Mertonian norms

There are a set of norms of science, first presented by Robert K Merton and known as the Mertonian norms. I found what seems to be a good description of them here. There are four Mertonian norms, called universalism, communalism, disinterestedness, and organised skepticism.

You can read the links above for more detailed descriptions, but they’re essentially that research results should not be judged on the basis of those presenting them, that the results of research should be available to all, that researchers should not conduct research for personal gain, and that research claims should not be accepted by the scientific community until they’ve been suitably tested.

The reason I thought I would discuss this is because Roger Pielke Jr, in his never-ending quest to withdraw from the public climate change debate, has a new Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal. The title is A litigious climate threatens scientific norms. I wanted to focus on one particular claim in Roger’s Op-Ed. Roger says

Another of Merton’s norms is “universalism”—that the substance of scientific claims is what matters, not the characteristics of the people advancing them. A layman has as much right to challenge a scientific claim as a scientist does. But Mr. Mann’s case illustrates an important asymmetry: Scientists are bound by Mertonian norms, but nonscientists are not. Mr. Mann’s critics were unfair, obnoxious and wrong, but adherence to Mertonian norms means that Mr. Mann not respond in kind, much less go to court. It may seem unfair, but what makes science different from ordinary political discourse is also essential to making science strong.

The first two sentences seem like reasonable representations of Merton’s norm, but the rest is just nonsense. I think most scientists would recognise Merton’s norms as reasonable representations of how scientists should – in general – conduct themselves, but I’d be surprised if many had actually heard of Merton’s norms specifically (I hadn’t, until recently). They’re clearly not formal rules that scientists abide by; at best they’re guidelines. Scientists are certainly not bound by them and, as with most things, reality is not quite as simple as these norms might suggest.

Furthermore, Merton’s norms are intended to describe responsible research conduct, which should – ideally – apply to anyone who engages in such activities. If anything, universalism implies that anyone can conduct research and that their results should not be judged on the basis of who they are. If a layperson challenges a scientific claim then, in some sense, they’re no longer a layperson. If Merton’s norms apply, then they should apply to all who think that they are in a position to challenge scientific claims.

Also, Merton’s norms say nothing about how scientists should conduct themselves in the public realm, or what they’re expected to endure. Scientists are as entitled to protection under the law as any citizen of the country in which they reside. Merton’s norms do not indicate that scientists should not respond in kind, or that scientists should not go to court to resolve disputes. This does not mean that I think that it’s necessarily wise to do so, or that those who do so are justified in doing so, simply that there is no reason why they should be prohibited from doing so. In some cases I think it is justified, in others not.

The suggestion that scientists are not entitled to use the courts to defend themselves is pretty bizarre, but there’s – in my view – an even more insidious issue. One thing that Roger’s narrative promotes is the idea that we can be dismissive of some research areas when we regard scientists as not behaving as they should (the irony of this is probably lost on Roger). He even confirmed, on Twitter, that he is indeed suggesting that these factors are beginning to corrupt the field (the field, in this case, being climate science).

What I fully expect is that as it becomes clear that we’ve ignored an important issue, there will be increasing attempts to find people to blame. We really should – in my view – push back against suggestions that a problem is that the behaviour of the scientific community – or some in the scientific community – does not satisfy some set of norms. If we do end up regretting not having taken this issue more seriously, the reason is not going to be because some scientists chose to use the courts, or because others were rude on Twitter.

Update:
One of Michael Mann’s lawyers has published a letter responding to Roger Pielke Jr’s Op-Ed. It makes some similar arguments to what I’ve said here. Roger has responded with various quotes from one of Robert Merton’s books. Not only does a sociologist not get to define how scientists/researchers should behave, but I looked up the quotes and they appear to refer to public disagreements between researchers/scientists (in fact, sociologists specifically) not to cases where a scientist has potentially been libeled/defamed.

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67 Responses to Mertonian norms

  1. guthrie says:

    I don’t think you need a codicil to this post, it’s pretty clear and a nice wee summary.

  2. Anders,

    > researchers should not conduct research for personal gain

    Even scientists need to eat, and should be compensated for their contributions to the advancement of collective human knowledge. I think a better way to put this is that researchers’ compensation should not be tied to obtaining a gain-motivated result.

    > in his never-ending quest to withdraw from the public climate change debate

    Good one.

  3. [Brandon, -W],

    I think a better way to put this is that researchers’ compensation should not be tied to obtaining a gain-motivated result.

    Yes, that is probably better. As this post says:

    One way to think about the norm of disinterestedness is that scientists aren’t doing science primarily to get the big bucks, or fame…..

    The best way to understand disinterestedness might be to think of how a scientist working within her tribe is different from an expert out in the world dealing with laypeople. The expert, knowing more than the layperson, could exploit the layperson’s ignorance or his tendency to trust the judgment of the expert. The expert, in other words, could put one over on the layperson for her own benefit. This is how snake oil gets sold.

    The scientist working within the tribe of science can expect no such advantage.

