Tallbloke: Ravetz, PNS and the Climate debate

Posted: February 25, 2011 by tallbloke in climate, Philosophy, Politics
tallbloke says:

David says:
February 24, 2011 at 10:37 pm
“If it may be urgent, then more resources must be put into normal science,”

More resources *were* put into normal science. But because at the time the ‘best science’ (heh!) said it was a problem with the atmosphere the money went to atmospheric science, partly because of the previous ozone hole issue the sudden expansion caused the recruitment of a lot of scientists very excited at the prospect of discovering something ‘very important for the whole of life on Earth’. Their output reflected that. This skewed the view of the summary makers, and is part of the reason the the climate question ‘went postnormal’. The politicians putting in the extra funding wanted answers ASAP and so they got them, predominantly from one branch of science, energised by a ‘big issue’. This of course produced an imbalanced answer.

michel says:
February 24, 2011 at 9:57 pm
The climate issue is not a simple normal-scientific one of verification or refutation of an hypothesis.

Yes it is! It absolutely is!

Well, no it isn’t. Not yet anyway. As Ravetz has pointed out on WUWT before, there is no ‘crucial experiment’ which can decide the issue. The core problem is that the error band on measurement of energy balance at the top of the atmosphere is wider than the theoretically determined signal from the enhanced greenhouse effect. So the AGW hypothesis can’t be verified or refuted by the metric which is of primary concern. The question of whether it can be verified or refuted by other means such as the localised measured warming in areas of higher co2 concentration or observations of co2 change lagging temperature changes is why we have a two decade long debate raging.

Sceptics are correct to say the IPCC, politicians and policy makers had no damned right to present the issue as being ’95% certain AGW’ but this is beyond the realm of science and is exactly the ‘postnormal ‘ situation correctly identified and explicitly brought out into the open by the career long experience Ravetz has in being part of the science/policy interface and writing about it.

My personal assessment is that the enhanced greenhouse effect is probably nonzero, but nothing to get too excited about. But that judgment is based on a weighing of evidence that is ultimately more like a legal judgment than a scientific one. That’s why I accept that the climate question is ‘postnormal’ and I’m interested in discovering whether the techniques for assessing uncertainty proposed by PNS practitioners such as Jeroen van der Sluijs have anything to offer or not. Given the strength with which people cling to their judgments once formed, it seems unlikely a non-scientific appraisal is going to be accepted by all parties, but this reflects on all parties, not just PNS.

PNS has got a bad name for itself with the sceptical side because the pro AGW side used their take on it to bolster their side of the argument. What I wish the sceptical side would realise is that there is much in PNS which supports and bolsters our side of the argument too; validity and importance of the ‘extended peer community’, legitimacy in bringing ‘leaked documents’ to the table etc.

Jerome Ravetz find himself as the lightning rod in the centre of a highly charged storm because his philosophical output is taken to mean different things by different people, and because the debate is highly charged, it gets personalised. Added to which Jerome Ravetz is not some godlike perfectly objective oracle who we can gleefully knock down for failing to conform to ideals we don’t match ourselves, but an ordinary human being, with all the usual ingrained artifacts of upbringing, developed attitudes and stances, mistakes and learnings from experience that we all have.

He presents an easy target, but in my opinion the fact that he has long experience of being close to the corridors of power and influence and the people who administrate institutional science policy makes his written work worth examining for much more than the bits which confirm our own prejudices.

  1. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Tallbloke says on WUWT for David;

    “The PNS answer is to “fix it” first, even if it isn’t actually broken. In medicine, that is called “malpractice”…” Nice Statement, indeed. pg

  2. tallbloke says:

    Hi P.G.
    I missed David’s comment, please provide a link so I can find it.
    I did answer a point he brought up earlier, but he didn’t respond.

    tallbloke says:
    February 25, 2011 at 12:27 am
    David says:
    February 24, 2011 at 10:37 pm
    “If it may be urgent, then more resources must be put into normal science,”

    More resources *were* put into normal science. But because at the time the ‘best science’ (heh!) said it was a problem with the atmosphere the money went to atmospheric science, partly because of the previous ozone hole issue the sudden expansion caused the recruitment of a lot of scientists very excited at the prospect of discovering something ‘very important for the whole of life on Earth’. Their output reflected that. This skewed the view of the summary makers, and is part of the reason the the climate question ‘went postnormal’. The politicians putting in the extra funding wanted answers ASAP and so they got them, predominantly from one branch of science, energised by a ‘big issue’. This of course produced an imbalanced answer.

  3. P.G. Sharrow says:



    That is the one David sighted for your comment. pg

  4. tallbloke says:

    Hi P.G.

