Jerome Ravetz: PNS, Truth and Science

Posted: February 8, 2011 by tallbloke in climate, Philosophy

I ‘d like to thank Jerome Ravetz for providing me with a new essay on his philosophy of ‘Post Normal Science’. Jerry is a veteran of the history and philosophy of science, and brings his wisdom to an arena riven with conflicting views and controversial evidential interpretations. In an effort to reduce the heat in the climate debate in order that progress in understanding each other’s views can be made, he recently organised a conference workshop in Lisbon which I was invited to attend. The theme of the workshop was: Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate – TB

Jerome Ravetz: PNS, Truth and Science

I’d like to pick up on P.G. Sharrow’s comment: “Real science is about truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

This is very important, for it is a commitment that has been largely responsible (I believe) for the dedication and integrity that many or most scientists have brought to their work over the generations, and ensured its quality. I too had it, until I discovered that things that all scientists once justifiably believed to be true, could turn out to be false. This was what the revolution in science in the earlier twentieth century was all about: relativity and quantum theory, and also the crisis of certainty in mathematics. Absolute space and time, and the continuity of physical processes, were refuted; and much was made of this revolution at the time. From then on, the requirement of ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ would very severely affect work in such important but partly speculative fields like fundamental physics.

I became aware of the importance of Quality in my own experience as a mathematician. That a demonstration should be valid was a minimal requirement; for it to be worth reading, to say nothing of worth doing, it had to have quality. The criteria of quality in pure mathematics are largely aesthetic: elegance, surprise, breadth, etc. Truth (or rather validity) is not an aim but a presupposition. Then when I changed fields to history, I found a well developed discipline where ‘truth’ is again a regulative principle of argument, not an aim of an investigation. History is an ongoing debate among historians, where the quality of complex arguments is tested and debated. Any historian who believes that his conclusions will withstand criticism and change of themes indefinitely, is someone who lacks knowledge of the history of his discipline!

I have for a long time grappled with the problem, what replacement can there be for the ideal of Truth, when the working experience of scientists shows them that it is not a realistic goal. For I know very well that maintenance of quality in science depends on a moral commitment, on the integrity of scientists. For core research science there is no system of external checks. It is, of course, possible that excellence in science is a cultural product, as is greatness in art; and that at some point in time the whole enterprise will suffer a decline in morale, commitment and hence quality. We know from history that the centre of excellence in science has been shifting for some centuries, through: Italy, England, Highland Britain, France, Germany and America.

My work on Post-Normal Science with Silvio Funtowicz was in part driven by such philosophical concerns. We did not recommend that scientists make facts uncertain, etc. Rather, we found that in many of the environmental and health issues of the time, it is impossible to deny that that is the state of affairs. So we then asked, when in such cases even a pretense of final, absolute Truth cannot be sustained, what source, and what mechanisms, are there in place for quality assurance? That led us to the notion of the Extended Peer Community. We certainly never claimed that this would achieve truth or even always work perfectly or properly. But just as democracy in public life is, with all its faults, recognised as superior to other forms, so is this extension of democracy to certain aspects of science coming to be recognised similarly.

I would not be at all surprised at the misunderstandings and harmful interpretations of PNS. That’s the price I pay for injecting my ideas into a debate. People with far deeper ideas than mine, like great philosophers and religious leaders, have suffered the same fate. Of course, if one finds that the people advancing an idea are rigid, intolerant and abusive, one can say that their concern is less for finding the truth than at proving their adversaries wrong.

I am still not content with my resolution of the problem of Truth. The way I see it now (which I certainly don’t say is True) is that there is a connection between truth and integrity. This might be cast as attempting ‘the truth as best as I can achieve it’, or, more fundamentally, ‘being true to myself’. This is not always easy, as I may be under great internal pressure to protect my personal investment in a particular theory when it is under attack. The theory might about the course of climate change and its causes, or even philosophical considerations of truth, uncertainty, and responsibility in scientific knowledge. The challenge is never-ending.

Understanding that challenge makes it easier for me to attempt non-violent communication, and to escape from the assumption that all who disagree with me, or even who criticise me sharply, are wrong or malevolent. Enough.

Comments
  1. tallbloke says:

    In respect for Jerry’s desire for non-violent communication, I request that all comments here are civil, respecful of the views of others and that healthy disagreement and debate be conducted in a spirit of mutual enquiry aimed at furthering understanding. Thank you in advance for your co-operation.

    If you haven’t posted here before, your comment will be held for moderation. If you don’t respect my request, all your further comments will be held for moderation too. If the thread is busy, or I am busy elsewhere, it may be a while before it is approved, so don’t bombard the queue with reposts as it just makes the job even longer. Link farms will be pruned, a max of two per comment please.

  2. Joe Lalonde says:

    Tallbloke,

    Science made a consensus years ago that certain areas were to be considered as absolute and 100% accurate from Newton to Einstein.

    How can truth in science be found when general physics and science laws are deemed as absolutely correct and will not be open up to show the mistakes?
    Science started it’s basis off on the concept of this planet being a simple system. A balance system, two exact opposites.
    But it is far more complex than what a general theory can cover.

    Just a simple example:
    If you did a simple chart of just showing the solar angles to a tilting and rotating planet of where those solar radiation reflects and penetrates on a ROUND planet through an atmosphere. Very different trajectories and lengths of paths are shown. So, heat distribution is not even anywhere.
    This has not even touched the planets different abnormalities we take as a general theories.

  3. tallbloke says:

    Hi Joe,
    I think most of your concerns have been at least addressed by scientists, if not fully answered to everyone’s satisfaction. I take your point about ‘certain areas were to be considered as absolute’ and this was identified by scientist turned philosopher of science Polyani. He called it ‘Tacit Knowledge’, the things which everyone just accepts as true so they can get on with trying to further knowledge beyond the basics.

