The value of social science

Since I’ve written about Science and Technology Studies (STS) before, I thought I would comment on the formation of a new group called Association for Studies in Innovation Science and Technology. I encountered it in a Nature column called Recognise the value of social science.

I should start by stressing that I think that the social sciences are extremely valuable. I also think that doing social sciences well is extremely difficult; typically social scientists consider systems that are much more complex than those considered by physical scientists. I do, however, have a number of reservations about this new organisations and the motivations behind its formation. The article starts with

If the science community is serious about integrating social science into its thinking and operations — and statements by everyone from Nature and the UK government to Paul Nurse, former president of the Royal Society, indicate that it is — then we social scientists must do more to make this happen.

Seems fine, although I’m not entirely sure that I understand what is meant by integrating social science into its thinking and operations. Being aware of the society in which we operate seems quite reasonable. Being conscious of the society in which we operate when actually carrying out research may not be (at least not in the sense of it influencing how we interpret our research).

The article then says

And we want to make clear that social science — especially science, technology and innovation studies (STIS) — should be integral to science and does not merely handle external issues, for example by addressing ‘public acceptance’.

What does integral to science mean? Something that I think most physical scientists believe is that they’re typically studying systems that obey fundamental laws of nature. Our understanding of such systems is therefore expected to be independent of societal values or political ideologies. Ideally, our understanding should not depend on who does the research, or where it is done. Of course, in reality this may not be entirely true, but the goal is for the evidence to constrain our understanding in such a way that societal/political influences are minimised. So, how do the social sciences fit into such a framework?

One of the key goals for this new organisation is

to lobby for social-scientist involvement in the earliest stages of research projects, when emerging ideas are most open to discussion.

Why? In what way would including a social scientist help to improve how we interpret research results in the physical sciences? To be clear, it might, but it’s not obvious how. Also, if a social scientist has some interest in some other research area, they can presumably try to get involved and see if they can contribute something. Maybe they’d bring some new perspective, but it would still be in the context of trying to understand some physical system; not trying to impose some kind of social science context on our understanding of that system.

Apparently

Science and society are not discrete, as some researchers seem to assume. Knowledge — about the impacts of climate change, for example — gets its value and usefulness only when rooted in particular contexts.

Our perception of the significance of the impacts of climate change might depend on the context, but whether or not certain impacts will occur does not depend on the context. How much we will warm if we emit a further 1000GtC does not depend on how society perceives the knowledge about the impacts of climate change.

The above comment is followed by

This makes it diverse and contested.

Yes it is diverse and contested, but why is this and what does it imply? Does it imply something with respect to the science itself? I can’t really see why. Should researchers really bear this in mind when interpreting their results? Again, I can’t see why. I don’t think the interpretation should depend on whether or not the result is likely to be controversial (okay, there may well be scenarios where we would want to double check potentially controversial results, but only because we might want to be sure, not because we might want to interpret the results differently).

I was going to say a bit more, but this is getting a bit long. The article ends with

To make the most of science, we must know how science operates, and understand the factors that influence it. Social scientists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have been studying that for more than 50 years. We are ready and able to help.

This may explain why I’m slightly negative about this. My exposure to Science and Technology Studies (STS) might be a little limited, but if they have spent 50 years studying how science operates and the factors that influence it, there are a number who appear to still not understand it very well.

Certainly my impression is that they want to impose societal and political factors into the research process in a way that would make most physical scientists very uncomfortable. Rather than playing a role in helping to define how scientific evidence may influence society and – in particular – policy making, they seem to want allow societal and political factors to influence how we do research and how we interpret our results.

Maybe the above is an unfair characterisation of STS and maybe I simply don’t quite understand what they’re suggesting. However, I think I’m not alone in this and it doesn’t help if STS researchers don’t even appear to appreciate why physical scientists might have some reservations about what they seem to be suggesting. Similarly, if STS researchers think they’re somehow the ideal people to sit at some interface between science/technology and society, it’s hard to see why if they can’t even clearly explain their role to other groups of researchers.

I also think that research is about studying things and producing and presenting results. If there are a group of researchers in the social sciences who would like to study role of science in society and in policy making, go ahead. You don’t need some kind of buy in from physical scientists; just get out there, do some research, and let the results speak for themselves. However, this comment in the article makes me think that their goal is something more than simply being researchers who investigate science and technology in society

We want to work at national and regional levels, from the UK government and research-funding councils to professional science bodies and the devolved governments in the four UK nations, which are experimenting with science and technology policies.

Are these researchers, or lobbyists?

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183 Responses to The value of social science

  1. I should say that I initially intended to write something a lot more positive, and then the more I read the Nature article, the harder I found it to do. It’s quite possible that I misunderstand what STS researchers are suggesting. However, in my (possibly limited) experience, I have found it hard to actually get some kind of clear explanation for what STS research actually suggests. I also get the impression that some of those involved either do not understand the physical sciences well and seem unwilling to acknowledge, or recognise, why physical scienitsts respond poorly to some of what they suggest.

    If someone would like to convince me that my impression is wrong (or misinformed) feel free. If someone would like to clarify the whole role of STS, also feel free. My rather negative take on this should not be perceived as a lack of interest; I do think this is an important and interesting topic.

  2. Joshua says:

    I think that a useful exercise would be to consider their goals w/o reference to the individuals involved or history with those individuals. Not to say that those details are irrelevant,not at all. Indeed, their very own argument necessitates that their advocacy be placed in their own social context. But I think that it is important to compare their context-specific arguments to their argument in a de-contextualized context

    ==> Being conscious of the society in which we operate when actually carrying out research may not be [reasonable] (at least not in the sense of its influence how we interpret our research)…

    […]

    ..You don’t need some kind of buy in from physical scientists

    I don’t know how you’d rule out or control for societal influence if you don’t evaluate the societal context. At some level, societal influence is inevitable. What’s important, IMO, is to take steps to measure that societal influence, evaluate its significance, and evaluate methods for controlling for that influence. Ideally, it seems to me, that would be a collaborative process that would include physical scientists. The scientific process is a construction that inherently seeks to control for influences such as confirmation bias, but I think that the effectiveness of those procedures would be enhanced with an explicit acknowledgement and focus on the universality of such biases. Enhancement isn’t guaranteed, and it’s impossible to immunize against the societal influences merely through being explicit about their existence, but I don’t know that I see a down side to an expectation that physical scientists include a focus on societal influences as a part of their work. It appears that you do?

  3. Willard says:

    > I’m not entirely sure that I understand what is meant by integrating social science into its thinking and operations.

    “thinking” = citations

    “operations” = money

    ***

    Here’s a first blurb:

    AsSIST-uk supports transdisciplinary collaboration across the social sciences, humanities and sciences in the field of science, innovation and technology. It supports the training of new scholars in the field, engagement with civil society, government and industry within the UK and globally.

    Further information about the context within which the Association was established and its more detailed aims can be found below, as well as contact details for the Co-Chairs

    http://assist-uk.com/association-for-studies-in-innovation-science-and-technology/

    I did not know that science, innovation, and technology was a “field.” Is it a nonzero commutative division ring?

  4. Willard says:

    Readers will decide if there’s any detailed aim on this page:

    http://assist-uk.com/association-for-studies-in-innovation-science-and-technology/background/

    This page leads to another where we can read familiar names:

    Professor Brian Balmer, Professor in Science Policy Studies, Department of STS, UCL London.
    Dr Anne-Marie Coles, Director of the Sustainability, Technology & Innovation Research Group, University of Greenwich
    Farzana Dudhwala, Doctoral Candidate, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society , University of Oxford
    Professor Jakob Edler, Professor of Innovation Policy and Strategy, and Executive Director, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Manchester Business School
    Dr Kieron Flanagan, Senior Lecturer in Science and Technology Policy, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Manchester Business School
    Dr Dawn Goodwin, Centre for Science Studies and Medical School. University of Lancaster
    Professor Reiner Grundmann, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, University of Nottingham
    Professor Adam Hedgecoe, Director of Cesagene, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
    Professor Anne Kerr, Head of School, Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
    Dr Javier Lezaun, Deputy Director, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford
    Professor Paul Martin, Head of Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield
    Dr Theo Papaioannou, Reader in Politics of Innovation and Development, Faculty of Maths, Computing and Technology, The Open University
    Dr Stevienna de Saille, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield
    Professor Johan Schot, Director, SPRU, University of Sussex.
    Dr Vicky Singleton, Co-Director of Lancaster Centre for Science Studies and Co-Director of Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies.
    Professor Fred Steward, Professor of Innovation and Sustainability, PSI, University of Westminster/President EASST
    Dr Jack Stilgoe, Department of STS, UCL London.
    Julia Swallow, Doctoral Candidate, Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
    Professor Andrew Webster, Director SATSU, University of York
    Professor Robin Williams, Director, ISSTI, University of Edinburgh
    Ros Williams, Doctoral Candidate, SATSU, Department of Sociology, University of York

    https://easst.net/article/assist-uk-report-on-launch-event-august-25-2015/

    The author’s blurb:

    Professor Andrew Webster is Director of the Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU), at the University of York, which he established in 1988. He has been national Director of 2 ESRC programmes in the health eld and is currently PI on a £1.5m ESRC- funded project on regenerative medicine, ‘REGenableMED’. He was Head of the Department of Sociology 2005-9 and Dean of Social Sciences, 2009-13 at York.

    Small world.

  5. I am skeptical as well.

    How can they be ready and willing to help when their own field cannot replicate over 50% of their published work?

    To me it sounds like they are offering to help with “spin” right from the beginning of the research.

    You know – to help present the results in the right context.

    To say the right things in the paper.

    That sort of thing.

    In my view, this will not be helpful.

  6. Morbeau says:

    Isn’t this just a bunch of rationalizations to be used to give Business proponents more clout in academic settings? My sense is that “innovation” is almost always associated with eventual profit, and not necessarily with anything science-related.

  7. Eli Rabett says:

    They want to cut themselves a piece of the pie. Very RPJr.

  8. Richard,

    How can they be ready and willing to help when their own field cannot replicate over 50% of their published work?

    I don’t really know where this is coming from.

    To me it sounds like they are offering to help with “spin” right from the beginning of the research.

    I don’t think this is quite what they’re suggesting. I suspect Eli’s comment is closer to what’s going on, than it being some explicit attempt to “help with the spin”.

    Morbeau,
    I don’t know. I don’t really see this as some attempt to give Business proponents more clout. I think it is simply a group who think they can make a contribution trying to – as Eli says – get themselves a piece of the pie. They’re welcome to do so, but – IMO – it would be better to do so via presenting and defending their research, than lobbying for a place at some kind of metaphorical table.

  9. “They want to cut themselves a piece of the pie.”

    That was my sense.

    But I would rather flip the script on them and say that physical scientists are ready and willing and able to help them with their social science.

    Or this.

    They propose adding themselves to the team.

    Fine.

    Let’s do an experiment or two with that. A/B testing. what happens when you add one of these guys to the team and when you dont.

    I am not adverse to more eyes on the problem, but the question for me is always
    what will ‘that person” actually DO? When we add a statistician to the team we all
    have a pretty good idea of what they will do. When we a dataset specialist, we know
    what they are going to do, actually do..

    A practical example from them would help.

  10. Steven,

    But I would rather flip the script on them and say that physical scientists are ready and willing and able to help them with their social science.

    Yes, an interesting point.

