Search This Blog

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Truuuuust Meeeee!!!

Climate scientists are becoming concerned that the public no longer holds them in high esteem and no longer finds them trustworthy. It seems that the leaked University of East Anglia emails ("Cimategate") showing scientists in a less than stellar light coupled with numerous revelations of mistakes in the IPCC's reports has enraged much of the public, especially in Britain.

As a result, many scientists are trying to reach out to the public in order to restore that trust. An example is Dr. Judith Curry's essay that was posted on several skeptics blogs. Here's an excerpt:

Rebuilding trust with the public on the subject of climate research starts with Ralph Cicerone’s statement “Two aspects need urgent attention: the general practice of science and the personal behaviors of scientists.” Much has been written about the need for greater transparency, reforms to peer review, etc. and I am hopeful that the relevant institutions will respond appropriately. Investigations of misconduct are being conducted at the University of East Anglia and at Penn State. Here I would like to bring up some broader issues that will require substantial reflection by the institutions and also by individual scientists.

Climate research and its institutions have not yet adapted to its high policy relevance. How scientists can most effectively and appropriately engage with the policy process is a topic that has not been adequately discussed ... The interface between science and policy is a muddy issue, but it is very important that scientists have guidance in navigating the potential pitfalls. Improving this situation could help defuse the hostile environment that scientists involved in the public debate have to deal with, and would also help restore the public trust of climate scientists.

The problem is not so much that the scientists are untrustworthy (some are, some aren't just like all other humans), but rather that the system itself is untrustworthy. The interface between science and policy is not "muddy" at all. It's crystal clear that interfaces like that are ripe for corruption and distortion, and not at all amenable to seeking and finding truth.

I decided to write Dr. Curry an email to point that out:

Dear Dr. Curry,

I read your excellent post regarding "Rebuilding Trust" with the public. You are certainly to be commended for being one of the first (and bravest) to attempt to begin a dialogue between an at least somewhat disillusioned public and the Climate Science Community.

However, I believe you've overlooked a critically important question:

Can the overall political-social-scientific system itself be trustworthy when it comes to Climate Science?

If that overall system is untrustworthy, it makes no sense to trust the output of anybody that's part of that system.

From my days of studying Economics and Political Choice Theory, any time you have a mix of big-government, big-advocacy, government funded science, and the possibility of using the output of that science to further big-government and big-advocacy ends, ClimateGate is exactly what you’ll get.

Every time.

It’s not the fault of anybody or even any group. It’s inherent in the system.

I believe that we cannot trust climate scientists because they are part of an utrustworthy system. And there is no way to make the system trustworthy.

Where there is money and power, there is corruption.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Lord Acton).

You (and many other scientists) may be saints, but unfortunately, we can't trust the system.

She actually responded:
Bret, thanks for your email. You may be right, but somewhere in there science needs to be science, and the institutions that support science need to do much better job. Not sure how all this will play out, but hopefully reason will play a role somewhere in all this!
If reason plays a role, I suspect she won't like the result.


Hey Skipper said...

I'll bet Dr. Curry didn't get very many responses as reasoned as yours.

Climate research and its institutions have not yet adapted to its high policy relevance.

Au contrare. They adapted all too well.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "They adapted all too well."


Howard said...

How perfectly appropriate to your post:

Today in America, we have a climate science that plays second fiddle to climate politics. It is just a prop for the Al Gores and the environmentalists and their program of political power.

It is disgraceful but true. Scientists today serve as loyal subalterns in the army of government power. The narrative of the disinterested scientist is a myth. Scientists get their money from government, and in return, they dance to the music of big government. That is science's Big Problem.

It all started in 1806, when the Prussians invented the research university as part of their plan to strengthen the state and defeat the French. Pretty soon, Marx invented "scientific socialism" to create a synergy between knowledge and political power. Social science developed knowledge that governments used to control people with the administrative state.

Of course, governments reward their supporters.

