It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pielke vs Schneider

The wrongness of the edifice that RP Jr constructs in "Honest Broker" is something that needs to be examined. He suggests that a scientist can be either advocate (for a particular policy) or reporter (neutral among policies; here he distinguishes three rather similar variations, on of which he calls "honest broker") and that any intermediate role is (at least implicitly) dishonest.

(I note that Roger concedes in comments here that one can take different roles on different issues. This is important and somewhat helpful to his thesis, but raises many new questions.)

One fundamental flaw here is that there is no distinction possible in Roger's taxonomy between "scientific advocate" and "pseudoscientific advocate". There is no role for a scientist responding to untruths or misrepresentations posing as science. The "honest broker" simply reports on alternatives, and makes no choice among them. The "advocate" promotes a particular set of choices and makes no attempt at balance. The political process weighs the various evidence streams and chooses a course of action. This is a lawyer's model of how ideas contend, not a scientist's.

Placed up against this is Steve Schneider's infamous quotation:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
There are many who try to twist this into a declaration of dishonesty. (... as if dishonest people had some reason for declaring that they are dishonest!) But clearly, it isn't. It's a description of the ethical tightrope that every scientist walks at every moment he or she discusses science, especially when there are important direct implications for the public.

Roger's suggestion amounts to a claim that some of us should be effective and pay scant attention to honesty, while others should be honest and pay scant attention to effectiveness. Nobody is assigned the role of evaluating claims on a normative basis; implicitly this is for the policy sector and not for scientists. In other words, by obtaining domain expertise, we scientists apparently disqualify ourselves from participating in discussions about values. But surely that is exactly backwards.

I think I have settled on at least a partial answer to this quandary: we must distinguish between expertise and expert advice. Expertise is value neutral; expert advice isn't. But these are types of statement, not roles.

At any given moment, we must try to be clear which sort of statement we are making. But to give people two different hats and suggest that they never change them is simply to shred the communication channel at its most valuable point. If you go to pure advocates for expert advice, you will never be able to trust them. If you go to pure experts for data, you will never have anyone to offer perspective. If you dismiss anyone who does both as dishonest, you have hermetically sealed yourself against the only people capable of offering informed perspective.

If you cannot acknowledge statements from people who have both value-neutral expertise and culturally connected values, then you cannot evaluate the effectiveness of proposed policies in achieving goals. Then you can proceed to develop politically popular policies which are stupidly incompetent, which I suppose is the point of expertise in political science .

You can see this approach in full flower over at Roger's right now. Read the comments.

pix: SantaCruz.com & Cafescicolorado.org.

82 comments:

manuel "moe" g said...

Everything good, except for one sentence:

quoting M. Tobis:

"Then you can proceed to develop politically popular policies which are stupidly incompetent, which I suppose is the point of expertise in political science."

Happily, *not* most political scientists are basement dwellers like Junior.

Schneider and you know how to turn a phrase, and cut to the heart of the matter. Thank you for writing this.

jstults said...

Dr Pielke also posted Dr Oppenheimer's response.

Is this post the much more on this to follow?

Michael Tobis said...

JS, just a down payment.

muchacho said...

Hi MT,
Ive found this exchange very interesting. I'm not a scientist nor a politician so where do I fit in? OK as someone who gets the opportunity to vote every 5 years I suppose that would mean I'm elevated to decision maker in Roger's world. But I'm also a 'consumer' of the media which is clearly biased against the science IMHO. And voting decisions are based on what the media tells us. The media should be an honest broker, shouldn't it?
Until it fulfils that role I don't quite see myself reading Roger's book.

NewYork said...

Pielke and Tol's argument are a series of illogical red herrings:

The study's abstract alone clearly indicates that they are considering the emigration effect of the decline in agricultural productivity due to climate change independent of other factors. I find this useful. Pielke doesn't. His basic philosophy is that since there are other factors involved, it's impossible to make a prediction, and therefore the study is "silly". Using this logic, I cannot possibly determine the impact that taking a long vacation in Hawaii will have on my bank account, since there are other things affecting my bank account, and the vacation may have unforseen costs or mitigating factors. Nothing to worry about. I might as well vacation all year. I find that notion silly. Pielke consistently uses such logic to downplay global warming concerns.

Michael Tobis said...

New York, yes, that is exactly how I saw it, but it's a bit off topic here.

Whatever else you can say about Roger he is generous about posting comments which disagree with him; I would urge you to put that comment up at Roger's.

Tony Lee said...

Is it just me, or is the way that Pielke calls Eli out by name a little, well, pointed?

Nosmo said...

It is somewhat amusing that you write about the Schneider quote and RPJ in this post.

