STS vs Physics

There’s an interesting discussion taking place in the comments on a Making Science Public guest post – by Philip Moriarty – called Science is not what you want it to be. This issue seems to relate to the significance of societal influences on our scientific understanding. To be clear, we’re not talking here about how society influences what we might fund, what we find interesting, or whether or not some individuals – or groups – might be influenced by societal biases. The issue relates to whether or not societal biases influence the physical sciences at some fundamental level; the possibility that our understanding of science is, in some significant way, influenced politics or the society in which we live.

It seems that some Science and Technology Study (STS) researchers think that this is the case. Some physicists, however, seem to disagree. The argument that a physicist would make is that our scientific understanding is constrained by the evidence. It’s possible that if the evidence allows for more than one interpretation, that societal influences may affect the weight we give to the different possibilities, but they’re still constrained by the available evidence. Additionally, as the evidence mounts, those possibilities that are no longer consistent with the evidence will be rejected.

The problem that physicists – for example – have with the argument that societal influences impact our scientific understanding, is that the implications are potentially quite severe. If STS researchers are suggesting that societal biases influence our scientific understanding, then it appears that they’re suggesting that scientists are collectively ignoring evidence, or selecting not to run tests that might invalidate a preferred interpretation.

As I see it, that’s the crux of the problem. If STS researchers are simply suggesting that societal influences affect what research we might choose to do or might affect the behaviour of some scientists; I don’t think anyone would disagree. If STS researchers are – on the other hand – suggesting that these influences affect our scientific understanding at some fundamental level, then they’re implying that something is wrong with the physical sciences. Of course, if they have evidence to support that view, that would be fine and I would be interested to know what it is. However, if they don’t, then suggesting – without evidence – that a field that relies on evidence is fundamentally influenced by biases, would seem rather ironic.

There may, of course, be subtleties that I don’t understand and it’s quite possible that I’m misunderstanding what some people are suggesting. If so, feel free to point that out in the comments. I do think that the inter-play between the physical sciences and the social sciences is important and interesting, but – at the moment – it seems that there are some fundamental disagreement and that we’d benefit if these were either resolved or clarified.

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278 Responses to STS vs Physics

  1. suggesting – without evidence – that a field that relies on evidence is fundamentally influenced by biases, would seem rather ironic.

    Ironic. The understatement of the year.

    It would be like Anthony Watts criticizing climate science.

    Oh wait!

  2. Victor,

    It would be like Anthony Watts criticizing climate science.

    Do I detect a note of frustration ;-)

  3. Warren,
    I did read that. To be honest, I couldn’t even really follow the argument he was making, so can’t really say whether I agree or not. My suspicion is that we’re actually not even agreeing on what we’re really discussing.

  4. Warren,
    What’s your take of Tim Johnson’s post? As I read it he’s implying that the existence of uncertainty (error bars) implies societal biases. I would argue that that is what constrains our understanding. If we do have societal biases, they have to fit within the error bars, and that’s the point. In a sense, our knowledge improves if we can narrow the error bars, not because of anything really to do with direct societal influences.

  5. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    How do you account for the tendency towards confirmation bias, bias introduced by our pattern-finding nature, and the concept of “motivated reasoning”? While those influences don’t necessarily have a societal origin (i.e., I might have a confirmation bias from a purely individual desire to be “right”), I think that frequently they do. I’m not suggesting something as implausible as that the vast majority of experts only believe there is a risk from ACO2 because of a “social desirability” bias towards that belief – but I also don’t think that any science can be pure of any societal influence. And I agree with this:

    ==> “Additionally, as the evidence mounts, those possibilities that are no longer consistent with the evidence will be rejected. “

  6. Frustration? At least a realisation that science cannot solve that problem.

    The STS-vs-physics problem in a short practical question.

    VV: Formulated in a more practical way, Reiner Grundman do you expect that within our scope of application, the Martians would have different law of gravity (sorry) or Pythagoras’ theorem?

    Reiner Grundmann: “This question is not meaningful as the Martians are not defined. An empiricist would say the test of the pudding is …”

  7. Joshua,
    My point was that confirmation bias exists within individuals. That I don’t dispute. What I’m suggesting is that eventually the biases that an individual might have are superseded by the evidence that mounts in favour of one interpretation over the others.

    What I will say, though, is that I can see one could argue that there is a temporal issue. It’s possible that there will be era (some time period) where our understanding of some topic is influenced by societal biases. However, I would argue that this is still likely to be constrained by the evidence. It would simply be a period where the evidence allows for many interpretations. As evidence mounts, one would expect those views that are no longer consistent with the evidence to disappear. So, I would still argue that it’s the evidence that constrains our scientific understanding, even if there are biases as to which possible interpretation is preferred.

    Victor,
    I noticed that. I didn’t think Reiner’s response was particularly helpful.

  8. Ah well. It’s academic, but well worth the effort to digest fully.

    One of the good things about Phil and Reiner’s conversation is that it is covering a lot of difficult ground without becoming unproductively oppositional. That’s actually quite an achievement visiting the fundamentals being discussed. So while I know headlines are not meant to be particularly accurate, I would have to politely quibble with yours!

  9. Warren,
    If you’re implying that the “vs” implies conflict, that wasn’t the intent. If it came across that way, my apologies.

    I have read Tim Johnson’s post a little more and – as I see it – he’s simply confusing the existence of uncertainty with the existence of societal biases.

  10. johnrussell40 says:

    STS researchers arrive at the un-evidenced conclusion (that is, speculation) that scientists in other fields arrive at un-evidenced conclusions. A clear case of projection? I would suggest that conclusions which are arrived at without evidence are not really science.

  11. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    I agree with your 6:30 comment.

  12. Steve Bloom says:

    Joshua, Planck’s dictum explains rather a lot of this.

    jr40, with more of that thinking the whole field might cease to exist!

    “unproductively oppositional” Srsly, Warren? Paging Willard…

  13. guthrie says:

    This is a topic that I have been interested in for a while, but I think you haven’t phrased it right.
    “The problem that physicists – for example – have with the argument that societal influences impact our scientific understanding, is that the implications are potentially quite severe.”

    Rather the issue is that it makes a mockery of the whole attempt to do science at all.
    “If STS researchers are simply suggesting that societal influences affect what research we might choose to do or might affect the behaviour of some scientists; I don’t think anyone would disagree. If STS researchers are – on the other hand – suggesting that these influences affect our scientific understanding at some fundamental level, then they’re implying that something is wrong with the physical sciences.”

    The above however is pretty much what I was going to type before I stopped to read the full post. It is clear that social expectations affect what science gets done and how much of the results get reported, but it is also obvious that in the physical sciences, especially the last 100 to 200 years of them, the process of theory, experiment, change theory, change experiment and so on, works very well to weed out social biases.

    One extreme in recent years is the infamous Steve Fuller, who testified against evolution in court and seemed to believe that ‘alternative’ theories such as ID/ creationism just needed to be given time and resources to build up their capability to really stand as an alternative to evolutionary biology. He was and is totally wrong about that, but appeared to have such a view of science as is mentioned above.

  14. Guthrie,

    It is clear that social expectations affect what science gets done and how much of the results get reported, but it is also obvious that in the physical sciences, especially the last 100 to 200 years of them, the process of theory, experiment, change theory, change experiment and so on, works very well to weed out social biases.

    I agree and that would be the whole point of what is often referred to as the scientific method.

    I do wonder if part of the issue is that we haven’t properly defined what we’re discussing. It’s quite possible that STS researchers are saying things that I would agree with if I just understood what they were saying (I do, however, find little to disagree with in Brigitte Nerlich’s comment which seemed to be an attempt to explain things to us lowly physical scientists :-) ). On the other hand, maybe they’re actually suggesting a much more fundamental role for societal influences, in which case I would tend to disagree unless I could see some convincing evidence that it was the case.

  15. guthrie says:

    Hmm, interesting thread. I note this:
    “Reiner Grundmann May 26, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Philip

    are you are appealing to something beyond social interaction, which is ‘out there’? Of course we can come to the conclusion that something is true, or that we believe in it, or that someone has discovered it, or whatever formula you want to describe ‘it’. But would you deny that it is a social process which has led to a state of knowledge about the world that we have today? That this knowledge was different in the past, and that it will be different in the future?”

    To me this indicates that Grundmann simply has no idea of the depth and reality of modern science, how it is interconnected (We aren’t going to change the formulas for gravity and results from it all anytime soon; we know from cosmology that these break down at extremes e.g. in black holes) and how we are in fact building up a body of ineradicable fact. CO2 won’t stop being a greenhouse gas on earth, for instance.
    Moriarty’s reply is very good.

  16. guthrie says:

    I was under the impression that Science 1, being defined as a process by which humans discover/ create natural laws and understanding of how the world works, is not as well defined by philosophers as it could be. It certainly wasn’t 30 or 40 years ago, hence all the needless brouhaha about Kuhn.
    Science 2, being the body of knowledge created from Science 1, is of course in flux because oddly enough studies on part of reality don’t always reflect the whole of reality, see human physical responses to medicines for instance. Thus a drug trial, carried out according to Science 1, ends up giving results which are injected into Science 2, but later on are found, like Newtonian gravity, to be only part of the story, usually by people using Science 1 in a better, larger way. Or by tragic occurences, e.g. thalidomide.

    So the science study folks see lots of things happening in Science 2 and assume that Science 1 is either wrong or not right or severely limited or just doesn’t exist, and spend all their time writing about how ‘Science’ is a product of society and its mores, rather than spending more time reading about the philosophy of science and how scientists actually work.

    (Using numbers to identify different meanings of words, can anyone guess where it comes from?)

  17. > without becoming unproductively oppositional.

    Then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the conversation between Andy and Richard in this comment thread at Andy’s:

    http://andrewgelman.com/2014/05/27/whole-fleet-gremlins-looking-carefully-richard-tols-twice-corrected-paper-economic-effects-climate-change/

    If you have some concerns about how the conversation turns out to be unproductively oppositional and constructive suggestions about how to harmonize this unproductive opposition, that would be nice.

    Thank you for your concerns.

  18. I must admit that it is hard for me not be become “unproductively oppositional” in this discussion.

    Furthermore, that I have not got a clue why there is a disagreement and which question(s) could resolve it. Somehow this statement by Tim Johnson sounds central to me:

    A fact with error bars on it, mmmm. Not convincing.

    Something without errors bars on it is religion, not science. Do people think that error bars makes something a social construct? To me it makes something science.

  19. Victor,
    Yes, I hadn’t realised that some people assume that when a scientist says “fact” that they meant accurate to an infinite number of decimal places, rather than “measured sufficiently accurately that I’m not going to bother telling you the uncertainty interval”.

  20. OK. I’ve skimmed Johnson’s editorial.

    My most constructive comment would be that one does not simply argues from Poincaré’s (note the “é”, sounds like “ay”) conventionalism against realism:

    Conventionalism about some phenomenon is the doctrine that, perhaps despite appearances to the contrary, the phenomenon arises from or is determined by convention. Conventionalism surfaces in virtually every area of philosophy, with respect to such topics as property (Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature), justice (Hume’s Treatise again), morality (Gilbert Harman (1996), Graham Oddie (1999), Bruno Verbeek (2008)), geometry (Henri Poincaré (1902), Hans Reichenbach (1922), Adolf Grünbaum (1962)), Lawrence Sklar (1977)), pictorial representation (Nelson Goodman (1976)), personal identity (Derek Parfit (1984)), ontology (Rudolf Carnap (1937), Nelson Goodman (1978), Hilary Putnam (1987)), arithmetic and mathematical analysis (Rudolf Carnap (1937)), necessity (A. J. Ayer (1936), Alan Sidelle (1989)), and almost any other topic one can imagine. Conventionalism arises in so many different forms that one can say little of substance about it as a general matter. However, a distinctive thesis shared by most conventionalist theories is that there exist alternative conventions that are in some sense equally good.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/convention/

    While I understand why STS scholars might appeal to conventionalism (the usual alternative, constructionism, may get unproductively confrontational), it may also beg the question, since for a conventionalist, there simply ain’t no facts of the matter.

    Also note that conventionalism is seldom entertained as a general epistemology. Most of the times, it comes with some kind of realism regarding some basic ontological questions. Even my avatar, who has had his conventionalist streak when he was young and restless, had to settle that it would be tough to uphold bivalence otherwise.

    While the grass is always greener on the other side, that there is an even or odd number of grass leaves in my lawn is not simply a matter of convention.

  21. Reading the guest post of Philip Moriarty and Sheila Jasanoff’s comments to OMB Proposed Bulletin I don’t understand the discussion of this thread.

    Sheila Jasanoff is discussing the of quality assurance needed when scientific knowledge is used for regulatory and related purposes (I don’t like the concept of Regulatory Science as a name for such activities). She’s totally right in concluding that peer review as applied in typical contexts of science is not an appropriate method for such QA.

    What Moriarty wrote appeared to me rather superficial and of little interest.

    As I cannot see much connection between what I read and what’s discussed in this thread, perhaps someone can tell, what’s the material you are basing your discussion on.

  22. Clive Best says:

    If STS researchers are – on the other hand – suggesting that these influences affect our scientific understanding at some fundamental level, then they’re implying that something is wrong with the physical sciences.

    High energy physicists have spent decades studying deeper explanations to the standard model of particle physics like technicolor, supersymmetry and string theory. Without experimental confirmation all are eventually discarded. So there is nothing inherently wrong with physical science.

    The problem is really with climate science. Climate Science through the IPCC claimed the nobel prize before fully convincing evidence really justified it. Politics got ahead of the science in this case caught up in a bandwagon of alarm. Now we all have to pray that the future plays out as predicted. There is zero hope of any cuts in CO2 emissions for the next 30 years so only time will decide.

  23. guthrie says:

    Pekka – perhaps the question, “what level of quality control is required when science is used for regulatory and policy purposes” is meaningless when discussing Science 1, and kicks in with Science 2, but then requires a great deal more discussion as to what, why, when and who.
    In fact Moriarty specifically disclaims discussion of such an issue.
    Jasanoff might be correct, but that isn’t the same as the topic of this thread in itself, so perhaps a new one is required.

  24. My problem is that I couldn’t connect the discussion of this thread to anything specific, while the questions of science 1 and science 2 seem to have little basis.

    Judith Curry had many posts on post-normal science vs. normal science. That’s essentially science 2 and science 1. She seemed to like the ideas presented by people who coined that concept. Most skeptics didn’t like that at all. In that she was clearly on the other side than most skeptics both on her site and on WUWT.

  25. Steve Bloom says:

    Yeah, I’ve always suspected she had a sordid past. :)

    Victor, Johnson actually did a bait-and-switch there, E=MC^2 and measurement of gravitational acceleration at a particular point not being the same sort of thing. I wonder if he even knows that the latter varies (measurably) from place to place.

    Also, he seems to have entirely missed Poincare’s point, which upon reading the whole passage is just that science requires both theory and experiment.

    That sort of faux-cleverness irritates the hell out of me.

  26. Steve Bloom says:

    Pekka, the “post-normal science” concept is just more of that faux-cleverness. Don’t get me going.

  27. Coming to climate science. The basic science is clearly science 1, but what’s the nature of an assessment of that science as presented by IPCC? That might be science 2 – or is it?

  28. The issues are real.

    – Answers are wanted, whether science is ready to give clear answers.
    – Some way is needed to select one, when different scientists give different answers.
    – ..

    It’s like a friend of mine told after moving from university to work at a big industrial company. In the company the best available answer was required at a given time – like tomorrow. That was new for a university scientist.

  29. Steve Bloom says:

    Pekka, part of my concern is that any science that has ever had social/political/economic significance has invoked opportunities for that conundrum, meaning the term “post-normal” was a silly marketing exercise. My initial tendency is to not trust the instincts of people who originate or promote such exercises.

    Put another way, it’s not “post-normal science,” it’s “normal politics.” IMO awareness of it is of use to scientists only insofar as they should be aware that politicians are capable of ignoring, distorting, fabricating or being selective about scientific advice.

  30. Pekka,

    What Moriarty wrote appeared to me rather superficial and of little interest.

    As I cannot see much connection between what I read and what’s discussed in this thread, perhaps someone can tell, what’s the material you are basing your discussion on.

    I thought what Moriarty wrote was quite good, but we can agree to disagree. The connection is mainly to the comments on his post. It’s quite possible that I’ve simply misunderstood what’s been said. However, noone’s really bothered to point that out if that is the case.

    Clive,

    The problem is really with climate science. Climate Science through the IPCC claimed the nobel prize before fully convincing evidence really justified it. Politics got ahead of the science in this case caught up in a bandwagon of alarm. Now we all have to pray that the future plays out as predicted. There is zero hope of any cuts in CO2 emissions for the next 30 years so only time will decide.

    Firstly, I think you’ve conflated science and policy. As far as the science is concerned, where is the evidence for that there is a problem with climate science? To a certain extent, it was this type of attitude that motivated this post. There seem to be some who think that there is indeed a fundamental problem with climate science. There may well be things that have happened to erode public trust. There may well be people who’s behaviour hasn’t been as professional as it should have been. None of that, in my opinion, indicates a fundamental problem with climate science.

  31. Joshua says:

    Clive –

    ==> “The problem is really with climate science.

    Seems to me that there should be a rather high bar of evidence to distinguish one branch of science from all other branches of science. How do I know that “the problem,” if it exists as a feature that really does distinguish climate science from all others, isn’t with societal reaction to climate science as opposed to climate science in and of itself?

    ==> “Climate Science through the IPCC claimed the nobel prize before fully convincing evidence really justified it.

    I’m not sure of the antecedent for “it.” Justifies the Nobel, or justifies the science?

    What are your criteria for evaluating what is or isn’t justification for rewarding a prize for risk analysis? You don’t have to like specific policy outcomes or even recommendations to appreciate being informed of potential risk.

    ==> “Politics got ahead of the science in this case caught up in a bandwagon of alarm”

    What are your criteria for evaluating what is or isn’t justification for alarm? Seems like those criteria must be inherently subjective in risk analysis, particularly in the face of uncertainty.

    Can you make your argument in a less subjective manner? I think I might disagree, from amy own subjective perspective. How do I check my opinions against yours?

    ==> “There is zero hope of any cuts in CO2 emissions for the next 30 years so only time will decide.”

    How is that relevant to the discussion about social influence on scientific processes, outcomes, and understanding?

  32. entropicman says:

    Consider Lysenko. He championed a Lamarckian approach to plant breeding which resonated with the political thinking of his soviet masters. When applied to agricultural policy this pseudoscience proved disastrous.

    Even societally influenced science must stand or fall when it encounters the real world.

  33. My problem with Moriarty is that I have seen similar issues discussed so many times, an d often in much more depth.

  34. Pekka,
    Quite possibly, but I don’t have an issue with someone writing something that doesn’t try to be too deep. Also, whether it’s deep or not doesn’t change whether or not the point being made is valid. I’m also rather with Steve Bloom, in that some of what seems to be going on appears to be faux-cleverness. It’s quite possible that I just don’t really understand what some are suggesting. If so, it would be nice if someone could explain it in words that I might actually understand. Are there people who actually believe that the physical sciences is influenced at some fundamental level by societal biases? If so, why and what evidence is there for such a situation.

  35. Steve,
    Saying that it’s normal politics is a partial answer. The OMB bulletin had the purpose of improving that process, but the proposal was clearly based on misunderstanding peer review and the scientific process.

    I agree that giving science based advice to government is nothing new (I have done that many times). How much philosophers or political scientists can improve that activity is perhaps questionable, but in some cases they might contribute positively.

  36. If people would only claim that climate science was partially subjective, it would be hard to argue against that. What I find surprising and hard to understand is that some people seem to argue that even basic physics is just a social construct.

    Climate science is more difficult than physics, it is to a large part an observational science, rather than experimental. Even if some experiments are possible with parts of the climate system. The climate system is, furthermore, a complex system (has a huge number of degrees of freedom, many variables), whereas basic physics is about simple systems, in the sense of dealing with just a few variables at the time. Climate is also complex in the sense of complicated, it contains many difference compartments (atmosphere, oceans, ice, vegetation) each with its own typical time scales and nonlinear interactions.

    Fortunately, in case of AGW the basic equations are mainly physics, radiative transfer and the relationship between humidity and temperature. Had we, for example, had climate change due to changes in the vegetation or aerosols (small particles), it would have been very hard to make predictions with much confidence.

    I herewith prematurely claim the Nobel price for 2014! Any one is fine. Is it just me, or isn’t the Nobel price normally awarded? Is the secret world government, with mainly climatologists in its cabinet, able to pressure the Nobel committee, lock its members up in a jail in The Hague if they do no comply?

    What is it about the IPCC that makes people so allergic to it. I find it quite practical that scientists write review papers or in this case books. The IPCC reports make spin more difficult. Whether it is the stupid claims about there not being any consensus or more detailed scientific understanding. I also do not see the part about forced consensus. If there is no consensus in the scientific literature the reports describe the range of findings and try to explain why the understanding is not complete yet.

  37. ATTP,
    There are political issues also in the presentation of physical science. The actual science is in most cases non-political, but not always. People outside of the science do in most cases not see the science itself, but how it’s presented for an external purpose, and that’s often political.

  38. AnOilMan says:

    Anders, I read Tim Johnson’s article, and it seems confusing to me. I consider the hard sciences like math, physics, chemistry, and biology to be pretty cut and dried. Facts are facts.

    Other ‘softer’ sciences like finances, social studies, and computer science (comp sci is a litany of solutions to self inflicted problems, pick one) are all biased and value driven. I guess I’m terribly confused by anyone who clings to the belief that finance really is a science. I can’t understand how it comes into the discussion. This is not to demean the work the softer sciences do, since someone has to find solutions within our society’s relative framework of biases.

    [Regarding the global economic melt down, Canada's Finance Minister (Paul Martin) locked Canadian banks out of the mess after he watched multiple Asian banking melt downs. For ideological reasons, Canada's current Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened up our banks to harm for about 1 year before the melt down.]

    I would like to point out that, there are most certainly biases as we learn and discover things. Few people really appreciate the hard work and toil as we try to discern reality from the data we have at hand. This is why I believe Cook’s 97% consensus paper is incredibly valuable.

    Willard: I prefer Snow’s other sister… Off White. She’s more fun at parties.

  39. Rachel M says:

    and computer science (comp sci is a litany of solutions to self inflicted problems, pick one)

    WHAAT! Are you serious? I’ve always thought of computer science as a branch of mathematics.

    But I agree with what you say about finance. I’d never call that science.

  40. AnOilMan says:

    Rachel… I think many of the softer sciences have some absolute facts in them, but they aren’t driven by them. But yeah, that’s what I think.

  41. Rachel M says:

    OilMan,

    But computer science? You can’t group it with finance and social studies. It’s a physical science and usually falls under the umbrella of physical sciences at University. Finance, in my experience, usually lies under commerce.

  42. Windchaser says:

    I think Computer Science would be better renamed as “algorithmic engineering”. It’s not really a science.

  43. Eli Rabett says:

    Some say that people are tool using animals, Eli says that tools shape our understanding.

    Oh yeah, snow is not which in the IR.

  44. Marco says:

    Any thread that includes comments from Reiner Grundmann makes me oppositional, so I’ll refrain from comments, even though I have plenty to say.

  45. Brigitte says:

    In defence of Phil, I should point out that he wrote his comments quickly while doing loads of marking. These are comments, not philosophical treatises and they should be read as such. His argument was that regulatory science should not be confused with science and by implication that the inherently political nature of regulatory science should not be projected onto science (I think). I am not a specialist in the study of regulatory science (and neither is Phil) and I don’t know whether it is a ‘science’ (1 or 2 or anything in between) …., so I’ll leave a space here for STS people who have studied this topic (and have read and understood Jasanoff) to comment. This wiki article is actually quite interesting in this respect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_science.

  46. Brigitte,
    Thanks, I thought Phil’s post was good, as were his comments. I thought your most recent comment on the MSP post was also very good (as Phil said, not naive at all :-) ). It still seems though that either there is still confusion about what we’re discussing (i.e., that there is a confusion between regulatory science and science), or people are actually arguing that the physical sciences is at some very fundamentally still a social construct. I still haven’t quite worked out which it is and it would certainly be nice to have it clarified.

