Thursday, August 01, 2013

Should climate scientists engage in advocacy?

So, there's this article which is provoking lots of hot air on the twittersphere. And since I haven't blogged much for a while, I might as well add a bit more. This is a bit of a ramble as I don't have the energy for a carefully edited post.

I'm far from convinced by Tamsin's argument. I don't see why climate scientists should abandon their democratic rights (one could even consider them responsibilities) just by virtue of having some slightly better understanding of some aspects of how the world works. Merely writing down the idea makes it sound absurd to me. Of course no-one is required to be an advocate, but I don't recall taking a vow of silence when I was inducted into the hallowed world of the Climate Scientist. And why should climate scientists be singled out for this treatment, anyway? Is it really in the public interest that one entire cadre of people with a particular (relevant) expertise should be excluded from the public debate? If so, surely we should exclude the economists and energy policy experts too, for exactly the same reasons. Who would be left, apart from Monckton-types and assorted hippies and eco-terrorists?
 
I'm not implying that we should all be advocating things where we are uncomfortable and/or unconvinced. But it's important to be clear about what "advocacy" might mean in the various spheres that we find ourselves. In the UK, perhaps that means a detailed discussion on what particular policy is going to be most effective in controlling carbon emissions. In the USA, it's more likely to be the question of whether one is permitted to accept that anthropogenic climate change actually exists. I think it's highly plausible both that Gavin knows a lot more than his audience, and that Tamsin does not know much more than hers, on their respective debates. While she claims her approach has won lots of friends, I would be interested to see the reaction if she chose to express and defend her "absolutely mainstream" climate science views on her blog, rather than the meta-science that she's focussed on so far. I suspect the sceptics would get markely less effusive in their praise (even though, in the UK, most sceptics are far removed from the caucasian wingnuts seen across the pond).

Finally, the idea that concealing our political views is the way to increase trust in climate science, seems entirely misguided to me. Biases don't go away just by not being talked about.

76 comments:

Paul Matthews said...

" I don't see why climate scientists should abandon their democratic rights "
She didn't say that.

David Young said...

This is an interesting discussion. I think Edwards hits a nerve here and I believe what she says is true. Advocacy has damaged the credibility of climate science. i've been saying that here for a while and its patently obvious. Just as when a medical professional starts advocating political action or appears on TV marketing a procedure or medication that he himself sells or performs, he loses some of his reputation for objectivity. Everyone makes their own choices, so no one has to give up any democratic rights. Its just the observation that noone can be all things to all men as St. Paul wanted to be. You must make choices and choices have consequences.

I also think Edwards hit the nail on the head describing the pressure by hangers on to advocate specific things. Once again, I've said that here and gotten flack for pointing it out. It is transparently obvious. The polarization created by patently political advocates on climate is a symptom of our increasingly dysfunctional politics where everything is spin and "framing." Gavin on Stoat on reproducibility of large computation said that he largely agreed with W's framing of the issue. What is this nonsense? We are supposed to be doing science or some such thing, there is truth and untruth. What is this "framing." It's the political context "communicators" give to every statement. This is seriously destructive, because statements are judged not by the truth or evidence standard, but by whether they support the "message." Quite franky, I've been disappointed by Schmidt. His public debate preformances have been rather pathetic and he has been bested by his opponents. I also think his superior tone and style of correcting every sentence of comments at Real Climate he disagrees with right in line is exactly like St. Thomas's style in Summa Contra Gentiles. St. Thomas knows it all and proves it all with equal certainty from the most trivial question to the nature of God and the universe. And of course St Thomas is very honest about what he is doing. Reason cannot be the starting point here. Faith is the starting point and reason then naturally seeks out what reasons it can find for that faith. The whole ex cathedral nature of Real Climate is very offensive and pseudo-theological. And of course, the most vile insults are allowed from those who support the party line. I believe that this is part of the problem. It's transparentlly political and biased. A fairer way is to let someone state their case uninterrupted and then respond in a separate comment.

So, I applaud Edwards efforts and I thank her for being honest about the whole unhealthy atmosphere of political pressure surrounding climate science.

As to the "other side of the pond" I surprisinglly agree with you James on this. The British have a history of sharp but generally polite debate whereas in America, the language is much cruder and sometimes the personal nastiness is also much worse. Of course, political radicalism is I think more mainstream in Britain than in America.



David Young said...

One other thing. To be an adult in the modern political food fight, you must have some shred of confidence that the truth will win out because it is the TRUTH. A lot of these symptoms are the result of small minded people adopting small minded strategies to affect an outcome. It like scientific hedge fund trading. You know, generally truth wins out and most people are reasonable and sane. It you don't believe this, you are into Goebbels and evil fossil fuel interests secret conspiracy territory.

Paul Price said...

The David Rose tweet on the article saying "Bravo!" sums up the problem with Tamsin's argument. See the Storify page. Climate deniers and contrarians want very much for climate scientists to stay out of the debate so it is not surprising that Tamsin is "gaining many friends".

If climate scientists don't speak up loudly or comment strongly when policy makers and media get the science very wrong, who can we trust to do so?

Kevin Anderson and others earn my respect by speaking climate science to policy and by calling out bad policy. 'Publicly retreating to the ivory tower ain't going to help.

David Young said...

Paul, You state a false choice. It is not an all or nothing choice. Those who are the most rabid in the political arena lose credibility, its that simple. Those who are more restrained, while not censoring themselves, but merely being fair minded in their pronouncements, gain credibility.

And please, dispense with smearing those you disagree with using trite slurs such as "denier." You are illustrating Tamsin's point. Do you really think your comment will make an objective or neutral person want to support your point of view? If you do, you are not thinking very clearly.

And, then you go for guilt by association. If Rose approves, it must be wrong.

