August 17, 2013, by Brigitte Nerlich
The ‘Making Science Public’ blog: What is it for?
Our ‘Making Science Public’ blog puzzles some readers, and perhaps rightly so. One blogger in particular pointed out recently that he found what we are doing ‘confusing’. This confusion emerged in particular in the context of us posting some guest-posts on climate science and climate politics (and climate scepticism) and also in the context of a debate about advocacy and science that played out alongside the publication of these guest blogs. So, what is the ‘Making Science Public’ blog about, where does it come from, what does it want to achieve and why might it be confusing?
The research programme
This blog is related to a large research programme on science and politics, dealing in particular with issues of legitimacy, trust and authority. This programme of research started in May 2012 and covers a large array of topics, approaches and angles. As part of this programme we started to write blog posts in order to make our own research more public. It turned out that, for one reason or another, Warren and I have become the main contributors to the blog, with other members of the research team posting occasionally.
I direct the research programme and one of the projects within it and Warren works on this project, which deals with science and scepticism. Warren and I share an interest in language and a particular philosopher of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein. We hope that in the future a wider variety of people will join us in posting blogs and will cover more of the topics that run through the research programme and also focus more on findings related to individual projects.
Science communication and Science and Technology Studies
As Warren pointed out recently, science communication was not a topic mentioned in our original proposal, but has crept into the blog. How did this happen? And how did this perhaps contribute to the confusion that some readers experience?
Originally two people with expertise in Science and Technology Studies (STS) were supposed to lead the programme: Paul Martin and Sujatha Raman. Before the start of the programme, Paul accepted a Chair at the University of Sheffield and the University of Nottingham appointed me as Director of the programme with Sujatha as Deputy Director (Paul now leads his sub-project from Sheffield).
When I took over the leadership of the programme and started to blog, I had to think on my feet. The programme had only just begun; so I couldn’t report on emerging findings. I had also taken over a programme which was grounded mainly in STS, a field or discipline in which, to use Harry Collins’ terminology, I have no ‘core expertise’. Although I have gained some ‘interactional expertise’ over the years while doing my own research within the Institute for Science and Society, my core expertise still lies within the fields of linguistics and the history and philosophy of science. (I did my PhD on the history of 19th-century French linguistics).
One of my earliest posts for the Making Science Public blog was therefore dedicated to trying to make clear to myself what STS was about. I then went on to write about various aspects of climate change from a linguistic and philosophical angle, thus trying to contribute to the sub-project that I lead as part of the overall research programme. As I am passionate about science, I also began to report on a number of emerging science topics and issues such as the Higgs Boson or the landing of Curiosity on Mars. I always try to link my accounts of such developments to questions related to ‘making science public’. However, my posts began to waver between contributing to the theory of science communication and actually practicing science communication. This caused some confusion amongst my STS colleagues and probably more widely. This confusion is compounded by the title of our blog: ‘Making Science Public’. This blog title is based on the title of the research programme: ‘Making Science Public: Challenges and opportunities’ – with a focus on the challenges, as I’ll explain below.
Theory and practice; critique and advocacy
Now, why would some see my activities around science communication as somewhat problematic in the context of our research programme, which deals with science, publics, politics and participation? And how may my posts have contributed to the confusion mentioned at the beginning of this post? The issue, it seems, is that STS sees its mission as keeping a critical eye on developments in science and technology, whereas some variants of science communication may be seen as promoting science uncritically. This means that some of my blog posts can be seen as promotion or advocacy of science and technology rather than as critique.
This also means that some readers of our blog might have begun to expect that we want to promote or advocate certain types of science, certain types of publics, certain types of politics and certain types of participation, whereas in fact the aims of our research programme are (or should be) much more scholarly and academic. We study, analyse, examine and try to understand how science, publics, and politics interact with relation to various topics, such as climate change, religion or food security for example.
We focus in particular on the problems, dilemmas and challenges posed BY making science public or by promoting the making public of science as a solution or panacea to problems of trust and legitimacy. We do this from the perspective of STS, but also anthropology, sociology, cultural geography, animal studies, social policy and linguistics for example. Our aim is not to just publicise science (which the title of our blog may suggest).
I personally want to study the (changing) meanings and values of science in contemporary cultural and political contexts. These meanings are shaped by the language we use and the contexts in which we use it. Language is and will remain the focus of my research, including trying to understand the politics of science communication (and occasionally indulging myself in practicing science communication, that is to say – writing blog posts). Others within the team with more expertise in STS will hopefully continue to write thought-provoking posts that deal with other (and possibly related) features of the science-politics nexus.
Image: Millennium Garden, University of Nottingham
To be honest, I’m still a little confused, but that may just be me. Maybe I should clarify how I see things. I may be wrong of course. There are, in my opinion, may aspects associated with making science public. There’s doing the actual science. Typically this would be done by scientists. I don’t necessarily mean people who are employed or professional, but people who understand the scientific method, who understand data analysis, who understand the underlying physics and chemistry, etc. Science also isn’t typically settled by debates or by people expressing their opinions. It takes evidence. It also, typically, takes time. People don’t accept the first piece of work on something. It needs to be verified and checked and repeated. Over time our understanding of something will improve and people will start to accept the evidence as it becomes stronger and stronger.
Another aspect is how science is communicated to the public and to policy makers. Brigitte, you wrote a nice post about this a while ago. Again, an issue in my view is that although there are different ways in which scientists can engage with the public and with policy makers, when it comes to the science itself, it’s not a discussion between equals. It’s an expert engaging with those who, presumably, would like to know more. This doesn’t mean that they should simply tell people things and expect them to accept it, but simply that the scientist is still the expert and has knowledge and understanding that, in most cases, the public and policy makers don’t have.
The other aspects are then how one evaluates the evidence presented and how decisions are made, given the evidence. Here it is much more about opinion and will be an aspect where debate will be appropriate. Scientists don’t get to decide what to do. They simply present the evidence. The public or our representatives decide what should be done once they’ve evaluated the evidence presented by scientists.
So, essentially my view is that there are aspects where debate and opinions play a role (making policy decisions) and aspects where this is inappropriate (actually doing the science). My confusion is then that from what I’ve read here it’s not clear that such a distinction has been recognised. There are some posts where the impression I’m getting is that everything should be open to debate, and I think there are aspects where this wouldn’t be a sensible approach. Of course, I haven’t read everything so am basing this on reading a small number of recent posts. Also, maybe my view is wrong. Maybe other disagree (as I’m sure is the case).
