Science and silence

Judith Curry tweeted me (and others), yesterday, to suggest that Sou’s interpretation of much of what Judith says is typically ludicrous. I know that Sou can be snarky (that’s her chosen style) but she’s often pretty spot-on and more than willing to correct what she says when shown to be wrong.

I notice this morning that Judith has a new post about the science and silence conundrum. This relates to Sou’s post, and to a recent interview with Kevin Anderson in which he suggests that scientists who remain silent are essentially advocating for the status quo. Brigitte Nerlich also has a recent post on Making Science Public, that discusses some of the issues related to scientists choosing to remain silent.

In addition to Kevin Anderson, a number of other people have waded into the whole science, silence and advocacy issue. I didn’t really want to write a lengthy post, so thought I might just comment on some of Judith’s conclusions.

With respect to Kevin Anderson, Judith suggests

Kevin Anderson seems to view only one role for scientists – the Advocate – whether scientists choose to engage or be silent.

I don’t think this is a fair representation of what Kevin Anderson was trying to say. Just because someone suggests scientists shouldn’t avoid advocacy, doesn’t mean that they’re suggesting that that is all they should do. Although I think Kevin Anderson’s suggestions are too extreme (we shouldn’t have a blanket judgement for those who choose not to engage, for example), I do think he has a point. Whether a scientist chooses to engage or not, and what they say if they do engage, has implications. That doesn’t mean that we should be insisting that scientists engage in a particular way. It does mean, in my view at least, that scientists should be aware of the possible consequences of the manner in which they choose to engage.

On Gavin Schmidt, Judith says

Gavin Schmidt sees the choice between Pure Scientist and Advocate, whereby anyone who engages has values and is therefore an Advocate.

I don’t actually know if this is a fair representation of what Gavin Schmidt was suggesting or not, but it is probably the closest to what I think. I think it’s hard for people who engage publicly to completely avoid saying something that may technically qualify as advocacy. There are certainly circumstances where scientists should avoid explicitly advocating (such as when appearing as a scientific expert in front of a parliamentary committee) but I have no issue with scientists expressing views about what they think the science is suggesting will happen in the future. In fact, in many cases, I would argue that this wouldn’t necessarily qualify as advocacy. I would also be interested to know what scientists think we should be doing, given the scientific evidence. I would rather have a better idea of what climate scientists think the future holds, than to have to interpret everything from scientific papers or IPCC documents.

On Tamsin Edwards, Judith says

Tamsin Edwards is a proponent of engagement but not of advocacy, putting her squarely in Science Arbiter box.

This probably is a fair representation of what Tamsin Edwards has been suggesting. My personal view is that Tamsin is trying to be very idealistic and I think that is commendable. I do think, however, that it is somewhat naive (something I’m guilty of myself, to be honest) and I do think it’s wrong to suggest that scientists have an obligation to remain completely objective and that they should not engage in advocacy. Why fund scientists to study things like climate change if we then insist that they don’t express opinions about the implications of their research with respect to the future of our society. Given how much debate there has been around this topic, I would be quite interested to know if Tamsin’s views have changed much since writing the Guardian article a few months ago.

Judith then describes herself as

As for moi, I engage and get involved in policy discussions but do not advocate, putting me further towards the Honest Broker box than is Tamsin.

I must admit that I find the whole “I’m an honest broker” a little irritating. I don’t think you get to decide if you yourself are an honest broker or not. History will decide that. It also seems, to me, that those who regard themselves as honest brokers do so because they feel that they never say anything that they can’t back up with evidence. That may sound fine but, in my view at least, ensuring that everything you say is factually correct does not ensure that what you’ve said is a fair representation of the evidence available. Also, I fail to see how someone who seems to think that a scientist saying something like “the evidence suggests that we should …. if we want to avoid ….” is advocating, can then suggest that they can engage in policy discussions without advocating. I would think that that would be virtually impossible. How can one engage in a discussion about policy without saying something that would qualify as advocacy?

As usual, my attempt at a short post has failed somewhat. My personal view of this whole advocacy, science and silence issue is essentially; let’s stop insisting that scientists behave in a particular way and let’s stop making blanket judgements based on whether scientists engage or not and whether they choose to advocate or not. Personally, I would rather that scientists spoke up more than they do, but I’m in no way insisting that they should do so. Ideally, everyone should simply be as honest as they can be, should just do what they think is right for them, and should aim to do the best they can. Of course, this is all just my opinion and isn’t really based on any scientific evidence. Feel free, therefore, to take it with as much of a pinch of salt as you would like.

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63 Responses to Science and silence

  1. OPatrick says:

    Judith Curry self-identifying as an honest broker is equivalent to a ‘sceptic’ self-identifying as being a sceptic.

    Two points I think are worth raising are:

    1) There is a distiction between criticising scientists as a group and criticising individual scientists. We can be critical of the failure of scientists as a whole for not defending their science more strongly without necessarily criticising individual scientists for their failure to speak up. It is the culture which is at fault.

    2) There is a significant difference between a scientist remaining silent about their understanding of the implications of their work if they don’t see people acting on it as they might expect and their remaining silent when they see people actively distorting their work to advocate for a given course of action, or inaction. The latter seems like a political decision to me.

  2. OPatrick,

    I agree with both your points. That’s why I disagreed with there being blanket judgements based on the general behaviour of scientists. The behaviour of individuals, however, should always be open to criticism – constructive, initially, at least. Your second point is a good one. I don’t think scientists have the right to decide what policy makers should do given the evidence. As long as they’re basing their decision on the correct interpretation of the evidence, then they’re doing their job, even if many disagree with their decision. If, however, the evidence is being distorted in order to influence the policy decisions, then one would hope that scientists would step in to counter the distortion of the scientific evidence.

  3. Joshua says:

    “My personal view of this whole advocacy, science and silence issue is essentially; let’s stop insisting that scientists behave in a particular way and let’s stop making blanket judgements based on whether scientists engage or not and whether they choose to advocate or not.”

