Seminars and Interview: A busy week behind the scenes

Posted: October 20, 2012 by tallbloke in media, Philosophy, Politics
Tags: , ,

It has been an interesting week. On Tuesday I met with Jerry Ravetz, who came up to the History and Philosophy of Science dept. at Leeds on Tuesday to deliver two seminars. The first was on Thomas Kuhn’s seminal book ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. At the start of the seminar, he passed around a copies of page 5 of the introduction.

Kuhn was at Harvard when the book was published, and it was something of a coup to get it published at all. Ravetz contends that the characterisation of phases of ‘normal science’ research as a “strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education” betrays a certain bitterness on Kuhn’s part, as well as an allusion to the pre-enlightenment dogmatic hierarchy of the church. He argues that this might mean that Kuhn is objecting more to the way the practise of science is taught than the way it is carried out by ‘initiates licensed for practise’. He thinks Kuhn sees practitioners of ‘normal science’ as victims of the rigidity of their education.

The inability of those working collectively within institutional structures to ‘think outside the box’ has since been recognised as ‘a bad thing’ in many areas of human endeavour, although some individual scientists strive to make their mark with ideas and hypotheses which threaten to falsify the current paradigm. Kuhn observes that peer pressure and training within the institutional environment limits the thinking of scientists regarding the really fundamental issues of epistemology, and in some specialisms, arbitrary tenets regarded as unassailable facts.

A lively Q&A session followed the talk, which continued over dinner at a local Thai restaurant. I found myself sat next to a postgrad Scot who has been researching in depth the scientific activity at Kew in the late 19th. I asked him how much of his research had been on Balfour Stewart and the solar research at Kew, and it turns out he has written a couple of papers on this subject area, which I’ll be following up soon. Balfour Stewart’s pure research on solar variability included investigations into solar-planetary (and planetary-solar) relations, and some of the work he and his team were engaged in is highly relevant to our endeavours here at the Talkshop, which aim to discover the nature of the relationships which are evidenced in the correlations we have found between planetary motion and solar activity levels.

On Wednesday I was invited to attend a less formal round table discussion along with Jerry, the head of the Philosophy Dept. prof. Greg Radick, and another staff colleague plus some postgrad students. This was on the subject of Jerry’s 1971 book ‘Scientific Knowledge and its social problems’, which is one of the texts Prof. Radick is teaching around this semester. During this discussion, Jerry brought up the issue of Steven Schneider’s infamous comments on ‘finding the balance between honesty and effectiveness ‘. We talked briefly about ‘noble cause corruption’. At the end, Greg Radick agreed that climate science is an important area for study, embodying as it does, the nexus between science, society, the new social media, policy and popular movements such as environmentalism. He has invited me to further seminars in their ‘work in progress’ series and to give a talk there about the blog, its content and matters arising relevant to philosophy of science.

Before he left for Oxford, Jerry and I discussed some ideas around the paper we plan to co-author on  empirical knowledge and uncertainty. This is shaping up nicely and we now have some definite plans to put into action.

Then on Friday morning, out of the blue, I got a phone call from a BBC presenter. He wanted an off the record chat about climategate and the police investigation. We had a short and cagey (from both sides) conversation. He wouldn’t tell me what the shape of the programme was going to be, and I told him that given the BBC’s track record, I wasn’t going to give him anything that could be twisted by editing. That done, I told him to call back on my cellphone at lunchtime so we could chat for longer, and between times I did a bit of background on him. It turns out he isn’t a SEJ eco-journo and has covered a broad range of issues, including some exposees of bad government and policy. So I was a bit more forthcoming when he called back, and we had a good interaction, which continued for 40 minutes or so. We had a few laughs together too and both felt we were talking to a reasonable human being by the end. I told him that he may not be saying much about how the programme was going to be slanted now, but that I would definitely be naming him in a review once it was aired, so he’d better watch out, since the Talkshop is such an influential outlet.  🙂
He took this in good part, and said

I’ll do my best.

After I returned to my office I fired an email over to him with a link to the Ravetz-Hulme article the BBC carried post-climategate as a bit of food for thought climategate background. He emailed right back thanking me and wishing me “All the best”.

The programme will be going out on Halloween (!) October 31 at 9pm so make a note to find it on ‘listen again’ if you are off to a party. I’ll link it here along with my review too.

  1. Joe's World(progressive evolution) says:


    This is what I have been trying to show.
    Locking science inside parameters and generating the “like-minded”, has created many, many errors and ignores paths that were NEVER in consideration.

    You end up with many scientists stating “interesting” but still is way beyond their enclosed field of mathematical hypothesizes.
    Interesting that education promotes “thesis” but NOT evidence.

  2. Stephen Richards says:

    the BBC are currently on the chemin del’epreuve. They are trying to show that the current ‘pause’ in warming is merely that and that Crimateologists are right when they say that the warming will return with a vengence. They have recently mentioned climategate fairly frequently in their programs and bulletins but always with the ‘hack and irrelevent’ meme.

    Be warned. They are expert at being pleasant but multi-faceted (visages).

  3. Brian H says:

    BBC’s ‘casts are usually unavailable outside the UK. Please record it illegally and make an mp3 available on-site.

    [Reply] I’d love to but I thiiink it might be better if some kind UK talkshop reader would post it anon on a download server IYKWIM.

  4. Tenuc says:

    Don’t normally listen to the wireless much, but this sounds like a ‘must hear’ broadcast – they will probably be spinning so much the make themselves dizzy… 🙂

    The CRU and the rest of those involved in the climate-lie manufacturing industry could be in for a bad time this winter…


    “…The Met Office’s long-term forecast suggests that, like two years ago, high-pressure systems will cut off mild Atlantic air, sending temperatures plunging as Arctic air moves in.

    More snow could fall than last winter, which was much drier than average in England, leading to weeks of transport chaos, it adds…”

    Interesting that the Met Office is doing seasonal forecasts again – will winter 2012/13 turn out to be another ‘Barbecue Summer’… ???

  5. Tenuc says:

    Not a bad program, as far as the highly biased BBC goes with fair and open debate on this issue, with at least some of the sceptical viewpoint being aired. Mann did himself proud, sounding more like a PR man rather than a scientist. He is a real asset to the non-CAGW cause… 🙂

  6. Brian H says:

    If Mann didn’t exist, the sceptics would have to invent him.