07 December 2009

Should Scientists Participate in Political Debates?

The answer is unequivocally "yes."

There appears to be some misunderstanding of my views on this topic, amplified by discussions over at Real Climate by practicing scientists. Jim Bouldin, a sometimes contributor at Real Climate and research scientist at UC-Davis, (mis)characterizes my views as follows:
Just do science, don’t speak up about it. Remember, political scientists can expound on climate science (without even getting the facts right!), but climate scientists should never “pathologize” science by “politicizing” (i.e. talking about) it.
Gavin Schmidt (mis)characterizes my views as follows, with the discussion of "taxonomy" referring to my analysis in The Honest Broker, which Gavin obviously has not read:
I don't necessarily take issue with his taxonomy - though 'advocacy' is ambiguous since it is implicit that anyone speaking in public is advocating for something, but what that might be is not defined anywhere. I've stated that I advocate for the proper appreciation of climate science and against it's abuse in political arguments, but RPJr has decided arbitrarily that this is somehow impossible and that I'm advocating for something else (also undefined). Maybe I'm naive, but I feel that education outside of classroom is still worthwhile. However, the objections to RP actions has bog all to do with issues, but his use of misrepresentation and insults to try and secure an exclusive spot in the public discourse i.e. "Those bad scientists can't be trusted to deal with policy ramifications - listen to me instead". This explains his exclusive focus on percieved errors by mainstream climate scientists, rather than the blatant lies put out by Morano, Drudge, Beck etc. - people who are significantly more influential than any of us.
In The Honest Broker I define "advocacy" quite explicitly as an effort to limit the scope of political choice, usually, but not always to some preferred single course of action. For example, in the 2008 presidential campaign one could have advocated for a particular candidate or for a political party (regardless of candidate). Both are forms of advocacy. Advocacy is a good thing, as I explain in the book, because it is absolutely fundamental to democratic politics. As I say on many occasions, I am a strong advocate for certain policies in the climate debate, because I think the policies that I advocate are better than the alternatives. This is a case I am happy to make openly.

What Gavin and Jim both fail to understand, apparently, is what I call "stealth issue advocacy, " defined on p. 7 of THB as follows:
So when a scientist claims to focus "only on the science" in many cases the scientist risks serving instead as a Stealth Issue Advocate. For some scientists stealth issue advocacy is politically desirable because it allows for a simultaneous claim of being above the fray, invoking the historical authority of science, while working to restrict the scope of choice.
I have long pointed to Real Climate as a canonical example of stealth issue advocacy. They claim on their site to be disinterested:
The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.
The reality is that they are far from disinterested. The fact that they have a political agenda is not problematic in the slightest. The problem is that they are seeking to hide their politics behind science. This has the net effect of pathologically politicizing the science because most of the issues that they raise, which they say are scientific in nature, are really about politics. It is not a big leap for observers to conclude that these guys are really about politics rather than science, regardless of the reality. People are not dumb and can see through this sort of misdirection with relative ease. Perhaps the most significant and lasting consequence of the CRU email hack/leak/whatever will be to strip away any possibility of a facade of disinterestedness among these activist scientists. In the long run that is probably a very good thing. In the near term it probably means an even more politicized climate debate.

In The Honest Broker I describe three effective roles that scientists can play in policy debates (the Pure Scientist does not play any direct role):
  • The Science Arbiter who responds to questions put forward by decision makers.
  • The Issue Advocate who seeks to reduce the scope of political choice.
  • The Honest Broker who seeks to expand, or at least clarify, the scope of choice.
The Stealth Issue Advocate claims to be a Pure Scientist or a Science Arbiter, but really is working to reduce the scope of choice using science. A problem is that science is particularly ill-suited for political battles because decisions that take place in the context of uncertainty or a conflict in values always involve much more than science. One message of The Honest Broker is that, even though these categories are very much ideal types, scientists do face a choice about what role to play in the political process. And among the more damaging roles to the institutions of science is the Stealth Issue Advocate.

So to avoid any further misconceptions of my views, should scientists talk about the policy implications of their work? Absolutely. Should they come clean on their political agendas? Yes. That is good for science and good for democratic politics.

Should any scientists, including the guys at Real Climate, wish to explain where they fit in The Honest Broker taxonomy, or where the taxonomy is flawed, I am happy to give them a forum here.