  47. izen says:

    There is a strand in social science that regards Lysenkoism as the paradigm of how science is conducted. That all science is like Lysenkoism, we just don’t have the insight to see this. The Beck et al {including Mike Hulme} quoted as a basis for a post and Climate Etc by JC is a soft example of this.

    The ironic thing about this approach is that while most who have studied a scientific subject can see this is nonsense, it IS an applicable analysis to one branch of science, the sociological strand that presents this analysis.
    Motes and beams…..

  48. izen,
    On another MSP thread, Athene Donald – in a comment – used Lysenkoism as an example of the opposite of what you describe others doing (which I have indeed seen). Athene was arguing – quite rightly in my view – that Lysenko is an example of a situation where eventually the evidence overcomes the biases. It is somewhat ironic that people can use the same example as an illustration of two completely opposite views – seems quite appropriate for the climate debate though.

  49. The more I read from the comment thread of Moriarty’s post the more I wonder, how badly people can talk past each other. In that I blame mainly the physicists, many of them seem to be totally unable to understand what the other side is saying. They repeat strawman attacks based only on misunderstanding.

    As far as I can see, no-one taking part in this discussion is claiming that well-established results of physical sciences are influenced by social influences or anything at that level. Thinking that they do is simply being unable, what they are talking about. (There are also relativists, who extend their ideas fully to physical sciences, but those are really exceptions.)

    Philosophers of science and social scientists studying, how science is done are interested in the process. They are right that social factors influence that. Social factors influences, how papers are written, and how the scientific process works on detailed level, but it’s not claimed that any of the fundamental results would be affected by that.

    When the details of the scientific process are affected, it’s also obvious that the most recent, still unconfirmed, results are affected. The way the results are presented is probably affected more than the actual content, but as long as the influence of one or relatively few individual has a sizable role, the social effects are significant also on the content.

    Climate science has a social structure that differs from all other sciences. There’s nothing exactly like IPCC in any other field. IPCC itself and its position in the field of climate science is significantly different from the scientific bodies and international organizations that operate in other fields of science. It’s natural, and appropriate, that social scientists are studying the operation of this new model of doing science and using its results as support for decision-making.

  50. Pekka,

    In that I blame mainly the physicists, many of them seem to be totally unable to understand what the other side is saying.

    The problem I have with this framing is that the physicists – in my (maybe biased) view – are saying things that are fairly basic and yet others are disagreeing without explaining, clearly, why they disagree or providing any evidence. Just because physicists can’t understand what others are saying doesn’t immediately lay the blame at their feet.

    Climate science has a social structure that differs from all other sciences. There’s nothing exactly like IPCC in any other field. IPCC itself and its position in the field of climate science is significantly different from the scientific bodies and international organizations that operate in other fields of science. It’s natural, and appropriate, that social scientists are studying the operation of this new model of doing science and using its results as support for decision-making.

    But this is the fundamental point. I agree with this, but fail to see why this implies anything about the fundamentals of climate science. Also, are STS researchers studying the interface between science and policy, or studying the fundamentals of the science. If the former, then I can see that biases may well exists in how the scientific evidence is presented or how the evidence is interpreted. If the latter, then I don’t see how what you’ve said clarifies anything at all. That’s the issue I’m trying to understand.

    In a sense, that’s the whole point of my post. What precisely are STS researchers trying to understand and what role are they claiming societal influences are playing? I don’t see how this would be that hard to explain to a bunch of physicists. We may not be that adept at the social sciences, but we’re not that stupid.

  51. ATTP,

    You must know that I’m a physicist as well. I’m sure I understand physics and physicists. In a way that makes me more confident on what I write above.

    The social processes have almost no influence on the fundamentals of atmospheric or Earth system science. They do, however, very much influence on, how the discussion on climate science proceeds. They affect the actual IPCC reports, they affect, how climate scientists come to public – and how they are attacked by the skeptics. I must say that they seem to have affected in an unfortunate way, how many scientific papers are written to include text that they would not include in a politically neutral science. The social pressures and other social influences are real and they are visible everywhere related to today’s climate science.

  52. Pekka,

    The social processes have almost no influence on the fundamentals of atmospheric or Earth system science. They do, however, very much influence on, how the discussion on climate science proceeds.

    Absolutely, and I agree. My issue, though, is that is not what seems to be being suggested by some. They appear to be suggesting that social constructs are influencing the fundamentals of atmospheric or Earth sciences. As I’ve said, though, maybe I misunderstand what they’re saying and all that they’re suggesting is what you’ve suggested above. I’m not convinced – though – that this is the case.

  53. ATTP,

    Who is suggesting that social constructs influence the fundamentals?

    There are certainly some, but then there are some who suggest any stupidity. Can you point to a specific example of such suggestion. I didn’t notice any worth noticing or arguing about.

  54. This old article by Steve Fuller on the then raging science wars might help – or not… It’s long though, but it has a table that summarises mutual misconceptions

    http://sciencewars.tripod.com/ullica1.html

    This paragraph made me think that we really might be going round in circles (1994-2014): “The Durham conference on “Science’s Social Standing” took place on 2-4 December 1994, advertised as the first encounter between scientists and STSers with the explicit purpose of coming to terms with each other. Not surprisingly, the first day resembled the first moments of family therapy: pent-up frustrations giving way to periodic outbursts. However, a convivial dinner that night markedly improved the discourse situation the following day.”

  55. Pekka,
    For example, this comment and this response to a comment from Victor, by Reiner Grundmann, seem to be heading in that direction. I guess I’m failing to see why people are disagreeing with what Philip Moriarity is saying if they aren’t suggesting that social constructs influence the fundamentals.

    Maybe people aren’t suggesting that but, if so, that should be a straightforward issue to resolve. Is it possible that you just can’t believe that anyone could say anything quite that stupid and hence are failing to notice it when they do?

    Brigitte,
    Thanks. I noticed Philip Moriarity mentioned something about the 1990s, but didn’t know the context. It seems that the issue may yet to be fully resolved.

  56. izen says:

    I would dispute that Lysenkoism was abandoned purely because it was an ineffective or wrong, science. It was adopted for reasons of political expediency and the minor gains from epigenthic effects were sufficient to keep it in play until political expediency allowed it to be abandoned. The scientific accuracy {or otherwise} was a f actor in this but not the primary factor.

    I would also dispute that the IPCC is unique in the field of sciences. I am always amused by those that see great conspiracies and corruption in the lack of transparency in climate research. Complaints of missing data and methods look ridiculous when compared to medical research for instance. There there is a systemic bias towards drug treatments of chronic conditions because that is the most profitable business model. Data and methods are often secret on the basis of commercial confidentiality and there is a major problem with research not published if it shows negative results as is clear from the PDF of the published results. Only the top half of a Gaussian distribution tends to be shown.

    All this along with the clear social and political impact of medical developments has resulted in attempts to set up bodies that can examine the whole body of research and independently asses the strength of the work. This meta-analysis is very like the model of the IPCC, an attempt to form a neutral assessment of the published literature.
    It still suffers from the problem that is analysing an incomplete body of research given the missing data, and it does nothing to change the systemic biases. The Cochrane institute is the best known in the medical field, but other attempts in specific fields have also been made.

    Those that complain that climate science lacks transparency and is biased should look at medicine where the problem is MUCH worse.

  57. ATTP,

    I don’t agree at all. Neither of those comments implies anything like that. To me that’s just an example of, how a physicist, you in this case, does not understand, what the other side is talking about.

  58. Brigitte,
    I’ve obviously only had a chance to skim the article. Seems very interesting. One comment I will make is that there appears to be a great deal of history that is relevant and that influences the debate (for example, I can now see why Victor’s gravity analogy on MSP caused problems). But it’s also history that isn’t immediately obvious to someone like myself. As a physical scientist, I find that an odd concept. I don’t think I can think of an example of something in my field that people would avoid using because of some historical issue. Something that could be said at a meeting that might trigger a disagreement because of something that happened 10 years ago. For example, I don’t really need to know how knowledge evolved in the physical sciences in order to discuss a topic. What I need to know is the current state of knowledge and the best evidence that’s available today. Of course, I’m not suggesting that understanding the past literature isn’t important, nor that the history of how scientific knowledge evolves isn’t interesting. I’m just suggesting that the path we take to develop knowledge isn’t that important to a physical scientist. If something turns out to be wrong, it gets rejected. If something stands the test of time and is verified/confirmed in numerous studies, it gets accepted. Of course, it’s important to understand the strength of the evidence, so knowledge of the literature is important. Superficially (and again, I may well be missing many subtleties here) it just seems that these are differences between the social and physical sciences that maybe isn’t necessarily appreciated.

  59. Pekka,

    I don’t agree at all. Neither of those comments implies anything like that. To me that’s just an example of, how a physicist, you in this case, does not understand, what the other side is talking about.

    Then why is there a disagreement? Also why is Reiner’s response to Victor a reasonable response? Victor was simply trying to point out that the laws of physics would be the same on Mars as on Earth. Reiner’s response seems to suggest that he disagrees with that possibility. Also, why are people disagreeing? How you’ve described it and how Brigitte has described it seems perfectly reasonable to me. It’s not that difficult.

    To me that’s just an example of, how a physicist, you in this case, does not understand, what the other side is talking about.

    That’s entirely possible, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that the fault is mine. I’m trying to understand the subtleties here and – as it stands – am still not convinced that that your judgement of the situation is a fair one.

  60. Izen

    You may refer to my statement of uniqueness of IPCC. I do agree that there are various bodies in many fields and that climate science is not the only one where various issues arise. What I wrote is that IPCC is different, and it is in many ways. It’s links to climate science are also different from the links that are present in other fields.

    There are assessments in other fields as well, but there are important differences in the organizational structure and in the processes.

  61. My judgement as a physicist who has read also texts by social scientists is that in this particular case the fault is mainly on the side of the physicists. What the social scientists write is perfectly clear and reasonable when read with an open mind, while the attacks of physicists appear misplaced.

  62. Pekka,
    Fair enough. I’m not sure why you’ve characterised what the physicists have said as “attacks”, but I guess Warren implied the same, so maybe there is a perception of that.

    What I will say is that I don’t think I’ve resolved any of the issues I have with this topic other than discovering that maybe it’s all the fault of the physicists who just don’t understand what’s being said (as I think I acknowledged as possible in the post). So, I guess I just have to conclude that it’s my fault that I don’t understand :-)

  63. More generally the role of fundamentals is not a subject of real and relevant dispute. There are skeptics who are skeptic also on fundamentals, and there are politicians who may argue along those lines, but none of those skeptics or those politicians is really influenced by any scientific dispute. They have formed their opinions on a different basis and getting them convinced that they err on fundamentals would not change anything.

    All relevant science related disputes occur at a level where fundamentals are accepted by all participants. That’s also the level, where some social scientists start to exaggerate the significance of their arguments. To argue with them you must first understand, what they are talking about.

  64. JasonB says:

    I think Computer Science would be better renamed as “algorithmic engineering”. It’s not really a science.

    I think Computer Science is a really broad field that is akin to mathematics at one extreme and engineering at the other, and, as such, any not really amenable to trivial classifications and gross generalisations.

    Even at the engineering end of the spectrum (i.e. programming) it’s not really engineering — it’s more of a craft than a profession.

  65. Joshua says:

    Pekka –

    You say: “Climate science has a social structure that differs from all other sciences. There’s nothing exactly like IPCC in any other field. IPCC itself and its position in the field of climate science is significantly different from the scientific bodies and international organizations that operate in other fields of science.”

    Above I asked Clive to clarify the evidence he uses to distinguish climate science from all other sciences. He hasn’t responded, but you have offered some evidence.

    But I question whether what you have described (the IPCC) is a social structure of climate science, or a (unique) social structure of the context in which climate science is received.

    I’ll go on – in case the answer is the latter of the two possibilities.

    Science is always received in a social structure of one sort or another. The question then becomes, for me at least, whether there is something unique in the process by which the social structure of the context for climate science influences the science itself. In order for me to accept Clive’s description of cause-and-effect, I would need to know more than just that there is an association between a science and a social context. And further, I would need to know more than just an association between a science and a unique social context (which would be correlation but not an explanation of causation).

    I look at the interchange you just had with Andy Lacis at Judy’s and the assorted responses from others interjected into that exchange. In particular, I look at kim’s comment. Perhaps that is also a unique feature of the context of climate science. In what other science is there such a constant process of interjection of politics between a technical discussion related to the science, among scientists?

    And perhaps that unique feature does influence the work of a scientists like Andy – where there’s a never-ending interjection of pure politics into the scientific process. Your scientific discussion with Andy takes place at a different level than kim’s interjection, but It is a little hard to imagine that such a context, of constant interaction between the science and political/social context and reactions, would not have some influence on Andy’s scientific process. But as much as that might seem to be common sense, I wish that instead of making assumptions based on common sense, those arguing with certainty about the unique social influence on climate scientist would go about the process of gathering evidence for their assumptions. For all I know, their assumptions are not really based in an accurate description of unique influences on climate science, but they are based on their own projections.

    Should we just assume that if there is a unique structure for the social context of how a science is received, there is necessarily a unique (magnitude of? type of?) social influence on the science itself?

    Not sure if any of that makes any sense.

  66. Pekka,

    That’s also the level, where some social scientists start to exaggerate the significance of their arguments. To argue with them you must first understand, what they are talking about.

    Hmmm, now you seem to be partly acknowledging the issue, but still laying the blame at the feet of physicists. My point would be that I’m not trying to argue with anyone, I’m simply trying to understand what’s being said. Also, if I said that everyone who wanted to discuss climate science with me should first understand radiative physics because I can’t be bothered trying to explain it to them, I think I’d be roundly – and rightly – criticised.

  67. ATTP,
    There’s a real issue, but I blame the participating physicists for attacking a strawman rather than the real issue. Arguing against a false target makes the argument powerless and easy to dismiss.

    Kilmazwiebel is a site where this kind of issues are discussed quite often. Reiner Grundmann is one of the contributors there. Mostly I don’t agree fully with him, and I have argued with him, but neither he nor many other social scientists make errors as simple as many physics oriented people seem to think.

  68. izen says:

    @- Pekka Pirilä says:
    “What the social scientists write is perfectly clear and reasonable when read with an open mind, while the attacks of physicists appear misplaced.”

    My experience is exactly the opposite. The invoking of strange epistemological arguments against certainty in science and the wilful employment of complex multilevel sentences makes it often appear obscurantist for the sake of it. I think it is no accident that Sokal was able to scam the sociologists in a way that sociologists could not scam physicists.

    I should declare an interest, when much younger and foolish I was for a time much taken with the extremes of Feyebrand and Ravetz. Before realising it was self-aggrandising nonsense.

  69. Pekka,

    There’s a real issue, but I blame the participating physicists for attacking a strawman rather than the real issue. Arguing against a false target makes the argument powerless and easy to dismiss.

    Possibly, but maybe the problem is that some are simply dismissing the arguments being made rather than actually putting some effort into explaining why they’re wrong.

    Why don’t you try pointing something similar out on Climate Etc (i.e., most of what is said there appears to be by people who attack strawmen, rather than the real issues). I’m sure that would go down well :-)

    Kilmazwiebel is a site where this kind of issues are discussed quite often. Reiner Grundmann is one of the contributors there. Mostly I don’t agree fully with him, and I have argued with him, but neither he nor many other social scientists make errors as simple as many physics oriented people seem to think.

    I don’t think anyone has actually suggested that social scientists are making errors. What I’m suggesting is that I disagree with what I think some are saying. A simple solution to this would be for someone to simply point out that they aren’t saying what I think they’re saying and hence we could all actually end up agreeing about something. Alternatively, they could say that they are saying what I think they’re saying and justify their position. My goal is to try and build some understanding of this topic. It would help if I felt others had the same goal. I’m not convinced that they do.

    In a sense I feel that you’re not taking a particularly constructive role in this discussion. You may well be right that an issue is that the physicists don’t understand what the social scientists are saying. Simply pointing that out doesn’t really help me to understand what the social scientists are saying, though.

  70. Joshua,
    It’s, of course, much easier to tell that the social structure of climate science differs in some ways significantly of that of other sciences, and that the social factors are likely to have non-negligible influence, than to tell more specifically, what the influences are.

  71. Why don’t you try pointing something similar out on Climate Etc

    Comments are part of discussion. Choosing what I write depends on the context and on what I feel might have a positive contribution to that particular discussion. On a site with the hundreds of comments (including a large number and variety of irrelevancies) of most Climate Etc threads I end up writing somewhat different comments, and actually very different comments to threads of different nature.

    Here many of my comments attempt to widen the views, tell that things are more complex and that those with whom you disagree may have got something right as well. On Climate Etc the variety of views is wide, and pointing out some fault in logic may be what I wish to do. There I end up sometimes also in lengthy exchange on some science related claim that I consider surely erroneous, but which is stubbornly defended by its proponent(s).

  72. Pekka,

    Comments are part of discussion. Choosing what I write depends on the context and on what I feel might have a positive contribution to that particular discussion.

    I know, I was just having a bit of a dig :-) Apologies.

  73. Joshua says:

    ==> “It’s, of course, much easier to tell that the social structure of climate science differs in some ways significantly of that of other sciences, and that the social factors are likely to have non-negligible influence, than to tell more specifically, what the influences are.”

    And so here, I think (if I understand him correctly), is the gist of Anders’ point/question.

    We have an argument made that it is theoretically possible, perhaps even likely, that there are clear societal influences on a science, without (a) a clear explanation of the causal mechanism and, (b) a quantification of the influence. I’m not sure how that argument is particularly insightful or meaningful. But I have no problem with that argument. The problem for me is if that argument is made in a way that implies that a meaning or the implications are clear.

  74. Joshua,
    Yup, that’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to get at. To extend it a little (although we’ve kind of covered this before), I would also argue that there is a difference between how society influences the behaviour of individuals (or groups) and how society influences the convergent state of our understanding. The latter point may not be well-defined, but what I mean is that society may influence how we interpret evidence when there are numerous possible interpretations; it may influence how we proceed in our investigations (so may influence the rate at which our knowledge grows); it may influence how individuals behave (scientists, individually, aren’t without biases). However, as the evidence grows and our understanding starts converging towards something that one could argue is a consistent, well-defined picture, it’s hard to see how society could influence that end state.

  75. @Wotts
    There are two things:

    1. Funding and fads drive what is studied. Some areas are hot, others are not. This is social.

    2. Your values determine how you interpret results. “God does not play dice.” That is no problem if peer-review is robust and peers are diverse, but academics are predominantly male, left-leaning, and of European and Asian extraction.

  76. > I think it is no accident that Sokal was able to scam the sociologists [...]

    This kind of argument can lead to dismiss just about any field that has a peer-reviewed system.

    Also note that social scientists are not all sociologists. Here’s a “social product”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentation_framework

    Lumping all sociologists together is also inadvisable, just as would be lumping analytic philosophers, hellenists, and Kantian scholars together.

    Speaking to someone from another field always sounds strange. If what I say sounds strange, wait until you open the Husserliana.

    Prejudices can’t replace background knowledge and some know-how about the local practices of a field.

  77. Richard,
    Your point 1, I pointed out in the post.

    Your values determine how you interpret results. “God does not play dice.” That is no problem if peer-review is robust and peers are diverse, but academics are predominantly male, left-leaning, and of European and Asian extraction.

    By academics, I presume you mean physical scientists, rather than academics in general. The problem I have with this is that what you’ve said is primarily an assertion. Where’s the evidence that this has a significant influence on our scientific understanding. That was one point I was trying to get at in the post.

    Also, in a sense, I did cover this in the post too, though. I do not in any way dispute that people are subject to biases and that, when the evidence allows, may well interpret it in a way that is influenced by their biases. However, evidence accumulates and ideas that are not consistent get rejected. So, if all that is being suggested is that scientists may interpret the available evidence in a way that suits their biases, then I would agree that that is likely. However, if what is being suggested is that the biases can remain for an extended and significance period (amongst scientists in general, rather than just a few individuals) despite growing evidence against the prevailing view, then I would argue that there is little evidence to support that view.

  78. Joshua says:

    Often there is a kind of reverse engineering going on.

    The likelihood of a “non-negligible” societal influence of the science gets reversed engineered to conclude that the findings of climate scientists are somehow invalidated.

    But if we use that logic consistently, then no science is ever valid, unless we can prove that in some way climate science is unique because the societal influence is unique in kind of magnitude.

    So I have the same question (I think), where I don’t really know what people are saying if they can’t describe how, in some specific manner, the “end state” of the science has been influenced. But once you engage that question, it becomes a technical discussion about the science. And as such, it is indistinguishable from technical arguments in any science.

    It reminds me of the arguments about “consensus,” where people argue that the “consensus” has been wrong in the past and that a near unanimity among experts doesn’t constitute absolute proof.

    Well. Ok. But what does that tell us about the price of tea in China?

    Yes, in some theoretical sense, the end state of any particular science at some particular point in time reflects some measure of societal influence (with, as you point out, a likelihood that over time that societal influence lessening – which also brings us back to Steve’s mention of “Planck’s dictum”). But what does that tell us about the price of tea in China? Ultimately, the speculation about societal influence seems kind of banal to me, except as a precautionary tale (which is not banal in the least). But that precautionary tale, like uncertainty, applies bi-laterally. Just as it is easy to overlook the potential of societal influence on the science, so is it easy to think the societal influence to be more explanatory about the end state of the science than it really is.

  79. Joshua says:

    I think it is interesting that Richard did not notice that Anders addressed both of his points (the second more generically/indirectly) in his post, and also repeatedly in follow-on comments.

    It’s almost like Richard is reverse engineering from some obvious general principle to confirm his biases within a particular context.

  80. Joshua,

    Ultimately, the speculation about societal influence seems kind of banal to me, except as a precautionary tale (which is not banal in the least).

    Yes, I think this is partly my view. If people are simply pointing out that scientists are human and will suffer from some kind of societal bias, then my response is going to be something like “sure, so what?”. There are certainly interesting issue one could consider, given this, but the “assertion” that physical scientists are human and suffer from the same human failings as everyone else, just seems patently obvious.

  81. Anders: “Then why is there a disagreement? Also why is Reiner’s response to Victor a reasonable response? Victor was simply trying to point out that the laws of physics would be the same on Mars as on Earth. “

    The science on Mars would also have its own historical development and sociological forces would be different.

    I have a hard time accepting that it is all just miscommunication by stupid physicists that put up strawman. Why couldn’t the sociologist simply state that naturally the Martians would find the same results and that he was only complaining about climate science, or like he childishly likes to write climate “science”. That would have quickly pu the strawman to rest.

    Pekka Pirilä says: “It’s, of course, much easier to tell that the social structure of climate science [IPCC] differs in some ways significantly of that of other sciences, and that the social factors are likely to have non-negligible influence, than to tell more specifically, what the influences are.”

    The IPCC report is like a bundle of review papers. The scientists will typically just read the chapter about their field, which is similar to reading a review paper. The IPCC reports seem to be reviewed by many more people as the typical paper, thus the main difference I would see is that these review papers are expected to be of higher quality.

    Any science is unique. Just calling climate science unique is not sufficient to suggest that there are problems. Please be more specific.

  82. @Wotts
    A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.

    There is no reason to assume that today is exceptional.

  83. Richard,

    A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.

    There is no reason to assume that today is exceptional.

    Well, we’re not really talking about “thought”, we’re talking about “science”. Also, maybe you could give an example of a theory that was well-tested and accepted, that turned out to be wrong in such a significant way that all that had been concluded using that theory was completely wrong. There’s a massive difference between a theory that is shown to be wrong under certain circumstances (gravity, for example) and a theory that turns out to be so wrong that it had no use whatsoever.

    Additionally, are you really suggesting that there is a reasonable chance that at some point in the future we will discover that a fundamental aspect of climate science is so wrong that it completely changes our understanding of climate science? Anything’s possible, but it would seem to me that suggesting that the projections of climate science might be wrong because other things have been wrong in the past (assuming that’s what you’re suggesting) is a remarkably flimsy argument.

  84. Joshua says:

    ==> “A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.”

    It’s almost like Richard is reverse engineering from some obvious general principle to confirm his biases within a particular context.

  85. BBD says:

    All this nonsense is simply more weak and thinly-disguised attempts to delegitimise climate science. I especially note Reiner Grundmann in comments, who has form for this. Another very clear case for turning off the oxygen of publicity.

