The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Roger at Face Value

I have ploughed through Roger Pielke Jr.'s The Honest Broker. On the whole I cannot recommend it; I'll try to explain in detail soon.

That said, there were a couple of things in the book that I liked a lot. Most important is this. At root, Roger is, in fact, asking the right question, regardless of what you think of his way of answering it. The relationship between science and policy is indeed fraught and not well decided. It is something we need to think about; it's of first order importance in figuring out what to do about climate and many other crucial issues.

I also liked his contrast between Tornado Science and Abortion Science; in the former, science is decisive, while in the latter, science is, if anything, used as rationalization for positions which were fixed in advance of any realistically plausible evidence.

(It would be more fun to talk about this with a different name than Abortion Science, though, please and thanks. Let's just call it science-as-proxy vs. science-as-driver.)

But Roger doesn't go far enough with this distinction; he presumes it is obvious which is which. A good deal of the difficulty we are having in the climate field is in fact that the question of which sort of question it is is in contention. When you hear people saying "global warming is like a religion" they are saying that climate change is about preconceived ethical stances and not about the physical reality of the system. Those of us who think otherwise find ourselves harping on evidence; others see us spouting dogma. We bang the drum about coherence and consistency of evidence; others see signs of closed-mindedness. We try to drive the conversation with facts; they respond with values.

Roger takes no explicit side on which sort of question climate policy debate is, but I think his behavior shows that he doesn't really see the tornado coming. But I thank him for the distinction just the same. I think this disagreement whether science is a proxy or is the real issue is at the heart of why we talk past each other.



Update: Roger responds in a comment "If you think that you are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner through appeals to science, you are wrong."

My first response in comments is somewhat tangential to this key point.

My answer to the key point, emphatically, is that if Roger thinks we are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner without appeals to science, he is more wrong than I am. (I don't think that he does think that, to be fair. But I'm not sure where that leaves us.)

Clearly science is substantially relevant, even if it isn't entirely dispositive. Until the public understands the main practical implications of the science, we will not end up with a sane policy.

While daunting, these implications are not in themselves complicated. Yet, for whatever reason, they are not commonly understood, and this lack of understanding leads directly to a dysfunctional policy. I do not see any segment of Roger's four-part taxonomy as having the competence to respond to this circumstance.

The issue I raise in the comments is a much simpler one, but it may serve as a model, wherein Roger can explain what those of us who are convinced there is a tornado coming (let's stipulate, for the purposes of the discussion, correctly so) can do to overcome those who think our motivation is to sell storm cellars.

39 comments:

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael- Thanks for this. I expand just a bit on the relationship of science and politics in the context of climate change in this op-ed:

http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/honest%20broker_pielke.pdf

I also direct your attention to the passage at the bottom of p. 52, where i write, "So long as there is a dispute over values, the issue will necessarily take on the dynamics of Abortion Politics, irrespective of those seeking to scientize the debate."

Mike Hulme explains this far better than I do in his book "Why We disagree About Climate Change"

If you think that you are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner through appeals to science, you are wrong.

I look forward to your more detailed comments on the book soon.

Thanks.

Michael Tobis said...

Roger, thanks for your response.

Your linked summary changes the crucial point of discontent I had with the book. In the link, you say "The Honest Broker of Policy Options seeks to expand, or at least clarify, the scope of choice available to the decision maker"

The "or at least clarify" makes a lot of difference to the argument. The idea that there are two contrary roles 1) to expand the range of options and 2) to narrow the range of options is key to your taxonomy. I found this to be inadequate.

One narrows the range of options because one understands the needs of the customer and concludes that some of the presented options will not work. One expands the range of options because one is brainstorming. Both roles should accrue to any expert; in the end one presents a menu of those options that stand some chance of satisfying the needs of the customer. This is neither maximizing nor minimizing but optimizing.

I didn't see anything about "or at least clarify" in your book, which left me with no role in the climate debate that I could identify as a satisfactory use of my knowledge and skills. Must I cling to "at least clarify" for a life raft?

Consider for example the recent failure of sand berms intended to protect the Louisiana coast.

I don't know if the version of the story I linked is complete and completely true, but it's hardly implausible. For the sake of argument, let's take it as a given that the berms were planned "in a science vaccuum" and failed spectacularly. Further, let's take it as a given that the knowledge to avoid such a result existed, and was ignored for reasons based in values without reference to evidence. (This is certainly a sufficiently plausible sequence of events as to be instructive, even if in reality the story might be more complex.)