  1. I'm still not sure how you differentiate in a unambiguous way the advocacy of Hansen from the alleged stealth advocacy of Schmidt. I think that very, very few of the people who read RC ever see the mission statement for the site, which requires clicking on the About link. While some RC members indulge in some politics in their postings, it isn't as overt or agressive as Hansen's, who I believe has beena arrested at a protest.

  2. -1-Dean

    The difference between Hansen's and Schmidt's advocacy could not be more pronounced. Hansen has evolved from a fairly standard stealth issue advocate, to an overt advocate. That is good for science, but as we've seen, he loses some credibility in the political debate for doing so.

    There is a desire among stealth issue advocates to have one's cake and eat it to -- to be perceived as a disinterested truth follower, but at the same time to exert tremendous influence on the political process. These two desires - as Hans von Storch has long argued -- are just not sustainable.

  3. The same person can play different roles at different times. It's possible (and not a problem) for the Real Climate blog to aim to be apolitical, and for contributors to also make statements elsewhere about policy implications.

    So what is the problem? Are you saying that they are stating policy opinions on the blog (in breach of their frame for the blog)? Or are you saying that stating policy opinions elsewhere undermines the blog (surely not!)?

    Or are you saying that they claim they never, ever make policy statements anywhere? In which case some of them at least would, of course, be hypocrites. But I don't they've ever claimed that?

  4. -3-Tom

    While it is in principle possible that the same person can play different roles at different times, without some sort of institutional legitimacy involved, it is very difficult.

    For instance, lets say that you take money from tobacco companies to do research, and you advocate in public for loose tobacco controls, and you publish in the peer reviewed literature, what role of yours do you think will dominate?

    For such an advocate to also serve as a science arbiter would require something like participation in a gov't advisory panel, and even then the advocacy might prevent that effort from being seen as legitimate.

    So like it or not, advocacy tends to dominate in the political arena, which is why it should be open.

    But lets get rid of on myth, the Real Climate blog is not apolitical by any stretch. That in itself is not a problem, as I said in the post.

  5. I agree that the RC blog is not fully apolitical. But it seems that that is not your primary issue.

    As such I still don't see the advocacy difference in any qualitative way between Hanson, Schmidt, or yourself.

    Certainly the reason that Revkin wanted to interview you is in part because you publish papers on climate. This gives you some level of expertise in the eyes of the media, whether or not RCers agree or respect that. I now that you decline to answer questions on some issues, but you don't decline when it comes to tropical storms. It is your field, the IPCC cites you in that field, and you talk to the media about it.

    Hansen has a long history of publishing papers and a prominent research position in addition to his advocacy, and certainly this is a major reason his advocacy gets attention. And yet you don't call him a stealth advocate.

  6. Now that Eli has had some fun two fun questions:

    1. What is Real Climate's political agenda?

    2. Can understanding of natural processes narrow choices?

  7. Wasn't that Max Weber that said something along the line that everyone should state his position on a subject before commenting on it.

    This way the possible bias of the person can be accounted for.

    When Realclimate claim not to be politically motivated, while their website is run from a server operated by an environmental advocacy group, means they are sending mix messages.

    Not withstanding their edit comment policies of fellow scientist.

  8. Roger:

    The issue of "pathologically politicizing the science" is one of degree. Both Gavin and you (in your impossible task of trying to always be an honest broker ;-) are mildly 'pathological'.

    But the Limbaughs and Becks are severely pathological. Such 'deniers' reject science with completely specious arguments that typically hide the ideological roots of their positions. Surprisingly, Limbaugh recently revealed his: he rejects any science that predicts/projects outcomes that he believes would be abhorrent to God, regardless of evidence!

    Since, as Gavin points out, the Limbaugs/Becks are vastly more influetial than you or RealClimate, as an honest broker, concerned with the interface of science with policy, you should be giving THEIR misrepresentations of science much more attention.

  9. While we don't agree on your open vs stealth dichotomy, the challenge in being an advocate of any type while still doing science is a fundamental one. Being an advocate generally means being a partisan, at least on policy if not on political parties and officeholders. Perceptions of your work by other partisans will always be colored after that, whether or not they should be.

  10. In the "hey need better advocacy" department:
    In addition, the climate-change problem is complex and deeply rooted in multiple sectors, including the economy and its push for consumption along with population growth, according to one climate scientist, who also thinks human nature and our love of material goods could need a fix.