    While this is of utility, there is always the lurking danger that something isn’t quite right and the whole field or sub-speciality will have to be rebuilt when some crucial experiment fails or yields unexpected results. For example the problem with the perihelion of Mercury which led to Einstein’s theory of Relativity taking over from nice simple Newtonian celestial mechanics.

    I think you’ll find if you search for it that the differential amount of energy arriving at different latitudes on planets has been pretty thoroughly investigated though. It forms the basis of the hypotheses concerning ice ages as derived from the Milankovitch cycles.

  4. stan says:

    It would be difficult to find much to disagree with in these sentiments.

  5. Joe Lalonde says:

    [Edit] – Sorry Joe, too far off topic for this thread on philosophy of science. We’ll do a thread on oceanic thermohaline circulation soon, promise.

  6. Joe Lalonde says:

    Tallbloke,

    No problem! Thanks! 🙂

    By the way, being ignored is a good compliment as then no one objects to the science as it is too sensible that anyone would be looking foolish to try.
    If the science is incorrect, then you hear about it.
    But it is those iffy areas that generate the biggest controversy. Observed science is not correct if all the surrounding factors are not included to get to the conclusion.
    If you know your conclusion is wrong due to purposely knowing a mistake then it is fraud. Which then comes into known fraud, unknown fraud and keeping all other research out so to have one conclusion fraud.

  7. Here’s a new point that might help the debate.

    Let’s think about Safe or Safety, or Dangerous or Danger. Sometimes we really know that something is dangerous, like a busy road that we attempting to cross on foot, or an airline with frequent fatal crashes. In such cases we can really speak of Truth – however it is defined, we know it is there in such cases, and in many others of ordinary experience. But suppose we have the question, is this particular medicine Safe? Well, someone does some tests; but those tests have a particular design, which can be contested, and particular statistical operations, which can be contested, and particular conclusions, which are usually stated in probabilistic terms. Then what is the status of the claim, “This medicine is safe”? Can we say that it can be True like the claim that it’s raining? I believe that we can’t. And so the science that is deployed in assessing the medicine cannot have Truth of that simple sort as its goal. In the debate over that claim of safety, there may well be some who will argue that the claim is simply False, that the medicine is actually Dangerous. To prove that they will do a quality-assessment on all the different phases of the test, and attempt to show that it was done either incompetently or dishonestly. The defenders will attempt to rebut those claims, perhaps accusing the critics of bias or prejudice. The defenders will repeat and support the claim of safety as True; but everyone knows that in claims of safety, the future can easily hold nasty surprises. So if someone says True, that will be with a qualifier, “to the best of our present knowledge”. The qualifier implies that today’s Truth can be tomorrow’s Error – a very reasonable interpretation, but one that doesn’t fit well with the traditional concept of Truth.

    It was with such examples in mind that I said, rather too casually, that the concept of Quality is more effective than Truth in conditions of Post-Normal Science. Someone on this thread has said that E = mc^2 is True; this may well be so, but then we must remember that it replaced the time-honoured Truth that matter can be neither created nor destroyed.

    I am still working on Truth as an ideal, and hope to have something to say soon.

  8. tallbloke says:

    Joe, very good point, that’s why scientists, as far as possible conduct experiments to test their theories in the lab, where conditions are as far as possible known and controlled. One of the big problems with climate science is that the whole planet (and the surrounding interplanetary space) is the lab, and is full of dirt, heat, unknown factors and problems of measuring effects on such a big thing as a planet accurately.

    Your other main point about making sure only one conclusion is reached is important too, even if the work is done as well as possible and no-one is trying to deceive themselves or anyone else, it might be wrong. This is why I advocate multiple lines of research that can cross-fertilise and cross validate/eliminate each other. Ron Cram has an idea about a ‘minority report’ system for IPCC such that after two reports are produced, scientists then decide which is better, but the ‘minority report’ still stands for further investigations to use as a basis alongside the ‘majority report’.

  9. bernie says:

    Clearly there is practically and philosophically an ideal that scientists and many others strive for: “Real science is about truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

    The allusion here to the oath a witness takes is no coincidence.

    The question in my mind is the extent to which scientists and by extension the institutions of science actually can and do live up to these ideals in the way they actually practice science. As problems get less well-defined, as questions to ask become entangled with the uses of the answers, as outcomes have significant consequences to the actors then the “witnesses” view of the truth and as institutional mechanisms limit or distort evidence or its interpretation, we generally recognize that it will be harder to identify the truth. This raises the need to invent rules and procedures that somehow allow some acceptable but sub-optimal progress towards truth or at least resolution of the problem at hand. That said there is no merit and it would be a serious mistake to somehow redefine or dilute the original ideal. We will still want the witness to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – even though we know they are likely to intentionally or unintentionally distort that truth based on their view of the situation.

    I see Science as a form of interpersonal problem solving – since if there was no publicizing of a scientists work it is debatable if it exists. If so, then I believe that models of interpersonal effectiveness may well have something to say about how science should be conducted. If you are not already aware of it, I would suggest taking a look at the work of Chris Argyris and his notions of Model I and Model II behavior and learning (single loop versus double loop learning). They have the advantage of being applicable to the behavior of scientists (actual values) compared to idealized or espoused values. The current case of Eric Steig’s original paper and his responses to Ryan O’Donnell et al’s paper on the statistical methods used in analyzing temperature trends in Antarctica would serve as an excellent illustration of the dysfunctional and unintended consequences for science and scientists of Model I type behavior.

  10. Joe Lalonde says:

    Jerome,

    If the research is open and honest then anyone can look at it to their own conclusions. But when there are absolute laws and a format that must be followed in their individual areas, then a huge mistake is made in understanding a totally interactive area that is not bound by scientists or people.
    Following the science rather than bending the science to a theory should be adopted.
    But the mistake was done hundreds of years ago and we are now questioning all of it.

