Science Has Always Been Political

The following tweet states a fact many historians of science attest:

Scientists were not all pleased. Tweetstorms rained. One involved me and MT. He argued that the bunny slogan was unhelpful – even if true, its interpretation could be damaging to the civilization. The exchange covered various aspects of human enquiry – reality, knowledge, meaning, the usual roundabout. I fired a multitude of points in disagreement.  Instead of collating them here, I can afford to explicate my position.

Let’s start in classic dissertation style. “Science has always been political” invokes two concepts: Science and Politics. Politics can be characterized as the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group. Science, minimally at least, refers to the stuff scientists do, and scientists are those we consider so. Good enough for a stoopid slogan, and unnecessary for what follows.

As an aside, I recurse the same way for philosophy – it’s what philosophers do. Hard to say more: imagine you were in Kant’s time and had to define philosophy to comprise analytic philosophy, phenomenology, critical theory, experimental philosophy, gender studies. non-Western philosophy, neurophilosophy, substructural logics, all exotic fields unheard of in Königsberg back then but common nowadays. Philosophy changed even since I studied it, including Kant’s reception. By the same token, we have no idea what Science will look like in the near future. Many dispute its unity. Better to simply see it as a disciplined extension of (and not a replacement for) our common sense.

One could argue that the slogan’s truth depends upon its intended meaning. I contend that it matters little. Getting where Audra comes from is obvious enough – she studies the great scientific expansion during the Cold War. Many historians of science confirmed her take. A plethora of examples could be provided, ranging from Archimedes to Boyle. Maxwell’s discovery does not emerge from a political vacuum, but from many connections, circumstances, and institutions favored by the heydays of Victorian hegemony.

These historical considerations do not imply that scientific production targets something other than reality. It would be absurd to believe that science always has been political means atoms are. The POMO squirrel has no bite at all. In effect, the only way I see to reject the bunny sign would be to restrict science to a bag of equations or to a ménagerie of facts without their book or zoo keepers. Choosing between a myth that excludes everything political from science and a historical truth shouldn’t be that hard.

What seems harder is to recognize the merits of embracing the politics of science. Let’s turn to strategy first. Raising concerns about science slogans is a fool’s errand. There are many academics around the world. They occupy most of the conceptual niches. Coercing circular firing squads should be left to the Contrarian Matrix. Moreover, that specific slogan could be used to “normalize” political processes that have epistemic validity: deliberations.

Which leads to this tactical point. If we want to promote the idea that science is our best tool to dig reality, we need to get real over science politics. The Pure and Noble Scientist imagery only reinforces the High Expectation Father mode for scientific practices. Ted’s hammering of how ideology subduces climate science presumes the very myth that science should be value-free. The tobacco industry used the image of scientists in whitecoats in their ad campaigns:

Those who profit the most from the myth of Pure Science are technocrats. Nothing will avoid the attacks from Freedom Fighters, including Ted’s following.

There is too much crappiness going around to lose time defending purity. If science self-corrects, then there has been, actually is, and will be mistakes. We all have biases, interests, and imperfections. Science works despite of all this. Owning the political aspect of science goes hand in hand with making scientists look more humane. It’s a good thing in the long run, and more than prudent in the short run.

Raising concerns against “Science is political” leads to the following trap: (1) one recognizes that “science is political” is a truth from history of science; (2) one refuses to acknowledge it by opportunism; (3) no INTEGRITY ™. Prefering expediency to truth may not be the best way to defend science.  Whatever you say in the ClimateBall court can and will be used against you. Absolute clarity won’t save you, neither will the purest of intent.

Finally, criticizing “science is political” involves recycling the unwanted framing. Teh Donald exploits the media’s megaphones by inducing them to amplify his untruths and his brand. George Lakoff suggests that we counter that kind of crap with a truth sandwich. First, what is held as true, then the crap, followed by some fact checking. Suppose you think that science is consilience, consistency, coherence, and conciseness, as Eli is wont to say, a slogan I rather like as far as general claims on Science-with-a-big-S is concerned. This frame contrains how you’ll criticize the Science is Political slogan. So much in fact it may not even make sense to criticize it in the first place.

***

There always has been great political pressure to minimize AGW. The power of the economic establishment is intensive. The MSM and the think tanks of the anglosphere constantly undermine its importance. Yet AGW persists. We have an international agreement. The IPCC will release its Sixth Assessment Report. There’s still lots of AGW research. AGW endorsement increases even among conservatives. Contrarian blogs wane. Here we are, contemplating ClimateBall. Progress has been made. New technologies are hitting the market every week. And so on. There is too much work ahead to lose hope.

A more deliberative democracy would be a Good Thing. Coincidentally, there are deliberative mechanisms in science. The IPCC has some. The validation of science’s findings operates by an intersubjective process that should be similar to any other (rational) deliberation. A deliberative democracy without an open science may not be possible. Considering that the US of A might be an oligarchy, we may need to work on the democracy part in the first place. Perhaps there’s no real democracy without deliberation too.

In any event, not only science has always been political, it may need to become more political than ever. Think about it: just like women are operating a sea change in politics this year, why not wish for more scientists? Hopefully, more scientists would mean science-based policies.

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About Willard

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200 Responses to Science Has Always Been Political

  1. Tom Dayton says:

    Science is judgment and decision making, which like all other arenas of judgment and decision making includes “politics” of various flavors.

  2. Yes!

    When one considers the long list of cognitive biases, usually in opposition to the ideas of others, one may do so as thinking these biases represent defective thinking.

    But, are biases ( politics ) not part of defective thinking, but rather normal for humans?

    That doesn’t necessarily mean that emotion trumps reason. But as Hume pointed out, reason is preferentially and energetically invoked by those of given biases. Rather than exclude those of given bias, we should embrace diversity of emotion because emotions motivate pursuit of reason. The observations which withstand the broadest range of perspectives lead us closer to the truth.

  3. Willard says:

    > But, are biases ( politics ) not part of defective thinking, but rather normal for humans?

    No.

  4. Dave_Geologist says:

    So when I make a judgement and decide it’s safe to cross the road, do I only look right or only look left Because Politics?

  5. Willard says:

    > So when I make a judgement and decide it’s safe to cross the road, do I only look right or only look left Because Politics?

    No.

  6. Willard says:

    Perhaps I should clarify my noes.

    The first, associating biases with politics and normalcy is ill-posed. The second, projecting politics into every single decision is a caricature.

    Misconstruing arguments can sometimes be political.

  7. If we constructed robots to perform science, would the science the robots produced be political? Would it make a difference whether the second law of thermodynamics* were discovered by a robot or by a scientist? For me the problem is that a distinction is blurred between the scientific findings and the process of science. This is an important distinction if people use the politics in the process of science to cast doubt on the scientific findings. There is only one way to legitimately cast doubt on scientific findings, which is to produce evidence or show an internal error in the logic or to show that the assumptions are unreasonable etc.

    * bad example, the second law of thermodynamics is obviously Conservative.

  8. Willard says:

    > For me the problem is that a distinction is blurred between the scientific findings and the process of science.

    For me the dichotomy between both is a bigger problem. It echoes and perhaps implies the one between facts and values. Even if we buy the absolute objectivity of facts, how we select them depends upon our needs. We carve the world with facts that help us carve a political world. Machines that learned to list facts without being told what to pick would drown in an infinity of irrelevancies.

    And then there are judgments. Deductive logic is more normative than descriptive. Even if scientists were omnipotent logicians, it would not suffice to make all the inferences scientists make daily. If there’s one thing decision theory teaches us, it’s that we cannot use it to make important decisions.

    Finally, we should not model scientific decisions as something single agents do. Science is a collective endeavour. We need to allow for individuals, but also groups, organizations, fields, and abstract entities like research programmes.

  9. Dave_Geologist says:

    To avoid confusion Willard, my comment was meant to be a Reductio Ad Absurdium riposte to Tom, who seemed to be suggesting that all decisions include “politics”. Although of course the scare quotes allow politics to be defined any way you like, Humpty-Dumpty-style. Whereas in its mathematical usage, you really can prove that something implies a contradiction, because you have to define your axioms up-front and aren’t allowed to move the goalposts.

  10. jacksmith4tx says:

    Politics attempts to shape people’s opinions and influence their actions. It can use the full spectrum of tactics from hope, patriotism, honesty, lying, hate and fear… there are no rules.
    If AI programs learn to do politics we might be in trouble.

    Science is a thought process with a more restricted range of options: Logic, reason, observation, measurement. But nothing happens until science performs experiments with technology to change reality. Science is using technology(computers&networks) to create AI. People trust machines so you can see where this is going. Have you been following the #deepfake? https://twitter.com/hashtag/deepfake

  11. Dave_Geologist says:

    * bad example, the second law of thermodynamics is obviously Conservative.

    On the contrary, I’d say the Second Law is anarchistic. The First Law is Conservative. And I’ve always reckoned that the Third Law isn’t really a Law at all, just book-keeping. 🙂

  12. Brigitte says:

    You define science as what scientists do. However, science can also be defined as the outcome of that process, the cumulative result of what scientists do. Even if we assume that every intentional action the scientists perform is political in one sense or another (just as brushing your teeth is political, etc.), this does not mean that the results of science (a different sense of ‘science’) are political. The results can of course be used intentionally for political purposes. The actions of scientists may also be guided/constrained by political context etc. But that still doesn’t mean that ‘all science is political’.
    Another thing is that one definition of political is derogatory “done or acting in the interests of status or power within an organization rather than as a matter of principle” and I think that’s the target meaning of many of the bunny placards and that makes scientists grumpy.

  13. izen says:

    Science and politics intersect, but neither is a subset of the other.
    There are bits of politics that have very little science, I would include economics, but thats just my dismal bias.
    There are bits of science that include very little politics, stellar evolution and planetary formation could be an example.

    The intersection is when scientific knowledge alters the resources available to a population. Either by providing a benefit or inflicting damage.

  14. Dave_Geologist says:

    If AI programs learn to do politics we might be in trouble.

    By a curious coincidence, I’m just listening to a podcast of Matt Haig’s The Keepers (not currently available online).

    TL;DR: it didn’t go well for Humanity. But at least Palo Alto copped it first. Take out the dangerous opponents, then go after the easy meat.

  15. Scientists were not all pleased.

    Some were okay with the thoughtful version of the twitter thread.

    As opposed to the silly version of “critical” social scientists who want to take science down a peg because they see it as an authority, but did not realise that this only means that worse authorities would then make up stories about the world.

    In the silly version scientists would have lied and stated that climate change is a hoax. That is what the powerful wanted science to say.

  16. Joshua says:

    I don’t understand the post, but..

    Science isn’t anything.

    Saying that science is always political is like saying that medicine is always political, and philosophy is always political, and religion is always political, and plumbing is always political, and ditch-digging is always political.

    People are political. People conduct science.

    Saying that science is always political is always political.

    Maybe if someone says that science is political we might thank them for their concerns and ask them what they mean.

  17. Steven Mosher says:

    “Politics can be characterized as the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group”

    ah no, because then science would be political.

    another way to put this is that you will know you have your definitions of politics and science correct when, given your definitions, the sentence “science is poltical” is seen as idiosyncratic.

    science is what scientists do
    politics is what politicians do.
    they do different things.

    while it is instructive to chart the history of how politics shapes, informs, guides, channels,
    the science we do, something about the distinctiveness of science ( note I dont say its superiority)
    is lost when we say “science is political”. If we define politics as generically as possible,
    then yes, art is political, math is political, politics is political, golf is political, glassblowing, ect etc.
    everything is grup.

    What we want, to preserve the ordinary way of speaking and to preserve discrimination in the language, is an understanding of “political” such that:

    “Protesting Trump is political ” is seen as being a competent use of the word “political”
    While
    “Science is political” is seen as being idiosyncratic usage of the word “political”

    but of course definitions are political and since there is no canonical process for definition that applies to members of our group ( folks using the language) then we can probably agree to disagree about the definitions.

    arguing for arguments sake, cause that is what philosophers do.

  18. dikranmarsupial: “If we constructed robots to perform science, would the science the robots produced be political? Would it make a difference whether the second law of thermodynamics* were discovered by a robot or by a scientist?”

    In the thoughtful interpretation of the claim in the Twitter thread, yes. The thermodynamics discovered by robots would be political because it had enormous political implications in the real world.

  19. By the same token, we have no idea what Science will look like in the near future. Many dispute its unity. Better to simply see it as a disciplined extension of (and not a replacement for) our common sense.

    Science is a quite recent invention and clearly scientific thinking does not come easy to humans, even to scientists. Common sense is a heuristic that is often wrong. If science is an extension of that, I would see it as a pretty far extension.

  20. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    There is only one way to legitimately cast doubt on scientific findings, which is to produce evidence or show an internal error in the logic or to show that the assumptions are unreasonable etc.

    The key word there is “legitimately”.
    As the Merchants of Doubt have shown us, this ideal is rarely attained.

    Like Fox Mulder, many people Want To Believe.

    Often-times what they want to believe is a big pile of stupid shit.

    The distance between Area 51 and Agenda 21 is measured in craniums.

    Humans are no different today than when Copernicus faced wrath of Luther for daring to speak the not-to-be-spoken.

    Even today, in spite of everything we know from science convincing health care providers to take hand-washing seriously is a challenge.

    Even today, in spite of everything we know from science, many people want to shred plant leaves, light them on fire, and inhale the smoke.

    And even today, it is fair-game to invoke science journals such as Nature and Science as ‘perils of near-tabloid science’.

    Ignorance can be fixed.

    Against politics the gods themselves contend in vain.

    The only choice for scientists is whether they will make better art of politics than the ignorati.

  21. Joshua says:

    VV –

    You say:

    Science is a quite recent invention and clearly scientific thinking does not come easy to humans, even to scientists.

    How do you reconcile that statement with a young child engaging in repeated observations of, and experiments with, phenomena to come to an understanding?

    I don’t see a sharp line differentiating”before science” from once science was invented.

  22. “Machines that learned to list facts without being told what to pick would drown in an infinity of irrelevancies.”

    I don’t think that is true. Machines could describe “interestingness” in a mathematical manner, e.g. the amount of other facts that can be explained by a regularity of a particular description length. A lot of computational learning theory is sort of about just that sort of thing, what are “interesting” (generalisable) hypotheses. It isn’t clear to me that computers will never be capable of the kind of investigation that human scientists do (or better). The point is that the second law of thermodynamics would still be science, independent of politics, even if it wasn’t relevant to our needs. I don’t think science itself has a “purpose” (but scientists do). I can see how politics affects which hypotheses get investigated, but I don’t think is affects what you find (at least if you are a robot – or a group of robots).

    It is a bit casting doubt on the proof of Fermat’s last theorem on the grounds of Andrew Wiles’ politics (whatever they are). Politics is irrelevant to the validity of the proof.

    “If there’s one thing decision theory teaches us, it’s that we cannot use it to make important decisions.”

    I mostly agree. We could if we could mathematically define losses functions and discounting etc. but it involves things like ethics, which are not so easily encoded. I fully agree that science doesn’t (and indeed can’t) answer political questions, just provide some of the necessary information.

  23. D_G doh! My science is obviously flawed due to my political bias! ;o)

  24. “There always has been great political pressure to minimize AGW. The power of the economic establishment is intensive. The MSM and the think tanks of the anglosphere constantly undermine its importance.”

    There has always been great political pressure to maximize AGW- an entire UN commission and, in the US, a major political party have their reputations and paychecks riding on it. Developing countries see billions of dollars dangled in front of them and, in Europe, a whole lot of politicians would have to explain a whole lot of wasted spending and high taxes unless AGW is anything less than super-catastrophic.
    The second sentence is ridiculous- the “economic establishment” in a free market rolls with whatever works. The entire global electricity generation industry was more than happy to ditch fossil fuels for expensive new tech in ’70s and will do it again for something that works. They’re ditching coal for gas now without blinking an eye about the angry coal “economic establishment.” Oil? Nobody is attacking Tesla on behalf of the “economic establishment.” If Musk can churn out electric cars people want to buy and, as a result, be an Exxon killer, more power to him and the “economic establishment” follow his lead.
    The third sentence is pure sophistry- the MSM is working to “constantly undermine (AGW’s) importance”? On what planet? Are you referring to the MSM’s obsessive desire to hype AGW every time weather happens and how this is accidentally undermining AGWs importance?
    The politicization of science leads to distrust of science. There’s good reason to believe the anti-nuclear “science” came out of an environmental science world wedded to reducing resource consumption and population growth and were aghast at the idea of unlimited, cheap energy. Instead of saying that, they played fast and loose with their claims about the safety of nuclear. The same applies to anti-GMO intellectual nonsense. In both cases, science knows the stuff being pushed is garbage yet happily watches it persist because political movements need it to.
    Think of it another way- the layman can’t fully evaluate your claims about ECS, but he can evaluate your claims about windmills, solar panels and socialism. If the latter is bollocks on stilts it’s a safe bet the former is, so if scientists want to play in the political sphere expect to have it reflected in the acceptance of your science.

  25. Joshua says:

    Me at 3:34:

    …medicine is always political, and philosophy is always political, and religion is always political, and plumbing is always political, and ditch-digging is always political….