From reading your post, maybe I can the site here having two roles. It’s not simply about presenting science or presenting views about how to Make Science Public, it’s also associated with research into this general area and so it may be quite reasonable that the posts here are much more diverse than one might expect on a site that was simply intending to present information. So, it is quite likely that I have misundersood the role of the site and what the goals are.
I completely agree with your description of the process of science, the use of evidence and the role of opinion. I also agree with you about the differential in expertise that pervades science communication. I furthermore agree with what you say about decision making. But then there is the vexing problem of openness – how open/public science should be and to whom and for what reason and with what consequences. These are ssues that we are actually grappling with within the programme. So the only ‘problem’ left is perhaps the title: Making Science Public. We are not just broadcasters for science or information providers about science. We reflect on the processes and problems related to making science public. And of course different members of the team have different ways of tackling such issues, different theoretical approaches, different types of analysis and thinking, which will also generate different conclusions and, therefore perhaps, some confusion!
Thanks for the response, Brigitte. Yes, I’m starting to realise that I may have mis-interpreted the project and the role of the Making Science Public blog. Clearly it is something worth studying and I can understand that different people will have different views. I guess if I still have a concern it’s whether or not this distinction would be obvious to casual visitors and whether or not it should be made clearer. It may well be that people would assume that the blog was presenting a well-established view about how to make science public, rather than being part of a project that is investigating how to make science public.
Yes, I think it’s time to change the intro to the blog which was written well before we started blogging and started to realise what we actually did! I’ll try to get that done asap!
This sentence/concept (quoted just below) needs some clarification I think. It’s not obvious what it means in reality:
It depends what you mean by “science” and what you mean by “open”! I would have thought all publicly-funded science had a very high degree of “openness”. Experiments/studies/analyses are made and presented at meetings, discussed openly and published. Published work is accessible to everyone even if various degrees of effort may be involved in engaging with this. To an increasing extent published work is available in open-access sources. The interested public can obtain non-open access papers by contacting the authors or visiting their local university library (for example). They can talk to actual scientists (e.g. at local universities) if they are sufficiently motivated.
Is that what you mean by “science” (i.e. the products of publicly-funded science) and “open”/”public” (i.e. the general availability of the published research)? Or do you mean something else?
Obviously quite a lot of this “open” “science” is physically accessible but may not be conceptually accessible since the public might find the published work poorly comprehensible or overwhelming in its quantity; they may consider it interesting to go to scientific conferences where particular science is presented and discussed, but find this very difficult to follow. In many case where an individual has a vested interest in some matter of science (e.g. an extant or potential genetic disorder that they or a relative may have) they may be motivated to do the very hard work to engage with the subject.
More generally, however, the science on many subjects of potential societal impact is made accessible to the public by filtering through various media/government sources. Then we come back to the question of how faithfully the scientific realities are presented. Unfortunately this is often done poorly so that the public may be poorly informed or may be forced into a position of attempting to interpret between presentations that are quite wildly different.
That’s very much the case with climate science. I would say that the “science” as I understand it is very “open” indeed (“open” in the sense that I’ve described above). On the other hand there is probably no scientific field in which the public is subjected to more appalling misrepresentation, not only from blogs and other web sources (one should hardly be surprised that there’s masses of dreadful junk on the internet!), but more creepily, from (some) newspapers, (some) politicians and (some) other assorted spokespersons.
That’s surely the problem as far as science communication goes. The science and its interpretations are there to be summarised, disseminated and discussed. There really isn’t very much reason why the public shouldn’t get a faithful representation of scientific issues. Unfortunately they often don’t due to strong efforts at misrepresentation that has many forms, whether this arises from naive attempts at “balance” on aspects of the science that are actually pretty secure, or more deliberate efforts to misrepresent in support of a whole range of tedious agendas.
I’d love to see a new cohort of young science graduates with a journalistic bent investigating and writing some well-researched and honest accounts of some of these issues (even if they might have trouble publishing them). Who knows, some of them might actually talk to real climate scientists and find out a little about the (actually not so difficult) science before putting pen to paper…
The issue of ‘openness’ is indeed much more complex than this one sentence tried to convey! I very much agree that publicly funded science (be it natural or social) and scientists should be open in the sense of ‘accessible to public inspection’ so to speak. But even here debates may develop about when, i.e. at which stage in the research process to make findings accessible in that sense and even to make the whole process accessible. There is, I think a whole debate around this developing regarding the Freedom of Information Act, personal data, commercial interests and so on (but I would have to investigate that a bit further myself) (Harry Collins also tried to tackle this issue in a key note lecture on ‘show us your working’ which proved to be very controversial at the recent Science in Public Conference here in Nottingham). Being accessible for ‘public’ inspection does not however mean being directly accessible to ‘public’ understanding (although there will of course be differences depending on what type of ‘public’ one is or becomes in the process of wanting to learn more [or indeed less] about a subject of interest). This is and will be compounded by the advent of ‘big data’ where the actual understanding will gradually be abrogated to algorithms, I believe (again, more research needed!!) (I have written one post on transparency, one on big data, one on visualisation and accessibility). There will therefore always be ‘intermediaries’ between ‘the science’ and ‘the public’, that is either machines or humans that ‘make’ things ‘accessible’ in a variety of senses. These intermediaries, be they scientists, science communicators, PR people, press officers or indeed bloggers have a huge responsibility and here all sorts of debates and research projects start: What is a ‘faithful’ representation of science or any aspect of science? What motivation does the intermediary have in (mis)representing certain aspects of science (and not others, and already in this choice some sort of bias or hype may creep in; I have written a blog post on hype), how does the process of ‘simplification’ work, to whom are these people responsible if things go wrong and what does ‘wrong’ mean and for whom?!!!! ETC!!!!
Your post gives the impression that the issue of public dissemination and communication of science is a minefield of hopelessly unavoidable uncertainty. It needn’t be, and by and large it isn’t (certainly not in the UK).
1. “accessible to the public”. “But even here debates may develop about when, i.e. at which stage in the research process to make findings accessible in that sense and even to make the whole process accessible.” Isn’t this obvious? As scientists we disseminate our findings by presenting at scientific meetings and publishing these. Work in progress where the interpretations are not solidified and the conclusions uncertain are discussed as such (e.g. at scientific meetings). Of course scientists may talk about the state of research in progress (what the aims are and how its progressing) if they wish to, and often do. They may give public lectures and talk to journalists. Their funding bodies may require periodic reports on progress in achieving milestones. I can’t see where the “debate” lies about when to make findings accessible. Surely findings are accessible when scientist are confident that they have a justifiable set of interpretations about their subject. Or are you suggesting that scientists might be required to release their data as they collect this? …or what?