    At the expense of being repetitious – Judith does not make blanket judgements based on whether scientists engage or not. She makes selective judgements:

    She criticizes scientists that she disagrees with for being "advocates."
    She doesn't criticize scientists she agrees with when they act as "advocates."
    She says that the input of non-scientists should be given equal value in the scientific debate and then turns around and diminishes the importance of those same non-scientists' advocacy – on the basis that they are not scientists.
    She applies criteria in a selective fashion to elevate and idealize her own input.

    Judith seems to have abandoned even a pretense of reflecting on her own advocacy She preaches to the choir – and seems to feel emboldened to do so because she can rely on the non-skeptical nature of her "skeptical" audience – who accept without question her selective application of criteria. At this point, she never actually engages in discussing these issues, but simply writes tribalistic posts and follows up with snark when her logic and reasoning are questioned.

    This post offers a great opportunity for Judith to engage with criticism. Let's see if that happens.

  4. Joshua says:

    It is worthy of note that Judith saw fit to make comments on Sou’s views, but failed to engage with non-snarky feedback here:

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/gavin-schmidt-and-judith-curry-on-science-advocacy/

    This fits with the pattern of self-victimization – engaging with, in a sense, (or perhaps more accurately, exploiting) criticism that can validate her sense of victimhood, and ignoring criticism that can’t be used in such a fashion.

  5. Sou Bundanga says:

    “Ludicrous” is a Specialty of the House at Hotwhopper :)

  6. Victor Venema says:

    My claimed used to be that you are always communicating. That whatever you do, also if you do not speak, people will interpret your behaviour. Thus also if you do no communicate with the public, that is a signal, you are communicating something.

    I used to think that the statement of Stocker, summarising the findings of the IPCC working group on the physical basis of climate change in itself was no advocacy. But I guess I have to change my mind.

    The parliamentary testimony of Pielke Junior focussed on the possible changes in extreme events of which science is not sure yet. Assuming he was right, I do not know the literature on that, you could claim that Pielke just stated facts, just like Stocker. However, naturally this was pure advocacy. His cherry picking of those facts and also his refraining from making clear that “no proof of change” is not the same of “proof of no change”, clearly makes him an advocate for postponing action.

    In a similar way, I recently heard someone comment on sea level rise by stating that there were no studies yet that attributed the melting of the South-East ice sheet of Greenland to man-made climate change. I hope I remembered that right, but the details are anyway not important. What is important is that there will always be details that have no been studied yet or to which no statement can be made (yet). The more you zoom in in space or time, the more natural variability there is and the harder it is to show that there was a trend and what the cause of a trend is. Thus also such statements, while the may be factually true, are actually advocacy. It is a dishonest unbalanced representation of our understanding of the changes in the climate system.

    Whether a statement is balanced is always somewhat subjective. Thus if we call Pielke an advocate, we also have to call Stocker an advocate. Even is his statement is infinitely more balanced as Pielke’s. The ostriches clearly see the statement as unbalanced and as advocacy. They would have preferred that Stocker could had stated that there is no proof yet that tornadoes in Wyoming are becoming more common due to global warming.

  7. Victor Venema says:

    Bart New, I know that you would like to stay friendly to everyone, but isn’t there a conflict between:

    “let’s stop insisting that scientists behave in a particular way and let’s stop making blanket judgements based on whether scientists engage or not and whether they choose to advocate or not.”

    and

    “The behaviour of individuals, however, should always be open to criticism – constructive, initially, at least.”

  8. Joshua says:

    Why is there a conflict between saying that blanket judgements should not be made, but individuals should always be open to constructive criticism, at least initially?

    Bart New?

  9. Victor,

    I don’t think so. The term “blanket” was meant to imply, for example, judging all scientists who choose not to engage in the same way, or judging all scientists who choose to advocate in the same way. We could, however, choose to criticise an individual for deciding not to engage (for example if their work is mis-represented and they choose not to address that) or decide to criticise an individual if they decide to advocate specifically for something that may not be the best option. The criticism could be wrong, but I was trying to distinguish between a blanket judgement of all, as opposed to specific criticisms of individuals.

    Also, I don’t think that criticising someone’s behaviour is the same as insisting that they behave in a particular way. We could judge something as having being a poor decision without that necessarily implying that there was only one possible decision they could have made. Everything’s easier in retrospect, so we’ll all make mistakes (me more than most probably) so I was really just trying to distinguish between critiquing an individual’s decision and insisting that they decide to do be something specific.

  10. Joshua, we crossed. Bart New comes from a situation in which I was rather unpleasantly attacked by a moderator on another site. They later realised that they had rather misjudged what I was saying and apologised, but because it had started on Bart Verheggen’s site, thought that I was Bart and apologised, initially, to Bart.

  11. Victor,

    Whether a statement is balanced is always somewhat subjective. Thus if we call Pielke an advocate, we also have to call Stocker an advocate. Even is his statement is infinitely more balanced as Pielke’s. The ostriches clearly see the statement as unbalanced and as advocacy. They would have preferred that Stocker could had stated that there is no proof yet that tornadoes in Wyoming are becoming more common due to global warming.

    I guess this could be what Judith thinks Gavin is saying (and maybe he is actually saying this). Maybe we should simply accept that all public comments have some advocacy implications. Rather than trying to have some kind of well-defined specification as to what is advocacy and what isn’t, we’ll just have to use some amount of judgement as to the value of what people say. Personally, I would like to hear the views of more people so as to make a more informed judgement. Having said that, there’s always likely to then be the problem of extracting a signal from the noise.

  12. Victor Venema says:

    Okay, now it understand it better. I would think myself in the opposite direction. One can tell scientists (as a group) that they should do outreach and communicate the consequences of climate change to the public. I would be less willing to tell an individual colleague to do so. (Except for pointing out that it does communicate something.) It depends on your skills and priorities.

    (A few posts ago our civilised host was honoured to be mixed up with Bart Verheggen. Thus I thought that Bart New or Bart II would be a good name. Maybe it is time for a Tol like survey.)

  13. Victor Venema says:

    I guess also OPatrick seems to think that criticising scientists are a group is more appropriate as criticising them individually. I am thus not sure whether you really agree with him.

  14. Victor,
    I think there’s still a mis-understanding. I was referring to how we judge what they do, not what we encourage them to do as a group. For example, do we judge all scientists who choose not engage as advocating for the status quo or do we judge each scientist individually? Some may have a perfectly good reason for choosing not to engage. Others, maybe, we could criticise for not addressing their work being mis-represented.

  15. Victor, indeed you’ve caught me out not properly reading someone’s comment. I don’t quite agree with OPatrick’s first point. I can see the point and I would certainly quite like to see more scientists defending their work but I would be reluctant to criticise them as a group.

  16. OPatrick says:

    Now I’m confused about what I’m trying to say yet alone what anyone else is saying.

    I think I see an analogy here with extreme weather and climate change. Just as it is difficult, and probably inappropriate, to blame any single extreme weather event on climate change so it is inappropriate to criticise any single climate scientist for not speaking out more robustly on the issue of anthropogenic climate change. But it’s clear that climate change is altering the statistical liklihood of at least some forms of extreme weather and it’s also clear (to me, at least) that scientists as a group are not cummunicating robustly enough on this issue.

    There seems to be some semanitcs at play around terms like ‘criticism’ and ‘insisting’ – is everyone here perhaps in agreement about everything apart from the way that language is being used? I see quite a big step between criticising someone and insisting that they act in a certain way, but some comments seem to be suggesting there is a continuum between them.

  17. OPatrick,
    Yes, I think you’re right that there’s an element of semantics going on. I don’t think we can insist that scientists communicate more robustly, but we could encourage it. We could also, for example, criticise the Met Office for not standing up for themselves more often when they’re criticised in the media or by high profile bloggers (i.e., we could criticise some groups for what they collectively choose to do). So, yes, I suspect that there is quite a lot of agreement here, and the issue is more to do with the words used than with the intent.

    When I was thinking about criticising individuals, I was thinking more about criticising them for something specific, rather than something general. For example, if a scientist is interviewed for a newspaper article which then mis-represents their science, you’d hope that they would then challenge that. That’s more what I was thinking than some general criticism that Joe/Jane Bloggs didn’t spend enough time speaking robustly about AGW.

  18. OPatrick says:

    I don’t think we can insist that scientists communicate more robustly, but we could encourage it.

    But do you think we can criticise them for not communicating more robustly? Would you differentiate between ‘criticism’ and ‘insistance’? Perhaps criticism is not something that can be levelled in a non-specific way – it requires a particular target?

    The example of someone not correcting misrepresentation of their position in a newspaper article based on an interview they did seems clear cut (are there specific examples we could use to illustrate this? I seem to remember Judith Curry not correcting David Rose’s interpretation of her position, but maybe that example would be muddying the waters rather than clarifying anything). A harder question would be whether someone is at fault for not correcting a journalist’s interpretation of their work where that journalist has not talked to the scientist. By agreeing to an interview a scientist has already accepted a public role and needs then to take responsibility for how their views are being communicated, I think. The Met Office also clearly has a public role so surely have a responsibility to ensure their communication is effective. But if a scientist has done nothing to take on a public role can they be criticised for not engaging at all? I still think they can and I certainly think that the culture which implicitly supports their non-engagement should be criticised even if in an individual case there is good reason why they don’t engage.

  19. OPatrick,
    There are almost certainly many grey areas and deciding precisely what we should criticise and what not, is probably not possible. My personal view with respect to criticism is that those who will deserve it most are our policy makers. We now have 5 IPCC reviews that have made ever stronger statements about anthropogenic global warming and climate change. There are plenty of scientists that our policy makers could be talking to and getting advice from. Yet, we can still see the influence of think tanks and lobbyists who seem to promote science that isn’t consistent with the evidence. Although I would like to see scientists engaging more robustly, I think I’m going to find it hard to criticise them given what they’ve faced and given that, ultimately, it’s our policy makers who should be recognising that the best people to talk to about global warming and climate changes are the scientists themselves (and not just the select few that promote alternatives views).

  20. Victor Venema says:

    It is hard to determine where the disagreement lies and whether there is any. This would be a time where a social scientist would come in handy. :)

    Let’s take a concrete example. I sometimes point colleagues to their work being abused by WUWT.

    As far as I know, the never chose to engage. I can understand this, especially in countries where the freedom of science is not in the constitution and you have FOI harassment. I do think it is a pity that the culture is not such that people would engage in such a case. This does not have to be commenting at WUWT, that could also be a comment at a more neutral place.

    If such a colleague would write a comment, but would not correct the misinformation, but rather make a vague statement about some detail, then I do think that critique is warranted. You should expect a balanced statement from a scientist.

  21. OPatrick says:

    Anders, you talk of who desrves criticism – and I agree absolutely that the policy makers who’s cowardice in failing to act for short-term reasons deserve it most of all – but I wonder what you see the point of criticism being? Criticisms, and blame, only have any purpose if there is some hope of change from levelling them. Do you see no hope of improving public discourse by criticising scientistis for their lack of engagement? Or perhaps there is a risk of exacerbating the problems, as I imagine Tamsin Edwards would argue. Again perhaps there is a semanitc stumbling block here. You are happy to say we should encourage engagement from scientists, but can criticism not be part of that encouragement? I would see positive criticism as a mechanism of encouragement – a context-giving aimed at helping scientists to understand the implications of their choices. Criticism doesn’t have to be synonymous with blame.

  22. As a CCS researcher, I guess I sit on the side of the fence that Kevin Anderson inhabits. I do not need to say/communicate anything to fly my advocacy colours. At least, whether I communicate anything or not, I will be judged to be advocating for CCS. In this regard, saying nothing is still a de facto advocacy.

    Furthermore, as an “early careers researcher” (i.e. PhD student), it is drummed in to me that communication of my research is vital, for all sort of reasons that Judith Curry would probably find abhorrent, such as making engaging other scientists for future research opportunities. This, apparently, now requires a tight-rope walk between showing your passion for research (an advocacy in itself) and communicating the facts of said research.

    In all honesty, I don’t really care what Judith thinks. If I think something related to my research is important, I will say it, otherwise why bother researching it in the first place?

    [Mod : Kit, hope you don't mind, but I slightly modified the tone of one sentence]

  23. Victor Venema says:

    Why couldn’t a CCS researcher be “against” CCS? If it was already clear that this the best solution in any case, we wouldn’t need CCS research any more, wouldn’t we?

    Judith Curry would have no problem with advocacy in favour of CCS, she would not consider that advocacy.

    I fully agree that it makes no sense to research something and then to hide the results.

    I do would say, that it may be better, especially before tenure, to use a civilised scientific communication style, especially when referring to other people.

  24. Victor, I totally agree with you that a CCS researcher could be “against” CCS, but the fact that you are researching in this area already puts a political slant on what you are doing, I think. Why would you be researching CCS if you didn’t think that it could be required to mitigate our CO2 emissions? Particularly if you’re a conspiracy theorist/denier/sceptic who believes that contrarian views are not funded or represented by academia ;-)

    Regarding your last comment, I agree it is harsh language, and apologies to anyone who finds it offensive. I find Wotts’ attitude commendable, and I do my best to engage in a respectful way too. I don’t post often, but I doubt anyone would call me uncivilised. However, I believe your comment refers to my future job prospects, rather than any particular lack of respect. In this regard (career) I believe in being an open book. I keep a personal blog, without anonymity, which outlines in great detail my personal battles with illness. I have nothing to hide, and certainly would not want to hide anything (including my views on people who think we should do nothing about our CO2 emissions) from any potential future employers. You may think that naive, but that is my choice, and we’ll see how it pans out :-)

  25. Not my regular handle too much background says:

    Let me throw this perspective in over here as well as Real Climate since it’s not being discussed.

    Academic Scientists are not the only scientists in town. There are scientists who work for private industry, or for themselves. At the risk of offending delicate ears- presuming Tamsin or Professor Curry are listening in: If you work in industry you’re a whore. But you’re proactive whore. Advocacy is expected and demanded. We’re supposed to use the scientific method to generate results that support a profitable course of action, and in general we have to speak up about it.

    “We see a possibility that lead will be banned from gasoline- better invest in how to make unleaded gasoline perform well. (Funding). “Hey- this MTBE stuff looks pretty good and so does Mn(Cp)2. Hm… environmental consequences….need more funding to study that, don’t want to be caught with a liability issue 10 years down the road”. (More Funding)

    “You know, there are some promising lines of research showing up for reforming processes- catalyst and overall heat management- (more funding)

    Year later; looks like raising octane via better reforming technology is the least risky path and the new generation of reforming catalysts plus some better heat integration schemes brings the cost within reason.

    This is of course simplified and idealized (and not necessarily correct technically- it’s only a story for effect)….but it’s advocacy start to finish….and it’s still science, objective, quantitative science.

    And yet, being whores, we have to please the customer….and that means personal dilemmas can arise about suppression of evidence. People routinely compromise their personal ethics, go with the flow, don’t rock the boat because they want to keep their jobs. And that silence is also an ethical decision along the lines from Kevin Anderson. You don’t speak up, you still own it, and lord knows there’s enough legislation out there: I’ve had two friends go to jail for not speaking up about a customer imposed (yes that’s right customer imposed) restraint of trade/price/market fixing scheme. My life is just a wee bit different from yours…. but I and my colleagues are just as smart, frequently better funded and have more diverse responsibilities and exposures as part of our careers.

    While I have great respect for my colleagues who have academic careers, I have no particular awe of you, or thoughts about a road not taken. Just be aware that there are lots of other, very bright hard working scientists out there, frequently with evolved skills in presenting and advocating ambiguous situations to skeptical audiences. They aren’t going to keep quite. We aren’t keeping quiet.

    If academic scientists are silent drones, industrial scientists will fill the void with no compunction, and they are very skilled at getting listened to. You may not like Tillerson at Exxon’s position- I don’t- but as a petrochemical engineer who may have had research/development responsibilities as some part of his career (I suppose I could ask someone I know there- can’t tell from Wiki) he’s got no reservations about speaking up and doing so both as a scientist and a businessman. Silence leaves the floor to him.

    In the interest of full disclosure I’m a 37 year veteran of the petrochemical industry in a very broad sense: I have oil, tar oil sands, solar, wind, grid management, grid storage, power generation stains on my hands. I’ve gotten bloody well tired of no-account amateurs with no training in science and no work history and no scholarship disrespect the climate science community. The story and science behind our understanding of climate is a wonderful celebration worthy human achievement, The paid naysayers, the reactionaries and the folks at ATI with their Serenghetti games need to be confronted at every turn.

  26. OPatrick

    Do you see no hope of improving public discourse by criticising scientistis for their lack of engagement? Or perhaps there is a risk of exacerbating the problems, as I imagine Tamsin Edwards would argue.

    You’re right, I’m using criticise in the sense of blame. I don’t really see the point of this as once we’re at the stage of apportioning blame, there’s not much point in doing so. I don’t know what I think with regards to whether or not something positive could come from criticising (constructively) scientists for their lack of engagement. I do worry that some perceive it as an attempt to tell them how to behave, and that’s certainly not my place or intent. Having said that, there is a chance that some might see it as an encouragement to be more open knowing that some would support such engagement. If so, I would see that as a positive outcome.

