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)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good questions

A recent meeting at Purdue asked the following very reasonable questions:
  • Have scientists become ‘too political’ in their advocacy of particular climate change mitigation and adaptation policies? Do the benefits of engaging in political advocacy outweigh the risks of losing their credibility as scientists?
  • What role has the media, including the blogosphere and the Internet, played in this growing contradiction? How has the media shaped the way that climate science is debated, disputed, and created? Is there a ‘better’ way for climate scientists to work with the media?
  • Moving forward, is there a better role for climate scientists in political and policy debates, and if so, what would it look like?
They assembled a panel that seems as if it had been assembled by Bizarro-Tobis. "Three people me least want to hear from on these questions: Pielke Jr., Revkin and Curry. Hope they can all come!"

But they're good questions.

25 comments:

GM said...

Sigh. Who set up this thing and invited only Curry, Pielke Jr. and Revkin? Rather biased from the get-go.

I read over Curry's post, and some of the responses, and was as disappointed in the value as I am when I make the mistake of going to CA or WUWT. Opinions with precious little in the way of fact in support.

Rob said...

Why is being politically active assumed to hurt ones scientific credibility?

Steve Scolnik said...

Why is being politically active assumed to hurt ones scientific credibility?

Because "they" say so.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't think anybody says a scientist shouldn't be an advocate. The question is how scientific organizations should handle politically sensitive questions.

If for instance IPCC takes a stand, then the question is whether subsequent IPCC work is in support of that position, or in support of objective investigation.

I think there can be answers to this, but I find it odd if people deny that there's a real question.

Jonathan Gilligan said...

Curry's latest McCarthyish broadside, with its innuendo, blending very serious accusations with a complete absence of evidence, is absurd and offensive in addition to being factually wrong.

Pielke, on the other hand, is someone I always find worth paying attention to. I haven't been following the blogs long enough or closely enough to know who started throwing the mud between him, Eli, and the RealClimate crowd. I find plenty of incivility on all sides and it's a pain.

But when I ignore that stuff and read Pielke's scholarly policy stuff, even where I disagree with him (often) it's well-written, tightly argued, and decently supported with real factual evidence. In short, good stuff that makes me think and gets me to work harder to figure out how to poke holes in the policy recommendations when I am forced to admit that he's right in a lot of his political analysis.

One reason not to engage in ad hominem argument is because trashing people's character kills constructive conversations, but another reason is that people you may really dislike personally may still have important and substantive things to say and you can miss those if you only pay attention to people you like.

I am disappointed that the Purdue panel only represented a narrow range of views, but if someone with more substance than Curry had been invited to share the panel with Pielke (the late Stephen Schneider would have been perfect; Sheila Jasanoff would have been another excellent possibility; there's a long list...), I can imagine a very substantive discussion on these questions.

Michael Tobis said...

Jonathan, welcome to In It! I have appreciated your comments at Keith's.

All three of the panelists, in addition to being my stable of pet peeves, seem to have pretty thick skin.

But really I don't understand why people hold RP Jr in such high regard. I read his Honest Broker book pretty carefully. It seemed vapid at best, and logically flawed in elementary ways similar to Curry's Italian Flag at a crucial point

Steve Bloom said...

Jonathan, the PO'edness at RP Jr. dates back to close to ten years ago when he was pushing ideas like a climate enhancement to tropical cyclones isn't a basis for policy since it's projected to be at least 50 years off, begging the question about the artificiality of the 50 years and, more importantly, building up a straw man that there was a serious argument that policy should be tailed to individual projected impacts as opposed to the aggregate.

Then there's the entirely tendentious Hartwell paper, Klotzbach et al. (what was he doing on the author list of a physical science paper?), and his happy willingness to trash the IPCC or pretty much anyone in exchange for media attention for himself.

Eli will have much more if you want it.

EliRabett said...

Follow the links and the comments for the filming of Roger and me

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...
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frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

MT:

Sorry, but I'm not buying your 'please please please won't someone please just ignore the context of their words and simply look at them at face value?' gambit. It's so played out that it's not even funny any more. (Maybe it's just because I'm not getting enough of those corporate pizzas.)

