I’m on my way back from Cambridge, where I had a very pleasant evening with our Stoatness. I also happened to have a look at Climate etc., where Judith is promoting a new paper by Peter Tangney, a Lecturer at Flinders University (you can download a copy from here). I should disclose that I exchanged a few emails with the author a couple of years ago. It didn’t end well.
The paper is about the politics of expertise in Australia and Judith thinks it hits the sweet spot and provides some insights into the climate wars. I think it’s somewhat confused, remarkably ironic, and mostly an exercise in savaging strawpeople. It’s full of accusations that scientists are engaging in deficit model thinking, and – of course – has a pop at consensus messaging.
The basic argument seems to revolve around scientists not engaging effectively with policy-making, and – of course – being responsible for the conflict within the climate debate. For example, it says
[i]f climate scientists are to effectively engage in policymaking, I argue, they should reconcile their conflicting political advocacy for and valid instrumental uses of climate science. A renewed focus upon adaptation science would help avoid accusations of scientists’ ‘stealth issue advocacy’ (Pielke 2007) and allow other experts to usefully inform and frame climate-related policies in ways more likely to garner sustainable bipartisan support.
The whole paper seems to be full of suggestions that scientists are not using climate science properly (who gets to decide this?), that their communication strategies are hampering the possibility of bipartisan support (consensus messaging), that they’re engaging in advocacy (stealth or otherwise), and that what they’re advocacting for is not going to be effective (they should focus more on adaptation).
The paper is rather long, so there’s only so much I can highlight. I thought I would highlight a few things that might be instructive for those who’ve followed the public climate debate. One issue that is highlighted is
[t]he trials of once-well-regarded Professors Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Jr. [which] provide useful demonstration from the US of how such heretical notions have been received by the climate science community at large
Both professors, it should be noted, committed relatively minor offences in their pursuit of scientific truth.
The evidence he provides for this are (yes, you guessed it) articles by Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Jr. Roger’s situation is quite complicated, but Judith is mostly citicised for questioning mainstream climate science without providing any viable alternatives.
The paper also argues that
[a]lthough scientists might wish to be considered apolitical agents for the promotion of objective knowledge and revealed moral truths concerning climate change risks, sceptics argue that undue emphasis upon consensus makes scientists vulnerable to epistemologically significant claims that they are no longer performing as a scientifically-healthy community. This point has been made by Ridley…
Firstly, any undue emphasis on consensus is because the evidence has allowed a strong consensus to develop, not because people feel that they need to be consistent with one that has been imposed upon them. Also, yes, it’s that Ridley. Someone who purports to be a serious academic thinks that articles by Matt Ridley potentially highlight real problems within the climate science community?
As far as I can tell, this article is written by someone who clearly does not understand the basics of climate science, appears to have spent little time communicating with actual scientists, and writes about how scientists can suffer from confirmation bias without considering that their own selective use of sources might indicate a bit of a problem on their side.
Why do people who write this kind of stuff never seem willing to consider that the reason scientists aren’t adapting their communication strategies is because they don’t know how to do so while also ensuring that what they communicate is consistent with the available evidence? If our goal was simply to develop something that we could call climate policy, then it would probably be quite easy to adapt our messaging so that there was stronger bipartisan support. On the other hand, if our goal is to develop something that will actually effectively address climate change, then this is likely to be considerably more difficult.
Between conflation and denial – the politics of climate expertise in Australia (by Peter Tangney)