Several years ago just before "The Honest Broker" was published, RPJ posted the Schneider quote on his blog and described it as inscrutable. In context it appeared to be a follow up to a previous post where he took Coby Beck to task for saying it was not his priority to correct those who exaggerate the effects of climate change. RPJ argued that this meant Coby was using the ends to justify the means. The Schneider quote was another example of the ends justifying the means.

It seemed to me that RPJ was misinterpreting Coby Beck's and insisting on that interpretation despite Coby's repeated protests.

It was at that point that I canceled my order for the Honest Broker and became much less interest in Rogers views.

The whole episode has some striking similarities to your particularly unpleasant experience with him a while ago.

bigcitylib said...

Good stuff and all. But I wonder why climate people treat Pielke Jr. like he's the only political scientist in the universe. I'm sure a few more must have weighed in on this somewhere.

Michael Tobis said...

bclib, don't ask us, ask the press.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

A few responses. First, you write:

"He suggests that a scientist can be either advocate (for a particular policy) or reporter (neutral among policies; here he distinguishes three rather similar variations, on of which he calls "honest broker") and that any intermediate role is (at least implicitly) dishonest."

Not even close. No where do I suggest that any of the roles are dishonest. In fact, i say that a well-functioning democracy contains all four roles.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Second, you write:

"There is no role for a scientist responding to untruths or misrepresentations posing as science."

Sure there is, the scientific arbiter. This category is where questions are resolved empirically using the tools of science.

You write:

"Nobody is assigned the role of evaluating claims on a normative basis; implicitly this is for the policy sector and not for scientists. In other words, by obtaining domain expertise, we scientists apparently disqualify ourselves from participating in discussions about values."

I'm not sure I understand this, but the conclusion is just wrong. If you want to argue about values, you should. But you are an advocate when you do so. being a scientist gives you no special authority on normative questions.

How many times can I say this -- advocacy is not dishonest, it is an honorable calling in a democracy, indeed the foundation of democracy. Scientists can and should participate in such advocacy. But there other important roles as well.

Once again I have the impression that you think that expertise in factual matters compels some sort of implication in normative matters. The is/ought distinction has been well understood for a long time, but you don't seem to acknowledge it.

Michael Tobis said...

Roger, I am referring to the only intermediate position you mention, the "stealth advocate".

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

The "stealth advocate" is one who claims that facts compel values -- that science compels action.

This is not necessarily dishonest (e.g., you could honestly believe this to be the case), but it is wrong. An is does not compel an ought (Google the "naturalistic fallacy").

If you say, the approaching tornado compels us to go to the basement, then this statement is correct only if we have an agreed upon set of shared values (to live)!

Do you actually believe that factual conditions compel normative outcomes?

David B. Benson said...

"Here is the science; not disputable.
Here are the risks determinable from the science.
Here are the unknowns; I hope I've listed at least the more important ones and not left anything important out.
Here are the risks associated with the unknowns.

Here is the action I advocate based on my understanding of all the above."

Now epidemiolgists do this all the time; so does (or shoud) the Surgeon General. No different for climatologists.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

The post referenced by Nosmo above can be read here:

http://cstpr.colorado.edu/prometheus/?p=3922

PDA from Let's Get Small said...

this statement is correct only if we have an agreed upon set of shared values (to live)!


Dr. Pielke, wouldn't a more apt analogy be that the "shared values" would include the idea that a tornado is coming and that it is dangerous?

I don't think the 'values' disconnect is that one side thinks that the projected consequences of climate change are good, rather that they're unlikely or exaggerated, or both.

If I misunderstood your thesis - or am being a buttinsky - pray forgive me.

Kooiti MASUDA said...

Logically we cannot derive normative statements from facts.

On the other hand, we can sometimes derive normative statements from plus some elements of common sense. It is better to make the elements explicit (especially when the so-called common sense is not really common), but I do not think it prerequisite.

By analogy with Popperian logic of science, it seems better first to consider cases of refutation. Some alleged policy options can be determined impossible or absurd "based on science".
For example, I do not think any good science-based advisor would suggest relying on petroleum for one more century, or on nuclear fusion, to meet the energy demand of the global human society.

I agree with RPJr that those advisors who show merits and demerits of multiple options are more valuable than advocates of a single option. But I think that that comparison is a second-order thing which comes after limiting the range of options by science-based considerations.

Steve Bloom said...

bcl, nobody else in Pielke's field self-promotes like he does. Mainly he does that by being at the ready for juicy quotes.

This is a good example. Well, what the heck, he was in town (I think for the Hartwell conference) so why not ring up the Beeb and offer to come on to trash the IPCC?

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

"Dr. Pielke, wouldn't a more apt analogy be that the "shared values" would include the idea that a tornado is coming and that it is dangerous?"

That a tornado is coming is not a shared value, it is a statement of fact that can be adjudicated empirically.

Danger, on the other hand, is often in the eye of the beholder. In my book I mention that when a tornado appeared over Boulder, many scientists at my office rushed to the roof ;-)

PDA from Let's Get Small said...

That a tornado is coming is not a shared value, it is a statement of fact that can be adjudicated empirically.

Not at all. To beat this analogy into the ground, a tornado can seem to be coming right at you, and then veer off at the last minute. The uncertainty about its effects on a particular structure is rather great. Yet, when a tornado warning is called, the recommendation is to take cover.

The analogy diverges the more I belabor it, but please play along. Should the uncertainty about the tornado's potential effects, along with the value judgment that it's unwise to leave your home undefended, be a reason for the entire community to do nothing about the impending twister? And whose task is it to advise the citizens on such a decision?

EliRabett said...

Roger darlin, science does not compel action very often but a lot of times it tells you that you are going to be punching sand if you try some bright idea like building sand berms. True, there are occasions where it does strongly recommend action, like get out of the way of a hurricane, and there are many more where it mentions what the likely outcome of some action will be.

As usual, Roger sets up a facile but misleading situation.

The bunnies ignore all this at their own cost and it is the job of any adviser to lay it all out to a principle.

Hank Roberts said...

http://www.spacewesterns.com/articles/105/

"... I got into something I didn’t know anything about and now I have to pay for it.”

She had violated a man-made law that said KEEP OUT, but the penalty was not for men’s making or desire and it was a penalty men could not revoke. A physical law had decreed: h amount of fuel will power an EDS with a mass of m safely to its destination; and a second physical law had decreed: h amount of fuel will not power an EDS with a mass of m plus x safely to its destination.

EDSs obeyed only physical laws, and no amount of human sympathy for her could alter the second law...."

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

@PDA from Let's Get Small

Of course there are uncertainties. And how people individually and collectively decide to respond to uncertainties is based on risk management -- a value-laden exercise.

Communities often decide to do nothing (or very little) in the face of tangible but uncertain risks, e.g., the state of preparation for a large hurricane's impacts in many communities is poor.

The presence of uncertainties does not change the dynamics here -- questions that can be resolved empirically are in the realm of science. Those that require judgments of value are not.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Eli- I agree with your statement. Science can provide some useful information about if the berms might work (or if the tornado is coming, etc.)

Science cannot tell us what to do in any of these contexts. You can integrate science and values by saying, if you want to use berms to keep oil off the beach, then it will all but certainly not work. In this case the role of science is conditional on a value stance.

We do not appear to disagree on this.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael- I am awaiting your response to this question:

"Do you actually believe that factual conditions compel normative outcomes?"

Thanks!

Richard Tol said...

Some clarity of thought would be appreciated.

Science can say "this would certainly kill you". Most people would conclude "don't do it", but that does not make it science. It is a value judgement -- a blindingly obvious judgement, but a judgement nonetheless. And in fact, the suicidal would conclude "do it".

@David Benson
Citing the Surgeon General is neither here nor there. The SG is a policy maker, rather than a scientist.

bigcitylib said...

Roger Jr. says:

"If you say, the approaching tornado compels us to go to the basement, then this statement is correct only if we have an agreed upon set of shared values (to live)!"

The flip side of this is: whereaver we have shared values, then these kinds of statements can be perfectly correct. Since the IPCC is really the expression of any number of shared values, held globally,I suspect that most of the statements that Roger has condemned as "stealth advocacy" can be justified with respect to some of these values.

bigcitylib said...

"Science can say "this would certainly kill you". Most people would conclude "don't do it", but that does not make it science. It is a value judgement -- a blindingly obvious judgement, but a judgement nonetheless. And in fact, the suicidal would conclude "do it"."

This misses the point. When a doctor advises you against a certain course, this is not something extraneous to the science of medicine. For example, its a mandatory part of their job. They're not really allowed to refuse to give you treatment options. And their giving you such options is not an expression of some personal value system. Its a requirement of the profession. In this instance, and many others in science, the ought really does follow from the is. Its mandated by it. Similarly with climate science, I would argue.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks for all the comments. I'll have more to say soon.

In brief, in answer to Roger's question, ""Do you actually believe that factual conditions compel normative outcomes?" I don't think the question is helpful.

Certainly, "avoid extinction of the human species", to take the extreme example, is not a conclusion that can be reached via science.

On the other hand "action X will materially affect the probability of extinction of the human species" may well be a conclusion reached by science. This presumably ought to (in a normative sense) have some impact on the decisions we make regarding action X.

Big City Liberal does not always speak for me, but he does in his 12:57 comment above.

This doesn't mean, on the other hand, that the requirement for value-neutral reporting of the science goes away.

In the climate context, that was supposed to be the mission of IPCC. Whether IPCC has gone astray or has started to go astray from that mission is important.

Richard Tol said...

@Bigcitylib
In your example, the doctor is not a researcher.

By the way, medical research has safeguards for reproducibility and transparency, and against conflicts of interest that are much, much stronger than what is common in environmental research.

Barba Rija said...

Tobis simply does not understand the naturalistic fallacy. It's a common disease which is clear when we see the likes of Sam Harris making the exact same confusion.

For instance:

This presumably ought to (in a normative sense) have some impact on the decisions we make regarding action X.

No, it "presumably" does not. It only does so *if* you decide to trust scientific findings, and if you decide to base your political decisions upon scientific findings.

This is not stupid, because it's not a binary condition, it's a balance of many different factors, just like science. Of course, if a scientific finding tells you is 100% sure that if you turned on the LHC it would create an earth eating black hole, then this would be a pretty standard binary situation.

Richard Tol said...

@Michael Tobis
I do not think there is much disagreement.

Science can answer questions like "what if?", "what are the implications?", and "what could we do to avoid it?" -- but it cannot conclude that we should avoid it.

As Steve Schneider was fond of saying, scientists are citizens too -- and as citizens we may well say that we should.

However, while some scientists are better than others, citizens are all equal. I know more about carbon taxes than you do, but that does not make my opinion on the desirability of carbon taxes more worthy than yours.

jstults said...

bigcitylib: When a doctor advises you against a certain course, this is not something extraneous to the science of medicine. For example, its a mandatory part of their job.
Might there be something besides the unadorned facts that explains the behavior you describe?

David B. Benson said...

Richard Tol --- You parse too fine. Indeed the Surgeon General is an M.D. as is a practicing doctor. Two of my children do the later, and I beieve all three of us agree that the practice of medicine is not science, at least in the traditional, lab coat sense.

However, there is a science of medicine and also epidemilogy and on and on. The workers in those areas use the scientific method to help establish norms. Indeed public health officers are commisioned epidemilogists who therefore have the police power to enforce the required normative behavior.

There are plenty of resource managers (land, water, etc.) who use the scietific mthod to recommend norms and sometimes have the power to enforce them; the water boss of an irrigation district comes to mind as an example:
Irrigation Water Management Society

bigcitylib said...

Jstults, if you're a practicing dr. I think that you are bound to the oath IS an unadorned fact. Or do you believe an unadorned fact is something like "I percieve a sense datum at co-ordinate x/y"?

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

As usual, Richard Tol gets to the nub of the issue when he explains:

"I know more about carbon taxes than you do, but that does not make my opinion on the desirability of carbon taxes more worthy than yours."

There are some scientists, our host I would guess among them, who actually think that expertise confers more worthy normative opinions.

This is of course why we need honest brokers of policy alternatives ... in a process of decision making we want to know the scope of available options and their likely consequences in order to empower democratic processes to do their job, which is to reconcile conflicting values.

O'Neil said...

if i understand Dr. Pielke,jnr point here, it is that the policy debate is mainly about values and that persons should make their values explicit in such a debate.

if that is so then debates about mitigation vs adaptation or smoking ban vs no smoking ban are debates about how persons value future sea level rise, increase drought, heat waves, ocean acidification ,etc vs how they value continued economic prosperity under business as usual or the personal pleasure one gains from smoking vs increase likelihood of cancer,etc.

that is policy debates are mainly about the relative weight a person gives to certain options and not the scientific bases of such options.

this , i think, is fundamentally wrong as the values (relative weight) that the vast majority of persons put on options in a policy debate are similar. this can be seen from the arguments put forward by persons in such debates. i.e. no one seriously argues that the pain of cancer offset or is more than compensated by the pleasure of smoking or that the ill effects of global warming will similarly be compensated for by our continued fossil fuel use. that is there relative weight on these options are very similar.

indeed any person with value disputes as serious of death rather than life, embrace destruction (in the face of a tornado) vs avoid destruction would probable be excluded from any policy debates as being psychological abnormal.

i think policy debate are not so much about how we value certain options( i think there is a very narrow range over which such values operate) but about which options are most likely to lead to the outcomes we value commonly i.e. arguments for a no smoking ban - smoking has some pleasurable effects vs little or no real increase likelihood of cancer (i.e. a general recognition that people value pleasure over pain and that smoking is likely to be pleasurable) or arguments for a smoking ban - smoking has some pleasurable effects vs a significant increased likelihood of cancer and other ill effects (i.e. a general recognition that people value pleasure over pain and that smoking is likely to be painful)

similar arguments can be made in the case of global warming that that show that these policy debates are primarily about which methods how to best achieve a share objectives driven by common values and that certainly should be main driven by facts not values.

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

Roger:

"There are some scientists, our host I would guess among them, who actually think that expertise confers more worthy normative opinions."

That depends on what the meaning of "worthy" is, but I can certainly see a way to understand that wherein I would indeed make such a statement.

How about: Opinions which are informed by expertise should carry more weight in decisions than opinions which are not well informed. I support that formulation. Does Roger disagree?

If you are ill, do you listen to your doctor, or to a street person who reads tea leaves or coffee grounds in discarded styrofoam cups? Suppose these two individuals gave you conflicting advice?

Roger apparently believes, contrary to myself, that these opinions should be weighed equally by the decision-maker. Roger, is this a correct formulation of our disagreement? (If not, can you clarify what you think I am saying so I can decide for myself whether it makes sense to me?)

Richard Tol said...

@David Benson
I was too terse. I admire the medical profession and I think they do great research.

However, when a doctor treats a patient, she is there as a doctor rather than as a researcher.

A doctor has a simple objective: Cure the patient. In most cases, this is best done by a routine intervention.

A researcher has a simple objective too: Produce knowledge. This is best done by doing something new to the patient.

While you can be a doctor in the morning and a researcher in the afternoon, you cannot be both at the same time.

Richard Tol said...

@Michael Tobis

Suppose there are two people with a similar ailment.

You ask a doctor how to cure them. You do not ask a passer-by, because expertise matters.

Suppose that there is just enough medicine to save only one of two.

Would you leave the decision who to save to the doctor? The doctor may be good at curing people, but she is no judge of whose life is worth saving. The opinion of the passer-by is just as worthy.

I would toss a coin.

Michael Tobis said...

I can be more clear:

On complex matters which have significant objective and normative components, those opinions which are informed by expertise should carry more weight in decisions than opinions which are not well informed. The more complex the matter at hand, the more weight should be given to expertise and the less it should account for value-driven decisions that are likely to be ill-informed.

How society determines the level of expertise available and who the experts are is deeply problematic, but that is no reason to pretend it away.

Its a problem urgently in need of solution. In my experience the capacity to recognize expertise has declined sharply in western society since 1970 or so, and I genuinely suspect that this is a root cause of the west's relative decline.

Michael Tobis said...

Richard Tol, your example is academic in the bad sense; it bears little resemblance to most situations.

You have, by construction, supposed a situation where expertise carries zero information, and then asked for whether the normative component is all that is left. If we accept as our model that these are the two dimensions of a decision, and you stipulate that one of them carries no information, then the other one carries all the information.

In situations where such symmetry does not apply (e.g., the doctor is 90% confident the medicine will be effective on patient A and only 25% confident regarding patient B), what then? Would you toss a coin in that situation?

In places where expertise does not touch on policy, it does not matter at all whether an expert is present. So?

EliRabett said...

Roger, please don't be so childish.

Richard clearly knows more about carbon taxes than you or Eli, so if the Rabett wants to know the effect of a carbon tax he might ask Richard. Assuming an honest response (you are a boy scout Richard, are you not), it is then up to Eli to judge how he uses that information.

Eli, being a smart Bunny (well, at least a bunny) would ask Richard what his assumptions were, he might even ask him to re-evaluate his answer based on a different set of assumptions. Richard might say that some of Eli's set of assumptions appeared unlikely to him, but in any case, the answer would be.

Richard, in other words, would be providing the best information he could, while Eli was using that information to reach a conclusion.

Richards opinion might not be more normative, but it would be more informed, something that you don't appear to understand. As Eli has said before, you don't have a clue about what real brokers do.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

You state:

"On complex matters which have significant objective and normative components, those opinions which are informed by expertise should carry more weight in decisions than opinions which are not well informed. The more complex the matter at hand, the more weight should be given to expertise and the less it should account for value-driven decisions that are likely to be ill-informed."

This is about as clear a statement of authoritarianism as one could find. Authoritarians reject the idea of an honest broker because it places control for decisions in the hands of politicians and the people (those who you claim to be ill-informed) and out of the hands of experts.

This is at the core of our debate.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Eli-

What you have just described is what I call a "science arbiter" in the book, and it is indeed a very valuable role. Again, we do not appear to disagree.

You really should, as you sometimes say, RTFR, before commenting. You'll appear less like a dumb bunny and more like a professor ;-)

EliRabett said...

Ah, missed that post from Richard.

When science says: "this will kill you", it is not a value based judgement, it is a knowledge based statement, information for you to use as you will.

Saying don't do it is a value based judgment.

As far as access to medication, the best equivalent are the rules for organ transplants. Medical evaluation (expertise) plays an important role, it contributes to the decision, but does not determine it. These rules were established by a policy/medical consensus. You are dragging a red herring across the blog.

Michael Tobis said...

Roger accuse me of being authoritarian. I think he's living in a fantasy world.

In email, roger objected to my snark in the original article, but I believe he has confirmed my point to a level where it doesn;t even sound snarky to me. To wit I said:

If you go to pure advocates for expert advice, you will never be able to trust them. If you go to pure experts for data, you will never have anyone to offer perspective. If you dismiss anyone who does both as dishonest, you have hermetically sealed yourself against the only people capable of offering informed perspective.

If you cannot acknowledge statements (*) from people who have both value-neutral expertise and culturally connected values, then you cannot evaluate the effectiveness of proposed policies in achieving goals. Then you can proceed to develop politically popular policies which are stupidly incompetent, which I suppose is the point of expertise in political science .


(*) By "statements" I clearly meant: statements of opinion on policy matters with substantive and normative issues at stake.

In other words, the parable of the MD and the street person with the styrofoam cups - that's hard. But if you could round up TWO street people against the MD, that would make the decision much easier for Roger.

Generalizing: " Then you can proceed to develop politically popular policies which are stupidly incompetent, which I suppose is the point of expertise in political science." How is that too snarky a summary? Did I miss something?

EliRabett said...

Roger, carry more weight, is not an appeal to authoritarianism.

Should your father's opinion about the existence of a greenhouse effect carry more weight than cohenite's love affair with Gerlich and Tscheushner? C'mon.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael and Eli-

You are moving the goal posts:

"existence of a greenhouse effect"

This is a scientific question, it is not, as Michael explains, a "value-driven decision."

So yes, my father's views on climate science should be given great weight (in my unbiased opinion;-), yet his views on what we should do as a matter of policy are not more authoritative because of his scientific expertise.

In political science school we did not in fact learn how to develop "stupidly incompetent policies," sorry. But we did learn a lot about how society has struggled over the centuries to develop governing institutions against all sort of anti-democratic movements, including of course, appeals to scientific authoritarianism.

Richard Tol said...

@Michael
I used a simple example to focus the mind. Reality is more complex, of course, and even in my simple example, a good doctor will have spent days and hours debating who to save in a situation like this -- and therefore would be somewhat of an expert in ethics.

But the core remains: Experts have better knowledge, but not better judgement.

Suppose not. I am by some accounts a leading expert in carbon taxes. Therefore, forget about Congress, forget about the President, and let Richard Tol set the carbon tax.

That's scientific authoritarianism. You did not go that far, but you do seem to be leaning in that direction. I do not share that sentiment.

EliRabett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EliRabett said...

Roger, some, not Eli, the Bunny hastens to add, would say you are quite confused.

Your display an astounding inability to differentiate between asking someone what the effect of something would be (if someone were hit on the head with a baseball bat, would it hurt them) and whether something should be done (should I hit someone on the head with a baseball bat).

Plus which, as Eli said, you don't have a clue about what brokers do.

Harrywr2 said...

'Opinions which are informed by expertise should carry more weight in decisions than opinions which are not well informed.'

If we take the case of war and peace.

Those most informed will be the military officers. They can advise on the likelihood of battlefield victory and likely costs of the conflict.

Regardless of the righteousness of the conflict or the likelihood of battlefield victory , if 'the people' are protesting in the streets chanting 'hell no we won't go' the conflict isn't winnable.

In the final analysis, it is policy makers who have no knowledge of military matters who must judge the 'will of the people' to sustain the burden.

David B. Benson said...

Some decisions, some of them even science based, are by their very nature authoritarian.

(1) ER triage by medical professionals
(2) epidemic control by public health officers
and rather less life threatening
(3) decisions by an irrigation district watermaster
(4) generation and load shedding decisions by each electical power independent system managerment office
but rather more
(5) spill water decisions by each dam operator (often enough results in drownings downstream).

In each case the authority is a lawful exercise of power; in this country voted upon by our representatives but the self-same decisions are still undertaken daily in the PRC and even in next door DPRK.

We don't yet have the equivalent of public health officers for climate; the EPA isn't the same.

EliRabett said...

Richard, the Rabett is not proposing you to be carbon tax czar, but rather asking your informed opinion about the effects of a carbon tax. If you can't figure out the difference your opinion ain't worth much.

David B. Benson said...

Richard Tol --- I'll let you set the carbon tax if you set it high enough.

:-)

Richard Tol said...

@Eli
I know. My comment was not addressed at you.

曾有年 said...
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EliRabett said...

In the spirit of making trouble, Eli would point out that the existence of a greenhouse effect does indeed appear to be a value driven issue to many people as shown by the ungodly number of strange replies to Ben Herman, Roger Sr. and Roy Spencer.

Eli notes that these three worthies encouraged exactly the sort of postmodern attitude that Roger Jr. and Richard T are pushing here.

The issue is not, as they claim, who decides, but who should one listen to before deciding. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.

Richard Tol said...

@Eli
If you want to discuss with people, you should respond to what they write. You twist my words beyond recognition.

All I'm saying is: get in the best expertise and make up your own mind.

gravityloss said...

Umm, science is required but is not enough to do decisions.

Clearly someone who has their facts wrong, will likely do very bad decisions, no matter what their morality or decision making skill otherwise. (They might get lucky.)

That's what Michael's been pounding in this blog for ages.

I haven't read Roger Jr's book, but it seems the "honest broker" will not differentiate between claims, he just presents them all. This is easily imagined often very unhelpful.

The "experts are no better at making judgments" has an obvious pitfall:

If we assume 50% of the population has a counterfactual opinion of scientific issue X, then any person that has the correct information of X, like an expert, is probably on average going to be in a better position to make a judgement based on that fact, than a random person from the population.

Then there's the third issue. Most of this "is / ought" thing a philosophical nitpicking. It was most hilariously explained by Pielke in the sand berms example: that perhaps failure was the aim all along and hence doing the sand berms was a viable option. This is not credible.

It boils down to the statements "If we don't want to kill [hundreds/thousands/millions] we [should/should not] do [action]." vs "We [should/should not] do [action]". The latter is somehow very reprehensible. I think if you look at statements made by scientists, many are in the former category but they are essentially unchanged in content from the latter.

One more thing: I don't think climatologists would necessarily be good sole creators of energy policy - but energy experts must take climate into account when making policy and they should *not* listen to fraudsters. Kooiti Matsuda nailed the latter here.

You get really really crappy policy if you ignore facts.

Mike Smith said...

OK, I'll be the one to say it: Climate science is not, at this time, a "repeatable" science like the theory of gravity. There are plenty of policy-pertinent areas that are in dispute. And, unfortunately, we don't have an alternate atmosphere upon which we can experiment. The climate models (the best alternative to an alternate atmosphere) still have a long way to go.

For example, the IPCC believes solar effects are minimal. Yet, there is evidence the IPCC has understated potential solar impacts on temperatures. Time will tell. Given this important uncertainty such a critical area, scientists can give opinions and even probabilities, but they cannot state facts (like gravity). We are in still in the hypothesis rather than theory stage of investigation.

This is where the nub of the disagreement seems to be. Some climate scientists appear to state that 'global warming' as hypothesized by the IPCC is a "fact." Others believe it is an informed opinion but one of a variety of informed opinions.

It would be utterly foolish for someone to advise a policymaker that gravity may fail next year. It would not be foolish to tell a policymaker the IPCC may be incorrect about solar influence on climate.

I see the point Roger is making. Roger's "honest broker" would explain the nuances (as best we know them) to the policymaker. The advocate would champion certain actions treating the IPCC's position as fact.

Given the current stage (hypothesis) of climate science, it is vital that scientists represent the difference between scientific facts and scientific opinion.

Michael Tobis said...

Mike Smith, certainly I agree in principle. (In practice, the solar thing, really doesn't seem to stand up to scrutiny).

The same can be said for all the other intellectual disciplines impinging on climate policy, most notably economics. Economic pronouncements are not, in my observation, covered by appropriate caveats.

And indeed, the present thread is about me questioning the certainty with which Roger goes from a conjecture in political science to a statement of fact, without any offer of evidence.

The idea that climate scientists overstate our confidence is pretty much not true, though.

IPCC is not just climate scientists. I think the issues with WG II are arguably deeper than a few sloppy mistakes here and there. I am not really familiar with WG III.

I would hold up the WG I (climate science) results as an excellent example for appropriate statement of uncertainty in communication between science and policy. One wonders why climate science is regularly the target of these complaints. It's almost as if people really didn't want to know what the balance of evidence of physical science says.

Michael Tobis said...
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Michael Tobis said...

"All I'm saying is: get in the best expertise and make up your own mind. "

Richard, as far as I know nobody here disagrees with that. Is that all Roger is saying?

He tries to make a book out of this question, you know.

Actually, I agree with Roger that there are important questions about the relationship between expertise and government.

I don't agree with his answer at all, but I agree that there is a question.

I can't speak for Roger, but I would say that there is a book because "get the best expertise and make up your own mind" does not have an obvious scaling to the regional, national or world policy stage.

markbahner said...

"If you say, the approaching tornado compels us to go to the basement, then this statement is correct only if we have an agreed upon set of shared values (to live)!"

There are plenty of people who don't go to the basement when a tornado approaches. In fact, there are people who chase tornadoes. Not because they have a death wish, but because the science of tornadoes is important enough to them to take a bit more risk.

The point--if I have one (as Dave Barry would say)--is that there is not a digital difference. Rather, it's a difference across a whole spectrum.

There may be people who indeed attempt suicide by going into a tornado. But probably very few tornado chasers have done that.

markbahner said...

"That a tornado is coming is not a shared value, it is a statement of fact that can be adjudicated empirically."

"Not at all. To beat this analogy into the ground, a tornado can seem to be coming right at you, and then veer off at the last minute."

Indeed. And tornadoes can also leave the ground, "hopping" over some structures to leave them undamaged, and then return to destroy other structures in the same path.

In fact, there are many photos available that show tornadoes that causes utter destruction to some structures, while leaving nearby stuctures unscathed.

Oklahoma tornado damage

Richard Tol said...

""All I'm saying is: get in the best expertise and make up your own mind. "

Richard, as far as I know nobody here disagrees with that."

Well, in fact, Michael, you disagree. You argue: "Get in the best experts and let them make up your mind for you."

David B. Benson said...

Richard Tol --- Experts have done just that.

The examples that comes to mind just now are the occasions (in Boston and Tokyo, maybe also now elsewhere) where closing down a road lead to improved traffic flows and less commute time, on average.

It saeems that authoritarianism has a larger role to play than those of us living in a country which gives lip service to democratic ideas give it credit for.

markbahner said...

"Opinions which are informed by expertise should carry more weight in decisions than opinions which are not well informed."

So Senator Gore would have been allowed more than one vote on matters of global warming and the Internet than the other no-nothings in the Senate, when it came to votes on those subjects?

Hank Roberts said...

> let them make up your mind

No, if you're following Roger's notion, he's saying you may well _ignore_ them, because you are going to make a political decision, without limiting the choices to what the scientists say.

Machiavelli was an honest broker.

MT and Eli are saying get scientists to limit options to those likely to accomplish the ostensible result to actually accomplish work on the stated problem. Then pick from those.

Current method, political:

-- you bring in the experts,
-- consult with them,
-- you may or may not understand them,
-- announce to the public that you will be taking an action, but choose what you say you'll be doing
because
-- your political advisor says the appearance of action will play well in the media up through the next election,
-- but you must make sure:
-- the scientists can't go public before the election.
____________________
Last week's example:

"BP has apparently been hiring up a bunch of local scientists associated with various Gulf Coast universities to study the impact of the oil spill.... part of the contract it's making them sign is an agreement that they won't publish or share their data for at least three years. That's generally not how scientists work.... it's pretty clear that this has nothing to do with actually understanding and letting the world know what has happened. It's about keeping it quiet for as long as possible."

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100719/03034410272.shtml

Richard Tol said...

@Hank Roberts
Note that I am paraphrasing Michael Tobis, rather than Roger Pielke Jr.

@Mark Bahner
That is one way to interpret what Michael is saying. But why not take it a step further and replace Congress with an Assembly of Experts?

Michael Tobis said...

The weighing should happen at the staffer level not at the level of the representatives in an elected body, of course. It turns out that in America at least, manipulating congressional staffers' opinions with polished propaganda is one of the key functions of lobbyists. Consequently the process is not currently working well.

Michael Tobis said...

Richard, much as I am pleased to attract the attentions of an illustrious person such as yourself, I must insist that "Get in the best experts and let them make up your mind for you." is not a fair summary of my position.

Please read more carefully.

David B. Benson said...

Richard Tol --- Who selects such an assembly of experts?

We already have one, by the way: NAS/NAE/IOM/NRC.
They have written on several occasions reegarding climatology.

From a self-selecting body of authorities.

Richard Tol said...

@Michael
I am glad that I misunderstood you, as you may have gathered that I do not like authoritarianism.

@David
Only experts can select experts.

EliRabett said...

Richard, we are arguing about the meaning of authority, you are using it in the negative sense of an arbitrary control of people, for example, Hitler was authoritarian (thread over). MT and Eli are using it to say that one should pay more attention to those who know more about a subject, not be ruled by them, in other words they are authorities on, for example, carbon taxes.

To the extent that anyone is twisting words here, go look in the mirror.

Michael Tobis said...

RT: "Only experts can select experts."

An interesting (and authoritarian?) observation. I am not sure it is entirely true, but it is clearly not entirely false.

I think it is at the core of the challenge.

Is climate science authoritative? Is economics? These questions are not merely academic in our present quandary.

Richard Tol said...

@Eli
We agreed until your interventions of late last night (assuming you're somewhere in the US). And now we agree again.

Richard Tol said...

@Michael
I was writing in jest in response of Mark Bahner.

The Assembly of Experts is the highest governing body (bar Allah) in the constitution of Iran -- it elects the Supreme Leader.