    My own view is that if they are interested in getting involved in aspects of the physical science, it’s not that hard to do so. Find someone working in an area that is of interest, contact them, have a chat. If that doesn’t work, find someone else. In some cases, research teams are quite formally defined (i.e., who was involved in applying for the funding, for example), but in others they’re not, and just showing some interest can lead to interesting collaborations.

  11. Reading those quotes it seems rather generous to only assume they want money/pie. When it comes to climate change reseach, they already eat pie. We here mainly discuss the physical basis of climate change, but when it comes to adaptation, mitigation and geo-engineering, there are many social scientists involved.

    It sounds more like they want power over what research is done and how it is done. As long as Warren Pierce, who cannot distinguish between science and WUWT, is tolerated in this group I would not like them to determined what and how science is done.

  12. Brigitte says:

    This article, which has emerged from doint collaborative science within a large project called RELU (Rural Economy and Land Use), provides, I think, a very approachable overview of the positive side of natural/social science collaborations. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21582041.2013.769617 – people wanted examples…

  13. izen says:

    This may represent one element of the sort of social science input to climate research that is envisaged.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/qa-author-feminist-geology-study-reflects-sudden-place

    “People and societies impose their values on glaciers when they discuss, debate, and study them—which is what we mean when we say that ice is not just ice. Glaciers become the platform to express people’s own views about politics, economics, cultural values, and social relations (such as gender relations). The attention during the last week proves our point clearly: that glaciers are, in fact, highly politicized sites of contestation.”

  14. Brigitte,
    Thanks. I’ll have a look at that. I’m sure there are good examples. My own view, though, is that the developement of research collaborations is more effective if it is mutually beneficial and – typically – evolves through building up relationships, not through lobbying to be included in other research areas. That’s just my view, though 🙂

  15. Brigitte says:

    Yes, that’s how things have worked out between Phil Moriarty and myself, for example, and it feels right. What’s needed, but rare, is mutual respect and patience.

  16. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Willard:

    I did not know that science, innovation, and technology was a “field.” Is it a nonzero commutative division ring?

    1 mathematical point to Willard.

    ATTP:

    Rather than playing a role in helping to define how scientific evidence may influence society and – in particular – policy making, they seem to want allow societal and political factors to influence how we do research and how we interpret our results.

    Everybody wants to rule the world.

    Like political science, social science hasn’t got much to do with physical science.

    Please perform a Sokal test before proceeding at your own risk.

  17. Brigitte,

    What’s needed, but rare, is mutual respect and patience.

    Agreed. Although, this feels like an interesting dynamic. I have a great deal of respect for those in the arts and humanities; artists, musicians, anthropologists, sociologists, …. However, in this case there seem to be a group of social scientists who are studying the science/policy, science/society interface, and so – if they want to be taken seriously by the broader scientific community – that the onus is more on them to make clear to the scientific community what they’re doing and why.

  18. “Knowledge — about the impacts of climate change, for example — gets its value and usefulness only when rooted in particular contexts.

    Our perception of the significance of the impacts of climate change might depend on the context, but whether or not certain impacts will occur does not depend on the context. How much we will warm if we emit a further 1000GtC does not depend on how society perceives the knowledge about the impacts of climate change.

    The above comment is followed by

    This makes it diverse and contested.

    Yes it is diverse and contested, but why is this and what does it imply? Does it imply something with respect to the science itself? I can’t really see why. Should researchers really bear this in mind when interpreting their results?”

    “How much we will warm if we emit a further 1000GtC” is not an “impact of climate change”. It is “climate change”.

    The impact of climate change is, for example, how many people would die earlier than they would have died had there been no climate change.

    While you may see this as value-free prediction, these will be people at different times, in different countries, of different ages and genders, and from different causes. So, as soon as you say “1 million people will die due to climate change”, you made the implicit value judgement that all lives are equally worthy (a judgement that is completely at odds with any observation); whereas if you say “400,000 men and 600,000 women” or “800,000 infants and 200,000 elderly” you imply a differentiation (a judgement that is completely at odds with most ethical systems).

  19. Richard,

    The impact of climate change is, for example, how many people would die earlier than they would have died had there been no climate change.

    Yes, I know. I didn’t say otherwise. I was simply pointing out that what will happen if we emit 1000GtC more does not depend on our values, or how people perceive the impacts.

    While you may see this as value-free prediction

    I don’t see it as a value free prediction. I see it as a prediction that is independent of our values. Our values come into deciding on the significance of that impact and whether or not we should do something, given this information.

    So, as soon as you say “1 million people will die due to climate change”, you made the implicit value judgement that all lives are equally worthy (a judgement that is completely at odds with any observation);

    The value judgement still comes from society, not from those presenting their research results.

    whereas if you say “400,000 men and 600,000 women” or “800,000 infants and 200,000 elderly” you imply a differentiation (a judgement that is completely at odds with most ethical systems).

    Again, the judgement comes from the perception of the information provided, not necessariy coming from those presenting the information. What’s presented should – ideally – be an honest representation of what the research suggests. I can understand scenarions where researchers might be careful as to how they present the information, but I would still expect what is presented to be a reasonable representation of the research, not a presentation aimed at provoking specific value judgements.

  20. Victor,
    Might be interesting to get’s Richard view of that article. Then again, maybe not.

  21. @wotts
    The impacts of climate change are so many and so diverse that you cannot possibly enumerate them. So, you must summarize. As soon as you summarize, you pass judgement.

  22. Richard,

    The impacts of climate change are so many and so diverse that you cannot possibly enumerate them. So, you must summarize.

    If it’s not possible to enumerate them, then you’re not really summarizing.

    As soon as you summarize, you pass judgement.

    You’re making a judgement as to how best to present the information. You’re not necessarily making some kind of value judgement.

    Did you get a chance to read the article about trolls?

  23. It would be helpful if this group of social scientists could point to specific examples where they think they could have had a useful contribution to past research in the physical sciences. Then it could be seen where they’re coming from. As it is there is a suspicion that they would have liked to modify outcomes—but what, and in what way?

    It all seems a bit airy-fairy—but then many aspects of the social sciences have often seemed that way to me.

  24. @wotts
    Sorry for being unclear. You cannot enumerate the impacts of climate change in, say, a 1500 page IPCC report. The food chapter in WG2 AR5, for instance, does not list estimated crop yield changes by crop, location, year, and scenario.

    By definition, if you summarize, you lose information. If you summarize across diverse objects, you necessarily pass judgement — health impacts can be presented as number of fatalities, life years lost, quality-adjusted life years lost, and so on. If you choose a summary statistic, you necessarily pass judgement — if you show the mean, you put emphasis on the extremes, if you show the median, you do not.

  25. Richard,

    By definition, if you summarize, you lose information.

    Okay, but the information isn’t actually lost. It’s still available for those who would like to delve deeper.

    If you summarize across diverse objects, you necessarily pass judgement

    Fair enough, when you summarize you have to make a judgment as to how best to summarize the information you have, and that may include a judgement as to what will be regarded as important to those to whom you’re presenting the information. However, as I said above, the detailed information is still available.

    Also, what you’re discussing is essentially science communication, not the research itself. I can quite easily see how social scientists could contribute to how we effectively communicate science. Of course, I don’t think they have some special mandate to decide on the value judgements themselves, although they could play an important role in informing how the information will be perceived (judged) by those to whom it is presented.

  26. Victor, your wrote:

    “Reading those quotes it seems rather generous to only assume they want money/pie. When it comes to climate change reseach, they already eat pie. We here mainly discuss the physical basis of climate change, but when it comes to adaptation, mitigation and geo-engineering, there are many social scientists involved.”

    Is this not a possible future for CSIRO under Larry Marshall, with the new focus on what to do about it (global warming).

    I also agree with John Russell, this all seems a little woolly. If it was a programme to look at how to combine physical inputs of impacts/ models of flooding / geography / economics / cultural viewpoints / migration pressures / etc. in multidisciplinary research programme for, say, Bangladesh, one could see it had merit.

    Of course, people are attempting to bring together just this kind of research …
    http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2016/05/23/An-Environmental-Detective-Story

    Having a kind of new research council that claims to facilitate and direct such research is both implausible and bound to raise suspicions of hidden agenda, even where there are none.

    Who in any case would be the lead discipline in multi-disciplinary research (surely, somebody has to?). When are the social sciences contributing to (say) research into the spread of diseases like ebola, or leading that research? For climate adaptation, would one prefer a geographer to a social scientists? How would this organisation ever get the balance right?

    Better facilitation of multi-disciplinary research is surely good, but this ‘body’ is self-evidently the vehicle to provide it.

  27. … self-evidently NOT the vehicle to provide it

  28. izen says:

    @-“By definition, if you summarize, you lose information. If you summarize across diverse objects, you necessarily pass judgement ”

    But the thermodynamic impact if we emit a further 1000GtC is not a summary or a diverse object. The physical effects on the climate are unaffected by any societal judgement of the impacts of those effects.
    Until the value free, non-judgemental science aspects of the physics and chemistry are known there is no information to derive possible impacts from, or to summarise and value-judge.

    The physics of exoplanet detection, and the physics of climate sensitivity are both equally immune from the social values of the research. Only the social impact of the research generates value judgements as to the importance and priority that should be given to further development.

  29. > As long as Warren Pierce, who cannot distinguish between science and WUWT […]

    That rings a bell:

    My main beef with his piece though is his flawed argument of why a well-known contrarian blogger like Anthony Watts, according to Pearce, should be seen as someone who “seeks to uphold standards, through transparent and auditable scientific practice” and “a ‘mainstream’ sceptic who can challenge key areas of climate science without entering into pseudoscience”. Why this praise? Because Watts publicly disagreed with the fringe group Principia Scientific who deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect (which was first established in the 19th century).

    That is not a logical argument to make though: Regardless of what one may think of Watts, contrasting an extremist with someone who is even more extreme doesn’t make him mainstream. Regardless of what one thinks of Watts, contrasting someone who frequently flirts with pseudoscience with an all-out pseudo-science lover doesn’t free the former from any link with pseudo-science.

    That is what I would call the fallacy of the middle ground.

    https://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/fallacy-of-the-middle-ground/

    BartV certainly has a perspective there.

  30. wheelism says:

    (^^ And there’s that ‘transparent’ notion again, used by someone whose own motives seem as clear as a cellophane Möbius strip. As ever. We ffind ourselves having to watch the ostensible watch folk.)

  31. wheelism says:

    [(As ever, we find ourselves having to watch the ostensible watch folk.)]

