Pielke vs Schneider

The wrongness of the edifice that RP Jr constructs in “Honest Broker” is something that needs to be examined. He suggests that a scientist can be either advocate (for a particular policy) or reporter (neutral among policies; here he distinguishes three rather similar variations, on of which he calls “honest broker”) and that any intermediate role is (at least implicitly) dishonest.

(I note that Roger concedes in comments here that one can take different roles on different issues. This is important and somewhat helpful to his thesis, but raises many new questions.)

One fundamental flaw here is that there is no distinction possible in Roger’s taxonomy between “scientific advocate” and “pseudoscientific advocate”. There is no role for a scientist responding to untruths or misrepresentations posing as science. The “honest broker” simply reports on alternatives, and makes no choice among them. The “advocate” promotes a particular set of choices and makes no attempt at balance. The political process weighs the various evidence streams and chooses a course of action. This is a lawyer’s model of how ideas contend, not a scientist’s.

Placed up against this is Steve Schneider’s infamous quotation:

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 doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. 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 climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means 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. I hope that means being both.

There are many who try to twist this into a declaration of dishonesty. (… as if dishonest people had some reason for declaring that they are dishonest!) But clearly, it isn’t. It’s a description of the ethical tightrope that every scientist walks at every moment he or she discusses science, especially when there are important direct implications for the public.

Roger’s suggestion amounts to a claim that some of us should be effective and pay scant attention to honesty, while others should be honest and pay scant attention to effectiveness. Nobody is assigned the role of evaluating claims on a normative basis; implicitly this is for the policy sector and not for scientists. In other words, by obtaining domain expertise, we scientists apparently disqualify ourselves from participating in discussions about values. But surely that is exactly backwards.

I think I have settled on at least a partial answer to this quandary: we must distinguish between expertise and expert advice. Expertise is value neutral; expert advice isn’t. But these are types of statement, not roles.

At any given moment, we must try to be clear which sort of statement we are making. But to give people two different hats and suggest that they never change them is simply to shred the communication channel at its most valuable point. If you go to pure advocates for expert advice, you will never be able to trust them. If you go to pure experts for data, you will never have anyone to offer perspective. If you dismiss anyone who does both as dishonest, you have hermetically sealed yourself against the only people capable of offering informed perspective.

If you cannot acknowledge statements from people who have both value-neutral expertise and culturally connected values, then you cannot evaluate the effectiveness of proposed policies in achieving goals. Then you can proceed to develop politically popular policies which are stupidly incompetent, which I suppose is the point of expertise in political science .

You can see this approach in full flower over at Roger’s right now. Read the comments.


pix: SantaCruz.com & Cafescicolorado.org.

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The Authoritarianism Claim

Ken Green and his coauthor Hiwa Alaghebandian have gone out and collected data to support their proposition that science is “turning authoritarian”. This is an admirable first step, but let’s apply a bit of skepticism and see where it goes.

Here’s the data:

Now, the first thing I note is that all the curves are pretty much the same shape just with different scaling. So perhaps the size of the data set grows over time.

Yet G & A proceed to claim that “Some of this may simply reflect the general growth of media output and the growth of new media, but if that were the case, we would expect all of the terms to have shown similar growth, which they do not.” But, um, they do. Well, these guys don’t look at charts and graphs all that much, perhaps they’ve never thought about what that might look like. But anyway, the way they eliminate “general growth” is, um, how to put this charitably, “exactly wrong”.

Anyway, the next question, of course, is whether the language is being used in the way they suggest. Their own examples are far from convincing on this score.

The climate community is probably the biggest user of the authoritarian voice, with frequent pronouncements that “the science says we must limit atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million,” or some dire outcome will eventuate. Friends of the Earth writes, “For example, science tells us we must reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate change.” America’s climate change negotiator in Copenhagen is quoted by World Wildlife Fund as saying, “China must do significantly more if we are to have a chance to solve the problem and to arrive at an international agreement that achieves what science tells us we must.” Science as dictator—not a pretty sight.

If science wants to redeem itself and regain its place with the public’s affection, scientists need to come out every time some politician says, “The science says we must…” and reply, “Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.

But the example “China must do significantly more if we are to have a chance to solve the problem” is not an instruction, it is a statement of fact: consequence X cannot be avoided without action Y. “For example, science tells us we must reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate change” can at least be read that way. Are these authoritaruan statements? No, they are claims of fact. They don’t tell you you must avoid consequence X; they tell you that if you want to avoid consequence X, then Y is required.

So let’s look for ourselves. Those of us who don’t have Lexis/Nexis kind of bucks are no longer at a great disadvantage; we can ask the Google/Oogle.

And the great Oogle Bird reveals two things. The first, not unexpected, is that there are plenty of other ways you can use the phrases:

Science requires faith”

Science requires interpretation”

Science requires mathematics”

“Lithuanian law on science requires online access for publicly-funded research”

“Computer Science requires critical thinking skills”

“that if the law differs from what cognitive science tells us, we should change the law to conform to the “objective” truth of the human brain”

“The increase in global temperature is consistent with what science tells us we should expect”

“That’s what all the science tells us we should expect”

“But Occam’s razor (a standard paradigm in science) tells us we should pick the simplest model that is consistent with the data”

So phrase counts themselves don;t tell the whole stories.