    "We need to change our mind frame - our values," said Rasmus Benestad of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. "Perhaps quality time, love, family values, friendship and respect are preferable to material goods and status? Or maybe we humans are too vain. In this problem, I think we are seeing the worst of ourselves in the mirror. We see power struggle and corruption."

    Still hope

    Even with these drawbacks, including the monumental need to change human nature, Comiso and others see this meeting as a step in the right direction.


  11. The reality is that they are far from disinterested.

    The reality is also that they edit RealClimate to advance their viewpoint and the notion that the CO2-forced model of AGW is "settled". This is described in one of the ClimateGate files' emails.

  12. "blatant lies put out by Morano, Drudge, Beck etc."

    1. Morano believes everything he says

    2. Matt Drudge runs a site which aggregates headlines-he doesn't "put out" any lies, he just makes people notice things. (note that the reason I don't say this about Morano is that in addition to running a site which aggregates headlines, he editorializes and frequently appears in public.)

    3. Beck also believes everything he says.

    You know, when a scientist denies being political and in the next breath attacks Drudge and Beck, I think it's fair to say he's full of...it.

  13. Realclimate pretends to present a disinterested summary of the science. In my view, they loose a great deal of credibility by the way they edit comments. I know that they have deleted comments that I have posted even when I have made efforts to present honest questions in neutral language. I have read on numerous blogs that they will even delete comments by persons whose work is being discussed.
    I read Realclimate to stay informed about what the AGW alarmists are saying. I do not expect to read balanced commentary in the main posts or the comments.
    By contrast, I find the posts on this blog to be more enlightening, because I can read the main posts, along with often sharply critical comments.

  14. Rush Limbaugh might be more influential as an individual than any individual climate scientist or climate change action advocate (is he more influential than Al Gore BTW?) but as a group the climate scientists etc. are more influential. Otherwise, Copenhagen etc. wouldn't be taking place...

  15. Science policy news of the day is the EPA Endangerment Finding at EPA's website, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment.html.

    Guess what information is posted to prove the case and who authored the responses

  16. lkdemott (on comment moderation),

    Nobody is perfect -- including Roger. But, on balance, I will say again that I have NEVER seen ANY site where the comments are more fairly moderated than here.

    Actually, I'm perfect. But nobody else seems to know that. ;-)

  17. As far as mixing politics and science, I would hope that everyone can agree on a few principles:
    1. A scientist should be committed to an honest approach in both his research and his public political comments (and assume, absent evidence to the contrary, that those who disagree are similarly honest).
    2. His science should not be subordinated to his politics. He has a duty to avoid degrading the public trust in science.
    3. He has to embrace the scientific method, its demand for transparency and replication, be open to new developments and accept that no one has the last word.
    4. He has to be mindful that the greater the impact of the political solutions which are advocated based on his science, the more carefully documented and rigorously replicated must be the science.

  18. Roger,

    Petr Chylek's open letter to the climate research community touches on this issue.

  19. I would suggest recreating William F. Buckley, Jr. style of left-right debates and use the internet as the medium. Bring light to the rhetoric.

  20. From above:

    "Since, as Gavin points out, the Limbaugs/Becks are vastly more influetial(sic) than you or RealClimate, as an honest broker, concerned with the interface of science with policy, you should be giving THEIR misrepresentations of science much more attention."

    There's always one of those: they think that the stupid public needs to be educated up to their own level. Does anyone need to have agenda-driven entertainers "exposed"?

  21. From the Oregon Chapter of American Fisheries Society Code of Ethics:

    "Because our knowledge of changes in ecosystems is often coupled with a high degree of
    uncertainty, reasonable and competent professionals may disagree about the ecological and social consequences of natural resource decisions. We must therefore recognize that the
    foremost obligation of the fisheries professional is to ensure open, honest discussion of the benefits, costs, risks, and tradeoffs of alternative management actions in balancing scientific principles with the interests of society."


    Perhaps climate scientists (not clear that Bouldin is one) should develop their own code of ethics. They could start with the AFS ethics and what Dean wrote above (nice work, Dean!).

    If climate scientists don't have a code of ethics that addresses their involvement in policy, that explains A LOT.

    PS I did go to that link at RC and I thought Gavin's snarkitude towards Roger would be considered uncivil in my science community. Is civility an ethical value? I think civility should be a major emphasis in the new climate scientist code of ethics.