    Steven at 3:35:

    …art is political, math is political, politics is political, golf is political, glassblowing,…

    The apocalypse is nigh?

  26. VV “In the thoughtful interpretation of the claim in the Twitter thread, yes. The thermodynamics discovered by robots would be political because it had enormous political implications in the real world.”

    I’d say that was more scientific politics as science is the independent variable and politics the dependent variable. it seems more a statement about politics rather than science.

  27. Mal Adapted says:

    Turbulent Eddie:

    But, are biases ( politics ) not part of defective thinking, but rather normal for humans?

    TE, if by ‘defective thinking’ you mean sabotaging your own adaptive behavior by fooling yourself about ‘reality’ (i.e. “that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away” -PK Dick), then biases are part of defective thinking. By observation, they are ‘normal’, i.e. many if not all Homo sapiens individuals harbor them. Mercenary AGW-deniers have been shown to exploit them ruthlessly.

    Science, OTOH, is a way of deliberately trying really hard not to fool yourself. ‘Empiricism’ requires you to acknowledge and counter your biases. ‘Intersubjective verification’ means you’re inescapably dependent on other humans to tell you when you’re fooling yourself, because “you are the easiest person to fool” (Feynman). Since you don’t seem to be listening when they tell you, we may conclude you’re happy to fool yourself.

    Indeed, we can all observe how easily you fool yourself. Your comment apparently begins with an emphatic affirmation (“Yes!”) of your previously-demonstrated bias against climate science’s claim to epistemic authority. Your comments here have long implied your interpretation of the Twitter catchphrase “Science Has Always Been Political” to mean “climate scientists are always politically motivated, therefore the lopsided consensus for AGW can safely be ignored.” I, for one, wonder how you know you’re not fooling yourself. Or has your intent been to poison the well all along?

  28. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli says (and said, but you didn’t listen Willard) that science is a social activity

    Eli also said [something you’ll have to keep to yourself, Eli. -W]

    Pretty much what Steve Mosher wrote above here

  29. ‘The Myth of the Rational Voter’ identifies much of the dynamic.

    Actions, be they political, individual, or just elements of nature, have consequences.
    We predict and imagine these consequences with respect to ourselves ( harmful or beneficial outcomes ). These predicted consequences then evoke emotion.

    For us as hunter-gatherers, the rustling in the bushes could be a rabbit for dinner, or a bear that eats us. This idea is used to describe negativity bias – those eaten by bears left less genetic imprint than those hungry for rabbits but fearful of bears, at least for those not starving.

    So, the non-controversial: “Science has always been political”, is really “Science has always been irrational” and that’s because “Thinking is irrational”. There is growing neuro-chemical evidence of this. The amygdala, home of quick acting emotion is in communication with the slower reacting frontal cortex, home of longer term memories. But the communication takes place in the form of dopamine. The accumulation of one’s experience ( the reproduceable results of our life ‘experiments’ ) can modify our behavior, but it is still in terms of the emotion associated with predicted results.

    Without benefit of modern brain understanding, Hume observed this, but pointed out it is not a bad thing. It is emotion which motivates us to use reason. To be sure, confirmation bias leads us to also exclude confounding evidence, and for some to use falsity, emphasizing reproduceable results. But the energy of emotions also motivates more investigation, increasing knowledge and understanding, particularly in a community of a range of biases.

  30. Marco says:

    “an entire UN commission … have their reputations and paychecks riding on it”

    Jeff, a simple request for you:
    Find the total budget for the UN IPCC and what it spends this budget on. Then explain how this budget would be such an important incentive – considering that most who actually get a paycheck are 100% administrative personnel, whose paycheck does not depend on *what* the commission actually does

  31. izen says:

    @-jeff850
    “There has always been great political pressure to maximize AGW- an entire UN commission and, in the US, a major political party have their reputations and paychecks riding on it. ”

    The IPCC was set up with the support of the US and others as a way of minimizing the impact AGW science would have on policy.
    If you have a report every 5 years politicians can spend 1 year claiming the new report has errors, and 4 years claiming new research and the next report need to be considered before any firm policy is decided.
    It is an old political device.

    The major political party with their reputations already damaged are the GOP. Almost alone as a political party anywhere on Earth that rejects AGW (the few others are not companions they would want to be associated with) they have opted for the paycheck (campaign funding) as recompense for defending the indefensible.

  32. Joshua says: “How do you reconcile that statement with a young child engaging in repeated observations of, and experiments with, phenomena to come to an understanding?”

    How do you reconcile that statement with most people choosing their opinions based on what others think? How do you reconcile that statement with many Americans claiming to literally believe in creation six thousand years ago and people walking over water?

    Knowing how to manipulate physical objects is important, but as soon as it becomes less personally consequential people tend to prioritize relationships and authority over scientific thinking.

  33. Mal Adapted says:

    Willard:

    For me the dichotomy between both is a bigger problem…

    Well, I’m not a trained philosopher, but I think your comment was insightful, and admirably concise. It’s an argument that informs my understanding of “intersubjective verifiability”, and the forever tentative and conditional nature of scientific findings even as they’ve accumulated over five centuries. I take it as the kernel of truth in the postmodern critique of science. Yes, on a metaphysical level, ‘Truth’, or ‘absolute truth’, is unknowable by the mediocrity principle. Be that as it may: when it comes to human adaptive problem solving, science is demonstrably superior to divination, as gauged by their “before and after” effects on population growth rate. Paraphrasing Johnson, I refute radical deconstructionism thus!

  34. Dave_Geologist says:

    I don’t think that is true. Machines could describe “interestingness” in a mathematical manner, e.g. the amount of other facts that can be explained by a regularity of a particular description length.

    Interestingly ( 😉 and spoiler alert), in the Keepers story, the mistake that allowed the AIs to become self-aware was not “interestingness”, but curiosity. Why questions, not What or How questions.

  35. Dave_Geologist says:

    There has always been great political pressure to maximize AGW- an entire UN commission and, in the US, a major political party have their reputations and paychecks riding on it.

    Sorry jeff but that (and what follows) is just paranoid nonsense. You should broaden your reading and conversational circles. The leaders of the denialati probably genuinely believe it, but that’s because they’re getting paychecks themselves and assume everyone else is on the take. But that’s just projection on their part. In the same way burglars are allegedly more scared than the average person of being burgled while they’re out.

  36. Mal Adapted says:

    Victor Venema:

    How do you reconcile that statement with most people choosing their opinions based on what others think?

    VV, I wish most people thought what you think about AGW. Your comment suggests that persuading just a few percent more of registered voters that it’s happening will tip the current US political balance. All I can say is, I hope you’re right 8^(.

  37. I think I read a claim somewhere that about 10% of passionate people can flip the opinion of a group. (Maybe even less if the run around with automatic machine guns.)

  38. Willard says:

    No more T word, please. I won’t fish the next comments with it.

    Will comment later. Busy with a freezer that unfroze itself.

  39. izen says:

    @-jacksmith
    “Politics attempts to shape people’s opinions and influence their actions. It can use the full spectrum of tactics from hope, patriotism, honesty, lying, hate and fear… there are no rules.
    If AI programs learn to do politics we might be in trouble.”

    It is likely that this technology is already employed not only in the political sphere, (Cambridge analytics and the Russian interference) but is common practice for business seeking to maximise consumer loyalty. Here is a public report of a 3 year old project funded by a foundation with a religious interest.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/artificial-intelligence-religion-atheism/565076/

    “The goal of the project is to give politicians an empirical tool that will help them assess competing policy options so they can choose the most effective one. It’s a noble idea: If leaders can use artificial intelligence to predict which policy will produce the best outcome, maybe we’ll end up with a healthier and happier world. But it’s also a dangerous idea: What’s “best” is in the eye of the beholder, after all.”

    The appliance of Science….

  40. jacksmith4tx says:

    Izen,
    Great article. This quote struck a nerve:
    ““The U.S. has found ways to limit the effects of education by keeping it local, and in private schools, anything can happen,” said Shults’s collaborator, Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University. “Lately, there’s been encouragement from the highest levels of government to take a less than welcoming cultural attitude to pluralism. ”

    If it is a government plot to ‘keep ’em dumb’ it appears to be working.
    https://www.dallasnews.com/business/philanthropy/2018/07/27/north-texas-illiteracy-rate-20-percent-lift-fundraiser-critical

  41. Francis says:

    From an outsider’s perspective:

    In its most reductive form, the outcome of the scientific process (which is sometimes defined as “science”) is not political. E will still equal m * c squared even if we light off all the nuclear weapons on the planet and reduce humanity back to scattered tribes of illiterate hunter-gatherers.

    But many people, and most practicing professionals, define “science” to mean something larger. These definitions incorporate, inter alia, (a) the practice of professionals who work in science-discovering and science-using industries, (b) the use of information developed in scientific disciplines, and (c) humanity’s attempts to understand the implications of its new knowledge and how it changes our understanding of our planet and our relationship with it and each other.

  42. Brigitte says:

    Francis, I largely agree with that. But what does ‘science is political’ then actually mean? What does this statement tell us? Why should it be of interest? Is it just said in reply to people who might say ‘science is not political’ Both statements are ‘political’. But what’s the politics behind them?

  43. Science changes lives – changing lives is always political

  44. Mal Adapted says:

    Joshua:

    I don’t see a sharp line differentiating”before science” from once science was invented.

    Me either. I see a sequentially contingent chain of historical occurrences. Prehistoric plant and animal breeders, potters and metallurgists accomplished their practical purposes. The development of writing helped with knowledge propagation and preservation. Classical Greece got some things right, so did Persia, India, China and some Mesoamerican cultures. Then came medieval skepticism, and the Schoolmen canonized the law of parsimony. Alchemy established useful knowledge of chemistry, even if it didn’t accomplish its practical purpose (now accomplished by high-energy physics instead). In the 15th century CE, movable-type printing presses made it easier for literati to review and propagate each others’ empirical findings and analyses. In the same period, the Portuguese introduction of the caravel initiated a flood of new, documented observations.

    According to Wikipedia however, the scientific revolution that gave rise to the modern culture of Science, and its curation of a globally accumulating, self-correcting store of justified, fruitful knowledge of reality, emerged in Europe after 1500 CE, then spread around the world with the contemporaneous wave of global exploration. FWIW, I’m using that as my arbitrary before-and-after-science line.

  45. Willard says:

    Back. Thanks for the comments. From the top, Dave:

    [Tom] seemed to be suggesting that all decisions include “politics”. Although of course the scare quotes allow politics to be defined any way you like, Humpty-Dumpty-style. Whereas in its mathematical usage, you really can prove that something implies a contradiction, because you have to define your axioms up-front and aren’t allowed to move the goalposts.

    Three points:

    1. I do think the existence of collective decisions imply that some politics has been going on. I do not think these decisions always involve deliberative judgments:

    Just as there are myriad strategies open to the human political animal with White House ambitions, so there are a number of nonhuman animals that behave like textbook politicians. Researchers who study highly gregarious and relatively brainy species like rhesus monkeys, baboons, dolphins, sperm whales, elephants and wolves have lately uncovered evidence that the creatures engage in extraordinarily sophisticated forms of politicking, often across large and far-flung social networks.

    If scientists think that relativists are a pain, they should wait until they meet naturalists.

    ***

    2. My argument doesn’t rely on any specific definition, but on characterizations. I don’t think it’s possible to define politics without collective decision making, but I’m willing to be surprised. I will return later on definition games, which I believe are misguided in our case. For now, I’ll simply note that the problematic concepts are those expressing the relationships between Science and Politics, as illustrated by the “includes” above. The notion of inclusion is one of the four ways that the verb “to be” could be used according to Aristotle.

    ***

    3. The acceptance of a proof in formal fields emerges from a collective decision. My favorite example is Mochizuki’s proof of the ABC conjecture:

    Three years on, Mochizuki’s proof remains in mathematical limbo — neither debunked nor accepted by the wider community. Mochizuki has estimated that it would take a maths graduate student about 10 years to be able to understand his work, and Fesenko believes that it would take even an expert in arithmetic geometry some 500 hours. So far, only four mathematicians say that they have been able to read the entire proof.

    https://www.nature.com/news/the-biggest-mystery-in-mathematics-shinichi-mochizuki-and-the-impenetrable-proof-1.18509

    Most proofs are sketches. Readers are asked to fill the gaps. The “sketchiness” allowed may depend on personal style, reputation, and the implications of what’s being proven. It should go without saying that none of that entails that the truth of a theorem is political. On the contrary, the truth uncovered is usually presumed to be eternal, something to which empirical sciences can’t even pretend insofar as we believe they are fallible.

  46. Joshua says:

    Mal and VV –

    FWIW, I’m using that as my arbitrary before-and-after-science line.

    The reason why I pressed on that issue is because I heard Brett Weinstein, or maybe it was Peterson, talking about how science was a recent invention and isn’t something that comes naturally (somehow, I don’t remember exactly how, that conceptualization was woven into a Just-So story about evolution).

    As I see it, a scientific process of exploration, hypothesis formation and testing, is entirely natural, and has been around for a very long time – exactly in the sense that you described with prehistoric developments. Sometimes I look at ancient knowledge about construction or cooking or uses of plants, etc., and I am amazed at the scientific nature of that knowledge. Perhaps there is some kind of before and after distinction relative to science, but I don’t see it – hence my question. I’m not sure how much difference the answer makes…but I’d like to understand the viewpoint better.

  47. Joshua says:

    And of course, also, I watch babies and I see a scientist at work.

  48. izen says:

    @-W

    -Researchers who study highly gregarious and relatively brainy species like rhesus monkeys, baboons, dolphins, sperm whales, elephants and wolves have lately uncovered evidence that the creatures engage in extraordinarily sophisticated forms of politicking, often across large and far-flung social networks.-
    If scientists think that relativists are a pain, they should wait until they meet naturalists.”

    Yes, its nonsense.
    A mix of the Naturalistic fallacy and stretching the metaphor of politics beyond its Young’s limit.

    It is Disney-fying Nature to call the process of resource distribution in other social animals ‘Politics’.
    That requires language use and a large amount of accumulated historiccal culture within which distributive systems can change.
    Natural systems, even in the most social of other animals are restricted to undirected variation that seeks an optimum state.
    Cultures, collectives and individuals have history, traditions, and rhetoric to shape and change the political system.
    Science can have an impact as well.

  49. Willard says:

    > It is Disney-fying Nature to call the process of resource distribution in other social animals ‘Politics’.

    Mere talk of resource distribution misses a whole level of description, izen. Some examples from the article:

    – “Dolphins organize themselves into at least three nested tiers of friends and accomplices”

    – “Among elephants, it is the females who are the born politicians, cultivating robust and lifelong social ties with at least 100 other elephants”

    – “Wolves, it seems, leaven their otherwise strongly hierarchical society with occasional displays of populist umbrage”

    – “Rhesus males are quintessential opportunists. They pretend they’re helping others, but they only help adults, not infants. They only help those who are higher in rank than they are, not lower. They intervene in fights where they know they’re going to win anyway and where the risk of being injured is small.”

    The naturalistic fallacy is inferring that something is good because it is natural. Observing that other species can exhibit political behavior carries no prescription. My two prescriptions are elsewhere. First, a good ClimateBall player should refrain from promoting a myth about science that contrarians exploit daily and which has nothing to do with POMO. Second, scientists should consider that speaking truth to power has reached its limits, and that it might be time to think about bringing science to power.

  50. Mal Adapted says:

    Joshua:

    talking about how science was a recent invention and isn’t something that comes naturally

    What I think is natural is the ubiquitous human tendency to fool ourselves at every opportunity, for all kinds of reasons rooted in our unredeemable mediocrity. The scientific requirement for intersubjective verification promotes a culture of competitive, disciplined skepticism: what I, though not VV, call ‘peer review’ broadly defined. Outside scientific culture, we generally allow foolsfriends to go on fooling themselves. We go along to get along, readily believing six impossible things before breakfast if necessary to maintain social peace. Aggressive skepticism is seen as rude, and even as “making trouble”. In science, OTOH, peers don’t let their peers get away with fooling themselves!

    Francis Bacon‘s influential 1620 Novum Organum underpins modern scientific training and peer discipline, expressly aimed at overcoming “natural”, i.e. naive, ways of thinking. By 1663, the newly chartered Royal Society of the UK had adopted the motto nullius in verba. They were impressed enough with the novelty of the concept to put it on their Coat of Arms 8^)! Scientific culture’s formal requirement for refereed publication, the collective commitment to accumulating only justified knowledge, and if nothing else, individual fear of later embarrassment, all are aimed at minimizing the role of self-deception. I’d agree the first two, at least, don’t come ‘naturally’.

  51. Mal Adapted, much better said than I have.

    It is often subjective where to cut the line between categories or whether to split one in to more, but from my perspective science is a lot more than just thinking deeply and basic experiments, there is a lot of novelty involved.

  52. izen says:

    @-W
    “Mere talk of resource distribution misses a whole level of description, izen. Some examples from the article:”

    It is not the level of description the species mentioned are using.

