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« Blocking the door to the marketplace of ideas | Main | The trust me crowd and the show me crowd »
Thursday
Jan082015

Open advocacy

Gavin Schmidt's article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists contains some interesting ideas about scientists and advocacy, his big talking point being that he thinks that scientists who want to take on advocacy positions should be open about it.

Responsible advocates are up-front about what is being advocated for and how the intersection of values and science led to that position. On the other hand, it is irresponsible to proclaim that there are no values involved, or to misrepresent what values are involved. Responsible advocacy must acknowledge that the same scientific conclusions may not lead everyone to the same policies (because values may differ). Assuming that one’s own personal values are universal, or that disagreement on policy can be solved by recourse to facts alone, is a common mistake. Deliberate irresponsibility, by advocates who purposefully obscure their values and who often resort to “science-y” sounding arguments to avoid addressing the real reasons for any disagreement, should be avoided by anyone wishing to remain a credible voice in science.

Of course, as we have seen in recent weeks, there are already some scientists who have attempted a degree of openness about their advocacy - I'm thinking particularly of Mark Maslin telling his readers that the object of his book was to convince everyone that "a more equal society" was the way forward.

I don't think openness does any harm. If a scientist is open and up front about what they are advocating for then one can dismiss their views out of hand or study them more carefully and with greater suspicion. With Maslin, I adopted the latter approach and got another of his books, for the princely sum of a penny. (It was an ex-library copy and I was amused to see that it had been read a total of four times since publication in 2002.) I enjoyed its old-fashioned alarmism about the Gulf Stream shutting down and the "deadly threat" of gas hydrates. The conclusions were pure advocacy of course, the chapter on "What can we do about climate change" beginning "Cut emissions!". Lots of stuff about solar and wind too.

I also watched one of his lectures on YouTube, but be warned, it's toe-curling in parts.

So Maslin's openness about his advocacy and the fact that he gave great prominence to wild hypotheses of climate disaster led me to to the conclusion that science is somewhat incidental to his political advocacy.  The openness certainly helped.

Whether it would work for scientists across the board is another question. You can imagine someone explaining that they believed in small government and that they had therefore decided to study the cost of subsidies in the renewables industry. The pathological hatred of such views among most members of the academy hardly needs to be mentioned, so while the dismiss/deconstruct options would still be available for readers of such a study, the chances are that this would result in ostracisation, discrimination and ultimately the end of the particular researcher's career.

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Reader Comments (42)

H'mm

That's a very much more reasonable Schmidt than we've been used to. Has he finally escaped from the clutches of his barmy mentors, Hansen and Mann?

But he's a lot more rehab to do before I'd trust him as far as I could throw him.

Jan 8, 2015 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I think openness would make ostracism much more difficult - if it becomes clear that a field has excluded open advocates of one political view whilst welcoming those with another view, then it becomes clear that field has been politically captured. At the moment the attempted political capture of climate science is deniable - it would be less so if advocates were honest.

Jan 8, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterWatchman

I'm sure this open political advocacy is not going to be state-funded. (Trying to keep a straight face.)

Jan 8, 2015 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterA

His book may have been checked out of the library four times. That doesn't necessarily mean all its contents were read four times.

Seriousness aside, it is a bit of a joke to see prominent members of the CliSci 'community' commenting on the need to be open about advocacy towards their victims. The thought is late coming to them.

Jan 8, 2015 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The book was checked out only 4 times since 2002? That must be by counting the ink-stamps on the checking sheet.

But I think you'll find that libraries have been using electronic scanners for checking out books for quite some time.

I would be sceptical about no-one having borrowed the book since they brought in the scanners.

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

Scientists have as great a right to be advocates as anyone else. Equally, I have a right not to treat a scientist as independent and even handed, should he start advocacy.

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Mark Maslin is open enough about advocacy in the Conversation at
http://theconversation.com/why-ill-talk-politics-with-climate-change-deniers-but-not-science-34949
though in his disclosure statement he fails to mention that, besides being a professor of climate science who predicts climate catastrophe, he also runs a business (financed by the Royal Society) which sells sciencey stuff which will come in handy in the case of climate catastrophe (see my comment down thread).

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:36 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

I always remember that in 2010 Ottmar Edenhofer , Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III was reported as follows:

"Climate policy has almost nothing to do anymore with environmental protection," says the German economist and IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer. "The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economy summit during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated."

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Oh tempora, oh mores.

Shuddering away here after watching a chunk of the video.

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:51 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I predicted some years ago that Gavin might be the first to return to reasonableness.

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Schmidt is hardly likely to be of Greek descent, but I would still be wary of any gifts he offers.

I would think this rethink is far more likely to be a realisation that the end of the AGW scam is near, and it is time to retreat, covering one's tracks to avoid those bent on revenge. Several others have been making conciliatory moves lately.

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

Perhaps Schmidt has read and been influenced by Pielke Junior's recent book. Evidence that Gavin may be open to reading more widely on entrenched topics.

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Has he finally escaped from the clutches of his barmy mentors, Hansen and Mann?

Jan 8, 2015 at 10:34 AM Latimer Alder

Well I think that Hansen (who was his boss?) has retired and Mann is said to be becoming seen more and more as an embarrassment.

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:06 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

I'd rather their advocacy was self-funded. As for a more equal society, that is brought about more by the use of cheap fossil fuels than anything else. There's the rub!

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The "climate scientist" who advocates for drastic reduction in fossil fuel use will likely be lacking knowledge and understanding of all the consequences of their demands.

Does the typical "climate scientist" understand power generation / distribution / the effect of intermittent generation / EORI / energy storage options / social impacts of energy retail cost / consequences of demand not being met / fuel poverty / transport / battery technology / environmental effect of 'alternative' technologies / (the list goes on and on). Unless he understands all these area intimately he has no place advocating for CO2 reduction.

Then there's the issue of the reliability of their 'science', many are secretive about their own work.

The 'scientist' should report the facts related to his area of expertise, what is known, what is not known and as importantly their level of certainty with justification. All the facts, data and reasoning should be presented to interested parties so others can confirm or rebut that 'evidence'. This is my understanding of the responsibilities of a 'scientist'. Anyone who can't comply with these responsibilities cannot be trusted to be acting in good faith, that doesn't mean they're lying or wrong but it ought to raise a huge red flag & prevent use of that science for policy decisions. This applies to every category of science, if you won't present your results 'warts-and-all' you are under suspicion of bias.

ALL the climate scientists advocating for CO2 reductions fall into the cannot be trusted / under suspicion category AND they all lack the knowledge to justify their advocacy.

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterjaffa

Is it not more the case that Schmidt is seeing the political winds change direction in the United States and he is sensibly adopting a position which fits more neatly with his new administrators (republicans) than the old guard (democrats)? I'm sure when things reverse ( which they will inevitably at some point) his position will begin to change to reflect this. Anyhow, at least for now, Schmidt is writing with a lot more retraint, sense and consideration of alternative ideas and thoughts. Long may it continue.

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterAbc

Perhaps Gavin's chilling a bit now Hansen is no longer in charge.

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:50 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

One advocates, or supports those who do, because of one's honest beliefs as to matters of fact and the correct explanations of matters fact, of this and that kind, and of one's evaluations of one set of conditions over others for the welfare of oneself and whole populations. Most advocates are sincere and not a few honest believers are flat wrong.

The problem is not the advocating, or even the evaluating, but the lack of testing of one's beliefs and explanations by welcoming the arguments and criticism of intelligent folk who disagree. The right to conjecture goes with a duty to seek refutation.

It's not so much 'confirmation bias' that does the harm as refutation phobia.

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Sydney

Bish, Abc et al, I think one factor is that Gavin has been in the on-line climate debate for some time and has learnt from his earlier mistakes. Unlike others who have blundered in to the on-line debate more recently.

Jan 8, 2015 at 1:27 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Maybe Gavin is looking to be the next Vicar of Bray?

Jan 8, 2015 at 1:43 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

I don't trust Schmidt and I think him an arrogant buffoon, so my judgement on this piece might be skewed by my own bias. However, I'm not sure he's saying what everyone thinks he's saying. I've long felt that Schmidt thinks it perfectly ok for science and advocacy to mix, so nothing particularly new there. As McIntyre would say though, watch the pea. Read the last part of the section the Bish highlights again:

Deliberate irresponsibility, by advocates who purposefully obscure their values and who often resort to “science-y” sounding arguments to avoid addressing the real reasons for any disagreement, should be avoided by anyone wishing to remain a credible voice in science.
Who is he talking about here? People on his “side” of the argument? Or people such as Lindzen, Spencer, Christy or even McIntyre and other sceptics in an effort to further marginalise them and nullify their opinions?