  4. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    The first two sentences are all you need to see where R P Jr is headed:

    I’ve worked alongside climate researchers for decades. Almost all of them are ethical, dedicated to science and not particularly political. But some leading figures and organizations in this community are weakening the norms that make science robust.

    The self-appointed Honest Broker strikes again.

    Poor science is threatened, because unbound scientists.
    What science needs is a White Knight!

    Let’s call this routine the Pielkeian norm.

  5. Magma says:

    In terms of litigation the distinction between the following two scenarios should be quite clear to any scientist or researcher. Considering Pielke Jr. has threatened legal action against others for comments far milder than those that led Mann to sue, I wonder why he doesn’t understand the difference. (Or possibly pretends not to understand; I’m not a mind-reader.)

    This research paper by Dr. X is badly flawed and should never have been published. The experimental design and protocols are poor, the interpretation is based on a selective subset of the data, the numerical analysis contains basic errors, recent work inconsistent with the author’s hypotheses and conclusions has been overlooked, etc.

    Dr. X is an incompetent fraud who publishes faked data while employed/funded by taxpayers and engages in [assorted types of vile criminal activity], etc.

  6. “There are four Mertonian norms, called universalism, communalism, disinteredness, and organised skepticism.”

    I think the “disinteredness” is a good one. There is very little intellectual curiosity in climate science when it comes to new ideas, and it may make sense to replace the corpses out there that just seem to be taking up space.

  7. Chris says:

    “disinterestedness”

    [Mod: fixed, thanks.]

  8. Some people in the climate “debate” are pretty amazing, but it seems pretty hard to pretend that comparing a scientist to a child abuser is a contribution to science. Thus I see no reason why Mertonian norms should apply to repulsive individuals making such non-scientific statements.

  9. Chris says:

    Paul, I’m curious about what makes you think so (that “there is very little intellectual curiosity in climate science when it comes to new ideas”).

    One possibility is that the science is so well grounded that most “new ideas” are perceived to be somewhat tedious and intellectually-uninteresting since they can tend towards speciousness (cosmic ray influence on global temperature; long term sinusoidal variations in Earth’s surface temperature; temperature-stabilising infra-red iris; global warming from undersea volcanos etc.). If these are broadly dismissed after a certain amount of investigation from serious scientists (esp cosmic ray effects) that doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of intellectual curiosity. Serious scientists are curious about things that might lead towards greater understanding or that simply seem interesting and are likely to dismiss new ideas” that lack the merits of a serious evidence base or are presented as crude attempts to provide contrary views.

    Are there some “new ideas” that you think aren’t being given the intellectual curiosity they deserve?

  10. Chris,

    Paul, I’m curious about what makes you think so (that “there is very little intellectual curiosity in climate science when it comes to new ideas”).

    I think that a reason may be that Paul regards the climate science community as a community that isn’t taking his ideas about ENSO events as seriously as he would like. I may be wrong.

  11. Chris says:

    Disinterestedness is the most interesting of the Mertonian norms. Disinterestedness really means that scientists accept the implications of the evidence they uncover whether or not the interpretations are to their liking or not. It doesn’t at all mean that a scientist may not be passionate about finding evidence in support of their pet theory…only that they should be willing to reject their theory in the face of the evidence.

    In fact many (most) scientists conduct their research with one eye on personal gain (fame and fortune or at least satisfaction of their intellectual curiosity), but in general are extraordinarily able to subsume this to the facts of evidence. Mostly this ability comes from the recognition that to truly make an advance requires an honesty that is incidentally often lacking in some of the individuals that misrepresent science and pretend that they themselves are the upholders of scientific “norms”…

  12. Steven Mosher says:

    The more interesting question is not the going to court issue, but rather the “obnoxious” issue.

    Does this violate the ‘norms’ of science

    ‘Date: Fri, 04 Feb 2005 15:52:53 -0500 To: Andy Revkin From: “Michael E. Mann” Subject: Re: FW: “hockey stock” methodology misleading Hi Andy, The McIntyre and McKitrick paper is pure scientific fraud. I think you’ll find this reinforced by just about any legitimate scientist in our field you discuss this with. Please see the RealClimate response: [1]http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=111 and also: [2]http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=114 The Moberg et al paper is at least real science. But there are some real problems with it (you’ll want to followup w/ people like Phil Jones for a 2nd opinion). …To recap, I hope you don’t mention MM at all. It really doesn’t deserve any additional publicity.”

    Seems like if its a fight ( see the other post) then anything goes.

  13. I just posted on JC Baez’s Azimuth Project forum the Mertonian Norms (I hadn’t heard of these before either but they do make sense)

    https://forum.azimuthproject.org/discussion/1715/mertonian-norms

    The forum itself reflects these norms well. First of all, most everyone that is contributing to the forum has no specific credentials in the topics that we are discussing (universality). Second, there is a significant amount of open public discussion in the forum (communality). Third, Prof Baez originally started the all-volunteer project with the intent “to help people work together on our common problems” (voluntary=disinterestedness). Finally, we do practice “organized skepticism”, which was Baez’s claim to fame in the early days of blogging.