    This not politics;-

    .https://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/13/science/no-time-for-bullies-baboons-retool-their-culture.html
    “In a study appearing today in the journal PloS Biology (online at http://www.plosbiology.org), researchers describe the drastic temperamental and tonal shift that occurred in a troop of 62 baboons when its most belligerent members vanished from the scene. … With that change in demographics came a cultural swing toward pacifism, a relaxing of the usually parlous baboon hierarchy, and a willingness to use affection and mutual grooming rather than threats, swipes and bites to foster a patriotic spirit.

    -unless you want to extend politics to the way trees compete for space and light.

    Reserve politics to the stuff done by humans with language. Anything else is anthropomorphising metaphor.
    (usually deployed as a political claim)

    @-“First, a good ClimateBall player should refrain from promoting a myth about science that contrarians exploit daily and which has nothing to do with POMO.”

    Not sure what/which myth about science you mean, that it is, or isn’t political (?)
    Or how POMO is unrelated to either.

  53. Willard says:

    > Reserve politics to the stuff done by humans with language. Anything else is anthropomorphising metaphor.

    A commenter’s metaphor can become another researcher’s stoopid modulz:

    Distributed feedback processes are the hallmark of collective decision-making. This enables information to be integrated simultaneously, overmultiple timescales, and facilitates a self-referential process of quorum sensing, enabling individuals within groups or whole societies to balance appropriately the inevitable trade-off between speed and accuracy of collective decision-making. Group members are typically error-prone and unaware of available options, and yet the collective behavior exhibited is efficient over many scales. This ability is important and bears close comparison with distributed processing of information within and among neural assemblies. Distributed control, in general, is probably a consequence of a common evolutionary pressure to find solutions that are robust and do not fail catastrophically as parameters change.

    Animal cognition cannot be captured by the linguistic level the good ol’ Chomskian way. Humans are animal, and many humans don’t have full access to language. Consider babies, neurodivergent subjects, or all our unconscious mental processes. To conceive politics as something purely human because we alone debate questions, campaign, and then vote might have been all well and good in Aristotle’s time, but could very well be detrimental to the generality of the explanation seeked. If politics is about power, (“who gets what, when, and how”), then we need to consider that humans don’t hold a monopoly over it. Not anymore. To believe we do is anthropocentric, if not chauvinistic.

    All that being said, I don’t mind much if someone wants to restrict politics [as much as seen fit, up] to what politicians do. It doesn’t impact Audra’s original point. Since I am trying to bypass the very need of having to determine a specific meaning to a mere slogan (an absurdity if you think about it), I am more than willing to work with the most general characterizations I could think of.

  54. Willard says:

    One last clarification for tonight, anticipating a comment I intended for tomorrow:

    Not sure what/which myth about science you mean, that it is, or isn’t political.

    The myth of Science as scientia, i.e. the Book of Knowledge about the World to which Brigitte’s “cumulative result of what scientists do” must refer.

    I say book, but it’s not peer-reviewed. It has no h-index. It’s never ignored by a next generation of researchers who’d stop to cite it because it’s been deprecated, or sidestepped by a sexier framework. It is not edited by any collective, and nobody ever question its wording. (It actually writes itself.) Nobody refuses it as a thesis project. Nobody ever fight for grants to write it. Nobody invites no one to present it at a proceedings. It contains no Supplementary Information section, yet is entirely open and reproducible. It has no word count, no page limit, its graphs and figures can have all the colors one desires, if it has some.

    Perhaps it is in pure mathematical notations. It could also contain propositions. Nobody really read it in full anymore. In fact, nobody really knows if it costs anything. Or if it belongs to everyone. Or if it’s only in English, soon to be converted in Mandarin. On which website you need to browse to download it.

    The concept of cumulative result deserves due diligence. From where I stand, it’s not very far from Plato’s realm of ideas.

  55. izen says:

    @-W
    “If politics is about power, (“who gets what power, when, and how”), then we need to consider that humans don’t hold a monopoly over it.”

    I am not claiming individuals do hold monopoly power, beyond what the social (dis)order grants. But it is a historical contingency based on language, (oral tradition or written history/myth) that shapes the decision making, the collective cognition in humans.

    @-“All that being said, I don’t mind much if someone wants to restrict politics to what politicians do.”

    I would, I am restricting politics to the outcome of decision making at all levels from global to individual (politician or otherwise) that is shaped by the use of language.
    I accept that for various reasons otters may wish to extend it to cover ant colonys or baboons fostering a ‘patriotic spirit’ by pacifism instead of coercion.

    @-“The concept of cumulative result deserves due diligence. From where I stand, it’s not very far from Plato’s realm of ideas.”

    Thats a lot of stating what it is not.
    From where I stand Plato’s realm of Ideas looks like it is made of language.
    As are the cumulative results of science.

  56. Willard says:

    > Thats a lot of stating what it is not.

    Exactly. The only kind of conception of science that can refute what is held as historical truth among science historians is one where most if not all of what we understand as part and parcel of scientific practices are excluded.

    Backtracking to platonism is more than absurd to me – it’s a self-defeating ClimateBall strategy. It plays in the hands of any contrarian who is wont to appeal to Galileo, Feynman, and all their other very non-POMO gurus.

    ***

    > From where I stand Plato’s realm of Ideas looks like it is made of language.

    As soon as you posit that the Book of Science is written in a language, you’re stuck with editorial decisions. Try to convince me that there’s no politics within an editorial board.

    Positing a language also implies some form of representation, something that is far from being obvious. But that goes beyond the scope of our question.

  57. Dave_Geologist says:

    Science changes lives – changing lives is always political

    Doubly wrong I’m afraid. Science doesn’t change lives. The application of science changes lives, for good or ill. That’s not science. It’s engineering, medicine, politics 😉 , salesmanship, whatever.

    And even if it were true, lots of non-political things change lives.

    Katrina changed a lot of lives. Flood control action or inaction, poor zoning decisions, poor relief and rehousing efforts, broken healthcare and social security systems, whatever, are political. But Katrina didn’t do that, people did.

    Cholera changes peoples lives. The decision to build London’s sewer system was political. The decision to have a civil war in Yemen was political (and religious). The decision of the Sunni coalition to intervene was political (and religious). The decision not to have a cease-fire to fight the cholera epidemic in Hodeida is political.Those decisions were made by people, not Vibrio cholerae

    The Sun rising and setting every day changes peoples’ lives. As does the presence of equal days and nights in the tropics, and long days and short nights or vice versa towards the poles (SAD, need for lighting in the evenings, seasonal agriculture and industry, etc.). The Sun isn’t political, nor is the rotation of the Earth.

    Need I go on?

    * Two Reductio Ad Absurdium‘s in one thread Cool 🙂 .

  58. Dave_Geologist says:

    1. I do think the existence of collective decisions imply that some politics has been going on. I do not think these decisions always involve deliberative judgments:

    Hah! You read my mind Willard. I was thinking of including the Great Oxidation Event, the Great Dying and the KT Event as things which affected peoples’ (creatures’) lives. But then we’d have to count quorum-sensing among the myriads of anaerobic bacteria that were wiped out as politics, colony-forming among the corals that died out as politics, and herding behaviour and cooperative/protective brooding in dinosaurs as politics.

    At the risk of sounding Sokalian, if you define politics so widely as to include all social behaviour, IMHO you’ve defined away any usefulness. Almost any statement you make is universally true, but trivial and not useful (other than in rhetoric). If you define it more narrowly (I would say conventionally), you can’t claim universality but you can make useful, true/false/maybe decisions and assignations.

  59. Brigitte says:

    Great points, Dave!

  60. Dave_Geologist says:

    Actually, on reflection, the Great Oxidation Event would count as political in the ultra-broad definition. I’m sure the photosynthesising bacteria that caused it had some sort of quorum-sensing, at least for phototaxis and for defence against bacteriophages. Perhaps also for dispersing so as not to over-oxygenate their surroundings

  61. Dave_Geologist says:

    Thanks Brigitte.

    Distributed feedback processes are the hallmark of collective decision-making. This enables information to be integrated simultaneously, over multiple timescales, and facilitates a self-referential process of quorum sensing, enabling individuals within groups or whole societies to balance appropriately the inevitable trade-off between speed and accuracy of collective decision-making. Group members are typically error-prone and unaware of available options, and yet the collective behavior exhibited is efficient over many scales.

    Arguably true Willard. But equally arguably, not politics. Quorum-sensing would have given us a second President Clinton (3 million more votes). Politics gave us the Electoral College. Much of the Leave argument about Brexit was demonstrably, factually untrue. Yet a majority bought it (not in Scotland or Northern Ireland, but Scotland doesn’t have the special case of a land border with the EU and a hard-won peace deal to protect, so what inoculated us?). That wasn’t the wisdom of the crowd. it was targeted advertising and demagoguery by the few.

  62. Willard says:

    > Science doesn’t change lives. The application of science changes lives, for good or ill. That’s not science. It’s engineering, medicine, politics 😉 , salesmanship, whatever

    That looks like the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” line of defense, Dave.

    Let’s assume that science is purely theoretical. It carries no practical implication, including for its own internal regulation. It rules everything under the Sun while being absolutely independent from everything under the Moon. This image reflects an old one. A few questions emerge:

    First, where can we find it? Could be in books. Could be in the minds of those in the know. On the blackboards. It cannot in PowerPoint presentations – that would be evil.

    Second, who has authority over it? Nobody, for the simple reason that science has no real body. What we call “scientific bodies” aren’t really scientific. The IPCC – not science. The MET Office – not science. All the organizations, institutions, and associations that promote, oversee, and even engineer science are promotional, political, whatever.

    Third, how do we get it? If science is only knowledge full stop, then we need to know what characterizes knowledge. That answer may only be meta-scientific. In other words, saying that science is consilience, consistency, coherence, and conciseness may not be science itself. Which would mean that science has no lanes, and that scientists have no scientific business in telling anyone to stay in their own.

    I wonder if those who reject Audra’s slogan would reject the one according to which knowledge is power. They certainly should. And as anyone who read Cat’s Craddle can confirm, from great lack of power comes great lack of responsibility.

  63. Steven Mosher says:

    “And of course, also, I watch babies and I see a scientist at work.”

    babies, rats, computer programs, lots of things engage in sciencing.

  64. Willard says:

    I need to go for a while, so here’s a shorter version of my point:

    The Sun isn’t political, nor is the rotation of the Earth.

    The Sun is the Sun. It is not Science. Nor is the Earth rotation Science. Science is the finger pointing to the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

    But which finger?

    There lies the rub of Science as scientia.

  65. Dave_Geologist says:

    Willard

    Not “guns don’t kill people”. Because guns have no purpose other than to kill people (or animals). Tather, “knives don’t kill people”. Because a knife can be in the hands of an assassin or a heart surgeon. Or just used to make a sandwich.

    The Sun was to refute the second part of the claim, not the science part. That the set of objects which affect peoples lives, is a subset of the set of objects which are political.

  66. Dave_Geologist says:

    To my mind the rest is conflating History of Science, Practice of Science. Philosophy of Science, etc. with Science. The clue that they’re not the same lies in the word “of”.

  67. Brigitte says:

    that word ‘of’ has also bothered me – here is something from a while ago when I still tried to grapple with it http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2012/03/06/the-story-of-of/

  68. Willard says:

    > To my mind the rest is conflating History of Science, Practice of Science. Philosophy of Science, etc. with Science.

    If you strip all the ofs, the Emperors of Science have no clothes, Dave.

    In my mind, that many scientists are closet platonists *is* political. It helps not bite the hands that feed. It helps them wash their hands over what they do.

  69. Brigitte says:

    I only just realised I wrote this in 2012!!! A lot has changed since then, including my understanding ‘of’ STS…

  70. “The Sun isn’t political, nor is the rotation of the Earth.

    The Sun is the Sun. It is not Science. ”

    Working out that the Earth orbits the Sun in an eliptical orbit (and why) however *is* science. Now in the days where this wasn’t “settled science”, different “scientists” adopted different positions on this, for a variety of reasons (at least partly due to over-dependence on “authority”), some of which could be viewed as political. However the theory of planetary orbits is not political, it is determined by reality and we only discover/refine it, and political input is irrelevant. We don’t accept heliocentrism because of politics, but because it is the best explanation we have for the evidence we have.

  71. Willard says:

    > Working out that the Earth orbits the Sun in an eliptical orbit (and why) however *is* science.

    Agreed. How has it been worked out? Work invokes tools. Instruments. Theories. Experiments.

    Now, return to the “guns don’t kill people” line of defense. Instruments and theories are just instruments and theories. They are not Science. Which leaves us “that”: that the Earth orbits the Sun in an eliptical orbit.

    What *is* this “that”?

    (The why is just an explanation we use to make sense of a theory, so it’s just a tool, which never killed anyone.)

  72. “How has it been worked out? Work invokes tools. Instruments. Theories.”

    That is irrelevant. In principle, someone could have come up with that theory without the use of telescopes (or other tools) and without discussing it with anybody. If we had an immortal alien that lived long enough to plod through it all ab-inito). It is science either way.

    The “guns don’t kill people” is not wrong because guns don’t kill people – left to their own devices, that is exactly true. It is wrong because the inference that this means there is no reason to limit access to guns is incorrect. People kill people, guns greatly facilitate this, so there is a good reason to limit their availability to those who can behave responsibly with them (which is apparently a very small fraction of the general population).

    If theories (the instruments are irrelevant, as Dijkstra said “computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”) are just theories and not science, then how does science differ from astrology (or any other non-scientific theory about the way reality works). Of course the demarcation between science and non-science is not completely straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Of course being science rather than non-science, doesn’t mean it is better; not all questions are scientific, and science isn’t always the best answer.

  73. Mal Adapted says:

    Willard:

    The Sun is the Sun. It is not Science. Nor is the Earth rotation Science. Science is the finger pointing to the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

    Sounds like my recent “science (uncapitalized) the cultural adaptation, vs. Science (capitalized) the cultural institution” harangue: The market is the market. It is not Economics. Nor is today’s price of gasoline Economics. Markets and prices are the subject matter of economics (uncapitalized), while the people writing papers and advising governments are Economics (capitalized).

    Not quite as precise as I might like, but close enough.

  74. Willard says:

    > In principle, someone could have come up with that theory without the use of telescopes (or other tools) and without discussing it with anybody.

    Indeed. In principle, any entity could come up with the idea that planets are in orbits. It doesn’t need to think about planets and orbits or any theory. It doesn’t even need to think. Nothing’s really necessary for anything.

    ***

    > If theories (the instruments are irrelevant, as Dijkstra said “computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”) are just theories and not science, then how does science differ from astrology (or any other non-scientific theory about the way reality works).

    Exactly. On what basis is Science science? Science cannot really tell us, because that would be the Science of Science. And we’ve been told to strip all oves.

    Speaking of which, Dijkstra may be reinjecting one with his

    computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes

    We could say that computer science is the Science of Computation, and astronomy is the Science of the Sky. Is that usage of “of” kosher? If it is, than we can ask if there could be a Science that is not a Science of. If it’s not, then all the sciences known to mankind to date aren’t really Science.

    I can live with both possibilities.

  75. Willard says:

    I’ve closed your italics, Mal.

    So far we have two candidates. Science as Knowledge. Science as Theory. The two may differ by their distance from those who entertain them. Shut down all brains of the world: knowledge would disappear, but not theories. Or not. Depends on what intuitions we project into this. So far, all we have on the table are armchair results.

    Does anyone want the spoiler of where we’re going?

  76. Mitch says:

    I am fascinated by the confusion about what science is. To my mind science is (1) curiosity–why did that happen? combined with (2) quantitative observation-experiment to try to find out an answer.

    There may be politics involved in choosing the question to study, but there is also the ‘ripeness’ factor, i.e., what data/instrumentation are available to address the problem.

  77. Dave_Geologist says:

    Does anyone want the spoiler of where we’re going?

    A long way from “all science is political” 😉 . BTW I’d be quite happy with “(almost) all science has political implications”. But that’s not the same thing. And to precisely evaluate either statement, you need to define not just “science”, but “political”.

    Where on this list does territorial conflict become political?

    1. Two bacterial colonies quorum-sensing and individuals moving to their mutual boundary to deploy offensive and defensive chemicals.

    2. Two ant colonies fighting at their mutual border (probably more than territory at stake, the losers become supper or slaves). We now have external pheromone trails and a hierarchy with castes, but it’s still all driven by instinct and by cellular-automata type processes

    3. Two chimpanzee colonies, ditto. We now have entities capable of a degree of planning, reasoning, complex social behaviour, remembering slights, forming coalitions, all within an established but mobile hierarchy.

    4. Alsace-Lorraine. A border conflict that had a political element, but at its heart it had national or tribal identity and it crossed conventional politics. Unless you call blood-and-soil nationalism political. BTW as a counter to the “blood” part, I worked with a German man and French woman who grew up ten miles apart. She had a French forename and a German surname, but less than a century after Versailles, she was as-French-as-French-could-be.

    5. The Cold War. Driven by a fundamental political schism, but with elements of territoriality (the Monroe Doctrine, Russia’s centuries-old experience of invasion from outside and its resultant desire to have a ring of buffer states around the motherland).

    I’d put it between (3) and (4), but as a sliding transition.