    I’m reproducing David’s comment in full. I agree with pretty much all he says. However, he doesn’t address the point I made, as far as I can see, except to single out some of the central characters who he thinks have led the rest of ‘normal science’ astray. What I was saying, is that the problem is subtler than that, and penetrates further into ‘normal science’ than the prognostications of a few ‘ringleaders’ can.

    David says:
    February 26, 2011 at 3:43 am
    Forgive the longest post I have done, but please read if you ever found anything I had to say of value. The entire issue of PNS and CAGW is rooted in these conditions. ‘facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent’ and the PNS theory from there moves to how to create policy in such a situation. An example. Some volcanoes in Iceland erupt and send ashes into the flight pattern of air traffic. It may be ok to fly, it may not be. The reward risk to the airlines is plain. Suffer the inconvenience of postponing flights and losing a modest amount of business, or risk the death of hundreds or thousands of passengers and millions in lawsuits and financial ruin. Easy decision correct?

    Let us hypothetically make it more complicated. Let us suppose that if we do not fly there is a fair chance that hundreds will still die, and we could still suffer millions in lawsuits and face financial ruin. So a simple fact becomes clear. The greater the risk of the prescribed policy, the greater the need for certainty in our decision.

    Every decisions we make in life as individuals and societies is based on such discrimination of weighing the cost benefit of our actions, so in reality there is nothing post normal about it, and the term PNS is of necessity vague, as at what point such a circumstance is reached, “‘facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent,” is going to be different for different people.

    In the case of CAGW the policy prescribed, in and of itself, places values in dispute and has high stakes with very uncertain results.

    I maintain that the answer to such a situation lies in protecting the science as it is classically defined, as the better the science is done, the more capable we are to determine how objectively urgent the actions or policy is. Take another hypothetical, that of a 1 kilometer wide meteorite headed towards the earth at 60,000 miles per hour. Only good science and mathematics can tell us if it is a real threat and if we can do anything about it. The bigger the meteorite, the greater the need for accurate science to both determine the threat level, and our ability to respond. The decision of what to do becomes more difficult if we perceive that the meteorite has a 50% chance of missing us, and our attempt to move it through atomic bombs has an equally large chance of causing some large pieces to hit us, when if left alone it may miss us entirely. What if one country wants to nuke, and another says no way, we will attack you if you try, we think your accuracy with the nuke could just as easily hit the wrong side of the meteorite and kill millions.

    The above situation is admittedly very difficult, yet still, the better the science, the better the chances are of making the right decision. Now to move from the general to the particular. Fortunately we are not faced with the meteorite decision in the case of CAGW, although a relatively small group of scientist decided we were, (see the Wegman report) , They quickly gained the support of a large group of people, (centrist politicians) who found the actions they recommended to be harmonious with their view of how societies should operate. One of these scientist, James Hansen, talked extensively about the need for action and indicated that within a couple of decades New York would be underwater. One politician who liked the idea of central power, Al Gore, supported policy which would give central government on a national and international level, and made a movie about the issue of CAGW and talked of sea levels rising twenty feet. The example of these two men, one a scientist, one a centrist politician, became a microcosmic example for the summary writers that formed the IPCC, demanding action now. In unison they presented to the world a hockey stick shaped graphic that proved how mankind’s actions had created unprecedented changes in climate.

    Here we are decades later, and the failed predictions of disaster are becoming more apparent every day. The hockey stick is discredited to all but a few. Yet the proponents of CAGW only dance faster. The pace of warming stops for a decade, and the term “global warming” is out, climate change is in. The predicted disasters fail to manifest, and so now, failing to get warming and failing to get accelerated mega disasters, common extreme weather events are being touted as proof of CAGW. Unusual snow for one or two years is now proof of global warming. All of this with no evidence of an acceleration of such events anomalous from many other periods of extreme weather, or indeed, any proof of an acceleration of extreme weather in general. Events we have always had, become proof of CAGW, an utterly and completely unscientific proposition. Many of the proponents of CAGW, who hate capitalism and America, go to the poor in third world situations of natural disaster, and taking advantage of their tragedy tell them that the evil industrial people like Americans caused their hurricane or drought, and they should be compensated.

    And rational people understandably say as did Willis, “I say that if there are PNS situations, we need to recognize the dangers, double down on the science, and not substitute “quality” and excessive caution for science” and another poster states, “But I am convinced that the best way forward is to show that urgent decisions are not required and that allows us all to go back to normal science.” and myself, quoting Revetz; “When facts are uncertain, when values are in conflict, when stakes are high, when decisions seem urgent, the FIRST casualty is “normal” science. “ 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” Many others state this as well.