Philip said...

Comitting to an opinion on a point contaminates your judgement on that point; it is desirable to keep professional judgements uncontaminated.

If I say 'global warming is a serious problem', and then try and measure global warming, then I may (subconciously) interpret the uncertain measurements in a way supporting that assertion, biasing the result. In situations where the measurements are very uncertain, this effect could be important.

The ideal experimenter is impartial about the system being studied. I want global warming measured by people who don't care whether or not it is happening. (Who care only about the accuracy of their measurements).

There is nothing wrong with advocacy, but be an advocate or an analyst, not both.

EliRabett said...

Eli understands how necessary it was for cancer researchers to tell people

a. There is a serious problem
b. People who are telling you there is no problem are either ignorant or evil
c. To solve the problem people have to change their habits.

Tasmin appears to believe that b and c are out of bounds and a is questionable.

David Young said...

Philip makes an excellent point. In common parlance, that's called a conflict of interest. In medicine or finance these are legally required to be disclosed and if there is a strong conflict, the professional judgment is rightly discounted by most people. Of course, in the financial sector, we saw recently the way these rules can be circumvented by fraud, abuse, and toxic government interference into a worldwide financial meltdown with very serious and direct consequences for everyone.

Richard S J Tol said...

James: I think you misread her words.

I think her point really is that, when invited to debate in public on the basis of your expertise, you should limit your contribution to that expertise.

There are three problems with not doing so.

First, outside your area of expertise, you are just a bloke whose opinion is as good as the next one. But the bloke next door does not have public platform to speak on. You therefore elevate your opinion above the opinion of others. That's undemocratic.

Second, you'll probably talk bollocks and waste time that could have been used to discuss the matter at hand with actual experts.

Third, the more you talk outside your area of expertise, the greater the probability that members of your audience will realize that your out of your depth. That damages your credibility and the credibility of your colleagues.

unsettledclimate.org said...

Paul that sort of attitude about David Rose is part of the problem..

would you say the same to Prof Myles Allen. Myles was on the same SIDE of a debate as David Rose at the Oxford Union a few weeks a ago, about the IPCC - google it..

And this comment from David Rose, in response to Warren Pearce's earlier article in the series that Tamsin's appeared in is enlightening about a similar mindset at the Guardian:


David Rose:
"This is an encouraging piece, although it is also of small significance. When Damian Carrington, John Vidal and Leo Hickman start treating those who reject CAGW with respect, we will know there is really a shift taking place.

Bish readers might be interested to know that a couple of months ago, Myles Allen and I worked on an article together for the Grauniad's main print comment page. It would also have run on the web. It accepted that while Myles and I have our differences, we also share some common ground, especially over policy. We criticised wasteful subsidies for wind power and futile, unilateral emissions targets.

At lunchtime on the eve of publication, I had a couple of conversations with the subeditor. All very civil. It seemed we were all set for the main guest slot next day. Then at about 4.30 in the afternoon Myles received a phone call from the comment editor. She said the paper would only run the article if my name were removed. Myles argued strongly against this, saying the fact it was a joint production between a sceptic journalist and a 'mainstream' scientist was the whole point, and would attract more attention. I pitched in, and had a rather tense email exchange with Alan Rusbridger.

Anyhow, the paper was unmoved. The piece was not published. Apparently the comment editor had been 'distracted' when she agreed to publish it as a joint effort, and was uninterested in the views of a sceptic hack from a rival publication. She would have been prepared to publish it under Myles's name alone.

I used to work for the Guardian in the 1980s and have always considered Rusbridger to be a friend. Whatever this incident may say about the paper's commitment to open debate, it was also quite hurtful at a personal level. I didn't make it public at the time, but in light of this current Bish post, the Grauniad article and the comments on it, it seems worth mentioning. No biggie, but maybe worth knowing about.

I signed off my correspondence with Alan by saying there were no hard feelings on my part. That remains my position. More in sorrow than in anger, and all that.

Jul 31, 2013 at 10:06 AM |
David Rose
http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/7/30/polite-discourse-shocker.html?currentPage=2#comments

unsettledclimate.org said...

Paul that sort of attitude about David Rose is part of the problem..

would you say the same to Prof Myles Allen. Myles was on the same SIDE of a debate as David Rose at the Oxford Union a few weeks a ago, about the IPCC - google it..

And this comment from David Rose, in response to Warren Pearce's earlier article in the series that Tamsin's appeared in is enlightening about a similar mindset at the Guardian:


David Rose:
"This is an encouraging piece, although it is also of small significance. When Damian Carrington, John Vidal and Leo Hickman start treating those who reject CAGW with respect, we will know there is really a shift taking place.

Bish readers might be interested to know that a couple of months ago, Myles Allen and I worked on an article together for the Grauniad's main print comment page. It would also have run on the web. It accepted that while Myles and I have our differences, we also share some common ground, especially over policy. We criticised wasteful subsidies for wind power and futile, unilateral emissions targets.

At lunchtime on the eve of publication, I had a couple of conversations with the subeditor. All very civil. It seemed we were all set for the main guest slot next day. Then at about 4.30 in the afternoon Myles received a phone call from the comment editor. She said the paper would only run the article if my name were removed. Myles argued strongly against this, saying the fact it was a joint production between a sceptic journalist and a 'mainstream' scientist was the whole point, and would attract more attention. I pitched in, and had a rather tense email exchange with Alan Rusbridger.

Anyhow, the paper was unmoved. The piece was not published. Apparently the comment editor had been 'distracted' when she agreed to publish it as a joint effort, and was uninterested in the views of a sceptic hack from a rival publication. She would have been prepared to publish it under Myles's name alone.