In the story as Bahr tells it, what could have improved the outcome? What, in your model, would be the cause for such a failure?

What would the Honest Broker have done? In the version of the story that we are postulating as true there were Advocates on both sides, and the side that refused conventional expertise was substantively wrong. I presume that you will cast Bahr and his cohort of coastal dynamicists as "advocates" because they said "don't do this stupid thing!"

So what should have been the role of the Honest Broker in such a case? If the HB determines that one of the advocacy groups has a vast preponderance of evidence on its side, does the HB become an advocate? Is there then no basis for choosing between the advocates politically, even though scientifically the case is open and shut?

seamus said...

"I think this disagreement whether science is a proxy or is the real issue is at the heart of why we talk past each other."

A most insightful statement. Everywhere we see scientific-sounding language as a proxy for the real argument. "Proxy" is the perfect word for it. The effect is "duplicity".

"If you think that you are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner through appeals to science, you are wrong."

Not really helpful, and possibly a form of tone trolling (seems to be catching). Of course arguing with a Creationist mentality is pointless, but a lot of folks really want to learn about the science.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

Thanks ... In the book I explain that the role of the Honest broker is to expand (or clarify) the scope of choice on pages 17, 18 and 21. The first sentence of the sub-section on the Honest broker says this.

But more importantly, on to your questions.

If there is a question that can be resolved empirically, then this is the job of the science arbiter. The question of whether sand berms "work" to keep oil off beaches is a question that can be resolved by science. The question about whether such berms should be deployed or not cannot be resolved by science.

What if the goal of the action is not to keep oil offshore, but to demonstrate to the public that politicians are "doing something"? In the drought of 2002 the city of Denver spent $1 million on cloud seeding, which was more PR than policy. Politicians take symbolic action all the time.

In the sand berm case, the Honest Broker would present the options -- build berms, don't build berms, etc. and the range of consequences predicted to occur from relevant experts (which might include experts in beach processes as well as experts on public opinion). At that point it would be the job of politicians to decide what to do. Being an honest broker means clearly delineating advice from decision -- military intelligence long espouses this culture.

An expert could equally play the role of advocate, arguing for a particular course of action.

But to be clear -- the expert cannot at once well serve as an honest broker and an advocate at the same time. One role is not better than another -- but healthy decision making often requires the presence of all four of the categories that I discuss in the book.

My concern about climate science is that too many science arbiters and honest brokers have decided to engage in advocacy. The choice to become an advocate is of course a personal one, but I would argue that some place needs to be reserved for honest brokering of policy options, a role best served by authoritative institutions. However, this role that has gone wanting in the context of climate as the IPCC, national academies and professional organizations have all jumped on the advocacy bandwagon to some degree.

And guess what the result is? With the international and national policy processes ground to a halt we have very little in the way of policy options to fall back on. Those suggesting alternative options for action (e.g., alternatives to cap and trade) have long been criticized as unhelpful at best and lumped in with the skeptics at worst. This has hurt prospects for action.

PDA from Let's Get Small said...

if Roger thinks we are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner without appeals to science, he is more wrong than I am

I took "appeals to science" to mean "appeals to authority," rather than a statement that science is wholly irrelevant to the debate.

"Preconceived ethical stances" are currently driving the debate, such as it is. As much as it seems like pure science should be the sword to cut the Gordian knot, we're now at a postmodernist impasse, with mainstream science perceived as "biased."

Hartwellian as it may seem, the way through may need to focus on policies that are of benefit even if science is wholly and inexplicably wrong about climate change and its consequences: pursuing decarbonization as a way to head off the peak-oil trainwreck, for example.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

I emailed a longer comment that got rejected ... could you post that up?

Also, you write:

"Until the public understands the main practical implications of the science, we will not end up with a sane policy."

This is a perfect illustration of the so-called "linear model" of science and policy and that I discuss in Chapter 6. The idea that the public needs to understand this or that science in order for "sane policy" to occur is a fallacy.

I think something is missing in the last sentence of your additional comments added to the post.

Michael Tobis said...

Grammar fixed, I think, and thanks.

Google is sending out random error messages for no reason today, yet again. Ignore them, please.