  22. I thought this was a fairly good description of civility and it pretty much descriptive our what our current situation is in the broader climate science policy dialogue NOT:

  23. In my opinion, scientists aren't qualified to discuss politics, and they shouldn't.

    Professor Andrew Watson (of UEA) may have had some justification in calling Morano an 'asshole' on live BBC television broadcast if

    1) Morana had been give a fair chance to speak and

    2) Watson hadn't been engaging in an incredibly amateurish and unconvincing cover up of climategate.


  24. I would suggest recreating William F. Buckley, Jr. style of left-right debates and use the internet as the medium. Bring light to the rhetoric.

    The tired left/right dichotomy doesn't bring much light to subjects, it just turns them into polarized caricatures. Truth is much more subtle.

  25. Regarding my suggestion for Buckley style debates, I was thinking of the intellectual titans like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the richness of the discussion. There is no need for a climate debate to be right versus left. Right versus wrong will suffice.

  26. Will Howard here.

    I am a working scientist, doing research on paleoclimate and biogeochemical cycles. I mostly work on timescales longer than the millennial-scale reconstructions mainly under discussion in the context of the UEA e-mail files, but the principles are similar. I have a lot of experience in developing, calibrating, and applying paleoclimate proxies based on geochemical and biotic tracers. I have done work on developing composite time-series using multiple proxies and multivariate techniques such as principle-components and factor analysis, so I do understand many of the technical issues under discussion.

    I also have been doing some work on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms and ecosystems, and this work has had some media attention recently which has seen me being asked questions about policy by the media.

    In answer to the title of the post, I don't think scientists working in this arena can completely avoid the political implications of our work. The political debate comes to us. My own experience is that I haven't needed to seek out "political debate." The question is how to deal with it? I would place myself, imperfectly, somewhere between "science arbiter" and "honest broker" in Roger's taxonomy, but closer to "science arbiter."

    As one example, I've been asked by the media (here in Australia) for my comments on the upcoming Copenhagen conference and the relatively small proposed cuts in emissions. I answered that the science I've been involved in suggests long time lags in the ocean's ability to buffer the anthropogenic CO2 invasion, so action, if any, to cut emissions should be sooner than later for maximum efficacy. In other words, *IF* you are going to do something, do it now. (Dave Archer, whose comments you can see at RealClimate, has done the best work on this question of anthropogenic CO2 lifetimes of anyone in science and I strongly recommend reading his comments whatever your views of RC). Does that make me an "issue advocate?" I don't know, but I prefer to avoid it.

    The role of us scientists should be to identify, and if possible quantify, possible risks associated with human impacts on the earth's climate and biogeochemical systems. Like Roger Pielke Sr. I think there's a broader perspective on human impacts beyond just the modification of the infrared budget by CO2, that needs to be discussed more. It is NOT our role to dictate policy.

    We have, in my opinion, not done as good job as we might of distinguishing between scientific and non-scientific questions for policymakers and for the media and public. The issue of whether global warming is occurring, and if so, is attributable to human action, is a scientific question.

    What actions, if any, to take in response to the problem, if any, come down to political, economic, ethical, even spiritual considerations. A perfectly valid policy response by society may be to just continue emitting greenhouse gases as we've been, and deal with the consequences later. *Personally*, as a citizen/human being/parent, I think that would be a grossly misguided policy. My job as a scientist, as I see it, is to point out the risks.

  27. As long as I'm commenting, there are a few important issues brought up by the UEA email files (however they got into the public domain).

    One is the public perception of the process of science, which I think has been damaged by the indications in some of the communications (if true) that there were attempts to subvert the peer-review process.

    I have argued - publicly and strongly - that the robustness of the AGW hyopthesis derives, in part, from the adversial nature of scientific discourse. That is, the validity of any scientific hypothesis is contingent upon its standing up to scrutiny and (attempted) refutation. In plain English, it's right until it's wrong. A great example is Darwinian evolutionary theory, which has (so far!) stood up to everything that's been thrown at it, including tests Darwin and his contemporaries could not have conceived of in the late 19th Century.

    So I have said in public lectures to often-skeptical audiences, that science is always trying to knock down theories like AGW, and the fact that it's stood up so far argues for its validity if not ultimate confirmation (key distinction there!).