  32. John Mashey says:

    On Willard’s list I noted:
    Professor Reiner Grundmann, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, University of Nottingham

    See his 2012 paper “Climategate” and The Scientific Ethos (paywalled, but you can get some idea from the abstract)
    This is in Science, Technology & Human Values, from Society for Social Studies of Science.

    p.2 “The content of the e-mails made for scandal and revealed some questionable behavior by leading climate scientists. All of a sudden, it seemed that the consensus that had been in the making was actually being orchestrated through the manipulation of data and the peer review process. … A second has been proposed more recently by Roger Pielke Jr. using the
    term honest broker (Pielke 2007).”

    p.3 “In one e-mail message, Phil Jones spoke of a ‘‘trick’’ to ‘‘hide the decline’’ of specific temperature record (e-mail, November 16, 1999)”

    p.14 “In his book The Hockey Stick Illusion, the writer and editor Andrew Montford
    (2010) traces the controversy about the paleoclimate reconstructions
    by Mann et al. to his earliest papers, and then focuses on events after others
    had started inquiring about data and methods used by Mann et al. in 2003.
    Montford, who is not a climate scientist, runs the skeptical climate science
    blog Bishop Hill. In his book, he provides an in-depth account of the history
    of the hockey stick. According to him, there is evidence that Mann et al.’s
    papers, published in Nature and Geophysical Research Letters did not conform
    to the standards of scientific publication…. In his book The Hockey Stick Illusion, the writer and editor Andrew Montford
    (2010) traces the controversy about the paleoclimate reconstructions
    by Mann et al. to his earliest papers, and then focuses on events after others
    had started inquiring about data and methods used by Mann et al. in 2003.
    Montford, who is not a climate scientist, runs the skeptical climate science
    blog Bishop Hill. In his book, he provides an in-depth account of the history
    of the hockey stick. According to him, there is evidence that Mann et al.’s
    papers, published in Nature and Geophysical Research Letters did not conform
    to the standards of scientific publication.”

    p.15 “There has been some debate on Blogs about the ethical problems associated
    with the hockey stick graph and its use in the IPCC Third Assessment
    Report (TAR). Many commentators were outraged about that, including
    Steve McIntyre who told the story on his blog Climate Audit.”

    p.19 “What is more,
    it appears that there existed the possibility that members of the core set
    could get their papers published without proper peer review since they were
    sending their papers round in their inner circle.11 It is of little wonder that
    such claims have been made vociferously by outsiders (McKitrick 2010).
    Especially with regard to Mann’s original paper of 1998, this concern was
    raised by several commentators. The paper is said to be ‘‘opaque’’ and lacking
    detail of method and data (e.g. Montford 2010, chap.1).”
    (There are issues with Montford’s book).

    p.20 “The exposed climate scientists did not adhere to the norm of universalism as they gave preferential treatment to close allies. They did not share their data as would be required under the norm of communism. They did not act in a disinterested way as the whole e-mail communication reveals. On the contrary, they acted strategically, showing self-interest and zeal.”
    But read the whole thing if you an get a copy.

  33. John,
    Indeed, it reads just like the kind of thing one typically sees on “skeptic” blogs.

  34. John Mashey says:

    Montford and McKitrick get 6 hits each, McIntyre 8, but mostly filtered through Montford.
    Some cites are:

    Douglass, David H, and John R. Christy. 2009. ‘‘A Climatology conspiracy?’’,
    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/12/a_climatology_conspiracy.html

    McKitrick, Ross. 2010. ‘‘Understanding the Climategate Inquiries,’’ accessed 26
    June, 2011,
    http://rossmckitrick.weebly.com/uploads/4/8/0/8/4808045/rmck_climategate.pdf

    Montford, A. W. 2010. The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption
    of Science. London: Stacey International.

    Pielke, R. A. J. 2009. The ‘‘Trick’’ in Context. Available at:
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/12/trick-in-context.html.

  35. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Richard writes: “By definition, if you summarize, you lose information. ”

    Actually, no, if you take a sinusoid corrupted by noise and summarize it by the frequency, amplitude and phase, then you haven’t lost any information as there is no information in the noise. Data and information are not the same thing, you can summarize data without losing information.

  36. Dikran Marsupial says:

    “Science and society are not discrete, as some researchers seem to assume. Knowledge — about the impacts of climate change, for example — gets its value and usefulness only when rooted in particular contexts. … This makes it diverse and contested.”

    The problem here is that the authors appear to be defining “value” and “usefulness” in terms of societal value and usefulness, so it is unsurprising that there is a need for both scientific and social science input. However, there is a separate scientific value and usefulness that doesn’t depend on society, which they are ignoring (there is intrinsic scientific value in knowing or understanding anything about the real world). Science and society are discrete if you are interested in the properties that are distinct to one or the other and not both.

    The science of climate change is not particularly contested, it is used as a means of avoiding discussion of the socio-politico-economic issues which we need to talk about. Some scientists at least already know about this, e.g. Mike Hulmes book “why we disagree about climate”.

    “to lobby for social-scientist involvement in the earliest stages of research projects, when emerging ideas are most open to discussion. “

    I’d lobby for involvement by statisticians in the earliest stages of research projects (and later), but perhaps I am biased on that one!

  37. However, there is a separate scientific value and usefulness that doesn’t depend on society, which they are ignoring

    Agreed, but they’re also dismissing the possibility of this. This seems to be a key issue when it comes to the physical sciences. Physical scientists believe that there is a scientific value that does not depend on society, and social scientists are going to have to do a damn site more than simply dismissing this possibility if they are to convince physical scientists that they’re wrong to believe that there is a scientific value that does not depend on society.

  38. I’d lobby for involvement by statisticians in the earliest stages of research projects (and later), but perhaps I am biased on that one!

    I agree, but I don’t think we should be parachuting random statisticians in, who are then given oversight over the statistical analysis; what we need are statistician who are interested in getting involved and in being part of a team investigating something.

  39. Dikran Marsupial says:

    “Physical scientists believe that there is a scientific value that does not depend on society…”

    I agree, they are right. It is hard to see how there is a value to society in, for example, eternal inflation/multiverse research, beyond its intrinsic scientific value (I suspect some Popperian fundamentalists might question even that, but I disagree! ;o). I’m not too sure how social science has a useful role there.

    Sadly it is human nature to discount aspects of other peoples work that we ourselves don’t find interesting, but if you are keen on collaborating with them, then that probably isn’t a good idea. For example, a statistician that wants to work with climatologists needs to be interested in climatology and not want to treat their role as just working on the data produced by the observations/models. If you go to climatologists telling them that you can solve their problems, without showing any interest in the science, you probably won’t get too far. A little humility goes a long way (especially if it is genuine), and guards against Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

  40. Dikran Marsupial says:

    oops, forgot to close the tag in previous post – sorry!

    “but I don’t think we should be parachuting random statisticians in,”

    I agree, collaborations need to meet at least half-way if not establish an overlap; the statisticians and the physical scientists need to be interested in learning from each other.

    The real point though is that it would be a surprise to hear social scientists (or statisticians, or …) arguing that they should be less involved! I think it is a bit of a case of “if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” ;o)

  41. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Forgot the important bit “… and then see nails everywhere you look.”

  42. Fixed the tag in the earlier comment, I think.

    I wonder if the issue isn’t something to do with how things work in different environments. If you’re a business and you need some specialist help, you find someone who has that speciality and you employ them, or bring them in as a consultant. This can happen in academia, but sometimes what you do is go and work it out for yourself (which could include talking to a specialist). However, you’re always aware that you need more than just a specialisation; you need some understanding of the underlying problem you’re trying to solve, and you often don’t have funding to just go around bringing ever more people onto your project. It’s a combination of an awareness that those involved in a project need some reasonably deep understanding of the problem being addressed, and that funding is limited so you can’t just go and hire new people when you think there is some missing specialisation.

  43. Going through the lists of names provided by Willard, it becomes clear that—with the exception of Professor Reiner Grundmann, noted by John Mashey—the very few references that these people as individuals have made to climate change I’ve come across, appear to be specifically in the area of policy, adaptation and transition. It occurs to me then that maybe this group, ‘AsSIST-uk’ might not be suggesting they have a role to play in ‘fundamental’ or ‘physical’ climate research, but more in the secondary policy areas? Maybe as a group they haven’t really thought much about the fundamental physical climate research, because it’s not something that they’ve come directly into contact with?

    Just playing devil’s advocate.

  44. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Indeed. In the case of statistics, sometimes all the scientists want is a “statistics service” that they can use to have someone perform some standard statistical analysis or to check the statistics of a study that has already been performed. However that doesn’t really appeal much to me, and I’m not so sure it is necessarily a good approach (as R.A. Fisher said “To consult the statistician after an experiment is finished is often merely to ask him to conduct a post mortem examination. He can perhaps say what the experiment died of” ;o). However the advantage is that the cost of the statitsician can be spread over a number of projects, so it is more feasible from that point of view (it also tends to mean you don’t end up as a co-author of the paper, no matter how much you contribute, but climatologists seem very good in this respect). I agree with Tukey’s view that “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.”, learning about other branches of science (so that you can perform better analyses) is what I like about statistics, but funding etc becomes more of an issue.

    P.S. thanks for fixing the tag!

  45. john,
    Jack Stilgoe is someone I’ve come across before and he seems to do some interesting stuff.

  46. I missed this comment from Joshua,

    I don’t know how you’d rule out or control for societal influence if you don’t evaluate the societal context. At some level, societal influence is inevitable. What’s important, IMO, is to take steps to measure that societal influence, evaluate its significance, and evaluate methods for controlling for that influence.

    This – I think – is kind of my point. If there are a group of researchers who would like to understand how societal influences can impact on research, they can simply do some research to try and understand this. If they get interesting, relevant, and compelling results, others will probably take it seriously. This doesn’t, however, seem to be what is being suggested here.

  47. John says:

    I’m a researcher working within the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). The premise of the Nature article (as I understand it), is that we should be aware that science is intrinsically a social endeavor – it requires collaboration, funding, infrastructure etc. For example, the premise of falsification (testing & falsifying hypotheses), which is a basis of scientific objectivity, requires particular social arrangements – an ‘open society’ (collaboration, transparency etc) to quote Karl Popper. And, as with any social endeavor, scientific research is thus sensitive to social forces – political and commercial interests, for example. This need not be seen as a criticism of science, but by recognizing that it is intrinsically social, perhaps we can actively do something to ensure that science is protected from undesirable social forces (big business, perhaps?), and directed it towards values that we share.

    Incidentally, social scientists have explored this social dimension of physics research. See Harry Collin’s work on gravitational waves. http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/contactsandpeople/harrycollins/grav-wave-1.html

  48. John,
    Thanks for the comment. What you say seems quite reasonable.

    as with any social endeavor, scientific research is thus sensitive to social forces – political and commercial interests, for example.

    Yes, I agree. I think, though, that one has to be careful of assuming that this is always true (in the sense that all our scientific understandings are infuenced in this way) rather than it simply being something to be aware of when conducting research. My own view is that we have to try to distinguish between individuals (individual scientists, or individual studies) and our collective understanding. The former can clearly suffer from various societal influences. The latter may not, expecially if it is based on a large collection of evidence that is constraining our understanding of the topic. Assuming that societal influences can be significant at all levels is something (I think) that most physical scientists would dispute (at least with regards to our scientific understanding).

    Thanks for the link to Harry Collins. I’m aware of his work and read a very interesting article – that I can’t seem to find (if anyone remembers it, a link would be appreciated) – about his work. My memory of that article is that he has somewhat changed his views about science, and how it works, after spending a lot of time interacting with the gravitational waves researchers in Cardiff.

  49. Dikran Marsupial says:

    John, but aren’t scientists already aware of such factors (given that they work in that environment from day to day), and indeed I would suggest that many of those factors are shaped by scientists more than they are by “external society”. As far as I can see, that doesn’t justify the need for social scientists to be integrated into research projects from an early stage.

  50. I think this is the article about Harry Collins that I read last year. This is the paragraph that I found interesting

    So it’s not that Collins now repudiates his older research. He just thinks some scholars took it all too far, winding up in radically postmodernist positions that really did seem to devalue expertise and scientific knowledge. “It just seemed to me that we were moving into a position where, at least in the narrow academic world of my colleagues, it was ceasing to be possible to talk about experts,” says Collins. “If you said, ‘So and so is an expert,’ you were accused of being an elitist.”

  51. And since we were discussing Reiner Grundmann’s paper in an earlier comment, the start of the above article is interesting

    Remember “Climategate”? It was the 2009 nonscandal scandal in which a trove of climate scientists’ emails, pilfered from the University of East Anglia in the UK, were used to call all of modern climate research into question.