Regarding The idea that the public needs to understand this or that science in order for "sane policy" to occur is a fallacy. I suggest that depends on the scale of the policy. Now that important sectors of the public actively believe things that aren't true, what are we supposed to do? Taking appropriate action seems a recipe to ensure ongoing power for the less responsible political movements. Ultimately, the more responsible elements are paralyzed, which is exactly what we see. So although there are no technical barriers and relatively modest costs (though large in absolute terms) to avoiding a potentially enormous problem, the political will is lacking.

Anyway, the suggestion, reducit (sorry, my Latin is rusty, somebody ring Lord Monckton) ad absurdum, is indeed absurd.

Do you suggest it is irrelevant how many people misunderstand the evidence? What if hardly anybody ever got it at all?

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

You write:

"So although there are no technical barriers and relatively modest costs (though large in absolute terms) to avoiding a potentially enormous problem, the political will is lacking."

In my new book, soon to come out, I argue that there are huge technical barriers, costs are too high and that we do not lack political will ;-)

You might want to plow through that one in a month or so as well.

Michael Tobis said...

Talk about contrarian!

I am expecting Roger's net book to be a Breakthrough Institute pixie-dust argument.

But let's stay on topic.

The claim is that

"In the sand berm case, the Honest Broker would present the options -- build berms, don't build berms, etc. and the range of consequences predicted to occur from relevant experts (which might include experts in beach processes as well as experts on public opinion). At that point it would be the job of politicians to decide what to do. Being an honest broker means clearly delineating advice from decision -- military intelligence long espouses this culture.

"An expert could equally play the role of advocate, arguing for a particular course of action.

"But to be clear -- the expert cannot at once well serve as an honest broker and an advocate at the same time. One role is not better than another -- but healthy decision making often requires the presence of all four of the categories that I discuss in the book."


This taxonomy strikes me as arbitrary. In the case of the sand berms, there was (or at least, for the sake of argument, we presume there was) only one option sanctioned by legitimate experts: forget it, the sand berms will not work. In that case it is impossible to separate the Honest Broker from the Advocate.

The situation in the climate problem is more complex, but many people will have strong opinions about where they know the bounds of reason to be. An ocean chemist may have constraints that an energy strategist doesn't have and vice versa. Each will consider themselves an honest broker, but each will consider the other to be an advocate for ideas which are not feasible.

There are other questions. Am I to put on my business card "M Tobis, advocate for zero net carbon emissions by 2100" or "M Tobis, honest broker on energy technologies who considers nuclear very much still on the table" or "M Tobis, pure scientist with a solid basis in physical oceanography and some dynamic meteorology, grinding away at ensemble management and analysis software", or "M Tobis, blogger, who likes to dig up and share useful information for those who need it". You seem to say that fulfilling any of these roles disqualifies you from the others.

But you just made these roles up!

I think you are saying these accrue to the individual, and as far as I know have said nothing about the institutional structures to support these approaches. But it seems to me that the problem you are raising is credibility, and the solution is institutional. I think that's a good question.

But the question of which hat Michael wears, that's another matter. I'm not comfortable with the choice. As an intelligent person, I am not interested in limiting my cognitive or discursive style according to a four-way choice set up by somebody else.

By the way, Roger, which hat do you wear?

Greg said...

If someone is expert enough to be very certain (in the scientific sense of "I am certain how much fuel this rocket will need to get to the moon.") of a ranking of utility of options, then that expert has two choices: Honest Advocate, or Dishonest Broker.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Pixie dust ... classy Michael.

You write, that I have "as far as I know have said nothing about the institutional structures to support these approaches."

P. 145, there is a section titled "institutions matter" -- have a look.

As I write in the book, the choice of role to play depends up context. You could be a advocate on one issue and an arbiter on another. But you do have to choose a role.

For my part on climate change I am very much an outspoken advocate for a particular course of action.

Finally, I will repeat for the sand berm case the fact that experts agree that almost certainly may not prevent oil from reaching shore does not mean that policy makers may still not decide to pursue it. Science does not dictate political choices.

Hank Roberts said...

RPJr. writes:
> drought of 2002 the city of Denver spent
> $1 million on cloud seeding, which was
> more PR than policy. Politicians take
> symbolic action

How much more PR than policy? Citation welcome; I didn't find your source on that.

I found this using Scholar looking for
denver drought cloud seeding limited to since 2000:

"The anticipated effects from well designed and conducted operational seeding programs
range from 5-15% increases in precipitation...."