  11. stan says:

    Part of the integrity process has to be the willingness to participate in the self-correcting aspect that is supposed to be part of science. One of the infuriating aspects of observing climate science is the unwillingness of the community to acknowledge obvious flaws in studies that support the supposed consensus. When someone points out that the stats of a particular study have been badly botched, the community needs to police itself. The proper response is not to demand that the correction be peer-reviewed and published before being acknowledged.

    If a small boy points out the emperor’s lack of clothes, the nakedness is no less a fact because it was a boy who pointed it out. We don’t deem the emperor clothed until such time as the boy graduates and secures his license as a tailor. “Truth” is not the domain of the credentialed few.

  12. Ron Cram says:

    I would like to hear Jerome’s comments on the Steig/O’Donnell dustup. I have seen similar dustups between Steve McIntyre and various members of the Team. McIntyre is always courteous and civil but when Team members are less than honorable, McIntyre does not shy away from pointing out their actions. Somehow McIntyre is able to come off as being in a good humor. Perhaps it is because he has been doing it for so long.

    O’Donnell is obviously hacked off and, it looks to me, with good cause. I, for one, do not criticize O’Donnell for pointing out Steig’s “duplicity.” Is Jerome saying O’Donnell is supposed to ignore the actions of Steig? In other words, I am all for being civil – but how can one be polite and be in a good humor when the actions of others are so completely out of bounds?

  13. tallbloke says:

    Judy’s summary post on the Steig/O’Donnell issue is here if Jerry finds the time to have a look:
    http://judithcurry.com/2011/02/08/lisbon-workshop-on-reconciliation-part-vi/

    It’s a tough one. At the end of the day, duplicity is not a four letter word and if it used in good faith, should tell the recipient something. Better to call someone duplicitous than call them a two faced B******.

    Of course, this starts an argument over whether the term is justified, but that’s good healthy debate. 🙂

    I should think Jeff ID has marshalled the facts carefully to fight the case with power and precision.

    Seems to me the journal editors should pause to think about the harm they are doing to the prestige of their publications by making these sorts of decisions too…

  14. dp says:

    This topic reminds of of another time in science. It was advocated by Laplace and others that the universe was deterministic. All things could be predicted if we could identify the state of it. Along come a couple Brits with an impossible claim about hot body radiation. The current thinking required the body radiate equally at all wavelengths. That “all wavelengths” problem is zero to infinity meaning the body would radiate with infinite energy. Not going to happen on my watch!

    To the rescue, Max Planck, who resolved radiation to both waves and particles and assigned the higher frequencies a higher energy than lower frequencies. These particles he called quanta. Quanta at sufficiently high frequencies required more energy that was available and so are not created. Simple, elegant, solves the problem when infinity enters the picture.

    Then Heisenberg mucks is up with the Heisenberg Uncertainty. In essence, the act of measuring a thing changes the characteristics of the thing being measured. The logical outfall of that is some things cannot be known directly and absolutely. It is what it is – there are going to be unknowns. Heisenberg: 1, Laplace: 0. However – uncertainty is not necessarily without bounds and so enter Planck’s Constant.

    This is a fascinating stream of discovery with brilliant thinking throughout. But here things get a bit dodgy because people wish to have order, or at least to get their head around a problem. So in order to continue the march of discovery in a world of uncertainty Occam’s Razor was dragged out. This allows the thinker to toss out awkward components of a problem and press on with solving it. From that we have science of quantum mechanics which would not exist without uncertainty. With a lot of redefinitions and adaptions of what observed phenomena mean, much mystery created by general relative fell by the wayside. And the thinkers gave up on finding “the one real answer”. Instead they got multiple answers each of which were given a value – that value representing the likelihood it could be “the one real answer”. The uncertainty principle did have its detractors: “God does not play dice”, sayeth one such sage. Gravity and quantum mechanics remain at arm’s length, but that is a distinct ‘nuther problem. Quantum mechanics, dodgy inconvenient realities and all, is a foundation for much discovery.

    So when I compare that great stream of thinking to the emergence of PNS I wonder where the deep thinking is buried. Where are the equivalents of quanta, Planck’s constant, the mechanisms and concepts that preserve the underlying integrity of good science and allow us to quantify predictably if not accurately, future events? PNS seems not to provide alternate tools but only alternate opportunities that reveal themselves as entirely political (because political solutions need only hints of truth; complete fabrication of facts is also perfectly acceptable).

    A snarky politician captured the idea of pretense this way: “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”. I think PNS is not yet science. It recognizes uncertainty and fails to find a way to rebrand it in a useful way.

  15. tallbloke says:

    Dp:

    Occams razor is so overused it can’t cut the mustard any more IMO. One of the most overabused concepts out there, and used in overextended ways to justify ignoring half of reality.

    I think Ravetz “extension of democracy to certain aspects of science” PNS idea isn’t so much aimed at replacing empirical science and theorizing. It’s more about how you deal with the outputs of science when they reach the science/policy interface, in circumstances where traditional ways of assessing the validity or truth of it fail.

  16. bernie says:

    Stan:
    Your Emperor’s clothes idea is wonderfully useful.
    It seems silly to dismiss the claim of the small boy simply because he is a small boy.
    At the same time, other questions spring to mind – How come the Emperor does not see that he is not wearing any clothes? Why doesn’t the Emperor realize that invisible clothes are invisible and, therefore, what is the point? What was it that led the mischievious tailor of the invisible clothes to claim that he or she had in fact made a wonderful suit of clothes? How can we tell when we might be being sold an invisble suit of clothes?

  17. P.G. Sharrow says:

    I have been reading the material on this web site, http://www.varchive.org/ that includes conversations and letters between Immanual Velikovsky and Albert Einstien.
    Very informative on many fields including on this thread. I highly recommend it to everyone that follows this blog. pg

  18. tallbloke says:

    Thanks P.G. and glad you’ve joined us on this one. You gave Jerry much pause for thought about how to get his message over.