What do you mean, specifically, by “make” (ing) “the whole process accessible”?
2. “responsibility of disseminators”. “These intermediaries, be they scientists, science communicators, PR people, press officers or indeed bloggers have a huge responsibility and here all sorts of debates and research projects start:” The fact is that there is a range of “responsibilities” amongst your list. Bloggers have no necessary objective responsibility to the public at large. They have responsibility only to their own particular “constituency” and this may or may not overlap with the interests of faithful representation of scientific knowledge. We know that it absolutely doesn’t in many cases. We’re foolish if we consider that bloggers have a “responsibility” to faithful representation of scientific issues; after all they may consider their role is to misrepresent the science. Likewise we should obviously be sceptical of the statements of PR people and press officers.
Again this isn’t rocket science. The crux of the matter is that we should be able to recognize what is and isn’t valid and what is and isn’t rubbish (see [3.] below). Very often this isn’t difficult at all. It does require that enough people that matter have a good understanding of science. It would be nice if the people that talk about science (especially journalists) had sufficient training that they were able to distinguish between what assorted spokespersons, bloggers and so on assert and what the evidence shows. Unfortunately many newspaper editors/journalists consider that scientific evidence is secondary to other agendas (pursuing socio-political influence; selling newspapers), and so we get the sort of non-science written by the scientifically illiterate that contributed to (for example) some of the dismal consequences of the MMR vaccine scare. Some of the same (deliberately?) shoddy journalism is a feature of the current climate science “debate”. Would have thought that was a problem ripe for assessment by those interested in Science Communication.
3. “faithful representation of science”. “What is a ‘faithful’ representation of science or any aspect of science?” This shouldn’t be difficult. It boils down to telling the truth. In my experience scientists generally do this. The insight of a group of scientists in a particular research area is an excellent means of assessing which areas of the subject are largely accepted and where the uncertainties are. How nice it would be to see a journalist (or a social scientist) writing on some aspect of climate science interview (say) 6 climate scientists to get some feeling for where the certainties and uncertainties lie and to write about this honestly.
In fact it’s far easier to identify misrepresentations of science. In many cases one only needs to assess what commentators (journalists, bloggers, assorted spokespersons and pseudo-“sceptics”) assert in relation to the evidence base that exists on the subject. This happens all the time on good science blogs and in the scientific literature (a large number of scientifically-deficient papers published by so-called climate “sceptics” have been soundly debunked in the scientific literature but one rarely hears about this in the media outlets that inform the public).
Personally I think we’re reasonably fortunate in the UK where (i) the media sources range from pretty good to second rate (and only rarely criminally deficient), (ii) the electorate is quite well educated and (iii) scientific issues are not subject to the dreary level of politicisation as in the US, for example. The UK public, especially the young, in my experience tend towards a proper scepticism and are less likely to be taken in by the sort of pseudo-“scepticism” that seems to be rather seductive to some social scientists who really should know better.
I really wish things were as easy as you say! But then that would put lots of us philosophers, sociologists, and so on out of work 😉
As far as accessing ‘faithful’ representations of science for example, I was recently discussing issues related to mathematical biology with a colleague. As I am not strong on maths I thought I would talk to some people in the (complex) field, that is those who do mathematical biology. After that I still wasn’t totally sure I head understood everything. I also wasn’t sure I had talked to the ‘right’ people. Somebody else might be saying something different. So, how can I judge whose representation was ‘faithful’ or not? How would you go about this? Do you think talking to 6 scientists would be enough for a complex field like that? And might it not be useful to speak to people who have a range of different views? (and I know things differ from field to field and discipline to discipline in this respect, including climate science, and in particular climate science) But this example also points in the direction of issues that journalists have to grapple with every day. Regarding journalism and climate change there are a myriad of studies being published at the moment. The following is just a random example by a leading authority in the study of journalism, Sharon Dunwoody, but there are many more. Perhaps we are just making things too complex, but I rather doubt that.
Anyway, thanks for your thought-provoking comments!
I should point out that my post just above is a response to Brigitte Nerlich’s post of August 18, 2013 at 6:40 am (and not to the main article at the page head).
If there is confusion it probably comes from the different roles the sciences and social sciences play in this. To put it crudely, the sciences try to produce positive knowledge about the world. The social sciences try to do the same but in addition they are observing other actors and how they go about constructing things (social relations, knowledge). This activity of ‘second-order-observation’ requires some element of reflexivity. In other words, social science practice asks questions about its own functioning and operation within society (how do the research findings apply to us?). So we are dealing with a tripartite conceptual framework of knowledge production/observation/reflexivity. Social sciences are observing other actors in society and they are reflexive.
Confusion may arise when this framework is applied to questions of expertise and advocacy, as Brigitte explained in the opening post. Where normative issues and value judgements are addressed (either explicitly or implicitly) it tends to get muddled (for example: did this expertise include advocacy and do we think it was legitimate to do so; or do we agree with it?). Chris and wottsupwiththatblog tend to eschew this dimension and restrict the issue to one of positive science. The science, the whole science, and nothing but the science, so to speak. This the self-image of science (its official ‘ideology’) is not compatible with social science reflection post-Kuhn.
So the neat solution will not work (separate between scientific facts and the rest). But one can try to keep confusion at bay by clearly distinguishing between the different levels of analysis, and crucially be aware of the expertise/advocacy/reflexivity nexus.
Thanks, Reiner, for this! That makes things much clearer, I hope.
You say that I eskew this dimension and restrict it to one of positive science. Maybe I misunderstand what you’re suggesting, but I don’t think this was what I was intending to suggest. I’m well aware that there are multiple aspects associated with a topic as complicated as climate science and the implications of the science. What I was trying to suggest is that we should do a better job of distinguishing between the “science” and what it is telling us (the evidence) and what we should do given that evidence. In my opinion, the best people to tell us about the scientific evidence are the scientists themselves. They can explain the science and what the evidence suggests. Beyond that it gets much more complicated. The evidence doesn’t tell us what we should do and it’s clear that deciding what to do (given the evidence) is non-trivial and will differ based on people opinions and how strong the scientific evidence is (or how strong it is perceived to be). If anything, what I was saying is probably quite consistent with your last paragraph. I completely accept that distinguishing between these different aspects is difficult but we should, in my opinion, do a better job of (as you say) distinguishing between the different levels of analysis, and crucially be aware of the expertise/advocacy/reflexivity nexus.