    The apparent collusion to manipulate this adversial system evidenced by the emails, if true, would tend to compromise the credibility of this system. If true, it tends to make scientists like me look like fools or liars for stressing the strength of our adversial system.

    So for example, Gavin Schmidt was quoted last week on NPR (discussed on this blog under "Redefining Peer Review"):

    "'In any other field (a bad paper) would just be ignored,' says Gavin Schmidt at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. 'The problem is in the climate field has become extremely politicized, and every time some nonsense paper gets into a proper journal, it gets blown out of all proportion.'
    Most of the papers Schmidt and his colleagues object to challenge the mainstream view of climate science. Schmidt says they may be wrong or even deceptive, but they are still picked up by politicians, pundits and businesses who are skeptical of climate change."

    This raises the question: what is a "bad" or "nonsense" paper? A paper Gavin, Mike Mann, and Phil Jones disagree with? The quote comes across as an attempt to arrogate to himself and a few others the judgment of what is or is not a "bad" paper. Do the rest of us get any say in this? (sorry Gavin if you're reading this, but with all due respect that's how it reads, and I'm sure you didn't mean it to come across that way)

    The other problem is the attempt to second-guess the political implications of scientific papers. That is not science's place. Opponents of, say, carbon emissions limitation bills, would argue that papers like the "Hockey Stick" publications have been "blown out of all proportion" to justify large-scale and expensive global mitigation initiatives. And Gavin's comment that "in any other field a bad paper would be ignored" is just plain wrong. Climate science is not the only field of science in which the political and social implications of scientific publications get a very public airing. Think of biomedical research and all the controversies there (remember the fraudulent human cloning result?)

  28. One more point (as long as I'm at it!) about the discussion of "gatekeeping": for many of the climate-related questions in discussion now we need data - badly. I would be concerned that in the process of keeping papers out of the literature whose *interpretations* some may disagree with, valuable *data sets* might also be excluded from publication. This is in my opinion a key issue I haven't seen discussed. So good examples are tree-ring data. These are valuable data for fields such paleoecology, archeology, and geochronology, not only for climate research. Their interpretation in terms of paleotemperature may change, as new insights are gained into the sensitivity of tree growth to the multiple drivers of temperature, precipitation, etc. But the data themselves need to be out there to be used, and indeed re-interpreted.

    I've been late coming to this discussion, and I think more of us need to weigh in, because the public perception of the credibility of our science is at stake. I commend Judith Curry for the intellectual clarity and integrity of her commentary on this issue, and hope some of my comments here expand upon some of the excellent points she made.

  29. Once more, since no one has answered it

    1. What is Real Climate's political agenda?

  30. Mr Pielke, I thought these were good questions:

    What is Real Climate's political agenda?

    Is saying action should be taken to mitigate and adapt to the consequences of AGW a political agenda? Do the scientists you accuse of stealth advocacy pronounce precise ideas about what action should be taken?

    And then Len Ornstein's question: Why don't you give the vastly more pathological misrepresentations by Morano (@ Andrew: if Morano is indeed believing his own lies rather than believing that his ends justify the means because the other side does it too, the only possible conclusion is that he is deluding himself and many others in the process) Limbaugh, Beck, Rush, Inhofe and Watts hardly any attention? They are having an enormous influence on public perception and the whole global warming mitigation/adaptation policies.

    In another thread you pointed me to one of your recent articles on the Global Warming Policy Foundation, as evidence that you also critique the other extreme of the AGW debate. If you would have done some research on Nigel Lawson, read a few of his texts and watch a few interviews (or watch Adam Curtis' Mayfair Set to get an idea of Lawson's background), you would have known that this think tank is not about bringing "reason, integrity and balance to a debate that has become seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist, and all too often depressingly intolerant" (do you notice the mention of 'alarmist', but not a sign anywhere on wilful misrepresentation of the science by deniers such as Morano and Watts?). All this think tank will aim to do is delay, delay, delay, because they cannot cope with the idea that AGW forces society to lay out self-imposed limits. Why not point this out, but instead legitimize this kind of 'stealth advocacy'? As it is, your critique does not read as a critique, but as an advice ('an inauspicious start').

    You heavily criticize the 'warmists' but I have never seen you give a Monckton or a Plimer the same treatment. You say you believe that action should be taken on AGW. You even have strong views on what the policy should be. Well, the denier side of the debate is very successful at derailing any action whatsoever. And your absolute lack of exposing this, thus bringing some true balance to your blog and walking the walk of the 'honest broker' talk that people associate with you, keeps giving me the feeling that you are in their camp.