But that was to be expected. What I did not expect was how very few hits Google had. On the exact phrase “science tells us we should” (using quote delimiters) Google had exactly 49 hits, perhaps a quarter of them referring to Green and Alaghebandian either directly or at one remove, (and another quarter absurdly off topic in one way or another). So we are looking at two dozen hits from google. I can’t see how this is consistent with 1500 per year from Lexis,

Note that the curves are nearly monotonic: you might even suspect that these numbers are cumulative except for the declines in 2003 and 2006. I would like to see these results reproduced (not just replicated) before I would recommend putting much credence into them.

But what is this all about anyway? It’s true enough that “science tells us we should” seems to be applied to environmental issues and climate issues in particular, in the rare cases it’s used. And it’s clear that this is usually expressed by a nonscientist. So the nonscientist may be respecting authority, but there is no sign of an exercise or assertion of power.

Why should there be? The question comes down to the purpose of expertise. Science itself, in the pure form, is and should be value neutral. Science-based advice cannot be. In other words, expertise is one thing, and expert advice is another thing. There can be expertise without expert advice, but there cannot be expert advice without expertise. Exactly what words the expert uses, or even exactly what words the person taking the advice uses, is hairsplitting.

Many of the ideas from our critics have a dreamlike, bizarre quality to them. Apparently, Phil Jones has been doing what he has been doing because that is how to become a modern Napoleon; you collate thermometers. Before you know it you will rule the world.

Right. A good theory, demonstrated beyond doubt by a clever Lexis search. That explains everything except the 99 degree temperature in Helsinki yesterday. That and why Google only got 49 hits on their most prominent phrase.

What it really means is that freedom is just another word for ignoring informed opinion when it suits you. I guess that’s why they need those think tanks. If they weren’t in a heavily armored vehicle they wouldn’t last five minutes in fair combat. But give them some credit. They drew a graph. That’s progress…

Misleading Headline Again

I think nobody has ever been fired for a bad headline. The story is important and informative for the informed, though possibly a bit misleading for the uninformed. So it’s also bad journalism for America, but not as bad as the headline. It’s originally Agence France-Press I think, though the headline was clearly written by somebody who only read the first sentence. So maybe it wasn’t bad journalism in the original. I don’t doubt the French public could do a better job understanding this:

“Our findings will increase our knowledge on the climate system and increase our ability to predict the speed and final height of sea level rise,” said Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, an ice expert at the University of Copenhagen and head of the project.

“If the Eemian was unstable, then the models of future change due to increased greenhouse effect are wrong as they cannot handle sudden changes,” she told AFP by email from the site.

But many Americans are far more dauntless and brave than Frenchmen, and so are able to go from “models are wrong” to “therefore the sensitivity is zero” so quickly and with so much zeal and so little thought that it causes spinal injury. Certainly the rest of the context is likely reduced to invisibility.

Anyway, it’s a good story. And it’s the truth, what Dr. Dahl-Jensen says about the models: if they aren’t accurate, then things are more likely to turn out much worse than the models say than to turn better than they say.

But these days, in the English-speaking world at least, you really have to spell something like that out. You have to say “worse than the models predict”, which I suppose puts you in the terrain of advocate and not scientist! If you just say “models are wrong” you’re pretty much guaranteed to be read as saying “no worries”!

Update 9/1/10: The original link has gone stale. Here is an exact copy. The headline was “Earth’s climate future may be etched in Greenland bedrock” .

The inattentive reading by the editor seems to have been limited to the first paragraph, “Scientists hit Greenland bedrock this week after five years of drilling through 2.5 kilometres (1.6-mile) of solid ice, a 14-nation consortium announced Wednesday.” Of course, they are interested in the ice, not the bedrock.

Russian Heat Wave and Peat Fires

It’s surprisingly hard to find good photos of the smog/heat emergency in Moscow. The best I have found is this set from the Chinese news service xinhuanet.com .

Joe Romm points out that this heat anomaly is part of a global pattern this summer:

Globally nine countries have smashed all-time temperature records, “making 2010 the year with the most national extreme heat records,” as meteorologist Jeff Masters has reported.

This is a serious abnormality. The Russian weather service has never measured such temperatures in Moscow in July,” said Dmitry Kiktyov, Deputy Director of the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia.

Roger at Face Value

I have ploughed through Roger Pielke Jr.’s The Honest Broker. On the whole I cannot recommend it; I’ll try to explain in detail soon.