  52. Mal Adapted says:

    I feel the need to say in all sincerity that Richard Tol’s comments to date on this thread are the first I’ve seen from him that are thoughtful and constructive. They are even incisive: “By definition, if you summarize, you lose information…”

    That’s a fundamental truth about communicating science, especially climate science, to the public, and professional AGW-deniers earn their pay by exploiting it.

    More like that from you, less pure provocation, please, Prof. Tol.

  53. John says:

    This longer version of the Nature article has just been posted on the AsSIST-UK website:
    https://assistukdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/science-and-the-social-sciences.pdf

  54. John,
    Thanks, I’ll have a look at that.

    Just out of interest, what are you thoughts on this

    We want to work at national and regional levels, from the UK government and research-funding councils to professional science bodies and the devolved governments in the four UK nations, which are experimenting with science and technology policies.

    As I read it, this is a group of academics who appear to want to influence policy, not simply inform. I find that problematic. We continually hear how scientific evidence should inform, but not define, policy (the IPCC, for example, is policy relevant, but not policy prescriptive). Am I misinterpreting the motivation?

  55. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Re: your 10:19. I think that there is an upside to calls for collaboration. It seems to me that setting the bar along the lines of “if they come up with something interesting, we can go from there” is sub-optimal. I wonder if such an approach reflects a general defensiveness that seems counterproductive. It seems reasonable to me to speculate that there is a baseline societal influence in the physical sciences as a starting point, and to go from there.

    At “skeptic” sites I often see hand-wringing about the degradation of “pure” science by “activist-scientists,” and those arguments seem fallacious to me because in the end, all science is performed by members of societies. Add in to that the overwhelming association of identity-orientation among many of those “skeptics,” who seem to usually only see societal influence in the scientific production of those they disagree with about the science.

    Such argumentation from “skeptics” would naturally lead to a kind of defensiveness and distrust of those who are interested in exploring the interface between societal influence and physical science research. And then we add in the particulars of (and history with) the specific individuals behind this initiative. Those are real and important concerns, IMO, but it seems to me that it’s important to clearly distinguish arguments unique to the particular context from arguments about the general principles involved.

  56. Joshua,

    I think that there is an upside to calls for collaboration.

    I agree, and I’m not sure why you think I don’t. This doesn’t, however, seem like a call for collaboration. It comes across more as “we want to be involved” which is a subtly different scenario.

    It seems to me that setting the bar along the lines of “if they come up with something interesting, we can go from there” is sub-optimal.

    That isn’t quite what I was getting at. If I was interested in – for example – the social sciences, then a way in which I would get involved would be to actively try and do something and to then build collaborations and a reputation. I wouldn’t insist on inclusion and go around lobbying for it. Again, maybe I’m misrepresenting this, but it comes across more like an attempt to lobby for inclusion, than an attempt to build collaborations.

    It seems reasonable to me to speculate that there is a baseline societal influence in the physical sciences as a starting point, and to go from there.

    Sure, and I don’t disagree that this is the case. However, there is a difference between highlighting areas where this might apply and how to minimise it and – apparently – trying to define how we interpret results in the context of societal/political influences. Even if the latter isn’t what’s being suggested, it’s not obvious from what’s being presented.

  57. Joshua says:

    Mal –

    => I feel the need to say in all sincerity that Richard Tol’s comments to date on this thread are the first I’ve seen from him that are thoughtful and constructive.

    FWIW – Not wanting to “tone troll,” but as an observation I agree in that Richard’s: 6:52 PM post seemed constructive and engaged from a good-faith effort at meaningful discussion. Not that I agree completely with his arguments (seems to me that if we summarize information, it can essentially be like averaging information, so the notion that information is inherently “lost” seems problematic to me)…but I applaud the level of exchange there..

  58. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    All good points, IMO.

    ==> Again, maybe I’m misrepresenting this, but it comes across more like an attempt to lobby for inclusion, than an attempt to build collaborations.

    Again, point taken. Of course, that doesn’t have to be a static situation.

  59. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Two comments in a row landed in moderation.

  60. Joshua,
    I don’t know why. Maybe my “Joshua disagreed with me” switch is still set to “on” 🙂

  61. John Mashey says:

    Re: statisticians
    1) We had some pretty good statisticians at Bell Labs when I was there, and if there were hard problems people took them over to Tukey & co and hoped they got interested.
    Recall that S (and thus R) originated there … to enable more people to do statistics work without having to write so much code.

    2) For an excellent discussion on statistics and climate science, see comments by statisticioan Jim Berger at meetingat NCAR, p.67 of Strange Scholarship in the Wegman Report.
    The rest of that section (67-70) is an example of how not to do it, including Wegman’s unacknowledged re=use of Mike Mann’s slides in talk that attacks the work…

  62. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    I second John’s comment above (April 7, 2016 at 10:42 am) and ATTP’s reply (April 7, 2016 at 10:52 am)

    As a physical scientist with many professional contacts in the humanities, I often get comments such as John’s “…we should be aware that science is intrinsically a social endeavor – it requires collaboration, funding, infrastructure etc.”.

    As ATTP indicated in his reply, most physical scientists wouldn’t dispute this normative claim.

    Much more rarely do we come across something like: “Social scientists working in the area of science and technology studies should be aware that physical science has an intrinsically objective, or at least inter-subjective, basis – it requires that some truths are not simply cultural constructs or forms of the local community narrative.”

    Put a different way: Many more physical scientists are aware of the works of the Frankfurt School and the Vienna Circle than social scientists are aware of Hermitian operators and the Carnot cycle.

    There is a fundamental asymmetry in the presumption that physical science needs to integrate social science awareness into its practice.

  63. Willard says:

    > Many more physical scientists are aware of the works of the Frankfurt School and the Vienna Circle than social scientists are aware of Hermitian operators and the Carnot cycle.

    Being aware tells very little, and may lead to more prejudices than anything. The Vienna Circle ended in the 30s (it never really could bootstrap itself) and the Frankfurt School faded in the 70s (unless you count Habermas, which looks like a stretch to me). You might as well compare that knowledge to acquaintance of the phlogiston theory and Lamarckism, which are oftentimes better known by philosophers and historians of science than scientists themselves.

    For what it’s worth, Richie’s claim that summarizing loses information is falsified by biblical studies (there are in fact more information in summaries) and by the constructivist conception of information (it’s possible to have a shorter program that contains all the non-redundant information of a longer “text”).

  64. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    While I take your point about the staleness of my examples, Willard, I think the risk of awareness “leading to more prejudices than anything” is more than outweighed by the fact that awareness is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for constructive interdisciplinary dialogue.

    For example: have you spoken to many practicing scientists about phlogiston and Lamark? I suspect that your “oftentimes better-known by philosophers and historians of science than scientists themselves” is simply false. Philosophers and historians of science seem to be overly fond of telling physical scientists what they know and don’t know.

    Surprisingly to some, scientists are more often than not the best people to talk to about why the old theories are dead and why the new theories are alive.

    As always, your mileage may vary.

  65. Surely, the key point is that if you’re going to claim to be some kind of expert at science and how it fits within, and is influenced by, societal and political pressures, the onus is on you to illustrate that you understand some of the concepts that scientists regard as pretty fundamental?

  66. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    The Vienna Circle ended in the 30s (it never really could bootstrap itself) and the Frankfurt School faded in the 70s (unless you count Habermas, which looks like a stretch to me).

    Now – Can you tell us (without looking it up) when Hermitian operators became important to science, or when the Carnot cycle was first theoretically constructed?

    I rest my case, your honour.

  67. Dikran Marsupial says:

    It is possible to have negative information of a sort, c.f.

    “The mistitled Annotated ANSI C Standard, with annotations by Herbert Schildt, contains most of the text of ISO 9899; it is published by Osborne/McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-881952-0, and sells in the U.S. for approximately $40 [DM i.e. substantially cheaper than the official standard document itself]. It has been suggested that the price differential between this work and the official standard reflects the value of the annotations…” from comp.lang.c FAQ list · Question 11.1

    So you could say that the standard itself summarizes Schildt’s book, while increasing the information! ;o)

    Caveat lector: I actually haven’t read Schildt’s book, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of this old example of compute science humour, but as an undergraduate, I did learn Modula 2 from one of his books, which seemed good to me at the time.

  68. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    BTW, Willard, philosophers and historians of science sometimes won’t even talk to one another.

    FWIW, I have a vivid memory of a conversation I once had with Stillman Drake – who was of the very strong opinion that philosophers are the scourge of academia. I don’t happen to agree with that assessment, but it’s worth mentioning that historians and philosophers will often contest the fundamental claims made by their respective colleagues within the humanities, before they eventually move on to criticizing the practices of physical scientists.

    Scientists, on the contrary, tend to agree on most of the basics – and mostly argue about the devil in the details. At least when “normal science”, so-to-speak, is under consideration.

  69. “I’d lobby for involvement by statisticians in the earliest stages of research projects (and later), but perhaps I am biased on that one!”

    I much prefer being called in late on a project, being shown a pile of messed up data and then being tasked with “magic”

    “I wonder if the issue isn’t something to do with how things work in different environments. If you’re a business and you need some specialist help, you find someone who has that speciality and you employ them, or bring them in as a consultant. This can happen in academia, but sometimes what you do is go and work it out for yourself (which could include talking to a specialist). However, you’re always aware that you need more than just a specialisation; you need some understanding of the underlying problem you’re trying to solve, and you often don’t have funding to just go around bringing ever more people onto your project. ”

    Yup

  70. Willard says:

    > Can you tell us (without looking it up) when Hermitian operators became important to science, or when the Carnot cycle was first theoretically constructed?

    Carnot is easy: it’s a French name, and is related to steam engines. Therefore early 1800s. As for Hermitian operators (another French sounding name incidentally), I’d ask a philosopher of physics, say Bas van Fraassen:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bas_van_Fraassen

    He has an email. I know of this article on Beth by van Fraassen:

    http://www.jstor.org/stable/186462

    You might be interested in physics structuralism:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physics-structuralism

    I am not.

    ***

    > I rest my case.

    Then your case rest on the assumption that every social scientist should take any interest about physics, which smells like the inverse of physics envy.

    ***

    > historians and philosophers will often contest the fundamental claims made by their respective colleagues within the humanities, before they eventually move on to criticizing the practices of physical scientists.

    I’m not sure about that “before” – they criticize everything, historians trying to own facts and philosophers trying to own arguments, both for obvious reasons. It’s when philosophers of science criticize historians on facts and historians of science criticize philosophers on logic that things start to get interesting.

    I agree with Drake’s evaluation, BTW. Most philosophers would. Worse still might be econometricians, but don’t tell Richie.

  71. “his need not be seen as a criticism of science, but by recognizing that it is intrinsically social, perhaps we can actively do something to ensure that science is protected from undesirable social forces (big business, perhaps?), and directed it towards values that we share.”

    his need not be seen as a criticism of science, but by recognizing that it is intrinsically social, perhaps we can actively do something to ensure that science is protected from undesirable social forces (socialism, perhaps?), and directed it towards values that we share.

    #########################################

    Bottom line. Science aims at neutralizing values. We may not agree on the virtues of the free market or big business. But the point is this. If a big business does some science and says
    “hey GMOs are ok”, then if they have done their work in accordance with the scientific method, some socialist should be able to replicate the result. Indicating ( but not proving of course ) that the researchers values didn’t influence these particular results. We aim at removing observer bias, or understanding observer bias, or controlling for observer bias.
    Consequently, in industry for example, we would very often institute a process where by people with different values were forced to work together. Or a process where your work had to get the approval of your worst critic. The last thing we wanted was some filter bubble.