"The Denver Board of Water Commissioners sponsored a winter program during the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 winter seasons. ... evaluation indicated increases in target area precipitation and snowpack in the 15-16% range."

http://homepage.mac.com/carolepellatt/.Public/wintercloudseeding.pdf

Michael Tobis said...

"Science does not dictate political choices." Well, of course not, not in the sense of actually making the decision.

But surely you agree that the process has failed when the science is both clear and flaunted by the policy sector?

Also, could you respond to Greg's point?

manuel "moe" g said...

RPJr:

> "But to be clear -- the expert cannot at once well serve as an honest broker and an advocate at the same time."

> "You could be a advocate on one issue and an arbiter on another. But you do have to choose a role."

So... Scientists must be Nihilists, or they give up any expectation to affect policy. And, thanks(?) for the freedom to be constrained by mere *situational* compulsory nihilism. Appreciate it.

Three-legged stool: science, morality, policy. To break the stool, you only need compromise one of the legs.

Post-"Climategate", it is harder to suppress the science. Post-Gulf-Spill, it is harder to argue that the current price of gasoline captures external costs, even in the short term. So the argument shifts to demands that experts be moral monsters that are nihilistic to future generations being able to survive. If they are not moral monsters, and they cannot avoid working through the consequences of inaction or half-way measures, their views *must* be removed from consideration - the "Serious and Sensible" say.

(The same way that actually caring about foreign civilian deaths implies you are not "Serious" about foreign policy, and so your views are removed from consideration about questions of war. Digress.)

Sadly, like the tragedy of the commons, where in the absence of sensible stewardship of common goods the rational course is to over-consume and prepare for a future of no such resource, if one perceives society being unable to create and sustain sensible stewardship of mild & stable climates consistent with current levels of agricultural production and transportation, the rational course is to over-consume to prepare for a future of staggering shortfalls.

Sustained, in small groups, either by foresight and industry, or else by barbarousness and deviousness (to remove resources from my neighbors, and remove my neighbors).

But lets leave such talk; that is simply the probable outcome in the absence of common human wisdom, understanding, and morality.

We do not have generations of experience with pervasive discipline under mechanisms of sensible stewardship. We do not have _15 minutes_ of experience with such pervasive discipline. Human moral progress is literally glacial; consider the time span between abolitionist activity in the late 1600 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948 to an honest reckoning of our state of justice of emancipation today. The first collapse of pillars of industrial agriculture and transport will take place long before there is pervasive discipline under mechanisms of sensible stewardship. That much is sure.

Happily, this subject is discussed more now than any other time before, with more chance of propagation to new ears and more tools for coordinating work.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

On Greg's point, "how much fuel is needed?" is a case of Tornado Politics. Climate change is Abortion Politics.

As I write in the book, in the case of Tornado Politics it does in fact seem like science dictates action because we don't see the values (because they are shared). On climate change there is not a shared agreement on values. Thus, science does not provide much leverage in political debates. I recognize that you wish that it would, but it doesn't, that is simply a fact.

"But surely you agree that the process has failed when the science is both clear and flaunted by the policy sector?"

I'm not sure what this means. The "policy sector" has wildly divergent views on evolution, and yet the practice of medicine can be called successful. The "policy sector" has wildly divergent views on GMOs yet agricultural productivity worldwide continues to increase.

Again, I do not see such a simple relationship between what the "policy sector" believes about science and policy success.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't think most of us agree with you that climate change is "Abortion Politics". Whether we need to decarbonize is much more sensitive to facts than to values.

Admittedly, people who oppose action do so on values basis, but this seems to be clearly based in a misunderstanding of the balance of evidence.

That was where I started, remember?

What should we do if there is disagreement whether we are arguing facts or values?

Hank Roberts said...

Dispute over values? There are plenty such. Look at history. Saying "Abortion Politics" is a broad category seems like spin to me; the question of who is human and when life begins is much less susceptible to being answered scientifically than many other kinds of questions.

You could put "Climate Politics" in a different category -- call it Tobacco Politics, or if that's too hot a button still, call it "Handwashing Politics" for example -- it's hard to imagine how long handwashing was fought, politically, until science took the issue away from those who wanted it to be a political question. Science does that eventually with questions that can be answered.

Abortion is a different kind of question, not answerable except by political decision -- it's the question of who is a legal person.

Look at handwashing.

While the details and methods and compliance are _still_ issues in science, the basic idea is now commonly understood.

Page through a bit of this.