    Yet, even with at least 4 years worth of effort, we aren’t seeing quite the interest in the project as we originally envisioned. Still just a handful of people contributing. That word “disinterested” kind of applies but with the unintended meaning. The first project that we tried kickstarting was ENSO prediction:

    http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Experiments+in+El+Ni%C3%B1o+analysis+and+prediction+

    I would say that there are 3 of us working it still and one volunteer that is providing devil’s advocate criticism.

  14. angech says:

    Victor Venema says:
    ” it seems pretty hard to pretend that comparing a scientist to a child abuser is a contribution to science. Thus I see no reason why Mertonian norms should apply to repulsive individuals making such non-scientific statements.”

    Possibly it is even more reason to stick to the norms. Responding in kind makes one the same sort of repulsive person in the long run. It is hard to turn the other cheek but the rewards in the long run are worth it

  15. Everett F Sargent says:

    The ‘normal’ WSJ link above is paywalled but I found the ‘Honest Broker’ op-ed here …
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-litigious-climate-threatens-scientific-norms-1510789511?mod=e2fb

  16. Chris said:
    “Paul, I’m curious about what makes you think so (that “there is very little intellectual curiosity in climate science when it comes to new ideas”).”

    That was kind of a joke based on the disinter typo. But … in the USA, funding is in control of non-scientists selected by Trump, who don’t require intellectual curiosity, as their apparent goal is to dismantle government-funded research.

  17. Willard says:

  18. Steven,

    Does this violate the ‘norms’ of science

    Can’t see why. McIntyre could always challenge it. Not entirely sure why it’s become public. Did Revkin release the email?

    Seems like if its a fight ( see the other post) then anything goes.

    That isn’t really what I was suggesting in the other post.

  19. angech,

    Possibly it is even more reason to stick to the norms. Responding in kind makes one the same sort of repulsive person in the long run. It is hard to turn the other cheek but the rewards in the long run are worth it

    Firstly, I don’t think anyone responded in kind to that particular accusation. Secondly, the norms say little about how one should respond to such accusations. They apply only to how one should conduct research, not how one should respond to public statements about one’s character.

  20. russellseitz says:

    “Poor science is threatened, because unbound scientists.
    What science needs is a White Knight!”

    Stop right there, before the Pielkiean Norm does to science what White Castle has done to hamburgers.

  21. Joshua says:

    Everett –

    I found your link to be paywalled. However, you can find the op-ed by putting the URL in the search bar at “archive.is”

  22. Joshua says:

    Gotta give RPJr. some credit. Always the master of irony, it’s truly a display of his high level of skill to dress up a personal attack on Mann as an attack on personalizing science. My tribe has a very nice word for that type of skill: “chutzpah.”

  23. Joshua says:

    The classic definition is that given by Leo Rosten: “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

  24. JCH says:

    Boy they do not like Michael Mann. No matter how hot it gets and no matter how deep the water, the important thing, first and foremost and forever, is to hate Micheal E. Mann. They’re sick. Very very sick. Al Gore is fat; he has a beach house. Feynman agrees with ME; just ask him.

  25. Willard says:

    Does the Auditor infringes upon Mertonian norms when he meets AT’s simple question with squirrels?

    If your talk of norms is just a trick to insert your favorite scapegoat into a #ClimateBall discussion, chances are you’re peddling.

  26. Magma says:

    @ JCH

    I find Mann to be an extremely reliable metric. The enmity that so many climate change deniers of my (in-person and online) acquaintance feel towards him is visceral and almost reflexive; I think that many of them literally can’t help themselves. But when I’ve asked them to cite a single paper he’s authored, let alone where they disagree with its methodology or conclusions… silence. “Michael Mann”, “fake” and “hockey stick” seem to have filled up their entire working memories.

  27. Magma says:

    @ ATTP:

    The passage in question is from the hacked/stolen CRU emails. Although McIntyre has long taken offence at the way Mann classified the 2005 GRL paper by McIntyre and McKitrick, to my knowledge neither he nor his co-author have ever even attempted to explain why they sorted 10,000 pseudorandom time series by a “hockey stick index” (essentially a rise towards the end of the synthetic series) and used only the highest 100 (i.e., 1%) in their published analysis.

    https://deepclimate.org/2010/11/16/replication-and-due-diligence-wegman-style/

  28. Magma,
    Thanks, I was aware of the sorting issue, but not aware of the source of the email.

  29. Steven Mosher says:

    “The enmity that so many climate change deniers of my (in-person and online) acquaintance feel towards him is visceral and almost reflexive; I think that many of them literally can’t help themselves. ”

    “CRU scientist Keith Briffa, whose work on tree rings in Siberia has been subject to its own controversies, emailed Edward Cook of Columbia University: “I am sick to death of Mann stating his reconstruction represents the tropical area just because it contains a few (poorly temperature representative) tropical series,” adding that he was tired of “the increasing trend of self-opinionated verbiage [Mann] has produced over the last few years .  .  . and (better say no more).”