    For example: our group hired our most vocal critic (Riccioni).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fighter_Mafia

  72. Joshua says:

    == If you’re a business and you need some specialist help, you find someone who has that speciality and you employ them, or bring them in as a consultant.

    […]

    [in academia] you need some understanding of the underlying problem you’re trying to solve,

    Certainly, a criticism in business environments is often that consultants/specialists brought in lack the needed, broader context-specific knowledge. Of course, on the other hand, often that criticism is leveled against consultants by people who are feeling threatened by opening up their process to scrutiny.

    In short, I think that it’s easy to overstate the differences between business and academic contexts in that regard.

  73. John says:

    In response to ATTP’s question: (April 7, 1:30pm). My understanding of this is that it expresses a wish to inform policy by providing relevant information, rather than influence it is some way that could be deemed undemocratic! I can give you some examples:

    STS scholars have worked with biomedical scientists producing new stem cell blood products. By working with scientists ‘in the lab’, they have seen how particular regulation pertaining to stem cells can have unintended, negative consequences on research and clinical development. Drawing on this first-hand knowledge –and combining it with their STS-based understanding of politics & regulation – they are hoping to be able to inform policy that will lead to more suitable regulation.

    Scholars from SPRU (Science, Policy & Research Unit at UoSussex – which has supported the formation of AsSIST-UK) have been actively highlighting the important role that state-funded agencies play in innovation; innovation that leads to significant economic growth (Mariana Mazzucatto notes that all the ‘smart’ components of a smart phone have their origins in state-funded initiatives). This important role is often ignored in contemporary political debate which tends to equate innovation with the private sector. These scholars hope that by highlighting this role, they can inform suitable economic & industrial policy.

    This, I think, is the type of thing that is meant when AsSIST UK states that they “want to work at national and local levels from the UK…” and so forth.

    Responding to The Very Rev. JH. (April 7, 3:43). AsSIST-UK represents a diverse group of scholars from various backgrounds. However, all of them – like myself – would certainly agree that truths & scientific facts cannot be reduced to mere social constructs. Also, the Frankfurt School and Vienna Circle are a bit passé! About as relevant as aether is to contemporary science, in my opinion. More interesting (and fashionable?) theorists commentating on science are: Isobelle Stengers, Manuel DeLanda; Bruno Latour…

  74. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    Then your case rest on the assumption that every social scientist should take any interest about physics…

    Not at all. Just those social scientists who pretend to expertise in physical science theory and practice.

    I’m sure that if we asked Bas van Fraassen about Hermitian operators we would both learn something. I don’t have his e-mail in my address book, but I have several of his books in my library.


    It’s when philosophers of science criticize historians on facts and historians of science criticize philosophers on logic that things start to get interesting.

    One man’s “interesting” is another man’s fruitless waste of time.

    You might be interested in Humanist-Ball(tm).
    I am not.

    As for econometricians, their products may be safely ignored.

  75. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    Frankfurt School and Vienna Circle are a bit passé!

    This twice-voiced concern for the fashionable-ness of my scholarly examples from the humanities entirely misses the point that I was trying to make, and nevertheless supports it simultaneously.

    And then there’s physics.

  76. John,
    Thanks.

    My understanding of this is that it expresses a wish to inform policy by providing relevant information, rather than influence it is some way that could be deemed undemocratic!

    That sounds more reasonable, but – to be clear – I wasn’t suggesting that influencing policy would be undemocratic. I think anyone is free to influence policy if they wish. My issue was simply that it sounds more like the kind of thing I’d expect from a think tank, or consulting firm, than from a group of academics who have an interest in the science/society, science/society interface.

    Your examples seem to be good ones. I’m not at all averse to more interactions between social scientists and natural/physical scientists. I’m sure we could all learn from each other and my general understanding of the social sciences is probably poor.

    I agree with this in particular and it’s one of my own concerns about how we value more fundamental research areas

    This important role is often ignored in contemporary political debate which tends to equate innovation with the private sector. These scholars hope that by highlighting this role, they can inform suitable economic & industrial policy.

  77. Dikran Marsupial says:

    One of the problems in assessing whether people from A know more of B than people from B know of A is that it is rare to have an sufficient appreciation of both to place the levels of knowledge on commensurate scales. For example, what do psychologists know about cosmology and what do cosmologists know about psychology? If a cosmologists reads and understands (say) “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is that knowledge commensurate with that of a psychologist who has read Steven Weinbergs “The First Three Minutes”? I’ve read both of those, and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” gives the text of two of the papers on which the rest of the book is based, and they seem no more difficult to understand than the rest of the book. Understanding “The First Three Minutes” however does not mean you will be in a position to understand the papers on cosmology on which the book is based (I’ve also dipped into Bronstein and Feinberg’s “Cosmological Constants”). However, I know I don’t have the background in either psychology or cosmology to really know how far from the cutting edge both of these “popular science” books are, and I very much doubt there are many who do (but plenty who think they do). Knowing about Hermitian operators or the Vienna Circle isn’t all that meaningful anyway, the question would be can you do anything with that knowledge?

    Can I suggest that this is likely to be an exercise that is likely to end up in a demonstration of Dunning-Kruger and agree that social scientists and physical scientists are both jolly good (at least until someone performs a rigorous academic study)? The “my subject is better than your subject” thing is normally just an indication of intellectual insecurity anyway ;o)

  78. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Lamarck / about as relevant as aether to contemporary science…

    The standard historical examples of discarded scientific theories are not the simple cases that some folks might think they are – and I would modestly suggest that some folks would benefit from hanging out with actual scientists more often.

    Aether…

    Stachel, J. (2001), “Why Einstein reinvented the ether”, Physics World: 55–56.

    Kostro, L. (2001), “Albert Einstein’s New Ether and his General Relativity”, Proceedings of the Conference of Applied Differential Geometry: 78–86.

    If you wanna understand the theories of special and general relativity, you could do worse that to begin by understanding the theory of aether.

    Lamarckism…

    Jablonka, Eva; Lamb, Marion J. (2008). “Soft inheritance: Challenging the modern synthesis” Genetics and Molecular Biology 31 (2): 389–395.

    Richards, Eric J. (May 2006). “Inherited epigenetic variation — revisiting soft inheritance”. Nature Reviews Genetics (London: Nature Publishing Group) 7 (5): 395–401.

    Nätt, Daniel; Lindqvist, Niclas; Stranneheim, Henrik; et al. (July 28, 2009). Pizzari, Tom, ed. “Inheritance of Acquired Behaviour Adaptations and Brain Gene Expression in Chickens”. PLOS ONE (San Francisco, CA: Public Library of Science) 4 (7).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism#Epigenetic_Lamarckism

  79. John,
    I don’t know if you ever read this article by Michael Tobis. It very much aligns with my own views. An example of an issue is this paper by Reiner Grundmann. As John Mashey highights it uses stolen emails to infer things about the credibility of a scientific discipline. It sources information from the authors of sites that are regarded as promoting science denial. How is this good scholarship?

  80. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    The “my subject is better than your subject” thing is normally just an indication of intellectual insecurity anyway ;o)

    Agreed. However, I think the larger problem we face is one of a general lack of insecurity. Take climate science just as a randomly selected (!) example. There are so many confident voices with opinions to declare that we have a name for the resulting rhetorical cacaphony – ClimateBall(tm).

    _Informed_ opinions are so much more rare that it’s often difficult to find a few drops of knowledge in the ocean of opinion.

    Everyone seems to think that they are an expert in everything these days.
    I blame Al Gore.

  81. Dikran Marsupial says:

    “However, I think the larger problem we face is one of a general lack of insecurity. ”

    true. ;o)

  82. Joshua says:

    Problematic along similar lines as Grundmann’s article that John linked – except I think that this is worse:

    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

    It’s going to be hard for people to take advice about societal influences on analysis from someone who writes shit analysis like that.

  83. Joshua,

    It’s going to be hard for people to take advice about societal influences on analysis from someone who writes shit analysis like that.

    In a nutshell, but that was also Grundmann, wasn’t it?

  84. Joshua says:

    Yes.

  85. Willard says:

    > Just those social scientists who pretend to expertise in physical science theory and practice.

    I don’t recall ever pretending to that expertise, so I’m not sure how you can rest your case based on my own example, Reverend. I’m not sure how you ever could, for there are musicians who can’t read music sheets, and most food critics know very little of chemistry. Arguing about expertise would only reinforce Warren’s point.

    I agree with your overall point, however. Everyone should hook with everyone:

  86. John Mashey says:

    In the real world, successful endeavors put together interdisciplinary *teams* as needed, as I described above. I built a Bell Labs group that mixed computer scientists and cognitive psychologists. People have to learn to speak each others’ languages well enough.

    Companies in competitive markets have to do this well … whereas academe can sometimes survive stovepiped disciplines and departments. Of course, thoughtful universities can do better.
    Consider BIo-X at Stanford.

    Here’s what they did:
    1) Build a building in between the medical school area and engineering, designed by Norman Foster. (My wife sniffed: Imperial College got one by him before Stanford.)

    2) But more important, big pots of money were available for startup funding for new labs and projects, but with conditions:
    a) Needed at least 2 PI’s, with at least one each from medical/biosciences and engineering.
    b) They couldn’t have previously coauthored a paper.

    SO, the result was a bunch of biio/medical folks running around, just across the street: CMPSC (Gates building), EE (Allen building) and vice -versa, trying to see what was going on. Of course, this was younger faculty, not ones with well-established labs.

    This was obviously clever social engineering.

    Of course, it helped that the President, John Hennessy is a computer scientist by background, but also with a long history of interdisciplinary emphasis.

  87. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    I don’t recall ever pretending to that expertise, so I’m not sure how you can rest your case based on my own example, Reverend.

    I wasn’t referring to any such claim of expertise by you in particular, Willard And FWIW, I appreciate that you would defer to someone with the chops of van Fraassen. My ‘case’ above would involve the sort of science ‘expert’ who sneers at the notion that there could possibly be anything to learn about the history of philosophy and sociology of science from scientists themselves. This position is not uncommon. There are quite a few folks who seem to adamantly believe that most scientists are very naive and disjoint from the larger societal issues that surround scientific practice. Even some scientists buy into this caricature, although they exempt themselves of course – witness Judith Curry.


    I’m not sure how you ever could, for there are musicians who can’t read music sheets, and most food critics know very little of chemistry. Arguing about expertise would only reinforce Warren’s point.

    I’m no expert in food criticism (is that like beer theory?), but I’d hazard a guess that those critics who know some chemistry are generally more informative than those who don’t.

    Knowing how to read music ain’t necessary to be a good musician, but it sure as hell helps – especially if you want to compose or learn and perform new material.
    We could argue about taste: whether, say, Vanilla Ice is a better musician than Jon Kimura Parker – but I know who I’d rather have as a music teacher.

    Thank you for the group hug. I needed that.

  88. > My ‘case’ above would involve the sort of science ‘expert’ who sneers at the notion that there could possibly be anything to learn about the history of philosophy and sociology of science from scientists themselves.

    Agreed. If we accept that science shouldn’t end with physics, we need to accept that physicists can read historical documents and even (gasp!) have some background in philosophy, e.g.:

    Ludwik Kostro studied physics and philosophy at the “Sapienza” University and the Gregorian University in Rome from 1963 to 1970. In 1975 he joined the University of Gdansk, until 1994 as a Lecturer and Assistant Professor in the Physics Institute and from 1994 onward as a Full Professor in the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, of which he served as Director. He is presently Director of the Department for Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science at the same University. […] He is the author of 79 scientific papers in physics and philosophy, as well as several books, e.g., Eros, Sex and Abortion in the Critical Catholicism (Scientia, 1999). He has been awarded a number of major prizes. The French Government decorated him with the Les Palmes Académiques medal.

    http://wiki.naturalphilosophy.org/wiki/ludwig-kostro/

    That Critical Catholicism looks intriguing.

    ***

    Reading back the thread, I stumbled upon AT’s link to the Mother Jones’ article about Harry Collins. This bit may be of interest:

    The upshot is that while the scientific process works in the long run, in the shorter term it is very messy—full of foibles, errors, confusions, and personalities.

    So it’s not that Collins now repudiates his older research. He just thinks some scholars took it all too far, winding up in radically postmodernist positions that really did seem to devalue expertise and scientific knowledge. “It just seemed to me that we were moving into a position where, at least in the narrow academic world of my colleagues, it was ceasing to be possible to talk about experts,” says Collins. “If you said, ‘So and so is an expert,’ you were accused of being an elitist.”

    Collins’ new book is, in essence, a thorough answer to this objection. Based in significant part on the so-called “Periodic Table of Expertises” that he and his colleagues at Cardiff developed, Collins carefully delineates between different types of claims to knowledge. And in the process, he rescues the idea that there’s something very special about being a member of an expert, scientific community, which cannot be duplicated by people like vaccine critic Jenny McCarthy, […]

    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/harry-collins-inquiring-minds-science-studies-saves-scientific-expertise

    That periodic table made my day:

    http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/resources/web-table-wd6.pdf

    Perhaps I should read AT’s. I heard he runs a good blog.

  89. L Hamilton says:

    Social science being a large tent … there are others who have more collaborative ideas for how to integrate social with natural science for research. Climatologists have been among the co-authors for many of the papers I’ve worked on lately, whether we are publishing in Geophysical Research Letters or Sociology.

  90. Larry,

    there are others who have more collaborative ideas for how to integrate social with natural science for research.

    Indeed, and I’ve now published a couple of what are probably best described as social science papers with co-authors who are social scientists.

  91. Willard, thanks for the link to the Periodic Table. As a fan of dictionaries edited by S.I. Hayakawa, the first footnote could have been right out of one of my old 1950s Funk & Wagnalls.

  92. My favorite one to date is fn 22, oneillsinwinconsin.

    You have no idea how many pages have been written on Aristotle’s phronesis (φρόνησις). It needs to be distinguished from technique (τεχνη), science (επιστήμη), wisdom (σοφία) and intelligence (νους). Among other things, there’s a debate about how to translate “νους” – I wouldn’t venture to say “soul” unless we’re referring to the musical sense.

    The concept of transactional expertise might help alleviate Warren & Brigitte’s concern regarding Lew & Dorothy’s “expertise” red flag:

    Read all the online stuff you want, Collins argues—or even read the professional scientific literature from the perspective of an outsider or amateur. You’ll absorb a lot of information, but you’ll still never have what he terms “interactional expertise,” which is the sort of expertise developed by getting to know a community of scientists intimately, and getting a feeling for what they think.

    “If you get your information only from the journals, you can’t tell whether a paper is being taken seriously by the scientific community or not,” says Collins. “You cannot get a good picture of what is going on in science from the literature,” he continues. And of course, biased and ideological internet commentaries on that literature are more dangerous still.

    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/harry-collins-inquiring-minds-science-studies-saves-scientific-expertise

    This is the kind of thing that raises an obvious red flag to any researcher among Lew & Dorothy’s audience. There’s room for nuance, of course, since it gets easier and easier to interact.

  93. BBD says:

    There was B. B. King and this guy who had been playing for a few months and

    And that’s it.

  94. Gator says:

    Re: Harry Collins.
    http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/contactsandpeople/harrycollins/research-project.html

    This link provides some concrete scenarios about how a sociologist of science might interact/contribute to a hard-science project.

  95. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    My favorite one to date is fn 22, oneillsinwinconsin.

    52 is rather good.

  96. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli, being a practical bunny, would certainly not look to social scientists were he (he is a he) interested in breaking the back of political denial raging through the anglo world. Marketing, there’s the place to look (and, of course Larry Hamilton can do the survey work).

  97. Bam says:

    “It sources information from the authors of sites that are regarded as promoting science denial. How is this good scholarship?”

    The host of this blog as well as its readers might be interested to learn that the current version of Grundmann’s paper contains an explicit acknowledgment (in a footnote) that it is primarily based on the so-called skeptic sources. This acknowledgment was not present in the original paper as accepted. Of interest may also be that the journal lists the “first published date” as April 2012, but this was for the original accepted paper. Several substantial changes (the issue above is just one example) were made later that year to yield the current version.

    Notably, the revision was made after Grundmann’s whine on Klimazwiebel that he had had so much trouble getting this particular paper published.

  98. Bam,
    Thanks, I didn’t know that. I’m not surprised he trouble getting it published.

  99. Wotts’ opening is a great illustration of a key difference between the natural and the social sciences. In the social sciences, the objects of study are aware. While star disks couldn’t care less what we say about them, astronomers do — some even talk back. Based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation, the object even dares to challenge the findings of decades of painstaking research.

  100. Richard,

    Based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation, the object even dares to challenge the findings of decades of painstaking research.

    Shock, horror! I’m not quite sure what your point is, but – yes – astronomical objects are not, as far as we’re aware, conscious of the fact that they’re being studied. Human beings are, or certainly can be. So, if – for example – an STS researcher uses stolen emails to infer something about an entire scientific discipline and then sources material about this discipline from someone who runs what many regard as a science denial site (Andrew Montford, for example), then it’s not surprising that those being studied object.

  101. The best bit in Grundman’s paper is this
    “Disreputable errors are those that occur when cognitive norms are neglected, for example when no proper experimental controls are used, when samples are not protected from contamination, when double-blind designs are not arranged (cf. Zuckerman 1988a, 521).”

  102. Richard,
    And your point? That sounds like examples of poor research practice, which – of course – does happen (not quite sure why this is related to cognitive issues, other than people not understanding how to carry out their research properly). Doesn’t really mean that one can malign an entire discipline on the basis of there being examples of studies that aren’t carried out as carefully as they probably should be.

  103. Dikran Marsupial says:

    or when small datasets are used to form a model without consideration of the effects of potential outliers or high leverage points… ? ;o)

  104. @wotts
    A little birdie told me you will publish a paper next week.

  105. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Didn’t take long for Richard to return to his usual low standard of behaviour.

  106. I believe so. A little birdie told me that you’ve been happily consorting with people who seem to think it’s okay to publicise confidential material to which they have no claims or rights. Anyway, as you know, there is an embargo, which I aim to respect.

  107. Joshua says:

    Richard –

    What do you think about Grundmann’s comparison of climate scientists to Nazis, on the basis of an attribute that could be applied to scientists from a wide variety of fields (i.e., “services as essential for solving pressing social problems.

  108. Joshua says:

    Oops…. should read (i.e. “seeing theirservices as essential for solving pressing social problems.”)?

  109. Joshua says:

    Richard –

    While I’m at it… could you explain what you’re referring to when you say : “Based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation, the object even dares to challenge the findings of decades of painstaking research.”?

  110. Joshua,
    I’m assuming that he’s complaining about the retraction of the Recursive Fury paper, but I could be wrong 😉

  111. @joshua
    I don’t think Grundmann does that. He places Merton’s work in its historical context. I would think that Oppenheimer and Turing might object to Grundmann’s choice of words, but I don’t think that Jones and Mann have any reason to.

  112. @joshua
    The object in question is an astronomer of our mutual acquaintance.

  113. Richard,

    I would think that Oppenheimer and Turing might object to Grundmann’s choice of words, but I don’t think that Jones and Mann have any reason to.

    It’s odd though that someone like Grundmann, who appears to think that evidence should be viewed through some kind of societal lens, see no issues with associating race science and climate science. Seems ironic, unless he really thinks there is some kind of actual valid comparison, which would be bizarre if he did.

  114. @wotts
    Grundmann does not do that. He evaluates the behaviour of a few climate researchers through a Mertonian lens.

  115. Joshua says:

    Richard –

    I guess I should be more clear. I wasn’t asking you to speculate about how various other people might react to Grundmann’s comparison of climate scientists to Nazis – I was asking you to speak to your reaction to Grundmann’s comparison of climate scientists to Nazis.

    On that point… could you explain why you think the following:

    There is an eerie similarity between race science and climate science in that both see their services as essential for solving pressing social problems.

    …is not comparing climate scientists to Nazis based on an attribute that could be applied to a wide range of scientists?

    Do you think he wasn’t comparing climate scientists to Nazis?
    Do you think that seeing their services as essential for solving pressing social problems is not an attribute that applies to a wide range of scientists?

    ==> The object in question is an astronomer of our mutual acquaintance.

    Yes, I got that much. What I didn’t understand was the other part…I’ll elaborate:

    “Based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation,[out mutual acquaintance] even dares to challenge the findings of decades of painstaking research.”

    Where did our mutual acquaintance “dare to challenge the findings of decades of painstaking research based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation.”

  116. Joshua says:

    I will note that there is an odd ambiguity in Grundmann’s wording.

    He refers to “climate science” (and race science) as “see[ing] their services as essential for solving pressing social problems.”

    I don’t know how a science could “see” anything about it’s services, It’s an odd wording..but my interpretation (backed up by his use of the possessive pronoun “their” in front of services) is that it’s logical to assume that by speaking of “science” as something capable of “seeing,” he is referring to the scientists who engage in that science.

  117. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> I’m assuming that he’s complaining about the retraction of the Recursive Fury paper, but I could be wrong😉

    Looking past the subjectivity of his assertion, how would your reaction to the RF paper = daring to challenge decades of painstaking research based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation?

  118. @joshua
    I now realize that you do not refer to Grundmann’s paper linked to above, but rather to a blog post co-authored by Grundmann and Stehr.

    There, G&S make the — uncontroversial — claim that environmental science has been politically instrumentalised and caution against its possible consequences. The language is unusually mild for Stehr — but really the only thing they say is “look out, this way danger lies”.

  119. Richard,

    Grundmann does not do that. He evaluates the behaviour of a few climate researchers through a Mertonian lens.

    He wrote this:

    There is an eerie similarity between race science and climate science in that both see their services as essential for solving pressing social problems.

    Whatever he intended, or whether or not one can argue that he was making some valid evaluation of the behaviour of a few climate researchers, he clearly associated race science and climate science. Given that he appears to be part of a research ideology that suggests that evidence should be interpreted through some kind of societal lens, it’s hard to see how he could write this and then be expected to be taken seriously. It’s the irony of this that I’m getting at, not whether or not what he actually wrote was valid in some way (I really don’t think that it is, but that’s beside the point).

    Joshua,

    Looking past the subjectivity of his assertion, how would your reaction to the RF paper = daring to challenge decades of painstaking research based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation?

    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at. I was just joking 🙂

  120. Joshua says:

    Richard –

    I’ll try again to see if you’ll answer my question. I guess if you don’t after three attempts, I should just give up.

    I’m not asking you to explain to me about their claim that climate science is politicized.

    What do you think about Grundmann’s comparison of climate scientists to Nazis, on the basis of an attribute that could be applied to scientists from a wide variety of fields (i.e., “services as essential for solving pressing social problems?