Reiner, you present a social science perspective that is a little hackneyed – to me that’s a problem with that perspective. I suspect that “wottsupwhatthatblog” and I are far less rejecting of issues of reflexivity and such like than assign to us. There is no question that science as factual knowledge is only one element in the public perception of sociopolitical issues that have a strong scientific element. I doubt either of us (wotts… and I) would consider that there are single scientific narratives that leads to particular public perceptions with necessary consequent sets of policy decisions (although we get close to this in some cases; e.g. the response to the scientific evidence on dangers of chlorofluorocarbons with respect to ozone depletion where the response to scientific evidence was relatively swift and decisive up to a point.)
However the scientific input is a fundamental element and it may as well be portrayed faithfully. I think this is where I take issue with what I perceive to be a weakness in the social science approach (apparent on this blog) which seems to me (I may have misunderstood this) to consider the issues a sort of “clean slate” where every viewpoint is a worthwhile input to be thrown into the mix. However some viewpoints are not worthwhile and we cheat the democratic process and the well-being of societies if we pretend that they are. There are pseudo-“skeptical” notions on the role the HIV retrovirus in HIV_AIDS which we happily recognise to be nonsense. For a period at least one government (S Africa under Mbeki) found it convenient to incorporate the views of pseudo-“skeptics” into policy with disastrous results. The response to perceived dangers of MMR was initially appropriate but once the scientific issues were clarified these could have been faithfully and honestly portrayed to the public. Instead the MMR scare was needlessly drawn out to a considerable extent because some influential editors chose to give free rein to scientifically illiterate journalists with agendas to pursue.
That doesn’t mean that the science on these issues is clear cut; far from it. But the science is bounded with clear areas of certainty within areas that are less well defined. Why not make an effort to locate these bounds?
I think this extract from your post highlights a problem:
Nope. I find it astonishing that a desire that scientific knowledge be portrayed reasonably faithfully equates in a social science perspective to some sort of mantra that you invent, assign to us and then define as an “ideology”. Thanks for that! Why pretend that issues are either black or white? Maybe it would help if social science got rid of some of its academically-thrilling but futile artificial constructs like your invented mantra. Likewise “post-Kuhn” is an artificial construct that has little real world meaning. Thomas Kuhn wrote a book describing his perception of the nature of scientific progress in the context of major (revolutionary) realignments of scientific thought. There is nothing particularly “Kuhnian” about science before Kuhn and nothing particularly “Kuhnian” or “post Kuhnian” about science after Kuhn. He just wrote a book.
There is a real world out there. It’s a world where decisions have to be made on all sorts of matters some of which involve science. In those circumstances it would be helpful if the public were given pukka scientific information. As far as I can see from the writing on this blog that seems to be a problem for (some) social scientists.
Excellent summation Chris. Thanks.
I’m still perplexed by the lack of a clear answer (in fact any answer at all) to the observations that I and others have made BTL on various Making Science Public blog posts that – to summarise and paraphrase – there is ‘honest scepticism’ and ‘dishonest scepticism’, and a failure (or inability? or unwillingness?) to distinguish between the two is apparent on these pages.
Sorry I have thrown wotts… and Chris into one bag. It appears that their views are quite different. While I largely agree with wotts…, there are a few points in Chris’s comment where I disagree.
You say “a weakness in the social science approach (apparent on this blog) which seems to me … to consider the issues a sort of “clean slate” where every viewpoint is a worthwhile input to be thrown into the mix. However some viewpoints are not worthwhile and we cheat the democratic process and the well-being of societies if we pretend that they are.”
Like it or nor, in a democratic decision process scientific views are not per se privileged over other considerations. What you outline is a technocratic view of policy making. If you want certain policy outcomes it is not clear that science is the best means to achieve them.
You seem to assume this is the case and hence you view any ‘distortion’ of the science as a cause for disastrous developments (AIDS; MMR). As a consequence, ‘scientifically illiterate journalists are blamed for misrepresenting the science (and blocking progress). But politicians and lay people use many different criteria when making decisions, science is only one. No matter how much consensus science is ‘correctly’ portrayed in the media, it does not guarantee good results.
It almost sounds as if you want to point the finger also at social scientists since they are not helping to present a clear picture. But the social sciences are in no position to assume the role of a clearing house for competing scientific claims. The same applies to Jeremy’s point about the social scientists unwillingness to distinguish between ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’ skepticism – these are subjective categories.
This is where Kuhn becomes relevant. He is the most famous author (not the first) who made the case for a social and historical analysis of scientific practice. Social scientists are primarily interested in the study of these practices and not in the question of who was right and who was wrong.
This statement I find almost beyond belief. If that is really where social science stands on such matters then it’s in need of not one but an ongoing succession of Alan Sokal moments. Particularly when dealing with – and potentially seriously muddying the waters of – issues of genuine, real-world, import.
Is there *any* point at which a preference for one opinion over another enters into things? When one person says that 2 + 2 = 4 and another says 2 + 2 = 7, are both equally subjective? Are both equally correct? or incorrect? Or is it just possible that one is correct and one isn’t?
If it is possible to say that one is correct and one isn’t, at what point – or level of complexity – do you depart from that?
My own take on your distinction between honest and dishonest scepticism is a bit different from Reiner’s. From my own experience over the last year or so, I would say that ‘honesty’ might actually be a red thread that runs through a variety of forms of scepticism rather than separate out two big ‘camps’. ‘Honesty’ does not seem to work well as a distinguishing feature. There may of course be dishonest scepticism out there, and perhaps more so than one would like, but that’s something one should try to find out, not just assert. So, basically, in my view, this binary distinction is of rather limited use if we want to find out more about how new and old forms of scepticism work in the context of climate change.
I’m maybe getting slightly in the nuances of this discussion, but there does also seem to be a linguistic issue associated with climate science. In a general sense, those who disagree with the scientific consensus have managed to get themselves labelled as skeptics. This is, in a scientific sense, a very positive term and appears to give them some credibility, but also appears to remove some credibility from professional climate scientists who (according to some) are no longer being skeptical. A lot of the discussions associated with climate science seem to focus on the nuances of the terminology rather than actually focusing on the science itself. So, maybe this is related to what you were saying. We tend to end up labelling people as belonging to certain camps when, in some sense, it is more complicated than that.
On the other hand, this sometimes seems like it might all be a bit of a red herring. The science is much more settled than many are willing to recognise. So, understanding why there is some much skepticism is interesting, but sometimes it seems that this gets in the way of actually making it clear that, despite this, there really isn’t much disagreement about the fundamentals within the scientific community.