    He has wombled off to a lecture, but he’ll be back later.

  19. bernie says:

    PG
    Is there some thing wrong with the link?

    [fixed] http://www.varchive.org/

  20. Eli Rabett says:

    It is an unwarrented assumption that truth is always simple, and not always true.

  21. manacker says:

    Good summary.

    Finding “truth” by “being true to myself” is all about honesty rather than opportunism.

    Max

  22. steven mosher says:

    Dr. Ravetz,

    Thank you for posting. I’ve spent some time “defending’ PNS around the blogosphere since I first read your description of it. I found your comments at the conference most helpful in this regard. When facts are uncertain, when values are in conflict, when stakes are high, when decisions seem urgent, the FIRST casualty is “normal” science. For me that is a very clear statement that first and foremost PNS is a description of the preconditions for the “death of science.” It is not a prescription for how one should do science. It is a description of the conditions that lead to a death of normal science. As a radical empiricist, I would think that facts are always ‘uncertain.’ One need not, however, hold to this to note that some sciences are more certain than others. When values are not in play, when stakes are not high, when decisions are not urgent, then debates about the “certainty” of a science rarely come to the forefront. Philosophy is moot. Epistemology is swept away by the wave of an invisible pragmatist hand. What works is what matters. It might be instructive to list some examples of “normal” science where uncertainty is high and where values are not at stake. I think we would find that the dialogs in those cases are “normal” That issues reach closure. That philosophy is moot. But once values are in conflict, it almost always follows that stakes will be high, or stakes will be RAISED. This is a crucial step. If values are in conflict, people will find a way to raise the stakes. Typically by raising fears. And very often fears based on the uncertainty of the facts. Think for example of fears generated over ‘grey goo’ in the science of nano technology. And lastly, decisions dont even have to actually be “urgent”. They merely need to appear urgent under uncertain hypotheticals. And further they dont even have to appear urgent for me as an ethical being, they merely have to appear urgent for some ethical being, like a future generation. And so uncertainty takes a center stage again and with it epistemology.

    It will also be fruitful to describe the ways in which “normal’ science are changed. Central to this, in my view, is the way institutions operate to direct inquiry. Mere disinterested curiosity ( an idealization of how normal scientists work) dies. Frameworks for inquiry are developed and those frameworks change the trajectory of inquiry. Certain questions are ruled out as “uninteresting.” Inquiry is no longer free, but directed.

    So what do we do when we find ourselves in a PNS condition? Many niavely suggest a return to “normal” science. We need to explore why this is not possible. More later on the quality issue

    And so uncertainty takes a center stage again and with it epistemology.

  23. manacker says:

    tallbloke

    It’s more about how you deal with the outputs of science when they reach the science/policy interface, in circumstances where traditional ways of assessing the validity or truth of it fail.

    IMHO this could lead to a slippery slope.

    Coming back to your “being true to myself” (= honesty and impartiality?), it means that non-traditional ways must be found to (honestly and impartially) assess the validity of truth.

    Good enough.

    But what about the inherent danger that we are constructing a circular process, in which a political agenda initiates and drives the process of assessing the validity of truth, which is then used at the science/policy interface to define a political policy, as we have seen in earlier totalitarian states (and as many suspect is happening today with the IPCC process)?

    Which safeguards can be built into the process to avoid this?

    Any process is only as good as those that are executing or driving it, to be sure, but the old “traditional” scientific method did not suffer from this inherent danger, as it was self-correcting.

    Rational (or scientific) skepticism as a cornerstone, validation of a hypothesis by empirical data based on actual physical observations or reproducible experimentation, refuting all attempts at scientific falsification – these are strong hurdles to keep scientists honest and the process from being corrupted.

    How can these safeguards be built into the “non-traditional” process to avoid the pitfall described above?

    Max

  24. Tim Channon says:

    Yank off bad stuff, dump on search engine, it figures it

    http://www.varchive.org/

  25. steven mosher says:

    Dp.

    Occams razor is just one of the many ways pragmatic solutions are applied to the fundamental question. It’s no more certain than the questions it tries to adjudicate.

  26. tallbloke says:

    Manacker:
    But what about the inherent danger that we are constructing a circular process, in which a political agenda initiates and drives the process of assessing the validity of truth, which is then used at the science/policy interface to define a political policy, as we have seen in earlier totalitarian states (and as many suspect is happening today with the IPCC process)?

    Which safeguards can be built into the process to avoid this?

    Well in general terms this is where PNS calls for the peer community to be widened. That I think is intended to bring in ‘checks and balances’. But it’s not the validity of the scientific input it is there to test, so much as the oversight of the decision making process which weighs conflicting scientific claims (facts uncertain leads to a variety of statistically supported interpretations), and to ensure a variety of views (values in dispute) are considered and taken into consideration in the final non-scientific value laden judgement about what to do, if anything, about the issue.

    The degree to which the whole process can be made ‘objective’ or ‘sciencified’ with statistical arguments of probability will depend on the level of agreement which is reached regarding standards and procedures acceptable to the involved parties. Negotiation plays it’s part. It’s not aiming to be ideal, it’s aiming to be ‘reasonable’ and ‘fair to all parties’ etc

    Inevitably, the more polarised the issue, the more vociferously the proponents deny the oppositions right to representation. This is seen in the current climate issue. Ravetz is arguing, and taking practical steps such as organising the Lisbon gig, for the need to get both sides talking without shouting each other down.

    Listening doesn’t wear my ears out, so I’m cool with that.