Jan 8, 2015 at 1:54 PM | Registered CommenterLaurie Childs

Well guys,

I suggest you (even challenge you to) read Michael E Mann's piece on the same topic and in the same journal issue. It's not really anything new, and you've heard the silly talking-points, half-truths, and wild accusations before in the (stump) speach he gives over and over again. But I still find it slightly unnerving to see his overblown rhetoric in writing. Bandying about variations of the D-word in, in a journal article ...

As someone noted above, he's becoming an embarrassment to those 'climate scientists' he so dearly wants to be a part of, a central part even. Those whose voice he pretends to be and whom he always says he's speaking for. But reading his claims and what he actually says and argues leaves one (at least me) with the impression of someone not quite capable of keeping it together any longer ...

Jan 8, 2015 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonas N

Jonas

Yes, I saw it and it's an embarrassment for the journal that they published it.

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I sense that Gavin Schmidt is a pragmatist under it all, certainly no rabid green. That being said I would not trust him as far as I could throw him, and that would not be far with my back :)

As soon this particular train comes unabiguously off the rails, when even GISS manipulation won't cut it, his fellow passengers will look arond to find Gavin waving bon voyage at them from the last station platform.

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Harrington

Mann's public posture on display in the above mentioned article is probably his legal posture as well.

In sum, Mann is saying: my work is faultless, everyone who knows anything agrees, and those who criticize are doing the work of special interests.

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon C.

... my work is faultless, everyone who knows anything agrees, and those who criticize are doing the work of special interests
One of the best single sentence examples of paranoia I've seen in years.

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:39 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Perhaps Gavin has decided to take a leaf out of the Climate Science Mystery Man's book.

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

Isn't this just Gavin with his Director of GISS hat on, knowing that he has to bank some moderate-sounding statements in case GISS starts getting squeezed in about a years' time?

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterDr Slop

In my opinion Gavin has a long way to go to redeem himself from this hissy fit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V96k4BO2sBw

No artful wordplay intended to offend no one is going to help.

Jan 8, 2015 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Marcus

"Responsible advocacy must acknowledge that the same scientific conclusions may not lead everyone to the same policies (because values may differ)."

Pea and thimble game by Gavin - shifting the uncertainty onto peoples values rather than the hallowed "scientific conclusions".

Usual partisan junk IMO combined with backside covering weaselling.

Jan 8, 2015 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

The problem has been that some people use the stated position of a person to ignore their arguments altogether - which is just as wrong. Just because you disagree with someone's values does not mean that they have not raised a good point or deserve an answer. This is a common tactic on the alarmist side, where anyone can be dismissed as a "shill of big business" if they ask an inconvenient question, but we also have to guard against this on the skeptic side as well.

I personally find myself often skipping over comments from some people I consider to be little more than trolls, but this can be dangerous as it leads to a level of confirmation bias of my own.

Of course, this could just be Gavin setting up skeptics as hidden activists 'cos we won't declare our (non-existent) links to big business....

Jan 8, 2015 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

jaffa

You touch on a point that has been worrying me for years. Do all the AGW and CAGW proponents, in governments around the world, the European Commission, the IPCC most of the Universities and whole swaths of left/Liberal politicians and most of the European media actually understand the consequences of the CO2 emission reductions they advocate,support, publicize and legislate for.

And if they do how do they manage to internalize the level of cognitive dissonance ? Or do they actually want to return the world to the status of about 1875.

And if they don't understand the consequences are they they just assuming it will all work out fine in the end because they think it is science that has given them the internet, plasma TV's iPhones etc. when in fact it is technology and engineering applying hard science that has proven itself robust over decades.

Jan 8, 2015 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeospeculator

Advocacy is inconsistent with the scientific method. You are either a scientist or an activist. Your choice; and history will judge you accordingly, Gavin.