    The response to this from a luke-warmist who I admire is shocking. Steve Mosher states “how exactly do you propose to show that? By forcing them to do the science you want? your way? That sounds like bending the science to your political will…”

    Steve this is easy, you expose the bad science, you show that sea level rise is not accelerating, you show that warming is slowing or even stopped from it peak 13 years ago, quite simply, you use good science (Lindzen, Spencer, Idso and thirty thousand other scientist) and real world observations to show that action is not urgent and CO2 is beneficial. You do not force them to do science “your way, you do FORCE them to do science according to the “scientific method” with complete openness of methods, data and metadata. This is not bending them to an individuals way, this is bending them to the scientific method which they abandoned.

    Steve Mosher goes on, “ Here’s the problem. Once science has been politicized you cannot “simply” return to normal science. It takes the use of power to do that. Are you going to force Hansen to think differently? defund him? defund all the scientists who believe action is required? Stop all science ( thats way abnormal). Sorry, the return to normal science is not a simple re virgination process. Its inherently political. post normal.”

    Mr Mosher, you have presented here an irrational straw man in somehow claiming that a call to return to normal science to better determine if actions are urgent, is somehow a call to “stop all science”. It is very obviously not. And yes, you do investigate these scientist through the political process, and not with a white wash, and you do demand openness and a return to the scientific method. Scientist and the public who do not agree with Hansen’s choices of policies, which mimic the actions of a totalitarian regime, the “Peoples Republic of China” whom Hansen holds as an example to emulate, will be resisted. Do you think only those who are proactive CAGW supporters have the right to policy “power’ and “force”? Are those who say that they do not think action is urgent, powerless? And hell yes, you do attempt to defund many “what if” studies, so more research can go into what the real climate sensitivity to increased CO2. Does only the people that predict disaster have the right to form policy? Damm it Steve, this is as old as civilization; “When first the tyrant appears, he is a protector” Plato.

  5. David says:

    Tallbloke, thank you for directly engaging this, and reposting my rather long post, which was an attempt yo summarize the critical views in regard to PNS in general, and their application to CAGW in particular. By directly addressing the isues you have once again shown yourself both honorable and sincerely interested in objective truth.

    I think your request was to focus on this aspect , “The POLITICIANS putting in the extra funding WANTED ANSWERS ASAP and so they got them, predominantly from one branch of science, energised by a ‘big issue’. This of course produced an imbalanced answer.”

    There is a synicism towards the motives of polticians that is well deserved over thousands of years of history. Please note my Plato quote at the end of my post. The idea of bringing in other disciplines of science to examine the extrordinary claims of one branch, especially when those claims demand massive policy changes now, should be seen as common sense, and not anything that is by definition “post normal”. The idea of forcing science, like the hockey stick and the rest of the paleoclimate studies, recent papers in nature, the UHI studies, etc, etc, into complete details of method and meta data, so as to make them reproducible via the classic scientific method so that other scientist can examine them is again, common sense.

    In short my answer to you is they, the polticians, did not “protect” the science, they rushed it to policy very prematurely, and what you call putting more resources into normal science I would call purchasing results. With out the efforts of many to PROTECT the science, including McIntyre and Mckitrick, and even Mr Mosher, who I am strongly disagreeing with in my post, then some polticians, who are in my perspective trying to protect the ideals on which my country, the USA, were founded, liberty and freedom from the Tyranny of any group, be it political, religious, or coorporate, would have had no scientific basis to push back against the corrupted science being prematurely used to set up one world govt scenarios. ( If you have not, please read “Blue Planet in Green shackels” )

    I feel that what is clearly needed is that ANY scientific theory which has clear policy implications must be subjected to rigorus review of the entire scientific community, well outside of and beyond the control of any current publications, with none, as in ZERO right to any privacy of code, data, methods or metadata. Everything reproducible and layed out, not just to the scientific community, but to the public such as we are now seeing in web sites such as yours. ONLY after the science is done, can policy be rationally and objectively discussed. If after all this, there is still no clear answer because our science is not yet developed to the point of objective clarity, then the precautionary principle will utterly fail as justification to give international control over the worlds economy to one group of statist politicians. To attempt such a thing would be to create world wide conflict, and as has been demonstrated, will not succeed in creating anything except disharmony and economic ruin to no gain on the supposed scientific remedy. To hope for world wide sacrafice, unity and resolve, on anything less then solid irrufutable scientific proof, is foolish and destrctive to peaceful coexistence.

    With graditude for your work and this forum
    David A

  6. tallbloke says:

    Hi David,
    I really glad you’ve responded here, where we can discuss what I believe is the central issue. My main point is it is not just the politicians pressuring the science to provide answers, it is the scientists themselves in the way group work operates, who can tend to get carried away on a new paradigm.

    Your call to have the wider scientific community work to appraise and evaluate in these circumstances is a wise one. It also concurs with Ravetz call to ‘extend the peer community’.

