I thought I might follow up on my previous post, with a brief discussion of an article by Sonia Sodha called [t]he anti-lockdown scientists’ cause would be more persuasive if it weren’t so half-baked. I found it interesting partly because of the furore over the paper we published last week, but also because of the source used to highlight how scientists should engage in public. Sonia Sodha refers to The Honest Broker, a book I discussed in a post last year.
As Sonia Sodha mentions, The Honest Broker sets out a typology of science engagement, with one of the categories being stealth advocates. Stealth advocates are those who hide their advocacy behind a facade of scientific objectivity. Sonia Sodha implies that this applies to those associated with the Great Barrington declaration. If you’re thinking of how one might counter those who promote outlier ideas, what’s presented in The Honest Broker might sound like an appealing narrative. I would like, though, to urge some caution.
In the climate context, the narrative presented by The Honest Broker is not regarded as particularly constructive. For example. accusations of stealth advocacy have more commonly be aimed at mainstream climate scientists who have chosen to speak out, than at those who are promoting mis-information. You can even find the author making this accusation against Realclimate authors in this comment. In case you don’t know, Realclimate is probably one of the most credible climate blogs.
Of course, you might find some useful typologies in The Honest Broker and I’m not suggesting that one should dismiss it entirely. I do think, though, that it’s worth being aware of some of the history when considering if this might be a useful narrative to introduce into another contentious scientific topic.
In a related note, I wanted to end this post by mentioning a new project called EScAPE, which aims to evaluate science advice in a pandemic emergency. The project team includes a number of people familiar to my regulars, and is led by the author of The Honest Broker.
If you’re naive, like I was once, you might think: great, a group of researchers who will help us to better understand how to use science advice to develop effective policy. If you do think this, you’d probably be wrong. Their contributions in the climate context is often regarded (in my experience, at least) as not being wildly constructive, at least if you think that we should be using science advice to develop effective policy.
Some have been vocal critics of consensus messaging. I was also involved in writing a response to one of their papers that misrepresented what was presented in an IPCC press conference. A couple have recently re-litigated Climategate, when stolen emails were taken out of context and blown out of proportion. The leader of EScAPE is also often the source of claims that are then used to argue against climate action.
You may think the above is a little unfair, and maybe it is. I’m mostly suggesting that it may be useful to be aware of some history. I do think there is quite a lot of overlap between what has been happening in the climate context, and what is happening now with coronavirus. There may be a benefit in trying to avoid making the same mistakes twice.