That said, there were a couple of things in the book that I liked a lot. Most important is this. At root, Roger is, in fact, asking the right question, regardless of what you think of his way of answering it. The relationship between science and policy is indeed fraught and not well decided. It is something we need to think about; it’s of first order importance in figuring out what to do about climate and many other crucial issues.
I also liked his contrast between Tornado Science and Abortion Science; in the former, science is decisive, while in the latter, science is, if anything, used as rationalization for positions which were fixed in advance of any realistically plausible evidence.
(It would be more fun to talk about this with a different name than Abortion Science, though, please and thanks. Let’s just call it science-as-proxy vs. science-as-driver.)
But Roger doesn’t go far enough with this distinction; he presumes it is obvious which is which. A good deal of the difficulty we are having in the climate field is in fact that the question of which sort of question it is is in contention. When you hear people saying “global warming is like a religion” they are saying that climate change is about preconceived ethical stances and not about the physical reality of the system. Those of us who think otherwise find ourselves harping on evidence; others see us spouting dogma. We bang the drum about coherence and consistency of evidence; others see signs of closed-mindedness. We try to drive the conversation with facts; they respond with values.
Roger takes no explicit side on which sort of question climate policy debate is, but I think his behavior shows that he doesn’t really see the tornado coming. But I thank him for the distinction just the same. I think this disagreement whether science is a proxy or is the real issue is at the heart of why we talk past each other.


Update: Roger responds in a comment “If you think that you are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner through appeals to science, you are wrong.”

My first response in comments is somewhat tangential to this key point.

My answer to the key point, emphatically, is that if Roger thinks we are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner without appeals to science, he is more wrong than I am. (I don’t think that he does think that, to be fair. But I’m not sure where that leaves us.)

Clearly science is substantially relevant, even if it isn’t entirely dispositive. Until the public understands the main practical implications of the science, we will not end up with a sane policy.

While daunting, these implications are not in themselves complicated. Yet, for whatever reason, they are not commonly understood, and this lack of understanding leads directly to a dysfunctional policy. I do not see any segment of Roger’s four-part taxonomy as having the competence to respond to this circumstance.

The issue I raise in the comments is a much simpler one, but it may serve as a model, wherein Roger can explain what those of us who are convinced there is a tornado coming (let’s stipulate, for the purposes of the discussion, correctly so) can do to overcome those who think our motivation is to sell storm cellars.

The Greenhouse Effect Denied

Science of Doom has a nice simple, fully detailed calculation to set people straight on the part or radiative physics they are bound and determined to be confused about. And no less than Roy Spencer also tried to pitch in.

Probably as the result of my recent post explaining in simple terms my “skepticism” about global warming being mostly caused by carbon dioxide emissions, I’m getting a lot of e-mail traffic from some nice folks who are trying to convince me that the physics of the so-called Greenhouse Effect are not physically possible.

Amusingly enough, Spencer himself gets the full denial treatment:

The physical universe sets the parameters for science. Our theories are either correct or incorrect. What is correct in one branch of science is REQUIRED to apply to all branches of science. No branch of science is allowed to bend or rewrite the Laws of Science to benefit their agenda. Yet this is what one former NASA scientist is doing.

Consider this profound Nouveau Science at work. In his article, “Yes, Virginia, Cooler Objects Can Make Warmer Objects Even Warmer Still”, former NASA scientist, Dr Roy Spencer, attempts to defend AGW and ends up exposing the lie.

Dr Roy: “Back radiation is a critical component of the theoretical explanation for the greenhouse effect”

Direct translation is “if you don’t believe the ‘little lie’ then you won’t believe the big lie.

What a world. (I also like the convenient auto-linking of “Virginia”, in case you forgot who she was. Apparently she was a Commonwealth.)

Tamino vs Montford

Presumably nobody has missed taking note of Tamino’s rebuttal of Montford on RealClimate, but maybe, like me, some have put off reading the comments. Don’t miss the whole thing; it’s fascinating and one of the best RC threads ever.

In the view of keeping on pressing the press, I will leave you with the concluding part of Deep Climate’s comment #50:

A rare front-page science feature appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in February, 2005. That report featured an account of the just-published GRL article by Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick.

Which PR disinformation outfit contacted the Wall Street Journal to arrange this prominent coverage? My guess is APCO Worldwide. Or perhaps the Wall Street Journal got the idea from coverage in the National Post, then in the thrall of APCO Worldwide operative Tom Harris. No one knows because the Wall Street Journal has consistently refused to discuss the matter.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The likes of Patrick Michaels and CEI’s Chris Horner are not legitimate sources for “balance” from the “other side”. Rather, they are appropriate subjects for journalistic investigation. At the very least, they should not be allowed access to reputable journalistic platforms until they come close to the same transparency that most scientists have always exhibited.

The “hockey stick” scientific “scandal” has been manufactured from the start on non-existent evidence, and promoted diligently on behalf of powerful interests. “Climategate” is the real hoax, one perpetuated by complaisant media outlets like Fox News, the National Post and the Wall Street Journal.

It’s high time Andrew Revkin recognized that awful truth. His continued silence on the real issues is a disgrace.

(emphasis added)

Yo, Andy! It’s not just me.