  86. I have been asked to be more specific on how climate science differs from typical physical sciences. Here are some points:

    – The organizational structure of IPCC and of writing the assessment reports is unique in many ways. Those features include the small bureau, the working groups with their support units, the way governments participate, the selection of authors of the reports, ..
    – The reports are not normal science reviews, but written in a different way and required to follow specific guidelines written specifically for IPCC.
    – A sizable number of top scientists has decided to use a lot of resources in writing the assessment reports rather than concentrating more on their own research. That’s not the case on similar scale in many fields, if any other.
    – The blogosphere is in many ways unique.
    – IPCC reports contain specific statements on values and results that would be described in essentially less precise way in normal review articles.
    – The expectation of policy relevant results affects the choice of subjects to study (not for all research, but for a significant factor).
    – The total volume of climate research is much larger than it would be without the policy relevance. The funding that has made that possible differs from funding in fields that are not policy relevance.
    – Many scientists have discussed openly issues related to the somewhat conflicting requirements they meet (the well known text of Stephen Schneider is an early example, and some statements of Jim Hansen even earlier).

    I could add more speculative comments, but that should be enough.

  87. Ian Forrester says:

    For those who assume that the IPCC is a unique organization I should point our that Agricultural science has such a body too, The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is structured in a very similar fashion to the IPCC:

    The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is a unique international effort that will evaluate the relevance, quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology (AKST); and effectiveness of public and private sector policies as well as institutional arrangements in relation to AKST. “How can we reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development through the generation, access to, and use of agricultural knowledge, science and technology?”.

    The IAASTD is a three-year collaborative effort (2005 – 2007) that assessed AKST in relation to meeting development and sustainability goals of:

    Reducing hunger and poverty
    Improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods
    Facilitating social and environmental sustainability

    The project is a major global initiative, developed out of a consultative process involving 900 participants and 110 countries from all regions of the world.

    The IAASTD was launched as an intergovernmental process, with a multi-stakeholder Bureau, under the co-sponsorship of the FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO.

  88. chris says:

    One of the problems with discussions of this sort is that they’re often based around generalities. Physical scientists tend to recoil from the notion of a deeply societal-influenced interpretations of phenomena in the natural world largely because they address specific aspects of the natural world where societal influences seem unlikely if not ludicrous.

    I’d like to see some of the social scientists that consider that scientific interpretation (in the physical sciences) has a strong societal influence give some specific examples; that would help to advance the discussion.

    For example, here’s an example considering societal influences on our understanding of protein structure:

    1. much of what we know about protein structure comes from X-ray crystallography (interpretation of diffraction of X-rays by electrons in highly organized crystalline molecular arrays) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy (pairwise distance constraints between mostly H atoms in molecular structure based on manipulation of nuclear spin transitions in a magnetic field).

    2. We don’t know what electrons and atomic nuclei look like, and our images/analogies are often based on societal-influenced analogies (an atom contains a nucleus with electrons “orbiting” it in a rather vague, though computationally-precise manner). We don’t really know what nuclei look like nor what nuclear spin is ‘though it seems to work to consider that (some) atomic nuclei spin and precess in a magnetic field like little gyroscopes.

    3. Since our attempts to visualise electrons and nuclei are somewhat societally-based (orbits, gyroscopes), one might expect that there are considerable deficiencies in our real understanding of protein structure.

    4. However if one determines a protein structure (the coordinates of its atoms in 3-dimensional space) by X-ray crystallography (H-atoms “invisible” due to their low electron density) and by NMR (H-atoms are the only thing one “sees”, at least in the earlyish days of NMR), the structures are pretty much the same.

    5. So although there are societal influences on the pictures and analogies we conjure to describe microscopic/sub-atomic species, this is of little consequence in our interpretation of protein structure.

    6. And if we use a X-ray crystal protein structure (e.g. the AIDS viral protease) to design a drug that will bind tightly and specifically to the protein we obtain a molecule (crixivan and subsequent anti-AIDS drugs) that suppresses pathologic effects of AIDS virus infection in people.

    Clearly any societal influences on the essential elements of our understanding of protein structure and our ability to use this constructively, are trivial. That’s not to say that there aren’t more important societal influences on interpretations of scientific observations in other arenas. However these need to be described specifically and their consequences defined. It’s not good enough for social scientists simply to assert the presence of societal influences.

  89. AnOilMan says:

    Ian… Does the IAASTD have to deal with Trolls, and agriculture deniers?

    PS.. Agriculture Deniers are strong with Climate Change Denial… McIntyre and McKitrick 2005 did not detrend tree ring data. Detrending is removing the effects of water on a tree ring data set. Soo… In effect, McIntyre and McKitrick 2005 argue that trees grow just as well in a jungle as they do in a desert. (Can any farmers help explain the error of their ways?)

    https://wottsupwiththatblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/debunking-the-hockey-stick/

  90. ATTP,

    Additionally, are you really suggesting that there is a reasonable chance that at some point in the future we will discover that a fundamental aspect of climate science is so wrong that it completely changes our understanding of climate science? Anything’s possible, but it would seem to me that suggesting that the projections of climate science might be wrong because other things have been wrong in the past (assuming that’s what you’re suggesting) is a remarkably flimsy argument.

    Why do you ask that? What makes that relevant?

    I wrote above

    More generally the role of fundamentals is not a subject of real and relevant dispute. There are skeptics who are skeptic also on fundamentals, and there are politicians who may argue along those lines, but none of those skeptics or those politicians is really influenced by any scientific dispute. They have formed their opinions on a different basis and getting them convinced that they err on fundamentals would not change anything.

    Do you really disagree on that? Is fighting strawmen so fun?

  91. Pekka,
    If you had looked at the top of the comment from which you quote, you would have seen the name Richard. So, I think my question was an entirely appropriate response to Richard, but not to you ;-)

  92. I know that the question was to Richard, and I know also that he does not deny totally or fundamentally climate science or AGW.

    If you here or Victor there make such claims, how do you think to get any results from such argumentation.

  93. Pekka, that there is a group of libertarian [mod, snipped] that are determined to give the public the wrong understanding of the science, is unique and problematic. That climate scientists thus have to go out more and explain what is wrong is unique and given the circumstances, I would see that as a good thing. (I actually wonder why you never see nutritional scientists on paleo/wapf/vegan/etc diet blogs; don’t they have any evidence to show? Is their evidence really as flimsy as those blogs claim?)

    “- The expectation of policy relevant results affects the choice of subjects to study (not for all research, but for a significant factor).”

    I hope you mean with “study”, that policy relevancy determines whether something is written up in the IPCC review. I do not think that a climatologist would change his topic to be cited in the IPCC report. There are also still normal review papers. I am just writing one on the quality of daily station data. Something that would be much too detailed for the IPCC report, even if, on the longer run, also policy relevant, like almost any study in the long run.

    Or do you simply mean that governments want to know what will happen in their countries and specifically provide funding for impact and adaptation studies. That is true. The stuff that is relevant on the longer run is funded by the national science foundations, that would not fund such practical studies.

    The rest seems still to vague to respond to or to see as a problem rather than an asset.

  94. chris says:

    Pekka,

    ATTP’s reponse to Richard Tol was rather appropriate I would say. Tol was making a typically generalised assertion/insinuation. ATTP responded with a specific response to Tol’s insinuated reference. Of course one might counter that Tol didn’t actually mean what his insinuation might be taken to mean. But this just brings us back to the question why some (Tol in this case) are so reluctant to specific about what they mean. That seems to underlie the STS vs physics pseudo-dichotomy :)

  95. Pekka,
    Sorry, what are you getting at? You seemed to imply above that my response was to you, otherwise why tell me what you wrote in the second part of your comment above?

    Okay, maybe you can explain why my response to this

    A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.

    There is no reason to assume that today is exceptional.

    was unreasonable. I don’t see how else to interpret what Richard has said other than he was implying that there may be fundamental problems with the theories associated with climate change.

    Finally, maybe you can explain how a question is a claim. Personally, if you can’t distinguish between a question and a claim, I’m going to rather lose confidence in your supposed knowledge of the social sciences.

    P.S. Just so I’m sure, are you being serious or are you just illustrating strawman discussions for effect?

  96. Sorry was away all afternoon by what willard (@nevaudit) said (12.42) really made me smile and remember how, in my youth I tried just that and failed: “Speaking to someone from another field always sounds strange. If what I say sounds strange, wait until you open the Husserliana.” And he also rightly points out that “that social scientists are not all sociologists”!

  97. John Mashey says:

    Except for the international issue, IPCC reports bear strong similarities to US Surgeon General reports on smoking.

  98. chris says:

    Pekka et al.

    It’s worth pointing to Andrew Gelman’s specific critique of Tol’s deficient analyses of economic consequences of global warming to illustrate the fundamental difference between the focus on the specific elements of a scientific/statistical analysis and the generalised assertion-based interpretation of phenomena/observations/analyses in support of particular points of view.

    http://andrewgelman.com/2014/05/27/whole-fleet-gremlins-looking-carefully-richard-tols-twice-corrected-paper-economic-effects-climate-change/

    It may be that you (Pekka, in this case) are leaning over backwards (in the proverbial sense!) to give all sides the benefit of the doubt, but I wonder at your willingness to take the generalised assertions of Prof Tol at face value while castigating efforts to pin down and address specific elements of his critiques.

  99. izen says:

    I accept the earlier criticism that generalities are being used when there is a diverse set of specific types, factions and schools of work and thought involved. But with that caveat;

    @-Pekka Pirilä says:
    “More generally the role of fundamentals is not a subject of real and relevant dispute. ”

    Hmm. I think that depends on what fundamentals are specified.
    The fundamentals of scientific research, or the history of the development of climate science, (how DO you define its borders?) are the factors which ARE the subject of real and relevant dispute. It is not a straw man to point to the assertion that climate change is not legitimate because it is the product of post-normal science.
    This is the use made of the sociological argument, –

    “Post-normal science
    A new concept of science was introduced by Funtowicz and Ravetz during the 1990s . . . . The concept of post-normal science goes beyond the traditional assumptions that science is both certain and value-free . . . . The exercise of scholarly activities is defined by the dominance of goal orientation where scientific goals are controlled by political or societal actors . . . . Scientists’ integrity lies not in disinterestedness but in their behaviour as stakeholders. — In post-normal science, the maintenance and enhancement of quality, rather than the establishment of factual knowledge, is the key task of scientists .”

    I do not know whether you would regard that as a real dispute about fundamentals, but that is the critique, derived from a specific strand in sociology, which is used to de legitimise climate science.

    The wonderfully cherry-picked quote string from Funtowicz and Ravetz above is from here –

    http://www.cornwallalliance.org/blog/item/wanted-for-premeditated-murder-how-post-normal-science-stabbed-real-science-in-the-back-on-the-way-to-the-illusion-of-scientific-consensus-on-global-warming/

  100. “If you here or Victor there make such claims, how do you think to get any results from such argumentation.”

    Sorry, Pekka Pirilä, which claim am I exactly making that you object to?

  101. Chris,

    It may be that you (Pekka, in this case) are leaning over backwards (in the proverbial sense!) to give all sides the benefit of the doubt

    Hmmm, I was under the impression that Pekka was specifically blaming the physicists (apart from himself) for this mis-understanding. Something that struck me when driving home was that the third paragraph of my post was an attempt (a poor one possibly) to explain why physicists may push back against what they interpret some STS researchers as saying. It’s quite possible – as Pekka suggests – that they misunderstand what’s being said. However, given that STS researchers are specifically studying science/scientists, rather than suggesting that physicists should try to better understand what these STS researchers are saying, surely it’s the STS researchers who should try to understand why some physicists push back against what they think is being said? The physical science can continue – possibly quite happily – in the absence of STS research. The reverse doesn’t really seem viable.

    In fairness to Pekka, I think I now understand his issue with my response to Richard. If I do, then I agree that I interpreted his comment more specifically than maybe it was intended. However, Richard is more than welcome to clarify, especially as my response was framed as a question, not a statement. Consequently, if Pekka is criticising me for over-interpreting Richard’s comment, I think he could apply some criticism to himself for – it would appear – over-interpreting my response :-) .

  102. Steve Bloom says:

    Reading Brigitte’s comment much above about the 1994 STS-science conference, it occurs to me that STS came into being to study science as a field, a reasonable enough undertaking when put that way, but that it was not possible to do so without attempting to seize from scientists authority over the meaning of science and, through that, a degree of authority over the conduct of science. Scientists, naturally, push back. So as long as STS exists this is not a conflict that’s going away.

  103. Joshua says:

    Pekka –

    Of course, I’m out of my league discussing these matters in such an erudite crowd… but…I never let that stop me before…

    W/r/t your 2:36:

    ==> “I have been asked to be more specific on how climate science differs from typical physical sciences. “

    [...]

    ==> “The organizational structure of IPCC and of writing the assessment reports is unique in many ways. Those features include the small bureau, the working groups with their support units, the way governments participate, the selection of authors of the reports, ..”

    That is a description of the IPCC. Not climate science. Honestly, I think that trying to describe the attributes of “climate science” is probably a doomed endeavor (how is “climate science” envisioned as a concrete entity that can be assigned attributes?) – but do you agree that describing the IPCC is not the equivalent of describing climate science?

    So perhaps rather than “climate science” per se, you are describing the process of climate science, which as a verbal phrase is used as a noun? But even there, your description is of the process of the IPCC – not the process of climate science.

    But I’ll run with substituting “the process of climate science” for “climate science.”

    There are others who seem to me to be making a similarly fundamentally flawed argument in this thread. The process of social science shares basic attributes with the process of physical science. It is a process of forming hypotheses and evaluating evidence in support. It is a process of eliminating variables so as to quantify confidence. The outcomes of social science should be qualified just as are the outcomes of physical science – with CIs and error bars and conditional descriptions. Someone can be overconfident about the outcomes of their physical science research just as someone can be overconfident about the outcomes of their social science research. But science is science.

    Climate science is science, like all other sciences. The process of climate science is like all other sciences. I’m going to say again that if you want to argue that social factors influence the result of or process of climate science more than other sciences, that’s fine – but if you want that argument to be meaningful in some real-world sense, if you want it to have some actionable or interpretable implications, it seems to me that you need to be specific.

    So what outcomes within the collective field of climate science that you think are qualitatively different as the result of social influences relative to other sciences? And note, you need to do more than just list some individual outcomes: you need to explain why it is true of climate science as a field. Again, there’s a structural problem there, IMO, as “climate science” is not a distinct entity. But maybe you are referring to the “process of climate science” – so then you would need to be specific in describing how the “process of climate science,” as a collective endeavor encompassing the scientific process of hundreds? thousands? of climate scientists, is disproportionately influenced by social factors.

    To continue….

    ==> ” The reports are not normal science reviews, but written in a different way and required to follow specific guidelines written specifically for IPCC.”

    Again, that is a description of the process of the IPCC – not the process of climate science (or climate science as an entity) – which, presumably, involves individual scientists evaluating evidence in support of their hypotheses.

    ==>“A sizable number of top scientists has decided to use a lot of resources in writing the assessment reports rather than concentrating more on their own research. That’s not the case on similar scale in many fields, if any other.”

    Ok – now you’re describing the process of a “sizable number of climate scientists.” But how does what you described affect their scientific product? It seems to me that at best, what it means that their overall level of output might be reduced compared to what it would be otherwise – but what does the phenomenon you describe tell us, in some qualitative way, other than there is some opportunity cost in terms of output?

    –> “The blogosphere is in many ways unique”

    Again, not a description of climate science. And I would argue it isn’t even an distinguishing characteristic of the climate science blogosphere – which I believe is more or less identical to the blogosphere related to the science of studying the economy, or the science of studying GMOs, etc.

    ==> “IPCC reports contain specific statements on values and results that would be described in essentially less precise way in normal review articles.”

    Again, a description of the IPCC. How do you trace that back from describing the IPCC reports to saying something specific about the process of climate science (or about climate science as a collective entity).

    ==> “The expectation of policy relevant results affects the choice of subjects to study (not for all research, but for a significant factor).”

    This seems to me to be true of quite a bit of science. For example, much science related to medicine is done with an eye towards policy relevant results – say research conducted by the CDC.

    ==> “The total volume of climate research is much larger than it would be without the policy relevance. The funding that has made that possible differs from funding in fields that are not policy relevance.”

    While that may be true, it doesn’t seem to me to make the process of climate science (or climate science as a collective entity) unique.

    ==> “Many scientists have discussed openly issues related to the somewhat conflicting requirements they meet (the well known text of Stephen Schneider is an early example, and some statements of Jim Hansen even earlier).”

    It seems to me to be quite problematic to assign attributes to the outcomes of an entire field of research on the basis of what some, or even many, scientists from that field have discussed.

    Again – I see two basic problems here.

    (1) Assigning attributes to an entire field of research and,
    (2) Describing unquantified correlation and from that concluding causation with an expectation that we accept that the causation is meaningful in a real world sense.

  104. All that I have written here recently is related to the same issue. Any one of you may disagree with what others are writing on the net. That’s fine. If you wish to argue with those you think that you disagree with you must

    – understand what the other is saying (as far as that’s possible)
    – respond to that and not to something that he has not said.

    In the recent discussion various people have responded to people who certainly or with very high likelihood are ready to accept fundamentals of climate science implying that they don’t. It’s clear in my view that they all largely dismiss such criticism as out of place. They may also wonder, how you are unable to understand clear text.

    I have written twice what I think about the significance of denial of the fundamentals to be – it’s essentially nil. Arguing against such windmills is wasted effort. Your relevant opponents are not in that insignificant camp. If you cannot argue against them using arguments that are relevant to their real positions, your opposition against them has no effect in any way.

    All the above is true, whether you are totally right and they totally wrong or not.

  105. Steve Bloom says:

    “I know also that he does not deny totally or fundamentally climate science or AGW.” Indeed, no. He bores from within, to borrow an old phrase.

    Pekka, do you think of Tol as having any remaining credibility?

  106. Joshua says:

    Pekka –

    How do you interpret the meaning of the following statement if not not that it is intended to suggest that climate science has been influenced by societal factors to the extent that it is fundamentally flawed?

    ==> “A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.”’

    Sure, there’s plausible deniability. It is a statement that might be made by someone who thinks that the degree of societal influence on climate science does not call any of its fundamentals into question. But in such a case, why would someone make such a statement?

    Do you seriously think that there is not a parallel being drawn – given the context in which the trivial truth of Richard’s comment was made – between “erroneous theories” and the conclusions of climate scientists?

    You also seem to be assuming a logical consistency that might not be there. Just because someone says that they accept the fundamental scientific conclusions drawn by climate scientists does not therefore mean that they always argue in a way that is consistent with such a statement. Perhaps when someone is driven by partisan orientation, they might sometimes argue in inconsistent ways to score points.

    And speaking of straw man arguments – Which person suggested that “erroneous theories” have not proven remarkably persistent throughout history?

  107. BBD says:

    The physical science can continue – possibly quite happily – in the absence of STS research. The reverse doesn’t really seem viable.

    Quite. And about time this was pointed out.

  108. “A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.”

    That’s a factual statement. The scientific process wins ultimately, but it may be very slow. Social factors have a major impact on the efficiency of the scientific process. I don’t think the present state of climate science is nearly optimal in that respect.

    Tol is really one of the best known scientists in his field, that’s not a joke. I have read many good articles of his and he has presented sound arguments on several controversies. I don’t like the way he comes out in net discussion or recently in public. In my view that has not done good for his stature.

  109. chris says:

    ATTP, I meant that Pekka is leaning over backwards to accommodate Tol’s view!

    To my mind the last paragraph of your just-posted comment sums up much of the problem wrt STS vs physics. Tol made a very generalized comment (more of an insinuation really). You addressed what seems to me to be a reasonable assumption of a specific aspect of his insinuation, especially given the context of the subject:

    Tol: erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.. no reason to assume today is exceptional…”

    ATTP: are you suggesting fundamental aspects of climate science will turn out to be wrong?”

    Now of course Tol might not be including climate science in that generalised insinuation.. but how are we to know…and why otherwise would he make it?

    That seems the problem with Tol’s approach of generalised assertion/insinuation which seems to accommodate an unlimited ability to stonewall on subjects he prefers to be coy about, and why I referred to Gelman’s highly specific critique of Tol’s economic benefit work. When one choses or is forced to be specific (as in the Gelman post where Tol has little choice but to address specific critique), the issues and points of agreement/disagreement can clarify quite quickly. When this doesn’t happen it may uoften be the fault of the individual that is reluctant to address the specfics in favour of the general.

  110. John Mashey says:

    *Good* sociology of science can actually be quite interesting.
    I strongly recommend The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science
    1) Many people misinterpret Wegener’s story. The book shows the clear split of beliefs for decades between US and (Europe+Australia, at least). I learned quite a bit from it.

    2) Of course, Oreskes is a geoscientist and historian, educated at Imperial College and Stanford i.e., knows the physical science quite well enough to be able to do relevant social science.

  111. Victor,

    Staring from your first comment your comments did not reflect correctly the views you were arguing against. You may have picked part of it from Moriarty, but he was also wrong on his interpretation of Cartwright.

  112. Once again, Pekka, I’m falling to see how that comment helps. I thought that you could do better than simply asserting that someone is wrong.

  113. John, yes I’m sure there is much that is of interest. In fact I have seen some. I may be slightly biased by some of what I’ve seen and should probably bear that in mind.

  114. Eli Rabett says:

    Social constructs in many ways determine what you can conceptualize, and thus constrain scientific understanding. Of course, the reverse is also true so both change sequentially.

    Also Pekka is confusing the advisory functions of science for society, which are mostly done through national academy studies, whose structure is much like the IPCC although there are many other similar organizations such as IUPAC and the WMO, FAO.

  115. Joshua says:

    ==> “That’s a factual statement. The scientific process wins ultimately, but it may be very slow. Social factors have a major impact on the efficiency of the scientific process. I don’t think the present state of climate science is nearly optimal in that respect.”

    It is a statement of trivial fact.

    What % of persistent theories are that which are erroneous?

    The process may be slow and it may be quick. How do we define slow and quick? What does “major” mean? What science is presently in an optimal state?

    Now you may not want to speculate about the implications of Tol weighing in with a statement of trivial fact, but I don’t think that it is unreasonable for others to do so – given the context of this thread, the overall convo, and Richard’s orientation within the overall climate wars constellation.

    And again, what do you think of Richard’s straw man?

  116. izen

    Post-normal science is not science, neither is regulatory science. Both should be based on science, but that does not make them science.

    Climate science is science and based on the above cannot be post-normal or regulatory. The results of climate science can be used in the spirit of post-normal science or for regulatory purposes.

    Fundamentals of climate science come mainly from well-established physics with some component from other well-established sciences and sources of knowledge. That includes thermodynamics, some fluid dynamics, and the theory of radiative energy transfer. All that input is correct beyond reasonable doubt. From that we know that CO2 has a warming effect, and we have an order of magnitude for the strength of the warming. Much of the feedbacks is outside fundamentals and thus is also making quantitative estimates of the amount of warming at an accuracy better than the order of magnitude.

  117. Joshua,
    Empty generalizations should be taken as empty generalizations. Trivially correct facts can be accepted as such, it’s not necessary or justified to start arguing against some self-generated extension of that.

    When Tol didn’t in any explicit way hint that his sentence is meant to be relevant for fundamentals of climate science there’s no point in assuming that he meant that.

  118. BBD says:

    Pekka

    Much of the feedbacks is outside fundamentals and thus is also making quantitative estimates of the amount of warming at an accuracy better than the order of magnitude.

    I might well have misunderstood you but does this mean that you argue that a central estimate of ECS 2 x CO2 of 3C +/-1C is indefensibly specific?

  119. Joshua says:

    OK – it’s getting to be one of those silly blogospheric arguments about what someone did or didn’t mean. Kind of pointless, really. IMO, it’s a distraction from the larger discussion – which is whether or not climate science is somehow unique among sciences in the magnitude or kind of societal influence.

    I think it is kind of facile to make such an argument w/o really making it evidence-based. For me, in these debates, my default position is against arguments that give particular groups “special” treatment either one way or the other. Speculation is fine, but when there is an expectation that the implications are in some way clear, it seems to me that the bar for evidence should be set pretty high. But I’m repeating myself.