Puerperal Fever as a private Pestilences
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ticknor, 1855

http://books.google.com/books/download/Puerperal_Fever_as_a_private_Pestilences.pdf?id=04w_AAAAcAAJ&output=pdf&sig=ACfU3U2JjJu068FvOZnfRFsAFqZvjZiB_g

EliRabett said...

Roger's Honest Broker simile is childish as can be seen reading the establishing argument in his book about how the "honest broker" gives advice on how to find food
---------------------
. . you might instead provide your visitor with information on all restaurants in the city, basic information on each (cost, menu, etc.) and let the visitor face the challenge of reducing the scope of choice (i.e., making a decision). Such "honest brokering" could also be strong (e.g., a comprehensive guide to all restaurants in the city) or weak (e.g., a guide to all those within a 5 minutes walk). The defining characteristic of the honest broker is an effort to expand (or at least clarify) the scope of choice for decision making.
-------------------
Notice that the "honest broker" is not allowed to say that the food sucks, or that the place was closed for health violations, lest she become the dreaded "Issue Advocate" Pielke's "honest broker"slams the Yellow Pages down on the counter and leaves.

Useless. But then Eli repeats himself

Steve Bloom said...

Well, as with me earlier in the day, sometimes an error message means that one's comment has been eaten. :( Fortunately it wasn't very long. Anyway, to paraphrase:

There used to be a creature called a technocrat. Of course they still exist (in spades), but "honest broker" strikes me as a pretty straightforward relabeling (of the high-level variety, anyway). The problem with technocrats (and the reason, I think, that over time it came to be seen as something of an insult) is that a certain amount of dishonesty is inherent in the position. Specifically, to retain credibility for the next round (being an honest broker just once pays poorly) they have to maintain silence when politics trumps technical analysis. (And isn't it a cute trick to label as honest this essentially dishonest role?)

Whatever the term, they are a large and continually growing tribe. I don't think they require further encouragement.

Of course Roger's goal isn't to encourage them, but rather to discourage scientists who wish to simultaneously provide expert advice and take a position as to which policy should be preferred. This is a pretty straightforward attempt on Roger's part to stifle the competition, fortunately one that's doomed to failure.

Michael Tobis said...

Further pondering Roger's 10:29 AM;

The advocate would say "don't do this stupid thing". Agreed.

Roger suggests the Honest Broker would say "if you do this thing you will obtain no environmental results different from not doing the thing, except that state funds will be transferred to contractors, but not enough to cover the fact that their equipment will end up in the Gulf of Mexico. You will look like a hero for standing up to the feds for a few days, after which you will look like a fool."

Which strikes me as a longwinded way of saying "don't do this stupid thing".

What is happening here is not, in my opinion, as Steve describes "stifling the competition". It is simply sophism meant to defend an abstraction of limited utility.

The "Honest Broker" idea simply tells us nothing about how an "honest broker" is to behave in a realistic situation. One sign of honesty is that if one's abstraction has weaknesses, one says, "perhaps the abstraction doesn't help very much in the case at hand".

If, instead, one constructs bizarre epicycles:

1) What if the goal of the action is not to keep oil offshore, but to demonstrate to the public that politicians are "doing something"?

and

2) In the sand berm case, the Honest Broker would present the options -- build berms, don't build berms, etc. and the range of consequences predicted to occur from relevant experts (which might include experts in beach processes as well as experts on public opinion).

Now, the expertise has somehow moved from people who understand coastal dynamics to people who know how to trick people into believing that gross wastes of public dollars are heroic.

The latter group may be "experts" of a sort, but calling them "honest brokers" is a bit of a stretch, no?

Of course, the scenario is ludicrous. Nobody told Bobby Jindal "this won't work worth a damn". Bobby may be a bit of a fool about matters of science but I don't see any reason to expect him to be dishonest in this way. And even if he were willing to be so, he would not want someone testifying to that effect.

So Roger, what are you saying? It seems to me you are casting about rather urgently for some way to defend your taxonomy. I asked you, rather, to explain how the taxonomy would be useful under certain relevant scenarios.

Your response is silly, and does not actually help. What should somebody who saw the fiasco coming actually do to dissuade the government from being stupid and wasteful? Where would the Honest Broker come from in this situation, and what options other than "for *'s sake don't do this stupid thing" would they realistically have on offer?

See, we really don't understand this Honest Broker thing.

What sort of a job has the Honest Broker got? Who pays him or her? What behaviors are rewarded and how? Who asks for his or her Brokerage?