  27. Not my regular handle,
    Thanks for the comment. It’s getting a little late here, so I shall have to read your comment more carefully in the morning, but you seem to be making some interesting points that I hadn’t given much thought to.

  28. dana1981 says:

    “…ensuring that everything you say is factually correct does not ensure that what you’ve said is a fair representation of the evidence available.”

    As Victor noted, that’s Pielke Jr.’s (the original “honest broker,” I believe) problem. Aside from the issue that not everything he says is factually correct (it mostly is), he doesn’t accurately represent the full body of evidence.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/dec/26/republicans-congress-climate-change-testimony-risk

    In fact he picks and chooses the bits that will put him in the middle, “honest broker” position between the contrarians and the mainstream climate scientists. To me, “honest broker” really refers to somebody who tries to take the ‘middle’ position between those two groups, because at least in the USA, people assume that the truth always lies in the middle of two extremes, and thus inhabiting the middle creates instant credibility. That’s why certain journalists love to quote Pielke – because it in turn makes them also seem like the credible middle ground ‘honest brokers’.

    The problem is that mainstream climate science isn’t the extreme – that’s inhabited by doomsayers. Besides which, sometimes one extreme or the other is actually the correct position.

    When I criticized Pielke for telling congressional Republicans what they wanted to hear, his self-defense was interesting. Basically he said that his positions on extreme weather give him an audience among Republicans, and that maybe they’ll then listen to his advocacy about climate solutions. I disagree of course. They use him to support their position (climate change is nothing to worry about) and ignore his arguments that don’t support their position, so in the end he’s just helping justify their do-nothing position.

    Regarding scientist advocacy, as long as they make it clear that they’re putting their ‘advocate hat’ on and not speaking as climate scientists, I have no problem with it. In fact I wish more climate scientists would do just that. There’s a major gap between what the scientific evidence suggests we should do in terms of mitigating climate risks and what we’re actually doing. I think the climate science community needs to do a better job making that clear.

  29. > [A]s long as they make it clear that they’re putting their ‘advocate hat’ on and not speaking as climate scientists, I have no problem with it. In fact I wish more climate scientists would do just that.

    Judy, Tamsin, Dana and Gavin may be in agreement:

    Now if there is one thing that Gavin, Tamsin and I all agree on, its scientists need to engage (at least those working on societally-relevant topics, such as climate change).

    http://judithcurry.com/2013/12/27/the-science-and-silence-conundrum/#comment-430050

    This agreement, of course, rests on the assumption that “to engage” implies some advocacy and perhaps also activism. I’m not sure Judy makes that implication. For now, the only confirmation I got was that to engage takes some listening.

    I’m not sure Judy ascribed this to Gavin, though. Some may even believe that she was suggesting that Gavin should listen more. Judy has yet to clarify her intention on that matter.

  30. Gavin readily provides evidence of what some may suspect:

  31. Rachel says:

    I think advocacy in science, particularly climate science, is desirable. The main argument against it, from what I understand, is that scientists who advocate are being biased and so as a result lose the trust of others. But why should advocacy imply bias? It’s possible to have reasons for doing things that are both objective and value-based. And objective reasons for doing or not doing something are determined by facts.

    On the question of silence, I agree on the most part with what Kevin Anderson says in that silence is perceived as advocacy for the status quo. I wouldn’t go so far as to say scientists must speak out though because I understand that some people find this hard to do. But I do think that if scientists have objective reasons for preferring certain policies over others then it would be good if they could make that clear.

  32. Louise says:

    I think that if scientists choose to run blogs that is an indication that they are willing to speak out and, in that case, choosing not to correct the anti-science comments made on their blogs can appear that their silence is supportive of those comments.

  33. Dana,
    I hadn’t quite interpreted the “honest broker” term as you have, but you may well be right. I agree, though, that aiming for the middle position doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re more credible than others.

    Louise,
    Yes, I don’t understand why one would run a blog in which you let people make anti-science, or scientifically incorrect, comments without stepping in to address/challenge these comments.

  34. FrankD says:

    The origin of the term “honest broker” stems from German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s self-defined role as “ehrlicher Makler” at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Ostensibly, he was trying to patch up relations between Russia (who had just won a war with Turkey that had given them great influence in the Balkans) and Austria-Hungary, who had missed that boat. In fact, Bismarck’s aim was to reverse Russia’s gains and increase Austrian influence, in which he succeeded, with Austria annexing Bosnia.

    In the end, it led to 25 years of friction with Russia and contributed directly to the outbreak of the First World War. The flashpoint for that war was the assassination of the Austrian heir while touring the capital of their newest province of Bosnia. Under the circumstances, that seems faintly ironic.

    But Honest broker? In a pig’s eye…Bismarck was pursuing German policy, whatever label he put on it for PR.

    cheers

    FrankD

  35. Joshua says:

    A broker – as in someone who is trying to broker an agreement between two sides – does not need to appear to be “in the middle,” but does need to be viewed as neutral. Establishing neutrality is quite different, actually, from trying to locate one’s self in the middle of a controversy.

    Judith aligns herself as an advocate in the climate wars. One cannot be a advocate for one side and still be considered neutral.

    Of the two, I’d say that Roger’s claim to be a broker has somewhat more credibility, but only in a relative sense; it seems that he, neither, is primarily interested in brokering an agreement but instead in advancing his own agenda even if it means alienating himself from some of the disputants and undermining any trust they might have in his neutrality.

  36. Some of you who know me will know that I work on the governance of nursing in the UK. In that role I am an advocate for nursing, but also for the patient, but also for the health of people in the UK, and also for the health of people everywhere. I am an advocate of decent funding, for universal healthcare and all related health matters. Being an advocate for your research or work only is a narrow viewpoint, all of us see the implications of what we do and advocate attention to the results of what we do in a wider context. I don’t condemn those who say do not act as advocates for tyne results of their research, whether I agree with it or not, but it does puzzle me. Surely if a person has the motivation to carry out a study, they have the motivation to see the results affect the body of knowledge or effect change? Otherwise, why bother?