  120. John Mashey says:

    For what it’s worth, I’d think the sociology of economics could be far more interesting than that of physics or climate science. For example, see What the Nobel Prize Says About Our Economy:
    “There’s an old joke about the economics profession that says that it’s the only field where two people can win the Nobel Prize for saying the exact opposite thing. On Monday the joke was seemingly proven true…”
    I think the joke derives from the 1974 selection of Myrdal and Hayek, who apparently did not see eye-to-eye.

    More seriously, consider a few long-running arguments in physical sciences:
    1) Steady-state vs “big bang” in cosmology [resolved by Penzias and Wilson]
    2) The arguments over plate tectonics [resolved by post-WW II oceanographic data]

    These can go on for a long time, existing in the space where uncertainties allow alternates, but then some strong evidence appears, one of the hypotheses is eliminated (except there are always a few who stick). This is akin to a pair of boxes with Schrodinger’s cats, only one of which survives.

  121. Joshua,
    Concerning your lengthier comment. It tells that I was not careful enough in keeping two things separate:
    – climate science as field of scientific knowledge
    – the social structure that operates climate science, i.e. the scientists, other people close to that, the organizations and the operational practices.

    All my points were on the latter. The science itself is a field of physical science that studies a complex system that mostly does not allow for repeatable experiments. Most of the empirical data is thus from the observations of the single real system. It’s not unique in having such properties.

  122. Steve Bloom says:

    “Tol is really one of the best known scientists in his field, that’s not a joke.”

    It has become a joke because he has made it so. Also note that the field is tiny, and recent prominent papers questioning whether whether its results up to the present have any value. (They do not, and it shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness, or perhaps more accurately a remarkable sense of self-promotion, for Tol to claim otherwise. If there’s any such thing as junk science in the world, the IAMs are it. *Maybe* they could be made better than that, although I have my doubts.)

    The marquee question in climate economics and for IAMs in particular is what will the net economic effect of anthropogenic climate disruption be in the coming century and in particular over the next few decades. Tol not only got that wrong, but got it wrong in a way that demonstrates his lack of a grasp (or being blindered, or plain old disingenuosity, your choice) of the fundamentals of his own field. This is not a mistake that would be tolerated in a paper by a lower division undergraduate. Not content with the error itself, he went out and shouted it to the world, attacking his colleagues for having the temerity to disagree with him.

    Don’t defend the indefensible.

  123. Eli Rabett says:

    Pekka, the problem with the term post normal science, is that it really is PRE-normal science. As described “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent” this refers to a place where study of a situation has just started because the world has just become aware of it.

    The Antarctic ozone hole issue in the early 1980s, or the controversy over SSTs and the ozone layer are fine examples. There were multiple models, stakes were high and decisions were urgent. After a few years and some key experiments (money and people were thrown at the science problem), the scientific answers became clear enough. Normal science thus moved the world out of the pre-normal science stage but there were still those with a large interest in pretending that the facts were still uncertain.

    If you will, post normal science is the stage where “facts are certain, values of some require pretending they are not, stakes high and decisions urgent.”

  124. Pekka,

    When Tol didn’t in any explicit way hint that his sentence is meant to be relevant for fundamentals of climate science there’s no point in assuming that he meant that.

    Really? It appears to have generated a great deal of discussion. Surely there was some point to that?

  125. BBD,
    My statement was on the role of fundamentals. By order of magnitude I didn’t mean specifically a factor of ten. The idea was that we can calculate in number reliably from radiative physics and empirically specified description of the atmosphere. Feedbacks bring a multiplier, whose value cannot be derived from fundamentals, but there are good reasons to expect that the multiplier is not very large or very small.

    There’s certainly additional information, part of that rather solid, part less. That additional information tells more on climate sensitivity, but I didn’t even tell, whether I was discussing TCR or ECS or still something else. All that goes beyond the point I was making to izen.

    When I write something and leave something out, I really don’t imply anything on the second.

  126. Steve Bloom says:

    “does this mean that you argue that a central estimate of ECS 2 x CO2 of 3C +/-1C is indefensibly specific?”

    I would argue that it’s both wrong (too low) and beside the point.

    Consider this: ECS was +/-3C at a time (not long ago) when the ice sheets were considered to be big blocks that would take many centuries if not millennia to see rapid melt. Today we see them melting quite fast in ways that were completely unanticipated and ECS… has been slightly reduced from +/-3C.

    A couple years ago I had a brief exchange with Jonty Rougier in which he said (words to the effect) “You know, I think we spend way too much time worrying about the formalism of climate sensitivity.” Yep.

  127. ATTP,
    Short comments may be provocative, but readers have the choice of being provoked or not.

    The sentence can be takes as relevant also without any assumed connection with the real fundamentals.

  128. Steve Bloom says:

    “It appears to have generated a great deal of discussion. Surely there was some point to that?”

    In politics (Tol’s actual field) it’s a well-known technique.

  129. clivebest says:

    Well said Pekka!
    Science must never descend into tribalism.
    The underlying physical basis of climate science is solid but underlying complexity will always ensure uncertainty about the future.

  130. Pekka,

    Short comments may be provocative, but readers have the choice of being provoked or not.

    The sentence can be takes as relevant also without any assumed connection with the real fundamentals.

    Sure, that may all be true. That still doesn’t mean that me interpreting what Richard said as I did and asking him if he did mean it that way, was in any way “wrong” or “counterproductive”. You may believe that to be the case. You may, of course, also be wrong.

  131. ATTP,

    I cannot know the reasons Tol had for writing that comment. I cannot know, how he expected it to be interpreted. Therefore I prefer to take statements as they are without making guesses on all that. If I expect continuation from the commenter I may try to figure out, what it could be to be prepared, but when even that is unlikely, I just take such statements without decoration. After all that’s all anyone sees.

  132. Clive,
    And you think the rest of us are suggesting that tribalism is the way forward?

  133. Pekka,
    I don’t know the reason either : that’s why I asked the question that I did. Having done so, I may actually find out (of course, given my knowledge of Tol, probably not, but you never know).

    You appear, on the other had, to have interpreted my question as me implying that Tol was a denier. Strawman much?

  134. Pekka: Staring from your first comment your comments did not reflect correctly the views you were arguing against. You may have picked part of it from Moriarty, but he was also wrong on his interpretation of Cartwright.

    If there are (almost) no physicists that are able to understand what the STS guys are saying, then I am not longer sure, whether the physicists are to blame. Especially as in this case they are studying us and should have some idea what is understandable for physicists.

    Furthermore, the STS guy in question refuses to answer my question about what Martians would find as law of gravity. That could clear up what his claim about science is.
    1. Yes, another independent culture (Martians) would have completely different laws of physics because their social rules are different.
    2. No, they would have the same basic laws, where there is overlap, both groups should be able to see after some discussions that the laws are the same.
    3. The basic physics would be the same, but for topics as difficult as climate change there would be large difference.

    Given that you claim to understand these guys, I also would not mind if you would give the answer to the cross-cultural question so that I could hopefully understand why I did not understand their claims. And it is not just my physics stupidity. Brigitte Nerlich just asked Reiner G.: “One more question that’s just sort of going round my head: If the equation E=mc[sq] emerged under – and was shaped by – certain social conditions, what form could it have taken if the social conditions had been different?”

    Thus apparently, not even social scientists are able to understand STS claims.

  135. Rachel M says:

    2. Your values determine how you interpret results.

    My values determine that this is just bollocks. I realise this isn’t a very good rebuttal so I’ll let someone else do it for me:

    … anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the twenty-first floor.)

    source: http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/lingua_franca_v4/lingua_franca_v4.html

  136. Victor,

    I don’t understand all “these guys”, but most of them are not incomprehensive. Extreme relativists who really deny the reality of unique physics are rare as far as know. (The text of Sokol seems to refer to these extremists, and to a science whose own limits are more properly difficult to define.)

    Social scientists are interested in issues social scientists can study. Therefore they are more interested in the effects social structures have than in deciding what part of physics is so obvious that only one outcome is possible. Therefore they cannot answer your physics related questions. It would be risky for them to state some specific stance on those.

    People like Nancy Cartwright do know a lot about physics as well. I have read part of a book she has written and found most of it quite reasonable. On some points I’m uneasy or really disagree, but all the differences of opinion are on a much more nuanced level.

  137. > Science must never descend into tribalism.

    Indeed:

    Up until the late 1780s, religious divisions did not affect Birmingham’s elite. Dissenter and Anglican lived side by side harmoniously: they were on the same town promotional committees; they pursued joint scientific interests in the Lunar Society; and they worked together in local government. They stood united against what they viewed as the threat posed by unruly plebeians. After the riots, however, scientist and clergyman Joseph Priestley argued in his An Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the Birmingham Riots (1791) that this cooperation had not in fact been as amicable as generally believed. Priestley revealed that disputes over the local library, Sunday Schools, and church attendance had divided Dissenters from Anglicans.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestley_Riots

  138. Pekka, thanks. Maybe I now understand it a little better and the problem is just that some people are not able to say: sorry, I do not know the answer. Nasim Taleb once claimed that one advantage of Arabs is that their term for “I do not know” is “only God knows”, which is much easier to say.

  139. Steve Bloom says:

    “Tol was a denier”

    That’s still possible, but for now I’d go with unrelenting self-promoter with poor physical intuition.

  140. Eli Rabett says:

    Victor, it i not that the Martians would have had a different law of gravity, it is whether they would have one at all.

  141. Mark Ryan says:

    I feel like I should play devil’s advocate for STS here, for a moment. Some of the challenges in reaching understanding here come from the fact that training in natural science and training in the social sciences draw differently on their philosophical traditions. One of the key issues is the extent to which people from the two traditions worry about the certainty of knowledge, and the standards of proof they look for.

    In the philosophy of knowledge, realism is the idea that our understanding of things in the world is directly created by the things themselves. “I think therefore I am” is where DesCartes ended up, after determining that his knowledge of everything else was subject to reasonable doubt. Sprouting off in countless directions from the Cartesian base, philosophers have taken it as law that there is no perception of the world that we ourselves do not partly create –either through our physical bodies (consider synaesthesia), or through our ideas (you or I can never have quite the same experience of a cup, as someone who has never drank from one, because we can no longer separate what it is from what it does). This is the sense in which I think Tim Johnson was using Bergesson’s remark that “the intellect deforms all it touches”.

    If human beings could see magnetism, or perhaps perceive 360 degrees around us using echolocation, we may well have described the laws of physics using different metaphors, and asked some different questions. Had the last thousand years of scientific research been conducted under a matriarchy, we may well have described the laws of physics using different metaphors, and asked some different questions. And climate science may well have used different metaphors, and asked different questions, had it developed in a world other than one in which the largest producers of oil are private corporations that depend on right-leaning political cultures, and the wealthiest net importers of oil have more social democratic cultures.

    Almost none of the physical systems studied by modern science manifest their causal mechanisms directly –causes are hidden, are too large, too slow, or too small (eg. magnetism, climate, geology, chemistry). We isolate the mechanisms in experiments, or we create representations of them using records of partial observations and statistical analysis. These are human artefacts, no two ways about it, so it is never quite right when a scientist describes him or herself as having discovered a fact about nature –it is more accurate to say the scientist has produced a fact.

    Sometimes what feels like objective method to the scientist, is actually subtly influenced by social factors. For example, the history of evolutionary theory reveals very clear cultural influences over time, in the use of models of competition or cooperation, in treating organisms as platforms for ‘selfish’ genes, or as complex co-dependencies. More overtly, several feminist studies of science have revealed examples in which medical and psychological accounts of women were clearly biased by the researchers’ own assumptions.

    So far, this may seem fair enough…but how do we get from there to Tim Johnson saying in his blog “I believe it is equally justified to claim the “E=mc2″ and that “Raping three year olds is wrong”? Essentially, Johnson is arguing that, unless knowledge can be shown to derive from absolutely objective starting points, it is more like a convention than a fact –and our belief in it owes more to the authority which our culture assigns to scientists, than to any objectively special property of scientific claims. And since wealthy white men were largely the architects of the scientific method, and the social character of scientific organisations must contribute to the precise ways in which they create knowledge…etc.

    The key to Tim’s argument is really a version of the philosophical ‘problem of induction’ –the problem of treating E=mc2 as objective is that every argument we make for it relies on some kind of socially produced inference. We therefore end up with a circular argument, because there is no absolutely indisputable foundation which does not rely on something human culture created earlier. We might say that mathematics reflects the way the universe itself exists, but even that is an inference –like the argument that we can only infer the sun will rise tomorrow.

    For me, the idea that scientific knowledge has a social and historical character is obvious…and not all that interesting, because it just couldn’t happen any other way. But it just doesn’t make sense to act as though, unless scientific knowledge is 100% objective, it sits on the same footing as a moral norm. I could go on for days about why I think the induction problem has caused many smart people to waste literally centuries of time, but it is enough to say that it is an example of the ‘impossible standards of proof’ meme that we often see directed against climate science.

    And it is too one-sided to treat culture as a distortion of knowledge, rather than as a drive to refine it. After all, the cases of sexist or racist science were later overturned by better science. I keep harping on this in other comments, but one of the things that make scientific research communities more likely to achieve true knowledge is that they have developed unique cultures aimed at making themselves more susceptible to the selection pressures of the empirical world they study.

    This all means that –and this is key- scientific knowleedge is like evolutionary adaptation, a statistical outcome. Sure, the Real World is not identical to our model of it, but all of this shared knowledge, these methods of both cooperation and competition, combine to produce models which come to correspond with the world – but asymptotically, never reaching 100% equivalence. I think Johnson is wrong about E=mc2, because there have been so many independent lines of evidence that we must reasonably treat the formula as a genuine description of the world. The only sense in which we could say “it’s not impossible that E could equal something else tomorrow, or at some other time or place,” is the same trivial sense in which we could say “we might all be in the Matrix”. ‘Realism’ manifests statistically; no knowledge is ‘perfect’, but claims to knowledge are not equal.

  142. John Mashey says:

    I know some pretty good {sociologists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, historians, political scientists, etc) and they are really, really helpful. I have been delighted to see more involvement with AGU. I mentioned the Oreskes book on continental drift. But incompetent scholarship and polemics are not really very useful. If somebody wants to write about a science field, they’d better know enough of the relevant science to be relevant.

    Deja vu, all over again, with a long chain of related things, but concrete
    1) Postmodern science-wars, then
    2) Post-normal science, then
    3) STS, specifically an example by Reiner Grundmann that I truly hope is not representative of STS as a whole.

    1) Postmodernism / science wars
    Sokal, as Rachel M notes. I recommend A House Built on Sand. See ToC, I especially liked Harvard physicist John Huth on John Huth’s “Latour’s Relativity.”
    I was glad to have heard of Latour, given a strange affair in which Peter Wood tried to conflate me, Mike Mann and climate science with Bruno Latour and Barnum.

    2) “Post-normal science”, as per Jerome Ravetz and co, who organized the 2011 Lisbon conference where Roger Tattersall gave Judith Curry Climate scientists of the year award (short video), with climate science portrayed as a trash can.

    Later, (thoughtful, worth reading) Silvia Tognetti wrote Revisiting Post-Normal Science in Post-Normal Times & Identifying Cranks. and then
    Ravetz responds – to my last post.
    He wrote early in his letter:
    “For that a very important source is the autobiographical account by ‘Lucy Skywalker’, who describes how she was converted by Al Gore, and then painfully discovered ever more shoddy and tendentious science among the ‘alarmists’ (#1).”
    She is seen elsewhere as in Wikipedia or in her “review” of Salby’s book.

    3) STS: Reiner Grundmann, wrote The legacy of climategate: revitalizing or undermining climate science and policy? (paywall, sorry) He cites Functowicz and Revetz(1993) a few times, and Roger Pielke Jr gets 19 hits in the PDF.

    It might as well be an essay based on Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion, cited (6 hits). “Malpractice” occurs 12 times, along with much emotive language that seems odd in a scholarly journal. Just a few quotes:

    p.4 “Mann et al. ‘‘critically revisit’’ the issue of the so-called Medieval Warm Period which was assumed to have existed at least in the Northern Hemisphere from ca AD 1000–1200 (Lamb 1965). Mann’s temperature record did away with this phenomenon, claiming ‘‘unrivalled warming’’ in the late twentieth century.”
    Anyone who pretends to know anything about this and in 2012 cites Lamb(1965) as meaningful, except in historical context. People really ought to know a little about the history.
    See The Adoration of the Lamb for example.

    p.4 ” In one e-mail message, Phil Jones spoke of a ‘‘trick’’ to ‘‘hide the decline’’ of specific temperature Record”

    These words were cherry-picked without the slightest evidence of understanding the context.
    SkS#77 Scientists tried to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperature”, which shows the real quote and then comments:
    ‘”I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
    It’s clear that “Mike’s Nature trick” is quite separate to Keith Briffa’s “hide the decline”. “Mike’s Nature trick” refers to a technique (a “trick of the trade”) by Michael Mann to plot recent instrumental data along with reconstructed past temperature. This places recent global warming trends in the context of temperature changes over longer time scales.’

    There is nothing secret about “Mike’s trick”. Both the instrumental and reconstructed temperature are clearly labelled. Claiming this is some sort of secret “trick” or confusing it with “hide the decline” displays either ignorance or a willingness to mislead.’

    The “decline” was about the “divergence problem” of a certain set of Northern tree rings, not about temperatures, and it was “hidden” in the peer-reviewed literature starting no later than 1995 and including a paper in Nature, an odd “hiding” place.

    p.15 “The story so far tells us that the main problem was the peer review process which failed to spot the weakness of Mann et al.’s paper and gave Mann the confidence that he was in the right and his critics were in the wrong.”
    MBH99 was a pretty good approximation, whereas the claimed refutation was false.
    The section on the hockey stick is riddled with factual errors, and Grundmann either did not know or understand or care about Deep Climate’s 2010 discovery of the obvious fraudulent 100:1 cherry-pick in McIntyre’s code and the persistence problems. Wikipedia gets it right, see: Principal components analysis methodology.
    People who actually knew about paleoclimate and statistics weren’t fooled by this, but it works for general audiences.

    p.25 “This is, of course, what excites the skeptics around the globe, that Global Warming Theory is based on the cooking of data by a small group of scientists who abused their power and perpetrated the greatest hoax on mandkind, as US Republican Senator Inhofe famously puts it.

    p.29 ” The e-mails show attempts at influencing the peer review process in order to prevent uncomfortable papers to be accepted.9 Such attempts were not always successful. When they were not, the ‘‘team’’ would ponder extreme tactics, such as calling for a boycott of the publishing journals. This was considered for Climatic Research and Geophysical Research Letters.”
    For the story on CR, see a detailed analysis of a multi-year Pal review setup. The scientists were trying to keep junk out of the literature, one of things good scientists do … I checked all the papers from that period, and I’m not sure they actually noticed as many problems as there were.
    Pal Review.

    CONCLUSION
    Sigh: good social science is really valuable, and studies that improve imperfect human processes are always welcome and the topic is well worth understanding. Of course, in the climate wars, study of the sociology of anti-science might be more fruitful, but that may be a personal bias.

    I’ve read the paper, and IMHO it is a polemic based on scholarship that is at best incompetent and based on absolute, unwavering trust in people who used 100:1 cherry-picks atop bad statistics, jsut like the Wegman Report. The acceptance of this paper may say something about the journal as well.

    I sincerely hope this is not representative of STS as a whole.

  143. MarkR,
    Thanks, that’s very interesting. I understand Tim Johnson’s post a little better now that you’ve explained some of the background.

    John,
    Interesting. I think you make an some interesting points. Maybe we need STSS (Science and Technology Studies Studiers :-) )

  144. Brigitte says:

    MarkR – yes, that’s how I see things. I once tried to grapple with the issue of science, culture and language, not quite as well as you do, but here goes http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2013/09/07/science-as-a-cultural-institution-the-role-of-metaphors/

  145. Mark Ryan says:

    John Mashey: “I sincerely hope this is not representative of STS as a whole.” It isn’t. I have a bit over 4,000 social science articles and books relevant to global warming, and there are less than a handful who I would say uncritically buy the rhetorical talking points of the anti-AGW movement. You have named Ravetz and Grundmann, who I agree are particularly poor. Mike Hulme comes under some criticism, although he certainly understands climate science better than somebody like Grundmann. There are a couple of others, with my ‘favourite’ being Andy Sarewitz’s frankly bizarre “How science makes environmental controversies worse.”

    The interesting thing is that, in the social sciences, the consensus view around AGW is probably greater than 97%. Nearly all the writing addresses the politics of how states and other entities are presently dealing with AGW, the legal implications, sovereignty implications, what will happen to various communities after continued warming, and so on. The literature that addresses public controversies about climate science also overwhelmingly assumes the scientific consensus, using sociological, anthropological and psychological methods to explain why scientific knowledge is not accepted, and how it might be communicated.

    This all intrigues me, because there is very little attempt from the social sciences to explain why the science is right –Naomi Oreskes is the standout example; I also think Clive Hamilton has done some excellent work. In fact, the most common invocations of philosophers of science come from the opponents of AGW, who try and abuse Karl Popper’s concepts of falsification at every turn. The uncomfortable relationship of the humanities with ‘truth” has meant that, even though they clearly have no issue with the science, social scientists are not so forward in defending it.

    As Pekka said earlier in this discussion, “Social scientists are interested in issues social scientists can study.” This becomes a real problem when all statements of knowledge are standardised down to being various forms of cultural claims. If the sociologist sees only calls on scientific authority on either side, and is unwilling to treat one side as more objectively true, then they simply don’t need to look behind false claims –as in the examples John Mashey just gave.

    But even Bruno Latour recently lamented that maybe to scepticism of STS had gone too far, a sentiment echoed by several other sociologists, including Harry Collins (if you read his 1993 book, ‘The Golem’, you will see themes that eerily echo in the comments of modern day Republicans).

    The social sciences have a lot to offer in the modern attacks on science, but the discipline is still shaking off a hangover.

    By the way -can somebody please point me to a simple guide to italicising text, inserting links etc?

    The last paragraph of my last comment was supposed to start with:
    [Mod: I've fixed this for you]

  146. Mark Ryan says:

    Thanks, Brigitte, I didn’t know much about Bronowski. The dynamic tension that you discuss, between creativity and discipline, overlaps with a bunch of things I’m interested in -so I’ll take some time and read it more closely.

  147. Rachel M says:

    Mark,

    “By the way -can somebody please point me to a simple guide to italicising text, inserting links etc?”

    See – http://en.support.wordpress.com/using-html/

    Most of the tags there you can type directly into the comment box, except for the img and table tags.

  148. Marco says:

    John, a much more egregious example from Grundmann is this paper:

    http://sth.sagepub.com/content/38/1/67.abstract

    although you will find considerable overlap

    Some important background information on this particular paper:
    1. The supposed “online first” date of that paper is the date of a prior version. It was changed after some post-publication comments were received. I’m pretty sure those post-publication comments were not fully implemented (see point 3, for example), but still, it was changed without the journal indicating this

    2. Note in particular footnote 3, which wasn’t present in the originally accepted version

    3. A commenter, Bam, on Klimazwiebel informed Grundmann after publication of the first version that there was a grievous misrepresentation of Mike Mann’s e-mail from the meeting in Tanzania. He even referred Grundmann to DC’s evisceration of McIntyre’s claims. You will find that this misrepresentation has not been changed, and also that Eduardo makes a brave but also incorrect attempt to defend Grundmann’s (read: McIntyre’s) interpretation

    4. Grundmann uses the Phil Jones e-mail about “redefining peer review” in several places, and IIRC only once somewhat correctly interpreting what it really said

  149. Hmmm, so this is more and more indicating that maybe my views have been somewhat influenced by a minority. If so, apologies to all the other STS researchers if it seemed that my post and views were unfairly critical.

    Since Mark and Brigitte are commenting, and since we’re on the topic of climate science, there is something I had wondered. Climate science is clearly both highly contentious and highly scrutinized – probably more so than any other field today. Therefore it seems possible that all that the various controversies have highlighted is that the people involved are human and sometimes makes mistakes (I’ll add that – as Marco has pointed out – much of the controversies could also revolve around taking things out of context). Therefore it would seem that if the same were to happen in a different, but equally contentious field, you’d find the same issues. So, has anyone formally considered if all these controversies are simply highlighting things that would exist in all fields (and hence are largely irrelevant in terms of the big picture) but that we don’t know about because most other fields are not scrutinized nearly as closely as climate science?