I used to work for the Guardian in the 1980s and have always considered Rusbridger to be a friend. Whatever this incident may say about the paper's commitment to open debate, it was also quite hurtful at a personal level. I didn't make it public at the time, but in light of this current Bish post, the Grauniad article and the comments on it, it seems worth mentioning. No biggie, but maybe worth knowing about.

I signed off my correspondence with Alan by saying there were no hard feelings on my part. That remains my position. More in sorrow than in anger, and all that.

Jul 31, 2013 at 10:06 AM |
David Rose
http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/7/30/polite-discourse-shocker.html?currentPage=2#comments

unsettledclimate.org said...

oops not sure how a duplicate happened! sorry

Hank Roberts said...

The Effectiveness of Public Health Interventions to Reduce the Health Impact of Climate Change: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0062041

biffvernon said...

I can't find much to disagree with Tamsin Edwards about, but there are nuances and where one places emphasis where we might differ.

She's right to draw the distinction between what the scientist, speaking as a scientist can say and what a poitical economist, well versed in science, might properly say.

Some things the scientist can say quite clearly. The Earth is round not flat. Adding greenhouse gasses will, sooner or later, cause the planet to be warmer. One cannot be impartial on such matters. But when Tamsin asks questions such as "How do we weigh up economic growth against ecosystem change? Should we prioritise the lives and lifestyles of people today or in the future?" then she is right to declare that's not her job, as a scientist, to answer.

But then the difficulty arises. I can see Tamsin's argument and it has merit. However, her case rests on the assumption that the non-scientists, the politicians and their electorate, are able to make the right policy decisions based on the information provided by the scientist.

When one meets a man standing on a railway track oblivious of the oncoming train, one might assess distance and speed, do a calculation and inform him of the result and probable consequences, leaving the responsibility for action based on the evidence to him. Or one could grab his arm and give it a good yank.

I guess Gavin Schmidt has decided it's time for the latter. I tend to be pleased when a scientist moves into politics.

David Young said...

Yea, Vern, but in reality the analogy is a little fuzzier. Let's say you are a doctor and your patient smokes cigars and is fully aware of the dangers and is in good health. How insistent are you that he needs to stop? I think most physicians would say inform but don't evangelize. People take risks all the time and the modern tendency is to have the State or "authorities" make decisions for them. That's patronizing and profoundly undemocratic. There are consequences for actions but one of the tenants of modern liberal thought is that individuals should be able to make up their own minds.

Hank Roberts said...

> is fully aware of the dangers ...

Nobody is, you know. Your cigar smoke affects others around you.
So do vapors from nicotine vaporizers: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2012.00792.x/full

So does fossil fuel use.

"... despite the large number of papers considering the health impact of climate change, few have considered what public health interventions may be of most value in reducing the disease burden. We aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of public health interventions to reduce the disease burden of high priority climate sensitive diseases."

(link posted earlier in the thread)

Hank Roberts said...

http://www.plognark.com/sites/default/files/images/scienceregulation.jpg

David Young said...

Hank, Bertrand Russell disliked St. Paul intensely and in derision says that if St. Paul had known of tobacco he would most assuredly have disapproved. Russell was an avid tobacco user and I'm sure knew it wasn't good for his health. But wait, Russell lived to be 98 years old.

You know, the fact that you are alive affects others negatively in some small way. It's all a question of benefits and harms. I still maintain that trying to make these decisions for people is a little dictatorial and censorious.

jules said...

I think that Tamsin's dictat comes from a small world view. She's found that she can be non-judgmental on her friendly and mostly science-free blog, and that the climate skeptics will say nice things back. I'm sure there is an important role there, but what I object to is her trying to tell the world in general how to behave.

For example, in Gavin's world "over the pond", just stating that you believe in climate change is, as I understand it, a political statement, and thus climate science and politics can't be disentangled.

I once heard Tony Blair in a statement to the press saying that both "scientists and people" also think a certain thing. In actuality there are not two separate species - we are all people and some of us are also scientists. Some of us may also be interested in politics, policy or economics. If we have sufficient knowledge we may share. If we feel we do not have the knowledge, or do not want to for other reasons then surely we may keep quiet. But it is important that freedoms are retained so that those who do want to be engaged in policy can do so.

David Young said...

Jules, I mostly agree. My take on it is, everyone is free to choose, but choices have consequences.

Gavin is a relative newcomer to the US. He's a little off here. Any scientific statement will annoy someone in the US, since there is a very broad range of views. He may be talking about Sen. Imhofe. Big deal. There are far nuttier people in the Congress at both ends of the spectrum. Imhofe is not an outlier. You know America was home to a Noble Prize winner who spent a decade claiming that Vitamin C cured cancer and attacking the opposition in pretty direct terms.

I think it was Mark Twain who said that America is unique among nations in having a permanent corrupt criminal class, Congress. And again, today I met a Congressman who also happened to be a venal liar, but I repeat myself. We are used to politicians over here who are extreme and not very bright. We do have a first Amendment here and you can say virtually anything no matter how nasty about a public figure. That's another danger of getting into the policy debate here. You are going to get some nasty surprises and there is not a lot that can be done about it.

Gavin is relatively young and probably takes the mean and nasty extremes of political discourse too seriously. What I have observed recently is that Congressional hearings on climate change are becoming more and more show trials in which scientific witnesses are props for profoundly stupid speeches from elected officials from both sides of the aisle. Some scientists play into this and use the hearings to exaggerate or minimize the dangers. It's not a very adult way to run a country but we muddle through!!

Mike H said...

@David Young

No criticism of Roy Spencer or John Christie.
Just an oversight, I am sure (/sarc).
Your argument is so transparent, it is actually quite amusing.

@Richard Tol

"when invited to debate in public on the basis of your expertise, you should limit your contribution to that expertise."