    Cook replied: “I agree with you. We both know the probable flaws in Mike’s recon[struction], particularly as it relates to the tropical stuff. Your response is also why I chose not to read the published version of his letter. It would be too aggravating. .  .  . It is puzzling to me that a guy as bright as Mike would be so unwilling to evaluate his own work a bit more objectively.”

    In yet another revealing email, Cook told Briffa: “Of course [Bradley] and other members of the MBH [Mann, Bradley, Hughes] camp have a fundamental dislike for the very concept of the MWP, so I tend to view their evaluations as starting out from a somewhat biased perspective, i.e. the cup is not only ‘half-empty’; it is demonstrably ‘broken’. I come more from the ‘cup half-full’ camp when it comes to the MWP, maybe yes, maybe no, but it is too early to say what it is.”

    Even as the IPCC was picking up Mann’s hockey stick with enthusiasm, Briffa sent Mann a note of caution about “the possibility of expressing an impression of more consensus than might actually exist. I suppose the earlier talk implying that we should not ‘muddy the waters’ by including contradictory evidence worried me. IPCC is supposed to represent consensus but also areas of uncertainty in the evidence.” Briffa had previously dissented from the hockey stick reconstruction in a 1999 email to Mann and Phil Jones: “I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago.” Even Malcolm Hughes, one of the original hockey stick coauthors, privately expressed reservations about overreliance on their invention, writing to Cook, Mann and others in 2002:

    “All of our attempts, so far, to estimate hemisphere-scale temperatures for the period around 1000 years ago are based on far fewer data than any of us would like. None of the datasets used so far has anything like the geographical distribution that experience with recent centuries indicates we need, and no one has yet found a convincing way of validating the lower-frequency components of them against independent data. As Ed [Cook] wrote, in the tree-ring records that form the backbone of most of the published estimates, the problem of poor replication near the beginnings of records is particularly acute, and ubiquitous. .  .  . Therefore, I accept that everything we are doing is preliminary, and should be treated with considerable caution.”

    Mann didn’t react well to these hesitations from his colleagues. Even Ray Bradley, a coauthor of the hockey stick article, felt compelled to send a message to Briffa after one of Mann’s self-serving emails with the single line: “Excuse me while I puke.” One extended thread grew increasingly acrimonious as Mann lashed out at his colleagues. He wrote to Briffa, Jones, and seven others in a fury over their favorable remarks about a Science magazine article that offered a temperature history that differed from the hockey stick: “Sadly, your piece on the Esper et al paper is more flawed than even the paper itself. .  .  . There is a lot of damage control that needs to be done and, in my opinion, you’ve done a disservice to the honest discussions we had all had in the past, because you’ve misrepresented the evidence.”

    To Briffa in particular Mann wrote: “Hopefully, you know that I respect you quite a bit as a scientist! But in this case, I think you were sloppy. And the sloppiness had a real cost.” Mann’s bad manners prompted Bradley to reply: “I wish to disassociate myself with Mike’s comments, or at least the tone of them. I do not consider myself the final arbiter of what Science should publish, nor do I consider what you did to signify the end of civilization as we know it.” Tempers got so out of hand that Tom Crowley of Duke University intervened: “I am concerned about the stressed tone of some of the words being circulated lately. .  .  . I think you are all fine fellows and very good scientists and that it is time to smoke the peace pipe on all this and put a temporary moratorium on more email messages until tempers cool down a bit.” Mann responded with his best imitation of Don Corleone: “This is ultimately about the science, it’s not personal.” If the CRU circle treat each other this way, it is no wonder they treat skeptics even more rudely”

    let me see if I can clarify. Skeptics ( and some others) seem to hold an idealized view of what “Science” is. This ranges from thinking that all science proceeds by strict popperian falsification to thinking that scientists must be Mertonian Angels.

    An observationally grounded view of what science actually is suggests these idealizations are nice theories about science and scientists that don’t work very well. I know there are some saints, but the point is science does just fine even when jerks do it. Skeptics should not expect to be treated any better than what is seen in these mails. And further Scientists should not expect to be treated any differently than they treat each other.

    it would be nice if everyone where nice. meh.

  30. Nick says:

    “I know there are some saints, but the point is science does just fine even when jerks do it.”.

    [Baiting. -W]

    Whatever, pseudo-skepticism and handwringing is crap whether done politely or typically.
    Hayward [2009] finishes in style:
    “I have long expected that 20 or so years from now we will look back on the turn-of-the-millennium climate hysteria in the same way we look back now on the population bomb hysteria of the late 1960s and early 1970s–as a phenomenon whose magnitude and effects were vastly overestimated, and whose proposed solutions were wrongheaded and often genuinely evil (such as the forced sterilizations of thousands of Indian men in the 1970s, much of it funded by the Ford Foundation). Today the climate campaigners want to forcibly sterilize the world’s energy supply, and until recently they looked to be within an ace of doing so. But even before Climategate, the campaign was beginning to resemble a Broadway musical that had run too long, with sagging box office and declining enthusiasm from a dwindling audience. Someone needs to break the bad news to the players that it’s closing time for the climate horror show.”