  78. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Indeed. In principle, any entity could come up with the idea that planets are in orbits.”

    The point is that if social interaction is not necessary for science then science isn’t necessarily political, and hence there is an aspect of it that is not political (what we have when science is not performed as a social activity) that we ought to be able to distinguish from the political (social) elements, rather than conflating the two things.

    “(The why is just an explanation we use to make sense of a theory, so it’s just a tool, which never killed anyone.)”

    I also disagree with this, on reflection, the why is where consilience comes from, the “why” is what joins the theories to form a consistent framework. The fact that planets have elliptical orbits is one thing, the thing that makes it interesting is the “because this is a consequence of the law of gravity”, along with other things we can observe in the cosmos. In other words we have a low description length explanation for many things.

  79. Willard says:

    > And to precisely evaluate either statement, you need to define not just “science”, but “political”.

    Actually, Dave, I don’t think anyone does. The shortest proof is that you already evaluated it while having no real idea what it really means. So far, we only entertained some “if by whiskeys” counterfactuals while reconnecting with the spirit of the Ancients. The “it all depends on how we define Science” gambit might very well burden otters with an impossible demand.

    To evaluate Audra’s claim, one rather needs its implicatures. Everyone should be happy with the idea that the slogan conveys that Science has political implications. Every closet platonist should be stinged by this, as they conceive Science as (objective) Knowledge. But here’s where it really hurts – it is the very idea of Science as Knowledge can be used as a political weapon.

    That’s, like, the point.

    I have no idea if that what Audra means. Historians of science are big enough to defend themselves. Historians are serious chaps – they eat the STS crowd for breakfast. I find no need to care for their intellectual safety.

    Think of the slogan as something one might say during a party. Now, consider:

    I duly submit that nobody knows what Science really is. Nobody really cares. At least until some lanes are being crossed.

  80. Willard says:

    > The point is that if social interaction is not necessary for science then science isn’t necessarily political, and hence there is an aspect of it that is not political (what we have when science is not performed as a social activity) that we ought to be able to distinguish from the political (social) elements, rather than conflating the two things.

    Historians don’t make necessary claims. That’s metaphysicians’ job.

    Historians make factual claims.

    And the fact they’re telling you right now is that Science has always been political.

    Deal with it.

  81. mt says:

    While this somewhat clarifies Willard’s side of the debate, it doesn’t convince me. I think I will need two articles to explain this, the first of which I’ve intended to write for a long time. Willard may find little to disagree with in that one; I don’t know.

    The second which attends to the utility of the particular slogan at issue, will follow. What follows is a down payment, a short version of what I expect the second one will look like.

    ==

    I appreciate Briggite Nerlich introducing me to the word “polysemy”, which is exactly at issue.

    The short version of my claim is that both “science” and “political” are words with multiple meanings. Say M distinct meanings of “science” and N distinct meanings of “political” (simplifying of course, since some of the boundaries will be a bit blurred) we have M x N possible statements.

    This means our debate on the slogan boils down to which of the MxN meanings are reflected in the consciousness of the audience of the slogan. It’s certainly the case that the meaning that came most quickly to my mind was a particularly obnoxious fallacy.

    So my claim is that 1) I don’t think that I’m unusual with regard to perceiving this meaning and 2) I don’t see than any positive contribution from other possible interpretations justify an unqualified voicing of the slogan. In general, I think utterances with multiple accessible interpretations, some of which are dangerously wrong, should be avoided.

    I think Willard understand this, but is finding ways not to engage with it, which I find peculiar.

    Usually he’s a stickler for precision, after all. He gets around this with a cavalier dismissal:

    “In effect, the only way I see to reject the bunny sign would be to restrict science to a bag of equations or to a ménagerie of facts without their book or zoo keepers.”

    Well, minus the trivializing contempt, yes.

    A very important meaning of “science” both in common thought and in the common lexicon, is “what is known”. (The distinction between “what is known” and “who knows it” is key to our contemporary quandary, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is known, or that it isn’t important to figure out what that is.)

    When one says that “science has always been political” one is actually saying, among other possible interpretations, that “scientists who say things I dislike are ideological and/or corrupt”. A philosophical ivory tower can dismiss the idea as incoherent, but *many* people believe this, and I think *most* people act as if it were true whether they assert that belief or not.

    On being presented with information that doesn’t fit with one’s priors, many people will respond by rejecting the claimant as legitimate or authoritative. (If this rejection were merely partial or conditional, it would be a sound Bayesian approach in fact!)

    But it’s really the legitimacy of the particular assertion that “evidence is overwhelming that climate policy is grossly inadequate and severely overdue if we want to avoid dramatically altering the global environment” that’s at issue for us here.

    Similar politically germane claims are made in other disciplines, some of which are probably equally legitimate as reflections of reality and equally challenged by those for whom the claims are misaligned with their priors. I’m not claiming we’re unique in the respect.

    “Evidence is overwhelming that climate policy is grossly inadequate and severely overdue if we want to avoid dramatically altering the global environment” is a claim of fact. The subsidiary clause (“if we want…”) expresses values, albeit widely held ones. But the claim simply states that “overdue and inadequate” FOLLOW FROM the values.

    Asserting the claim in that way may well be a political act on my part.

    But the claim itself is in no way political!!!

    It simply states that B follows from A based on overwhelming evidence.

    It’s part and parcel of the mere bag of facts and equations. It’s a claim in and of objectively accessible knowledge. It’s an important bag, dammit.

  82. Brigitte says:

    What’s the difference between saying ‘science is political’ and ‘history/historiography is political’???

  83. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Historians don’t make necessary claims.”

    “Science has always been Political” comes very close (finer hairs have been split in the discussion already). “Historians make factual claims” Do historians know for a fact that nobody (even Ugg the caveman) ever did science ab-inito?

    “And the fact they’re telling you right now is that Science has always been political.

    Deal with it.”

    I am, … by arguing against it. Historians have no special authority that I need to bow down to any more than scientists do. If you disagree with a scientists and do so politely and state your counter arguments, then it is a reasonable expectation that they will answer you arguments. Likewise Prof. Essenhigh had no academic standing on the carbon cycle, but to show him wrong I had to address the science independent of his social/political/academic standing.

  84. izen says:

    @-W
    ” Which leaves us “that”: that the Earth orbits the Sun in an eliptical orbit.
    What *is* this “that”?”

    It is part of the knowledge about the observable material world that science has accumulated.
    Science is not (?!) the accumulated knowledge, it is the cultural practice that enables a small number of individuals in the societies that support it to spend their time generating such knowledge that is validated by the methodology.

    Just an aside, the Heliocentric model or narrative of the position of the Earth was developed entirely without telescopes. First by Arab astronomers (Ibn al-Shatir) and then by Europeans (Copernicus) using the naked eye observations that were accurate enough and cover enough time to provide the observational evidence from which the mathematical model of a Heliocentric system could be derived.

    Science is… the cultural process that enables observations (perhaps based on experiments) that a capable of intersubjective verification to be accumulated. That allows new ‘Just So’ stories to be invented that can replace the old, or explain the new phenomina, in way that are more consilient, concise, cohernet etc than the pervious explanations of the material world.
    So atomic chemistry replace the Four Elements and thermodynamics replaces philostogen.

    And Heliocentic explanations of the solar system replace geocentric versions because of the available accurate observations and improved predictions from a simpler, but more accurate mathematical narrative.

    It is this cultural process, carried out by individual genii and persistant social institutions (universitys) that provides the accumulating knowledge that is the outcome of science.

    Earlier in the thread I suggested that science intersects with politics when the new knowledge it accumulates has a significant impact on the resources available to a society.

    I think now this is too narrow. Heliocentric theories had a political impact not because of any influence on the material wellbeing of a society but because it conflicted with the old ‘just so’ story. Shifts in the tolerence of Islamic society closed down the developing understanding of astronomy that it had aquired during a couple of centuries of socially encouraged objective inquiry.
    The attitude of the Catholic church in Europe is well known.
    So science is political when it evolves a new understanding of reality that conflicts with old explanations that for one reason or another have become adopted as dogma critical to political authority.

  85. mt says:

    When I was nine or ten, I discovered that an inverted glass submerged in a bathtub contained air, which could be “poured” upside-down into the water by tilting the glass. The symmetry fascinated me, and, probably until my mother somehow caught me submerging the mouthwash glass into the bathtub, commenced a long and delightful series of experiments on air and water.

    Was this “science”?

    Well, it depends on the definition, but I think so. It certainly was never “political” in any sense I can discern.

  86. dikranmarsupial says:

    I would agree as well. Deal with it historians! ;o) <- note that was a joke, I actually have high regard for historians (and the "arts" in general).

  87. Willard says:

    > “Science has always been Political” comes very close (finer hairs have been split in the discussion already).

    Close to what – an ahistorical claim?

    I doubt it.

    ***

    > Do historians know for a fact that nobody (even Ugg the caveman) ever did science ab-inito?

    Scientists have yet to visit the Pleiocene or the center of the Sun, so that verificationnist boat won’t float. However, that rhetorical question conceals a more interesting one: what kind of implicit quantifiers are involved into the claim that science has always been political? In general, generalizations are complex.

  88. Willard says:

    > What’s the difference between saying ‘science is political’ and ‘history/historiography is political’???

    Your itch, Brigitte. You scratch it.

  89. izen says:

    @-MT
    “Evidence is overwhelming that climate policy is grossly inadequate and severely overdue if we want to avoid dramatically altering the global environment” is a claim of fact.
    The subsidiary clause (“if we want…”) expresses values, albeit widely held ones.”

    It is doing more than that.
    Who is this ‘we’ you are talking about ??

    If it is the ‘we’ who are altering the global environment by accumulating CO2 emissions then it encompasses individuals, societies, business, governments, nations, genders, ethnicities and global resource distribution systems.

    Not all are sentient moral agents. An energy generating company may want to maximise the return to shareholders. The logistical requirements of global distribution may want, or require, a certain level of CO2 emissions. Nations may want to maximise their wealth by avoiding stranded assets.

    I am not sure that wanting to avoid altering the global environment is widely held by those entities that are responsible for the cause.
    It seems to be restricted to individuals who predict dramatic impacts on the stability of our present civilisation (because it is optimised for climate/sea level stasis) and want to alter the current actions of all the ‘we’s’ responsible to avoid this.

    It is not clear that the ‘we’ that want to avoid dramatic alteration are the ‘we’ that are primarilary responsile for the cause or have the power to alter the process.

    @-“It’s part and parcel of the mere bag of facts and equations. It’s a claim in and of objectively accessible knowledge.”

    That the fossil Carbon ‘we’ are adding to the biosphere is altering the global environment is the facts and equations bit.
    That there is a widely held want to avoid this by the individuals and social systems responsible, and that changing something called climate policy is an effective method is not.

  90. Willard says:

    > Was this “science”?

    What’s “this” – your discovery? No reason why it wouldn’t be. As I already said, I endorse the idea that science is a disciplined extension of common sense.

    My educated common sense tells me that when people are backpeddling to science “in and of itself,” I need to reach for my wallet.

    ***

    > Well, it depends on the definition, but I think so. It certainly was never “political” in any sense I can discern.

    By the same token, the molecules of my armchair are not comfortable. Should I infer that my armchair is not comfortable? I hope not, for I do find my armchair comfy.

    The main takeaway of this episode is that it shows how closet platonists share the same reflexes as contrarians when facing a reality they dislike.

  91. izen says:

    @-MT
    “Was this “science”?”

    No, it was the expression of an inate human competence, often labeled curiosity, that seeks patterns in its observations. That tries to link seperate aspects of experience into a unified description.

    It is an aspect of human cognition that is a basis of science. Necessary, but not sufficient.
    Science emerges when the observer writes up their description and it is distributed to other curious persons who compare notes. It requires at least a local culture of literacy and specialisation.
    There is a historical gradation from the accumulation of observation knowledge by religious institutions and the court advisers to a ruler, to the international research project that found the Higgs.

  92. I’ll chip in something, since I don’t entirely follow the arguments. I think my position is quite similar to that of MT’s (I may expand on this in a post too). I don’t think many active scientists/researchers think that politics and science are completely separate. They’re well aware that there are many political/societal influences. However, many believe that, despite this, science has this remarkable ability to uncover information about whatever it is that is studied. So, if someone is going to say “all science is political” or “science has always been political” it would seem worth being clear about what this means. These certainly seem to be phrases that could be easily misinterpreted.

  93. izen says:

    @-MT
    “So, if someone is going to say “all science is political” or “science has always been political” it would seem worth being clear about what this means. These certainly seem to be phrases that could be easily misinterpreted.”

    They are phrases that when used within certain contexts are intended to be ‘misinterpreted’.
    They are a ‘dog whistle’ to the idea that while science may claim to provide the best and most accurate answer to a question, it is often shaped, edited and adjusted to conform with political (and economic) interests.

    Perhaps it is revealing that the legitimacy and integrity of science as a social enterprise is attacked by associating it with politics that are clearly assumed to be inherently corrupt and fraudulent and in opposition to the pursuit of accurate knowledge about reality.
    (this only applies to your political opponents of course)

  94. Eliding science and advertising is a risky business, as it leads to scientists wanting to believe in the political ads in which they appear. As a matter of mere history, as opposed to Hollywood re-writes , the advertising and PR agencies that got their chops driving tobacco ads off the air in the sixties went on to take the point in the Climate Wars- something that causes Wolfe’s sciency cohort a lot of cognitive dissonance.

    CF

    https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/internet/2018/07/death-don-draper

  95. Chris says:

    Yes Izen makes an important point. Of course it depends how you define “science” (and how you define “politics”!) but science at least in its modern sense requires a community of researchers and a means for communication of experiments, observations and interpretations.

    David Wotton in his excellent “The Invention of Science” dates the Scientific Revolution (where earlier manifestations of scientific enquiry transitioned into a more modern type of science that involves the wider dissemination of individual scientist’s work and the progression of knowledge and understanding based on assessment of theories and hypotheses in the context of real world observations) to a period after the invention of the printing press. He goes for the 1560’s, the time where catalogues of the Frankfurt book fair were widely circulated throughout Europe allowing the development of communities of scientists that could engage in collective efforts towards understanding.

    So in astronomy the widespread dissemination of Regiomontanus’s work on using parallax measurements to estimate distances of distant objects became widely known and lead ultimately to general acceptance that Ptolemaic or Copernican theories were incompatible with observations. In anatomy the publication and dispersion of Vesalius’s “Fabric” resulted in widespread understanding that the authoritative acceptance of Galen’s ancient anatomy must give way to the direct evidence of one’s senses etc…

    At what point any scientific observations/interpretations intersect with the “political” sphere can be assessed in any particular specific case and depends on what one might mean by “political”!

  96. Chris says:

    ..and agreeing with Izen and AT just above, it’s pretty obvious that meaningless/”all-to-meaningful” slogans of the “Science has always been political” type are quite often used in “oh-so-reasonable” denigrations of scientific observations/interpretations that some particular group happens not to like.

    There is a point in the 20th century, possibly around the time of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”,where science transitioned from an apparent unarguable public good (March of Dimes; War on Cancer; Men on the Moon) to a more conflicted status where scientific discoveries/advances could have (i) rather apparent potentially negative consequences/side effects and (ii) impact negatively on particular vested interests. So the nature of the politicisation of science has changed rather markedly through this period.

  97. izen says:

    @-Chris
    “He goes for the 1560’s, the time where catalogues of the Frankfurt book fair were widely circulated throughout Europe allowing the development of communities of scientists that could engage in collective efforts towards understanding.”

    The invention of printing is certainly a powerful catalyst for the expansion and evolution of science. But 1560 Frankfurt may be a little late and Eurocentric.

    Hand copying is clearly inferior to printing. Although if you have rulers that devotes significant human resources to hand copying every book and scroll of interest, and finances translation and dissemination of that literature, and funds original research, it can make up for a lot of the limits that lack of printing may impose.

    It is no accident that a lot of the most important new printed books in the emergence of European science, especially in astronomy and medicine, were from the Golden age of Arab science. (800-1450?)

  98. Willard says:

    > Perhaps it is revealing that the legitimacy and integrity of science as a social enterprise is attacked by associating it with politics that are clearly assumed to be inherently corrupt and fraudulent and in opposition to the pursuit of accurate knowledge about reality.

    In my own ClimateBall experience, I’ve seen more attacks on legitimacy and integrity of science by appealing to a higher level of legitimacy and integrity than by invoking some POMO relativism. See for yourself:

    https://twitter.com/search?q=ipcc%20political%20agenda&src=typd

    The Contrarian Matrix (e.g. Senior and Judy) confirms what it knew all along. Being more Catholic than the Pope won’t work, because AGW does not abide by the seven sigma method.

    Speaking of which, Regiomontanus was an astrologer.

    ***

    Furthermore, introducing the idea that science is political baits contrarians in falling for an exchange they always lose:

    [C] It’s all politics!
    [W] Yet nature bats last

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/dialog-on-nature/

    There is a similar exchange on the epistemic side, i.e. “but uncertainty,” or Mr. T for the acquainted. A recent one:

    [Joe] It’s wise to wait untill it’s clear how much action.
    [W] Absolutely, Joe. Next time a car is coming at you, make sure you know first.