Certainly, the out of town visitor asking for restaurant advice example, which was the most fully fleshed out in the book, was far from compelling.

The four roles worked out to

1) indifferent to the point of rudeness
2) nutritionist
3) somebody whose uncle has a taco joint and
4) google.

Seriously, you don't act like that when a visitor asks for dining advice, do you?

jstults said...

Roger's Honest Broker simile is childish...

This from a man whose schtick is talking about his pseudonymous self in the third person: Children who fail to grow out of the "monarchic" phase of intellectual development and into the "dualistic" phase may become narcissistic throughout their lives. They may effectively intellectualize and rationalize their behavior, but their inability to view situations from perspectives other than their own causes them to also become abusive or coldly detached when challenged, and to react with rage and indignance when denied or thwarted in some way.

Paradoxically, the tendency of narcissists to refer to themselves in the third person stems from precisely this inability. When asked to explain their ill-conceived actions or describe their negative emotions, narcissists usually refuse to take responsibility for them. Instead, they blame others, often by composing narratives featuring a suspiciously-autobiographical "fictitious" character who understands everything, is a world-renowned expert in whatever subject is germane to the issue at hand, and whose authority is therefore unquestioned


Also thanks to Mr moe g for providing a nearly coherent rant in the finest Ecolarmist-Doomer fashion (what an interesting product of the intersection of peak oil and climate blogospheres). "The industrial world is headed for collapse because we're going to run out of fuel, but before that we'll be able to burn just enough to really screw up the environment because our tired, old ethics are insufficient to solve all these scary modern problems. If only a secular climate messiah would deliver us from ourselves!"

Greg:If someone is expert enough to be very certain [...] of a ranking of utility of options, then that expert... would be an expert on the decision maker rather than the subject matter, because it is the decision maker's utility function that matters. To go back to the restaurant analogy, maybe I really like Chinese and you think it's crap. I'd be justifiably disappointed in your decision support if you culled all the Chinese joints because you thought they put too much MSG in the Kung Pao chicken.

Really fellas, understanding how the is-ought distinction matters to decision support shouldn't be this "fraught".

nigguraths said...

Dear Tobis
Does it ever strike you that, saying "I told you so" and going our way, is sometimes the only option? And that, is not such a bad thing really - we do it all the time.

Do we, in real life, give full vent to every yearning, every emotion, every attraction, every 'gotcha'? We don't, right? Having 'full knowledge' and not doing something, or not being able to 'do something' is alright.

Somehow in this regard, in the case of climate change, why should we as those who see oncoming catastrophe, spend all our time ('cause it is a slow-rolling catastrophe) doing something that is so against human instinct otherwise?

Now, you can say that there are those, (like you) who are not yet ready to give up on the human race in this fashion. But that means, your position is a special-case scenario, one that insists that your fellow humans listen to your advice, while being unconvinced of it.

Do you find yourself advising or advocating for human actions that have been internalized for their obvious benefits? Do you see any *other* example/s of human actions undertaken solely to benefit the incoming 3rd or 4th generation, of not only theirs but of all mankind?

Regards

Michael Tobis said...

Shub, it's really the most interesting game that ever was played, by a very large margin.

Although I expect to lose, and this makes me very sad, I also expect to do my best, and this makes me very happy. It also makes almost every day more fascinating than the day before. I am very happy and immensely entertained.

I won't say I wouldn't trade the game for anything. A sustainable world is the most important prize. I'd rather win than play. But I feel happy and privileged that I'm in a position to win a small one here and there for team earth. I recommend it to anyone who isn't deeply broken.

A meaningful life is a wonder. Our strange and twisted era provides it to anyone willing to lend a hand in untangling the twists.

So I say worry. But be happy anyway.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

You ask:

"What should somebody who saw the fiasco coming actually do to dissuade the government from being stupid and wasteful?"

The answer is simple -- become an advocate. This is what Jim Hansen has done -- good for him.

But don't pretend that debates about _what to do_ are debates about science. They are debates about values. This is elementary stuff.

We deal with honest brokers all the time -- For instance, when you go to Expedia to plan a trip, you expect it to serve as an Honest Broker -- giving you choices, not telling you what to do. There is of course a role for people marketing trips and building planes. But there is also a role for services like Expedia. Climate policy is no different.

I do really understand if you think that honest brokers don't exist (well, they do) or whether they should exist (you haven't said why not). Do you think that science connects to policy exclusively though advocacy? Or do you think that because facts compel certain actions advocacy (politics) is unnecessary?