  31. I realise that we’re all harking to the good old days when blog discussions were wide ranging and extensive, but can we maybe avoid delving back into a discussion about stolen emails? I don’t see much value in it, partly because they’re easy to misinterpret and partly because I doubt we’re going to gain anything by such a discussion.

  32. Steven Mosher says:

    [Namecalling. -W]

  33. Maybe we could avoid degenerating into WUWT?

  34. Steven Mosher says:

    ATTP

    I think its exactly on point because you get to see, by example, what the kind of communications that go on. I’ve read worse than those mails. Folks dont need any norms. They are behaving as they always have and always will. That of course cuts two ways. Its a fight. It has a social dimension. We should not pretend that scientists are spock like, or that they are saints.

    There are a couple things you can do on the publishing side.. like double blinded peer review.

  35. Steven,
    Okay, I think I see your point. Let me come back to it later as I’m out at the moment.

  36. Steven,
    I’d probably prefer that we didn’t call people names, especially those who’ve suffered enough name-calling to last many lifetimes. However, if your point is that scientists are human, not all will behave as ideally as we might like, and expecting otherwise would be completely unrealistic, then I mostly agree. Also, we should do our best to not judge research on the basis of the behaviour of those who do it, especially if the apparent poor conduct comes from a minority. I do think that it can be acceptable to ignore some individuals’s work if they have a history of doing poor work, but you still shouldn’t judge an entire discipline on the basis of a few people who might not behave as ideally as they maybe should.

  37. Eli Rabett says:

    As Eli recalls invoking the late Keith Briffa to dis Michael Mann is the kind of jackal move that Steve McIntyre would make and probably has. Yes, people get more than a bit snarky discussing stuff that is on the frontier and opinions differ especially as was the case for Briffa and Mann when they share a common interest and differing points of view. Distant memory points out that MBH scooped Briffa by extending his tree ring reconstructions with other proxys. What the Emails did was move such discussions to private Email addresses. Historians of science weep.

  38. Willard says:

    Speaking of a few people who might not behave as ideally as they should, here’s Sarah Myhre recalling an incident with Cliff Mass, a renowned contrarian:

    As a student and then a professional scientist, I have been assaulted, raped, harassed, demeaned, belittled, and threatened on the job. That is right. Every single professional gig that you might read on my CV comes with a litany of backstories of abuse and violence. I am not unique. I am the norm, and I have persevered in science exactly because of the rage that has transported me recently through the streets of Seattle. The rage protects as much as it exhausts and depletes.

    […]

    This shit is systemic. In our university culture, men scientists often feel that it’s just fine to demean women scientists. This was my indeed my experience with the now infamous local Seattle weather guy. In January of 2016, the Monday after the Women’s March, I gave invited scientific testimony to the Washington State House Environment Committee on greenhouse gas emission reduction. After the testimony, Representative Shelly Short asked a panel of us a question about Dr. Cliff Mass’s views on climate change. I choose to answer that question honestly, saying “Many of us at the University of Washington do view his views as coming from a denialist or contrarian place.” On my drive home from Olympia, I received the first of many angry emails (clearly howls from a narcissistic wound) from Dr. Mass, emails that would later go to my boss, my boss’s boss, and my boss’s boss’s boss. Frankly, I was terrified–I was completely out of my depths, and I didn’t want to be a lightning rod. On the (terrible) recommendation of a colleague that I respect, I had coffee with Dr. Mass in a public place. He stuck his finger in my face and threatened me: “if you don’t retract your public testimony, I will retract it for you.” Obviously, public testimony doesn’t work like that, but Dr. Mass certainly thought that I could be demeaned and harassed to the point that it wouldn’t be worth it for me–an untenured single mom academic scraping by and trying to survive–to fight him. He was wrong.

    http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/11/17/25572044/the-culture-of-harassing-and-demeaning-women-scientists

    But yeah, let’s talk about how suing shock jocks using the F word instead undermines the INTEGRITY ™ of a whole field.

  39. Steven Mosher says:

    “Speaking of a few people who might not behave as ideally as they should, here’s Sarah Myhre recalling an incident with Cliff Mass, a renowned contrarian:”

    Yup it’s a fight. Roger calls the cops, Sarah gets threatened. Definately a fight.
    of course we have known it is a fight for over a decade.

    some people will call others names to preserve the planet, some will do to preserve their economic
    status
    some will stalk, some will dox, some will threaten, some will sue, some will escalate to fanatsy violence, some will escalte to real violence.

    its a fight.

    some will referee, some will rip their shirt for others, some will eat popcorn. Some will sell it.

    Funny. I recall Lisbon. At the last minute Ravetz changed the agenda. We would not talk so much about science, rather we would talk about conflict resolution and the Irish peace process.
    lots of skeptics who came to talk science wanted none of that, they thought it was silly.
    At some point there was one of them who I would have punched in the face just for being so stupid.
    what the heck was that reaction. Others were easy to make peace with, despite their stupidity.