Good point - that would get rid of the climate "skeptic" blogs. And the opinion pieces in the Murdoch press. Don't you just hate it when ex bankers and ex stockbrokers tell you global warming is not happening.




jules said...

David Young:
I do not see what your point you are making about Gavin. What do you mean, "he's a little off"? He's surely not as "off" as his former boss, the other Hansen? :-) Gavin has been in the US plenty long enough to learn the culture. I visited his part of the world earlier this year and was very struck with how similar it is to the other side of the pond. A decade or so is surely way longer than required to grasp that particular culture...

Gavin certainly isn't young either. He's a year older than me, and therefore ancient!!! The good thing about Gavin is how quickly and clearly he can think about on a broad range of topics, and how well he can articulate those thoughts. That makes him a good person to be in the public domain. Tamsin is also very good at quickly thinkng up words, but hasn't gained the depth of scientific intuiition that Gavin has, so I can understand that she'd rather not comment on some issues that he would be quite happy to discuss.

So I still think it is up to the individual, but that limiting the scientists feedom to speak out is an incredibly dangerous path to advocate.

James Annan said...

I'll address a couple of comments for starters...

Paul, freedom of expression and freedom of association are pretty fundamental rights. I strongly disagree with her assertion (advocacy :-) ) that I forgo them, and indeed I dispute that she even has any relevant expertise for her views on this matter to hold any weight. Indeed, by strongly advocating her own preferred policy, she is following the precise path that she wishes to deny others.

Richard, it is clear that climate change is a broad enough topic that no-one can legitimately claim to be an expert on all facets. Except you, of course :-) Can you identify the classes of (other) people who you think can legitimately offer, or even formulate, an opinion without stepping outside of their expertise?

There is a broader question, which is why anyone would be interested in the policy preferences of a climate scientist rather than, say, a Monckton (other examples are available). Maybe I'll worry about my voice being too loud when his falls silent.

David, the idea that anyone can claim the title of "honest broker" though concealing their policy preferences (which surely exist) is obviously nonsense. Even using the term in such a manner (I mean Tamsin, not you) indicates a fundamental misunderstanding on the nature of the science/policy interface, which I'm sure Roger Pielke Jnr will be happy to correct.

Steve said...

Odd that a couple of analogies have appeared (standing on a train track; a cigar smoker) that are based on the adviser not having a personal stake in the outcome of his advice.

Why shouldn't a scientist whose immediate or extended family is going to face possible (let's say) "problematic" consequences of climate change not advocate on the issue now.

And besides, any climate scientist who attempts to sound politically neutral on the topic is readily interpreted as not thinking it is a serious enough problem to warrant political action. They don't have to advocate for how it should be done, but if they feel their take on the science is that serious and immediate effort to reduce CO2 deserves to put in place now, they should be clear on that point.

Steve said...

Sorry for my sexist use of "his", incidentally, particularly at this blog!

Richard S J Tol said...

@James
The Tamsin Rule is simple: Talk about the things you know. As a rough guide to the things you can legitimately claim to know, look at your publication list.

Your reference to Monckton illustrates why. He is not bound by his expertise (which I believe is Sudoku) and many (I hope) people will recognize him as a lobbyist rather than an expert. If you behave like Monckton, you disqualify yourself as an expert -- and by association you disqualify other experts too.

Better stick to what you know.

jules said...

>The Tamsin Rule is simple: Talk about the things you know. As a rough guide to the things you can legitimately claim to know, look at your publication list.

Rubbish. One's publication list indicates the things one most suredly knows that one doesn't know about. At least it is so if one is publishing at the bleeding edge of science. ;-) One does not write papers on the things that are conretely known.

Richard S J Tol said...

@jules
Pedantry is an area in which all academics are expert.

James Annan said...

Richard,

Would it be pedantic to ask you to apply (your interpretation of) "Tamsin's rule" to Tamsin's article itself?

Richard S J Tol said...

Not pedantic, but wrong: Only a select few will bother reading this.

And while it is true that I am not much of a scholar of the science-policy interface, I do have affinity with the field (e.g., I managed EU projects on the subject; some of leading scholars are one floor up) and I have been a practitioner for many years.

Unknown said...

Bertrand Russell may have been a lover of tobacco, but there was no doubt where he stood on nuclear weapons.

Nor Max Born, Albert Einstein or Linus Pauling for that matter.

http://www.umich.edu/~pugwash/Manifesto.html

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
plg said...

I liked the train analogy, but with a more relevant phrasing:

"When one stands with a man on a railway track oblivious of the oncoming train, one might assess distance and speed, do a calculation and inform him of the result and probable consequences, leaving the responsibility for action based on the evidence to him. Or one could grab his arm and give it a good yank, thereby saving both lives."

Phrased this way, the lack of advocacy obviously will have terrible consequences for everybody involved.

plg said...

The principle of not speaking of things one knows nothing about is sound advice and common sense, but the far narrower principle of "speak only of matters where you are a certified expert" falls into the same category as the oxymoron "You should never generalize".

EliRabett said...

Richard Tol is attempting the double backwards full Pielke by a twit. He has always operated by trying get others out of the discussion only to assert ownership of a series of issues. No better example of this than he and his boyfriend's jihad against Michael Tobis

The 97% full froth is a rich lode of evidence. The incessant self citation, endless"working the refs", complaining that he has been ill dealt with when, in fact he has not, and of course, accusing others of being undemocratic and trying to impose their views, when of course, that is his entire life.

David Young said...

OK, But a lot of this discussion is not about Edwards' main points which seem to not be in dispute.

1. Advocacy has decreased the crediility of climate science generally.

2. The intense politization of the field results in a lot of pressures on climate scientists to advocate and to tow the party line.