    If anything, that seems to be roughly what this discussion has converged towards. Science is inherently a social process, but is still dominated by the evidence. Social issues can direct the path that’s taken and can influence how evidence might be interpreted (given the range of possible interpretations), but it is still the evidence that dominates.

  150. ATTP,
    Medical sciences are perhaps the best example for comparison. The controversies are significant, large private interests are involved, and very much scrutiny has been applied, probably more rather than less than for climate science.

  151. Ok, very briefly because I have supervisions to do. I believe it is a good thing for natural scientists and social scientists to be critical friends. It’s great to openly discuss the scientific process, the ways it can be influenced by politics, to be open about fallability and hype and fraud, to find ways of establishing relationships of mutual trust between scientists (social and natural) and members of the public, those interested in science, affected by science, reflecting on science, and going beyond ‘the science’ to think about wider issues, broader or different types of knowledge and so on. Climategate was awful in the sense that what was meant to be private (emails) was made public without permission. However, it opened up debates about openness and data access, sharing etc., which can be regarded as positive. However (again), I think the negatives outweigh the positives, as climategate was seen as proof or evidence for ‘scientists’ being all sorts of things which they, generally, aren’t. And this ‘evidence’ and the inferences drawn from it have become a cultural resource that can be used to talk about ‘all’ science. That’s not good, I believe. As for similar things happening in other fields, I am not totally sure. I was once wondering about neuroscience which is also quite closely scrutinised by social scientists, philosophers of science etc. and there are quite a few people tilting at strawmen I beliee, but that would need further thought. Climate science is different though as whatever the outcome of the science/politics wrangling is, it will affect everybody in one way or another.

  152. Pekka,
    Yes, that is a good point and I am aware of some of that. I’m not quite sure what conclusion I would draw, though. In the case of medical science there would seem to be financial interests driving research results. In climate science, you might argue that it’s the other way around. It’s financial interests that’s driving the scrutiny.

  153. Brigitte,
    Thanks, that’s a remarkably insightful. I don’t think I have anything that I could add.

  154. There’s also another way of comparing the level of scrutiny.

    In “regular” natural sciences scrutiny is purely part of the scientific process. That scrutiny is actually very extensive relative to the rate of acceptance of new results as scientific knowledge.

    The reason for discussing post-normal science and all that lies in the fact that there’s an interest to use results of climate science faster than the regular scientific process would move them to generally accepted scientific knowledge. Therefore we have explicit organized scrutiny. Climate science cannot operate purely as a regular natural science and by that answer properly all questions asked. There’s also interest in using it as regulatory science.

    Out of the work done based on the concept of post-normal science I have found some texts of Jeroen van der Sluijs quite reasonable. As far as I have understood that work has connections to actual environmental regulation in the Netherlands.

  155. @Wotts
    You miss the point. Your argument is “I’m not biased, because all my male, white, middle-class, highly educated, labour-voting friends employed in the public sector agree with me.”

  156. Richard,
    No, I think you’re missing the point. Nowhere have I said that I’m not biased. This isn’t about me. Why would you think it was? Let’s not play the “You make up something I’m supposed to have said that I then deny” game. It’s rather tedious.

    By the way, how was your Senate hearing yesterday? Seems like it might be quite fun to give evidence to the senate. Maybe you can give me some advice. I came up with two possible strategies. I wondered if you could give me some advice about which might work best. The two options I came up with are :

    1. Write an article about how the IPCC may not be perfect, could do with some reform, but fundamentally is doing a reasonably good job of synthesizing the evidence and presenting it to policy makers and the public.

    2. Write an article about how the IPCC is fundamentally flawed, full of biases, promotes alarmism so as to get attention, and ignores any evidence that goes against the message they’re trying to send.

    Which of those two possible options do you think would most likely get me invited to give evidence before the US Senate?

  157. The role of direct financial interests is much larger in medical sciences than it is in physical climate science. The situation is less clear when impacts and mitigation are concerned. National interests have had a major influence on WGII and WGIII. That starts by selective biases in what research is done and published, and that affects directly also writing of the reports. Countries and industries search for choices favorable for them.

    Some industries, most directly perhaps in renewable energies and fossil fuels, have as direct economic interest in the outcome as pharmaceutical companies have in medical research.

  158. Mark Ryan, when Descartes says: “I think therefore I am”, then that was a good try for the time. I feel that by now we understand reality well enough that we can say it also is. Science has created such an enormous network of ideas that fit together, that I would be unable to come up with that myself, while I am able to punctually check that it is right.

    With John Ziman, you seem to argue that a good workaround would be to talk in terms of probabilities and the law of gravity would then not be 100% sure, but almost. I am not sure whether that is the right way to think about a physical law. In the normal outside world, I am 100% sure, but there might be deviations at very short or very long distances, if the amount of mass changes very fast or directly after the big band or in a black hole. In such extreme and less well tested circumstances, I would be a lot less sure the law of gravity holds and if the evidence would suggest it would not, why not make something else. That would under such circumstances be just as fine as doubting the measurements. In summary, I do not think that one probability fits all, it depends on circumstances.

    Furthermore, I consider that Mark should start a blog.

  159. For what it is worth, I do not see additional outside scrutiny of climate science. Which is quite surprising as the oil industry has a huge motive to show that there are errors, but they prefer to finance PR firms over science. They seem to be extremely convinced that the science is solid. Maybe even more so that I do.

    I mainly see the outside as emptying their frustration over climate science with a lot of pure nonsense.

    It is part of the job of a scientist to be a gatekeeper, to keep bad quality work out of the journals and to make sure that when scientific journals do not do their work as gatekeeper of quality right, their reputation will suffer. That is part of the cultural norms of the scientific community that hold up the quality standards that are necessary to do good science.

    That the stolen mails showed that some scientists were trying to keep bad studies out of the literature showed scientists doing their job. As far as I can judge the studies I know about were not that bad and the scientific community as a whole decided that they could be published and that the journals did their job (in this case, unfortunately not always). I would thus argue that everyone was doing their job and that the swarm intelligence worked.

  160. Victor,

    Furthermore, I consider that Mark should start a blog.

    I agree.

    I think, despite the history within STS :-), that gravity is a really good example of the issues being discussed. We have Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Einstein then comes up with General Relativity which shows that Newton’s Law doesn’t work near massive bodies. However, we continue to use Newton Law in almost all circumstances because it is consistent with the new theory in almost all cases of interest. So, strictly speaking, one could argue that Newton’s Law has been falsified, but that doesn’t stop us from continuing to use it, because we know where it works and when we have to either modify it or use GR.

    Similarly, we look at galaxies and discover that their motion/dynamics can’t be explained by the gravitational influence of the visible matter. We have a problem. Most think that it indicates the presence of unseen dark matter (and, furthermore, matter that doesn’t behave like normal matter). Other, perfectly credible, researchers are, however, considering if this implies that gravity operates differently on large scales compared to smaller scales. So, we have some evidence that is being interpreted completely differently by different groups. It’s quite likely that their interpretations are influenced by their backgrounds and by various other influences.

    We do have more evidence, most of which points towards Dark Matter, rather than modified gravity. However, we still haven’t actually found a Dark Matter particle. If we do, then most would accept that the evidence we’ve seen is consistent with the presence of Dark Matter. It we continue to search for Dark Matter, continue to rule out more and more of parameter space and still don’t find it, then we might expect more and more researchers to start considering the possibility of modified gravity.

    So, it seems that social influences are playing a role in how people are interpreting the available evidence, but it’s all still constrained by this evidence and new evidence would likely change people’s views, depending on what the new evidence indicates.

  161. One formulation has been to use the word truthlike. The progress of science has the general direction towards more truthlike theories. More truthlike theories make less erroneous predictions and explain more of the true world. An implied assumption is that the progress of science will go on forever without reaching a point, where the theories represent the full truth.

  162. Marco says:

    You physicists…dark matter is so easy to detect!

    http://www.sciencepub.net/nature/ns0712/05_2012_easy_ns0712_31_32.pdf

  163. Marco,
    That’s fantastic. It even has the experimental method explained in extensive detail

    Choose a convenient dark room whose roof is made up of tiles. Make an artificial hole by slightly rearranging a tile. If this dark room is facing north, the convenient time for doing this experiment is between 8.00 am to 9.00 am or 4.00 pm to 5.00 pm. during sun light. This test mainly depends on climatic conditions. Particularly the sun should be visible and bright to the naked eye. Choose an ideal time and lock the doors and windows of the above mentioned room. While the sun’s light rays moves from top to bottom in the dark room, along the light path countless number of very tiny particles can be easily seen. For this viewing, no sophisticated equipments/apparatus are required. What are the physical phenomena of this result?
    ….
    ….
    ….
    The visible of particle in the path traveled by the sun light in the dark room is very bright for the naked eyes. These particles may be dark matter or dust particles. Future studies will decide this.

  164. izen says:

    Of course there are good and useful social science analysis of how the scientific method is actually implemented, and the nonsense promulgated by the Grundimens, Ravetz and Hulmes are a small faction of the total field.
    But while it may be of interest to examine the total field and the various sociological opinions, the bottom line is that climate science, {NOT the regulatory part of it,} is under attack from various groups who exploit the small number of STS that does espouse a social relativist agenda. A narrative of climate science that frames it as socially determined as if the radiative transfer equations were invented as a convenient prop for a social motivation. I posted before an example of just this type of attack. This is the issue, the use made of this post-normal science nonsense to attack the validity of the fundamentals of the science by dismissing it as motivated regulation.

    The problems in medical research are much greater, fraud, secret data, methods and research and a system that favours research into drug treatment for chronic conditions because that is the best business model.
    And yet there is very little fight back against these problems using the social value argument.

    Perhaps this is because medical research has been almost completely captured by its business interests which see no need to undermine the science. While in Earth systems or climate science there is still enough independent or pure research that generates results inimical to business. As has happened in the past with lead, DDT CFCs smoking etc the economic interests impacted by the science fight back.

    The only other field of science where I have encountered the epistemological argument that the field of scientific research is invalid because it is based on a social world view rather than objective material evidence is evolutionary biology.

  165. Mark Ryan says:

    Thanks Brigitte –hopefully my future comments will read better! And I agree with ATTP about your great comment.
    Regarding your last comment, ATTP:
    In the course of my research into the production of scientific knowledge, I seek out folks from a wide range of scientific disciplines. It is clear that every domain of scientific knowledge forms a constellation of established core ideas and facts, surrounded by anomalies and disagreement –clearly, the core elements are part of scientists’ training, but the less certain, peripheral stuff, is what actual researchers look at day in and day out. I am yet to come across any scientific discipline which does not have some dissenters –researchers who are trying to change core ideas, or whose findings are either difficult to integrate into the mainstream knowledge, or even contradict it. In other words, every scientific domain I can think of has a few Richard Lindzens.
    I think the truth is that for every Galileo, there are countless people who were just plain wrong -they got attached to idiosyncratic ideas, or were cornered by politics or personal issues…and in a handful of cases, they were flagging important anomalies in the existing knowledge, but needed someone else to come along with a better way to explain why the anomalies were important. Most ideas that challenge orthodoxy are ignored, and if they succeed in convincing the community at all, they do so only after a struggle. That is science as a real-world practice, and it is frankly the best imperfect system human kind has cooked up so far.
    But in the case of climate science, any dissenters have an instant cheer squad to tell them they really are the new Galileos. Their opinions are amplified and they are reassured that it is only political bias which blinds their peers to the obvious truth. If the scientist is already very political –such as Roy Spencer is- he probably prefers to work with his lay audience of fellow activists.
    Climate science is unusual because it has implications for global economies. But this all makes more sense when we consider ‘scientism’:
    The main reason sociologists have taken an interest in scientific knowledge is because scientific authority has sometimes been used to justify clearly social or political ends. Philosophers coined the term ‘scientism’ to describe the popular belief that scientific knowledge always trumps other kinds of knowledge. We see it every day, from the politician leveraging studies to justify policies, to disputes of established science constantly claiming to be the one ‘true science’ (think of gun control, GMO, creationism, vaccinations, pop psychology and of course, global warming), even the guy in the white coat telling us to use toothpaste X, or hair replacement Y.

    Scientism is such an important part of modern political life that we find ourselves in this debate over alternative sets of facts. The problem for the public is not all that different from the problem for STS scholars –and indeed, for any non-expert looking in on a debate within a particular discipline: how to tell between opposing, but apparently scientific, claims.

  166. Mark, I am sorry, but here I would like to try to play the contrarian. Isn’t the default case in politics that there is no science to base a decision on? Politics is typically about comparing apples and oranges, a question where science cannot help you. It is about interest, power, coalitions and mostly they do not have a clue what the consequences will be. (The latter no one will admit naturally).

    Whether politics “saves” Mexico, Lehmann, AIG or Greece. Whether politics proposes to make smaller groups in school or combine the 3 types of secondary schools into one (typical German discussion) or to integrate children with disabilities in standard school. Whether Iraq, Nicaragua, Afghanistan or The Crimea is invaded, no one can tell the consequences.

    What surprises me in the climate “debate” is that we do not see the normal political bickering, discussions and negotiations, but that one group makes itself unavailable to normal debate by irrationally claiming that the most basic scientific finding are wrong. What I find amazing is the “scientization” (does that word exist?) of the political debate and while you give some other examples, I do not think that that is the normal way of having a political debate.

    It is also a risky strategy. By claiming the temperatures are not increasing, that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas, that greenhouse gasses cool the atmosphere, you make claims that are verifiable nonsense. You make a fool of yourself. Like you make a fool of yourself to chose as last line of define: well I am not a climate scientist, I do not know. Did you ever hear the chair of an educational committee claim: well I am not pedagogue, I have no idea about pedagogy? I find it very weird how people put their reputation through the dirt and make themselves unavailable to civilised debate.

    A normal response for a politician that does not like left-wing policies to mitigate climate change, would be to simply claim that other problems are more important and more pressing. That the consequences of CC will not be so bad. That the solution have drawbacks and whatever other vague and political language you can justifiably use.

  167. Politicians are used in making decisions under uncertainty. It’s normal that full comparison of alternatives is impossible. Most of political decisions are, however, rather similar to earlier decisions. Competent politicians have developed acceptable capability to judge intuitively the pros and cons of such decisions.

    Decisions related to long term effects of climate change do not fit that pattern. The issues are not close enough to what politicians are accustomed to. Therefore they are rather clueless without expert advice and analysis. The climate science itself can tell only about climate. Making decisions requires in addition knowledge about impacts, and very importantly about likely consequences of specific policy decisions. If a particular action is inefficient, its not justified by the severity of the impacts. Getting all this information to politicians, who are clueless without, is the problem. When different experts tell very different stories, whom to trust? The standard answer is those experts, who are politically closest to the politician, but that may be a bad answer.

  168. Mark Ryan says:

    Regarding the relation between politics and science, Victor makes the comment that “A normal response for a politician that does not like left-wing policies to mitigate climate change, would be to simply claim that other problems are more important and more pressing.” The examples of political matters you give are all normative –about values, not facts, ‘ought’ rather than ‘is’.

    But some facts of the world have nearly universal normative implications. It is worth noting that in the last 3 decades, there has been a huge increase in the number of free-market think tanks which have turned their focus to natural science –as opposed to the more traditional foci of politics, economics, religion and ethics. I see this as a reflection of the fact that certain modern risks to health and the environment just can’t be given a low priority.

    This probably began with tobacco. It was never viable for tobacco companies to accept the connection between smoking and cancer, but then contest its moral implications. It was far easier to deny the connection exists altogether, and in the process they created a method of tackling regulation that is very appealing to politicians.

    Decades of this method give us a system of media in which people choose their own worlds of facts and counter-facts. That the strategy seems risky to you, Victor, only reveals how deeply you are immersed in a normative culture of professional science, in which being rigorous has ethical implications. For those people who use facts like protesters build barricades, debunking simply means it’s time to throw something else on the pile.

    On DesCartes, his problem was also the regression to solipsism – the logical conclusion that only my mind exists, and everything else is in doubt. Victor, your own response is similar to what the philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls a “performative contradiction” (I must admit that at around 12 years of age, it occurred to me that maybe I was really a slug-creature dreaming that it was a human being, and that everything I thought I was perceiving was actually an illusion. My ‘performative contradiction’ came when I wanted to tell someone about it!)

    Regarding probabilism –the benchmark example for me is Richard Feynman’s sum over histories thesis, in which he calculated (using math far beyond me, incidentally –so I take this somewhat on faith) that the apparently Newtonian motion of very small particles is in fact the most probable outcome of a bizarre and complex quantum process. And further to ATTP’s remarks, Einstein‘s account of gravity entails a radically different universe to Newton’s but in 99.9% of cases, the universe acts in accord with Newtonian physics.

    And a blog is on the way –thankyou for the encouragement- but completion of a Phd, publication and a ten month old son are getting very slightly in the way just now…

  169. Joshua says:

    ==> “If a particular action is inefficient, its not justified by the severity of the impacts.”

    That depends on the degree of the inefficiency, the relative efficiency of alternatives, and the degree of severity of the impacts.

    So…. If a particular action is inefficient, its not necessarily justified by the severity of the impacts.

  170. The examples of political matters you give are all normative –about values, not facts, ‘ought’ rather than ‘is’.

    Exactly, I would argue that that is normal. That that is what happens in almost any field of science. (Like the media also normally reports objectively about almost any field of science, which shows that they do know how to do this and what the difference between science and pseudoscience is, as an aside.) And making a political question into a scientific one is not normal.

    You are right that maybe it is effective because many people apparently do not care about their leaders lying or to being lied to. Which makes me wonder, what happened to the people that claimed smoking is fine. Do people still talk to them, do they still hold any offices? John Mashey, do you know that?

    On the positive side, by going to the science, the conservative politicians implicitly acknowledge that if you accept climate change, the response is a no brainer. Like for smoking. Otherwise they would not need this weird strategy.

    I am hopeful that Anders is willing to change his probability statement. The one of Feynmann was about a specific case. That is exactly what I am arguing, the probability depends on the case. It is not just one number.

    Pekka, I am not so sure that climate change is so unique. We have many global treatise to deal with global problems. We invest in basic science, which costs money now and will give benefits to all of humanity in generations.

    The only real difference I see is the relative suffering. The people responsible think that others will be hurt more than they will and while claiming to be Christians see this as a good thing.

  171. Victor,

    I am hopeful that Anders is willing to change his probability statement.

    Which probability statement?

  172. Eli Rabett says:

    Mark R, Eli is more of the opinion that Roy Spencer is apolitical, but religious/scientific and one has the interesting experience of watching his yin and yang conflict.

  173. John Mashey says:

    Lots of good comments, so just a few notes.
    1) Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance is worth reading.

    2) The tobacco analogy really is quite close in many ways. If people read a single book about determined efforts to obscure science, read Bob Proctor’s Golden Holocaust. Bob testifies in court cases, and the tobacco guys always try to prevent mention of the name of his book. Take a look at my review there for more.

    3) Many think tanks “learned the trade” with tobacco and have applied it to a new market, climate anti-science. In the UK, GWPF is rare (climate-only), but the IEA has done both.
    See this for the most recent example, e-cigarettes.

    From court cases, we have far better records of the interactions and $ with tobacco. The biggest difference is that in tobacco’s case, we *know* who drives it and where the $ comes from., whereas the roles and funding flows around climate are much more distributed, complex and murky, although we have made progress in digging some of it out, as per FAKery 2 or Bob Brulle’s really detailed study.
    Sociologists like RIley Dunlap and Aaron McCright have done fine work over many years looking at such topics.

  174. Victor,

    Whether climate change is unique or not may depend on, how uniqueness is defined. Independently of that I cannot recall any other issue where major political decisions are done and further decisions proposed emphasizing distant future to the same extent.

    Decision-makers learn from experience when the outcome is seen within a few years. That helps in making decisions without essential support from expert analysis. Lacking totally the experience makes that approach impossible.

  175. ATTP: “Which probability statement?”

    Mark wrote before: “And further to ATTP’s remarks, Einstein‘s account of gravity entails a radically different universe to Newton’s but in 99.9% of cases, the universe acts in accord with Newtonian physics.”

    Thus I thought you had said something similar as the 99.9% before. A fixed probability for the likelihood of a natural law. The list of comments is getting a bit long. At least you have said that there are discussions around dark energy and mass. Thus wouldn’t you argue that the chance that the theory of gravity is wrong on human and planetary scales is much smaller than at galactic scales? That the likelihood thus depends on the situation?

    Eli is more of the opinion that Roy Spencer is apolitical, but religious/scientific and one has the interesting experience of watching his yin and yang conflict.

    Don’t Christians go to hell if they do such things? They are supposed to the people with moral values, who would never lie to anyone out of fear for the afterlife. Us atheist scientists and liberals are the ones without any morals, right? Because we do not have Jesus. Wasn’t that the Limbach story? Political rather than religious motivation sounds more likely to me, even if he hides that.

    Are the people that lied to us about tobacco dead by now? Is that why pseudosceptics are typically old men whose social network has or will soon die out?

    Pekka, yes you could also call any decision unique, but then politicians would never know what to decide, but I guess his part of the discussion is too subjective to go anywhere.

  176. Steve Bloom says:

    “Independently of that I cannot recall any other issue where major political decisions are done and further decisions proposed emphasizing distant future to the same extent.”

    I can think of some other examples, but as with climate the main thing going on seems to be avoidance of grappling with the problem at its actual scale.

    Depletion of fisheries, soil and groundwater come to mind, and of course all of these are influenced by climate change. The first of those is closest in terms of governance mechanisms.

  177. Steve Bloom says:

    Victor, here’s a moment of schadenfreude re those denialist geezers (and geezers-to-be).

  178. Steve Bloom says:

    Fixed link for that last.

  179. Steve Bloom says:

    John, I think it’s worth adding the Powell memo to that list.

  180. Steve Bloom says:

    “It is worth noting that in the last 3 decades, there has been a huge increase in the number of free-market think tanks which have turned their focus to natural science –as opposed to the more traditional foci of politics, economics, religion and ethics.”

    Mark, I don’t think I’d include religion and ethics on that list, but in any case environmental/health issues have been there from early on, noting the push-back against Rachel Carson and, long before that (although strictly speaking the think tank network didn’t exist at that time), the issue of lead in paint and gasoline.

  181. Steve Bloom says:

    “What I find amazing is the “scientization” (does that word exist?) of the political debate and while you give some other examples, I do not think that that is the normal way of having a political debate.”

    Victor, in the U.S. and maybe now to some extent in the other major English-speaking countries, I’m afraid it’s quite normal, although it wasn’t always that way.

  182. Steve Bloom says:

    “It is also a risky strategy. By claiming the temperatures are not increasing, that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas, that greenhouse gasses cool the atmosphere, you make claims that are verifiable nonsense. You make a fool of yourself. Like you make a fool of yourself to chose as last line of define: well I am not a climate scientist, I do not know. Did you ever hear the chair of an educational committee claim: well I am not pedagogue, I have no idea about pedagogy? I find it very weird how people put their reputation through the dirt and make themselves unavailable to civilised debate.”

    Victor, in counterpoint there’s the (bipartisan, note) example of West Virginia politicians with regard to coal. Being thought fools, at least by their constituents, doesn’t seem to concern them.

  183. Steve,
    Long term issues are certainly discussed in various connections, but the dominating arguments refer usually to much shorter term effects.

    One example of really long term dominance is nuclear waste disposal, but I don’t consider it an internationally important issue on the same scale.

  184. Eli Rabett says:

    Victor, there is no better answer to your question about tobacco science than Planck’s remark that science advances one funeral at a time. True of more than science

  185. Victor,

    At least you have said that there are discussions around dark energy and mass. Thus wouldn’t you argue that the chance that the theory of gravity is wrong on human and planetary scales is much smaller than at galactic scales? That the likelihood thus depends on the situation?

    Assuming you mean Dark Matter, rather than Dark Energy, then yes :-) .

  186. John Mashey says:

    Comparing lead and climate: I recommend (always thoughtful) Susan Solomon’s talk:
    from the recent UC Santa Cruz Climate Science & Policy Conference which:

    1) Was at UC Santa Cruz, a truly beautiful campus in the redwoods above Santa Cruz

    2) Had a lot of good people,
    AND most apropos for this thread:

    3) Was co-hosted by the Divisions of Social Sciences and Physical&Biological Sciences.
    That is the sort of event I’d hope to see more often.