It is fine that you object to my simple taxonomy. But do you have a better one?

You can see various reviews on the book here:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/publications/special/honest_broker/reviews.html

Thanks for the exchange.

Hank Roberts said...

"... In the weeks leading up to Allen's recommendation, what is most striking about Jindal's effort on the berms is the fact that there is no hint anywhere that he and Nungesser consulted with any scientist about the project. The Governor certainly did not contact any of the scientists at any of the various coastal and estuary research centers at the state's public and private universities. He did use LUMCON as the backdrop for a press briefing but apparently never responded to an offer from the scientists there to serve as information resources to the Governor on any of the state's response efforts to the Gulf Gusher.

In fact, the only public record of Jindal and Nungesser ever having heard from scientists on the berm plan was at the June 1 meeting to discuss the matter in New Orleans, where scientists attended (at Allen's request, apparently). The fact that anyone would question their brainchild so infuriated Nungesser that he left the meeting and attacked the scientists during an encounter with reporters who met him outside the meeting room. Jindal at least stayed in the meeting but the scientists and their concerns left him unfazed...."

http://democrat2democrat.blogspot.com/2010/06/say-anything-bobby-jindals-hypocrisy-on.html

EliRabett said...

jsults don't like Mark Twain,George Sand, Lewis Carroll to name but a few. Eli doesn't really give a carrot.

As to the Bobby, he was told that the berms would not work, but played for the obvious PR gain, that he was doing something and the evil feds were preventing him.

The only way to limit such behavior is for the press to continually beat him up for blowing sand. They won't, he wins.

jstults said...

jstults don't like Mark Twain,George Sand, Lewis Carroll to name but a few. Eli doesn't really give a carrot.
Thanks, comparing yourself to those fellows makes it clear you aren't a childish narcissist. Sorry.

Michael Tobis said...

Eli is not a narcissist. Eli is a bunny.

The fellow who writes about Eli is perhaps a bit eccentric, but is not a narcissist either.

Hank Roberts said...

Anyone see an honest broker in this story?

http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2009/03/19/google-ads-doctors.html

Doctors raise concerns over quackery in Google ads Friday, March 20, 2009

"Google needs to do a better job of filtering its advertisements and suggested links to avoid sending users to snake-oil-type sites, doctors say in a journal commentary.

In this week's issue of the British Medical Journal, Dr. Marco Masoni and colleagues at the University of Florence in Italy said they used Google Italia to search for the keyword "aloe" and found sponsored links to websites recommending aloe arborescens for the prevention and treatment of cancer....."

Aside -- the irony, it burns:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=snake-oil-salesmen-knew-something

Deech56 said...

My apologies if this has been brought up before (or is in the book, which I have not read), but why the descriptor for only one of the two options: advocate or broker? Who decides whether the broker is honest or not? The broker himself or herself? Four out of five dentists?

To me, the implication is that the advocate is not the honest one.

Hank Roberts said...

> What sort of a job has the Honest
> Broker got? Who pays him or her?
> What behaviors are rewarded and
> how? Who asks for his or her Brokerage?

Michael, those are good questions.

The 'honest broker' isn't -- ever -- someone who knows reliable information about sand berms.

The 'honest broker' job -- really, perhaps covertly -- is the one RPJr switches to talking about when he reveals the little man behind the curtain: help the politician appear to be doing something long enough to get the headline and win the election.

The 'honest broker' is a political public relations role, not something a scientist would do at all.

Why? Because the opportunity just expanded:

The US Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can spend all the money they want, without revealing their participation, to fund influencing the next election cycle.

Nobody wants a scientist these days. The game is to hold power or take power back, and it's deadly grimly serious.

The job openings coming up now are for helping fool enough people enough of the time for just long enough.

"Nehemiah Scudder in 2012," you know? It's the last chance to decide which way the country goes.

Just look: http://www.google.com/search?q=coal+company+election+supreme+court

manuel "moe" g said...

quoting-for-truth "jstults":

> "thanks to Mr moe g for providing a nearly coherent rant in the finest Ecolarmist-Doomer fashion"

Unlike yourself, I am not an expert in "nearly coherent rants". If you could point out specifically what I said that left you bedazzled, I could improve my powers of confusion of the weak minded. I thank you in advance.

> "If only a secular climate messiah would deliver us from ourselves!"

