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Discussion > Robert E Phelan

Wattsupwiththat has just announced the sad death of their moderator Robert E Phelan. He was an occasional commenter here, often using his expertise as a sociology professor to clarify the obscure questions of the social causes of the CAGW phenomenon. I remember a few years ago he came up with the enlightening idea that the postwar growth in further education played a role, an idea which I had previously found in the work of the French demographer Emmanuel Todd, applied to the separate, but related question of the decline of working class politics. I was always hoping to discuss this with him on a relevant thread, but I don’t think it ever happened.
Most discussions of the sociology of CAGW tend to degenerate into tiresome left-right arguments or a general sneering at the social sciences. It would be a useful tribute to Robert if people could dig out any of his comments at BishopHill, WUWT or elsewhere, and post or link them here.

Aug 11, 2012 at 7:47 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

For example, here’s Robert introducing himself on the BH readership survey thread

I suspect I'm an odd duck here... I'm a firm believer in "constructed reality" and the notion of "cultural cognition" (i.e. we see things as we are taught to see them) and that science is NOT a reflection of reality, rather it is a Euro-Aryan linguistic conceit. A person's science is not separate from his view of the nature of the world, man and reality. Empiricism is important, but empirical facts never just speak for themselves, they need to be interpreted thorugh a cultural and ideological lens.
The bottom line? The warmists literally do not live in the same world we do, share the same reality. They can look at the same facts as we do and come to entirely different, self-evident conclusions.
Jun 1, 2011 at 1:57 AM | Robert E. Phelan

Aug 11, 2012 at 9:19 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Thank you for mentioning Robert's contribution. A google for his name on the sites you mentioned brings up lots of interesting -- and often very funny -- quotes. Here are a couple more.

No one likes to admit that, fundamentally, his view of what is real and not real essentially rest on asumptions that can not be empirically demonstrated. (Science-oriented people are especially uncomfortable with this line of reasoning.) I begin each semester with this challenge: "Can you prove that the world, in its entirety, was not created six and a half minute ago?" Only a fool insists that he can.


Everyone knows that food comes from the food factory, neatly wrapped, safety sealed and packed, ready for the shelves of your nearest mega-super. Sometimes I’m tempted to ask my students "Where do buffalo wings come from?" .... but I’m afraid of what the answers might be.

I sincerely hope you persevere in highlighting the social sciences here.

Aug 11, 2012 at 10:01 AM | Registered CommenterPhilip Richens

Sad to hear that his body will no longer be omitting any CO2.

Aug 11, 2012 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterBill M.

Well I might have got browny points if I had been a student of Mr Phelan. It takes light from the sun 8 mins 18 seconds to get to the Earth; if I can see Mr Phelan then the world has existed for over 8 minutes :P
On second thoughts I withdraw this suggestion and wear a T shirt marked FOOL hehe
OK how about the fact that we have curiosity (the rover) wandering around on Mars?
I did not know Mr Phelan but it is always sad when we lose talented individuals who make a difference.

Aug 11, 2012 at 2:56 PM | Registered CommenterDung

...not if the speed of light has been slowing down since its creation six and a half minutes ago.

Aug 11, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers


My mistake was that the Sun's light would be here the second the Earth was created.

Aug 11, 2012 at 3:09 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Mr Phelan always encouraged me, and joked with me.

My last joke with Mr Phelan:

kim2ooo says:
July 25, 2012 at 6:46 pm

[SNIP: Yeah, funny, but this is a family blog and I wouldn't want Kimmie to get start getting the wrong ideas. -REP]

*perk* ha ha ha ha

He liked that I backed my statements with references - He saw it unique for kids to do that, I think.

I will miss him :(

Aug 11, 2012 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim2ooo

Geoff, I don't think people on the right of politics "sneer at" the principle of social science - only at the appallingly sloppy and dishonest way in which it's usually practiced.

It sounds as if Robert was a social scientist of rare integrity - so his presence and his scientific contributions will be sorely missed.

Aug 11, 2012 at 11:50 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Phelan's class sounds like it would have been worth taking, unlike many in the social sciences. I imagine he would have been a great teacher, being both erudite and funny.

He was also an excellent example of the folly of stereotyping people on the basis of their views about climate science.

Vale, REP.

Aug 12, 2012 at 1:46 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna