.

    To me the argument that “we are in a PNS situation” smacks very much like the quote of the Nazi minister that “science must necessarily be service to National Socialism”. Both of these include the concepts of “conjecture, conspiracy theory, and selective interpretation of events”.

    It is the concept of bastardizing the rules of science in order to “save the Church”, “save the Reich”, “save the (communist) party” or “save the planet” that sticks in my craw.

    To me these arguments are all one and the same.

    And they are based on a basic lie.

    Max

  39. ScientistForTruth Says:

    Here is the substance of a comment I made on WUWT. It shows the how the IPCC in its analysis and phrasing owes much to Ravetz’s philosophy:

    Here are Stephen Schneider’s instructions to lead authors on TAR:

    Moss, R.H. and Schneider, S.H., 2000: Uncertainties in the IPCC TAR: Recommendations to lead authors for more consistent assessment and reporting. In: Guidance Papers on the Cross Cutting Issues of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC [eds. R. Pachauri, T. Taniguchi and K. Tanaka], World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, pp. 33-51

    “It is certainly true that “science” itself strives for objective empirical information to test theory and models. But at the same time “science for policy” must be recognized as a different enterprise than “science” itself, since science for policy (e.g., Ravetz, 1986) involves being responsive to policymakers’ needs for expert judgment at a particular time, given the information currently available, even if those judgments involve a considerable degree of subjectivity…one recommendation that should be applied throughout the report is that care should be taken to avoid vague or very broad statements with “medium confidence” that are difficult to support or refute. For example, if we know very little, we often are indifferent to whether climate change will cause a positive or negative response in some variable. In this trivial case, we would actually have at least medium confidence (i.e., near 50%–as defined below in Fig 3) that “warming could alter biodiversity”. That says nothing profound unless we add quantitative modifiers on the amount of warming and the direction and severity of the biodiversity change. The point is to phrase all conclusions so as to avoid nearly indifferent statements based on speculative knowledge.”

    The 1986 document referenced is given in the paper’s bibliography:

    Ravetz, J.R. 1986. Usable Knowledge, Usable Ignorance: Incomplete Science with Policy Implications. In Clark and Munn (eds.). Sustainable Development of the Biosphere, New York, Cambridge University Press, pp. 415-432.

    Then we have AR4, specifically WG III 10.1.5 Robust Decision-making:

    “The management of uncertainties is not just an academic issue but an urgent task for climate change policy formulation and action. Various vested interests may inhibit, delay, or distort public debate with the result that “procrastination is as real a policy option as any other, and indeed one that is traditionally favoured in bureaucracies; and inadequate information is the best excuse for delay” (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1990).

    Funtowicz and Ravetz have proposed a highly articulated and operational scheme for dealing with the problems of uncertainty and quality of scientific information in the policy context. By displaying qualifying categories of the information–numeral, unit, spread, assessment, and pedigree (NUSAP)–the NUSAP scheme provides a framework for the inquiry and elicitation required to evaluate information quality. By such means it is possible to convey alternative interpretations of the meaning and quality of crucial quantitative information with greater quality and coherence, and thus reduce distortion of its meaning.”

    So the substance of these lengthy quotes shows that, in the IPCC process:

    “if we know very little…[it] says nothing profound unless we add quantitative modifiers…The point is to phrase all conclusions so as to avoid nearly indifferent statements based on speculative knowledge”

    “By such means [i.e implementing Ravetz's ideas] it is possible to convey alternative interpretations of the meaning…of crucial quantitative information”

    “quantitative modifiers” “alternative interpretations of the meaning…of crucial quantitative information”. Hmm…what’s all that about?

    “So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have…Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” – Stephen Schneider

    Yes, we understand.

  40. H.Zea Says:

    While I agree with this:
    #
    “The theory of CO2 induced catastrophic global warming is just that: an idea that cannot be experimentally falsified. In the absence of any direct ability to test the idea we must apply common sense or Occam’s razor.”

    I am deeply suspicious of this:
    #
    “For example the principle of uniformitarianism suggests that if CO2 is the dominant forcing component in the climate system then there should be abundant evidence of temperatures scaling with CO2 levels. As a first order test we can look at the Eemian intergalcial about 125,000 years ago. During this period CO2 levels were about 280ppm (100ppm below present day levels) and temperatures several degrees warmer than present. Here we see immediately that temperature is not a simple function of atmospheric CO2 levels and we have to look at other components in the climate system to explain the Eemian climate.”

    IF CO2 is the DOMINANT forcing component….who said it was? The claim is that the CURRENT warming event is CO2 – driven. It doesn’t exclude the strong presumption that warm interstadials were not CO2-driven. Or that greenhouse gas release enhances warming due to other ’causes’. (‘Causes’… in the broadest sense since the dynamics of the system are chaotic in any case.) Methane in high latitude cores during recent interstadials would be interesting.

  41. Bud Says:

    I posted a response to this thread several days ago that has not appeared. If this post appears I’ll redo it slightly differently, since w4w repeats are blocked.

  42. Bud Says:

    Manacker – fair enouh if you get the point I was making, but you most certainly don’t spend any time addressing it. All science with policy implications is inevitably going to spend time in the public eye and is going to be debated by non-scientists. This we can all surely agree on. But this truism does not mean that the PNS critique is valid. We’re not arguing about whether or not scientific truth should be subject to politics, we’re arguing whether or not it is.

