Mike Hulme: Expertise and the IPCC

Posted: February 15, 2011 by tallbloke in Philosophy

In an interview a few days ago conducted by Souvik Mukherjee and Josi Paz of the journal Theory, Culture & Society published on their website , Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia had this to say:

I think there is a problem in contemporary society about people’s expectations of ‘the expert’. People are ambivalent in that on the one hand they want to defer to expertise that they trust in, and yet they find it increasingly hard to gain or retain the necessary levels of trust. This is a cultural phenomenon of the West (and maybe elsewhere, I don’t know) which applies to more than just science. It is fuelled by new flows and accretions of ‘knowledge’ through social media and through the unsettling of some of the grand-narratives of the past. Scientific knowledge is still too readily placed on a pedestal as though it were the only way to find meaningful knowledge about the world, and since science is presented as possessing high cultural authority by the elite, in a sceptical age people then find it easy to knock such knowledge off its self-proclaimed pedestal. The IPCC is implicated here. It is a one-size fits all process for establishing public knowledge around climate change and yet it is a monolithic and closed process of knowledge-making. As people like Mark Brown and Andy Stirling have argued, we need plural and conditional knowledge emerging from multiple sites and processes of knowledge production to engage with a plural and diverse polity so that the fruits of democratic modes of political representation can be realised. The IPCC is too hegemonic around climate change knowledge.

Interesting stuff. So, is this an increasing woollification of the AGW message, absolving it from the need for real science from an august institution to back it up, or a recognition that the IPCC has outlived its viability as an organ of truth/propaganda? Or both? Is Hulme devolving the responsibility for spreading the word about climate change and it consequences to special interest groups and local councils?

Whichever, talk of ‘solid science’ seems to have evaporated from Mike’s lexicon. In his 2007 Guardian piece he seemed more certain:

Increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere warms the planet and sets in motion changes to the way the weather is delivered to us, wherever we are. Science has worked hard over a hundred years to establish this knowledge.

How times change.

Comments
  1. Roger Andrews says:

    I read through a large number of articles on Climategate just after it broke, but the only one I bothered to bookmark was a particularly clear, concise and thoughtful piece written by Mike Hulme.

    But now I’m forced to ask; what on earth does “we need plural and conditional knowledge emerging from multiple sites and processes of knowledge production to engage with a plural and diverse polity so that the fruits of democratic modes of political representation can be realised” mean?

  2. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Use “PNS” to force the conclusion.

  3. tallbloke says:

    Roger, as far as I can tell, it means activist pressure groups bludgeoning the local councils and public into going along with poorly supported science in the absence of central authorititive sources who have discredited themselves.

    The new battlegrounds I suspect. My local council has produced a 2020 visioning document full of the usual stuff, but little beef. Just an assumption the AGW hypothesis is true, and discussion of how to reduce everyone’s footprint. We’re going to have to fight it on the ground in a thousand separate skirmishes. Reading about pensioners burning books to keep warm has me seething.

  4. Tenuc says:

    Ah, yet another good example of how the IPCC brand of cargo cult science is move from a position of strength to one of weakness. It is a sign that our climate system has beaten the climatologists and are waving the white flag as hard as they can.

    Unfortunately for them, I don’t think the public want a peaceful surrender and will be demanding recompense for the vast sums of money wasted on this futile endeavour.

  5. tallbloke says:

    Ah but Mike is still saying it’s our fault for expecting too much of them in the first place. See the very first sentence. It’ll be tear gas and smokescreens rather than white flags methinks.

  6. If we make the excercise of remembering what the traditional spirit of science and the scientist was, we will find that, in all cases, we find an individual researcher enamoured with his/her research, passionately engaged in finding truth, in discovering the laws that govern nature. In neither case we find a communal, “social” approach, nothing of the like of a “creed” but of a personal and illuminated experience. This is how humans approach and reach knowledge: It is not by any kind of consensus whatsoever, on the contrary, it is against any of the like: It is a distinct and INDIVIDUAL QUEST, the intimate and private relation of a man with the “topos uranus”, not with any “soviet”.
    The trouble with all these political related positions is that they suposedly represent the “will of the crowd”, or worse, the “will of a flock”, and I say supposedly, because it really reflects the will of few, a “nomenklature”, who if having an ideally altruistic purpose, seeks to impose a particular “weltanschaaung”on the rest,or, in the worst scenario, to impose such “pseudo-science” or “creed” with the sole purpose of optimizing their profits.