  187. John Mashey says:

    Victor:
    “Are the people that lied to us about tobacco dead by now? ”
    Some yes, many no. Many of the folks mentioned in Golden Holocaust are still around, and Koch Industries Hires Tobacco Operative Steve Lombardo to Lead Communications and Marketing.
    He was “crisis char” at Burson-Marsteller (who suggested the Tea Party motif in early 1990s).

    For those unfamiliar with the workings of PR.
    1) Much of PR is about getting positive press, getting into the news.
    2) A small set of folks at a few agencies specialize in snuffing out news you don’t want.
    it is possible that a “crisis” guy might have that experience :-)

    But, some of the old stalwarts have died off.

  188. Is this idea outdated by now? I must admit that cosmology baffles me.

    It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe.

    Steve, I wonder if cynicism about the motives of others is linked to free market orientation and car driving. Those people might just get dementia from reading WUWT or because they walk too little.

  189. Victor,
    As I understand it, that the rotation curves of galaxies cannot be explained by the gravitational influence of the visible matter is an indicator of the existence of Dark Matter. That distant supernovae are fainter than they should be is an indicator of Dark Energy (which is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate). Having said that, cosmology baffles me somewhat too, and I work with cosmologists ;-) .

  190. Steve Bloom says:

    Probably not at all to your surprise, Victor, those linkages do seem to exist.

  191. “Are the people that lied to us about tobacco dead by now? ”
    “Some yes, many no.”

    They must have a very special social circle.

  192. Joshua says:

    ==> “Mark R, Eli is more of the opinion that Roy Spencer is apolitical, but religious/scientific and one has the interesting experience of watching his yin and yang conflict.”

    Not sure how apolitical this is:

    “I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/07/06/261843/roy-spencer-job-minimize-the-role-of-government/

    Also seems rather “activist” to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

  193. John Mashey says:

    “special social circle”
    That’s really hard to tell, I haven’t pursued the Social Network Analysis direction on them anywhere near as much as for climate anti-science. The latter is more visible, given thinktanks, affiliations, petitions, etc. The former tends to have been better hidden, longer. Golden Holocaust dug out a lot, including qutie a few that Andrew Gelman knew.

    The difference is that for climate dismissives, a lot of people want to be visible and known for it, generally not true of tobacco connections., That’s true in politics as well, at least in US:
    See open Secrets and click on “Top Contributor – see more. The resulting list has 321 members of Congress, spread over years, (R)-230(72%), (D)- 91 (28%), although by 2014 that was (R)-110(79%), D-21(21%).

    I’d guess that many (R) + (D) would not take tobacco money, period, but more would if they thought they wouldn’t get flak for it, and (D) tend to get more flak from constituents.
    Hence, just as in climate, the (R)-(D) split has been growing, since it was 66%-34% for 2000-2008.

    By state, the 21 (D) are: CA, CA, GA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MS, NC, NC, NY, SC, TN, UT, VA, VA, VA, WV. There were more outside South than I expected, but Altria is an equal-opportunity donor.
    A similar effect was seen, at least here in CA for state legislature: majority of money through (R).
    It is no surprise that it was essentially impossible to get tobacco control legislation through Congress, which is why so much of the action was in the states, and then through the DoJ, although the latter took heroic efforts by Sharon Eubanks & co.
    There are lessons here for climate, energy, cars.

  194. Steve Bloom says:

    Thanks for the Solomon lecture link, John. The whole thing is worth a listen, although most of it isn’t news to regulars here. The lead segment is from about 51:00 to 59:00.

    It’s interesting how she’s become much less reticent having left federal employ. :)

  195. Steve Bloom says:

    I suspect Victor had in mind a circle with a number. :)

  196. Mark Ryan says:

    Joshua -yes, that quote from Spencer has always seemed pretty political to me, too.

    I had a long conversation a few years back, with the editor of a newspaper in Adelaide, Australia. Shortly before, they had run a double page spread promoting Ian Plimer’s “Heaven and Earth” -an utterly dreary work of agnogenesis. The conversation was tense (probably my use of words like ‘hack’ didn’t help) but what became quite clear to me, was that this guy genuinely had no way to tell whether Plimer’s claims were as scientific as the people he was attacking. He really thought he was being fair to all sides by showing Plimer’s side of the argument.

  197. Steve Bloom says:

    Thanks for “agnogenesis,” Mark. Added to my vocabulary, and sadly likely to see lots of use.

    Your interaction with that editor is all too typical. People who expect better should realize that, among other things, that a) most editors lack science reporting backgrounds, b) boffin-bashing (of which excess promotion of wanna-be Galileos is one form) draws eyeballs and sells papers, and c) the journalistic credo of holding both sides equal avoids much strain on editorial brains.

  198. If I understand it right agnogenesis is similar to agonygenesis.

    Apologies, scientists always need to be contrarians. Spencer made the above quote in a comment. Comments are made quickly and should not be taken too seriously. And he updated it later: This was a rather poor analogy…my point was that a federally-funded person like myself can be against excess government spending, that’s all.

    The post itself is about Spencer’s new market fundamentalist book. More politics as Jesus.

    It could be that some editors are not very science literate, but when I was still doing clouds and radiation, they were interested in simply reporting what we did as objectively as they could while somehow making it interesting for the public. The media would sometimes make a mistake, but in that time I never saw the kind of spin you see for climate science. Thus I do not think that the climate literacy hypothesis is sufficient.

  199. Steve Bloom says:

    This type of problem with the media is also probably somewhat Anglo-centric, Victor.

    Except, Victor, Spencer (with Christy) has engaged in the kind of activism to which the initial statement alluded.

  200. Mark Ryan says:

    “agonygenesis”.. I laughed out loud. :)

    It’s quite a sign of the times, I suppose, that there even needs to be such as discipline as Agnotology, but I think the newest form of pseudoscience is not about claiming to understand something without reasonable evidence, but rather the use of scientific-sounding arguments to cast doubt on existing knowledge… “we can’t understand it, therefore neither can they”.

    Regarding Spencer’s politics -like the views of any other scientist, it would pass without remark, if not for the fact that he has published free-market economic theory which could have come from the Heartland playbook, or any of the other free market think tanks that also reject AGW.

  201. Pingback: Making Science Public » Science wars and science peace: Some personal reflections

  202. “agonygenesis”.. I laughed out loud. :)

    My apologies. A small slip. Scientists are supposed to be emotionless robots.

    Actually, I do not mind that Spencer writes free-market books. However, it would be nice if his political background would not influence the scientific work he is doing. Given the strange statements and plots he has made, such a book does provide a way to understand were this comes from.

    For those reading this by email. I guess they do not see that there was in interesting pingback: Making Science Public » Science wars and science peace: Some personal reflections

  203. Apologies for coming to this particular debate rather late in the day. As Brigitte says in a comment above, I’ve been busy marking exam papers. I should note, however, that the marking made no difference at all to the style or tone of my posts/comments — see my posts for physicsfocus for comparison.

    I make no apologies at all for writing in a style which is as punchy and as pithy as I can make it. I stand by my comments in threads elsewhere that certain areas of sociology make a virtue out of dense, impenetrable, and unreadable writing.

    I’d just like to respond, as briefly as possible, to the comments made by Pekka Pirilä (PP) above as they relate directly to my blog post at Making Science Public and to my discussion with Reiner Grundman (and others) in the comments thread for that post. Moreover, Pirilä has stated that he is a physicist and there may be less of a communication gap between us than was the case for my exchanges with Reiner. Let’s see…

    PP: Sheila Jasanoff is discussing the [type] of quality assurance needed when scientific knowledge is used for regulatory and related purposes (I don’t like the concept of Regulatory Science as a name for such activities).

    Good. We agree that “regulatory science” is not an appropriate name for the activity Jasanoff describes. Unfortunately, however, it appears that many sociologists mistake regulatory ‘science’ for ‘normal’ science (i.e. science). Any type of cross-disciplinary communication is stymied unless a common vocabulary is established.

    PP: She’s totally right in concluding that peer review as applied in typical contexts of science is not an appropriate method for such QA.

    Fine. But as I said in my blog post, let’s not confuse this type of quality assurance with science. That’s a very simple message which really does not need any type of “in-depth” discussion — see below.

    PP: What Moriarty wrote appeared to me rather superficial and of little interest.

    You’re entitled to your opinion, of course! It’s interesting just how many comments that particular post stimulated, however. Moreover, I would argue that mislabeling a regulation practice/quality assurance mechanism as science is far from superficial for not only those of us who are scientists but for sociologists, policy-makers, and, indeed, the general public. (Oops, sorry, “publics”).

    PP: Judith Curry had many posts on post-normal science vs. normal science. That’s essentially science 2 and science 1.

    As I said in my post (and elsewhere — see links below), these types of “next generation” science erode the disinterestedness that should be at the core of science (i.e. the “D” in Merton’s CUDOS norms). I should note that I am using “disinterested” as a term which is distinct from “uninterested”, i.e. in the sense that Merton (and Ziman, amongst others) used it.

    If you think the erosion of disinterestedness is a “superficial” aspect of the debate then we’re going to have to agree to disagree. For me, disinterestedness/detachment is at the very heart of the scientific method. Lose that and what you’re doing is not science, it’s, errrm, Mode-2- or post-academic- or regulatory ‘science’.

    PP: The more I read from the comment thread of Moriarty’s post the more I wonder, how badly people can talk past each other. In that I blame mainly the physicists, many of them seem to be totally unable to understand what the other side is saying. They repeat strawman attacks based only on misunderstanding.

    Please point out to me specific examples of where I’ve used a straw-man attack.

    PP: As far as I can see, no-one taking part in this discussion is claiming that well-established results of physical sciences are influenced by social influences or anything at that level.

    You must be reading an entirely different comments thread to me! Others above have picked you up on this in the comments above but I really want to re-emphasise the point. The description of Jasanoff’s book which I include in my post states this:

    “… who should define what counts as good science when all scientific claims incorporate social factors and are subject to negotiation?”

    Note the uncompromising use of “all” in that sentence.

    Furthermore, Victor Venema posed this perfectly reasonable question, “Reiner Grundmann, do you expect that within our scope of application, the Martians would have a different law of gravity…or Pythagoras’ theorem?”

    To which Reiner replied, “The question is not meaningful as the Martians are not defined.”

    I repeat, where is the straw-man?

    “And Then There’s Physics” pointed out this exchange with Reiner to you and you responded by saying “To me that’s just an example of, how a physicist, you in this case, does not understand, what the other side is talking about.”.

    *Please* explain to me just how I am meant to interpret Reiner’s statements, if they do not mean that he see the laws of physics as social constructs. His argument is that the laws of physics (e.g. F=d(mv)/dt, F=GmM/r^2, Maxwell’s equations, the laws of thermodynamics etc…) cannot be said to exist outside the context of a social framework.

    Do you agree? If not, please explain to me just how Reiner’s statements show that he indeed agrees that there are objective scientific principles and laws which exist independent of society.

    PP: My problem with Moriarty is that I have seen similar issues discussed so many times, and often in much more depth.

    I agree, I didn’t discuss the issues in depth. Nor did I want to. It was a blog post, not an academic article. Again, I make no excuses for aiming for brevity and clarity. (The post at the top of this thread is an exemplar of the type of writing to which we all should aspire). I’ve written in some considerable depth elsewhere regarding Mode-2, post-academic etc.. ‘science’. See, for example, the following:

    Moriarty, P. Nature Nanotech. 3 60 (2008)

    Moriarty, P. Science as a Public Good in “Manifesto for the Public University”, edt. John Holmwood (Bloomsbury (2012))

    PP: Post-normal science is not science, neither is regulatory science. Both should be based on science, but that does not make them science.

    Agreed. So why don’t we stop calling them science?

    PP: My judgement as a physicist who has read also texts by social scientists is that in this particular case the fault is mainly on the side of the physicists.

    See the links above. I have also read texts by sociologists. In some depth. You claim a number of times that the “fault is on the side of the physicists” without ever explaining just why. I refer you again to the exchange between Victor and Reiner quoted above. I would very much appreciate it if you could explain just how we are misinterpreting Reiner’s comments.

    If it helps, imagine that I’m a reasonably intelligent 16 year-old with no background in sociology but some understanding of basic scientific principles. It looks very much to me that Reiner is arguing that a scientific principle such as the first or second law of thermodynamics is not an objective statement of the properties of the physical world but that it’s merely an opinion arising from social interactions. I would appreciate it if you could explain the flaw in my reasoning. Thank you.

    ————

    There are a number of other comments you have made which I’d like to address but let’s start with those above (presuming that you’re still reading!).

    Philip

  204. I see the discussion is still continuing.

    @Steve B: I’m ranked 99th out of 40025 economists.

    @Chris: After long prodding, it appears that Gelman’s key critique is that I did not use data that he mistakenly thought existed.

    @Wotts: You seem to work under the assumption that individual bias will be correct by peer-review and replication. That comes apart if the bias is not a trait of the individual but rather a trait of the group.

    I was not thinking about climate when I wrote those remarks, but it is neatly illustrated by the hesitance to recognize as a problem the inability to forecast the pause in the global mean surface air temperature. If we believe Fyfe, the p-value is now 2% and still people cling to the models — even though they are close to being falsified.

  205. Richard,

    I’m ranked 99th out of 40025 economists.

    I know. I’m as amazed as you are.

    You seem to work under the assumption that individual bias will be correct by peer-review and replication.

    No, I don’t think individual bias will be corrected by peer-review and replication. I think that individual bias does not matter much in a field where there are fundamental laws that need to be satisfied.

    That comes apart if the bias is not a trait of the individual but rather a trait of the group.

    Possibly, but not only is it remarkable that you would say such a thing without evidence, but you’re again missing the point that everyone would have to be knowingly biased in order for this to have an effect. Anything’s possible, but suggesting that everyone in a field (and in a field that you’re associated with) is behaving unethically is amazing.

    FWIW, I thought your evidence to the US Congress was absolutely atrocious. That you could pontificate about the bias of others without mentioning your own very obvious bias was telling. As far as I’m concerned the credibility of what someone says should be inversely proportional to the height of the pedestal upon which they’re willing to put themselves. Your pedestal is so high it needs a guard rail and a flashing red light.

    If we believe Fyfe, the p-value is now 2% and still people cling to the models — even though they are close to being falsified.

    I’ve still not had a satisfactory answer as to why Fyfe et al. uncertainty interval on the observed trend was a factor of 2 smaller than all other estimates.

    as a problem the inability to forecast the pause

    If you have any understanding of this situation (which it appears you do not) their inability to forecast the pause is largely because the models are ensemble averages and hence can not collectively predict such events (which isn’t a pause, by the way). They’re also not specifically designed to do decadal predictions. There are many interesting aspects to the so-called pause, none of which yet suggest that the long-term model projections are likely to be wrong.

    After long prodding, it appears that Gelman’s key critique is that I did not use data that he mistakenly thought existed.

    Wow, is that what you took from that. What Gelman was suggesting was that you actually go to each of those different papers, work out how they calculated the value for the data point you have, and then repeat the calculation for different temperatures, so that for each study you have a range of values and can then fit a curve through all those values. Repeat that procedure for all the different studies. He was suggesting that you actually do some work.

    He also said this

    I’m sure you can go the rest of your career in this manner, but please take a moment to reflect. You’re far from retirement. Do you really want to spend two more decades doing substandard work, just because you can? You have an impressive knack for working on important problems and getting things published. Lots of researchers go through their entire careers without these valuable attributes. It’s not too late to get a bit more serious with the work itself.

    I think you should really listen to Gelman. He seems to not only be a top statistician, but a very sensible person too.

  206. Philip,
    Thanks for the lengthy comment. I’ll leave Pekka to respond to the points you make.

    My current take – at the moment at least – is that it’s not really an STS vs Physics (or scientists) issue. It’s really just some individuals who are either unwilling to explain their position with any clarity or actually do believe (as you suggest) that the laws of physics are simply opinions arising from social interactions.

  207. @Wotts
    Jorgen Weibull wrote an excellent book on this, entitled “Evolutionary game theory”. You may of course also go back to Maynard Smith.

  208. The brilliance is Maynard Smith’s, the accessible discussion is Weibull’s

  209. Richard,
    I was more asking about why I should bother.

  210. Philip,

    For some reason I react particularly strongly on the net, when I feel that a person or a group of persons has been attacked for wrong reasons. This discussion has been a case of such reaction. (When I end up in that mode, I may be guilty of the same error in interpreting the criticism, but I do make some effort to avoid that.)

    The main issue that I had with your post and more strongly with some of the comments to your post and also on this site is that strong criticism should be presented only when a genuine and good faith attempt has been made to understand the object of criticism. I good starting point is to assume that other people are not utterly stupid, and that you have probably not made a sufficient effort to understand them, if they utterly stupid to you.

    In this discussion the reason for the differing views cannot be based on attitudes towards global warming as there’s little connection between much that’s discussed and the global warming debate. The differences of view may affect the global warming debate, but the effect in the opposite direction is virtually non-existent.

    Some easy points:

    PP: The more I read from the comment thread of Moriarty’s post the more I wonder, how badly people can talk past each other. In that I blame mainly the physicists, many of them seem to be totally unable to understand what the other side is saying. They repeat strawman attacks based only on misunderstanding.

    Please point out to me specific examples of where I’ve used a straw-man attack.

    In the above I refer explicitly to the comment thread, not to your post.

    PP: Post-normal science is not science, neither is regulatory science. Both should be based on science, but that does not make them science.

    Agreed. So why don’t we stop calling them science?

    I would be glad to, but I cannot change the language, I can only point out that it’s used in a illogical way as I did in my sentence.

    I hope that is has become clear that I do not agree with everything social scientists write. That would be impossible because there’s a lot of disagreement among them. As far as I have observed they are willing to argue on their points, and they do actually argue very much also in their own circuits; argumentative discourse is part of their approach. Constructive (or properly destructive) argumentation requires, however, that people understand, what others are saying – or show with proper justification that understanding has been made too difficult or impossible. In this particular discussion I don’t see any reason to think that understanding what the social scientists have been saying would have been too difficult. It would have required only genuine willingness to understand and little effort.

    Picking some exceptionally extreme views as representative of large groups of people is a form of straw-man argument, so is also a misunderstanding of a statement, when the misunderstanding is due to unwillingness to figure out, what’s meant by the statement.

    You don’t expect social scientists to understand physics at a deep level or to participate in a scientific discussion of an open scientific issue in physics. Here the setup is within social sciences. As the conference was on the interaction between different groups of people it was certainly important that all participants spend a significant effort in learning and using a common language. That common language cannot in this case build on anything else than that of social sciences. Therefore a larger effort is required from participants unfamiliar with the discourse of social sciences for them to be productive rather than disruptive. Without that effort a physicist is as incapable of contributing properly to the discussion as a social scientists would be in solving a present scientific problem of physics. The difference is that the effort required from a physicist in this case is not as impossible as that required from a social scientist to contribute to string theory.

  211. Pekka,

    For some reason I react particularly strongly on the net, when I feel that a person or a group of persons has been attacked for wrong reasons.

    As I think I may have mentioned before, I’m failing to see why you’ve interpreted any of this as an attack. Maybe you and I differ in what qualifies as an attack, but I would normally regard it as more than simply disagreeing with someone or not understanding what they’re saying.

  212. ATTP,

    It’s really just some individuals who are either unwilling to explain their position with any clarity or actually do believe (as you suggest) that the laws of physics are simply opinions arising from social interactions.

    I see the problem in the unwillingness of some people to learn the language and the context where the issues are presented and what’s the only context where they can be properly presented. This is not a discussion about physics, this is discussion on sociology and philosophy of science and on social interaction between various groups.

  213. Pekka,
    We could end up going around in circles. My point – put slightly differently – is that I might actually learn something of what you say if some were actually willing to put some effort into explaining themselves in a way that someone like myself might understand.

    However, the broader point I was making with that comment is that my current impression is that it’s not an STS (collective) vs Physics (collective), it’s really just an issue related to some individuals. Whether those individuals are physicists who are unwilling to understand the language and context or STS people who are unwilling to explain themselves clearly, is not really the point.

  214. Here is a presentation of scientific realism and antirealism

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-realism/

    My impression is that people participating in the discussion from the side of social sciences have accepted scientific realism as the starting point. Thus they accept that there are real laws of physics. Social sciences don’t tell about these laws or contradict them, they study the operation of the process that tries to find out what these laws are (i.e., the process of science).

    Social sciences cannot tell what the laws of nature are, but they can study, how efficiently the process of science has been able to reach stable conclusions on these laws. Social sciences might be also able to tell, what makes errors perpetuate, or which situation leads to a process that finds errors more rapidly.

  215. I might actually learn something of what you say if some were actually willing to put some effort into explaining themselves in a way that someone like myself might understand.

    Many people have surely tried, but the outcome has been the same as it is when a point of physics has been explained to someone with too little background knowledge and too little willingness to learn that background. These issues may be more accessible than many parts of physics, but comments in net discussion are not a sufficient tool.

    It’s often justified to tell someone ignorant of physics that taking a physics textbook and spending the required effort to learn from it is the only solution that can be proposed. Similarly reading material of the relevant social sciences may be the only way of reaching understanding of what they are talking about.

  216. PP, thus it is a strawman to respond to the person present, RG, and not to simply ignore him because his views are not the ones of the larger STS community?

    As a naive physicist I found the comments of Philip very good and would welcome a more detailed response. The previous one was as vague as one would expect of a climate “sceptics”. There seems to be quite a correlation between people with political problems with climate science and people calling everything just opinion.

  217. Brigitte says:

    Pekka,
    Do you mean that we should all together try to understand something like this which I found quite illuminating:

    http://philosophy.fas.nyu.edu/docs/IO/1153/socialconstruction.pdf

    If so, why has nobody from STS in the comment streams written something like this? The first two pages are interesting, also end of p. 6
    “However, anyone who really thought that, say, Maxwell’s Equations could be justified
    by appeal to Maxwell’s, or anyone else’s, social or political beliefs would betray a complete
    incomprehension of the notion of justification. An item of information justifies a given belief by raising the likelihood that it is true. Admittedly, this is not an unproblematic notion. But unless we are to throw it out altogether, it is perfectly clear that one cannot hope to justify the fundamental laws of electromagnetism by appeal to one’s political convictions or career interests or anything else of similar ilk”

  218. Pekka,

    Similarly reading material of the relevant social sciences may be the only way of reaching understanding of what they are talking about.

    Possibly, but I would argue that whatever the discipline, one should always be able to explain the significance of what they’re doing, if not the details.

    Also, something I was trying to get across in this post (although maybe not that clearly) was that it would seem important for STS researchers to understand why physicists might push back against what some STS researchers seem to be saying. If these STS do not understand why physicists may respond in this way, then I think that calls their ability to do STS research into question. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the physicists are right, or that they’ve interpreted the STS research correctly, I’m simply suggesting that it seems reasonable to expect an STS researcher to understand this issue.

  219. What I have been writing in this thread has been almost totally generic. My message has been essentially:

    Open up your mind. Expect to learn from people of other disciplines instead of building immediately defenses against intrusion of new ideas. Make an effort in maintaining that approach and search actively for additional sources, when you don’t understand what the issue is. Don’t expect that you can have a simple and correct answer from someone else (sometimes you can, but don’t count on that).

    When you have done the above it may be time to return to critical views on what you have read.

    When we consider specifically the issues related to climate change and STS people involved in that discussion my view is that they make certainly many points valid on a general level, but it’s common that they overstate those points. As the points are correct on general level they cannot be contested from general principles. The conclusion drawn from the overstatements can be contested – and should be contested, but that’s, of course, technically demanding. Here again I see far too often attempts to ridicule valid arguments using generics that cannot be supported.

    You cannot argue in a way proper for a scientist against the more important papers of Richard Tol without understanding their technical and scientific basis. The same applies to the views of many STS people. You can state that certain views are wrong, but without the background that’s based on faith, not on facts. Intuition is a very important tool in resolving issues too difficult for analysis, but with intuition the risk of erring tends to be large. It’s particularly large, when issues are of a type on which we have no experience that extends from early observation to practical outcome.

  220. Pekka,

    Open up your mind. Expect to learn from people of other disciplines instead of building immediately defenses against intrusion of new ideas. Make an effort in maintaining that approach and search actively for additional sources, when you don’t understand what the issue is.