    Truther – does it concern you that we live in a situation where people with political agendas selectively quote and misquote from working scientists in order to push accusations of a particular scientific paradigm that bares little relation to reality?

    http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Mediarology/MediarologyFrameset.html?http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Mediarology/Mediarology.html#CourtRoomEpistemelogy

    More to the point, given that your eponymous profession to ‘truth’, does it concern you that when people like yourself spin quotes from scientists to mean the opposite they mean in their correct context, it actively hinders free debate on important issues? Stephen Schneider’s attempts to honestly consider the difficulties of putting science in the public eye have been maliciously misquoted to the extent that honest discussion of the important issues he raises has become nigh-impossible. Stefan Rahmstorf, Jonathan Gregory and Simon Holgate (to name but three) have all recently reported being misquoted by Times journalist Jonathan Leake, one claiming the experience had left him reluctant to speak to any media at all. Is this a healthy environment for scientists to be working in? Is it possible to make such obvious errors in quoting people and constructing narratives without following a political agenda? And if not, then what’s yours?

  43. manacker Says:

    Bud

    Yes. Science is science and politics are politics.

    Bending the rules of science for political reasons is unacceptable even if the motive is supposedly “good”.

    Whether it is being done to “save the planet” or “save the Party” does not matter.

    You wrote:

    We’re not arguing about whether or not scientific truth should be subject to politics, we’re arguing whether or not it is.

    My response:

    Scientific truth should never be subject to politics.

    In the case of IPCC, scientific truth is most definitely being subject to politics, (as IPCC is primarily a political organization presenting a scientific justification for its political message).

    And this is unacceptable, even if Jerome Ravetz rationalizes otherwise with his PNS postulation.

    Max

  44. ScientistForTruth Says:

    Bud

    “More to the point, given that your eponymous profession to ‘truth’, does it concern you that when people like yourself spin quotes from scientists to mean the opposite they mean in their correct context, it actively hinders free debate on important issues?”

    Let me make this clear. I believe that science should be an enterprise that searches FOR truth (hence ‘ScientistForTruth’). It does not necessarily possess the truth; but the scientific method, with proper ethics, should enable science to move in the right direction towards the truth, even though it never arrives there.

    Of course it concerns me when quotes are misrepresented. However, you are accusing me of the same – where’s that coming from, my quotation of Schneider? Schneider is what I would describe as an intelligent liar. The quote I gave comes from a particularly nasty piece of self-justification where Schneider tries to justify the scientist as advocate and propagandist. He says that on the one hand, as a scientist, he has to operate within the ethics of science,

    “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts.”

    but on the other hand he says “we are not just scientists but human beings as well”, and so as a human being he’s entitles to operate as a non-scientist and indulge in media spin:

    “On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. 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.”

    In other words, we can use our influence to spread propaganda. Definition of propaganda: I don’t like Wikipedia, but for quickness the following must suffice:

    “Propaganda is a form of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda.”

    “a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels.”
    —Richard Alan Nelson, A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States, 1996

    One aspect of propaganda “The leaders of an organization know the information to be one sided or untrue, but this may not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda.” Or those who are expected to believe it, of course.

    It’s not a double ethical bind at all. What is GROSSLY UNethical is for Schneider to do the media spin and offer up scary (emotional) scenarios under the guise of a scientist. If he wants to go into the TV studio and give his spin as a private citizen, fine. But as soon as he is introduced as ‘such and such scientist’ and ‘such and such scientist says’ he is ethically bound to speak in the capacity he was introduced. If he doesn’t want to speak as a scientist when he’s introduced as such, then he should make it plain that he is giving an opinion as a private citizen, not in the capacity of a scientist. He should say ‘I’m not actually speaking as a scientist here, but giving my own personal opinion as a private citizen…’ But, no, he wouldn’t get “loads of media coverage” if he did that, would he? So he uses his gravitas as a scientist to lend massive weight to a personal agenda and deceive his audience into thinking that he is speaking within the ethics of science..

    That’s the dishonesty of Schneider and so many other scientists these days. That’s why the climate science has become so confused and polluted. That’s why politicians and the general public think that the IPCC is the gold standard for ‘normal science’ when it is a murky ‘post-normal’, corrupt advocacy machine. The IPCC do exactly the same as Schneider – they trumpet their ‘authority’ as a body representing science, while all the time doing something different. Like propaganda, it’s only effective so long as people don’t realize it’s propaganda.

    When a scientist is interviewed, how do we know which ‘hat’ he is wearing? He can change between speaking as a scientist to speaking as a political animal within the same sentence, and we cannot tell what ‘ethical double bind’ is going on in his mind. Of course, if Schneider is asked on TV, he doesn’t say, ‘Well, I’m only speaking as an interested citizen, so please don’t use my title, or reference my work’. When he write popular articles, does he go under his titles and qualifications? Is he trying to lend his academic gravitas to something political, without the reader being aware? Of course he is. And he does it dishonestly to leverage his scientific capital into his political agenda without anyone knowing. In other words, he is indulging in propaganda. Schneider is saying that it’s OK for scientists to use their positions, ‘authority’, and public standing as excellent ‘cover’ for propaganda.

    That’s simply dishonest. Yes, Schneider, and no doubt Mann, Jones et al feel they can justify this deception, but now that we have, through the Climategate emails, seen what was actually going through their minds at the time, and it doesn’t really cut the mustard as science, does it?

  45. manacker Says:

    ScientistForTruth

    That’s an excellent summary on science versus propaganda.

    Thanks.

    Max

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