  7. Joe Lalonde says:

    Adolfo,

    In my research, I am just looking for the basics of why and how we came to be alive on this planet. In doing so, I found the science laws were agree by scientists that still had no clue as to the actual operations of this planet. Still having very little measurements and understanding, they generated theses laws and fomulas that bound science within these man made walls.
    So, if science does not review itself back to the beginning, everything HAS to remain the way the walls have confined science.

  8. Joe Lalonde says:

    Tallbloke,

    Science based itself on balance and exact opposites.
    This would be fine if all the Universe never changed and remained constant.

    But, that is not the case, so the laws of science are incorrect by following that pattern of logic. Creating a formula or mathematical equation does not make good science when that pattern is constantly changing. It would only be good for the short term and have to always be adjusted. Cherry picking for a pattern is the current norm of science and not looking at the actual physical changes that has happened on this planet. Temperatures are a manmade concept of seeing if the planet is warming or cooling but that does not tell you why these changes are occuring.

  9. @Joe Lalonde says:
    You are right, and we must take into consideration our human nature, as to be worry about what the others may think of the views we have, so we must have a kind of revolutionary spirit: Either we decide to have a kind apostatic (Apostasy (pronounced /əˈpɒstəsi/; from Greek ἀποστασία (apostasia), a defection or revolt, from ἀπό, apo, “away, apart”, στάσις, stasis, “stand”, “standing”) is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person)
    and irreverent attitude or rather we surrender to follow the flock. If we are not really transfixed by our findings we won´t be able to adopt such a resolute will.

  10. Tim Channon says:

    Roger Andrews: He was a founding director of the Tyndall Centre something of which everyone needs to be fully aware. His location at CRU is very strange and why needs asking.

    I have been watching him since before the CRU debacle.

    “People are ambivalent in that on the one hand they want to defer to expertise that they trust in, and yet they find it increasingly hard to gain or retain the necessary levels of trust.”

    Now consider

    ‘People are ambivalent in that on the one hand they want to defer to expertise that they trust in, and yet [I/we] find it increasingly hard to gain or retain the necessary levels of trust.’

  11. tallbloke says:

    Good reminder Tim. The Tyndall Centre published some interesting papers on position and dissemination a few years ago. I wonder if they are still available.

  12. Joe Lalonde says:

    Adolfo,

    Scientists do NOT want the current concept of science to change. They have reputations and peer reviewed papers to back them up. They have passed on this system to countless generations of students who have built upon this bad foundation.
    So, currently, they are the “experts”.
    All I can do is be Johnny Appleseed and plant seeds with good strong science that makes the theories seem laughable. Politicians use the IPCC report all the time to back up their policy changes and decisions.

    I have broken ground into many areas science has NEVER considered as the laws that bind has also blinded scientists.

  13. Joe Lalonde says:

    Tallbloke,

    Do you know all the areas climate science has missed to incoporate into understanding this planet?
    How about what theories collapse when good science and simple measurements or time frames of this planet?

    To understand this planet, you need to have a basic idea of the mechanics of it’s operation. So far science has skirted around the basic mechanics of planetary knowledge with bad theories that do not interact.

  14. David says:

    Roger Andrews says:
    February 16, 2011 at 1:42 am
    I read through a large number of articles on Climategate just after it broke, but the only one I bothered to bookmark was a particularly clear, concise and thoughtful piece written by Mike Hulme.

    But now I’m forced to ask; what on earth does “we need plural and conditional knowledge emerging from multiple sites and processes of knowledge production to engage with a plural and diverse polity so that the fruits of democratic modes of political representation can be realised” mean?”

    Wow, only an academic in legal training can write like that. It means let us mix normal science with policy, instead of protecting this science. “…’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.