  40. Steven Mosher says:

    “I’d probably prefer that we didn’t call people names, especially those who’ve suffered enough name-calling to last many lifetimes. However, if your point is that scientists are human, not all will behave as ideally as we might like, and expecting otherwise would be completely unrealistic, then I mostly agree. Also, we should do our best to not judge research on the basis of the behaviour of those who do it, especially if the apparent poor conduct comes from a minority. I do think that it can be acceptable to ignore some individuals’s work if they have a history of doing poor work, but you still shouldn’t judge an entire discipline on the basis of a few people who might not behave as ideally as they maybe should”

    yes the crazy thing I see is people jumping from a few ( or many, doesnt matter) cases to indict a whole gender… opps profession. Or use one genre of science ( say social) to indict all science.

    lets amp this up; you basically have people who cant judge the science ( OR the criticism of the science) on its own merits so they drop to secondary arguments.. like

    a) arguments about philosophy of science
    b) arguments about expertise
    c) arguments about “norms” of science
    d) arguments about process
    e) arguments about funding..
    f) arguments about pal review, gatekeeping etc
    g) arguments about who started what

    blah blah blah, now we debate the debate about the debate.

    the problem in the climate debate is there is no instant karma

  41. Chris says:

    perhaps it’s stating the obvious but the “Mertonian norms” for what they’re worth, apply surely to the normal processes of doing science involving finding stuff out, making interpretations,testing hypotheses, publishing data and their interpretations, coming to collective conclusions about particular parts of the natural world.

    They don’t apply to the “behind the scene” behaviour of individual or groups of scientists where a huge amount of mess, confusion and angst might precede the production and dissemination of some wok e.g. as a paper.

    So when Steven Mosher asks re “obnoxiousness” “Does this violate the norms of science?” the answer is obviously no since expressing strident or even derogatory comments about the work of others in conversations, letters or emails that are expected to be be confidential is perfectly acceptable. One just ensures that when the dust settles and it comes to dissemination of the work at hand this is done within expected norms (as assessed e.g. by editors and referees). And however much Steven Mosher dumps excerpts from stolen emails (an attempt at “poisoning the well”?) this applies.

    If one were to assess Dr Mann’s work (since we seem to be talking about him again!) by Mertonian norms we would likely conclude that his approach is pretty standard. He seems to me to want to find out how much one can understand about pre-directly-measured Earth surface temperature without any obvious bias to preferred interpretations (disinterested), his result and interpretations are largely independent of his and his direct collaborators effort since they’ve been quite widely reproduced (universalist), he engages in and has been subject to quite robust critique (organised skepticism) and he publishes pretty fully documented and interpreted analysis of his work in the scientific literature for others to access, critique and build upon (communalist)….etc.

    One could contrast this with the efforts of McIntyre and McKitrick (since we seem also to be talking about them!) which largely fail the Mertonian analyses. Their “skepticism” has been applied in an oddly asymmetric manner that suggests a far less disinterested outlook than is healthy in science (e.g. why not apply their critical power to some of the dismal efforts at “constructing” obviously wrong paleoanalyses such as that of Loehle, and why didn’t they point out what they knew was the case that their analyses as presented in the Wegman enquiry/report was not what it seems – see Magma’s comment above ). And why in all the hundreds of thousands (millions??) of blogged words over a period of 10-15 years or more have they been unable to produce a simple, clear straightforward paper or two describing their analyses and interpretations. That is a massive fail on the “communalism” element of the “Mertonian norm” and does rather make one wonder whether these guys have any interest at all in finding stuff out (i.e. science).

    Still, since they Mertonian norms are a somewhat hypothetical and stylised interpretation of what matters in doing science one doesn’t need to make a song and dance about this even if Dr. Pielke chooses to do so…

  42. Willard says:

    > yes the crazy thing I see is people jumping from a few ( or many, doesnt matter)

    You sure (sample) size doesn’t matter, Moshpit?

    [Chill. – W]

  43. Science has made progress with real humans, not with saints. However that was possible due to the norms of the scientific community and is no reason for a free for all. That includes a civil tone because that makes it easier to focus on the evidence and not to defend your person.

    If the scientific debate were anything like the blog “debate” scientific progress would slow down a lot.

    In many cases the works of industry scientists would violate the “disinterested” norm. Still their contributions can be valuable and should be considered. It would only become a problem when too many scientists in a field are no longer disinterested enough to up hold the norms of the scientific community.

    It is a pity Mann is not more relaxed, but if I would have been attacked as relentlessly as he was, I am not sure how relaxed I would be. We should still police this and make sure this does not become normal for a community, but for the outcomes of a single scientific field this is no problem, just like industry researchers are no problem.

  44. Chris says:

    “I think its exactly on point because you get to see, by example, what the kind of communications that go on. I’ve read worse than those mails. Folks dont need any norms.”

    There are important norms though Steven even if you prefer to obsess about what people say in stolen emails. When the dust settles one interprets and disseminates one’s findings according to norms that might as well be Mertonian. A little bit of thought might lend you to agree that this is essential in science.

  45. Chris says:

    “..you basically have people who cant judge the science ( OR the criticism of the science) on its own merits so they drop to secondary arguments.. like”

    You missed out:
    h) arguments about people’s personalities (e.g. calling people “jerk”s)
    i) arguments based on regurgitating stolen emails

  46. Chris says:

    “I think its exactly on point because you get to see, by example, what the kind of communications that go on. I’ve read worse than those mails. Folks don’t need any norms.”