  121. @joshua
    I did answer your question: I don’t think Grundmann and Stehr make such a comparison.

  122. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Richard writes “There, G&S make the — uncontroversial — claim that environmental science has been politically instrumentalised…”

    for example by the GWPF?

  123. Joshua says:

    Well, when you first stated that you didn’t think he had done that, it seems that you weren’t referring to the example I was asking about. So it’s strange that you would say that you already answered.

    Anyway, now that it’s clear what I’m referring to, I will just say that I’m completely confused that you can conclude that he wasn’t comparing climate scientists to Nazis (based on an arbitrarily selected criterion).

    Well, that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla.

  124. @joshua
    G&S note a similarity between race scientists and climate scientists, but this similarity is explicitly in one dimension only.

    G&S do not compare Nazis and climate scientists. Race science was not limited to Nazism, and Nazism is more than racism.

  125. I did answer your question: I don’t think Grundmann and Stehr make such a comparison.

    I’ll simply quote from Grundmann’s post

    There is an eerie similarity between race science and climate science in that both see their services as essential for solving pressing social problems.

    The use of science by the Nazi regime has been described as follows:

  126. I’m slightly concerned that this thread is simply degenerating into one big illustration of Godwin’s Law.

  127. Joshua says:

    Ok. So I’ll note that you’re making a distinction there between race scientists and Nazis, even though in the sentence following the one I excerpted, Grundmann said:

    ==> The use of science by the Nazi regime has been described as follows:

    So I’ll revise my question.

    What do you think about Grundmann’s comparison of climate scientists to [race scientists Nazis, on the basis of an attribute that could be applied to scientists from a wide variety of fields (i.e., “seeing their services as essential for solving pressing social problems)?

    As for this:

    ==> but this similarity is explicitly in one dimension only.

    That is part of my point. He selects “one dimension” out of myriad dimensions. That same one dimensional comparison would apply to a wide variety of scientists. So, IMO, in any analytical sense, the comparison is meaningless. But as a rhetorical device, it clearly associates climate scientists – as an exclusive breed of scientists – with race scientists (who Grundmann clearly associates with Nazis).

    So your response that it was “‘one-dimensional” aligns with what I was trying to get you to comment on.

    So maybe I’ll modify my question further based on your responses thus far:

    What do you think about Grundmann’s comparison of climate scientists to [race scientists\ Nazis, on the basis of an attribute a one-dimensional point of comparison that could be [equally] applied to scientists from a wide variety of fields (i.e., “seeing their services as essential for solving pressing social problems)?

  128. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> I’m slightly concerned that this thread is simply degenerating into one big illustration of Godwin’s Law.

    With the caveat that we need to keep in mind the important distinction between “race scientist” and Nazi. 🙂

  129. Joshua says:

    I will note that Richard is eerily similar to race scientists based on many, many, many “one-dimensional” points of comparison (for example, “Richard” has one “a” in it, and “race scientist” has one “a” in it. It’s eerie, I tell you.)

  130. Dikran Marsupial says:

    ATTP perhaps the technique should be known as the “paragraph break of plausible deniability”?

  131. Dikran,
    That did cross my mind. I feel that at least Richard is being consistent.

  132. @joshua
    I think the proper interpretation of G&S is that climate science has set a first step on a potentially dangerous road.

    As I said, Stehr is uncharacteristically mild here. I share Stehr’s concerns about environmentalism.

  133. Joshua says:

    Richard –

    ==> I think the proper interpretation of G&S is that climate science has set a first step on a potentially dangerous road.

    A couple of big problems there, as I see it. The first is that saying that “climate science” has done this or that is inherently problematic. Climate science doesn’t do anything. Do there is a clear, ad hom connotation to what you and he Grundmann wrote. The second is that there is a clear distinction, IMO, between criticizing specific climate scientists (which, from a grammatical angle, seems a reasonable interpretation of his attaching the possessive pronoun to “climate science”) and comparing them to race scientists (in the context of associating race scientists with Nazis).

    Such rhetoric is, IMO, meaningless from an analytical perspective. I’m not physical scientist, but I would have to think that if I were, I would look at someone who promotes that kind of analysis and seriously wonder whether they might have anything to offer in collaborating to improve my own application of the scientific process.

    I will note, yet again, that IMO you aren’t actually addressing the point that I’ve been trying to get you to address: the weakness of Grundmann’s analysis and the employment of rhetorical devices therein.

    It is entirely possible to recognize that the politicization of science, in general, is potentially problematic and still note the weakness and vacuous rhetorical expediency of what Grundmann wrote. I would argue that the weakness of Grundmann’s analysis is blatantly obvious – so much so that even someone like me can see it. Of course, I could very well be wrong about that, and certainly someone with superior analytical skills such as yourself could help me to see how I’m wrong about that – but as of yet I can’t see that you’re really addressed the issues that I’ve been asking you to address.

    So I’ll bring you back to this question, again (I know that I said that three times should be enough….but there’s always hope):

    What do you think about Grundmann’s comparison of climate scientists to race scientists on the basis of a a one-dimensional point of comparison that could be equally applied to scientists from a wide variety of fields (i.e., “seeing their services as essential for solving pressing social problems)?

  134. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Tol:

    I share Stehr’s concerns about environmentalism.

    Oh, FFS. Concerns?

    Just let go of the sock. Now.

  135. I’ll even extend, I think, Joshua’s point. We live in a world in which – I think – many would like to see evidence-based policy making (which doesn’t mean that evidence defines policy, simply that it informs policy). This means that there will be occasions in which the evidence might be inconvenient to some; in the sense that it will suggests policies that they might – for whatever reason – find objectionable, or at odds with what they believe.

    There is, however, a vast difference between evidence that might suggest that we should be considering inconvenient policies, and manufacturing evidence to promote policies that are objectionable (or later seen as objectionable). Joshua’s point – I think – is that a simplistic comparison between a scientific discipline that might be presenting evidence that is inconvenient to some, and a scientific discipline that was (as I understand it) essentially created so as to justify policies that some wished to promote, appears extremely sub-optimal. This seems especially true given that if we accept this framing then we can use this to undermine any evidence that we regard as inconvenient. It seems particularly poor given that this is coming from someone who is a high-level academic in a field that is intended to study the science/policy, science/society interface.

  136. John Mashey says:

    Back to concrete issues in Grundmann paper:
    I am unimpressed by anyone who clains to be a scholar but relies ao heavily on The Hockey Stick Illusion.
    The first 30 pages alone are stuffed with distortions, contradictions, claims built on unsupported and dubious claims by others, some outright falsification/fabrication and probably defamatory remarks. This includes the infanous Deming quote from my favorite dog astrology journal (JSE), which never made any sense, and then an outright lie about Lindzen confirming it, when Lindzen lied about Deming’s piece.

    Borrow a copy and see for yourself. If a “scholar” depends strongly on such sources, ot’s hard to take anything they say seriously.

  137. @joshua
    I think it G&S are right to focus on one particular subdiscipline.

  138. BBD says:

    Richard

    As I said, Stehr is uncharacteristically mild here. I share Stehr’s concerns about environmentalism.

    Yes, we got that. Now will you please stop baselessly and incorrectly and deliberately conflating ‘environmentalism’ (not even defined) with the environmental sciences. Your shtick becomes tiresome.

  139. BBD says:

    John

    Back to concrete issues in Grundmann paper:
    I am unimpressed by anyone who clains to be a scholar but relies ao heavily on The Hockey Stick Illusion.

    Clearly, the paper and its authors have to be taken on their merits.

  140. JM,

    If a “scholar” depends strongly on such sources, ot’s hard to take anything they say seriously.

    Agree completely. Utterly bizarre.

    Richard,
    Joshua said one-dimensional, not one subdiscipline.

  141. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> appears extremely sub-optimal.

    Yah. Or even foreseeably counterproductive…depending on the goal.

    Richard –

    If the goal is to mitigate the potentially negative impact of politicizing science, then it would seem to me that people should avoid rhetoric that makes no insightful contributions to our understanding, but instead, aggravates political partisanship, If the goal is to advance a sense of group identity by hardening the us vs. them nature of the discussion, then comparing climate scientists to race scientists (in the context of Nazism) makes perfect sense.

    IMO, using analogies can certainly be instructive – but what could be gained here by a “one-dimensional” (and I would add arbitrary) comparison of climate scientists to race scientists? Is there anyone discussing these issues that isn’t already aware of the dangerous overlap of politics and science as manifest in race science (particularly in the context of Nazism), or for that matter as manifest in any manner of other contexts such as Lysenkoism or the development of public policy to address Ebola? What is the function of Grundmann’s comparison? Is there anyone reading him that isn’t aware that autocratic and authoritarian regulation of science is potentially problematic?

    ==> I share Stehr’s concerns about environmentalism.

    That being the case, FWIW, I would suggest that you stop defending assigning guilt by association, generalizing from unrepresentative sampling, analogizing people to race scientists, Eugenicists, Nazis, Islamic terrorists, etc. It seems rather obvious to me that such rhetoric is not simply sub-optimal, but notably counterproductive (towards the goal of mitigating the potential down side of politicizing science). And I certainly think that it’s not a particularly good path to follow for someone who is advocating collaboration with people in the field that he’s comparing to race science.

    I have to say that I’m rather confused that you, apparently, would disagree. Lacking any other explanation that seems plausible to me, I have to attribute your disagreement to your own partisanship. Of course, if you could provide another explanation, I would let you know whether or not it seems plausible to me.

    And with that, I’m sure that many folks tired of this exchange long ago, so I’ll leave it there.

  142. Joshua says:

    ==> Joshua said one-dimensional, not one subdiscipline.

    No doubt. There’s no problem that I can see with focusing on one subdivision.

  143. John Mashey says:

    As it happens, i’ve been studying Texas Public Policy Foundation conference from last November, whose video playlist has everything, including a talk by the UK’s own Ruper Darwall.

    But watch emeritus atomic physicist Will Happer for 3 minutes here on consensus and Lysenko. Happer was Chair of George Marshall Insitute, now runs the CO2Coalition. He is also a GWPF Advisor..

    Then watch Kathleen Hartnett White (TPPFer who organized this) for 3 minutestalk about Stalin’s and Hitler’s regimes, also about people in government *grossly* manipulating science (the evil folks at NOAA).

  144. BBD says:

    John

    whose video playlist has everything, including a talk by the UK’s own Ruper Darwall.

    I think it was very unfeeling of you to remind us about that. It’ll be hurtful jibes about Monckton next, or even the frères Corbyn.

  145. John Mashey says:

    Oops, sorry, I see I misspelled Rupert, a staunch defender of martyred Galileo Murry Salby.
    TPPF seems to like him though, as he spoke at the 2014 conference.

  146. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Someone should write a book about the use of the tribal ‘we’ in comments below blogposts. My own unstructured observations suggest that the tribal ‘we’ is almost always used either (i) by weaker, more peripheral members of a blog-tribe seeking to bolster their own sense of tribal identity and perhaps solicit acknowledgement from tribal elders (a ‘me too, please’ sort of ‘we’) or (ii) by stronger, more central members (the elders) when they are losing an argument with outsiders and want to retreat to the comfort of the tribe (a Queen Vic ‘We are not amused (so fuck off)’ sort of ‘we’). In both cases, it’s an indication of weakness. Or wekness, if you want to get all Willard.