  27. bernie says:

    Steve:
    I very much appreciate the clarity with which you continue to summarize Ravetz’s relatively straightforward thesis: “When facts are uncertain, when values are in conflict, when stakes are high, when decisions seem urgent, the FIRST casualty is “normal” science. ”
    I would simply add that when the conditions you lay out are collectively in play – the first casualty tends to be “truth”. In short you are articulating the conditions under which constructive communications among otherwise reasonable people breakdown. “Normal” science is but one of the casualties.

  28. Zeke the Sneak says:

    I am still not content with my resolution of the problem of Truth. The way I see it just now (which I certainly don’t say is True) is that there is a connection between truth and integrity. This might be cast as attempting ‘the truth as best as I can achieve it’, or, more fundamentally, ‘being true to myself’. This is not always easy, as I may be under great internal pressure to protect my personal investment in a particular theory when it is under attack.

    This is a principle I have also seen at work. The discoveries we find so highly rewarding in science simply don’t come to us when we are arrogant or slovenly. As the poet said,

    Oh seekers, I am Truth, beseeching Truth;
    And your Truth in seeking and receiving
    and protecting me
    shall determine my
    Behaviour.

    I appear to a heart’s cry; I shun a demand;
    My fullness persues the heart’s desire;
    It shuns the empty claim of the voice. K. Gibran

    Whatever the truth is, it is a great honor to know it. Slouch and she’ll pass you by.

  29. Zeke the Sneak says:

    “Then what is the status of the claim, “This medicine is safe”? Can we say that it can be True like the claim that it’s raining? I believe that we can’t. And so the science that is deployed in assessing the medicine cannot have Truth of that simple sort as its goal.”

    This is a brilliant analogy for the sake of discussion, because in the case of medical care, it is almost always expected by the patient that the doctor will prescribe some kind of pharmaceutical. And this expectation always runs unchecked in legislators, as well. Meaning, they always feel compelled to respond to any situation with some new regulation.

    In that case, there is safety in a multitude of counselors. Several opinions must be sought, and alternatives – whether chemical or other treatments – should always be mentioned. If they are not, you will be at his mercy. The doctor who prognosticates the worst and then chooses the most extreme treatment, with risks as bad or worse than your presenting problem, is probably not a person of deep scientific understanding. You would be wise to seek more advice, alternatives, and your path to healing may even lead you to question paradigms about human physiology.

    Dr. Ravetz is right to bring this up. I want to leave with the heartbreaking example of routine medication destroying someone’s life. After a historectomy, Cheryl was administrated a large dose of the antibiotic gentomicin. This destroyed her vestibular apparatus, which is responsible for our sense of balance, so she could hardly navigate around her own house; she had a constant sensation of falling and the world was shakey like jello. “It’s permanent,” the doctor coldly informed her. (The remainder of her story can be read in the book, The Brain That Changes Itself.)

    So in essence, no one should entrust their wellbeing entirely to experts; this is one’s own responsibility as well. And skeptics are the more cantancerous patients who won’t be treated by physicians who offer only one drastic cure, and an endless list of unintended consequences and side effects.

  30. P.G. Sharrow says:

    I must be one of those cantancerous sceptic patients described above. I go to a medical doctor for the second opinion and then study up on any perscription before I take it. I have seen too many bad outcomes from blindly following doctors orders. ;-( pg

  31. dp says:

    I’m clearly not a big believer of Occam’s razor, it having taken me 4 stanzas of paragraphy to get to my point 🙂

    Next time I’ll pare it down to “PNS – where’s the beef?” My point was, unlike the evolution from general relativity to quantum mechanics, the evolution to PNS did not come complete with a tool kit to make it useful. And unlike quantum mechanics which is a frame work, PNS is a gateway – a by-pass that leads directly to policy.

  32. tallbloke says:

    Ah dp, forgive me, I don’t know why our post didn’t go straight up. WordPress is a law unto itself.
    And forgive me for my brief reply, I’m snowed under. I should have realised I’m already in enough trouble for my soundbite sized summaries. 🙂

    I think your criticism is fair, but add that Ravetz himself is exhorting us to improve the apparatus by getting some agreed standards and procedures sorted out for climate science in particular. The toolkit.

    Trying to get agreements sorted once the situation has already polarised is doubly difficult. It should have been done at a much earlier stage. But then, the science is still evolving, and how do you standardise that?

  33. tallbloke says:

    Offered to Willis Eschenbach on Judy Curry’s blog:

    I think one of your big complaints about his work is that it gave a justifying rationale to people like the late Steven Schneider to run amok with policy formation. The particular aspect of Ravetz’ work which Schneider made use of was the assessment of risk. Ravetz had made some investigations into how well the risk of an ‘unlikely but extreme consequences if it happens’ event is factored in. The “Scary story”.

    It’s a tricky one to assess properly, with much wiggle room, and where Schneider departed from the *Ravetzian* integrity and quality injunction was in the “make little mention of any doubts” part of *Schneiders* injunction to scientists.

  34. Joe Lalonde says:

    The problem is that science created their own barriers due to the society of the times. If science went against religion, then the person was slaughtered or suffered heavily for their beliefs.
    This gave science a bad base to start off in, that bound it to what society dictated. Current funding in science depends mostly on government. So biased science has a long history.
    Currently science is under crisis due to an enclosed system where science could not be challenged in the past and what was learned(good or bad) was passed down generations.

    [Edit] We’ll deal with the rest on a technical thread Joe.

  35. Tenuc says:

    JR said:“The way I see it just now (which I certainly don’t say is True) is that there is a connection between truth and integrity. This might be cast as attempting ‘the truth as best as I can achieve it’, or, more fundamentally, ‘being true to myself’.”

    The problem is that truth and believe are far too easily conflated. A believer can be totally true to himself and honest in the framework of his belief system but totally incorrect in his description of reality.

    Unfortunately humans are poor observers and often experimental (& statistical) results which would falsify our belief system are rejected, while results which tend to confirm the premise (which we of course know to be true) are allowed to stand.