Jan 8, 2015 at 4:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterH2O: the miracle molecule

@Geospeculator

I think they believe their own spin, if the numbers are tweaked a bit here and a bit there it looks like renewables are a solution. From what I've seen doubt a typical climate scientist knows the difference between MW and MWh, so the politicians and civil servants with their history and fine-arts degrees have no chance.

People like Ed Davey and Natalie Bennett really think adding enough turbines will give enough capacity & that they 'cost' nothing (in CO2 terms) to implement & support. They simply lack the intellect to properly understand the issue.

People from an Engineering background - who need to make stuff work - realise there are huge holes in the plan & massive uncertainty in the justification, such things scupper projects every day so we're programmed to spot them, to consider the range of potential outcomes at every step, your average fracking protesting housewife just thinks their kids water will be poisoned because a 'charity' said so.

Typically AGW proponents are acting on emotion rather than logic.

Jan 8, 2015 at 5:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterjaffa

From Gavin Schmidt the Elder, 1892, commenting on the major environmental problem of the time; the problem of horse manure on the streets of New York: "We have run our models and they show that by 1930 the horse droppings will rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows."

The models in 2015 may be more sophisticated but still churning out a superabundance of horse manure.

Jan 8, 2015 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterH2O: the miracle molecule

Perhaps the clearest question that climate scientists can ask themselves comes from the Nobel Prize–winning chemist F. Sherwood Rowland (quoted in Brodeur, 1986: 83) talking about the discovery of the chemistry that causes ozone depletion: “After all, what’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions, if in the end all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

It never dawns on the masters of hubris that until they have stood around, they don't know whether their predictions will come true. The ozone 'hole' remains remarkably unpredictable.

Jan 8, 2015 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

The "climate scientist" who advocates for drastic reduction in fossil fuel use will likely be lacking knowledge and understanding of all the consequences of their demands.

Does the typical "climate scientist" understand power generation / distribution / the effect of intermittent generation / EORI / energy storage options / social impacts of energy retail cost / consequences of demand not being met / fuel poverty / transport / battery technology / environmental effect of 'alternative' technologies / (the list goes on and on). Unless he understands all these area intimately he has no place advocating for CO2 reduction.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Excellent point, jaffa. They rarely have a clue about economics or public policy either.

What Schmidt fails to mention is that as soon as they become advocates, they step out of their field of expertise and their opinions are of no more value than Joe or Jane Public's. But they try to leverage their opinions onto a higher plane by citing their scientific credentials.

Jan 8, 2015 at 8:49 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

I think you nailed the topic Laurie Childs.

It seems to me that the good Bishop's description about Maslin means the Bishop places Gavin's soapbox in a similar place. Maslin's, "a more equal society" was the way forward", coupled with his admonitions to "cut emissions" directly translates 'a more equal society' into 'CAGW followers and poor people must suffer first and the most'.

It is definitely telling that our reverend Bishop didn't bother to mention Manniacal's article, same topic same issue... Why would anyone bother!?

Yawn! Let me know when the Gavinator gets the stones to stand up and apologize to people and science Gavinator's hurt like a mature human would.

Jan 9, 2015 at 4:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

"Jan 8, 2015 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterH2O: the miracle molecule"

Excellent summation, miracle water!

Now that's a thought that Josh could make hay with! Pre-modern Mann's models and hockeypuck alarm predictions.

Jan 9, 2015 at 4:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

An outbreak of integrity from the people who have us Climategate.
Maybe the tide is turning ... ?

Jan 9, 2015 at 7:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterTuppence

I guess we don't have a problem with contextualising everyones potential conflicts of interests as long as it is done fairly
but note the contrasts
1. the BBCs smear of GWPF
2. How media like BBC highlights skeptics interests, but completely ignores the warmists ..failing to mention an expert works for Greenpeace etc.
3. How on the the taxpayer funded theconversation.com
the standard disclosure statement is false and no one seems to care, even though the whole point is theC is supposed to be moderated .
"The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations"

Jan 9, 2015 at 12:42 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Maslin just tweeted a link to this.
Some radical thoughts for January - especially in the run up to UK elections.

As he said himself at the Conversation, "It’s all about the politics".

Jan 9, 2015 at 2:23 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

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