27 April 2010

The Poverty of Climate Science Litmus Tests

Mike Hulme, of the University of East Anglia, has some smart things to say about politicized debates over climate science:
. . . arguments about climate change are invested with powerful ideological instincts and interests. Solutions to climate change vary from market-based mechanisms and technology-driven innovation to justice-focused initiatives and low-consumption localism as a form of lifestyle, each carrying ideological commitments. It is despairingly naive to reduce such intense (and legitimate) arguments to the polarities of ‘belief’ or ‘scepticism’ about science.

Belief in what, exactly? Is it the belief that humans are contributing significantly to climate change? Yes, science can speak authoritatively on this question. Or a belief that the possible consequences of future change warrant an emergency policy programme? Scientific evidence here offers only one strand of the necessary reasoning. Or a belief that such an emergency policy programme must be secured through an international, legally binding targets-and-timetables approach, such as Kyoto? On this, science has very little to say.

On the other hand, what exactly is it that the so-called sceptics are charged with? Scepticism that environmental scientists, businesses and central government are in collusion to fabricate evidence? This is barely plausible. Or scepticism that claims about the future that are based on scientific knowledge are sometimes overstretched and underplay uncertainties? The latter is a warning that all would do well to heed.

The problem here is the tendency to reduce all these complexities into a simple litmus test of whether or not someone believes orthodox scientific claims about the causes and consequences of climate change. This is dividing the world into goodies and baddies, believers and deniers. Climate change demands of us something much more sophisticated than this.

Mike's thoughtful views came to mind as I read Joe Romm's predictable reaction to Judy Curry's efforts to focus attention on the integrity of climate science and to engage in a respectful discussion of related issues (links added):
She has joined the WUWT and McIntyre tribe.
Curry is unfazed, and keeps her sense of humor:
Now that I have apparently been unambiguously tossed out the “warmist blogger” tribe by Joe Romm who is the arbiter of political correctness with regards to global warming alarmism, what is a poor tribeless person like me to do?
But she also realizes that tribalism is here to stay, but she does not like its consequences:

So I guess all my discussion about tribalism and the harm it can do didn’t sink in. My whole point is that we need to have a respectful and reasoned dialogue with a broad range of people. And I have to say that it is easier for me, a “moderate warmist,” to have a respectful and reasoned dialogue at climateaudit than it is at climateprogress. A sad state of affairs, and one that damages the credibility of the warmists.

The definition of tribalism that i have been using is this:

Tribalism is defined here as a strong identity that separates one’s group from members of another group, characterized by strong in-group loyalty and regarding other groups differing from the tribe’s defining characteristics as inferior.

Tribalism is antithetical to science, it is far worse than groupthink.
Like Hulme, Curry rejects such naive and simplistic ways to view the climate debate. Yet if the most ardent of antagonists in the climate debate, on either side, believe that we all have to be members of tribes, please note my request to be in the non-tribe tribe with Hulme and Curry ;-)