Modern scientists like Dr. Judith Curry are not in the least disturbed by the dance between knowledge and power. They know, of course, that dancing for the Pentagon is bad. They know that lap-dancing for Big Oil is bad. But it never occurs to them that the dance between scientists and government in climate science might make them ethically challenged. Anyway, as members of the "educated class," they fully endorse the program of the governing elite -- as they should.

It's easy to sneer at the scientists. They accept the idea that corporate money might taint their science. But that is the limit of their ethical universe. That government money might corrupt the scientist is beyond the ken of modern scientific ethicism.

The scandal is not that scientists are ethically challenged when it comes to living on the government dollar. Nor is it shocking that scientists have conspired with politicians to falsify results or to anathematize the opponents of the politicians. A political servitor should do no less. The scandal is that politics has so enveloped science into its worship of power and its ritual of force that decent practitioners of science like Dr. Judith Curry utterly lack an appreciation of their debasement and their servitude.

Hey Skipper said...

Dr. Curry should read this.

Harry Eagar said...

I don't see why big government, or any government, has to enter into it.

It isn't as if the problems with climate science have never arisen in any other context. In fact, if you read history of science, it rather appears that big government-big science was doing rather well for itself at the Serapeum. \

In that case, it was know-nothing zealotry that brought down the house (literally and figuratively). There is aplenty of that in the opposition to AGW alarmism today.

I think the real problem with climate science is that it started out asking exactly the wrong question: Not, why is climate changing so fast (or, what would change climate quickly); when it should have been, why is there no trend in climate?

If you understand there is no real trend, then you ask, well, what causes the minor fluctuations around the mean that we observe?

So instead of looking for forces that push climate out of line, you'd be looking for forces that keep pulling it back toward the mean.

As W. Edwards Deming used to say, you've got to have a theory. If you don't have a theory, how do you know when you're wrong?

Climate scientists have sort of a-material theory which does not, in fact, tell them when they're wrong.

Doing it all in models instead of the field doesn't help either.

(To be clear, when I talk about the failure of climate science, I mean the great synthesis to get a trend. Much or perhaps most of the field work is probably OK. It gives results but not trends. It's the trend-finding that is the problem)

Bret said...

harry eager asks: "I don't see why big government, or any government, has to enter into it."

Because government is providing the funding and government is what will provide the regulation and taxation based on the scientists output from that funding.

Group A takes money from Group B to fund Group C to justify taking more money from Group B. Without Group A (government) the whole scheme falls apart.

Harry Eagar said...

Suppose, for a moment, that we are warming the globe. Then what?

I don't hear a lot of complaints about the multinational multibillions spent at CERN.

Bret said...

Harry Eagar asks: "Suppose, for a moment, that we are warming the globe. Then what?"

Then Siberia becomes fertile farmland? I'm not sure where you're trying to go with your point.

My point is that the output of scientists in a system like the one we have (where increased funding and status for the scientists are dependent on catastrophic predictions) can't be used to distinguish between actual catastrophic warming versus no significant warming. That's inherent in such a system and that government is part of this type of system.

I'm not a big fan of CERN either, by the way.

Susan's Husband said...

"I don't hear a lot of complaints about the multinational multibillions spent at CERN."

Because those billions aren't going to result in my having to conserve my neutrino emissions.

erp said...

Harry, the AGW rogues have done a lot of damage to all science, CERN included. Everyone in the scientific community will be suspect for many years to come.

Many people, myself included, don't care how much money we spend on scientific research, we object to spending one red cent on the kind of quackery that's been passing for science for a couple of decades at least.

Whether CERN is worthy of the billions it's cost, I don't know, but until lately, it wouldn't have crossed my mind to question it. Now it has.

Harry Eagar said...

I meant the climate is going to do what it is going to do, whether scientists get it or not.

There's no doubt in my mind -- even if polling supports it -- that people line up not on the science but on what they think the world should be like. Very dangerous.