Reiner, I think my and Chris’s views are much more closely aligned than maybe it seems. For example you say
The point that we’re both trying to make – I think – is that this isn’t true for the science itself. Sure, everyone can express an opinion about the science, but really we should be listening to those who are trained, experienced and qualified to present the scientific evidence. This doesn’t mean that the scientific evidence tells us what to do, but allowing all scientific opinions to have a hearing is largely nonsensical. Deciding what to do, given the evidence, is of course a job for policy makers. There is one caveat though. If they are giving credence to the views of those who either don’t understand the science, or are mis-representing the science, then their policy decisions are unlikely to be optimal.
When you say,
I largely agree with what I think Jeremy is trying to say. Social scientists clearly can’t be the arbitrers of which scientific idea is correct, but they can act in a responsible manner. Promoting the possibility that we should give credence to those who we might politely call pseudo-skeptics is, in my opinion, irresponsible. I would argue that the same expectation could be made of the media and policy makers. Reporting the scientific views of pseudo-skeptics over the views of experienced, qualified scientists is irresponsible.
So, yes I understand that the social sciences are interested in studying the practices and aren’t necessarily interested in who is right and who is wrong, but they do have some responsibility to make sure that their studies properly represent what is taking place and to make sure that they don’t give undue credence to those who are pretending to do science, but largely getting it wrong.
Thank you Brigitte. At last, some kind of acknowledgement that there is at least the *possibility* of the existence of *dishonest* ‘scepticism’. Given the wall of silence on the issue that, it seems, has prevailed on these pages up to now that is progress indeed.
As I’ve said elsewhere on these pages, more than once, there is a *plethora* of discussion on the issue, with a vast array of examples out there for anyone to access who cares to. Anyone wanting to “find out” need not restrict themselves to climate science. As Chris points out, HIV-AIDs and MMR, amongst others, are also fertile areas for studies of ‘dishonest scepticism’.
A perusal of my posts elsewhere BTL on Making Science Public should, I hope, reveal that I’m fully aware that a simple binary classification is, well, a simplification (but it seems that simplification was necessary in order to get any kind of traction on the issue on these pages). For example, on the ‘Families of Scepticism 1’ page (I have redacted / paraphrased contentious terms, obviously):
and, from the ‘Are they really climate deniers?’ page:
It really, really, *really* is NOT rocket science. There is an entire, highly diverse, ecosystem of ‘dishonest scepticism’ out there, ranging from the *entirely* deliberate, self-serving, and cynical to an honest-but-incompetent (for want of a better term) belief that climate science is corrupt or misguided, and everything in between.
And to pile complexity upon complexity, all of those different parts of the ecosystem interact and feed off each other.
‘Wotts ….’ makes a very pertinent point, far more succinctly than I have done, about social scientists and *responsibility* :
Sorry that I overlooked your previous comments which demonstrate quite clearly that you have a good understanding of the complexity of what’s being discussed here! So let’s agree that there are multiple forms and functions of scepticism. I still believe that it’s useful to keep a critical eye on these forms and functions, not only for the sake of social science but also for the sake of natural/climate science. But I can see that we might disagree about this. The issue of ‘responsibility’ is a perhaps more serious issue and one with which I personally have been grappling for quite some time. As people might be able to judge from my writings on climate change related issues (beyond this blog in academic articles), I have tried to do this work in a responsible fashion.
That is something we can certainly agree on, although we may disagree on many of the details!
When I was starting to think about these things (and I sometimes wish I hadn’t ;), I found this quite interesting. I know it’s only New Scientist, but still: http://www.newscientist.com/special/living-in-denial
However, since then my file for a ‘literature review’ on the topic has grown enormously and even trying to write about emerging ‘typologies’ of scepticism is proving an almost impossible task. This alone is quite interesting though. (I sometimes feel I am more like an old-fashioned natural philosopher [of science] who starts with collecting specimen and then sorts them etc etc)
That’s understandable. It’s a can of worms.
I’ve always thought that available descriptions of [the d-word], including D&M 2009, are incomplete and no more than a starting point, and the discussions on these pages have yet again confirmed me in that opinion.
If the distinction between honest and dishonest scepticism is that easy, how would you define both?
Reiner, isn’t that – in a sense – the fundamental point. If we define, as I think Jeremy is, “dishonest” skeptism as any form of active skepticism
, then determining which form is “honest” and which is not, is not – typically – within the abilities of most social scientists. (I should say that I’m using the term skepticism here to mean those who won’t accept the views/advice of professional scientists rather than those who are skeptical but would turn to professional scientists to learn more). So, I can’t really see how social scientists could study something like this if they start by assuming that all directly involved in the science could have equal credibility. The only ones who can determine (through the scientific method) the merits of the different scientific ideas are the qualified, experienced scientists themselves. If a study starts by assuming that there may be issues with the scientific credibility of the scientists themselves, then it would seem to me that social scientists are not the people to resolve such an issue.
Actually, wotts, I would disagree with your suggestion that “determining which form is “honest” and which is not, is not – typically – within the abilities of most social scientists.” Many individuals with various degrees of formal training in science (and some with very little science background indeed) can understand quite well some of the obvious misrepresentations of pretend “skeptics”. In my experience young people especially are good at distinguishing flawed pseudo-scientific arguments.
There’s no reason why social scientists shouldn’t be able to grasp where the evidence lies on some of the broader elements of science that impacts on the sociopolitical sphere. After all, some social scientists write papers in social science journals on various aspects of climate science, for example. It would be surely be appalling if they would undertake to publish on a subject of which they were unable to distinguish what are valid ideas and interpretations supported by an evidence base and what are pseudo-“skeptical” assertions in pursuit of some self-serving agendas.
Incidentally, I had a rather quick read through Brigitte Nerlich’s ‘Climategate’: Paradoxical metaphors and political paralysis.” paper just now (apols for referring to you in the third person Brigitte!) and I got the impression from that that Brigitte has made some effort to establish what is and isn’t valid “skepticism”.
Hmmm, yes you may have a point. I think I expressed this poorly. What I was really trying to say is that if there is uncertainty about the merits of the science being presented, then social scientists would not be the people one would turn to to determine which of the scientific ideas have merit. It would typically be resolved through the scientific method. I’m sure there are indeed many social scientists who would be perfectly capable of distinguishing flawed pseudo-skeptic arguments. I guess what I was trying to say is that we wouldn’t be expecting social scientists to be researching which scientific ideas have merit, but we might expect them to research why, for example, there is so much disagreement within a particular science area. I too have looked at Brigitte’s paper and I agree. It does seem to be a paper that has tried to establish what is and isn’t valid skepticism.
Firstly I didn’t say it’s “that easy”, I said it’s “not rocket science”. Which is isn’t. Or at least it shouldn’t be for anyone with an understanding of the scientific process.