I am perfectly capable of delivering myself, thank you very much. Don't think I haven't been salivating at the chance to cause mayhem under cover of societal collapse. (Seriously, don't think that. ;-) It returns no benefit to myself to telegraph ahead my foul selfish intentions. So I command you - don't think that.)

Mankind has been through this before, and will go through this again. I can't believe that *every* Roman citizen of the 4th century would be surprised by the collapse of the 5th & 6th; and the power of foresight and analysis must have an adaptive benefit. The light at the end of the tunnel could be sunlight or could be an oncoming freight train. I am not busy licking the hands, like a dog, of my supposed betters, so I can assume the responsibility to work out the probabilities myself.

So, I didn't mean to alarm you, oh gentle obedient _Canis lupus familiaris_. I, henceforth, release you from the obligation to read anything else I write.

Satire aside, one reason I haunt the blog of M. Tobis: he is a kinder soul than me. Instead of building Noah's arc, he is building the tools to democratize the understanding of environmental stewardship. That is noble.

Hank Roberts said...

P.S.: in politics, and political commentary, follow the money and see who's getting paid for giving advice and how it works.

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/07/glenn-beck-goldline/

jstults said...

So, I didn't mean to alarm you, oh gentle obedient _Canis lupus familiaris_.
Plato probably settled the noble puppys' role (and it's one I'm rather happy with since you bring it up), guess you modern natural philosophers have Pielke to settle yours...

joe said...

Moe: Zing!

William T said...

This is an interesting discussion, which has clarified a few points for me. A couple of comments:

- Apropos "honest broker" and the role of "technocrats" in advising governments. It would seem to me that in most systems, the technocrat/civil servant/mandarin/boffin is not expected to be an "honest broker" in the sense postulated by Pielke. Indeed, although they would be expected to "honestly" summarize all the relevant information, they're more importantly expected to offer their interpretation and their recommendations for what they believe "good" policy should be. Depending on the particular system this "advice" would be expected to be "apolitical" (eg in the classical Westminster tradition) or more partisan in other traditions where departments are regularly restaffed by new administrations. However I would be very surprised if any politician would expect their officials to offer them a menu of options a la Expedia without any interpretations of which options are "best". In most countries the government gets advice from more than one department because it knows each one has intrinsic "biases" - e.g. the Environment department will produce a report with a very different slant than the Treasury department.

-It actually seems to me that the IPCC has done a pretty good job of "honestly" brokering the wealth of scientific information about climate science and the plausible scenarios that could occur. They've then given a well considered list of possible policy responses that the world's governments could take and analysed the likely effects of these options.

- As regards "abortion politics" vs "tsunami politics" it seems to me that different aspects of "climate science" can be placed in each camp. The "hard science" parts are pretty much in the "tsunami prediction" camp - despite protestations from some individuals there is a reasonable scientific consensus about the predictions of what is likely to happen. However, the "soft science" aspects - how much it will impact on human life and wellbeing; whether it's worth mitigating or adapting - are pretty much in the "abortion politics" camp. Those questions depend to a large extent on value judgements such as how much we value our present-day freedoms/lifestyles versus potential harm/costs to future generations - eg Lomborg gets very different results than Stern largely because of the different discount rate assumed.

Michael Tobis said...

Well said, William. I agree on all three points.

willard said...

> [T]he expert cannot at once well serve as an honest broker and an advocate at the same time.

A trick to hide our inclinations is then to personally advocate something, and let the institution serve as the legitimate channel for expert information.

A trick to hide our inclinations is to work as a "tag team". One person becomes the authority on matters of facts, another becomes the policy analyst, another becomes the marketer, another enforces disciplinary actions (most often than not in the form of public humiliation) in the house, another trolls retaliates behind enemy lines, etc.

The crux of the matter is simply this: by using a "person" as a metaphor for an institution, the complexity of the agent described is obfuscated. This leads to the idea that the actions of an honest broker can be simplified to the point of being attributed only one role.

Attacking the fact and value dichotomy is good. Promoting the dichotomy between expertise and advocacy is wrong. Using the former to argue for the latter is moot at best.

Penguindreams said...

If Roger is still reading, a question: It looks, I finally realized, like your 'honest broker' is fundamentally a 'he said, she said' journalist. No critical faculties are to be engaged by an 'honest broker' as to the veracity of anything being said by anybody. Merely to report.

Further, that engaging critical faculties means being an 'advocate' as opposed to being honest?