It happens the AGW thrust is junk science, but there's little doubt that 1. if there was a problem, and 2. the scientists were accurately assessing it; 3. the same people would be similarly skeptical as now, with few exceptions.

erp said...

No Harry, if the science was done properly and published and other scientists had a chance to corroborate the findings, etc. -- the scientific method if I remember correctly and it was presented to the public in such a way as make sense, we would accept it ... oh I almost forgot, and if the people involved like Al Gore didn't make hundreds of millions selling us ridiculous carbon trade off scams and the scam “alternate” energy of windmills and corn fed kiddie cars.

Harry Eagar said...

You might, erp, but Americans wouldn't. Home schoolers don't accept darwinian evolution (as demonstated by an AP story today, timely); and troofers don't accept that buildings fall down when you hit them hard, even though the evidence is solid.

In a somewhat softer "science," committed ideologues believe efficient market theory, even though it can be proven to be incorrect.

The efficient market theorists have, so far, done more actual damage than the AGW ideologues.

So there's no general expectation that people will be persuaded by evidence. If there was, there wouldn't be religious sects.

For AGW in particular, a largish fraction of the skeptics are clearly driven by economic fantasies, not by observational research of the physical environment.

Susan's Husband said...

"Home schoolers don't accept darwinian evolution"

All home schoolers? What's doubly amusing about that is that modern biologists don't accept Darwinian evolution either.

Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "1. if there was a problem, and 2. the scientists were accurately assessing it; 3. the same people would be similarly skeptical as now..."

Because it's very difficult to tell whether or not the scientist are accurately assessing it, it would make sense to remain skeptical.

erp said...

Who knew home schoolers were such a monolithic anti-Darwin bloc, but then probably Harry thinks they're all evangelicals who believe in the biblical chronology of the earth.

Harry Eagar said...

"'The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians. Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program."

That's Ian Slatter of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

And, according to the AP, sales of creationist biology home-school texts back him up.

See what you get for your dollar in the daily paper?

Dunno where Guy gets the idea that modern biologists don't accept Darwinian evolution. Home school textbook? Anyhow, they do.

Susan's Husband said...

Ah, you've walked it back from "home schoolers" to "most home schoolers". You might try thinking such things through *before* writing them, rather than after.

As for modern biologists and Darwinian evolution, I get that from reading modern biologists. The current theoretical synthesis considers Darwin's theories quaint and obsolete. For instance the entire school of punctuated equilibrium is non-Darwinist. Microbiology has moved on as well, as it is become clear that horizontal gene transfers are very non-Darwinian. I could go on about how knowledge of the mechanics of DNA has altered evolutionary theory.

This is what makes OJ's attacks on Darwin so funny. It's like modern day protesters going on about child labor in factories.

Howard said...

So there's no general expectation that people will be persuaded by evidence.

Yes, it is an important aspect of the nature of Homo loquax that he is a moral, believing animal and therefore often resistant to evidence which contradicts strongly held beliefs.

The efficient market theorists have, so far, done more actual damage than the AGW ideologues.

There is a conventional notion about this which is essentially wrong, however, there is a less well known factor that is close enough to have some merit. I'm curious what your notion is Harry.

Harry Eagar said...

I am persuaded by Janet Tavakoli's assertion (in "Dear Mr. Buffett") that if efficient market theory were right,
Buffett couldn't have made money the way he did.

As for the damage, circumspice.

Howard said...


I can't be much of a believer in EMH either or I wouldn't trade, although EMH might not mean what you think it means. Could you be more specific about recent events.

Harry Eagar said...

I can't do much better than the review of Greenspan's 'Age of Turbulence,' which ran Sept. 9 at Restating the Obvious (also posted at Amazon).

(Would link but there's a hangup with the href command in this computer, cannot figure out what's wrong.)

Especially the part about counterparty surveillance. More generally, the complete failure of 99+% of financiers to be able to estimate risk suggests either:

1. market not efficient, or

2. market not sufficiently transparent.

Or both.