  37. Gareth,

    Surely if a person has the motivation to carry out a study, they have the motivation to see the results affect the body of knowledge or effect change? Otherwise, why bother?

    I tend to agree. I would even go further, if we as a society as paying people to do this research, how is it money well spent if we then discourage them from speaking out if the research indicates that we might want to consider changing some of our behaviour so as to avoid problems in the future.

  38. Rachel says:

    There’s another article at Manchester Climate Monthly about this – http://manchesterclimatemonthly.net/2013/12/29/holding-out-for-a-hero-science-silence-climate-and-communication-manchester/ – in which I felt Marc Hudson makes a good point.

    Finally, my point is this; our scientists are an elite. With the great privilege of being able to think and explore and use up finite resources, comes – in my opinion – great responsibility. If they have important information about what is happening to the climate that has been pretty damn stable for 12,000 years, then they have a moral duty to speak out. If the waters are being systematically and skilfully muddied, they have a moral duty to speak out. The lack of training in this is not an excuse. The potential risks to their reputation and career progression is not an excuse. The fact that it will not make a blind bit of difference in the cosmic scheme of things is not an excuse. They are “experts.” If not them, who? If not now, when?

  39. Rachel, yes I’ve just left a comment there. Hopefully it will go better this time :-)

  40. Rachel says:

    Anders, I just read your comment. That you “feel” you don’t have any power does not mean that you don’t. Knowledge is power isn’t it? In the five bases of power this is known as expert power. If I use my earthquake example again – the geologist who knew a magnitude 9 earthquake would hit Japan soon back in 2005 – if he chose to remain silent but someone without expertise in geology, me for instance, did speak out then who is possibly going to take any notice? No-one would listen to me at all because I don’t know the subject well enough. The expert power the geologist has makes his voice much more compelling than mine could ever be. So it’s all very well to say we must leave it to the PR people or the good communicators but people take expert voices more seriously.

  41. Rachel says:

    Perhaps I should have put my comment at Manchester Monthly but I was a little put off by your experience and they don’t seem to be that interested in having a discussion in the comments there.

  42. Rachel,
    Indeed, and maybe I should have gone further with that comment. It was just my initial thought :-) I think I’m still puzzling over whether or not we should be making blanket judgements of scientists. So, my comment was meant to illustrate that I don’t feel as though I have any power and I imagine many climate scientists feel the same. Hence, judging them poorly for not doing something that they never felt was their role may be counter-productive. Joshua, I think, made a similar point above. So, if we want climate scientists to engage more (as I would) maybe we have to think in terms of encouraging them to do so (making them recognise that they do have knowledge and hence power – as you put it) rather than simply judging them poorly for not doing something we might think they should have done but that was not necessarily something that they felt comfortable doing. Again, just some thoughts, so there may be aspects that I still haven’t quite got clear in my own head :-)

  43. Rachel says:

    I agree that we shouldn’t be judging climate scientists poorly for doing whatever it is we think they’ve done poorly. But who is? Saying that scientists, university scientists in particular, have a responsibility to society is not judging them is it? Encouraging communication is hopefully what we’re doing.

  44. Rachel, yes, I’m still thinking in terms of what Kevin Anderson has said, rather than what others have said. Ideally we should be encouraging and supporting, not criticising unfairly.

  45. Rachel says:

    Speaking of my lack of expert power, I try to warn Aucklanders about the volcanic eruption in store for their future. The volcanologists say there is an 8% chance of the field erupting over any 80 year period. When I tell Aucklanders this they laugh at me :-( But an 8% chance over one’s lifetime is quite high I think.

  46. Finally, my point is this; our scientists are an elite. With the great privilege of being able to think and explore and use up finite resources, comes – in my opinion – great responsibility.

    Scientists are certainly privileged in that they have much time to think things through. But an elite? Maybe in the 19th century. The information may have power, but as soon as it is published in a scientific journal, anyone can harness that power.

    If they have important information about what is happening to the climate that has been pretty damn stable for 12,000 years, then they have a moral duty to speak out.

    Having time to think it not the same as having a broad knowledge. I do not know much about the climate in the last 12,000 years. I know a little, much too little, about the quality of temperature measurements and I know a little more about how to improve climate data to remove the influence of non-climatic effects.

    If I speak of other topics, it is not from my privileged job, but from reading the IPCC report and other reviews. (On those topics I have to trust that my colleagues did their work well. Experience tells me that while improvements are typically possible, it is normally possible to trust science.) Reading such reviews and explaining it to the public is something every somewhat intelligent person can do. They can do it just as well, content-wise, and in many cases will do so much better communication-wise.

    That is also one reason, I comment often on misinformation by WUWT and Co. It hardly needs any expertise to see that they are misleading the public. Otherwise, I could just speak with authority on the quality of climate data.

    The lack of training in this is not an excuse. The potential risks to their reputation and career progression is not an excuse.

    It is not just lack of training, but also lack of social and communicative skills for many that no amount of training could repair. :) The basic information is already reported and described in detail in scientific articles. It is not necessary that people lacking skill go to the public.

    Speaking of my lack of expert power, I try to warn Aucklanders about the volcanic eruption in store for their future. The volcanologists say there is an 8% chance of the field erupting over any 80 year period. When I tell Aucklanders this they laugh at me :-( But 8% over one’s lifetime is quite high I think.

    That number, 8%, is a matter of the experts. Convincing people that that is a lot, or not, is a matter of everyone.

    Someone once said that the dikes in the North of Germany are build to break “only” once per century. If that is true, they seem to be happy with that. In The Netherlands the norm is once every 100.000 years. Definitely sounds better to me. As a Dutch person I have a deep respect for the ocean.