Really, if the things said and the concerns raised by Curry et al. truly were reasonable, then surely someone else who's not a liar or a shill or an idiot could've said them better, and looked at concerns more honestly, all without any accompanying context of lies or shilling idiocy. I say, if a question apparently 'needs' to be asked by liars/shills/idiots, then odds are that the question's been asked and answered before and they don't like the answer, or the question is bullshit.

* * *

And Simon Lewis is right: (emphasis mine)

"[Climate scientists should] seek advice from public-relations experts, and where necessary, media lawyers. In my experience, science-media professionals are almost as lost as scientists themselves, when dealing with topics as emotive as climate change."

-- frank

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Also, in this case, the question of whether scientists should be policy advocates has indeed been asked and looked at before.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

Frank; thanks for the link to the Hrynyshyn article and for teh Simon Lewis quote. These are helpful beginnings for the conversation that I'd like to take on, if only to show Curry how it might be done.

I do think these are very legitimate questions. That the choice of panel membership was peculiarly designed to be the opposite of enlightening, (endarkening?) the question of IPCC neutrality vs IPCC advocacy is not all that trivial.

Curry's bizarre representations may be of little utility here, but the claim that IPCC has functioned flawlessly with a clear remit, and that an ideal interface between science and policy already exists, flies in the face of the recent communications disaster.

adelady said...

But mt, I think that's the real problem.

I have no idea what her motivations might be but, whatever they were or are, her clumsy forays on this topic make a better discussion less rather than more likely. The building bridges to the sceptics notion is a pretty futile endeavour. The ones I've seen seem to be totally averse, and probably unable, to apply the kind of intellectual rigour required to engage with either the science or the management of the science.

And in the end, the IPCC is just a management mechanism for assembling people and data. It could be better. And the methods used for reporting could be better.

From what I've seen of the "audit" approach, it's very much along the lines of the accounting novice asking for an explanation why someone needed a box of paper rather than a ream. Useful for an insignifcant cog in a very large machine, hopeless for the high-level analysis of which machine design to choose.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

adelady:

"The building bridges to the sceptics notion is a pretty futile endeavour. The ones I've seen seem to be totally averse, and probably unable, to apply the kind of intellectual rigour required to engage with either the science or the management of the science."

Yep. I'd prefer that we spend more time building bridges between ourselves, because we can certainly use those.

* * *

MT:

"Curry's bizarre representations may be of little utility here, but the claim that IPCC has functioned flawlessly with a clear remit, and that an ideal interface between science and policy already exists, flies in the face of the recent communications disaster."

Well, certainly nobody's saying that the IPCC is perfect. But by allowing liars/shills/idiots into the discussion, what will inevitably happen is that the discussion gets dragged down into the precise framing that the liars/shills/idiots want the discussion to be framed in.

This is patently obvious in the very wording of the description of the meeting, which assumes that

'the reason the IPCC is not working well with the mass media is because it downplays uncertainties, which in turn is because it's becoming too political'

-- but note that no part of this implicit chain of 'reasoning' is even substantiated at all!

Ergo: there may be legitimate concerns lying at the core of the questions, but the concerns have been hopelessly jumbled in the wording of these questions, and besides the original concerns themselves have been separated out and thought about by honest people who aren't stupid (i.e. not Curry, Revkin, or Pielke Jr.). Reaching out to those people will, I think, be much more fruitful.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

Regardless of how well the meeting was designed or framed (obviously I would have done it differently!) I think the three questions are good ones. The underlying framing was

"The purpose of this forum is to examine why such a contradiction between growing scientific certainty and decreasing public belief in climate science exists."

Also a good question. The key question, I think.

Just as a quibble, that question was the only mention of certainty/uncertainty I saw at the event description.

willard said...

As if that needed to be said, I agree with Jonathan Gilligan. That said, I personally can't pay much attention to his opinions because I somehow feel morally browbeaten to buy his books.

PS: Following Eli's trail made me think of a connection between Roger Junior's fondness of soccer and of "working the refs.".

willard said...

"His" being Jr.'s, not Jonathan's.

alina said...
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frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

"I think the three questions are good ones."

Again, and again, and again, they're "good" questions only if you ignore the surrounding context of lies, and if you separate out all the questions so that no two questions are within 100 feet of each other. Seriously, I've already explained this.

-- frank

Lindasy Rosenwald said...
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John said...
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John said...
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