    I pity the fool who tries to restrict science to what we know and defend at the same time IPCC’s authority. To borrow from the “guns don’t kill’ defense, Science has no legitimacy or integrity. Only scientific authorities have.

  99. Chris says:

    Yes I guess (Izen) that the point Wootton is making is that the Revolution in Science (i.e. towards a “modern” nature of scientific enquiry) requires that a relatively rapid wide dissemination of the work of individual scientists throughout communities of scientists takes place to allow for a progressive approach to interpretation and understanding.

    In medicine/anatomy the role of Arabic science was important not least in maintaining Galen’s influence through translation of his work into Arabic together with some critique of his assertions as a result of experimentation and empirical observation. Still Medieval Europe still considered Galen to be the authority on the human body and it was (according to Wootton) only with widespread and rapid dissemination of work of individual scientists that the communities of scientists that is the characteristic of modern science could develop (going back to astronomy Wootton cites the example of Brahe who could assess over 100 publications of the comet of 1577 and determine that four of what he considered to be the best “observers” produce results compatible with his own).

    But yes, no question of the strong Arab influence on the development of science.

    Rapid and widespread dissemination of the work of scientists via printing also helped to cement another of the important features of science as we know it, namely the question of priority in relation to discovery…

  100. Chris says:

    Speaking of which, Regiomontanus was an astrologer.

    ..and Isaac Newton was an occultist and alchemist!

    Whether or not Regiomontanus was an “astrologer” whatever that designation might mean, he was a kick-ass modernist [*] who made a massive contribution to astronomical understanding through the invention of a method of determining distances via parallax measurements in the 1470s.

    [*] writing in 1463: “…I cannot [but] wonder at the indolence of the typical astronomers of our age, who, just like credulous women, receive as something divine and immutable whatever they come across in books…. for they believe in writers [such as Ptolomy] and make no effort to find the truth”. [quoting Wootton, p. 188

  101. mt says:

    iz, that is *a* legitimate meaning of the word “science” but it is not *the* meaning.

    (I assure you that I *thought* I was doing science at the time. I probably got the idea for my experiments from a kids’ science book that said “science” on the cover.)

    There are numerous overlapping but not distinct meanings of the word. That’s the problem – we’re debating a slogan intended for mass consumption.

    You don’t *get to* define your words in a slogan. The context defines the word, potentially differently for every observer of the claim. Every vernacular meaning is invoked.

  102. Willard says:

    > Isaac Newton was an occultist and alchemist!

    Perhaps, but he was a lousy one, whereas Regiomontanus’ houses are still hawt in the astrology world:

    http://skyscript.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3565

    Astrology was the ancient psychology. Studying a bit of it should be enough to realize the size of the Lobstersonian imposture.

    Anywho. All is going well. Please carry on.

  103. Willard says:

    > You don’t *get to* define your words in a slogan. The context defines the word, potentially differently for every observer of the claim. Every vernacular meaning is invoked.

    Indeed, which is why I refuse to commit to one, and why my argument applies to every natural ones, above all the myth of Science as scientia, which I surmise is the main target of the slogan. The #HistorianSignBunny hashtag wasn’t meant to state trivial claims.

    Suppose a historian of science said that religion has always been political. If theologians started replying “well, it depends upon what you mean by religion and politics,” it would be hard not to interpret it as defensiveness.

  104. mt says:

    Is there a distinction to be made between defense and defensiveness?

    Certainly I find myself on the defensive here. I feel unfairly attacked. Or more specifically, I feel that some of humanity’s greatest achievements are being massively disrespected.

    Those of us who don’t want to throw out the scientia baby with the science-as-social-construct bathwater do feel that we are under attack by over-broad bunny-calims. It is hard to find an alternative formulation to the one that our amazing precious contribution is being quite unfairly dismissed as vague and inconsequential.

    Recognizing the failures of institutions and individuals is important. But the world isn’t entirely about failure and abuse. There are immense achievements, and if we find ourselves in a context where those achievements do not seem acknowledged, we are definitely going to complain.

  105. Steven Mosher says:

    “You don’t *get to* define your words in a slogan. The context defines the word, potentially differently for every observer of the claim. Every vernacular meaning is invoked.”

    err not so sure about that. The “meaning” of a term is not inhernet in the sign OR in those signs
    that we refer to as the “context”

    The meaning of a sign is the response(s) to a sign. And the responses to the sign are varied.
    The “acceptable” responses to the sign are channeled and limited by social control. You say
    X means Y, and other people who have to use the same language object and argue that X means Z. Hence my formulation that “science is political” is Idiosyncratic.

  106. Willard says:

    > Is there a distinction to be made between defense and defensiveness?

    The former can refer to the result of defending a position. The latter can describe a propensity to feel attacked for no good reason. The latter looks more plausible than the former, for the number of verbal defenses is just too damn high.

    Doing science is one of humanity’s most important achievements. The reliability of this achievement might be best explained by its close connection with reality. Reality may not involve any supernatural entity. Platonism does.

    Our scientific theories increase our control over our surrounding. This gives us power. Claiming to be the side that can harness this power the most provides a good sale pitch. Politicians like that. As long as the claim is truthful, that’s how it should be.

    Nothing in what I said undermines scientific realism. For every contrarian appeal to POMO, I bet I could find a hundred if not a thousand of Galileo gambits. The relativist dramatization thus remains of little importance as far as ClimateBall is concerned.

  107. dikranmarsupial says:

    > “Science has always been Political” comes very close (finer hairs have been split in the discussion already).

    Close to what – an ahistorical claim?

    I immediately preceded that with your quote ““Historians don’t make necessary claims.”” so it was entirely obvious what it was close to. Selective quoting to make it look as if there was ambiguity suggests there is no point continuing.

  108. Dave_Geologist says:

    blockquote>The main takeaway of this episode is that it shows how closet platonists share the same reflexes as contrarians when facing a reality they dislike.
    Or, that scientists who are used to evaluating evidence and placing it in the context of consilience, are not persuaded when presented with unsubstantiated claims made possible by playing with the meaning of words. I’f “where’s the beef” is Platonism, call me a proud Platonist. Although AFAICS (Wiki) I’m not. A reductionist perhaps, but that doesn’t seem to be the same thing. In some respects (“the existence of abstract objects, which are asserted to “exist” in a “third realm” distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness”), I’m the opposite. But not a nominalist as defined in Wiki. Which just shows you can have more than one opposite; or that Venn Diagrams can have more than two circles.

    BTW consilience is key, at least in modern times where science is broad. The same physics that tells us CO2 is a GHG explains how IR missiles reach their targets, and how to build them. GHG contrarians fail the consilience test, at least in the USA because most come from the demographic that lurvs the US military. The rest of don’t.

  109. Dave_Geologist says:

    And of course, in the context of AGW, nobody on the denier side interprets “science is political” as “scientific findings have political implications”. They interpret it as “science is politicised”, so results on AGW, evolution, genetic or hormonal influences on homosexuality, or the complete uselessness of skin colour as a measure of “race” (because those who reject it generally define race as “bloodline”, so DNA is relevant), can be ignored because the scientists are all biased librulz.

    The looseness of that definition makes it useful in the service of demagoguery, but not useful in the service of doing or, IMHO, understanding science.

  110. izen says:

    @-MT
    “Those of us who don’t want to throw out the scientia baby with the science-as-social-construct bathwater …”

    The two definitions, or aspects of ‘Science’ as an abstract body of (Platonic?) knowledge and a socially embedded process that increases our control over the surroundings are both legitimate.
    Although some philosophers may balk at the first.

    I suspect you may want the power inherent in scientific knowledge to be recognised as accurate because the methodology or social process of science is our most reliable way of gaining accurate knowledge.

    But for many, the respect that science enjoys derives from its utile applications, the power over resources it confers. What you refer to as its immense achievements. It is not the body of accurate knowledge, the Scientia, that causes it to be generally accepted as credible and legitimate, it is the technological application of the knowledge gained.

    The fruits of applied science, good and bad, are what make it a politically significant activity and gain it trust or scepticism, not the abstract qualia of accuracy as a body of knowledge.

  111. izen says:

    @-MT
    “I’f “where’s the beef” is Platonism, call me a proud Platonist. Although AFAICS (Wiki) I’m not. A reductionist perhaps, but that doesn’t seem to be the same thing. In some respects I’m the opposite.”

    The test case is Mathamatics.
    Platonism holds that numbers and mathematical proofs are accessing an abstract realm of absolute truth that exists independently of any human cognition or understanding of those concepts. That Pi, or the Riemman hypothesis exist in some supernatural realm, waiting to be discovered by clever Mathematicians.

    The alternative(s) might hold that maths is a human constructed structure of coherent concepts that fortuitously are useful in describing the realty we live within. It exists only as a physical process within brains that are thinkng about such conceptual formulations.

    Platonists tend to resent the idea that maths is a human invented formalism because it undermines their claim to have access to absolute Truth via logical proof. Godel did not help their cause.
    Non-Platonic concepts of mathematics have a hard time explaining why this human construct of imaginary concepts, like imaginary numbers (i) has such a useful and close connection to the physics of the reality we can understand.

    YMMV

  112. Dave_Geologist says:

    MM is that there is an objective reality out there (but not a supernatural one), which science attempts to observe and understand. The Earth would still go round the Sun if there were no humans there to observe it. When a leaf falls unobserved, it really does fall and really does make a noise (organised vibration of air molecules) when it his the ground. When we hear the sound, that’s not the sound. It’s us hearing the sound. The sound of one hand clapping is a gentle susurration. Even if the clapper is deaf, blind and paralysed, and a machine s moving the hand for him

  113. Dave_Geologist says:

    As a matter of mere history, as opposed to Hollywood re-writes , the advertising and PR agencies that got their chops driving tobacco ads off the air in the sixties went on to take the point in the Climate Wars

    Do you have evidence for that claim Russell? ISTM that it would be crazy for ad and PR agencies to bite the hand that feeds them. Moral, maybe, but… Mad Men.

    The New Statesman article seems completely tangential and doesn’t mention tobacco once.

  114. Dave_Geologist says:

    Suppose a historian of science said that religion has always been political. If theologians started replying “well, it depends upon what you mean by religion and politics,” it would be hard not to interpret it as defensiveness.

    If you swap “always” with “mostly always” Willard, we don’t have to split fine hairs, just use ordinary, everyday meanings. For example, most states through history have had a State Religion. The Old Testament was history-written-to-make-us-feel-good as well as a set of religious admonitions. Lots of States today define themselves by their religion. The current balance in the USA is readily explained by the fact that conservative politics and conservative religion naturally attract the same people. OTOH, as you say, nature bats last. There is no “conservative science”. There is some conservative science denial. Nature ain’t batting for that side.

  115. izen says:

    @-Dave_G
    “The sound of one hand clapping is a gentle susurration. Even if the clapper is deaf, blind and paralysed, and a machine s moving the hand for him”

    Given the reported propensity for Zen Masters to encourage enlightenment by hitting their pupils I have always suspected that the koan about the sound of one hand clapping referred to the noise of being smacked upside the head.

  116. Willard says:

    > Or, that scientists who are used to evaluating evidence and placing it in the context of consilience, are not persuaded when presented with unsubstantiated claims made possible by playing with the meaning of words.

    Closing ranks, just like contrarians do. That at least shows more discipline than usual. But repeating something doesn’t make it true, more so when “placing it in a context of consilience” is an appeal to authority that evokes patchwriting more than anything.

    Asking for definitions is a trick as old as Socrates.

  117. Willard says:

    > nobody on the denier side interprets “science is political” as “scientific findings have political implications”.

    Speaking of unsubstantiated claims.

  118. Willard says:

    > If you swap “always” with “mostly always” Willard, we don’t have to split fine hairs, just use ordinary, everyday meanings.

    One does not simply sloganize with weasel words, Dave. Either you dispute the claim as is or you fold. I’m not the one who misrepresents the context and the historical nature of the claim, or neutralizes its effect by trivializing its predicates or its scope.

    But your taking on “always” shows progress. All we miss is to wonder about the meaning of “has been” – the culprit of the main locus of ambiguity if you ask me.

  119. Dave_Geologist says:

    “The following tweet states a fact”. “many historians of science attest” is not as substantial, IMHO, as the recent demonstration that a star speeding past our Galaxy’s central black hole behaved just as expected from Einstein’s Theory and not as expected from Newton’s laws.

    The “mostly”, Willard, comes from “science is always provisional”. Even if there has never been a contrary observation, we can’t rule one out in future. Sweeping statements make for neat logic-chopping, but I was taught that they’re a bad debating strategy (one counter-example sweeps them away) and they’re bad science (although often used as shorthand for “the current consensus”).

    Of course outside of formal debating, people don’t back down when the counter-example is presented. They say “it’s the exception that proves the rule”, or in the current Fake News environment, double down and deny reality.

    At the risk of getting into a definition-o-round, “has been” could be read to imply that things have changed and it’s now apolitical. But I doubt if that’s what was meant. That’s the problem with ambiguity. If it was meant in the sense that’s been discussed by me and others above, I would maintain that it’s only true if you broaden the definition of science in a way that includes the practice of and implications of science. I.e. social behaviours which are (largely, that pesky provisionalism again 😉 ) independent of the underlying science. YMMV. I would also argue that such broad definitions are less useful, because you have to spend a lot of time explaining exactly what sub-definition you’re using.

    Hence my preference for the greater clarity of “climate science has political implications” (TRUE) and “climate science is politicised” (TRUE in the sense that a political furore has grown up around it, FALSE in the sense that the Berkeley conservatives came up with essentially the same answer as everyone else).

  120. Dave_Geologist says:

    Re evidence, Google “climate science is political”. Top hits in order:

    Primate, CC response is an example of what you were saying about how climate science is political and unscientific. (CFI Forums)

    So, of course the climate science is ‘political’. Exxon just finds it more effective to ‘make it political’ than to do its own science, (SkS, opening quote mark should presumably be three words earlier… it’s such a common contrarian meme that they’ve made the effort to debunk it!)

    Claims of a consensus was an early sign climate science was political. (timball – so if scientists disagree, it’s not settled, but if they agree, it’s definitely a hoax! Orwell would be proud. Or sad.)

    Climate “Science” is Political Theater Theory Goes Mainstream (co2islife)

    Claims of a consensus was an early sign climate science was political. (wtf’s blog)

    Climate science is not a political issue. What we do with climate science is political. Whether we find climate science is political. Whether we write about it is political. (JerryChilds – the first hit that wasn’t either a denier meme or the rubuttal of one).

    Need I go on?

  121. Willard says:

    > Sweeping statements make for neat logic-chopping, but I was taught that they’re a bad debating strategy (one counter-example sweeps them away) and they’re bad science (although often used as shorthand for “the current consensus”).

    Were you really taught to debate, Dave. Were you really taught to debate. Perhaps it all depends upon what “debate” could mean.

    One counter-example of “science has always been political” would be a good idea.

    ***

    > At the risk of getting into a definition-o-round, “has been” could be read to imply that things have changed and it’s now apolitical. But I doubt if that’s what was meant. That’s the problem with ambiguity.

    That’s the problem with contrarian parsomatics. Ordinarily, at least in my experience, people don’t go out on a limb to misconstrue what is being said. When what is being said threatens their identity, they become more defensive. Even philosophy students learn to chill on definition games after a semester or so.

  122. Willard says:

    > Need I go on?

    Not to improve the consilience of my own position. Take the two last examples:

    (Consensus) Claims of a consensus was an early sign climate science was political.

    (Ought and Is) Climate science is not a political issue. What we do with climate science is political.

    No relativism seems implied by these two claims. The emphasized bit looks quite compatible with Science as scientia. Just as is the “science doesn’t work by consensus” contrarian line. Using “science” in scare quotes presumes that we could use it without scare quotes.

    Need I go on?

  123. Dave_Geologist says:

    Yes, Wiilard, I was taught to debate. A long time ago. Formal, Cambridge-Union-rules style, where you don’t know which side you’ll be on until you sit down. And yes, No Sweeping Satements was one of the first teachings. One counter-example gets you heavily marked down by the arbitrator, unless you can immediately rebut it.

    These, of course, are not TV debate rules, parliamentary debate rules or internet debate rules. Nevertheless… Countershading and Stripes in the Theropod Dinosaur Sinosauropteryx Reveal Heterogeneous Habitats in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota. In my sense of political. having political implications, or having politics influence the scientists’ results. Yes Creationists hate it, and Creationists exploit politics, and many of them in the USA are committed Republicans, but their objection to evolution is religious, not political. Did NERC fund the research for political purposes? Would a Democrat have found blue melanin and a Republican red melanin?

    The Google evidence, of course, was to demonstrate that “science is political” is a dog-whistle for “science is politicised”, in my second, FALSE sense. IMO mainstreaming that dog-whistle legitimises it and gives them a fig-leaf to hide behind.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about the last example. I agree with the Twitterer, and therefore I agree with you that it is quite compatible with Science as scientia. I included that one to show how far down the list I had to go to get past the Science as political propaganda stuff, and reach something compatible with my viewpoint.