On the other hand, a request for a clear definition of each is, if you’re looking for something snappy and brief, one I’ll have to think about very carefully. That is because the definitions already out there for ‘dishonest scepticism’ are *not* particularly brief. That in turn is, it seems, because the phenomenon of ‘dishonest scepticism’ uses multiple types or sets of tactics and is, superficially at least, almost endlessly shifting and slippery.
But at base ‘dishonest scepticism’ is about a preference for and reliance upon rhetoric over and above *evidence*, and in fact a use of rhetoric to .
Diethelm & McKee (2009) is a useful but IMO rather incomplete starting point: http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/1/2.full
D & M have borrowed heavily from the Hoofnagel brothers (whose focus is primarily public health, not climate science) and cite various characteristics:
Each one of those five encompasses a multitude of possibilities. A perusal of relevant literature (not just on climate science but also public health and environmental issues as diverse as DDT, vaccines/autism, and the afore-mentioned HIV-AIDs, amongst others) will provide numerous examples.
If you want easy to grasp insights into how high – literally life-and-death – the stakes can be when addressing dishonest scepticism, do some reading around about HIV-AIDs denialism, particularly although by no means exclusively with reference to Mbeke and South Africa.
Just one (hopefully easy to grasp) illustration of the complexity of ‘dishonest scepticism’ is that there are expert dishonest sceptics and inexpert ones. It seems reasonable to suppose that expert dishonest sceptics – for example a trained geologist who repeatedly insists against all the evidence that rising atmospheric CO2 levels are due to volcanic activity – lie towards the cynical end of the spectrum. Inexpert ‘dishonest sceptics’, who may not even realise that they are using ‘dishonest’ arguments – arguments often picked up from the expert dishonest sceptics – lie towards the honest-but-incompetent end of the spectrum.
I could go on, but it’s getting late ……..
Reiner, it’s difficult to understand how your interpretation of my comments leads to this:
But nobody said “scientific views are privileged over other considerations”! I said quite the opposite, i.e. that “science as factual knowledge is only one element in the public perception of sociopolitical issues”. It isn’t a “technocratic view of policy making” to suggest that it would be helpful to the democratic process if the scientific evidence is portrayed faithfully. Why not read what I say and respond to that instead of arguing against your own fabricated sociopolitical monoliths.
The last sentence of the snippet I quoted from your post is also weird. Who says anything about “wanting certain policy outcomes”? You’re putting the cart before the horse. The scientific evidence is part of the input into policy making. It’s up to the public and politicians (and other parties that have influence such as lobbyists) to make policy. On some issues, the scientific evidence is a very important input into policy making. In a democratic society it would be helpful if the scientific evidence is presented faithfully to the public and politicians. Does that rather obvious truism really presents such bottom squirming difficulties for (some) social scientists?
you complain I would misrepresent your position as technocratic. You were saying the following; “a weakness in the social science approach (apparent on this blog) which seems to me … to consider the issues a sort of “clean slate” where every viewpoint is a worthwhile input to be thrown into the mix. However some viewpoints are not worthwhile and we cheat the democratic process and the well-being of societies if we pretend that they are.”
The question then becomes: who decides which viewpoints are ‘worthwhile’ and can be admitted to democratic deliberation (‘thrown into the mix’)? Should scientists be in this position? Or experts with a good knowledge of the subject matter?
The terms honest and dishonest are moral categories and I cannot see how scientists would have a professional advantage discussing these.
Jeremy’s definition is about denialism (not dishonest skepticism) and provides a list of five elements of which some or all must be present:
“The first is the identification of conspiracies. [ … ] The second is the use of fake experts. [ … ] The third characteristic is selectivity [ … ] The fourth is the creation of impossible expectations of what research can deliver. [ … ] The fifth is the use of misrepresentation and logical fallacies.”
Apart from the problem that the definition seems to be circular (fake experts are presumably those who are also guilty of selectivity, logical fallacies etc), the third fourth and fifth element are said to be present in many fields of science. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma comes to mind and the discussions in the wake of ‘climategate’. Denialism then seems a misnomer for such practices.
Reiner, you misunderstand me. When I use the term ‘dishonest scepticism’ I *mean* denialism. I only use the substitute term to avoid offending the sensibilities of those who object to the d-word. You have made an assumption about my meaning that is quite simply wrong.
A defining feature of true scepticism is honesty: intellectual honesty. Which is one reason why the ‘dishonest sceptics’ are so keen to hang onto the term ‘sceptic’, which has been so successfully adopted and subverted by them. ‘Dishonest scepticism’ is a contradiction in terms. Maybe social sciences have decided to broaden / change the definition of sceptic to include dishonest scepticism, but I do not use the word in that fashion, except ironically.
A number of your other points would benefit from some clarification. When you say
how do you propose to differentiate between ‘scientists’ and ‘experts with a good knowledge of the subject matter’? If you can consistently and meaningfully differentiate between them, how do you propose to identify experts ‘with a good knowledge of the subject matter’ in a fashion that doens’t leave it open to including people who only profess to be experts, even if they are able to do so convincingly to non-experts (as many dishonest sceptics do)?
A recurring issue on these pages appears to be putting carts before horses where the relationship between science and policy is concerned, and I suspect that your desire to separate out ‘scientists’ from ‘experts’ is somehow related to that. Chris used the exact term (re horses, carts, etc), above:
as did I earlier, on the ‘Are they really climate deniers’ page:
Maybe that cart-before-horse thing comes from a belief (entirely unreasonable IMO) that anyone involved in carrying out science thereby abdicates any right to involvement in decision making about policy *based on those findings* (as per Tamsin Edwards’ Grauniad article). However, so long as the findings are honestly derived and honestly presented, *then they should stand on their own merits*. At that point the debate about what to DO about those findings begins. That is policy.
‘Dishonest scepticism’ endeavours to disrupt that process by *misinforming* the policy making process.
I can identify with that Brigitte.
Although the basic list of broad approaches used by ‘dishonest sceptics’ is quite short they can be well disguised in practice, and it can be very time consuming identifying ‘dishonest’ arguments in any specialist and highly technical field.
It can also be a slightly disturbing realisation just how widespread and successful various forms of ‘dishonest scepticism’ are. For any slightly naive scientist (me six or eight years ago, for example) who thinks that argument-to-evidence is an accepted universal ideal and will (party politics aside, of course) always win the day, it can be bewildering, at least initially.