    With a large percentage of the world’s population still believing in creation myths and intelligent design, despite much evidence to the contrary, I think there is little chance of progress on the ‘hard problems’ left in all areas of mainstream and the soft sciences.

    In the mean-time this provides an ideal opportunity for the ruling elite to cherry pick various areas which can be used to strengthen their position by cowing the public into accepting loss of personal freedoms for the benefit of the greater good.

    There is little to choose between post normal and cargo-cult science – god help us all…

  36. Zeke the Sneak says:

    “In the mean-time this provides an ideal opportunity for the ruling elite to cherry pick various areas which can be used to strengthen their position by cowing the public into accepting loss of personal freedoms for the benefit of the greater good.” Tenuc

    Indeed!

    The earth’s weather systems are simply not understood. Meteorologists do not make very accurate predictions. Electrical current ripples the magnetosphere, charges and discharges in the upper and lower atmospheres, and courses through the earth. Earth may be equalizing constantly, electrically, with its space environment. Other planets have incredibly powerful weather and auroras, including lightning storms, world wide dust storms, twisters the size of Mt Everest, and outrageous wind speeds. Electricity always moves in a circuit.

    The propblem is that weather is not understood, not even the least cirrus cloud. They cannot model the effects of clouds in their GCMs. And so our lack of knowledge of weather itself is the real problem. Temps are only a symptom! Unscrupulous charlatans and even well-intentioned doctors only discuss symptoms, and offer to cover them over.
    But our real prognosis is ignorance of weather.

  37. David says:

    Dp says February 8,2011 at 4:17 pm. “In essence, the act of measuring a thing changes the characteristics of the thing being measured. The logical outfall of that is some things cannot be known directly and “absolutely”

    Let us focus on the word “absolutely” in relationship to science and truth and then relate those observations to “post normal science“. I maintain that science is, in its essence, “cause and effect” .Every effect is proceeded by a prior cause. There can be no effect without a prior cause. All causes are themselves an effect. Cause and effect is a chain and it, with the arrow of time, moves in one direction. In this sense, science to me is the study of how all things in the cosmos interact, and the laws that govern those interactions. Science is constrained to time and space and relativity. Science cannot contain absolutes. A primary tool of science is to use mathematics, one through any number but never absolute infinity, which is not a number. I am referring to absolutes, and not the use of these terms within relative fields often representing exponentially growing signals and negative exponents representing exponentially decreasing signals. I was not referring to time constants (decaying or growing) As such science can only see a part of the whole and must keep an open mind to new information.

    This primary chain of cause and effect observations, upon which all deductive reason is based has a self limiting paradox. Simply put, cause and effect cannot be an eternal chain, otherwise one is stating that “everything inclusive” has no cause, it always was, which in and of itself defeats the laws of science and deductive reason applied to observation. The other side of this paradox is that (accepting the above problem as valid) if there was then a first cause, what ever that cause was had to have no cause and may be beyond the laws of cause and effect. I am stating the cosmological argument here, not for the purpose of creation debate, but to show that science by it very nature only deals with relativity and numbers and observations which can only see a part of the whole.

    It was in this context that Marconi stated that the in ability of science to solve life’s mystery is absolute. If the above is accepted as logical, it is easier for science to be humble and accept some limitations. Humility is a pathway to greater understanding.
    Policy questions in regard to potential harm of ever more potent science, require honesty and humility. “If all post normal science involves is bringing in disparate groups of people to discuss policy ideas and or different disciplines of science (who may see a different part of the whole) to discuss the science then this is welcome.

    Yet I think it is very important to separate (protect) the science from the policy and politics. Any aspect of science that proclaims the need for large government social policies to “save the world” should require strict application of scientific proof. Saving the world is historically problematic. “Such is the nature of the Tyrant, when he first appears he is a protector” (Plato)

    The greater the potential consequences of policy, the greater the scientific rigor it must pass. The Wegman report should have been adequate long ago to persuade policy makers to bring in a wider and more diverse field of scientist into the science of AGW. Long ago governments should have demanded McIntyres request for an engineering quality paper entailing observations and predictions. When 31,000 scientist take an outsider look at a “world ending” proposal of CAGW and say nay, (the Oregon petition) then extreme policy takes a back burner to scientific debate that must happen long before policy is initiated.

    Yet just bringing in more diverse groups does nothing if they have an agenda separate from knowing the scientific truth,. In the end people will get from the table what they bring to the table, no matter what label is placed on the table, post normal or otherwise. (I dislike the term) If groups of people are not interested in finding truth, but have an agenda to promote, they are poison to the process, no matter the intent of the post normal setting. “When facts are uncertain, when values are in conflict, when stakes are high, when decisions seem urgent, the FIRST casualty is “normal” science. ” I would say the first obligation of policy makers, those with integrity to truth, should be to protect and defend “normal” science, and not let it be a casualty.

  38. tallbloke says:

    David, I agree with you, but we need to consider an extra dimension when it comes to policy making too. While we should strive as you say to ensure the normal science brought to the policy table is correct and free from bias, there are other valid inputs to policy making which have nothing to do with science, and can’t be assessed by science. For example, in Ravetz Pittsburgh paper, he outlines a situation where there is a proposal for a dam to be built. Science is able to provide information on the technical aspects of river flow, dam height etc, and make recommendations based on these quantifiables. But there is a civil war graveyard which is in risk of inundation by the scheme, and so the views of descendants of the occupants of the graves must also be taken into account. Additionally, the graveyard is a national monument, so the opinion of the public also counts. These are not matters which science can assess, because they rest on questions about religion, familial attachment, cultural value and ‘public opinion’.

    These sorts of issues are acute in the climate debate, but a lot of the heat is about the quality and correctness of the studies done which pertain to the level of damage which would result if the more extreme scenarios came to pass. Furthermore, there is contention over the ability of the models used to usefully forecast possible scenarios in the first place.