I hope she realizes that most scientists will make up their own minds as is always the case, so maybe one could say her advice to other scientists is going to be ineffective. But the discussions her piece has sparked is valuable.

This kind of issue comes up for businessmen. Generally, savvy businessmen don't want to get dragged into politics and keep their voting preferences to themselves. There is a reason for this and it has to do with credibility that you are making business based decisions and not politically based decisions. That's called a fiduciary responsibility. Of course as the financial meltdown and the health case debate has shown, these boundaries are getting more and more blurred. I would argue that's a bad thing.

Jules, I probably overstated my point. I was saying that the argument that its impossible to separate science from politics in the US is not true. Wingnuts will politically react even to scientific statements. Most people, however, will see the difference between science and policy/politics.

chris said...

I don't think so David Young. Tamsin Edwards presented zero evidence that "advocacy has decreased the credibility of climate scientists".

As a rather well-informed Brit I'm at a loss to think of a single Brit climate scientist that advocates for policy. Can you suggest one or two?

Contrary to Dr. Edwards assertions recent polling seems to suggest that the UK public considers climate scientists the most trustworthy source of information to inform their views on climate science:

http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/04/polling-reveals-public-trusts-scientists-most-on-climate

So her assertions don't seem to have much of an evidence base. That's not to say that her personal consideration not to advocate isn't admirable - every scientist should come to a personal decision about how they use their privileged knowledge.

Your point 2 is just silly. Just like Tamsin you cannot assert untruths into existence. Personally I think your points that you assert "seem not to be in dispute" show an astonishing lack of insight. But that's OK. The poll I linked to above finds that the least reliable source of info on climate change according to the UK public is stuff on blogs.

The UK public are quite a canny lot I would say, which is rather comforting in my view...

David Young said...

Chris, You may be right that these things matter a lot more to the educated public that is paying attention, probablly a pretty small percentage of the electorate. In the US and the UK, I do believe Clmate gate did have a measurable effect on confidence in clmate science. But its a subset of the public that matters because of their influence. And they tend to be the same clean government types who like transparency, disclosure of conflict of interests, etc. You I think are right that in the UK, climate scientists seem to be more restrained and less politically active. There is more bridge building too and concensus seeking with the other side. All this is good in my view. I think Hansen might be an example whose credibility even within climate science was damaged by activism. The inside information is that he was not well liked at NASA for exactly this reason.

My question for you is would you believe a physician who recommended vertebraeplasty to you if in fact he had a track record of providing it and advocating politically for it? Would you have more confidence in research physicians who were not advocates and had no conflict of interest? I don't understand why the climate debate takes on such an overwrought character that simple and standard rules of credibility are taken to be now irrelevant. Credibility matters, and political activism tends to detract from it, or at least it should detract from it.

My second point is well supported. Are you suggesting Tamsin made up her experiences of pressure? Climate gate emails show how this works. The pressure is mostly from hangers on in the debate from people like you, mostly anonymous on blogs but vocal and sometimes nasty. You must have missed the anthropocentric data point thread here. The more politicized the science becomes, the more intense this pressure becomes. There has been in fact a lot of very intense name calling in this field aimed at scientists even those who are not particularly active in the political debate. Maybe you hang out at Stoat and get a very filtered image of the debate, but my second point is exceptionally well supported by evidence from scientists themselves.

David Young said...

Actually, chris, I misspoke. I did NOT mean to lump you personally not the hangers on group. Sorry.

EliRabett said...

Chris: Myles Allen

Unknown said...

Scientists are losing trust is a sweeping statement that has to be evaluated against the perceptible loss of trust in many formerly respected institutions generally - in Britain that would be (for example) the National Health Service, the BBC and the London Metropolitan Police.

No matter what, climate scientists are still more trusted as a group by the public than the David Roses, Christopher Bookers and James Delingpoles of the world.

David Young said...

Jules, What you say about Gavin has been causing me to rethink my opinion. I do believe he is rather good on purely scientific matters. Maybe I judged him too harshly based on his association with Real Climate and some of his performances on the early controversies about the Hockey Stick, where he I believe did not stand out as objective.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

I thought this was dealt with a while ago:

"...I hope this means being both truthful and effective..."

Steven Schneider was a very effective communicator of science. In this much abused passage he posed the problem much better than Tamsin Edwards although pig did a pretty good job in his comment above. Jules also made a good point that the breadth of what one knows and can speak with expertise on is much greater than the breadth of what one is "an expert" in.

EliRabett said...

David, Gavin FOUNDED Real Climate.

David Young said...

Eli, I thought there were 10 top scientists who founded it. Maybe I'm wrong. My criticism of Real Climate is I think well founded. Far better is this blog or the recent Dutch effort to have extended dialogues about important climate questions. Let people state their view and then if you disagree respond with a separate comment.

I think this whole Hockey Stick pathetic episode is a black mark and a lot of people probably just hope we can censure and move on. I remain hopefully that Gavin is one of them. But where is the censure?? ;-)

andrew adams said...

My question for you is would you believe a physician who recommended vertebraeplasty to you if in fact he had a track record of providing it and advocating politically for it? Would you have more confidence in research physicians who were not advocates and had no conflict of interest?

Why is that a conflict of interest? If a physician believes a particular treatment is effective then I would expect them to have a track record of providing it and to advocate for its wider use.
Just as if a scientist's work leads him to believe that continuing current levels of CO2 emissions will cause problems then I would expect him to advocate reducing emissions.
ISTM that skeptics are good at seeing conflicts of interest everywhere when often the interest are actually complementary, not in conflict.

James Annan said...

I think the analogies are not particularly useful. When a doctor recommends treatment, I know for sure he has a vested interest, as he stands to make money from the procedure (ok that's not actually strictly true, but is is frequently the case). Would anyone argue that a doctor should not be allowed to campaign for a no smoking zone in their home town?