    And it's great that you hardly moderate your blog, but if I would want to come across as the cool-headed guy who is neither denier or alarmist I would a lot of the comments on your articles. Doesn't it bother you that the majority of your commenters comes from the denier side of the debate? Allowing too many comments from one extreme side of the debate entails the danger of appearing guilty by association.

    Do you understand why people like me who have been following the climate debate for several years now are inclined to think you are indeed a wolf in sheep's clothing? Perhaps you're not. I hope you're not, otherwise your ethical position will be even more dire than that of Morano, Watts, Monckton, Plimer, Inhofe, etc, etc. Stealth advocacy, you know.

  31. Eli,

    Read the e-mails. The political agenda is obvious. Or read Mann's letter re: Lawrence Solomon. http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=5180

  32. Eli: I thought that was aimed at Roger. I'll have a go...

    1. What is Real Climate's political agenda?
    To browbeat government bodies into carbon limitation policies by viciously denigrating anyone who disagrees that thermageddon is imminent.

    2. Can understanding of natural processes narrow choices?
    Perhaps. It might allow us to focus on real ecological problems rather than the jump-on-the-bandwagon myths. And it might prevent the knee-jerk, bad policy we are facing; eg. carbon capture, carbon credits, carbon trading, nuclear proliferation, and hence allow us to concentrate on smarter, efficiency-based, green energy choices that will do more good than harm.

  33. Roger,

    You seem to accuse some climate scientists of “arguing politics through science”, which I take to mean bolstering a pre-conceived political stance by using a suitable scientific argument (and ignoring the science that doesn’t conform the political stance).

    I think this is a very valid description of many so-called “skeptics”, who uncritically jump on anything that they can use to bolster their political argument, and don’t take account of the vast body of research that contradicts their point.

    I don’t think this accusation is valid for e.g. the RC climate scientists or others that you routinely criticize. Rather than that they cherry-pick the science to suit their preconceived political stance, I find it much more likely that as a result of studying the science, they concluded that a BAU scenario will be accompanied by considerable changes in the climate with mostly negative consequences.

    Eli’s second question (comment nr 7) relates to this. It is a two way street: Science can (and should, IMHO) inform policies. Some go the other way round, and pick and chose the science that they can use as an argument to bolster their desired policies. Those who clearly (IMHO) do the latter are getting a free pass from you, and scientists who (IMHO) advocate the former (though a-specifically), you blame of the latter.

    When they make a political statement, it is a plea to “do something” about that problem. Usually such a plea is made without specifics, without limiting the scope of actions (part of your definition of advocacy). As in “there’s a car coming, watch out!”, but not saying stand back; speed up; stand still; jump in the air, or anything specific like that)
    Hansen goes further and promotes specific measures, but he clearly articulates that in those cases he’s voicing a personal opinion. The RC contributors hardly ever advocate a specific policy, or bash another policy, except when they have scientific reasons for why the measure is not adequate to the problem at hand (e.g. when someone advocates geoengineering instead of emission reduction, because of a misunderstanding of the climate system).

    Frankly, I don’t see the problem with their approach. Is it the fact that merely “doing something about the impending problem” is a normative statement, and should be clearly labeled as such? Even if it is non-specific, and directly informed by the science? Is it wrong to warn something of a car approaching when they try and cross the street? Or should they say “My eyes see a car approaching, and it is my personal opinion that the likely result may be uncomfortable to you, so I urge you (note, this is a personal opinion) to do something about it.”


  34. Eli Rabbett:

    You iterate your question as though it had sufficient merit to warrant an answer. Perhaps you do not know its answer so I quote atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh,
    “'Real Climate' is a staged and contracted production, which wasn't created by 'scientists,' it was actually created by Environmental Media Services, a company which specializes in spreading environmental junk science on behalf of numerous clients who stand to financially benefit from scare tactics through environmental fear mongering.”

    Cap&Trade legislation (and similar legislation) is what Environmental Media Services want for the financial benefit of their clients.

    Promotion of taxation policies is a political agenda. Clear now?


  35. -34-Bart

    You have not read what I have written, and thus mischaracterize my views when you write:

    "You seem to accuse some climate scientists of “arguing politics through science”, which I take to mean bolstering a pre-conceived political stance by using a suitable scientific argument (and ignoring the science that doesn’t conform the political stance)."