    This comes back to the central issue of uncertainty and how well it is communicated to policy makers.

  39. Tenuc says:

    David says:
    February 10, 2011 at 3:47 am
    “…’When facts are uncertain, when values are in conflict, when stakes are high, when decisions seem urgent, the FIRST casualty is “normal” science.’ I would say the first obligation of policy makers, those with integrity to truth, should be to protect and defend “normal” science, and not let it be a casualty.

    Thanks for a good post David, and I totally agree with your last sentiment. Real science is all about openness, transparency and having all the information available for anyone to be able to produce the same results. Anything else is pseudo-science and has no place in the policy decision process.

    Regarding your chicken and egg analogy, I posit that the ‘Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything’ is simply about how the forces of attraction and repulsion drive all observed processes. These processes are in turn being driven by the few simple rules of deterministic chaos. Order appearing out of chaos and things self similar at all scales.

    The reason current sciences, both hard and soft, are not making real progress on the difficult questions is that humans are poor observers and are stuck in a very narrow viewpoint. We are prone to favour belief above factual truths and many of the proxies we use to observe events beyond the capabilities of our senses are poor or often just plain wrong. Many of the foundational building blocks of science are wrong because of poor observation and need to be reassessed.

    Our poor ability as observers was brought into sharp focus for me yesterday by the following trivial incident…

    …My house overlooks a large field with sheep. A few days ago the farmer mentioned that one of his sheep was ill and could I let him know if I spotted anything wrong.

    Looking across the field yesterday I saw that one of the sheep was down. I went round and found the farmer and we both walked across the field towards the fallen sheep. When we got to about 20yds from the motionless sheep it suddenly became obvious that the sheep was actually a woven polypropylene feed bag which had blown across the field. The farmer also identified the sack at about the same time as me.

    Personal learning – we tend to see what we expect to see in a specific reference frame and an observation made in sub-optimal conditions from the wrong viewpoint is no indication of truth.

  40. David says:

    Re tallbloke says:
    February 10, 2011 at 8:50 am
    David, I agree with you, but we need to consider an extra dimension when it comes to policy making too. While we should strive as you say to ensure the normal science brought to the policy table is correct and free from bias, there are other valid inputs to policy making which have nothing to do with science, and can’t be assessed by science.

    Thank you Tallbloke and I agree. The message I am trying to convey is the two must be kept separate. The scientific process must be protected and isolated from the legitimate human needs and concerns. In the case of CAGW, the field of science is hopelessly inundated with policy. Many advocacy groups have succeeded in influencing the science. (The IPCC reports that include non peer reviewed articles predicting disaster, the obvious advocacy of policy by certain scientist, the attempts to control peer review and the relatively small group of scientist doing pal-review, the open admittance of political agenda by some proponents to redistribute wealth, etc)

    So yes, the policy must be kept open to larger groups and more open communication, and this democracy of policy makers should be inclusive of all groups and respectful of them to engender communication, this includes listening to those interested in protecting individual liberties. The science also needs to accept input from other scientific fields, and in a large diverse and complicated field like “climate” the array of experts from all hard science disciplines must be incorporated. So the two groups should be expanded, but kept isolated and protected. Where there is conflict within the science, debate should be demanded by policy makers. This debate should be done in writing and open to the public in a format that is coldly empirical, like a peer reviewed article but more concisely focused on the critical assertions and areas of conflict with ALL methods, data, and meta data fully revealed and in public.

    To move from the general to the particular; look at what is happening now with the question of Antarctica warming. O’Donnell and Steig have a scientific disagreement on one aspect of a subject with immense policy implications. O’Donnell wrote an accepted paper criticizing Steigs prior papers method of arriving at his conclusions. Steig informally defended his paper, and O’Donnell wrote an informal rebuttal to Steig’s defense. (In my view a very persuasive one at that.) Very unfortunately O’Donnell made a critical error. He did not separate the personal human elements from the science he was discussing. This has unfortunately led to deeply muddied waters where the valid scientific points O’Donnell was making became lost in the humane elements. He should have done a separate post on the issues of peer review and possible disingenuous actions of Steig, unfortunately he commingled the two.

    The science was not protected or kept isolated from the human elements. Now any time one attempts to address the science, it is easily led astray in the human controversy. Blog hosts in my opinion should set up a separate post where all the human elements of such controversy can be discussed, and another separate post where only the scientific questions can be discussed. Policy makers should likewise demand that the two are kept separate yet become inclusive and accommodating of multi faceted view within the separate disciplines.

    Tenuc, thank you for your post. Regarding the human propensity to come to conclusions often wrong, based on poorly focused powers of observation influenced by preconceived ideas, I fully agree and thing your sheep metaphor is successfully illustrative.

    Now in regard to my cause effect paradox I knew I was risking leading my post astray. I was hopeful it would illustrate a mathematical limitation of the ability of science to see the “whole” truth, when the very nature of science is to divide and see partially. In this sense there is a separate reason beyond besides imperfect instruments and confirmation bias which leads our conclusions astray, even if partially correct they can never be absolute. There is always room for deeper understanding even if instruments and logic are pure at their own relative level.

    As to this comment Tenuc, “I posit that the ‘Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything’ is simply about how the forces of attraction and repulsion drive all observed processes. These processes are in turn being driven by the few simple rules of deterministic chaos. Order appearing out of chaos and things self similar at all scales”
    Well I do not want to go to deep into this area as it can easily hijack a thread and this one our host has brought is very important. I will venture that the I agree that the forces of attraction and repulsion drive all observed processes, however to me this begs the question which mathematically science cannot answer as it contains no absolutes. One cannot, from the perspective of science, simply say, these primal forces just always were, as this is an affirmation of ignorance, not of knowledge. If science can consider that all laws of science, including it most basic law of cause and effect break down into infinite beyond time and space potentials, then perhaps it can consider that there may be a beyond science, Causeless Cause, of infinite attributes. Admitting something is beyond science, because science is incapable of giving one hypothetical “first cause” no matter how right or wrong, which is not relative and in turn demands another prior cause, can then allow for the possibility of a form of “knowing” that is likewise intuitive and beyond science.
    But that is not the subject of this post, so apologies in advance.