    Berkeley Earth provides a good example of the value/importance of norms. The value of the Berkeley Earth surface temperature analyses is largely because they conform to Mertonian norms. They are admirably “disinterested” (Dr Muller as far as I understand it was rather skeptical of existing surface temperature analyses but was comfortable in accepting that his interpretations conformed to existing analyses), they are part of a “universalist” effort involving multiple groups in addressing the Earths surface temperature over the directly-measured period, they involved from the outset an “organised skepticism” and their very nicely “communalist” it’s all out there for anyone to access, peruse and critique.

    I’m surprised that this example of all examples doesn’t suggest to you the fundamental importance of scientific norms, however stylised, even if you can’t quite bring yourself to drop your seductive “secondary arguments” based on people’s personalities and what people say in “confidential” emails!

  47. Chris says:

    shorter Mertonian analysis:

    “The evidence supports the conclusion that Dr. Mann’s interpretations seem to be valid – get over it!”

    (and apologies for the multiple posts)

  48. metzomagic says:

    Kudos to Chris. I often disagree with my colleagues on the finer points of how to solve a sticky technical problem, and the e-mails going back and forth wouldn’t seem pretty to those without the requisite domain knowledge (or complete context). But, we do eventually work things out.

    Wouldn’t look to good on me if my e-mails were stolen. But they aren’t the final work product.

  49. Eli Rabett says:

    So Eli is engaged in an Email chat group on a vexing problem. There is one jerk who is trying to claim that everybunny else is stupid and he is bringing enlightenment. The response of the group had been to ignore him which, considering Eli’s usual haunts has been an amazing experience and frankly Eli restrained hisself because of the example of the others, but just recently a few have been disagreeing but in a pleasant manner. Where this goes will be interesting

  50. Steven Mosher says:

    “You missed out:
    h) arguments about people’s personalities (e.g. calling people “jerk”s)
    i) arguments based on regurgitating stolen emails”

    two words

    “like”
    “blah blah blah”

    ‘like” means I pick a few exxamples, not meant to be exhaustive
    “blah blah blah” means “all the other crap” like stuff you listed.

    on mails, yes. For the ost part my argument is : mails cant change science.
    The only points worth talking about in the mails are; FOIA process ( ya, ICO said I was right)
    and culture and personality. WRT to science.. meh, nothing there that wasnt already known.
    With regards to culture and personaility, hard to say. Some people were probably surprised.
    Others not so much. The point being I dont think any one on any side has the moral
    or civil high ground.

  51. Steven Mosher says:

    “You sure (sample) size doesn’t matter, Moshpit?”

    Oh surely it changes your expectation.

    the karma tape was cool when the referee jumped into the fight.

    thats always funny

  52. Steven Mosher says:

    “Berkeley Earth provides a good example of the value/importance of norms. The value of the Berkeley Earth surface temperature analyses is largely because they conform to Mertonian norms”

    Ah you must have missed the continued attacks on Muller’s personality.
    From both sides of course.
    The emails I could show you.. The peer review which went off the wall into discussions
    about convincing skeptics…

    “I apologise for being condescending and patronizing in this review, but I just wanted you to see how you would feel ”

    A third reviewer rejected it because of ethics. he did the whole standing on the shoulders of giants play. His issue: We didnt cite a skeptic he thought we should have.

    It doesnt get any funnier than this.

  53. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    You say “Also, Merton’s norms say nothing about how scientists should conduct themselves in the public realm…”

    Maybe it is a matter of semantics (i.e., how does “public” interplay with “private” and “personal” and institutional”?), but I almost wonder if the opposite shouldn’t apply. I would say that norms should be considered relevant in the public realm, as in the exercise of science in public institutions of science, but irrelevant in the private realm, such as in the exchange of email between scientists. Is the expectation that we should be policing scientists’ private lives, from some subjective perspective about what ethical standards should be used for judgment?

    Or is the expectation that there is some loosely agreed upon set of institutional norms that the institutions of science should use as guiding principles in assessing scientists public behavior (in their role as scientists) ?

    Obviously, it seems to me that the latter should be the case. In either paradigm, we have the dilemma whereby people use double standards in service of ideological agendas. Obviously, the climate wars are rife with uneven application of judgement standards. And, IMO, that is the biggest problem in play here. But for some reason (I’m not sure I exactly know the reason), I find the application of standards of judgement (norms) more disturbing when they are used to pass judgement on scientists’ behaviors in the personal (i.e., non-public) realm.

    Anyway, I find it distasteful when public figures use institutional standards to critique scientists personally. In that sense, I think that RPJr has a legitimate gripe. (in term of how he has been treated). And I think that is a legitimate component of his op-ed. Unfortunately, he then undercuts that legitimacy when he exploits institutional standards to vent his sense of grievance through personalized counterattacks of his own (accompanied by his inevitable play of plausible deniability) .