    All of the issues that you describe as covered in my book in the discussion of the difference between tornado and abortion politics. You are describing tornado politics (with an analogous example being the approaching car).

    Advocacy in such a case is not stealth as values are shared. Climate policy discussions do not have such a homogeneity of values.

    So while I welcome your thoughtful comments here, our exchanges will be much more productive if you respond to what I write rather than what I have not ;-)

  36. Roger,

    Haven't you used the phrase "arguing politics through science" often, and levelled it as an accusation to RC scientists? If so, and if my take on what you mean by it is incorrect, could you clarify what you do mean by it?


  37. -37-Bart

    An example of arguing politics through science (stealth issue advocacy):

    "A car is approaching, you must get out of the way"

    An example on not arguing politics through science, but engaging in issue advocacy:

    "My eyes see a car approaching, and it is my personal opinion that the likely result may be uncomfortable to you, so I urge you (note, this is a personal opinion) to do something about it."

    Again, this is a silly example, because it is all but certain that the scientist and the pedestrian share exactly the same values.

    Imagine a different circumstance, of a doctor talking to a pregnant patient, where they may or may not share the same values:

    1. "Your child has a birth defect, you must have an abortion"

    None of the dynamics that you mention (i.e., misuse of science) are present here.

    2. A doctor acting as an issue advocate might say:

    "My ultrasound shows a birth defect in your baby, and it is my personal opinion that the likely result may be uncomfortable to you, so I urge you (note, this is a personal opinion) to do something about it."

    3. A doctor acting as an honest broker might say:

    "My ultrasound shows a birth defect in your baby, there are a range of actions that you can take, and only you can decide which one is right for you . . ."

    Which doctor would you like your wife/daughter to visit? Clearly these are very different roles between expert and decision maker.

    I hope that this is more clear.

  38. Mr. Courtney points to the connection between RC and EMS. The head of EMS is Arlie Schardt. I beleive Mr. Schardt was Al Gore's press secretary for his 1988 presidential. He also was Gore's communications director for his 2000 campaign. Gore's profiting from the carbon trading market and "green" technologies is well known. The politics and the supporting policies are revealed by the money trail in my opinion.

  39. Roger,

    Well, doctor 3 would have my preference. The analogy of car driving is clearly invalid, but so is this one I think. It has an extremely heavy moral loading, and (medical) science is largely irrelevant in the particular choice.

    In climate, the science is relevant. So a similar, but perhaps more useful analogy would be if a lifelong smoker comes to the doctor, and the doctor sees clear signs of his lung function deteriorating, while knowing that smoking increases the chances of serious lung-diseases.

    I would like the doctor to say something like “All the indications point towards your lung function deteriorating. This is very likely related to you having smoked for X decades. In case you want to minimize the risk to your health, I urge you to quit smoking.”

    If he were to say as the last sentence instead “(…) In case you want to minimize the risk to your health, I urge you to take these nicotine patches” he would act as a stealth advocate, since there are many more options to quit smoking that the patient may want to chose from.

    That (the above example, without narrowing the options) is what I see Gavin et al doing. And I find it perfectly legitimate, even desirable, that scientists (as well as doctors) share their knowledge about risks with those who need to know.

    Now the point may be, as you say, that now everybody is as interested in decreasing those risks. That is indeed less clear cut than in the doctor’s analogy. However, in most cases I think that is due to a misunderstanding of the science.

    If the patient is so hooked to his cigarettes, and would rather continue smoking than extend his statistical life expectancy by X months, he is free to do so. If however he rationalizes that decision by claiming “smoking isn’t bad for your health at all. My dad was 96 when he died in a car accident, and he chain-smoked his whole life!”, the doctor would be right to reply: “You’re mistaken. Smoking is definitely bad for your health. If you keep smoking, your life expectancy will be X month less than if you quit smoking, and you will have more breathing problems. It is your choice whether or not to quit smoking, but you should make your choice in the full knowledge of these consequences”.

    This highlights a different problem. One could argue that by continuing to smoke, the patient really only impacts his own health negatively (and those who breath the second hand smoke; likely not the doctor). If the majority of people, and esp the people in power, decide to ignore the problem and not change the trajectory society is on, it is everybody who suffers. Even worse, those in different parts of the world, and those who have yet to be born, will suffer the most. That makes it much more difficult to just say “I don’t care if you quit smoking, as long as you realize the risks”.