  41. David says:

    BTW, I dislike the term post normal as it leads to a conotation of “normal” science” being inadequet, when I consider “normal” science to be the perfect tool for discovering the laws of an existing and functioning cosmos, although I consider it incapable of detecting the law framer. (-; If post normal science means what do do with science at the policy stage, after (post) the science is done, then how is it different then the ideals we are discussing of open communication? What is the definition of “post normal” science?

  42. P.G. Sharrow says:

    “Sometimes things are the way they are because GOD made it that way” FRP
    A quote from an honest scientist I once knew that would say after saying “I don’t know why”

    pg

  43. tallbloke says:

    Jerome Ravetz says:
    September 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm
    Someone has asked for a definition of post-normal science. Let’s try: when facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent, the paradigm-based puzzle-solving research confined to closed sets of practitioners is not adequate. We can call this a ‘post-normal situation’. Then there must be an ‘extended peer community’, using ‘extended facts’ which include traditional research results along with open criticism, plus data from non-traditional sources, and expressions of value commitments. Also, in such circumstances there is no possibility of results approaching truth to the same degree that is possible in traditional science; hence the debate will be about the quality of results. This is inevitably complex, since all scientific results depend on arguments where imperfect data and imperfect inferences are combined. Experience has shown that in such cases, which include all areas closely connected with policy, the ‘extended peer community’ plays a very positive role, not merely in legitimating accepted results but also in criticising controversial results. This practice of open debate, which is realised on the blogosphere with salient examples like WUWT, is post-normal science. Of course PNS is open to abuse, but then so is the closed-community practice of normal science, especially when it is closely tied to policy. For a good example of PNS in action, there is Phil Tattersall’s [no relation to TB]‘Community Based Audit’ that operates in Tasmania. He has shaped his work by thinking about PNS.

  44. tallbloke says:

    tallbloke says:
    September 4, 2012 at 12:34 am

    Keith G says:
    September 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm
    Tallbloke

    You say that: “And it’s not that Ravetz wants science to be the handmaiden of politics. He merely observes that it is in fact what has happened. He is not advocating it, he is commenting on it. He then goes on to say that if that’s how it is, then a wider range of people (including sceptics with their leaked documents) should be involved, because everyone is affected by the fact that science isn’t conducted in a vacuum of serene rationality and objective disinterest.”

    I’m not sure I know what Ravetz wants, but I would not disagree with the assertion that science has already become the handmaiden of politics – if not entirely, then certainly to the point where it is difficult to imagine a decent policy debate without some form of scientific input. And if one were to concede that science is obliged to take on this role, and that such a role cannot be unwound, then one might indeed propose that the only effective political counter to the fusion of science with politics is greater transparency and accountability in the policy formation process.

    I don’t think Ravetz knows what Ravetz wants either. There’s no doubt that in the deep past he has flirted with philosophies of action which militate for radical change in the way society is controlled and manipulated by the ‘scientific-technological elite’ Eisenhower warned us all about. In his middle years he courted and was courted by groups and movements which have attempted to subvert the system from within. In his mellower later years he has grappled with concepts of truth, quality, the epistemological underpinnings for the enterprise of knowledge production and rational ways of reconciling different world views and interests in non-violent ways.

    Those with black and white views about politics like David Hoffer and those with commercial and intellectual interests to protect like Richard Courtenay see Ravetz’ desire to democratize the corridors of power and peer review as dangerous and wrong. Well, Ravetz always liked a bit of danger and struggle, and has long experience of being vilified, so I doubt their bellicose pronouncements bother him much. Pretty tame stuff compared to the lambasting he got from Willis Eschenbach last time round anyway. He is amused by pompous irrationality and frequently elicits it for fun. He’s a bit of an old rascal in this respect.

    Through the months long email conversations Ravetz and I had in 2010 post climategate, I think he came to see just how duplicitous and self serving the environmental movement and the climategate scientists had become, and was disillusioned by their abandonment of integrity and their naive adoption of means to ends strategies, including their misuse of his own ideas. Hence his short essays on truth, integrity and quality published on my blog, followed by his organising the Lisbon conference, which the arch warmists refused to turn up to. I warned him he would end up taking flak from both sides if he adopted the middle ground. But he is of an age now where he doesn’t really mind what others think of him, so long as he is still effective in stimulating debate on the important issues. His closing words in the essay on PNS, Truth and Science are:

    “I am still not content with my resolution of the problem of Truth. The way I see it now (which I certainly don’t say is True) is that there is a connection between truth and integrity. This might be cast as attempting ‘the truth as best as I can achieve it’, or, more fundamentally, ‘being true to myself’. This is not always easy, as I may be under great internal pressure to protect my personal investment in a particular theory when it is under attack. The theory might about the course of climate change and its causes, or even philosophical considerations of truth, uncertainty, and responsibility in scientific knowledge. The challenge is never-ending.

    Understanding that challenge makes it easier for me to attempt non-violent communication, and to escape from the assumption that all who disagree with me, or even who criticise me sharply, are wrong or malevolent. Enough.”

    These words speak to me of a man who is still mentally agile in his middle 80’s, and one who is not so overly attached to his own previous output that he will defend it against other, different and at least equally valid points of view ‘no matter what’.

    An attitude that certain climatologists would be wise to emulate, before they do irreparable damage to their own reputation and self worth, and perhaps more importantly so far as the rest of us are concerned, science itself.