The evidence should indicate which viewpoints are “worthwhile”. If the particular issue has a significant scientific element then it would be helpful if the scientific evidence was portrayed faithfully, and scientists and their evidence should certainly inform faithful portrayl. When it comes to policy, it’s up to policymakers to assess the nature of scientific evidence. It may be that other considerations override the scientific imperative (e.g. it’s widely accepted that the widescale use of antibiotics as growth promoters in feed animal husbandry contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance- accordingly in the EU the practice is regulated against. In the US this practice remains widespread largely because the commercial lobby is very strong in the US – in the US in this particular instance the supposed commercial imperative trumps the science at least for now whether we like it or not).
So ideally, individuals with influence, honesty and a certain degree of nous would help to establish and disseminate what is scientifically valid and what is rubbish. This happens to some extent; in reference to climate science for example, Ed Davey – Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change seems to be briefed according to the science. The IPCC summaries for policymakers provide rather conservative discussion of the state of the science…and so on.
The scientific evidence can be portrayed faithfully. Obviously there are agendas (selling newspapers, political or religious viewpoints that are particularly prevalent in the US and far less so on the UK, commercial vested interests, out-and-out wacko’s on blogs and so on) that find it convenient to misrepresent the scientific evidence. It would be nice if these misrepresentations were minimized and countered.
One might enquire of the role of social science in this. It is apparent that some social scientists play an ambivalent role. An example might be your own Warren Pearce who wrote a particularly suspect article apparently endorsing the role of some rather objectively pseudo-“skeptical” sources of misinformation, and when pressed on this, fell back on the rather weak assertion that (paraphrasing) “well I’m just an observer in all of this and it’s not my place to assess what is and isn’t valid”.
I hope you can see the problem with that. You need to decide whether you are sitting on the sidelines gathering material for your publications in social science journals, or whether you consider that your views might have some influence. If the latter then it would be appropriate to learn something about the scientific issues relevant to the thing you choose to write about. It’s not satisfactory to aid in the dissemination of misinformation by promoting scientifically-rubbish viewpoints and then assert that in fact it’s nothing to do with you..
Anyway, what’s wrong with getting to grips with the scientific evidence?! It would make your work much stronger (one would have thought). There are also surely some fascinating questions about the nature of pseudo-skepticism, and how particular individuals (some of them former scientists) choose to misrepresent this – what their backgrounds and motivations are..
You hit the nail on the head.
Jeremy, on “dishonest skepticism”; I like to think of this in relation to “good faith” and “bad faith”.
Scientists sometimes get things wrong. By and large they do so within an internalised philosophy/psychology of good faith. In other words they are doing their best to find out something about the natural world and if they occasionally get it wrong (hopefully the find out before publishing!) it’s not because they have set out deliberately to find a “wrong answer”.
Since there is a real natural world out there it’s very likely that the work of scientists acting in good faith will conform to the particular aspect of the world being explored. At the very least reality provides a benchmark to which empirical observations and their interpretations must largely accord. That doesn’t mean that nature might not fool us occasionally. But “wrong” interpretations are made in good faith.
Since there is a reality out there (a real one not a philosophically-suspect one), one tend to find that groups of scientists acting in good faith arrive at broadly similar interpretations about certain aspects of the natural world. That’s called a consensus.
Pseudo-“skeptics” don’t act in good faith. Their aim is not to make honest assessment of evidence but to misrepresent this according to some particular agenda. Since their interpretations don’t map onto external reality, their misrepresentations tend to be diverse and vague, and when explored to lack an evidence base. It’s often very easy for individuals with rather little scientific background, but with a truly skeptical viewpoint and a grasp of logic to identify scientific rubbish. That’s part of the reason that quite a few of the published rebuttals to some of the misrepresentation that makes its way as a dismal dribble into the scientific literature are not made by scientists, but by supposed “amateurs”. Good for them!
We could easily talk about specific examples. I’m not suggesting we do so here. But I would have thought it would be enlightening for social scientists that engage with this subject to get to grips with the concept of “good faith” in science, and to think about some of the so-called “skeptics” contribution in this light, perhaps in discussion with real scientists (or maybe talk to some bright teenagers with a scientific interest).
I largely agree Chris. It’s certainly a valid distinction that can be made. Thinking in a little more detail, it’s quite possible to imagine that ‘honest-but-incompetent’ pseudo-sceptics might *in good faith* use *bad faith* arguments they’ve picked up elsewhere but aren’t equipped to identify as dishonest. The acid test then comes when they are presented with evidence that the argument is false: to accept or not to accept? If accepting, do they then go down the route I think of as ‘The [dishonest sceptics] retreat’. A slightly tongue-in-cheek illustration from another post BTL on this blog [square brackets added by me now]:
I also agree that many people with little or no scientific background can quite easily see many pseudo-sceptic arguments for what they are, although some who could be thought of as good-faith (i.e. seem to genuinely believe that they are being honestly sceptical), are entirely unable to, for whatever reason. I’ve found this to be quite common. A diagnostic moment for distinguishing between ‘good faith’ and ‘bad faith’ might be discovering that ‘unable to understand’ is in fact ‘unwilling to understand’.
I start to wonder if your reactions to social science reasoning are due to an unwillingness or inability to understand.
When I asked who should decide which viewpoints are to be admitted to a decision making process your answer is “the evidence”. Do you really believe that evidence is self-revealing, without any actors making claims about it? This is the space where social science analysis starts and which is overlooked by you.
Who is putting the horse before the cart? You assure that it is not about desired policy outcomes, that it is only about faithful scientific information etc and that policy decisions will follow in a separate process. If this was your whole point we would not have any disagreement. But it is not. You object to the social scientists’ observation role and want them to come down on one side of the debate. Taking the role of the advocate is no obligation in the sciences, and it is not in the social sciences. It is a choice which needs to be carefully thought through. (I recommend Roger Pielke Jr’s book The Honest Broker on this matter).
To quote your much invoked “scientific method”: Isn’t it the first and foremost task of social scientists to do their job properly, making observations and collecting evidence? Warren Pearce was spot on with his remark.
Your honest/dishonest and good faith/bad faith distinction is not reserved to denialism (BTW, you have not replied to my argument that the list of 5 elements of denialism is meaningless). Such distinctions appear in many social situations and is dependent on participants’ values and interaction dynamics. Again, like with your belief in the self-revealing nature of evidence you seem to think this is self-revealing, too. But it is not. All actors in policy relevant science have an agenda, not only those on the “other side”. Motivated reasoning can be observed in many quarters, I have written a recent blog post on this, see http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.de/2013/08/science-for-good-cause.html
Reiner, I was going to avoid making another comment as this appears to be going nowhere, but I’ll make a brief one anyway. It seems, to me at least, that there is much more agreement than the discussion indicates and that part of the issue is recognising what others are actually saying. There is clearly a distinction between the evidence being presented (by scientists) and how to determine the significance of the evidence and what to do given the evidence (an aspect that cannot be decided by the evidence alone). So, I don’t think Chris or Jeremy are suggesting that the evidence presented by the scientists immediately tells us what to do. I believe (and I agree) that we should be distinguishing between the role that scientists play (in carrying out their research and presenting their evidence) and the role that the public and policy makers play (deciding the significance of the scientific evidence and what to do given the evidence).