Incidentally, I just rescued some comments from the spam trap. Sorry for that. Nothing I can do about it, I don't get any clue it has happened.

David Young said...

Andrew, The reason I used the example I did is that vertebraplasty is popular and I believe performed upwards of 100,000 times a year in the US. It seemed to work with patients reporting good results. Double blind studies showed no benefit however. Orthopaedists were making a lot of money from this procedure however. My brother deals with these issues all the time. The medical literature is a thicket of poorly designed studies, special interests, and false results. He was medical director at an HMO and hired independent people to evaluate the literature. I would personally never have any treatment without first getting a second opinion and doing some reading of the literature. The placebo effect is powerful and positive results bias is also a powerful effect.

What do you think happens if you make the observation that all these things also happen in climate science? You get a torrent of abuse and you get censored at some places.

Richard S J Tol said...

Medical analogies are inappropriate. Medical doctors take the Oath of Hippocrates. Even though their object is simple -- improve health -- a good part of medical training is about the ethics of making decisions when evidence is blurred and good and evil hard to tell apart. Medical doctors are also trained in communicating with patients and their loved ones.

Your average climate scientist is not so prepared.

EliRabett said...

Richard, lawyers also get considerable ethics training in school. It works for some.

Try again tho. Your opinions are always amusing.

David Young said...

Richard,

I agree that there is no comparison. The purpose of the analogy is to point out the discrepancy in training and rigor. As I've been saying here a lot, medicine has serious problems just like climate science. The difference is that medicine admits its problems and studies them. If you mention positive results bias or the placebo effect in climate science most places you get abused and censored or immediately corrected by the vicar of truth (at Real Climate) on a sentence by sentence basis. These places generally let their peanut galleries do the heavy libels and name calling, which they wink at.

Eli, generally physicians are rather more serious about ethics than lawyers. Of course, in any profession, there are the Berny Madoffs. Medicine I think is a much bigger field, and so its impossible to control the message the way Real Climate and Stoat try to do. There are people in medicine like my brother, a potential problem for those with undisclosed interests or political agendas or who conveniently leave out of the literature adverse results as happened with Vioxx.

That reminds me it was a mathematician who analyzed Madoff's returns and said they were impossible. He went to the SEC, which ignored him. Oh, I forgot, the mathematician was an "outsider" who didn't have access to all the financial models and special knowledge that all the "experts" had who believed Madoff must be honest. Just a cautionary tale. Those who favor science and truth should welcome scrutiny by statisticians and mathematicians.

Richard S J Tol said...

@David
Agreed.

Steven Phipps said...

Interesting post, James. However, I do feel that you extend Tamsin's arguments beyond what she actually said in two key regards:

1. That climate scientists should abandon their democratic rights.

2. That this somehow only applies to climate scientists, and not to experts in other fields.

My reading (at least) of the original article is that it does not make either of these claims. As has already been stated in a number of comments, Tamsin's central argument is simply that people should restrict their involvement in public debate to their own areas of professional expertise. This applies to climate scientists no more or less than anyone else.

I would argue that, in public discussion, the best outcomes are achieved when: (a) those with relevant expertise contribute, and (b) all participants restrict their contributions to their areas of expertise.

As climate scientists, we can and should participate in democratic processes, including the process of policy formulation. However, it is both possible and desirable that we do so without straying outside our areas of professional expertise.

Regardless, I think (hope?) we could all agree that Tamsin has triggered a fascinating and important debate.

andrew adams said...

David,

Fair enough, I wasn't aware of the particular issue with vertebraplasty so slightly missed your point. I'm certainly aware in any case that there are treatments which are widely used for which the evidence of their effectiveness is sparse, or the trial data unavailable or are outright bogus. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a conflict of interest issue (at least not entirely so), sometimes treatments become widely accepted despite the lack of evidence and are prescribed in good faith. Even homeopaths as far as I can tell genuinely believe their treatments are beneficial.

That's not to say conflicts of interests don't exist in medicine or that there aren't other big problems around the way products are tested and marketed and trial results published (or not - unavailability of data is a bigger problem in medicine than in climate science). Clearly there are big problems, and I'm not sure how true it is to say that "medicine admits its problems and studies them". You only have to look at the reaction of parts of the industry to Ben Goldacre's book.

Of course many of these problems stem from the fact that drug development is, rightly or wrongly, driven by large corporations who invest huge amounts of money in research and need to see a return on their investment. That creates certain pressures and potential problems which don’t apply to other areas of research which are largely government funded, like climate science. That doesn't mean those areas are free of issues, I don’t doubt that all areas of science will have their share of problems, but making claims about climate science based on an assumption that it shares the same problems as medicine begs the question.

andrew adams said...

Steven,

My reading (at least) of the original article is that it does not make either of these claims. As has already been stated in a number of comments, Tamsin's central argument is simply that people should restrict their involvement in public debate to their own areas of professional expertise. This applies to climate scientists no more or less than anyone else.

My problem with this argument as it applies to the debate about public policy on climate change is that it’s an issue which impacts all of us, both in terms of the impacts of climate change itself and of the policy responses, but the number of people with professional expertise is small. So if we all really do restrict our involvement in public debate to our own areas of expertise then a lot of us will be restricted from taking part in the debate on an issue which has big implications for many, if not all, of us.

I agree with you that in order to achieve a meaningful outcome those with relevant expertise do need to contribute to the debate, and it's right that we recognise their expertise and acknowledge the limitations of our own. But here are many different aspects to the debate including the fact that, as Tamsin correctly pointed out, our policy choices will be partly dictated by our values, so in that respect surely any of us can make a meaningful contribution even if we are not experts on the technical aspects of the policies in question, and scientists no less than others. And that's aside from the point that policy decisions must often depend on the nature of the problem itself so scientists' espertise may help shape the range of policies under discussion even if they do not express a view on what we ultimately decide to do.