  47. Now I also read the article at manchester climate monthly.

    Kevin Anderson: “That silence is an advocacy for the status quo.”

    The status quo from a scientific perspective is the IPCC report. If a scientist does not speak in public, but shares his knowledge via the scientific literature, he mainly signals that he agrees with the IPCC.

    The status quo with respect to policy may be less rosy, but that is not the speciality of climatologists. Here the people have to speak up and hold their politicians accountable.

    Marc Hudson: “I think a blanket judgement IS justified …”

    I guess, I’d better comment here before the next flame war. :)

    Marc Hudson: “And even if it didn’t, these are special circumstances (the civilisation/species is under a frog’s backside at the bottom of a coal mine, after all).”

    Let’s first make clear that it seems clear to me that solving the climate problem is much better as enduring the consequences. However, there are many more problems in this word that also need our attention, poverty, human rights violations, biodiversity loss, erosion, etc. Climate change is well known, that there is no action is not because climatologists are not the tele every day. If there is need for more advocacy from scientists it would be for these other topics, which are much less known. Solving the climate problem is something for everyone, especially politicians and activists.

    Silence in the History and Communication of Science Workshop: “Silence is not only oppressive but also generative, playing a key role in creative and intellectual processes.”

    It would be a good idea if the ostriches would stop shouting and trolling, but would go into themselves and think.

    Marc Hudson: “Activists, many of whom have either an arts degree or no higher education, often feel they lack the social standing or the knowledge to explain science.”

    Maybe Hudson speaks of himself. I have the feeling that environmental organisations, friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, ect, are typically very well informed. Maybe you should join them, if you did not already. The are not only knowledgeable about the basic science, but also about policy and communication. They are sometimes a little alarmist about the consequences, that is also their role, but the basic science is typically solid. Their alarmism is nothing compared to the alarmism of the ostriches about the collapse of society by the look of a windmill.

    Marc Hudson: “They are “experts.” If not them, who? If not now, when?”

    Scientists are experts on details. Everyone is expert on solving this problem, well except for the ostriches.

  48. It would still be nice if the culture would change and scientists would be more encouraged to speak in public. I think we could do 3 things to improve that.

    1. We could get the freedom of science into every constitution, like there is in Germany. That would make Freedom Of Information Action harassment of scientists much more difficult. The FOI laws were intended to be able to check that politicians and civil servants were executing the law in the right way, not for harassment of people without direct power. In Germany the scientists are explicitly exempt, not the university administrations.

    2. Scientists are nowadays forced to leave their communities and often change position. This is done by offering mainly short term research positions, by requiring that scientists worked abroad and by blocking people from becoming professor at the university they work at. By uprooting scientists, they likely feel less part of the community they life in and thus have less emotional drive to speak up against social problems. With modern means of communication, there is much less need for such forced relocations.

    3. More job security for scientists would also make it easier to speak up without (fear of) risking ones job. At the moment almost only professors enjoy the privilege of a permanent position. I personally expect that that fear is overestimated and that you should also see the advantages of increased visibility for finding a next job, otherwise I would not be blogging myself, but I think it does hold people back.

  49. dana1981 says:

    I agree that an honest broker is *supposed* to be someone who brokers an agreement by honestly using facts, or something along those lines. But I think those who call themselves ‘honest brokers’ are much more self-interested, and try to increase their credibility at the expense of the mainstream climate science community (trying to make them out as ‘alarmists’ in order to portray themselves as the honest moderates), and at the expense of actually solving the climate problem. Frankly I think they tend to be narcissists.

  50. Hi all.
    Rachel – I am sorry you don’t feel welcome/encouraged to comment at MCFly, but have nobody I can blame for that but myself!! Am generally interested in the topic we are on, but mostly MCFly is supposed to be about climate action (and inaction!) in Manchester. But when the post is as broad/philosophical as the one that went up today, would welcome others’ perspectives!

    Hi Victor,
    am speaking of/for myself re: activists, but also about other groups and individuals I’ve encountered in my too–many years of local activism (and briefly some national stuff). Greenpeace are very hierarchical and national/international (that’s a description, not a criticism!), and so not much involved in the local nitty-gritty awareness raising etc.
    Yes there are smart and well-informed people in various NGOs (but fewer because those NGOs are suffering funding crises), but they tend to do much more policy-advocacy than ‘general consciousness raising’. I’m glad you picked up on the activist thing generally though, because I do want to make the point that it is not JUST scientists who “have” to get their game faces on. They have status, sure, but they are busy, not trained (and, yes, some are untrainable!)

    Anyway, I am glad to “meet” you all and hope that the conversation continues, and is useful for us all.
    Best wishes

    Marc Hudson

  51. Marc, thanks for the comment. This is clearly quite a complex and, somewhat, controversial topic. I say “somewhat” because it appears that way, but still surprises me that it is. We should all really be free to say what we think, but should do so as honestly as we can (make clear when we’re talking as an expert, when we’re talking more broadly about the science but maybe outside our own expertise, and when we’re expressing a personal view). If you haven’t already seen it I would recommend watching Gavin Schmidt’s AGU lecture (my most recent post). I think what he say is interesting, but much just seems to be plain common sense.

  52. Rachel says:

    Reading such reviews and explaining it to the public is something every somewhat intelligent person can do. They can do it just as well, content-wise, and in many cases will do so much better communication-wise.

    Victor, I agree with what you say and thought you made some good points with your 3 points to encourage communication from scientists. The only thing I want to add is that it’s true that a non-scientist can read the science and understand what they read and communicate it effectively, but it doesn’t change the fact that they don’t have expert power. Sometimes people (public, policy-makers) want to hear from an expert. It doesn’t matter whether a non-expert says the same thing, the expert will often sound more compelling.

    As for the dykes, I think York needs some of those. The river floods all the time and it’s a problem that is only going to get worse.