The confusing aspect of your comment, to me at least, is maybe the comment below
It depends very much on what the social scientist is trying to do. If the goal is to investigate why there is so much skepticism about a particular science area, indeed this exactly right. What I don’t get is how it would be possible for social science research to tell us whether or not the actual mainstream science is credible or not? I’m not suggesting that social scientists are unable to distinguish between “dishonest” and “honest” skepticism, simply that social science does not normally play a direct role in the scientific method in another field (and I do mean in determining the validity of the science itself, rather than the credibility of the individuals involved).
There’s a possibility that social scientists could discover that scientists in a particular field are particularly dishonest. That may indicate a problem with the science, but doesn’t immediately prove that there is a problem with the science. So, in a sense, I can understand social scientists investigating how the scientific method is operating in general, but I can’t see how they can play a direct role in determining the credibility of the science in a specific science area.
So, a concern that has been raised about this particular site (Making science public) is that there has been a sense that some of the posts have been promoting science that is not mainstream, is not being carried out by professional (or trained) scientists, and that – in many cases – is demonstrably incorrect. Some (myself included) are confused about how that fits within what this site appears to be doing and if it is indeed appropriate/ideal.
Reiner, it is difficult to converse with you since you seem unwilling to address what people say faithfully.
So I’ve said several times that I consider the role of the science is to uncover and present evidence. This feeds into policy making where it competes with other factors that have a claim to influence (e.g. political, commercial, corporate, ethical). On issues with a strong scientific input (say policy making on the response to scientific evidence on the role of CFC’s in attenuating stratospheric ozone) the scientific evidence plays a pivotal role. However there are other considerations too. As in my example of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal husbandry the same scientific evidence can lead to entirely different policies (i.e. firm regulation constraining use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the EU; rather weak policy response to the scientific evidence in the US).
Could I say this any clearer? The scientific evidence is one of several factors (a central one sometimes) in policymaking. The scientific evidence leads to no necessary consequent policy. It’s up to policymakers to decide policy based on all of the issues, scientific or otherwise. However, given that scientific evidence is a very important input into policymaking on many issues it would be great if the scientific evidence is portrayed faithfully. It would be good if someone on this blog would give an O.K. to that idea.
…and no, you can’t “quote (my) much invoked “scientific method” because nowhere on this thread did I invoke such a thing. Please stop railing against your own manufactured nostrums.
Finally, nowhere did I say that (I) “object to the social scientists’ observation role and want them to come down on one side of the debate.” That’s silly. I have no problem with social scientists taking an observation role if they choose to do so. What is not good is for social scientists to wittingly or unwittingly support misinformation campaigns. Warren Pearce himself “chose to come down on one side of the debate” by suggesting (inter alia) that certain pseudo-“skeptics” are the ones “championing real science”, when it’s obvious from even a cursory perusal of the sites of the pseudo-“skeptical” bloggers he referred to that they do nothing of the sort.
In my opinion social scientists do themselves and their subject a disservice if they are unwilling to make the effort to learn a little of the (very accessible) background to the stuff they write about. The problem is that if you write nonsense then it’s likely that no one will take you very seriously. You can be sure that the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and his policy advisors take no notice whatsoever of the appalling pseudo-science on the Watts blog that Warren Pearce champions. Of course one might say that Watts’ stuff doesn’t matter very much since no one in a position to influence policy takes any notice of it (not in the UK anyhow)…likewise one could say that Warren Pearce was only orating on a blog and that doesn’t really matter either…..
Personally I think these things do matter at least a little. Experience show that we are likely to make better policy on issues with a strong science input if we address the scientific evidence faithfully and are bright enough not to be taken in by pseudo-science.
Chris, I agree with everything you say about science, evidence and policy. However, I don’t agree with your portrayal of Warren’s article/blog posts. He does not ‘champion pseudo-science’. In his Guardian article he tried to provide a description of how some climate sceptics think about science and why they might think they are contributing to ‘real’ science. His argument was, I believe, that this fight over who is or is not the champion of ‘real’ science distracts from implementing any realistic (science-based) climate policy. Warren is on holiday at the moment, but he’ll correct me if I have got him wrong on his return, I am sure.
I, too, have the impression that much of the commenting was inspired by a concern over Warren’s alleged ‘unwitting support’ for skeptics like Watts. This has provided much of the energy, but meant that the thread soon was driven off topic.
no one objects to wanting scientific evidence to be represented faithfully. Warren’s point was that several skeptics think that the mainstream does not always follow this rule.
If you had done your homework you would have learned that I have published extensively on one of your favourite examples, the CFC ozone case. Saying that science played a ‘pivotal’ role is trivially true but does not explain why we got CFC regulations.
Who is writing nonsense?
I’m with Wotts on this: it seems to be going nowhere.
The most interesting and disturbing thing about it is the levels of mutual incomprehension on display.
Hi guys, I think it’s time to close comments on this. i hope you agree.
Hi Brigitte, I would like to respond to Reiner. I have no problem with limiting discussion of Warren Peace’s article, since he’s clarified his comments on this elsewhere and as you say he’s not around to respond here.
Reiner ‘though is being disingenuous again and that requires a response. He say’s:
But I was using the CFC ozone case to illustrate a strong role of scientific evidence and expertise in policy making on some issues. I said explicitly that scientific evidence is only one of the inputs into policy making. I’ve been saying that right through this thread, ‘though you find it convenient to misrepresent this for some reason. I did notice, btw, that you had written on CFC’s. It seems to me that you agree with the point I’m making repeatedly since the first sentences of the abstract of your 2006 paper is “This article compares the cases of ozone layer protection and climate change. In both cases, scientific expertise has played a comparatively important role in the policy process.”
Since you seem to agree with me your rather unscholarly insinuation that I’m “writing nonsense” doesn’t make much sense.
It seems to me that you are both making sense, but are somehow talking past each other. If you both think that there is still some mileage in finding a communicative point where your sense-making efforts may meet, please continue, but I would avoid words like ‘nonsense’ 🙂
No it’s probably worth calling it a day now. I’ve learned some interesting things in this discussion!
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