  124. Dave_Geologist says:

    And seriously Willard. Are you really claiming that a poster on Watts’ site meant political in the sense of cooperative endeavour, or political in the sense that the science is as per consensus but has political implications, or political in the sense that the 97% studies (which are social science, not climate science) were prompted by a political response to the implications of climate science, or political in the sense that the IPCC was set up at the request of governments run by politicians? As opposed to political in the sense that liberal scientists faked or misinterpreted the hard science to further a political agenda, and that AGW is a liberal/Chinese/UN/whatever hoax?

  125. Willard says:

    > Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about the last example. I agree with the Twitterer, and therefore I agree with you that it is quite compatible with Science as scientia. I included that one to show how far down the list I had to go to get past the Science as political propaganda stuff, and reach something compatible with my viewpoint.

    By “how far down,” I take it you are referring to your fifth hit, Dave. Your second hit repeats your fourth hit, i.e. “science ain’t consensus,” which shows how common is this contrarian meme. It certainly abides by science as scientia – MT repeats it in his post. The third hit, the science-in-scare quotes, which presumably appeals to Science-without-scare-quotes.

    Please mind sweeping statements.

    So all remains is your first hit, which conveys that Science should be objective:

    (Psychology) Primate, CC response is an example of what you were saying about how climate science is political and unscientific. (CFI Forums)

    Relativists usually hold that scientific claims are more subjective than that, and won’t go so far as to reject some discourse as unscientific because it’s politicized.

    Did I miss anything?

  126. Willard says:

    > The Google evidence, of course, was to demonstrate that “science is political” is a dog-whistle for “science is politicised”, in my second, FALSE sense. IMO mainstreaming that dog-whistle legitimises it and gives them a fig-leaf to hide behind.

    “Science is political” implies something more general than “climate science has been politicized.” Standing that aside, to claim that climate science has been politicized helps a contrarian exactly because it intimates that science should not be political. This in turn implies the negation of “science is political,” at least insofar as it’s interpreted as Science as scientia.

    (Such contradiction doesn’t obtain if we compare a historical claim with a normative claim. History is independent from what Science should be.)

    Since what you call a dog-whistle seems uncontroversial among mainstream historians of science, Dave, I suggest that your concern over it is a bit late. And in all honesty, I won’t bet on you in a debate where you have to define Science in a way that would make “climate science has been politicized” false. It would eat up your seven minutes, and you’d have to deploy your opponent’s framing. That climate science has been politicized is as plain as a fact as one can get, and facts don’t care about your meanings.

  127. dave s says:

    This all depends on how you define political, and how you define science.

    Originally, science meant knowledge, and natural philosophy was what we think of as science.

    Politics, in a broad sense, merely means social context, and obviously all human endeavours are part of the social context. The argument’s inherently meaningless, but in the current context of certain religious politics which are anti-science it becomes a way of disputing the validity of science. As a proponent of anti-science says, FAKE NEWS!!!!

  128. jacksmith4tx says:

    The concept of “Science Has Always Been Political” must seem ironic to the members of the Chinese central committee which is overwhelmingly populated by scientists, engineers and Phd’s.

  129. izen says:

    @-Dave_G

    The most common accusation is that climate science is not proper science because it is shaped by a political agenda.

    This is not a new mode of attack on science. Evolutionary biology has met the same tactic, it is dismissed as all fraudulent and corrupt because it has the secular political agenda of imposing material naturalism in an attempt to overthrow the social order and stability conferred by Faith.

    The key is that the political agenda that the accusation claims has distorted the science is always an evil, corrupt ideology that threatens all that is good, true and apple-pie-ish. The unstated (and false) assumption is that proper science occupies a realm of perfect neutrality in relation to every aspect of the religious, political and economic order.

    Science in this context is never considered to be shaped by a benign of favoured political agenda that seeks to use the best knowledge we have to preserve the functional stability of society by avoiding damaging actions or improve the conditions and increase resources.

    This thread has already seen accusations that the IPCC is not providing accurate science because it is shaped by neo-Marxists colluding with anti-science hippies who want to impose the NWO via UN21 and return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
    Or that it was set up to avoid politically uncomfortable scientific reports direct from scientists unmediated by political advice. The SPM is the result.

    When science is accused of fraud or error because of a political agenda it is always worth asking what that political agenda is, and how it motivates the institutions of science, and thousands of researchers, to falsify or distort results. Behaviour which seem inimical to the declared core values of science.
    It would seem an awful risk (and difficult trick to pull off) to take for political motivations that are clearly not shared by a majority of the institutions and people involved…

  130. izen says:

    Perhaps it is worth adding that the Creationists eventually set up the Discovery Institute to ‘do science’ that was untainted by fraudulent agenda of secular philosophy.

    It was explicitly declared that all of THEIR science (and scientists) would conform to the Word of God.
    Specifically a literal interpretation of Genesis.

    Never seem to occur to them that they had created the very thing they accused their opponents of doing.
    (NIPCC ?!)

  131. Dave_Geologist says:

    jack, nice shoehorn, but do you seriously believe modern China is still Communist – an autocracy certainly, led by a party that still calls itself Communist, but they abandoned Marx and Lenin a couple of decades ago. And no, five-year plans don’t a communist make. Hitler and Mussolini had panned economies too. It’s how they built the autobahns and made the trains run on time.

    And even if it were true, the precept is silly. Scientists can have political views and become politicians, So can farmers, truck drivers, astronauts and housewives. That doesn’t make hoeing, driving, leaving earth orbit or doing the laundry a political act.

    And to crown it all, you didn’t check the membership did you?

    In rankWiki order, military, military, economics PhD and businessman, bureaucrat, chemical-factory-worker-turned-language student(undergrad I presume), bureaucrat, politician, engineering PhD (not science), military, head of nationalised industries, journalist/propagandist, language-student/diplomat, security services, journalist/propagandist, oilman, accountant, philosopher, economist, engineer (undergrad), political theorist, political science (which of course is not science in the climate-science sense), career party functionary, philosopher, military, architect.

    I gave up after the Wangs. You’re welcome to search the rest for scientists. So far I’ve found none. The closest you can get is two engineers (who are STEM but not scientists), only one of whom has a PhD. Out of 23. Two PhDs, one of whom is already counted as an engineer. So three “scientists, engineers and Phd’s”. Out of 23. Overwhelmingly populated? Not. Overwhelming research quality on your part? Not. Fake News on your part? Absolutely. Sad!

  132. Dave_Geologist says:

    Willard, are you seriously suggesting that posts on some of the top denialist websites, posts that are clicked so often they get top Google rankings, are saying that “climate science has been politicized” in your sense when that say “Climate science is political”? And not that mainstream climate science has been faked for political reasons? I didn’t check because I don’t like to give them clicks and they’re unpleasant places to visit. But my Bayesian prior is 99% that they mean it in my way. Not just from the website, but from the high ranking. If it was actually an adult visiting the room and calling out the lies and misconceptions, it would be much further down the rankings.

    You’re welcome to check. If I’m wrong. I’ll admit it. Meanwhile I’ve retired to my chair.

  133. dave s says:

    From Bowler & Morus, “Making Modern Science” , University of Chicago Press (2005) –

    ‘Historians now are far less happy to talk at all about “science” during the seventeenth century. … men of science and natural philosophers (as they would describe themselves) engaged in a whole range of activities that may or may not fit comfortably with modern notions of science” p. 24

    ‘Far from being religiously or ideologically neutral, the members of the Royal Society had a very definite social agenda. They may not all have been Puritans, as some scholars allege, but they professed a liberal Anglicanism and support for the restoration monarchy and the new mercantile basis for creating wealth’ p. 325 [about the first truly lasting scientific organization, at its foundation in 1660]

    Political?

  134. dikranmarsupial says:

    Francis Bacon would be a good example of that, the nature of science was only one of his many interests, politics and economics was another.

    Perhaps one of the things that distinguishes science is the requirement to follow (possibly kicking and screaming) where the evidence takes you, even if it doesn’t agree with your ideological position. For instance, WUWT’s surface station project is science, regardless of the intentions/expectations of those involved; gathering data to test a hypothesis about reality is science. ISTR it ended up not supporting the hypothesis?

    As Dr. Audra J. Wolfe has written books on “Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America” and “Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science”, I think it is likely that she means “political” in the sense of governance (in which case I think “All science is Political” is [marketing?] hyperbole).

  135. dave s says:

    Also, see Adrian Desmond’s “The Poliitcs of Evolution” for the turbulent scenes of the 1820s and 1830s when the London gentlemen of science held knowledge of biology as fixed and unchangeable, in the same way as their politics were of unchanging aristocratic rule, while the radical revolutionaries seized on Lamarckian ideas of transmutation of species to justify inexorable progress and reforms including improved education and widening the electorate.

    Competing sciences, both political.

  136. Steven Mosher says:

    “As Dr. Audra J. Wolfe has written books on “Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America” and “Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science”, I think it is likely that she means “political” in the sense of governance (in which case I think “All science is Political” is [marketing?] hyperbole).”

    I dont know.

    I tried to make a distinction between

    A) The institutions of science ( Journals, Companies, Governments, Universities, NGOs)
    which direct, reward, punish, encourage, etc scientific behavior
    B) Sciencing or the behavior that Humans ( not exclusively) that these institutions reward:
    doing experiments, making predictions, explain past phenomena, writing papers, etc
    C) Science Product: E=Mc^2 … The prescriptions that work.

    And I was informed that one could not distinguish these three ( weirdly false on its face since I just did distingusih them)

    A) it seems to me is clearly political in the ordinary sense of the word “poltical”
    B) is designed in such a way as to minimize or eliminate the most pernicious forms of
    political will to power.
    and
    C) can largely be regarded as “apolitical” provided it works and has stood the test of time
    That is, for all PRACTICAL purposes ( and not for liberal arts scorning points purposes)
    It can be regarded as “apolitical”.

  137. Brigitte says:

    I have lost track, but WHY can’t one make the distinction you make???? I don’t understand!!!

  138. dikranmarsupial says:

    Because the discussion might make some progress? ;o)

    I think I would make broadly similar distinctions.

  139. dave s says:

    The categories are one way of looking at it, but they miss the elephant….

    (A) the institutions, publishers, universities, NGOs are the infrastructure, and no more political than any other infrastructure, though dependent on political decisions

    (B) “sciencing” is just another name for scientific methodology, which aims to be a self-correcting process regardless of any political input

    (C) science product: knowledge (data), theory, and methodology for engineering, biology etc.

    (D) science as validation or otherwise of beliefs – hence, when (C) goes against political or religious beliefs, pseudoscience such as climate change denial or creationism (including “intelligent design” 🙂

    WUWT is of course an example of (D), fringe views claiming to be True Science and denigrating mainstream science as “political”

  140. Brigitte says:

    I once wrote something with a Rusi Jaspal on ‘contesting science by appealing to its norms’ http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1075547012459274 (climate change) (the word ‘hegemonic’ we used is a jargon term, from the theory of social representations, meaning: widely shared, uniform and used by groups with high solidarity)

  141. dave s says:

    Thanks Brigitte, that’s fascinating and very helpful.

    Even just reading the abstract, “reader comments published in the Daily Mail, subsequent to climategate” and straightaway you’re into an alternative universe!
    After chatting with Daily Mail readers, have eventually agreed to avoid talking about climate.

  142. Chris says:

    Yes interesting – I kind of agreee with dave s,

    I’ve been pondering in what way the science i do (have been a scientist for all my career) is in any way political. I just can’t see it. I’ve pretty much always worked in Universities so one could say that there’s a political element to that but in that case everything (at least any institution-related work) is political (see dave s part (A) above). The science I do is no more “political” than the work done in the NHS hospital down the road.

    One could say that any contribution I’ve made to understanding the mechanisms of drug action (for example) is political since it might intersect with real world therapeutic intervention, but then one would have to say that the development of drugs in the pharma industry is political (maybe you could stretch the meaning of ‘political’ to include that) and the development of software in the gaming industry is political etc. etc..

    The above applies to pretty much all the colleagues I’ve ever worked with/come in contact with. We’re all trying to find stuff out. Some of it (not much in my case probably!) has some real world implications.

    It is curious that the “Science has always been political” mantra has a sort of Kuhn-ian element in that it seems to deal with the large set-piece rather revolutionary developments in science that Kuhn preoccupied himself with. It’s these that intersect with the political since they (in the past) have tended towards widespread influence of our view of the world. The modern manifestations of these (sequencing the human genome; dark matter; discovery of “Earth-like” planets; human-induced global warming??) may have political implications (human genome) but only one of them as far as I can see has been “politicized”.

    Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that “Science has always been susceptible to politicization”…

  143. Willard says:

    > I’ve pretty much always worked in Universities so one could say that there’s a political element to that but in that case everything (at least any institution-related work) is political (see dave s part (A) above).

    Even if true, it still makes more sense to remind non-historians of science that science too is political. More sense than say “Religion has always been political,” “governments have always been political,” “central banks have always been political.”

    Definition games may not always be political. Ours is. It helps reinforce the myth of Science as scientia, and with it the authority Reality endows to Knowledge.

    I predict this idol will die too, one day. One funeral at a time.

  144. Chris says:

    Definition games may not always be political. Ours is. It helps reinforce the myth of Science as scientia, and with it the authority Reality endows to Knowledge.

    Does it? I don’t think anyone very much considers Science to be scientia in the way you indicate (leading to … “authority Reality endows to Knowledge”). If the science that most scientists do can’t really be described as “political” that doesn’t mean that their science might not have some influence. Most scientists consider (I would say) that in finding stuff out/solving problems they contribute to the development of their fields; provide methodologies that will advance their research areas; result in development of useful things (materials; therapies; methods; software…). So it’s not just about finding stuff out for it’s own sake (sometimes it is!)

    not sure I fully get the concept of “authority Reality endows to Knowledge”. In the present era in which authority is very much (rightly) questioned I would have thought better descriptions would be around the authority that Evidence endows to Knowledge since any authority science might have comes from the evidence-base behind the scientific interpretations we might make.

  145. Willard says:

    > I don’t think anyone very much considers Science to be scientia in the way you indicate

    I, OTOH, think it follows from the definition game of abstracting away scientific knowledge from anything that could corrupt it by human politics. Compare and contrast:

    [E1] E will still equal m * c squared even if we light off all the nuclear weapons on the planet and reduce humanity back to scattered tribes of illiterate hunter-gatherers.

    [E2] Science Product: E=Mc^2 … The prescriptions that work.

    The only difference between E1 and E2 is that E2 explicitly states the scientific vehicle, it is a “product” that contains a “prescription.” Both concepts are enough to see the political aspect of science. People decide which products to sell, and which prescriptions to use.

    To fall back to E1, you could say something like “what is known to be true about the world, independently from however we formulate it.” Some call that Knowledge. It’s a known gambit, as old as the Thaetetus.

    If science excludes everything that produces it, it becomes a pure abstraction. This has consequences. For starters, agentless abstractions don’t carry any authority. It could still be a source of authority, however, like Reason, or God. But then one needs to bite the bullet and accept that one clings to an idol. The alternative is to accept that science is a human endeavour. This can include everything humans do to pursue truth. It’s more natural.

    There may be political reasons why scientists are still entertaining the belief that they are the depositors of an immanent authority. There’s a new word to express that kind of thing – privilege.

  146. jacksmith4tx says:

    Dave_Geologist,
    I was wrong and I appreciate your effort to lay out the facts. I think I got fooled by reading a website that frequently leans anti-american. For the record I got my info (from memory) last year from the web site AisaTimes http://www.atimes.com/
    At the time the article was published China had just announced they had changed their national education policy to focus on STEM programs and there were many opinion stories put out that were throwing shade on the US education system and in particular, the Trump administration. They were particularly brutal on Betsy DeVos and her qualifications to head the Dept. of Education. They were probably right about her but the stuff they claimed about the China leadership was at best cherry picked.

    Apologies to all.

  147. dave s says:

    Willard, your analysis looks wonky.

    E=Mc^2 is basically just a statement of units, part of the theory of relativity which goes from there to the implication that energy and mass are equivalent and transmutable, and from known data, a little mass transmutes to has a lot of energy. There are other inferences in the whole theory, including gravity, but that particular one is a pointer to the potential of nuclear energy and nuclear explosions.

    Politics only arises in the further research and engineering of these outcomes, confirming that they work and how to make them work.

    As for the basis, the work of Hendrik Lorentz seems to have come from astronomy and physics, so not obviously political, Einstein as a graduated physics teacher working in a patent office while looking for a teaching post produced his 1905 paper on special relativity using Lorentz’s work. No clear political connection there. Public fame came with his later development of general relativity, and fifteen hears after his paper he gained a reputation as a peace activist who welcomed recognition of Jewish people, so now it’s getting political, but that simply means that public fame leads to publicity for his non-science thoughts – it doesn’t make the original science political.

  148. Willard says:

    > E=Mc^2 is basically just a statement of units,

    How instrumentalist of you, dave s. I thought realists thought of it as a law of nature.

    And what do you mean by statement?

    ***

    > Politics only arises in the further research and engineering of these outcomes, confirming that they work and how to make them work.