    One thing I’ve learned about the climate wars is that “Yes, but Michael Mann” (not to mention “Yes, but Al Gore is fat”) just never get old.

  54. angech says:

    Eli, could you leave the moral high ground long enough to comment on the second litigation theme?
    Seeing Prof Jacobson is 100% right why does he need to bother suing people?

  55. Joshua,
    I meant public as in outside of the formal scientific environment, but you could call that private, I guess. All I was really meaning is that the norms are really about the process of doing science/research, not about how scientists should behave when engaging more broadly (i.e., with the public as private citizens).

    Anyway, I find it distasteful when public figures use institutional standards to critique scientists personally. In that sense, I think that RPJr has a legitimate gripe.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean here. I used to feel that RPJr may have had a legitimate gripe. I no longer really do, but that may be more because my sympathy for him is now largely non-existent, rather than (maybe?) because he actually doesn’t.

  56. Willard says:

    > Seeing Prof Jacobson is 100% right why does he need to bother suing people?

    Even if MarkJ was correct in his assertions, which I doubt, his actions do indeed break a Mertonian norm.

    Wait.

    Why did Junior switch to a more or less irrelevant “but Mike” when he had the MarkJ episode right under his nose?

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  58. Chris says:

    “Ah you must have missed the continued attacks on….

    That’s not relevant to my post which was about the importance of norms in science and the fact that Berkeley Earth provides a good example of the value/importance of norms, since, for example, in the Mertonian context it exhibits:

    disinterestedness, communalism, organized skepticism and universalism as I described.

    The fact that the procedures of dissemination (e.g. review and publication) may involve quite a bit of unpleasantness, argy-bargy and the like doesn’t detract from the fact that science is heavily reliant on norms (as exhibited e.g. by the Berkeley Earth project). And you shouldn’t consider that climate science has cornered the market in unpleasantness. It’s quite common, especially in review and publication in most scientific fields to encounter obviously unfair (if not downright pathological!) critique, but so long as one’s work is good (i.e. it accords with scientific norms), it will have its day.

    It’s a curious fact that the abysmal publication record of many of the practitioners of pseudoskeptical unpleasantness in e.g. climate science is associated with their attachment to the peripheral (in the science context) elements, especially personality (“look at the nasty things these people say in these stolen emails”), that you are focusing on here.

    However science, by according to norms, sails through the garbage and however unpleasant this may be in the process, one can generally put the crap behind oneself and move on. If people wish to continually regurgitate the crap (look at the nasty things these people say”), that might be because they don’t have much else to focus on science-wise…

  59. I’m not quite sure what the issue is. I agree with Chris that the norms that underpin scientific research largely mean that scientific undertanding develops/advances, even if – during the process – it’s not always as ideal as we would like.

  60. Willard says:

    > it’s not always as ideal as we would like.

  61. As an example of a Mertonian Norm in action, the Azimuth Project jumped on climate data archiving when it became apparent that the Trump administration was planning to delete massive amounts of data.

    https://climatemirror.org/#partners

    Did Berkeley Earth get involved in this effort?

  62. Steven Mosher says:

    “As an example of a Mertonian Norm in action, the Azimuth Project jumped on climate data archiving when it became apparent that the Trump administration was planning to delete massive amounts of data.

    https://climatemirror.org/#partners

    Did Berkeley Earth get involved in this effort?”

    Nope.

    With the tools that exist now I’d probably support a different approach.
    IPFS for the storage of files with blockchain index of holdings.
    basically take the data out of the hands of of the government and decentralize it and store it in an immutable and in-alterable way using a content addressable file system.

    data already is the new asset class. if we move fast we can keep corporations and government from owning and controlling it

  63. Dan Riley says:

    I’m sure it’s just coincidence that Mertonian norms are also central to Curry’s amicus brief in Mann v. NR & CEI,

    https://cei.org/sites/default/files/2017.01.25%20Br.%20of%20Amicus%20Dr.%20Judith%20A.%20Curry%20Nos.%2014-cv-101%2014-cv-126%20%28D.C.%29_1.pdf

    The gist of her argument seems to be that Mann should lose because he was mean to her on twitter, thus violating Mertonian norms (seriously).

    I actually have mixed feelings about the suit against NR. CEI is a different matter–CEI has used their allegations against Mann in complaints to the NSF and EPA, which isn’t IMO defensible as mere political histrionics.

  64. Thomas Peterson says:

    It seems to me that some of this discussion boils down to: When is a scientist not bound by scientific norms? My answer is when the matter at hand isn’t about science. For example, I expect few would claim that a scientist is bound by Mertonian norms when haggling over the price of a car with a used car salesman. Similarly, I expect few would argue that a scientist who bought a lemon from a car dealer couldn’t go to court. So I don’t understand why a scientist should not go to court if she has been libeled.

  65. Thomas,

    So I don’t understand why a scientist should not go to court if she has been libeled.

    Exactly. I think there are some who think scientists are somehow public servants who are obliged to behave in quite specific ways. Of course, I suspect that they don’t actually believe this, they’re simply trying to find some kind of argument to silence inconvenient voices.

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