Richard Lawson said...

Richard Tol says medical analogies are inappropriate. I disagree. There is a very close analogy with the 20 year battle to show that smoking tobacco caused lung cancer. Richard Doll and other researchers were fought every inch of the way by lobbyists paid by the tobacco industry, just as the fossil fuel industry funds much of the AGW "sceptic" movement.

Before it is pointed out, yes, no analogy is perfect. Climatology is not medicine. The ultimate aim of medical science is (or should be) always to improve the human condition, and this is not so by definition in climatology.

In the end, the present debate could be resolved along the following lines: "Any professional climatologist should be free to advocate decarbonisation of the world economy. They should exercise caution and humility when advocating whether the decarbonisation should be achieved by carbon taxes, trading permits or other mechanisms".

Richard S J Tol said...

@Richard L
Anyone should be free to advocate whatever.

Advocating decarbonization, however, implies that you believe that the negative impacts of climate change are greater than its positive impacts; and that the net impacts of climate change outweigh the net impacts of climate policy.

There is no agreement on these matters and, by Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, there cannot be agreement. It is a political position.

I happen to support this political position, but does not make it any less of a political position.

David Young said...

Richard Lawson, Climate is different that the tobacco fight in a lot of ways. In the climate debate, the pittance spent by the evil fossil fuel industry is dwarfed by the Green NGO's with their government funding and the Green energy lobby. In climate there is a legitimate difference of opinion as Toll points out about effects and policy. There is even doubt about how serious the problem is going to be. Climate science has been rather poor at predicting actual damage and effects. It seems there has been some rather dramatic exaggeration, i.e., Hansen's 1988 testimony.

A better analogy might be the AIDS response. There was real disagreement about how serious the problem would be. There were lots of other diseases that killed more people that needed increased research funding, and there were simple measures that would avoid spreading the disease. But yet there was an industry that constantly told us that we were all in danger, that lack of AIDS funding was due to prejudice, and that you were a bad person if you felt other diseases should be a higher priority. There was a politically correct dogma that was very powerful and promoted by the political and cultural elites.

James Annan said...

Steven,

I do feel that you extend Tamsin's arguments beyond what she actually said in two key regards:

1. That climate scientists should abandon their democratic rights.

2. That this somehow only applies to climate scientists, and not to experts in other fields.

My reading (at least) of the original article is that it does not make either of these claims.


Well, regarding 2, in the title of the piece, and throughout, she exclusively refers to climate scientists. She could have said "everyone shut up, apart from a (hypothetical) handful of experts who understand every nuance of the problem". She didn't. She told climate scientists to shut up. She also blames (unspecified) advocacy as being the source of the supposed lack of trust. I consider this to be extremely naive and ahistorical. The science is attacked because it is politically inconvenient, and this has played out any number of times in different fields in the past. The idea that if we all just stuck to the "facts" (ignoring the pesky detail that the research itself is inevitably imbued with values and biases to some extent) then everyone would be nice to us, is frankly laughable.

My opinions are at least in part empirically testable: if Tamsin were to present her entirely mainstream views on her blog - say a post about climate sensitivity, which she's been promising for well over a year - then we would see how well her friendly approach works in actually conveying climate science to sceptics.

Until then, I'm afraid I'm the sceptic :-)

Steve said...

David Young's comment re HIV:

"There was a politically correct dogma that was very powerful and promoted by the political and cultural elites" is a First World centric view of the matter which I've noticed around right wing blogs.

In fact, the rates in many African countries still run at figures like 5 to 25% of the adult population. About 25 million Africans live with HIV, about half of them women. The number of orphaned children, and the detrimental effect on the economic development of poor nations, have been huge

In light of this, arguments that it's a gay disease (and they always knew that,) and suggesting that funding for its research wasn't really warranted tend to piss me off.

Paul Matthews said...

Very interesting. Several people point out that James has mis-stated Tamsin's view. So what does James do? He does it again!

Tamsin did not say climate scientists should shut up. Here is what she said in a follow-up comment at the Guardian:
"I am categorically *not* saying climate scientists should be silent about their findings to public or policy makers, nor am I saying we should express views that contradict the evidence for balance. Of course we should present our results (such as projected temperature changes for different future emissions scenarios).
In fact, I think we should do much *more* science communication so the public hear from us directly rather than only the media or (other) non-scientists. I have a whole blog about communicating the science! "

James Annan said...

s/shut up/keep out of the policy debate/

I thought that much was pretty obvious, but perhaps it wasn't spelt out fully enough for all. Apologies for any confusion.

Now, how about the substantive point...

David Young said...

Steve, You are misrepresenting what I said and putting me into a group you apparently don't like. AIDS is NOT a gay disease. However, it is easily prevented by simple behavior changes. Cancer and heart disease affect many more people and are not preventable. This is the basis for arguing that its more important to work on them.

Steve said...

David, a hell of lot of cancer and heart disease that affects adults in their prime would also be "preventable" if they ate better, didn't smoke and took more exercise.

Your analogy also sucks for this reason: the "cultural elites" who pressed for aggressive research and campaigns to modify behaviour in the West are credited with a successful limitation of the disease and its consequences in their own countries and globally.

It's an example of how governments listening to scientifically based precautionary advice actually worked.

David Young said...

Yes, no analogy is perfect. However, the tobacco analogy is very bad. Tobacco had no real up side for society and the science was a lot less uncertain than climate science. Fossil fuels have huge upsides and "control" efforts have had virtually no success. Mitigation is mostly dead on arrival and we need to hope for an energy research breakthrough or that adaptation is not so hard.