    (As it happens, this thread is mostly free of tribal ‘we’s. My comment was prompted solely by BBD’s ‘Yes, we got that’, which is perhaps the most succinct example of a tribal ‘we’ as you’ll ever find anywhere. A type (i) or type (ii) tribal ‘we’? Dunno. Perhaps both. Or perhaps a yet-to-be-defined type (iii). Calling social scientists!)

  147. Someone should write a book about the use of the tribal ‘we’ in comments below blogposts.

    Or, maybe people should consider that when people write blog comments they have to use words. Sometimes there are a limited number of words available and the words they use are not always optimal, but are the best they can think of at the time and they can’t be bothered thinking about how they could easily be misinterpreted by those who are looking for meaning when there isn’t really anything there?

  148. Vinny Burgoo says:

    ATTP, are you denying the existence for a tribal ‘we’?

    Are you a ‘we’ denier?

  149. Vinny,
    You just used “denier”! OMG! 😉

  150. BBD says:

    Vinny

    As it happens, this thread is mostly free of tribal ‘we’s. My comment was prompted solely by BBD’s ‘Yes, we got that’, which is perhaps the most succinct example of a tribal ‘we’ as you’ll ever find anywhere.

    So you disagree with Richard when he says:

    As I said, Stehr is uncharacteristically mild here. I share Stehr’s concerns about environmentalism.

    Or what? This ‘tribal we’ thing seems a bit forced.

  151. Joshua says:

    ==> This ‘tribal we’ thing seems a bit forced.

    We agree.

  152. Eli Rabett says:

    Wotts’ opening is a great illustration of a key difference between the natural and the social sciences. In the social sciences, the objects of study are aware. While star disks couldn’t care less what we say about them, astronomers do — some even talk back. Based on a few decades of casual and untrained observation, the object even dares to challenge the findings of decades of painstaking research.

    Schoedinger’s cat demurrs.

    Also anybunny who has actually done any experiments in a laboratory.

  153. Eli Rabett says:

    I think it G&S are right to focus on one particular subdiscipline.

    Well, yes, it is a farce, but the music still sucks

  154. BBD says:

    Schoedinger’s cat demurrs.

  155. > There’s no problem that I can see with focusing on one subdivision.

    Another batch:

  156. BBD says:

    And then there’s Pruit Igoe

    And the rest.

  157. John Mashey says:

    Since the discussion has gone off into odd turfs, the Pruitt-Igoe video reminds me of a local friend who was for a while in the business of blowing up buildings … until he blew up the wrong one (I think), ending that stage of his career.

  158. John Mashey says:

    I notice that some folks from Oxford Institute for Science, Innovation and Society are involved:
    Farzana Dudhwala, Doctoral Candidate, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society , University of Oxford
    Dr Javier Lezaun, Deputy Director, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford

    and Jerome Ravetz” is an Associate Fellow.. People may recall his 2011 Lisbon meeting, but I’m not sure if that sort of thing fits into this current effort or not.

  159. snarkrates says:

    Yes, Vinny. Our “tribe” is called the reality-based community. I doubt you’ve heard of us.

  160. my subject is better than your subject” (nearly every professor on nearly any other subject, no matter how close to his)

    There is no need for every scholar in the humanities to be well informed about the natural sciences.

    However from someone in Science and Technology Studies (STS) you may expect some familiarity with the science or technology. Like it is a good idea for an anthropologist studying tribe X, to have a look there and talk to the people.

    There are likely many good STS scholars, but when Warren Pearce or Reiner Grundmann show an inability to distinguish between the political movement against mitigation and science that is worrying and a reason to expect their work will not contribute much to their field.

  161. I had not seen BBD’s “Yes, we got that” as tribal. Wasn’t this “we” every single reader of this blog?

    (My last comment got stuck in moderation.)

  162. BBD says:

    Victor Venema

    Wasn’t this “we” every single reader of this blog?

    It was, which is why Vinny’s painfully strained attempt to pretend that it was tribal is so silly. The ‘we’ also included him.

    The only tribal behaviour on display in this episode is his own.

  163. Willard says:

    Speaking of the 2011 meeting, John, you may notice that the post by Warren & al discussed on the other thread included this citation:

    Hulme, M., & Ravetz, J. (2009, December 1). ‘Show Your Working’: What ‘ClimateGate’ means. BBC.

    http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2016/03/30/transparency-lewandowsky-bishop-socialscience/

    I don’t always wonder what CG really means, but when I do, I ask the “champion” whose emails auditors ignored.

  164. Here’s an example of what I find frustrating about what I often see presented by who I think are STS researchers. It’s a blog post by one of the authors of a book called science on the verge. It discusses replication problems with some studies, the weakness of peer-review, and how we use simplistic metrics to judge research and researchers, and then says

    Do these observations signal a crisis in science? I believe we may well be on the brink of one, as do my co-authors on a joint volume recently published by the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, entitled Science on the Verge

    Is there actually evidence to really support a claim that these various issues are indicative of a real crisis? Do the people who write this consider that maybe there are many things we could do better, but that’s not necessarily an indication of some kind of major crisis? Do people who write this consider that they’re part of the same system and are subject to the same pressures and incentives (i.e., who are they to pass judgement)? Do people who write this consider that maybe the problem isn’t “science” but how it is perceived and judged by policy makers and the public, and how scientists respond to that (in other words the main problem is external, rather than internal)?

    I’m more than aware that there are indeed problems with how some conduct themselves scientifically, with peer-review, and with how we judge and incentivise researchers/academics. I’m far less convinced that this is indicative of the start of some kind of major crisis, rather than simply a set of things that we could do better and that we can start to resolve by simply making some changes in how we fund and judge research and researchers.

  165. The natural sciences have one advantage that after some years it is normally clear who does quality work. That is a lot harder to determine in many/the humanities and makes it harder for the humanities to get rid of bad personnel or to make a strong case (to outsiders) for ignoring such people.

  166. BBD says:

    Do you ever get the feeling that the knives are out for the hard sciences, at least in some quarters, ATTP?

    Waving past the obvious ‘yes’ then it’s interesting to ponder the ‘why?’. I don’t think this is by any means all about climate science, so what’s the real beef between STS and those they would make the subjects of their inquiries? Perhaps the very nature of the work requires crises, real or imagined, in order to be a sustainable field.

  167. BBD,
    I don’t know. Given my criticism of people inferring things without much evidence, I should probably avoid surmising 🙂

  168. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Binary thinking of the sort you are highlighting is around us everywhere.

    Which means it must be a “crises.”

    Kids these days….
    What ever happened to “pure” science?
    We are on the road to serfdom.
    The end of the enlightenment, I say.

    Grab the children and head for the hills to begin building your bunker.

  169. John Mashey says:

    Attp: insight may be gained from rummaging around ASU’s CSPO, which among other things published The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change

  170. John,
    Thanks, that is an interesting think. I hadn’t made that connection. I didn’t realise that there was a series on “The Rightful Place of Science”.

  171. Willard says:

    > Is there actually evidence to really support a claim that these various issues are indicative of a real crisis?

    Crisis, perhaps not. Eine Krisis? You bet, and some argue that it goes back to Galileo and beyond:

    Husserl purports to show, “by way of a teleological-historical reflection on the origins of our critical scientific and philosophical situation, the inescapable necessity of a transcendental-phenomenological reorientation of philosophy”. He attempts to provide a historical and causal account of the origins of consciousness, something excluded or “bracketed” in his earlier works. Husserl, now concerned not so much with particular past events as with the eidos of history, the essential historicity of consciousness and its burden of preoccupations derived from the traditions of its social milieu, casts doubt on his own attempt to found a rigorous science free of all preconceptions. In the third part of the book, he develops the concept of the “life-world” (Lebenswelt) the intersubjective world of natural, pre-theoretical experience and activity, which in his view was neglected by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant in favor of the world of theoretical science. The “theoretical attitude”, exemplified for Husserl by Galileo Galilei, arose historically, in ancient Greece, against the background of the life-world, which essentially persists even after the development of the theoretical spirit.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crisis_of_European_Sciences_and_Transcendental_Phenomenology

    Social scientists are there to get you, guys. Run!

  172. Joshua says:

    ==> The crisis we are facing is therefore not just methodological and organizational in nature, but also ethical and metaphysical.

    Geez. That is bad. And there I didn’t realize that we are in the middle of an ethical and metaphysical crisis.

    Two articles I found useful for gaining some perspective on the replication “crisis” that undergirds the ethical and metaphysical crises. 🙂

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/failure-is-moving-science-forward

    and

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-two-grad-students-uncovered-michael-lacour-fraud-and-a-way-to-change-opinions-on-transgender-rights/

  173. Willard says:

    > That is a lot harder to determine in many/the humanities and makes it harder for the humanities to get rid of bad personnel or to make a strong case (to outsiders) for ignoring such people.

    Not knowing much about the humanities also helps having difficulties in recognizing who rocks and who does not.

  174. Joshua,
    I thought that 538 article was quite interesting, but maybe that’s partly because Kahan thought it was “absurd”. More seriously, I think that article made some interesting points about understanding how other real factors – such as whether or not the sample were actually representative – could influence replication. It’s certainly clear in physics that if you want to compare two studies you need to consider the results, the initial assumptions and the method.

  175. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Read the 2nd 538 link (if you haven’t), as it discusses whether, in the long run, the “crisis” revealed in the LaCour bruhaha has actually had a beneficial outcome w/r/t the state of science.

    One person’s crisis…

    I’ll try again to tweak Kahan.

  176. John Mashey says:

    Without ascribing this to anyone in particular, i offer a corporate analogy.
    Long ago and far away, I worked at Bell Labs, which was about 25,000 people in R&D org of the Bell System, 1M+ people. BTL had some savvy managers, and i worked for some if the best (ss a supervisor, one if my Directors was later BTL CTO, and the other BTL President.) Management training was both explicit and by example. That lab was about 10% psychologists among the software and hardware folks, and a sibling systems engineering lab included economics folks, statisticians.

    Getting anything done required cross-disciplinary teans, inter-organizational task forces, often involving groups from AT&T, Western Ekectric and the Bell local operating companies. Generally, this worked OK, but the nature of such things is:
    1) A group effort may involve major efforts by some subgroups, and necesssary, but peripheral roles for others.

    2) That generally worked BUT:
    One would occasionally run into cases where someone whose domain was peripheral would work very hard to rearrange things to place themselves at the center, if possibke controlling the agenda and bring an information broker. There often was a tendency fir complexification and controversy, rather than solving problems. Such folks don’t last long in startups, but big organizations have them… and i suspect some parts if academe might.
    I was explicitly trained to recognize the behavior pattern, and learn tactics for desling with it, which necessarily vary…

  177. Joshua says:

    Accepting the risk of suggesting I’m a 538 fanboy, this link just went up…a 538er follow-up podcast/roundtable/discussion of the LaCour bruhaha article.

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/fivethirtyeight-roundtable-how-scientific-scandal-can-become-scientific-progress/

  178. Joshua,
    Interesting. It seems that there are two main points

    1. If your research results are particularly interesting/relevant, it’s probably quite hard to not get caught if you’ve committed some kind of fraud/misconduct. People will want to check your results and will eventually discover some discrepancy.

    2. We undervalue how much we can learn from getting things wrong; even if the error was intentional. Of course, the norm should be to get things wrong unintentionally, rather than intentionally, but progress doesn’t simply involve a smooth process of ever improving studies; it can also include dead ends, and things that turn out to be incorrect. It all contributes to our overall understanding.

  179. VB says:

    VV: ‘Wasn’t this “we” every single reader of this blog?’

    Wot, even RSJT?

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