  53. Rachel says:

    Marc,
    I have commented on your blog but my comment is still awaiting moderation.

  54. Victor Venema says:

    Yes, that is somehow true. In my circles I am a normal person, but people that do not know me seem to have a weird respect for scientists, about which I am a bit in denial. I would prefer they had respect for the arguments, which I in most cases just forward.

  55. Rachel says:

    I say lap it up, Victor, but don’t let it go to your head. :-)

  56. Victor Venema says:

    Marc Hudson, yes, Greenpeace is very top-down. That is also my reason not to join them. Their magazine is quite informative, however. And at least here in Germany they do have local groups, which also work on informing people, even if that is hardly necessary any more in Germany.

    Friends of the Earth and the Green party are typically more bottom up and have quite autonomous local groups. You could also try to build up a network of climate newsletter for all (university) towns. Then you could share articles of general interest and in that way also educate each other.

    You are right, that scientists could do more. That is a general problem in science, not just in climatology. Changing that culture will be a long term project.

  57. Victor Venema says:

    Rachel, don’t worry. I would be happy to be able to get out of the denial a little. As long as real people treat me normally, it will be hard. Pixels on a screen are not that convincing.

  58. andrew adams says:

    I’m a bit late coming to this discussion but here’s my contribution anyway.

    I do think it’s right and necessary that scientists do speak out when their work has implications for society at large, and try to assist public understanding of their work where it does have such implications. I don’t think that puts a particular obligation on every individual scientist though, there will always be some who are more willing than others to put themselves in the limelight and/or get involved in the wider political debate. I think it’s good that there are a wide range of voices heard – not all scientists are in exact agreement about the extent of the problem or about particular scientific details and it’s good for the public to hear differing perspectives, but even so it does demonstrate that there is broad agreement on the big picture. There is a reason why journalists looking for contrarian opinions usually end up going to the “usual suspects”, ie Spencer, Christie or Curry, or even resort to interviewing bloggers (no disrespect meant to bloggers in general).

    But as long as there are enough scientists willing to put their head above the parapet (and I think there are) I wouldn’t criticise those who choose not to and I certainly wouldn’t make any inference, either explicit or implicit, from their silence.

    I think arguments about communication have been done to death now but I will just make a couple of final points. These arguments are often framed around communication between scientists and “skeptics” and tend to focus on the behaviour of scientists. But communication is a two way process and effective communication with people who are determined to draw particular conclusions is pretty much impossible and probably not even worth trying. Anyone who wants to seriously address the lack of trust between scientists and skeptics but doesn’t take into account the skeptics’ responsibility for this is wasting their time.

    And of course there are various different audiences, not just skeptics, and they all have different attitudes and expectations. As, of course, will different individuals within each audience. So sweeping statements such as “scientists who act as advocates lose the public’s trust” are often pretty meaningless. I’ve certainly never seen any evidence to support this. I’m definitely pretty tired of seeing people lecturing scientists and claiming to speak for the public when they are only really speaking for themselves and their mates.

  59. Andrew,
    I think you make a number of good points. Your comment

    I think it’s good that there are a wide range of voices heard – not all scientists are in exact agreement about the extent of the problem or about particular scientific details and it’s good for the public to hear differing perspectives,

    reminded me that I was going to respond further to Not my regular handle’s earlier comment. If I understood what was being said there, it is that not all scientists are publicly funded/university researchers. Some are in the private sector and they will be expected to promote what would suit their employer’s business models. If we discourage university scientists from engaging in these discussions, then we risk (as may already have happened) a rather unbalanced situation where scientists associated with industry are free to express their views and to advocate, while those in the publicly funded sector are somewhat muzzled.

    So, as I think you’re saying, we should be encouraging as many views as we can so as – hopefully – to get a balanced perception of what the actual evidence is suggesting.

  60. Andrew writes –
    “And of course there are various different audiences, not just skeptics, and they all have different attitudes and expectations. As, of course, will different individuals within each audience. So sweeping statements such as “scientists who act as advocates lose the public’s trust” are often pretty meaningless. I’ve certainly never seen any evidence to support this.”

    Yes – spot on. And these audiences will also want, often, answers to questions about policy-making/adaptation etc that an individual scientist, chosen by the organisers of the event for their global knowledge, may be poorly placed to tackle. And the scientists are, understandably and in fact rightly, unwilling to venture so far outside their area of expertise. All the more reason for social movement organisations (NGOs, grassroots campaigns etc) not to expect Magical Hero Scientists to come and solve all the communication/social power problems. “We” (non-scientists) have to really really improve the way we do things, in my opinion.
    Marc Hudson
    PS Thanks Rachel, have approved the comment on the manchester climate monthly blog – in future your comments shouldn’t be stuck in moderation.

  61. andrew adams says:

    Anders,

    I’m not sure that scientists employed by industry are very prominent in the arguments around climate change (leaving aside the few remaining obvious shills who no-one takes seriously) – the names I can think of tend to be from academia or government agencies anyway. But even so, there is still a range of view points – for example I respect both James Hansen and Richard Betts but certainly wouldn’t expect them to say exactly the same things. And of course different individuals will have their own particular areas of expertise and interest. So yes, it’s good to hear from a range of different people.

  62. Andrew,
    Yes, you may be right. I’m not sure how much influence there is – if any – from scientists who are not at universities/research institutes. I was trying to paraphrase what I thought Not my regular handle had said. I agree, though, that there are people we can all respect who would likely say different things and being more aware of these different view would be good.

  63. andrew adams says:

    Marc,

    Yes, I think all of us who choose to take part in the public debate and recognise the need for action in general have a role to play. And of course a lot of the important arguments are not about the science itself but about how we deal with the implications and, as you say, scientists are not going to be specially equipped to handle these kinds of questions. So however much scientists can persuade people of the need to take AGW seriously as a potentially serious threat there is still a lot for others to do in terms of achieving meaningful political action.

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