    Scientists from other disciplines, particularly those closely related to aspects of the science in question would clearly be of great value in such an extended peer community, but by and large, they have kept quiet.

    When we examine the reasons for that, we will see that the implications for how we administrate and organise science neds to be looked at in more depth, and findings acted upon.

    It’s not just a matter of rounding up and ‘dealing with’ a small number of ‘ringleaders’.


  7. David says:

    Tallbloke, I appreciate the opportunity to further correspond on this issue. Perhaps many PHD papers will be written in the future concerning the entire CAGW movement and how it developed and prospered. I certainly hope that I never indicated that it was s simple matter of rounding up and ‘dealing with’ a small number of ‘ringleaders’.

    I will attempt here to spontaneously develop a short summary of the numerous causes of problems within CAGW science. Being a blog comment, please to not consider it robust or complete, but explorative and fundemental in nature.

    1. Group Think. The tendency to conformity, and “confirmation bias” is certainly a factor in all human endeavors. There are many studies on this phenomena in general that can be applied to CAGW in particular.

    2. Power, and Money. There cannot be any that doubt the potential corruption of any human endeavor as these factors become active players in a process.

    3. Politics. Policy, activated through the political process requires power and money, but I list it separately here to explore how political ideology can cause one to form an initial reaction (pre-judge) to a circumstance or idea. In summary, a conservative has a tendency to see any central government control of resources with great caution, where as a progressive democrat” a socialist or communist sees government as the solution.

    My initial thought is that the concept of group think and confirmation bias will be the least controversial here as it is recognized and in general not denied. Once a theory gains some acceptance within a circle, then confirmation bias certainly becomes a factor within the social group holding an idea. Few people can honestly state that they do not want to be correct, they just want to know the objective truth. The desire to be right is always present to some degree. The ideals of the scientific method are, in my view, the best antidote to this understandable human condition. However a person can state, “my desire for truth exceeds my desire to be right“, and through rigorous application of the scientific method avoid many of these pitfalls.

    However, when power, money and politics enter the process, then confirmation bias and group think become far more potent factors. And here we see that the processes above (group think, confirmation bias, politics, power and money) do not exist in a vacuum, but work together in a symbiotic fashion against the objective unbiased truth, which the very structure of the scientific method is designed to illuminate.

    And this brings me to the message critical of Post Normal Science which I and others are trying to convey. First let me start with the words, Post Normal Science, which I consider to be a misnomer, as it attempts to cloak the complex social decisions of policy with the certainty of respect that true science generates in its reproducible applications of technology and the mathematical certitude that guides pure science. As soon as scientific theory moves to policy, then the science is subjected to the most potent forces that act against the very ideals of the scientific method, confirmation bias, group think, power, politics and money.

    The first thing PNS does is to move a scientific theory to the policy stage via central planning, thus instantly subjecting the science to far greater measures of the potentially corrupting influences of group think, confirmation bias, politics, power and money, all of which can work against the objective truths science can reveal. This is why I say that the first objective of policy makers, those with integrity to objective truth, should be to protect the science from these influences, before implementing policy.

    This means full exposure of all data, methods and metadata, and independent studies funded for the specific purpose of rebuttal. This means a study such as the recent Nature” publication on increasing extreme weather in England and Whales would have zero policy impact without independent critical peer review and public debate. This means that McIntyre and Mckitrick would not have to have gone through years of efforts to obtain the exact methods and data and code used in the pale climate studies. The studies on Antarctic warming as an example could not be used for policy until independent peer review by all the disciplines of science involved was completed and debated. Dozens of “what if “ studies on potential disasters from CAGW could not be cited for policy purposes until each and every one was subject to independent scientific peer review. These critical studies should be funded equally by the government, but directed by independent groups outside the government. Equal funding should likewise be given to study the benefits of increased CO2. Open source and public debate must be required.

    But much of what I read from Mr Ravetz is an attempt to move the science to policy before it is warranted, before the science is done. (I can pull the quotes if you do not accept this as accurate) It may simply be that the science is not developed to an adequate degree to give sufficient clarity, in which case I would hope that a policy of adaptation to issues as they manifest and implementation of research (not whole sale implementation of undeveloped expensive technology) into alternatives energy sources would be far more economic and effective.

  8. David says:

    Past actions of the EPA, not just in regard to CO2 demonstrate how policy corrupts science and why independent research is required…http://junksciencecom.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/epas-clean-air-act-021411-draft.pdf

    A government organization is no different then any other “group” of humans, and all humans are subject to the same flaws and potential corruption. This is why Thomas Jefferson called government a necessary evil.

  9. tallbloke says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks for your further thoughts.
    I’ve emailed Jerry to see if he can find time to respond to this himself.

  10. David says:

    Thank you Tallbloke, I will be most pleased if he does. It is an opportunity to directly address the concerens many share.