Steve said...

"...and "control" efforts have had virtually no success."

Well, it's not as if serious control efforts have been tried now, is it? And a large part of the reason for that in the second largest greenhouse emitting nation is politicians who do not believe scientists in the field.

But no, climate scientists: just talk about temperatures and stay out of saying anything about policy response...

David Young said...

I would disagree about the reason Steve. Most politicians who oppose mitigation I think are doing cost benefit analysis. The extremes are there on both sides, but are far from a majority. Kioto was dead on arrival in the Senate and most Dems voted Nay.

Blaming the devil may make you feel good, but merely makes progress less likely.

Steve said...

"Most politicians who oppose mitigation I think are doing cost benefit analysis."

If you mean cost benefit analysis for their career, I agree.

If you mean cost benefit analysis of mitigation vs adaptation for the nation or the globe, and detailed look at economic modelling of when it is best to start mitigation: then I think that's a wildly improbable claim.

David Young said...

Some of the leadeers are doing real cost/benefit analysis. I think Bohner is in that camp. If you watch the recent Senate hearing, noone claimed that its a hoax, except possibly Imhofe. There was a lot of disagreement about the damage that would result and what action we should take. BTW, among the worst was Boxer's very stupid performance. Whitehouse was smarter. The climate scientist witnesses did a lot of exaggerating about extreme weather and ocean acidification. Spencer omitted some inconvenient facts too.

But hey, that's the idea in a Democracy. Representatives pay a lot of attention to the voters. What's your alternative? Dictatorship of the Green climate science axis?

I sometimes wonder how much damage has been done by the whole politization thing and the false analogies to tobacco and other counterproductive tactics.

Steve said...

"how much damage has been done by the whole politization thing"

You mean, like this:

"Fifty-eight percent of Republicans believe that global warming is a “hoax,” compared to 11 percent of Democrats, according to new polling that underscores political divides over climate change among U.S. residents.

...

A separate Pew Research Center poll showed that 44 percent of Republicans believe there is “solid evidence” of global warming, compared to 87 percent of Democrats (E2-Wire has more on that poll here)."

http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/291601-poll-majority-of-republicans-call-global-warming-a-hoax

And you think this is primarily caused by some climate scientists saying "hey, this is going to be a real serious problem and there ought to be serious action to limit CO2"?

David Young said...

No, Steve, its caused by the recent polarization of politics in the US. We are probably more divided now than at any time since the Gilded Age. Some of it is caused by Climategate, some by the general decrease of faith in science attendant on the seeming growing problems with the literature in medicine and other fields. People are tired of being told that various things are bad for them, only to have another study come out the next year saying the first paper was wrong. Some of it is caused by things like Hansen's 1988 testimony where actual data shows his scenario C was too alarmist, you know the one where all emissions ceased around 2000?

A lot of progressives have an unduly reverential attitude toward modern science. In an earlier era where scientists were not as political, that may have been more justified.

David B. Benson said...

Yawn.

This has become boring.

David Young said...

Benson, You know the cure for your boredom don't you? This does seem to me to be a crucial question for climate science. What you have been doing has not had any significant effect on emissions. So, rational people would ask what are we doing that isn't working. The biggest reduction has been in the evil US where natural gas has made a big difference. Mitigation efforts have had virtually no effect.

James Annan said...

David Y,

I thought you were arguing that it was not the business of climate scientists to talk about this stuff?

David B,

Usually I would say that the bored person is under no compulsion to read, but in this case I actually agree with you (hopefully there will be a more interesting blog post coming along shortly).

In the meantime, I propose that all those who support Tamsin's argument, also adopt her proposal and only comment on topics where they are an acknowledged expert (say 3 relevant published papers, to formalise the "Tol Rule").

The rest of us can carry on as usual :-)

David Young said...

James, No, I'm saying that the current activist stance of a lot of climate scientists is not working, so rational people would ask why. Maybe the answer is indeed what Tamsin points to. i believe that undue activism actually has a counterproductive effect. It makes you feel good and virtuous but doesn't make others respect your scientific opinions.

But, hey, most of what can be said has been already said earlier. :-)

David Young said...

I actually do have some more new information from the literature from the June International Fluids and Structural Dynamics conference held in Bristol, that might not bore Benson and our estimable hosts. There was a paper there on "Overview and Lessons Learned From the Aeroelastic Prediction Workshop" by 10 authors.

For those who think that colorful pictures of complex flows, such as GCM's produce, are evidence of quantitative skill may find this disturbing.

Basically, NASA organized a workshop to solicit fluid dynamics simulations of some very simple test cases involving steady and unsteady high Reynolds' number flows. RANS is Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes, the same model used in GCM's essentially.

"The scatter among [workshop] results is large where viscous effects are significant. In cases where separated flow or geometrically-thickened bounder layers are indicated by the experimental data, these methods [RANS] appear to qualitatively mis-predict even the steady pressure distributions. This is thought to be due to the time-averaging introduced through the turbulence models employed in the RANS and URANS solvers. Even in a time accurate simulation, if the time step is not small enough, vorticity and separation features are smeared, and reattachment is missed." Paul Williams already knows this of course.

"Paying attention to convergence of dynamical quantities with respect to time step size is recommended."

They also point out that in flutter calculations, a key to producing a stable airframe, linear potential flow is used adjusted with test data. To use Navier-Stokes would result in a cycle time of roughly 500 years, clearly not practical.

With regard to buffet, a bounded chaotic unsteady flow condition, that is quite annoying to pilots and passengers, they state "The ability to reliably predict buffet cannot be understated, as the current practice is to make a conservative assumption, followed by a validation of the assumptions' conservatism in flight test."

Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers or hear from model developers.