Saturday, February 27, 2010

The real reason for AGW: Post Normal Science

When the history of the exposing of the anthropogenic global warming scam is written, I hope a special place is reserved for the contribution of people like James Delingpole.

And yes, if you aren't reading the Spectator, why not?! And following Delingpole on Twitter too.

I promised I would write about Post Normal Science. The Institute of Physics has given me the perfect peg. It has just made the following devastating submission to the Parliamentary investigation into the Climategate scandal. It argues that the behaviour of the scientists involved has “worrying implications” for “the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context.”

Too right it does. Of course the Institute of Physics is doing no more than people like Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick have been arguing for years. What’s refreshing, though, is to see a serious scientific institution with a membership of 36,000 physicists worldwide taking such a firm, outspoken public stance on scientific integrity. Compare and contrast the behaviour of the Royal Society – once perhaps the world’s most distinguished and revered science institution, but now with its credibility almost irretrievably damaged because of its uncritical stance both on AGW and on the dubious scientific method behind it.

How has it happened that so many distinguished scientists around the world have got it so very wrong? Why is that more than a few of them think it’s OK to manipulate evidence, hide or destroy data after inconvenient FOI requests, conspire to silence dissenting scientists, lie and cheat in official hearings, and generally engage in the kind of activities that those of in the non-scientific world had naively assumed that a real scientist would never do?

In three words: Post Normal Science (PNS).

Without PNS, the whole AGW scam might never have got off the ground. PNS was the evil philosophy that gave the scientists involved the intellectual justification to do the wicked things they did.

You’ll find a handy basic guide to the phenomenon in a piece I did for the Spectator the other week. (Why incidentally do so few of you seem to read the Spectator? I know I’m biased but there’s some seriously good stuff in there and its editor Fraser Nelson – by a million miles the most brilliant political journalist of his generation – has the kind of views which will delight readers of this blog, I’m sure).

Anyway, here’s the link to the piece, which I urge you to read in full because it’s not rubbish. And here’s the bit where I talk about PNS.
In 1991 a Marxist philosopher called Jerome R. Ravetz had helped to invent a seductive and dangerous new concept called ‘post-normal science’ (PNS). No longer was it considered essential that scientists strive after objectivity. Their new duty, Ravetz held, was not to ‘truth’ but to what he called ‘quality’. And by ‘quality’ he meant something more akin to rhetoric — the ability to manipulate evidence and present it in such a way as to achieve particular political ends.

Post-normal science and the AGW movement were made for one another. No need for any of that tedious objectivity; no need for careful observation or the risk of frustration through falsification. All that mattered now was the quality of the ‘narrative’, the scariness of the future scenarios cooked up by computer models which — as the hockey stick curve demonstrated — could predict for you whatever you wanted them to predict.
Then I have a dig at Mike Hulme of the Tyndall Centre, who always sounds so nice and reasonable when he appears on the radio but is an arch Post Normal Scientist, followed by a wholly deserved pot-shot at the utterly reprehensible Royal Society.
‘Climate change’, in other words, has little if anything to do with science. (Or as Mike Hulme once put it: ‘Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking, although science will gain some insights into the question if it recognises the socially contingent dimensions of a post-normal science.’) It’s not a genuine problem to be solved, but a handy excuse — with a fashionable green glow — to advance a particular social and political agenda under the cloak of ecological righteousness and scientific authority.

After Climategate, we are entitled to ask: ‘What scientific authority?’ It’s all very well for someone like Lord Rees to defend the Royal Society’s position on global warming by brandishing ‘Nullius in verba’ as if it were still the kitemark of irrefutable truth. But the fact is his institution’s integrity lies in tatters precisely because it has done the thing its motto says it never does: it listened to a coterie of post-normal scientists who were more interested in political activism than objective truth — and went and took their word for it.
Meanwhile, over at Watts Up With That, who should have been invited to make not one but two guest postings – but the arch-fiend himself Jerome Ravetz? Because Ravetz has a rambling, long-winded style, an air of mild reasonableness, and a gift for academic double-speak and obfuscation, the readers at WUWT rather took to him at first. They even fell for his line that Post Normal Science was the best way for science to negotiate its way out of the post-Climategate mess – completely missing the point that it was thanks to PNS that science got into that mess in the first place.

Fortunately he was rumbled just in time, most notably by ScientistForTruth whose brilliant expose here remains the best thing anyone has written – and probably ever will write – about the sly dangerousness of Post Normal Science. It’s long but worth reading in full.

I also highly recommend the spanking he gets from Willis Eschenbach in the comments below his follow-up post. It may seem unduly harsh if you look at the sweet elderly gent in Ravetz’s byline photograph or if you’re taken in by Ravetz’s gentle, let’s-all-be-reasonable-here style. To which I say: “Smooth, easy, inoffensive down to hell.” And Eschenbach is of a similar persuasion, as here when someone tries to defend Ravetz on the disingenuous grounds that he was only observing the phenomenon of Post Normal Science not actually advocating it.
Nor do I care whether Ravetz is “is looking at a certain instance, or set of instances, of behaviour associated with science, in which values play a greater part than normal”, whatever that might mean. So what? He’s left a trail of wrecked lives and blasted science and wasted trillions behind him, and you want to talk about what he’s looking at? I don’t give a rodent’s fundamental orifice what he’s looking at, Scarlett, frankly I don’t give a damn.
(PS one tiny thing: re-reading my Speccie piece I was mortified to notice that the introductory paragraph kind of implies that I think I broke the Climategate story. Which I don’t, obviously. It was careless writing, nothing more. I think I’d probably meant to say something like “In the British blogosphere” or whatever. It’s OK, I do know that loads of US websites were there before me.)

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