    I don’t know who you were applying that to, but I’ve written a blog post about the topic and acknowledged that there may be aspects that I don’t understand. I’ve written numerous comments on the subject. I’ve read some of what people have pointed out. What makes you think that those commenting here are not trying to do precisely what you suggest they should do. Additionally, you still haven’t answered my question as to why you’ve interpreted this whole situation as an attack, rather than simply a discourse between different disciplines.

  221. Also, something I was trying to get across in this post (although maybe not that clearly) was that it would seem important for STS researchers to understand why physicists might push back against what some STS researchers seem to be saying.

    I have written already before that physicists seem to be waiting answers in their language, in their way of thinking. I would expect that most social scientists don’t even understand what has been asked for. If the understand that, the question remains one that they cannot answer. it’s not a relevant question for them. They are not physicists, they let answering questions about the physics content to physicists. They may look at, how statements about physics are formed, or what’s their relationship to some philosophical considerations, not at their meaning as seen by a physicist. There are philosophers of science with an extensive knowledge of physics, but I don’t think they were directly involved in this discussion.

  222. Pekka,
    I fail to see how your response in any way addressing the point I was trying to make; which was, surely STS researchers should be willing to try and understand why physicists may respond in the way that some have? If this is of no interest to them, then what is STS research all about?

  223. ATTP,
    Everyone of us has problems in opening up the mind. Therefore I added the sentence on making an effort to maintain on open mind and to extend understanding.

    I don’t want to give names here, but on climate science blogs I have seen participants that have amazingly narrow views. There seems to be a selective bias that narrow-minded people write more to the net discussions that those with more open minds. Such a bias would not be surprising. Narrow-mindedness can go in all directions. Many skeptic blogs are full of it, but the other side is far from immune as well.

  224. Pekka,

    I don’t want to give names here, but on climate science blogs I have seen participants that have amazingly narrow views. There seems to be a selective bias that narrow-minded people write more to the net discussions that those with more open minds. Such a bias would not be surprising. Narrow-mindedness can go in all directions. Many skeptic blogs are full of it, but the other side is far from immune as well.

    Sure, but that seems a bit like projection.

  225. ATTP,
    I said that the other side has tried to answer the physicists, but they have answered in their language. They see, correctly in my view, that the issue is on the social science side and can be answered only in their language. The form of answer expected does not make sense from that point of view and answering in that way would be misleading.

    The choice seems to be between giving an answer that’s not understood/accepted as an answer, and giving a wrong answer.

    I don’t think that anyone participating in the recent discussion would think that textbooks of basic physics are not right, or that engineering based on physics would be suspect. They don’t know where the limits of reliably known science are. Some of them may have been mislead to think that climate science has less solid basis than it has. Practical STS conclusions are affected by ideas about the reliability of the specific scientific input in the issues being considered, but having skeptic views in that does not mean that the person would not accept much of basic physics and its engineering use as appropriate.

    STS people are supposed to look only at the processes, not to judge themselves, what’s correct content. It’s, however, an illusion that much can be said about the proper process that’s not influenced by the content. Therefore STS is not likely to add much valuable to the discussion.

  226. Pekka,

    I don’t think that anyone participating in the recent discussion would think that textbooks of basic physics are not right, or that engineering based on physics would be suspect.

    You keep saying these things and yet, as Philip and I and Victor have pointed out, this does not appear consistent with the full discussion on MSP.

  227. Brigitte says:

    Pekka,
    Some STS people said at the conference that STSers job is to put scientists under the microscope, i.e. to study not only science but also scientists. Given this job description, I think it is not too much to ask that they should try to understand not only what scientists do but also what they explore and what they discover, what they are passionate about, why the take issue with certain things and not others and so on. Why should it only go one way, as you seem to imply, that scientists have to make an effort to understand STSers? That is NOT their job, but it is the job of STSers! However, despite it not being their job, natural scientists on both blogs have made substantial efforts in putting their points of view across as clearly and transparently as possible and have also tried to understand what STSers have been saying. If understanding what they say proves difficult and/or has led to misunderstandings, then it is up to STSers to try again and express themselves more clearly. This is, in fact, what they expect scientists to do, not only in interactions between social and natural scientists, but also and even more so in interactions between natural scientists and the general public. Many natural scientists have taken up that task with relish and have, in IMHO, learned how to express themselves clearly and put their points across in accessible ways, something that is reflected in their contributions to the blog posts.

  228. ATTP;
    Victor gave two examples. I didn’t see anything in them.

    Philip mentioned Cartwright. That claim was explicitly wrong in my view based on reading enough Cartwright’s writing to have a personal judgment on that.

    You haven’t been as explicit.

    My conclusion is that none of you has been able to justify the claims with a single valid example.

  229. Pekka,
    Try reading the comments on MSP again. This time with an open mind ;-)

  230. Brigitte,

    1) Looking specifically, what each STS scientist has said, I’m sure I would have many points of disagreement. I have observed that previously. (See also (3)).

    2) What I’m not satisfied with is that wrong arguments are used against them. Any social scientist who selects as her or is field STS is likely to be a pragmatist by nature. Pragmatists are almost certainly also scientific realists. Therefore I feel it really wrong that they are attacked picking arguments that do not apply to scientific realists but to anti-realists. I don’t say that scientists must understand STS people in general, but if they want to criticize what they say, they must first understand what they are doing.

    3) I just wrote

    STS people are supposed to look only at the processes, not to judge themselves, what’s correct content. It’s, however, an illusion that much can be said about the proper process that’s not influenced by the content. Therefore STS is not likely to add much valuable to the discussion.

    4) STS is about the interface of science and policy. For that it’s not as relevant to know, how much science really knows reliably, what they need to know is, how reliable is the presentation of scientific knowledge that can be extracted for use in the policy process. That involves both the reliability of the data and the reliability of the messenger in presenting correctly and without cherry picking the scientific information including also information on the accuracy and reliability of the information, when such information is relevant. There’s no doubt that serving as a messenger of scientific information is a social process and some part of that change depending on the social settings. How large is the part that may change is a further question.

    When a STS person puts a scientist under microscope that must refer to her role as a messenger.

    These are issues STS people are talking about. They are real issues, and decision-makers are interested in them. A very essential part of the bias in at least a subprocess of this interface is due to the selection of the experts the decision-makers choose to listen. I would guess that many people on this site agree on that when they look at the Congressional hearings dominated by Republicans.

    By all means fight against what you feel to lead to erroneous policies, but try to avoid being sidetracked into fight against straw-men.

  231. Brigitte says:

    Pekka,
    You say: “Any social scientist who selects as her or is field STS is likely to be a pragmatist by nature. Pragmatists are almost certainly also scientific realists.” It would be great if somebody in the comments said this about themselves. I am not talking at all about erroneous policies or fight against what might lead up to them. I am trying to establish some ground-rules or perhaps better ground-understandings on the basis of which discussions about policies can happen. And I totally agree with you and everybody in STS that science advice, decision making based on science is essentially a political process – how can it not be? But before we look at that process we have to understand something about the science involved in it, I believe.

  232. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    You say:

    ==> “Also, something I was trying to get across in this post (although maybe not that clearly) was that it would seem important for STS researchers to understand why physicists might push back against what some STS researchers seem to be saying.”

    What I see is that often, at least on blog “discussions,” is that many times people absolutely can anticipate how other discussants will push back – and in fact utilize that knowledge as a kind of rhetorical plaything.

    As a case in point, I’ll take Richard’s comment from above:

    “A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.

    There is no reason to assume that today is exceptional.”

    It’s quite obvious what kind of push back that comment would receive. We’ve all seen repeated patterns (often between the same participants) play out countless times.

    Now Pekka wants to blame reactions to Richard’s rhetorical ploy on people responding to straw men. Well, perhaps there’s an element of truth to that. But it seems to me that Pekka, is: (1) refusing to engage on whether that Richard’s comment rhetorically employed a “plausible deniability” against push back that he well knew would take place and, (2) in fact set the poor-faith dynamic in play be dropping in his own straw man about “assum[ptions] that today is exceptional.”

    From what I’ve seen in blog exchanges, people tend to fail to engage rather obvious and predictable “naysayer” arguments against their own theses. IMO, a prerequisite of a good argument in support of a thesis is that obvious and predictable good faith naysayer arguments should be taken into account. IMO, such an engagement is an mark of quality analysis.

    Sometimes a failure to engage with an obvious and predictable good-faith “naysayer” might happen through an ignorance of what a good-faith “naysayer” might argue. But it seems to me that more often that is not the case. Often, it seems to me, that failure is a rather intentional, rhetorical device.

  233. Joshua,

    Reactions to Tol’s comment do not contribute at all to the reaction that led me to comment in this thread, what I have commented on that is a side remark. The original posts of Philip and Anders had an effect, but even that didn’t make me comment. Further comments in these both threads were the real reason. As I wrote (using different words) in my first comment, the reactions were so surprising to me that it took time to me to even believe that people can really see the situation so differently from what I considered the case to be.

    Since that first comment I have tried to make may view understood.

    On Tol’s comment my earlier comment to you tells best, what I think about that and reacting to that.

    Empty generalizations should be taken as empty generalizations. Trivially correct facts can be accepted as such, it’s not necessary or justified to start arguing against some self-generated extension of that.

    When Tol didn’t in any explicit way hint that his sentence is meant to be relevant for fundamentals of climate science there’s no point in assuming that he meant that.

  234. Mark Ryan says:

    There seems to be some fuzziness in the way the term ‘realism’ is being used above. Pekka seems to be assuming that people in the STS discipline are ontological realists -that is, they accept that there is a real world, independent of our knowledge of it, which has law-like properties.
    I think it has been a few hundred years since any serious thinker in the social disciplines did not accept ontological realism.

    But I can be an ontological realist and say that the objects in the real world, which science ties to study, are not actually knowable. The kind of realism that matters for discussions about the role of science in policy today, is epistemological realism. The strong form of epistemological realism treats our knowledge of the world as something that external reality impresses upon us. It’s quite common to find scientists in any era, including today, treating their current state of knowledge as something they discovered about the world.In my earlier comments I tried to illustrate some reasons why that is not so -knowledge combines information from the real, external object, with information from human artifacts, in the form of experiments, theories, instruments etc.

    The strong form of epistemological realism is never practiced in science, but I often hear scientists themselves use language as though they peeled back the layers of the world, and its truth then did the rest of the work. It is actually almost universally rejected in the social sciences and in philosophy of science -I’d wager pretty much nobody in STS is a realist in this sense.

    Responding to ATTP’s comment that “…surely STS researchers should be willing to try and understand why physicists may respond in the way that some have?” I’d like to mention two problems for the understanding of science by people outside it (not only scholars, but the public and political decision makers):

    1. Shallow vs deep immersion. It is much easier from outside to imagine that some other formula could be interchanged with E=mc2, than it is for someone who has studied and worked in the discipline of physics. I fear Dunning Kruger affects all people who attempt to look into someone else’s discipline -and I think one of the reasons is simply that a genuine expert in a domain has had exposure to countless confirming pieces of evidence, and has perceived the web of interconnecting theory. I remember a few years ago reading one of Feynman’s lectures, in which he explained that if the uncertainty principle didn’t make it impossible for us to know both the location and velocity of very small particles, a huge network of other physical laws would have to be revised. It struck me at the time, how laypeople commonly treat the uncertainty principle as a temporary failure of physics, a threshold that will need to be crossed in order for physics to realise its potential.

    My point here is that, in an absolute, strictly analytic, philosophical sense, even E=mc2 is an inference. But only someone with casual exposure to it could treat it as a social convention. Somebody who applies it, or understands its application, who knows its history and sees it reaffirmed regularly, treats it as a fact. And rightly so. In their tendency to treat all human activities as instances of culture, what I think some STS scholars overlook, is the role of intellectual experience. The scientific method is directed outside science, to the world of its objects.

    2. This leads to the second point -that science is not about revelation, but evolution. I am an epistemological realist, in the sense that I think the kind of knowledge produced by science is shaped by the real world of objects, structures and systems. Careful experiments can allow mechanisms and systems to reveal themselves quite fully, but I think mostly, reality acts like the way selection pressures act in evolution.

    Selection does not directly shape organisms -it constrains them and creates opportunities, always driven by the organisms pushing against their environments. Likewise, we need to do a lot of our own work to expose our thinking to the world. The things we study are not arbitrary -they reveal aspects of themselves by responding to our interactions in consistent ways. For me, an evolutionary approach is the foundation for how it is that science progresses at all, and also why it does so fallibly, with breakthroughs, but sometimes stalls and setbacks. Incorrect theories -maybe buoyed by social forces- can persist for only so long, before the Realist selection pressure pushes back on them.

  235. Pekka,

    As I wrote (using different words) in my first comment, the reactions were so surprising to me that it took time to me to even believe that people can really see the situation so differently from what I considered the case to be.

    Given how you’ve approached this issue, the feeling is mutual. However, I don’t think people responded to your comments in quite as insulting a way as you’ve responded to the comments of others.

  236. izen says:

    Real science –
    Measure and use logical deduction utilising mathematical concepts to determine, say, that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is PI, a fractional ratio that probably has one million consecutive sevens somewhere in its full decimal expression.

    Regulatory science –
    Declare that PI=3
    With 95% probability and medium certainty….

    Science and technology studies –
    Ignore whether PI is constrained by ‘physical reality’ ( a social constructed concept) and examine the social process used to arrive at a value of PI.
    Pass judgement on the quality of that process excluding any consideration of whether the value found is accurate.

  237. Anders,

    I haven’t had the impression that I have been insulted at any stage of this discussion, but the starting point of all that I have written here is that I felt that some others were. That kind of feeling makes me use stronger words than I would otherwise.

  238. Pekka,

    I haven’t had the impression that I have been insulted.

    I agree, that’s what I said in my comment.

  239. Brigitte says:

    Hi MarkR
    The (asymptotic and evolutionary) process of scientific knowledge acquisition that you describe so well above is, I believe, also what is described by some of the scientists who contributed to the MakingSciPub post, only without using the philosophical terminology. (And I am NOT saying the philosophical terminology you use is in any way superfluous or unimportant; on the contrary, I found your exposition really illuminating).

  240. As far as I can see I agree on the description of the process of science presented by mark and accepted by others as well.

    In various discussions I have described the the scientific process as

    An informally defined process that has the general direction of increasing and improving scientific knowledge. The unwritten rules of that process are determined by the scientific community, which is again an informally defined concept, but we basically know who are members of that community, not at a level of every individual, but well enough for knowing, what it is.

    Results of scientific work add to the pool of scientific knowledge. New results are provisional until they have been confirmed well enough by further research. Essentially everything found in basic textbooks of physics is so well established that it’s consider certainly true for all practical purposes. Many other results of scientific work belong to the same group. All levels of certainty between the best established and highly provisional coexist.

    Nothing in the above is formally defined, neither are there formally selected judges who have a special authority in telling what the status of each piece of scientific information. The judgment is done by an unorganized consensus formation that goes on all the time.

  241. As far as I can see I agree on the description of the process of science presented by mark and accepted by others as well.

    Yes, I also agree with the process presented by Mark.

    Nothing in the above is formally defined, neither are there formally selected judges who have a special authority in telling what the status of each piece of scientific information. The judgment is done by an unorganized consensus formation that goes on all the time.

    Yes, agreed. In some sense, this is the scientific method. The more interesting question is how one presents this consensus view to those who do not have formal expertise in whatever field is being considered. Discussing that, however, may open a completely new can of worms :-)

  242. Brigitte says:

    MarkR, reading your interesting explanations made me dig out some old stuff and I just wondered whether you had come across this and whether this might be useful to your argument or not…. It’s basically Donald T. Campbell’s ‘evolutionary epistemology': “Applying the BVSR [Blind variation and selective retention] principle to the evolution of knowledge, Campbell founded the domain of evolutionary epistemology. This can be seen as a generalization of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, which conceives the development of new theories as a process of proposing conjectures (blind variation) followed by the refutation (selective elimination) of those conjectures that are empirically falsified. Campbell added that the same logic of blind variation and selective elimination/retention underlies all knowledge processes, not only scientific ones. Thus, the BVSR mechanism explains creativity, but also the evolution of instinctive knowledge, and of our cognitive abilities in general.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_T._Campbell (by the way what is your PhD about?)

  243. @ATTP,

    My current take – at the moment at least – is that it’s not really an STS vs Physics (or scientists) issue. It’s really just some individuals who are either unwilling to explain their position with any clarity or actually do believe (as you suggest) that the laws of physics are simply opinions arising from social interactions.

    I’d really, really like to think that this was just an isolated “tussle” stemming from opinions held by a small number of sociologists/STS researchers. But the exchange that prompted my blog post at physicsfocus on the Circling the Square conference (and led to the follow-up at Making Science Public ) happened in the first panel discussion. Luckily, there was a brief write-up in Research Fortnight about this last week. Note the following:

    The idea that you can separate facts and policy is complete nonsense,..

    This was said by Chris Tyler (of the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology) during the heated exchange to which I refer in that physicsfocus post . I know Chris, having first met him as a result of my participation in last year’s Royal Society MP-Scientist pairing scheme , and have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s a very canny and smart individual.

    But there was an undertone in that debate which veered very close to the idea that all scientific results are societally/culturally influenced. Perhaps I’m overstating this, but I really don’t think so. Brigitte’s opinion would be of value here. In any case, the video of the session will be uploaded later this month and we can all see for ourselves.

    I am not at all convinced that the stance on cultural relativism is due to just a small number of individuals, as you suggest. Having had an interest in STS and the sociology of science for the last six to seven years — I’m a member of the Management Committee for the Science, Technology and Society Priority Group here at Nottingham — I have certainly, and on more than one occasion, encountered the idea from colleagues in sociology that scientific laws arise from social interactions. Reiner’s comments over in the MSP comments thread are not, in my experience, entirely out of whack with certain schools of thought in STS/sociology.

    The vast majority of scientists that I know do not interact with sociologists/STS because they feel that sociology has nothing of value to say about science. Is this also your experience? Scientists largely don’t engage with politics for precisely the reasons that Stanley Prusiner laid out in his interview with The Observer last week:

    Why do so few scientists enter politics?
    I believe that politics takes a much different set of skills than science. Science is about getting to the truth. Politics is about what people think and how they react. These activities may be at opposite ends of the spectrum of human activity. If enough people believe Obama should be the president, then he will be elected president. But in science, the data is king; public opinion is unimportant. I think it would be great if we had more people in politics who were trained in science.

    The problem with scientists not engaging is that it then falls to sociologists/STS researchers to skirt the science-politics/policy interface. And,as I said in my (deliberately provocative) post for MSP, if those STS researchers confuse something like regulatory ‘science’ for science, then this is a major problem.

  244. Drat. Screwed up the link to the Research Fortnight article. It’s this:

    http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ppzpjm/RF435_Csq.pdf

    Apologies.

  245. Joshua says:

    Pekka –

    ==> “Reactions to Tol’s comment do not contribute at all to the reaction that led me to comment in this thread, what I have commented on that is a side remark.”

    What I’m speaking to is how Richard’s comment is an example of a larger phenomenon, often found in these discussions, and I think similar to the larger debate going on here.

    When someone implies that science can be viewed as a social construct,” they should anticipate certain obvious and predictable counterarguments – in just the same way that Richard should have anticipated obvious and predictable counterarguments to his empty and trivially true generalization/straw man.

    What I saw was that Anders repeatedly for answers as to why those counter-arguments weren’t addressed in the original presentation of the all science is a social construct argument.

    If STS researchers are suggesting that societal biases influence our scientific understanding, then it appears that they’re suggesting that scientists are collectively ignoring evidence, or selecting not to run tests that might invalidate a preferred interpretation.

    Now I haven’t followed the back-and-forth that has taken place fully in the comments on this blog, and the back-and-forth that has ranged into comments sections on other blogs, so I might be missing something – but from a bird’s eye view I think I have seen a recognizable pattern of miscommunication in the larger issue being addressed that can also seen by way of example in the exchange w/r/t Richard’s comment.

    Of course it is not “necessary” to react to Richard’s comment as anything other than an empty generalization. And it also might be said that it is not necessary to react to a facile argument that “all science is a social construct,” but I think that we stick to saying that a response isn’t necessary, we fail to hold into account a deliberate rhetorical ploy, and further, fail to account for an often found pattern of invalid argumentation.

    Of course one can argue that all scientific knowledge is a social construct. In this context, the plausibly deniable implication is that the “consensus” view of climate science is essentially a social construct and therefor is fallacious. No doubt, you have seen that argument made thousands of times. The embedded straw man is that “realists” argue that there is no political dimension to the climate wars.

    There are counterarguments that are obvious and predictable.

    Just as straw man responses are unnecessary, so is it unnecessary to present arguments that fail to account for obvious and predictable counterarguments. The problem, IMO, is that people are willing to play empty rhetorical games as a way to engage in identity aggression and identity protection.

  246. @Pekka.

    I’m going to possibly repeat/amplify the messages in some of the responses of others to your comments earlier today, but given that you did me the courtesy of replying directly to me, I think it only fair to give you my tuppence worth.

    The main issue that I had with your post and more strongly with some of the comments to your post and also on this site is that strong criticism should be presented only when a genuine and good faith attempt has been made to understand the object of criticism.

    You repeatedly argue that I, and others, are attacking a straw-man and/or have not made an attempt to understand the object of criticism. I really don’t think that’s fair. I’ve spent quite a considerable amount of time over the last six to seven years reading STS and sociology papers and texts (admittedly, largely from a science funding policy perspective; see, for example, this short piece I wrote for The Economist online a couple of years back). A number of us over at MSP similarly spent quite a bit of time trying to tease out the question of cultural relativism in order to, as you put it, “understand the object of criticism”.

    I have certainly made a good faith attempt to understand the object of criticism. My reading of the comments of others here, and at the MSP blog, is that they similarly are expending quite a bit of effort in trying to tease out just what the STS position on the objectivity of science might be.

    I good starting point is to assume that other people are not utterly stupid, and that you have probably not made a sufficient effort to understand them, if they utterly stupid to you.

    This is equally unfair. Where have I ever suggested, or gone any way towards suggesting, that STS researchers/proponents are “utterly stupid”? I have criticized Cartwright’s ideas as totally flawed (more on this below), but that’s a long, long way from even beginning to suggest that those ideas are “stupid”.

    In this discussion the reason for the differing views cannot be based on attitudes towards global warming as there’s little connection between much that’s discussed and the global warming debate.

    Not only have I not mentioned global warming at any point in my posts, I have even said in one of the comments on the MSP blog that I refuse to get drawn into a debate on global warming. So let’s leave climate change to one side for now.

    On the subject of straw-man attacks you say I refer explicitly to the comment thread, not to your post..

    So I’ll pose the question again — please point to examples in the comments thread of a straw-man attack. I don’t see it, so I’m obviously missing something and would appreciate it if you could point out a specific example. Thanks.

    Picking some exceptionally extreme views as representative of large groups of people is a form of straw-man argument,

    My issue is as described in my response to ATTP above. If these are the views of just a small number of individuals, well and good. However, where is your evidence that this is indeed the case? It would be very interesting to poll STS scholars on the question of the extent to which physical laws such as the first and second laws of thermodynamics are culturally determined. As Brigitte said above,

    Pekka,
    You say: “Any social scientist who selects as her or is field STS is likely to be a pragmatist by nature. Pragmatists are almost certainly also scientific realists.” It would be great if somebody in the comments said this about themselves

    .

    Indeed.

    Without that effort a physicist is as incapable of contributing properly to the discussion as a social scientists would be in solving a present scientific problem of physics.

    Sorry, but I entirely disagree with you on this. Your argument here is that a scientist who has not read the social science literature is incapable of contributing to a discussion of how science should be used to inform policy-making. Or that a scientist can’t contribute to a discussion on the objectivity of scientific results/the scientific method without first reading the sociology literature on the topic.

    This would mean that you would, for example, discount the very lucid and insightful comments of a number of PhD students from the physical sciences who attended the “Circling…” conference and who had certainly not read up on the STS literature in advance…

    I don’t think that anyone participating in the recent discussion would think that textbooks of basic physics are not right, or that engineering based on physics would be suspect

    I’ll second, and amplify, ATTP’s very important comment on this point:: the evidence from the thread at the MSP blog is that there are certainly those participating in the discussion who feel that textbooks of physics are not right in suggesting that there are universal laws.

    And, I’ll stress again, it is not at all the first time that I have encountered this view.