    You’ve just excluded confirmation from science. Science then becomes a set of things we state without having confirmed it. Looks strange to me.

  149. Dave_Geologist says:

    Well said jack. And apologies if I was a bit short. Blame morning coffee but no breakfast yet 😦 . Though on reflection, I’ve probably been a bit grumpy over the weekend. Too much computer time after the sunny weather broke and it rained at the weekend (I’m retired but weekends are still a time to do stuff with working friends or relatives 🙂 ).

    Lack of subject knowledge is not a problem for Cabinet ministers. At least, not as long as they take the expert advice of the career professionals. I once checked how many UK Chancellors (finance minister) had maths or accounting backgrounds. Answer: none. Although Stafford Cripps (1947-50) did study Chemistry at University before switching to Law, so he must have had A Level maths or it’s equivalent to get in. Hmmm, on the other hand, given the UK’s economic performance post-WWII, maybe I should take back that first sentence 😉 .

  150. Dave_Geologist says:

    Ah! I see. Sinosauropteryx’s stripes and pale underbelly are political because if China hadn’t opened up to the West after Kissinger’s visits, we’d never have learned about the Jehol biota and the fossil would never have been discovered and described. But there are a gazillion other non-human factors which allowed it to be preserved so exquisitely, such as the palaeoenvironment (calm lakes, anoxic conditions, periodic ashfalls), tectonic history (expose to erosion at just the right time, not sheared, crushed or metamorphosed) and economic attractiveness leading to quarrying (coal and oil shale). So presumably science is not just political, it’s lacustrine, anoxic, volcanic, tectonic, low-strain, non-metamporphic and industrial. Hmm, failing the usefulness test I think.

    Maybe some Communist party administrator had to authorise collaboration with the West? Check Acknowledgements. Nope. “We would like to to tnank Yunbai Zhang and Diying Huang for access and help with specimens.” Both palaeontologists, not CP officials.

    Still not getting it. At least for a useful definition of political. Or of science.

  151. Chris says:

    I gave up after the Wangs.

    Ah yes, that brings to mind the particular difficulty China has with it’s telephone directory system that some of you may be familiar with. There are so many Wings and so many Wongs that everyone is always winging the wong number…

  152. Willard says:

    > Sinosauropteryx’s stripes and pale underbelly are political because if China hadn’t opened up to the West after Kissinger’s visits, we’d never have learned about the Jehol biota and the fossil would never have been discovered and described.

    That not every parts and bits of science aren’t political doesn’t imply that science in general hasn’t always been, Dave.

    If you could retry your ridicule without the division fallacy, that’d be great.

  153. Pingback: Science might be political, but….. | …and Then There's Physics

  154. izen says:

    @-Dave_G
    E=mc2 was political because it was an integral part of developing nuclear weapons, something Einstein and others discussed with politicians before the development of that technological application.

    Sinosauropteryx’s stripes and pale underbelly are political only to the extent that body of research is an anathema to Creationists.

    One argument against Science having an intrinsic ‘truth’ value is that at every stage it has had a massive void within it of aspects of reality it has been completely unable to encompass.
    The age of the Earth, heat, energy and combustion, the origin of species and the nature of magnetism and light have all been problems often studiously ignored by science when they were beyond any scientific explanation. Or only had ad hoc tradition to inform the answer.

    Maxwell’s equations unifying magnatism and electricity implied an invarient lightspeed in any frame of reference, confirmed by experiment (Michealson/Morely) a contradiction of Newtonian mechanics, until Einstein and GR.
    The Ultraviolet catastrophe was also a void in science until Quatum mech.

    And in the present there is the glaring problem of Dark matter/energy…

  155. dave s says:

    E=Mc^2 as basically just a statement of units – my recollection is working through that, and at least in SI it’s almost just the definition of energy related to mass; beyond that, and well beyond me, is Einstein’s special theory of relativity of 1905. Good point that further research and confirmation can be part of normal science with no political aspect.

    Izen, to say it “was political because it was an integral part of developing nuclear weapons, something Einstein and others discussed with politicians before the development of that technological application” seems a time warp, as Einstein developed special relativity in 1905 and there’s no reason for that to have been political. When he discussed its practical application some thirty odd years later, that discussion had political implications, but that doesn’t mean the original theory became political retrospectively.

  156. dave s says:

    As for the origin of species, it wasn’t “studiously ignored by science” when still beyond any scientific explanation; it was the topic of ideas of transmutation published by various men of science across Europe, disreputable in England because a religious commitment to fixity of species had developed.

    Even at the upper reaches of the English establishment, the very reputable Sir John Herschel openly discussed in 1836 “that mystery of mysteries, the replacement of extinct species by others”, which “could it ever come under our cognizance, would be found to be a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous process”. Charles Darwin visited Herschel later that year, and in 1837 began speculating in his notebooks that possibly “one species does change into another”.

  157. Willard says:

    > One argument against Science having an intrinsic ‘truth’ value is that at every stage it has had a massive void within it of aspects of reality it has been completely unable to encompass.

    We could extend that point to every empirical claim. Phlogiston was once upon time science. It’s not anymore. The question then arises: who decided that, and when? Hard-nosed scientists might profit from listening to historians of science on such matter. They’re the ones who review the relevant evidence.

    We can handwave away all this and stipulate that a consensus decided that phlogistons were meh. But then is consensus science or not? If it is, then the plausibility of our platonists’ failure to grasp the political nature of scientific decisions become moot. If not, then they exclude from science what is posited to bypass the work of historians of science.

    Whatever the horn chosen, platonists need to face the fact that their conception of science has one main use – it’s a club to club away non club members. “It’s not science” becomes the same kind of out-group slug as “you’re not a scientist.” Seen under that light, “science” then becomes a seal of approval more than something that helps understand the world.

    The only constructive way out is to follow through the semantics consequences of abstracting science from its implementation. Some call it the semantic view of theories. It was quite popular in the 80s. Pay no attention to the fact that one of its most hard-core proponents was an anti-realist.

  158. izen says:

    @-dave s
    “Einstein developed special relativity in 1905 and there’s no reason for that to have been political.”

    In 1905, as part of his Special Theory of Relativity, he made the intriguing point that a large amount of energy could be released from a small amount of matter.
    And others speculated at the time that this could be a source of useful energy, or a weapon of war.

    Perhaps ‘studiously ignored’ is misleading. As with dark energy, it is not ignored, but the inability of current science to address the issue is. Just as the origin of species was the subject of speculation, but with no coherent methodology that indicated that science could provide an answer.

  159. Dave_Geologist says:

    There are so many Wings and so many Wongs

    I presume it’s their version of Smith and Jones. Probably part of the inspiration for the TV comedy show i>Alas Smith and Jones, also a pun on the contemporary cowboy show. Of course Scotland has lots of Macs and Mcs, and Ireland lots of O’s (plus their own Macs and Mcs). Germanic and Slavic languages have it easy, putting son, sen or ich, itch at the end. I guess family names were invented before telephone directories 😦 .

  160. Dave_Geologist says:

    OK, here’s another palaeontological example Willard. Did you know that elephants are fish? Not only that:

    The following phrase states a fact many palaeontologicists attest (in fact pretty much all of them for the last three or four decades, with only a few anti-cladistic holdouts*):

    Elephants have always been fish.

    Don’t believe me? (Image has a funny format and may not display inline)

    https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-4882f1777fa7f1dd512b05d69c945f9d

    Tetrapoda fall within Sarcopterygii, which fall within Osteichthyes, which fall within Gnathostomata. You can stop there if you don’t consider Hagfishes and Lampreys “proper fish”.

    In order to make tetrapods (including mammals) “not fish”, you have to define “fish” to only include lungfish and coelacanths. Which are almost as un-fishy as hagfish and lampreys, Lungfish especially: the clue in the the first part of their name. And invent a new category for ray-fins (haddock, mackerel) and cartilaginous (sharks, rays). BTW that chart also gets dinosaurs and birds right cladistically, although it’s usually expressed as “birds are a sub-group of dinosaurs”, rather than “dinosaurs are a sub-group of birds”. If you do it that way, you have to abandon the term “dinosaur” and invent a new word for birds. Ah, if only Linnaeus had known about evolution 😦 .

    My point of course, is that while abstruse academic points are fine for academia, they’re not much use in everyday language. Try my headline quote on a fishmonger, zookeeper, anti-poaching patrol or schoolkid. You’d get most traction with the kid, who’d think it cool that most adults were in the wrong. Of course, “always” includes pre-cladistic times, in the same way that the speed of light was a limit before Einstein, and the Earth was round before Eratosthenes. We just didn’t realise it yet.

    The vast majority of the people out there who claim that climate science is political don’t mean it in the ivory-tower sense. They mean it in the “climate-scientists-are-lying-Because-Politics sense, and they can safely be ignored”. Hence my assertion that the ivory-tower sense is not useful outside the tower. YMMV.

    * Which is an interesting counter to “science advances one funeral at a time”. Geology IMHO didn’t, at least for the major breakthroughs. Cladistics was in its infancy when I was an undergraduate, but had taken over within a decade, probably with a consensus close to AGW’s 97%. Yes there were a few contrarians who took their objections to their graves, but they were a small minority: the rest changed their minds and Science Moved On. Same with plate tectonics.

  161. Dave_Geologist says:

    And on a mix of Willard and izen comments:

    Science doesn’t claim to be True. Only conditionally true or provisionally true. It is rather good at identifying falsity. Shooting down a claim of Truth is shooting a straw man.

    Re stuff we know now but didn’t used to know: see The Relativity of Wrong. TL;DR: when we found out the Earth wasn’t a perfect sphere, we found it was oblate and didn’t go back to thinking it was flat. Flat is more wrong than spherical.

    We can apply Asimov’s essay to evolution:

    Evolutionary thought, the conception that species change over time, has roots in antiquity – in the ideas of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese as well as in medieval Islamic science. With the beginnings of modern biological taxonomy in the late 17th century, two opposed ideas influenced Western biological thinking: essentialism, the belief that every species has essential characteristics that are unalterable, a concept which had developed from medieval Aristotelian metaphysics, and that fit well with natural theology; and the development of the new anti-Aristotelian approach to modern science: as the Enlightenment progressed, evolutionary cosmology and the mechanical philosophy spread from the physical sciences to natural history. Naturalists began to focus on the variability of species; the emergence of paleontology with the concept of extinction further undermined static views of nature. In the early 19th century Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744 – 1829) proposed his theory of the transmutation of species, the first fully formed theory of evolution.

    The fixists and essentialists were flat-Earth wrong (as are their modern successors, Creationists; or rather, Intelligent Designists, if you buy into non-overlapping magisteria). Lamarck was round-Earth wrong. Darwin was oblate-spheroid wrong. The Modern Synthesis is geoid-before-satellites wrong. The current situation, with a bit more epigenetics coming into play is geoid-mapped-by-satellites-wrong. Something else will come along, perhaps in my lifetime, perhaps not. But we won’t go back to previous levels of wrongness because the evidence which showed them wrong won’t go away.

  162. Brigitte says:

    yes science as truth/certainty machine are perpetual strawmen trotted out in certain quarters of sociology
    just read a comment by Sarcastic Rover: ‘It means that I’m flipping awesome at doing a science.” It would be interesting to discuss the difference between doing science and the intentional insertion of ‘a’ here and on many a t-shirt etc. but that’s for another day

  163. Dave_Geologist says:

    Maybe he got an Ology Brigitte 🙂 .

  164. Willard says:

    > yes science as truth/certainty machine are perpetual strawmen trotted out in certain quarters of sociology

    I’ve got a full thread of scientists insisting that we should defend that caricature, Brigitte. Wanna see it?

    It’s a very important caricature. The planet’s at stake.

  165. Willard says:

    > My point of course, is that while abstruse academic points are fine for academia, they’re not much use in everyday language.

    By chance you’re here to tell me about everyday language, Dave. I hope it will work better than your Google search. Let’s see:

    Science doesn’t claim to be True. Only conditionally true or provisionally true. It is rather good at identifying falsity. Shooting down a claim of Truth is shooting a straw man.

    Science doesn’t claim anything. Scientists claim thing. It’s a gun and killing thing. Too ambigious. Possibly harmful. Contrarians will destroy the planet.

    Your proviso misses the point entirely. Assume provisory truths, define science as a set of provisional truths. Let that set change in time. What was once science isn’t science anymore. There’s a problem with that model – where is Science? Ask your grandma. She’s good at set theory.

    I’ve been served these verbal defenses for almost a week now, if we count my exchange with MT.

  166. Chris says:

    Science doesn’t claim to be True. Only conditionally true or provisionally true. It is rather good at identifying falsity. Shooting down a claim of Truth is shooting a straw man.

    We have to be careful here, especially wrt to contemporary science where it is true to say that our level of knowledge of things that are true beyond reasonable doubt is rather impressive.

    I gave an example earlier of our knowledge of protein structures:
    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2018/07/29/on-questioning-authority/#comment-127114

    We really do know the structures of individual proteins. This is a profound knowledge unimaginable 60 years ago. We don’t know everything about these structures but our knowledge, operationally-speaking is of an order that we can use this knowledge to design drugs that dissipate the symptoms of HIV-AIDS. We shouldn’t belittle this level of understanding.

    Of course there are many things we don’t understand. We could take the Kuhn-ian approach that Science is defined by the set-piece revolutionary attacks on major area of current unknowns, but why ever should we choose to take the point of view??? That is to continually assume a defensive position wrt to our achievements.

    We do know that increased greenhouse gas levels result in an increase in the equilibrium temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and surface, all else being equal. We should be as clear as possible about where our certainties exist and where these begin to become diffuse towards the arenas of unknowing.

  167. Dave_Geologist says:

    What was once science isn’t science anymore.
    Once more with feeling: The Relativity of Wrong. There’s a reason we didn’t go back to phlogiston when quantum mechanics came along, or the flat earth when satellites were launched. And why computers and planes work, and we predicted the blood moon the other day.

  168. Chris says:

    We could extend that point to every empirical claim. Phlogiston was once upon time science. It’s not anymore. The question then arises: who decided that, and when? Hard-nosed scientists might profit from listening to historians of science on such matter. They’re the ones who review the relevant evidence.

    We can handwave away all this and stipulate that a consensus decided that phlogistons were meh. But then is consensus science or not? If it is, then the plausibility of our platonists’ failure to grasp the political nature of scientific decisions become moot.

    Don’t need consensus’s, the faux argument about whether consensus is/isn’t science, or insinuations of small to middling “p” politics into scientific interpretations.

    Its the evidence that shifts perceptions, interpretations and worldviews.

    Actually phlogistin was a very nice theory that gave a sort of “photographic negative” interpretation of what we now know to be true. It was internally consistent and contained within it an almost-nearly-about-right idea of the carbon cycle (i.e. plants absorb CO2 – and this becomes incorporated into animals that eat plants and then exhale CO2 back into the atmosphere).

    However accumulating observational evidence increasingly highlighted flaws in the phlogistin theory , and especially with the discovery of oxygen, the theory became un-useful and was superceded. No “decisions” by “a consensus”, but an evidence-based shift in perceptions as is the underlying theme of scientific progression

    Science doesn’t actually need historians of science although the latter can be very interesting indeed to read 🙂

  169. Willard says:

    > Its the evidence that shifts perceptions, interpretations and worldviews.

    At last, “evidence” surfaces. No wonder we had to wait the 16th century before it did. Let’s add it to the list of stuff Science needs to have.

    Now, what kind of “shift” is this? In my post, I was modelling that shift as a deliberative process. Speaking of consensus, the IPCC requires an unanimous one:

    Trying to sell the IPCC’s conclusions by appealing to Science as scientia doesn’t look consilient with anything.

  170. dikranmarsupial says:

    AIUI the IPCC doesn’t actually *do* any science, just collates and summarizes it. AIUI

  171. Willard says:

    > There’s a reason we didn’t go back to phlogiston when quantum mechanics came along, or the flat earth when satellites were launched. And why computers and planes work, and we predicted the blood moon the other day.

    The Relativity of Wrong is indeed a very good text, Dave, but my point is independent from however you might conceive the evaluation of scientific claims. Good ol’ truth values, probabilities, fuzzy logic. It doesn’t matter. If you assume that Science is what is true of the world, you’re stuck with everything in science that isn’t, like evidence and predictions that have yet to occur.

    When I ask where is Science, I am asking for a tangible answer. What is that thing you call “science.” If it’s a physical token, it needs to have spatio-temporal coordinates. If it’s an abstraction, it should have a type.

    This is a tough problem for a platonist.

  172. Willard says:

    > the IPCC doesn’t actually *do* any science, just collates and summarizes it.

    According to the IPCC:

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

    http://ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/factsheets/FS_what_ipcc.pdf

    I don’t want to convince my mom that the IPCC gathers scientists to assess climate science, but that the assessment it produces isn’t scientific. I’d rather be honest and tell her that scientists got fed up with lousy politicians and found a scientific way to bring their truth to power.

  173. Chris says:

    Chris: Its the evidence that shifts perceptions, interpretations and worldviews.

    Willard…
    Now, what kind of “shift” is this? In my post, I was modelling that shift as a deliberative process.