    In the case of CAGW it is the science that decides if stakes are high and values are in conflict. (If CO2 is beneficial to life then values are not in conflict) CAGW proponets have hijacked the science into “multiple sites and processes ” (political processes)….so that the fruits of democratic modes of political representation can be realised”

    A curious and evil quote indeed. I see no “democracy” in those Blackbeards who would appoint themselves to “save the world”

  15. Roger Andrews says:

    Well, I’ve read through what everyone has to say and I’m still not sure what Mike Hulme was getting at. My best guess is that he wants to reprioritize the democratic asymmetry of the scientific paradigm, but I could be wrong.

  16. suricat says:

    I don’t find this funny. I’m an engineer and I look to science for the original template that my employers want me to manipulate for the outcome that they desire (it’s what I’m paid for).

    If public policy is permitted to skew the science output I need a career change. What can and can’t be engineered is already subjected to a lot of regulation (HSE [health and safety executive]) in the UK. If the ‘science’ isn’t accurate (politically slanted), I can’t guarantee the outcome of my manipulations.

    Hence, I’m out of a job!

    Best regards, Ray Dart.

  17. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Ray I also find this problem very annoying. I have been asked to construct projects that have been engineered based on bad science and required that the operations would be as specified. The customer was upset with me because I could only promise that it would not work as required. He had already paid a licensed engineer to design his project.
    I refused to take the contract. It was still built. Didn’t work out very well for the customer or the contractor. Sometimes correcting others’ mistakes is more profitable. 🙂
    I still prefer that a job is done right the first time. pg

  18. Joe Lalonde says:

    P.G.

    I know what you mean!
    Many times I have worked with contractors that throw this problem on my lap. Many times I have had just a picture to work with for what the outcome the customer wants. No plans, just dimensions. So, before I start, I have many, many questions to ask depending on the complexity of the project. I few times I’ve had to point out the engineering problems so that the load bearings that were missed were considered. Contractors just want it slapped together and get paid and move on. Changes cost one customer twice what the project was suppose to cost.

  19. Phillip Bratby says:

    Mike Hulme talks a lot of gibberish that a normal person can’t make sense of. It’s post normal science and post normal language.

  20. tallbloke says:

    Hi Phil.
    I asked Jerry Ravetz to give this para the once over and he says he understands it. He didn’t tell me what it meant though. We have had a lot of other stuff to deal with, so I’ll await futher elucidation. I’m not so sure this is much to do with Ravetz concept of PNS though.

  21. hro001 says:

    You know, I just don’t know what to make of Hulme! He was instrumental in orchestrating the pre-Kyoto “consensus” – using the virtual equivalent of good old fashioned chain-letters. [see http://hro001.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/the-fog-of-uncertainty-and-the-precautionary-principle/ ]

    When he “shrunk the consensus” not too many moons ago, Hulme declared:

    “I think this** is an entirely credible process of knowledge assessment, but people should not claim that it is more than it is.

    “And for the record … I believe that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal and that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid 20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

    [pls see http://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/honey-i-shrunk-the-consensus/ ]

    **he was referring to the IPCC “process of knowledge assessment”, which seems to be at odds with “The IPCC is too hegemonic around climate change knowledge.” as cited above!

    Then again, he’s also the author of a 2009 book in which he wrote:

    “Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs”

    and:

    “We will continue to create and tell new stories about climate change and mobilize them in support of our projects”

    [See: http://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/propping-up-very-tarnished-gold-standard-of-ipccs-plastic-climate-change/ ]

    Oh, well … Plastic is as plastic does , I suppose!

  22. Zeke the Sneak says:

    I think I will try my own luck at this question. Hulme says,

    we need plural and conditional knowledge emerging from multiple sites and processes of knowledge production to engage with a plural and diverse polity so that the fruits of democratic modes of political representation can be realised.

    If we use Mike Hulme to interpret Mike Hulme, he may be saying that he believes rather than having one elegant crisis narrative, there must be dozens and dozens of crises and shortages being hyped by experts and scientists:

    MH: I used to think that the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol were the only way to go. I no longer think so, after 15 years of experience of failure. Climate change – the causes and the consequences – has to be fragmented into a diversity of different issues, each of which can be tackled in different ways, at different speeds and by different coalitions of actors. Stitching this all together into one mega-deal and one universal
    negotiating process is crazy. My position is called pragmatism, or polycentric if one prefers Elinor Orstom’s language.

    Hope you all like my theory. It could also be a lucky juxtaposition of meanings. But those are fun too.