    Philip mentioned Cartwright. That claim was explicitly wrong in my view based on reading enough Cartwright’s writing to have a personal judgment on that.

    Please explain to me how my comments on Cartwright were wrong. Thanks.

    Victor gave two examples. I didn’t see anything in them

    That’s not addressing in any way the question about your accusations of straw-men which was put to you. Just how is it a straw-man argument to suggest from the following exchange of comments that Reiner is claiming that the laws of physics are culturally/socially determined?

    Victor Venema May 28, 2014 at 11:09 am
    Formulated in a more practical way, Reiner Grundman do you expect that within our scope of application, the Martians would have different law of gravity (sorry) or Pythagoras’ theorem?

    Reiner Grundmann May 28, 2014 at 5:26 pm
    This question is not meaningful as the Martians are not defined. An empiricist would say the test of the pudding is …

    Again, please explain where the straw-man is hiding in this particular exchange.

    Note also that Reiner’s position is not that far removed from Cartwright’s…

    Open up your mind. Expect to learn from people of other disciplines instead of building immediately defenses against intrusion of new ideas.

    I’m going to be brutally honest here, Pekka, but I find that immensely patronising. Why have I spent a considerable amount of my time over the last few years reading STS texts and papers if not to “learn from people of other disciplines”?

    You are suggesting throughout your comments that my, and other’s, unwillingness to accept the STS community’s position on a particular topic stems largely from an unfamiliarity with the STS literature, rather than a fundamental and principled issue with the premise itself. This is not at all helpful.

    STS is about the interface of science and policy. For that it’s not as relevant to know, how much science really knows reliably, what they need to know is, how reliable is the presentation of scientific knowledge that can be extracted for use in the policy process.

    No. This is an immensely dangerous strategy for all of the reasons I suggest in my post over at MSP. You’re immediately introducing heavy bias into what should be as objective a reading of the data as possible.

    Right, that’s enough for now.

  247. @Mark Ryan. June 1. 1:36 PM.

    Re. your (and Feynman’s) comments the uncertainty principle: There are few other principles in physics which are as misinterpreted as the uncertainty principle. Indeed, as you may well know, there’s a strong argument for suggesting that Heisenberg himself didn’t appreciate the true origin of his uncertainty principle.

    The uncertainty principle is distinct from the measurement/observer problem in QM and yet it’s almost always put across in popular accounts in terms of “the measurement affects the outcome”.

    One of the few “Eureka” moments — actually, let’s be honest, the only “Eureka” moment — I had as an undergrad was when I realized that the uncertainty principle was”nothing more” than a Fourier transform. I’ve banged on about this at length previously: When the uncertainty principle goes up to 11… .

  248. izen says:

    @- Mark Ryan
    “The things we study are not arbitrary -they reveal aspects of themselves by responding to our interactions in consistent ways. For me, an evolutionary approach is the foundation for how it is that science progresses at all, and also why it does so fallibly, with breakthroughs, but sometimes stalls and setbacks. ”

    The evolutionary metaphor for the growth and development of our body of scientific knowledge is seductive. It requires the position of strong epistemological realism. That the selective forces on our knowledge can be accurately described, explained and manipulated by measurement and mathematical reason because we are interacting with a reality that is computable.
    The fitness of a theory is perhaps measured by the ability to reproduce the empirical evidence that supports it. Erroneous or incomplete theories become local fitness peaks, suboptimal but sufficient until we extended into new environments.

    But if the measure of the scientific validity of a theory is no more than its utility, the ability to survive the selective pressures of a rational coherent universe, then the way in which that fitness or utility is quantified becomes important.

    Is empiricism the only test, or is logical deduction, mathematical elegance or consistency with current dogma equally strong criteria?

    AS much as the utility of scientific knowledge, it is its consilience that also supports the strong epistemological realist position. And the historical pathway by which it has evolved. Within a year of the publication of Darwin’s work on evolution the ‘greenhouse’ properties of CO2 were measured and the measurement of the orbit of Mercury could be made with enough accuracy to reveal a small problem with Newtonian gravity.

    STS might be said to be concerned with the social factors that impact the assessment of the fitness of our scientific knowledge. Treating it as a formal process without judging the validity of the underlying assumption of strong epistemological realism. But this opens science to the claim that the form of the theories are shaped as much by forms of social cognition not just reality.

    Whilst the analysis of the evolution of scientific knowledge as a socially embedded process can generate interesting insights, it is also used as a shibboleth to attack aspects of that body of knowledge. The formalist approach can lead to general statements like –
    “Results derived from incorrect methods are, by definition, incorrect.”
    Sometimes the aim is to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a field of research.
    but as a smart bunny pointed out, results may be usefully imperfect. In many scientific contexts the utility of deleterious mutations in a hypothesis is to reveal significant selective pressures, impressing greater accuracy into our knowledge base.

    What are the selective pressures on the fitness of STS?

  249. Mark Ryan says:

    The strongest social constructionist arguments about science these days are plain old conspiracy theories. In this thread, the closest to a strong social constructionist argument was Richard Tol’s remark “…You seem to work under the assumption that individual bias will be correct by peer-review and replication. That comes apart if the bias is not a trait of the individual but rather a trait of the group.”

    Just thinking in terms of Ockham’s razor, it is too far-fetched to explain scientific consensus as some kind of collective conspiracy by thousands of academics to achieve the average wage, when it’s far easier to simply accept they are mostly saying the same thing about the world, because the thing they are mostly saying happens to be true (the exception would be when a community is ‘biased’ against people who, from outside, accuse the community of incompetence or dishonesty –that is pretty easy to imagine).

  250. izen says:

    @-“A quick glance at the history of thought shows that erroneous theories are remarkably persistent.”

    But a more persistent examination of the history of science shows that erroneous theories (as opposed to imperfect or incomplete) with any longevity are remarkably rare.

    I have been trying to think of three good examples since this comment was posted.

    A geocentric cosmology is the obvious one, but like many others it is an example of science (at its beginning) replacing what certainly was a socially constructed theory with one evolved from empirical observation.

    Philostogen perhaps… Lysenkoism!
    Examples of non-trivial erroneous theories held for a significant period of time in science since Darwin? anyone any suggestions?

  251. Joshua says:

    BTW – Pekka…

    In the name of full disclosure – part of my perspective on the argumentative approach of Reiner Grundmann comes from reading this post at RPJr.’s blog – along with assertions based not on evidence, but on speculation, Grundmann presents a comparison between climate scientists and Nazis:

    For example:

    There is an eerie similarity between race science and climate science in that both see their services as essential for solving pressing social problems.

    rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-power-of-scientific-knowledge-guest.html

  252. Mark Ryan says:

    Philip, thankyou for the link regarding the uncertainty principle –there was always risk I would unduly burlesque QM in the course of my example, so you have helped me to be sharper next time. I guess I have illustrated my own point about the problems of people commenting outside their fields!

    Brigitte, thankyou for the link to Donald Campbell. I know his work somewhat, but not as well as I would like (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that about somebody…). I actually like that Campbell was very cautious about how far the evolutionary metaphor could be applied to epistemology. For me, the evolutionary metaphor is most important because it describes how an indirect epistemological realism can work – the external object need not be fully apprehended in order to still exert a determining influence on what, and how, we can know about it.

    I am a bit hesitant to embrace the metaphor of blind variation though, because human knowledge is the adaptive ‘organism’ that knows it is adapting. Our ‘vision’ keeps improving; really blind trial and error would not account for the progressive building-up of scientific knowledge.

    To stretch (and hopefully not break) the evolution metaphor a little further, the selection pressure is less direct in economics than in, say, physics, less direct in climate science than in, say, chemistry. When a real system or structure has complex or hidden causal mechanisms, it tends to exert its selection pressure statistically, as a tendency. Following the approach of people like Roy Bhaskar, I see the history of experimentation as efforts to isolate causal mechanisms. When scientists conduct experiments, they are focussing and amplifying the selection mechanism –trying to make their ideas subject to the verdict of the real object. In some cases, experiments are not possible –the obvious example here being the case of climate.

    I think that is where we do well to think in terms of two kinds of selection pressures on scientific knowledge: external, empirical pressures and internal consilient pressures. As izen aptly expressed it, “Is empiricism the only test, or is logical deduction, mathematical elegance or consistency with current dogma equally strong criteria? AS much as the utility of scientific knowledge, it is its consilience that also supports the strong epistemological realist position.”

    The empirical manifestations of most of the systems and structures in the world are noisy -some degree of empirical data can select for a wide range of arguments, so empirical selection is not sufficient. We need to help selection along; if we are interested in a given causal mechanism, we need to extract the relevant empirical evidence for it, from among a wide range of other phenomena. In the case of climate forcings, the empirical signal is not only immersed in other information, it is too weak and too long-term to be detected by simple personal experience. This is where consilience is a powerful selection pressure –and one which is generated by the scientific community itself.

    Testing a given thesis by its consilience with already known evidence and established theories, is an internal –or autopoietic, to use a popular contemporary term- test of cogency. If an argument is cogent and agrees with the body of other cogent arguments, it is assumed not to have an accidental relationship to empirical evidence. This selects for its probability.

    Brigitte, you asked about my PhD. It’s called “Getting out of the Maybe-Trap” (hopefully it will turn into a book of a similar name :)). The problem I hope to help tackle is:

    • There is very little popular understanding of how statistical systems work. This includes how accumulation takes place in complex systems, how trends in noisy systems reveal underlying causes etc.

    • Exploiting unavoidable uncertainties in the statistical sciences has become a prominent strategy in modern politics. A ‘Maybe-Trap’ is a ploy to make out that, if our current knowledge of something is not 100% reliable, then all competing explanations are equally valid.

    • On the whole, the social disciplines have an ambivalent relationship with truth and uncertainty. We have some history of falling into our own Maybe-Traps of relativism, such as when the social constructivist position cannot, or will not, distinguish between scientific and cultural claims. The result is that, so far, the balance of ideas from the social disciplines have tended to rhetorically inform opposition to established climate science

    In the thesis, I use the global warming debates to flesh-out my own theory of scientific knowledge, called ‘constellational realism’. I’m trying to articulate a statistical ontology without the mathematics –using spatial metaphors, metaphors of forcings and networks- to demonstrate that there is a kind of Bayesian model of probability inherent in the way that constellations of knowledge form themselves over time. In the course of developing my own model, I hope to deal with some of the common Maybe-Trap arguments: that noise = falsification; that scientific consensus is vulnerable to single counter-examples; and that the arguments of bloggers warrant equal time compared with those of experts.

    One can even do a sort of comparative anatomy of contesting knowledge constellations (my example of course being AGW science and AAGW –‘anything but anthropogenic global warming’) to show which is most probable, and which is likely to be a product of ideology.

    I hope that effort to describe the intellectual ball of string currently occupying my kitten-brain makes sense…no PhD student ever wants to have to say what they’re writing about!

  253. Mark Ryan says:

    Joshua…”There is an eerie similarity between race science and climate science in that both see their services as essential for solving pressing social problems.”

    Wow…it just occurred to me: the secret Nazi agenda of the Red Cross.

    …if you take the Red Cross insignia, change it from red to black, squint, tilt it sideways…

    Izen,

    Regarding the the endurance, but ultimate replacement, of non-trivial erroneous theories, there is no better account I can think of than
    this essay by Isaac Asimov, “The Relativity of Wrong”.

  254. Mark Ryan says:

    I inserted a link! I feel all grown up!

    thanks Rachel M!

  255. Rachel M says:

    You’re welcome!

  256. Mark Ryan says:

    Philip, I’ve just gotten to reading your comments in Tim Johnson’s post here.

    My understanding of E=mc2 -both as a formula, and as a rhetorical device- has been vastly improved.

    You say on that blog “[i]t doesn’t matter if 99% of the scientific community are behind a particular theory/hypothesis, if the data do not support that theory then ultimately – and, yes, it might take decades – it’s dead in the water. This is what I meant by the laws of physics not being democratic”.

    This must be true in the long run, but the problem we are faced with in the present is how to decide which scientific claims are reasonable to believe. Surely any given claim to have refuted a deeply accepted scientific theory deserves our skepticism, until it has done the hard work of amassing the evidence. After all, when it comes to modern-day Galileos, what walks like a duck and talks like a duck…is more often a goose.

  257. Joshua says:

    Mark –

    Have you ever noticed that the terms “race science” and “climate science” each contain the word “science?”

    Coincidence?

  258. Brigitte says:

    Thanks Mark and good luck with the PhD – looks absolutely fascinating!

  259. The idea that you can separate facts and policy is complete nonsense,..

    As I wrote before, my view is that STS people are pragmatists. I read the above quote from that perspective as:

    When people presented as experts present to decision-makers conflicting statements and also claim that their statements as factual, the idea that the decision-makers would have a method to separate facts from policy influenced views of the said experts is complete nonsense.

    Thus I read it purely as a pragmatic statement about the situation the decision-makers meet, nothing more than that.

    I really cannot see, how STS people out of all can be expected to have strong views on the scientific reality at deeper level than the pragmatic one. They are not worried on the level of certainty of statements that everyone, who is or can be mistaken for an expert agrees. They consider here only issue, where such an agreement does not exist.

  260. Continuing from my previous point I see that the idea organizers had for the conference was to discuss, how various groups could contribute to the pragmatic problem of using better the information decision-makers get from various directions. They wish to find better practical ways for judging which advice is more objective than another, how biases operate, what kind of QA procedures might be helpful in reaching an maximally objective presentation, etc.

    STS people are discussing problems they meet in practice and ways to solve those problems, They are not interested in the ontology or epistemology at levels that do not create problems in the practical decision-making process.

    All their sentences make sense when read on this basis, giving a different context for them leads to gross misunderstanding on what they are talking about.

  261. @Mark Ryan.

    Hi, Mark.

    My comment on the uncertainty principle wasn’t a criticism of anything you wrote. It’s just that I will take the opportunity at any time to flag up the relationship between quantum physics and heavy metal!

    I’ve very much enjoyed reading your thoughtful and clear contributions to this thread. If you could send me a copy of your thesis when it’s finished I’d really appreciate it (philip.moriarty@nottingham.ac.uk ). I’m a governor for my children’s primary school, and the very worst abuses of statistics I’ve seen in my career are visited upon our schools by Ofsted. I’m going to write a blog post on this in the near future but it’s going to be difficult to top this wonderful demolition of Ofsted’s statistical innumeracy .

    The following paragraph from your most recent comment has a particular ‘resonance’ for me:

    This must be true in the long run, but the problem we are faced with in the present is how to decide which scientific claims are reasonable to believe. Surely any given claim to have refuted a deeply accepted scientific theory deserves our skepticism, until it has done the hard work of amassing the evidence. After all, when it comes to modern-day Galileos, what walks like a duck and talks like a duck…is more often a goose.

    I’m embroiled in a debate about the misinterpretation of basic experimental artefacts in a series of high profile papers (in a variety of prestigious journals). See Peer review in public Rise of the cyber-bullies? and Big tussle over tiny particles . This is about as good an example of “it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck,,,but it’s a goose” as it gets.

    What’s fascinating (and immensely worrying) about this particular saga is the extent to which the sociology of the academic community has influenced the progress of the science. Thirty papers in journals such as Nature Materials, Science, Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) etc… — journals that many would consider to publish the “creme de la creme” of scientific research — were accepted when those publications are riddled with artefacts and observer bias.

    I am confident that a key reason so many of those flawed papers made it through peer review is that the name of certain journals is now taken as a proxy for quality.Reviewers will think that “Previous work from this group has been published in Nature Materials, Science, and JACS — it must be right”.

    But in the end it’s the quality and reproducibility of the data that matters. Nothing else. (And the case described above bears this out). Any attempt to find short-cuts (as in regulatory ‘science’) is very dangerous because it reduces the objectivity and disinterestedness of the scientific method.

  262. One more general comment.

    My impression is that the contexts, where different people state and interpret the statements are so far from each other the people cannot even imagine the context that’s not their own. Many participating physicists are discussing something that has practically nothing to do with what the STS people are discussing. They use same words, but have no idea of what the other is meaning.

    That was my first impression, and that’s my present impression after this whole thread.

    For people familiar to mathematics the situation is as if the spaces where the concepts are defined are totally disjoint and have so different properties that a statement that’s true in one space is nonsense in the other. Discussing whether the statement is true or false is pointless until the space has been specified.

  263. Philip,
    Thanks for the comments and clarifications. I had been tempted to suggest that maybe only minority (say 3% :-) ) of STS researchers regard science as a social construct at a fundamental level. You seem to suggest that it is much greater. I also found this comment from Brigitte interesting

    Some STS people said at the conference that STSers job is to put scientists under the microscope, i.e. to study not only science but also scientists.

    If there really is one group who think it’s their job to scrutinize another group, I find that a little disconcerting; especially as both groups work in the same environment, suffer the same pressures to publish, get funded, and have impact, and – presumably – have the same biases. Who checks the checkers?

    Your story about peer-review in public seems fascinating (and a little unpleasant) but seems to be an example of something where errors were noticed quite quickly, if not accepted immediately. Another that springs to mind, is the recent BICEP2 announcement that they’d detected primordial gravitational waves. It now seems that there is quite a good chance that this measurement is simply polarization from material in our galaxy (foreground) and this was despite almost everyone being initially excited about the BICEP2 result and noone (that I know of) wanting it to be incorrect (it was regarded as one of the greatest breakthroughs in cosmology). We don’t know for sure, yet, but it’s looking more and more like it. It, typically, seems difficult for incorrect results to remain accepted for a long time.

    Joshua,
    That Roger Pielke Jr. guest post is remarkable. I’m slightly lost for words (surprising, I know). All that springs to mind is “Godwin’s Law”.

    Pekka,
    When you say,

    As I wrote before, my view is that STS people are pragmatists.

    I’m assuming that you mean that they perceive the reality of the science/policy interface (for example). Not only does Philip (who seems to have extensive experience in this area) disagree with you, but even if you’re right, there still seems to be an issue in how STS views are perceived by others. It doesn’t help if what they’re referring to is regulatory science (for example) but what it gets interpreted as is actual science. If STS research is being interpreted as applying to science at some fundamental level, rather than simply to science as it is communicated to the public/policy makers, then I would argue that STS researchers are not expressing themselves sufficiently clearly.

  264. Andres,

    Where the limits of well established scientific knowledge are is a real question. It’s not difficult for me to accept (I do consider it likely) that some of the organizers of that conference think that the extent of well established climate science is small. They may have thought that they can promote that view and get other participants change their views in that direction. At least a couple of them are authors of the Hartwell paper that’s based on such a view and a pragmatic approach justifiable assuming that the view is correct, and that a few other starting points of the authors are also true.

    Extremely strong criticism has been presented in these two threads also against other social scientists and philosophers of science. I really and sincerely do feel that this criticism has been based on interpreting their statements in wrong context. The statements have been made in specific contexts and it’s possible to figure out, what the context has been. Ridiculing them trough misinterpretation is something that really should be avoided. That’s the point I have been so critical about.

  265. Pekka,

    Ridiculing them trough misinterpretation is something that really should be avoided. That’s the point I have been so critical about.

    Again, you keep using terms like “attack” and “ridiculing”. However, you’ve neither responded to me or to Philip to point out where we’re doing this. I do not believe that anything here has been an attack or an attempt to ridicule. Continuing to claim that some are doing this, is not helpful – in my opinion.

  266. There are word pairs that actually mean the same, but indicate with tribe you belong to.
    Government – regime
    Freedom fighter – terrorist
    Criticize – attack

  267. Mark Ryan says:

    ATTP, Joshua’s Grundmann quote might even be an example of Poe’s Law… ;) I agree with you that there has been no “ridiculing through misinterpretation” in this thread, by the way. If Pekka is thinking of the Grundmann quote…well…Reiner did do the lion’s share of the heavy lifting there, himself. Kinda challenging to misinterpret.

    Philip, I’m very happy to be corrected -and thanks to you and Brigitte for your kind words. I note with interest that TIm Johnson hasn’t responded to you -his argument had serious problems, so I hope he takes your comments on board.

    The peer review case you raise is incredibly important, not least because it illustrates the ongoing review that members of a scientific community impose on one another.

    Pekka wrote earlier that “STS people…are not interested in the ontology or epistemology at levels that do not create problems in the practical decision-making process.” I disagree. These STS thinkers all write about deeply epistemological issues: Feyerabend, Foucault, Latour, Collins and Pinch, Anderson, Aronowicz and there are others. Wherever the tension between democracy and expertise is discussed, the linchpin issue is whether the knowledge produced in scientific research communities is somehow more reliable than in the broad public.

    I look at places like WUWT, Climate Etc, Nova and others, and I see a constant call to open the perceived gates around scientific expertise to ‘citizen science'; and this theme has great appeal among sociologists of science, also. These themes just don’t make any sense without an -at least tacit- epistemology which contrasts crowd wisdom against the apparently compromised institutional approach of establishment science.

  268. Anders,
    Your wording in the post is careful, but even so I interpret it to tell that it’s not reasonable to consider all science including basic physics a social construct to the extent that it’s not objectively true because of that. In the discussion there are stronger statements of the same point. I do also agree on the reliability of basic physics and other well established science, and consider the contrary views unsupportable when expressed outside some philosophical considerations.

    The second point is that you and others have claimed that at least some STS people (and specified others) have presented such a view unacceptable to us. Combining this claim with what I write in the first paragraph leads to what I consider ridiculing those people.

    Where I disagree is on the second point. I don’t agree that anyone participating in these discussions has presented such a view we are highly critical on. In my view they have not made such claims that extend to basic physics, and I would be surprised if any of them does subscribe to such a view. I think that we can conclude from context that they have made their claims only on such presentations of science that include less certain components that cannot be considered well established.

    As I have written before, this leads to case specific questions where disagreements are likely. In some cases the direction of the disagreement is obvious, but that disagreement is not on the acceptance of basic physics as reliable.

  269. Joshua says:

    ==> “Ridiculing them trough misinterpretation is something that really should be avoided. ”

    I am guilty of ridiculing Grunmann’s opinion that it is instructive to compare climate scientists to race scientists – but I don’t see how I would be guilty of misrepresentation in doing so. If Pekka was responding to my comment, I would hope he would read the exchange I had with Reiner at RPJr.’s

    I am also guilty of ridiculing Richard’s straw man, trivial generalization. Again, however, I don’t see where I would be guilty of misrepresentation.

    That said, do agree that ridicule should be avoided. It’s unproductive, and I have to acknowledge, childish.

  270. There’s possibly an interesting cultural issue emerging here – could also be just a difference between online and face-to-face. I’m quite used to the idea of gentle mocking when someone says something particularly silly (or being mocked when I say something silly – not an uncommon occurrence). It’s not meant to be insulting, it’s just a pretty standard way (in the UK mainly) to point out that someone has said something silly. In a face-to-face setting, one could imagine everyone having a bit of a laugh, acknowledging that it was indeed silly, and moving on. Online, it’s probably not that simple and when the topic is contentious, even more so. I admit to using gentle mocking at times. I agree, though, that ridicule should be avoided and it is possible that one person’s mocking is another’s ridicule ;-)

  271. When I first came to the UK from Germany/France I was NOT used to what was later explained to me was something called ‘teasing’ or ‘to make fun of or attempt to provoke (a person or animal) in a playful way’ (I initially felt provoked, for sure, but not in a playful way). And yes, teasing works much better face-to-face – emoticons can only go so far! Although I have JUST been told that :p apparently means ‘only teasing’ and :^P means ‘just joking’ (one lives and learns)….

  272. Joshua says:

    Where I grew up in Philly, doing “the dozens” was part of life (being the youngest of three boys in our family also mean learning at a young age to not take teasing too seriously).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dozens

    When I later moved to New England, I soon learned that mocking people doesn’t always go over too well.

  273. In my experience, teasing requires that you also have a huge grin on your face. Possibly explains why it doesn’t work online. Maybe I should start using :p and ^P – I also didn’t know what those meant until Brigitte pointed them out. What might be useful, though, would be an emoticon that says “I’m not teasing. I really do think you’re an idiot.” We could use :d :-)

  274. Joshua, thanks for the tip. Did not have to space in my tweet to acknowledge this. Sorry.

    Anders, that emoticon is already occupied. :d means: it tastes very good.

  275. Oh well. Probably for the best. Having an emoticon that says “you’re an idiot” probably wouldn’t improve the dialogue :-)

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