    So climate scientists could be more specific about this, by saying eg: “You’re mistaken. Unabated GHG emissions will very likely cause substantial climate change, with serious consequences. So you should decide your course of action based on this knowledge. If you don’t care about these risks, that is your perogative. However I do. Find yourself another planet to experiment on, please.”


  40. -40-Bart

    What you describe here is very much "issue advocacy" of the sort that Jim Hansen engages in.

    The difference between what you say here and what Real Climate does in practice is that they eschew any sort of political agenda.

    But there is another point of disagreement that I have with your statement, and THB I call this the "linear model" of science and decision. You write:

    "Now the point may be, as you say, that now everybody is as interested in decreasing those risks. That is indeed less clear cut than in the doctor’s analogy. However, in most cases I think that is due to a misunderstanding of the science."

    There is a widespread myth that, to caricature, if everyone else understand the science as I do, they would also come to share my values, and thus we'd reach consensus on action. This is just wrong.

    As Mike Hulme has eloquently argued, why we disagree about climate change typically has little to do with science, and that goes for climate scientists as well. The good news is that in this very same insight is a way out of this mess.

  41. Roger,

    Note that there was a typo in what I wrote (and your quote of me): "Now the point may be, as you say, that NOT everybody is as interested in decreasing those risks. (…)"

    I wholeheartedly agree with Hulme on this, and I would grant that he sais it much more eloquently, but since you also seem to agree with Hulme, what beef do you have with what I said?

    Perhaps you disagree with my interpretation, but I think it can be very easily observed that most of those who are fervent opponents of remission reduction have a view of the science that is on the far fringe of scientific opinions.

    Indeed, as Hulme argues, why we disagree about climate change typically has little to do with science. Most of the die-hard “skeptics” don’t challenge the science for scientific reasons, but rather for political reasons. Perhaps our disagreement is in how this statement also applies to climate scientists. If there is a (real) scientific discussion about a specific point, e.g. on the extent to which aerosol nucleation contributes to the budget of cloud condensation nuclei (*), it usually pans out based on scientific arguments. Although it is indeed possible that some scientists have a preconceived notion that it should (or should not) be very important, because they very much like the cosmic ray-climate hypothesis to be true (or false). If they let such a preconceived notion take over their science-based arguments, a problem arises. Is that perhaps a valid example of what you mean?

    The difference in opinion may then be that I find this behaviour (of misusing science to bolster one’s political views) much more prevalent on the “skeptical” side. You seem to aim your arrows mostly at mainstream scientists; do you find them more guilty of this (or other bad) behaviour than “skeptics”?

    (*) I discussed exactly this topic on RC: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/04/aerosol-effects-and-climate-part-ii-the-role-of-nucleation-and-cosmic-rays/


  42. Climategate Forecast...
    “• What is the current scientific consensus on the conclusions reached by Drs. Mann, Bradley and Hughes? [Referring to the hockey stick propagated in UN IPCC 2001 by Michael Mann.]
    Ans: Based on the literature we have reviewed, there is no overarching consensus on MBH98/99. As analyzed in our social network, there is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.”
    AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION, also known as The Wegman report was authored by Edward J. Wegman, George Mason University, David W. Scott, Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said, The Johns Hopkins University with the contributions of John T. Rigsby, III, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and Denise M. Reeves, MITRE Corporation.

  43. For a large portion of people, politicization of science means that politics dictates what results are "found".
    And if you accuse some scientists of this, to many it means you're saying their results are not based on science, but preconceived notions. Falsification etc.

    But then of course, you can say you meant something else.

    Political importance of the science perhaps could be a better word. Or advocacy. Politicization doesn't mean anything anyone can agree on, it seems.

    If science becomes important, and many people start driving anti-reality agendas (Earth is not warming, so we are just fine emitting CO2), then is countering them politicized science? It loses meaning.

    I think it is somewhat hypocritical to say encouraging smokers to quit smoking (whatever the way) is political (though in some narrow sense it can be seen as such). For someone who questions the theory of smoking-cancer it certainly seems political, but that is because they are delusional, *not* because of the minor point that perhaps people *might want to have lung cancer* which is not credible.

    Also, it's not reasonable to expect people to have read your book.