Judith Curry tweeted me (and others), yesterday, to suggest that Sou’s interpretation of much of what Judith says is typically ludicrous. I know that Sou can be snarky (that’s her chosen style) but she’s often pretty spot-on and more than willing to correct what she says when shown to be wrong.
I notice this morning that Judith has a new post about the science and silence conundrum. This relates to Sou’s post, and to a recent interview with Kevin Anderson in which he suggests that scientists who remain silent are essentially advocating for the status quo. Brigitte Nerlich also has a recent post on Making Science Public, that discusses some of the issues related to scientists choosing to remain silent.
In addition to Kevin Anderson, a number of other people have waded into the whole science, silence and advocacy issue. I didn’t really want to write a lengthy post, so thought I might just comment on some of Judith’s conclusions.
With respect to Kevin Anderson, Judith suggests
Kevin Anderson seems to view only one role for scientists – the Advocate – whether scientists choose to engage or be silent.
I don’t think this is a fair representation of what Kevin Anderson was trying to say. Just because someone suggests scientists shouldn’t avoid advocacy, doesn’t mean that they’re suggesting that that is all they should do. Although I think Kevin Anderson’s suggestions are too extreme (we shouldn’t have a blanket judgement for those who choose not to engage, for example), I do think he has a point. Whether a scientist chooses to engage or not, and what they say if they do engage, has implications. That doesn’t mean that we should be insisting that scientists engage in a particular way. It does mean, in my view at least, that scientists should be aware of the possible consequences of the manner in which they choose to engage.
On Gavin Schmidt, Judith says
Gavin Schmidt sees the choice between Pure Scientist and Advocate, whereby anyone who engages has values and is therefore an Advocate.
I don’t actually know if this is a fair representation of what Gavin Schmidt was suggesting or not, but it is probably the closest to what I think. I think it’s hard for people who engage publicly to completely avoid saying something that may technically qualify as advocacy. There are certainly circumstances where scientists should avoid explicitly advocating (such as when appearing as a scientific expert in front of a parliamentary committee) but I have no issue with scientists expressing views about what they think the science is suggesting will happen in the future. In fact, in many cases, I would argue that this wouldn’t necessarily qualify as advocacy. I would also be interested to know what scientists think we should be doing, given the scientific evidence. I would rather have a better idea of what climate scientists think the future holds, than to have to interpret everything from scientific papers or IPCC documents.
On Tamsin Edwards, Judith says
Tamsin Edwards is a proponent of engagement but not of advocacy, putting her squarely in Science Arbiter box.
This probably is a fair representation of what Tamsin Edwards has been suggesting. My personal view is that Tamsin is trying to be very idealistic and I think that is commendable. I do think, however, that it is somewhat naive (something I’m guilty of myself, to be honest) and I do think it’s wrong to suggest that scientists have an obligation to remain completely objective and that they should not engage in advocacy. Why fund scientists to study things like climate change if we then insist that they don’t express opinions about the implications of their research with respect to the future of our society. Given how much debate there has been around this topic, I would be quite interested to know if Tamsin’s views have changed much since writing the Guardian article a few months ago.
Judith then describes herself as
As for moi, I engage and get involved in policy discussions but do not advocate, putting me further towards the Honest Broker box than is Tamsin.
I must admit that I find the whole “I’m an honest broker” a little irritating. I don’t think you get to decide if you yourself are an honest broker or not. History will decide that. It also seems, to me, that those who regard themselves as honest brokers do so because they feel that they never say anything that they can’t back up with evidence. That may sound fine but, in my view at least, ensuring that everything you say is factually correct does not ensure that what you’ve said is a fair representation of the evidence available. Also, I fail to see how someone who seems to think that a scientist saying something like “the evidence suggests that we should …. if we want to avoid ….” is advocating, can then suggest that they can engage in policy discussions without advocating. I would think that that would be virtually impossible. How can one engage in a discussion about policy without saying something that would qualify as advocacy?
As usual, my attempt at a short post has failed somewhat. My personal view of this whole advocacy, science and silence issue is essentially; let’s stop insisting that scientists behave in a particular way and let’s stop making blanket judgements based on whether scientists engage or not and whether they choose to advocate or not. Personally, I would rather that scientists spoke up more than they do, but I’m in no way insisting that they should do so. Ideally, everyone should simply be as honest as they can be, should just do what they think is right for them, and should aim to do the best they can. Of course, this is all just my opinion and isn’t really based on any scientific evidence. Feel free, therefore, to take it with as much of a pinch of salt as you would like.