    In this particular case it’s a shift from the perception that phlogiston provides a plausible/workable description of that part of the natural world to the perception, based on accumulating evidence, that the phlogistin theory is unsatisfactory as a description. It’s that “kind” of a “shift”.

    We could date this shift to a period around the end of the 18th century/beginning of 19th and a detailed account (which has no doubt been done) would allow us to understand the timeline and players involved in this shift in detail – this would be a very interesting read. Don’t really see why this “shift” needs to be “modelled” – I expect with sufficient investigation (inspection of the contemporary texts) it might be quite well characterized..

  174. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I don’t want to convince my mom that the IPCC gathers scientists to assess climate science, but that the assessment it produces isn’t scientific. ”

    sorry, but that really is just sophistry. I said the IPCC don’t actually do science, and that is in accordance with the quote you gave, however that doesn’t imply that the reports they produce are not scientific. Nobody would say that a review article with no new findings was not scientific on that basis, that would be absurd.

  175. Willard says:

    > Don’t really see why this “shift” needs to be “modelled” – I expect with sufficient investigation (inspection of the contemporary texts) it might be quite well characterized..

    To trace the shift of opinions in the texts, I would think you need a model. There’s no shift in texts. For instance, you could interpret this shift as a voting process, or find a threshold where the phlogiston theory got knocked out of conference rounds.

  176. Willard says:

    > I said the IPCC don’t actually do science,

    So assessing science is not doing science?

    Pray tell more about sophistry.

  177. Chris says:

    Not really Willard,

    One can examine for example a Biochemistry textbook whose first volume is published in the 1970’s and which is still being published (maybe up to volume 18 or whatever), and see that there is a shift in the text as scientific knowledge of the subject advances. Things that were described in an earlier edition are changed because these turn out not to be useful descriptions, or have been shown by new evidence to be incorrect or less important.

    There is decidedly a shift in perception of scientific subjects as their fields progress through time. Once useful ideas, descriptions, interpretations become less useful.

    This is very easy to identify in textbooks could give specific examples) – the same thing happens in the scientific literature.

  178. Willard says:

    > One can examine for example a Biochemistry textbook

    If you want to illustrate the shift, chris, one textbook may be enough. If you want to trace where or when the shift(s) occured, you need more textbooks, possibly a big chunk of lichurchur.

    Unless you can trace all the shifts in all the texts, you’ll need some model to make your inference. It doesn’t need to be a circulation model. It may need to be in line with your perspective: historiography, information science, historical ontology, etc.

  179. Chris says:

    oh dear…how dreary!

  180. Mal Adapted says:

    Dave_Geologist:

    part of the inspiration for the TV comedy show i>Alas Smith and Jones

    snerk>”Alas, Smith and Jones! I knew them, Horatio.”</snerk

    To be sure, every culture erects archetypes, and other cultures strawmen of them. It's harder to talk about social (i.e. economic , 'environmental' and political) problems without them, unfortunately. With them, we may at least have something to discuss.

  181. I think the formulation was that the IPCC does not do “original research”. Reviews, while important for science are not considered original research.

  182. Willard says:

    > Reviews, while important for science are not considered original research.

    I wouldn’t characterize the author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding as mere reviews:

    The degree of certainty in key findings in this assessment is based on the author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding and is expressed as a qualitative level of confidence (from very low to very high) and, when possible, probabilistically with a quantified likelihood (from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain). Confidence in the validity of a finding is based on the type, amount, quality, and consistency of evidence (e.g., data, mechanistic understanding, theory, models, expert judgment) and the degree of agreement. Probabilistic estimates of quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding are based on statistical analysis of observations or model results, or both, and expert judgment. Where appropriate, findings are also formulated as statements of fact without using uncertainty qualifiers. (See Chapter 1 and Box TS.1 for more details about the specific language the IPCC uses to communicate uncertainty).

    https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

    Searching a bit on systematic reviews (SR), I found this:

    Currently, the editors of most core clinical journals consider SRs original research. Our findings are limited by a non-responder rate of 45%. Individual comments suggest that this is a grey area and attitudes differ widely. A debate about the definition of ‘original research’ in the context of SRs is warranted.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341385/

    Whether it’s an SR or not, the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers indeed contains scientific judgments that can’t be found elsewhere.

  183. mt says:

    Just as an aside, I wonder why everyone is referring to Dr Wolfe as “Audra”. Am I the only person here who has not made her acquaintance?

    I disagree with her slogan but I’m trying to avoid being disrespectful. I’m not usually the one who is quick to mention sexism but this casual first-name basis would seem unlikely if the proponent of the slogan were a male who was not a participant here.

  184. Willard says:

    > this casual first-name basis would seem unlikely if the proponent of the slogan were a male who was not a participant here.

    Only to someone who doesn’t read the blog, MT. I seldom use last names. There are many reasons. Branding is one – the Auditor is the Auditor because I have no business promoting his. Another is sexism – we tend to masculinize last names. Egalitarism is also important to me. If you ask me to call you “Dr. Tobis,” I will never mention your name again, and will simply respond to your comments. That’s what I do with Junior.

    I also call Junior “Junior” and the Auditor “the Auditor,” because ClimateBall.

  185. Willard says:

    Somehow related:

  186. mt says:

    All, you can call me mt or Michael, unless you are Tom Fuller, in which case Dr. Tobis will do nicely.

    “mt” preferably lowercase. Like e e cummings’ spelling of his name, it’s my long-established false-modesty branding.

    Willard, it doesn’t bother me that you call Dr Wolfe Audra. As you point out, it’s your style. But others are doing it as well, and that strikes me as odd.

  187. Willard says:

    Thank you, mt.

  188. Dave_Geologist says:

    Willard, “assessing the science related to climate change” ≠ “doing science” . It’s scholarship. Like writing a textbook. And yes, politics plays into the Advice For Policymakers. In a who-blinks-first sense that guarantees it’s watered down somewhat. IIRC there has always been at least one denialist government on the panel, so I presume there’s a tussle where those who accept the science allow weasel-words into the consensus as long as they don’t deny the science, and the deniers have the ultimate sanction of breaking the consensus and writing a minority report. With the attendant bad PR, and in the knowledge that the real report will then be even stronger than they wanted.

    But the individual reports are summaries of the peer-reviewed literature (with the occasional snafu sneaking through, as in all huge documents – but I can enjoy a play even if one actor fluffs one of his lines). Like an Earth Science Reviews paper. You can write in comments (the USA required no qualifications), but your claim that it’s all irrelevant because The Iris, or that It’s The Sun Wot Dunnit, will be rejected unless you bring Evidence (TM).

  189. Dave_Geologist says:

    I wouldn’t characterize the author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding as mere reviews:

    Really Willard? Your following bold is exactly what I’d do if I was writing a paper for Earth Science Reviews. Or, chance would be a fine thing, a review article for Nature. A Review Paper is not like a theatre or restaurant review.

    Definition-o-round again. Humpty telling Alice everything she needs to know about being a girl, and that not only does she have to forget everything she though she knew about being a girl, she has to adopt a whole new vocabulary.

    I don’t know what a platonist is and don’t need to know. If I am one, it doesn’t get in the way of observing, or of shutting-up-and-calculating. Since I’m the shut-up-and-calculate type, I can get along perfectly fine.

  190. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I disagree with her slogan but I’m trying to avoid being disrespectful. I’m not usually the one who is quick to mention sexism but this casual first-name basis would seem unlikely if the proponent of the slogan were a male who was not a participant here.”

    Completely agree. Being disrespectful to someone you disagree with is likely to be feeding unhelpful cognitive biases anyway, whether male or female, but the recent stories about bad behaviour at a recent IPCC meeting rather brought home to me how important it is to be mindful about these things.

  191. Dave_Geologist says:

    Currently, the editors of most core clinical journals consider SRs original research.

    “They are often being criticised as ‘secondary research’ and denied the status of original research.” Maybe the editors are out of line with practising scientists? They do have ranking stats to worry about. And by scientific standards, 71% is a pretty low consensus. In my view, unless it’s in the 90s it’s not yet settled or “normal” science. And 29% make “the use of Cochrane methodology [5] or meta-analytic methods” a requirement. So only 42% accept reviews in the IPCC sense as “research”. A minority. Of editors, who are not necessarily practising scientists but do necessarily have skin in the game. I’ve already said on this thread or the parallel one that I consider meta-analysis (which is essentially what Einstein did and isn’t new) original research. Because it comes up with a new finding, using rigorous scientific and mathematical methods.

    Whether it’s an SR or not, the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers indeed contains scientific judgments that can’t be found elsewhere.

    Can you point to one Willard? That’s new and isn’t just a summary of various existing inputs which could have been arrived at by a “person having ordinary skill in the art”. Remember it’s written for non-scientists. Something may look new to you or to Al Gore, whereas Gavin Schmidt or Michael Mann would just say “mehhh”.

    And of course the “Summary for Policymakers” is a summary for policymakers. The scientific reviews comprise the individual chapters which precede it.

  192. Dave_Geologist says:

    Hmmm
    willard@nevaudit
    Replying to @jg_environ @mtobis and 3 others
    But what better way to defend the IPCC than to say “but that’s not science,” Jonathan?

  193. Willard says:

    > Maybe the editors are out of line with practising scientists?

    Maybe you should go all in with your corporatism and assert instead of just asking questions, Dave?

    What editors consider original research matters more than what you think from your armchair.

    ***

    > Can you point to one Willard?

    Indeed I can. Next reddish box:

    Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased (see Figures SPM.1, SPM.2, SPM.3 and SPM.4).

    https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

    See also the list of confidence levels they assign to all the boxes.

    I predict some parsomatics over the word “summary.”

    At least that’s what some contrarians would do.

  194. Dave_Geologist says:

    That’s just a summary of various existing inputs Willard, which could have been arrived at by a “person having ordinary skill in the art”. It’s so obvious I’d arrived at it before the report was written.

    I won’t assert other scientists’ opinions on review articles because I can’t read their minds. ““They are often being criticised as ‘secondary research’ and denied the status of original research” is a quote from the paper you referenced. The authors presumably think or have established that lots of other scientists share my opinion. Otherwise they’re writing about a straw man. PLOSone does publish non-groundbreaking, peer-reviewed research so it can form the foundation of later synthesis or meta-analysis. But I think they’d draw the line at straw men.

    My view is that the journalistic News sections of Science, Nature etc. don’t count as research papers. Nor does a News & Views paper written by another scientist in the field to summarise or expand on a high-profile research paper in that issue. Ditto book or conference reviews. Synthesis of existing research and experimental results (like relativity, the photoelectric effect or the new dinosaur cladogram) do count, as long as they come up with something new and are not just a summary of the literature. Sometimes they even win you a Nobel. Meta-analyses count, even if they only reconfirm the existing consensus more strongly. In the same way as a more refined measurement of the electron mass counts, even if all it does is narrow the error bars. Reports and interpretation of new observations and experimental results count, obviously. Even if they’re not particularly earth-shattering. Then they’re rewarded with a low impact factor. Review articles, such as those published in Earth Science reviews are a grey area. Hence, I presume, the paper. IMO it depends on how much originality there is. A quick glance at the ESR home page shows me some articles I’d include because they look like they bring new insight or clarify areas of confusion, some that look more like straightforward literature summaries. Some actually look like conference-style thematic sets, with new material included. Ideally a human would evaluate each one, but now it’s all computers I suppose. I’m ambivalent because the author does deserve some credit, but often the review is the go-to paper and ends up getting many more citations than the original research. OTOH Ramsay & Graham’s Shear zone geometry: A review was for many years the top-cited paper in Earth Sciences and fully deserved it. Although it brought little in the way of new observations, it changed how people though about shear zones. And despite its title, it’s categorised on Science Direct as Research Article.

    I won’t even ask how “corporatism” comes into it.

  195. Dave_Geologist says:

    See also the list of confidence levels they assign to all the boxes.

    Verbal. A meta-analysis would have numbers and statistics. And in their own words:

    The IPCC does not conduct its own research, run models or make measurements of climate or weather phenomena. Its role is to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic literature relevant to understanding climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. Author teams critically assess all such information from any source that is to be included in the report.

    Author teams use calibrated uncertainty language to express a level of confidence in findings based on the strength of the scientific and technical evidence.

    So it’s a review paper. Not research. With recommendations for policymakers. Policy, not research. Each field has its own Terms of Art. Sociology and philosophy have a plethora. Theory and Hypothesis have different (much stronger) meanings in science than they do in everyday language. So do Convolution and Bias. Consider the possibility that Research might be another of those words.

  196. Willard says:

    > A meta-analysis would have numbers and statistics.

    That’s a strawman, Dave. Nobody argued that the IPCC was into meta-analysis. That’s also a non sequitur – a systematic review doesn’t imply one. None of that counters my claim that the IPCC produces scientific judgments that aren’t evidenced the same way elsewhere. And why this disputatio – to argue that scientific institutions and judgements by scientists about climate science aren’t scientific because, not research? That’s just great.

    You know, I’m used to data thugs. I started playing ClimateBall at the Auditor’s. The Auditor himself comes from the mining industry. He knows many geologists, and sometimes talk about the geological perspective:

    The class of scientist who tend to be most unimpressed with IPCC-type climate science are geologists – which is where I got started in this.

    The evidence for AGW does not seem to impose itself upon the mind of geoscientists by some kind of scientific Revelation. Last time I checked, many were still quite contrarian. I don’t think it’s because they subscribe to POMO relativism. Quite the contrary – they seem rather bullish in enforcing a High Expectation Father conception of science.

    ***

    Many episodes of interdisciplinary finger-pointing may be explained by stereotypical views on methodology:

    A currently common description of what scientists do is collecting data and making sense of them in the form of theories. As time goes by, new data are acquired and theories evolve. In this picture scientists are depicted as rational beings who play this game using their intelligence, a specific language, and a well-established cultural and conceptual structure. The problem with this picture is that conceptual structures evolve as well. Science is not simply an increasing body of empirical information and a sequence of changing theories. It is also the evolution of our own conceptual structure. It is the continuous search for the best conceptual structure for grasping the world, at a given level of knowledge. The modification of the conceptual structure needs to be achieved from within our own thinking, rather as a sailor must rebuild his own boat while sailing, to use the beautiful simile of Otto Neurath so often quoted by [my avatar].

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/physics-needs-philosophy-philosophy-needs-physics/

    The emphasized bit echoes the reason I offered in the post against the idea of defining science and philosophy. The practice of Science, including its process, is bound to change. Some or most or all of its principles might persist. Yet principles don’t kill scientific theories or programmes. Scientists do.

  197. Dave_Geologist says:

    Willard, I’m not suggesting (and never intended to) that the IPCC reports are not scientific. Just that they’re not scientific research. They’re a summary of the science. As they themselves say. They fall into the same category as a Review Paper, or the NAS, RSL, GSL statements. In the case of climate science, the strong consensus makes their scientific job easy. Vested interests make their social/political job hard. If they were tasked with summarising a less mature and consilient field, like the more philosophical ends of quantum mechanics or astrophysics, they’d have a harder scientific job but an easier social/political job.

    Re geologists: vested interest. Conscious or subconscious. The oft-quoted Lefsrud & Meyer (2008) paper surveyed geologists (and others) in the Alberta oil and gas industry. So, no risk of motivated reasoning then 😉 . BTW you need to read the original paper. The Forbes article is misleading. The headline says “majority of scientists skeptical” when (1) 85% of the survey are engineers not scientists, (2) it fails to disclose that all those surveyed work in the oil and gas industry, (3) only 24% are deniers (all natural; vs. 36% IPCC/Kyoto accepters), 5% are accepters who want stronger regulation than Kyoto (so accepters are almost double deniers), 10% put the economy first (and the quotes show that their motivation is nakedly political, not scientific), 22% are bit-of-both-or-don’t-know, 17% are lukewarmers (it’s real but the effects won’t be severe enough to justify action), and 8% are don’t-knows (in the sense that their views were unclear). So the plurality is for Kyoto or more, almost a majority if you take out the don’t-knows. To get a (very narrow) majority “skeptical” you have to include the lukewarmers and those who won’t harm the economy at any cost.

    Also, the breakdown is hugely skewed between industry and government employees. It would seem unlikely that “conceptual structure” within the same profession, often among people like me who’ve worked in both public and private sectors, would change according to who pays your salary. Far more likely that a vested interest leads you to indulge in motivated reasoning. Hence the slightly higher score for geologists than for engineers. The geologists have more tools available to indulge their motivated reasoning.

    Beware of thinking that the Plimers of this world represent a majority of geologists or even a large minority, just because they’re loud and are fed platforms to speak from. They have to shout because they’re in a minority. Obviously the Auditor will gravitate to them. Like attracts like. And outside the US, Canada and Australia it’s a different world. In my entire oil industry career, I’ve only met four outright-denier geologists. All the major geological societies endorse the IPCC. Even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has moved from scepticism to uncertainty-monster-feeding (really, acceptance with an uncertainty-monster caveat added at the end). The GSL Letters page has two regular contrarians (both of whom I know and have worked with), who are swiftly debunked.

    And isn’t geologists-are-sinners-and-you’re-a-geologist one of the logical fallacies on RationalWiki?

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