Somewhat against my will, I find myself obliged to post about Hulme, if only to stop people arguing on other talk pages. Come and argue here, folks :-(.
Anyway, KK pointed me to two Hulme pieces, and I’ll take those as my texts:
My immeadiate reaction is that these are both about science-n-politics. Which immeadiately says the the hacking incident has told us nothing interesting or new about the actual science. Which in turn is one in the eye for the septics, who insist it puts yet another stake through the heart of blah wibble.
Of the two, the Beeb one is a bit wanky I’d say – the philosophy-disappearing-up-its-own-posterior sort.
The classic virtues of scientific objectivity, universality and disinterestedness can no longer be claimed to be automatically effective as the essential properties of scientific knowledge. Instead, warranted knowledge – knowledge that is authoritative, reliable and guaranteed on the basis of how it has been acquired – has become more sought after than the ideal of some ultimately true and objective knowledge.
for example. Continuing The public may not be able to follow radiation physics, but they can follow an argument; they may not be able to describe fluid dynamics using mathematics, but they can recognise evasiveness when they see it. No, sorry, this is just pandering to the populace, as I said before. It is all very well, but in the end only a teensy tiny proportion of the public – well under, to pluck a figure out of the air, 1% – are ever going to have a meaningful appreciation of the real state of the science. The rest are going to have to trust to science mediated by the media, so to speak, and currently said media are doing a poor job (notably the Beeb, who are wont to “sex up” quotes from their interviewees when those interviewees don’t say the exciting things the Beeb knows they really wanted to say. Alas, well-meaning people then copy the same junk onto wiki). There is no way the Public can come to a correct opinion based on their judging the scientific arguments, nor can this process be validly short-circuited by by some kind of “beauty parade” of the different views. This I think is one area where the septics have done well: “look”, they say “you can judge for yourselves”, they say, shamelessly pandering. Have I ranted about this enough now?
Where claims of scientific knowledge provide the basis of significant public policy, demands for what has been called “extended peer review” and “the democratisation of science” become overwhelming. – oh good grief. This is so stupid. Why press for this unworkable nonsense, and omit talking about something practical, and workable, that even exists in embryonic form today – open peer review? How well does the public understand professional peer review, for example, or the role of a workshop, a seminar and a conference in science? – my assumption would be, not at all. At this point I gave up on this piece by Hulme, considering it Unenlightening. Maybe we can blame his philosopher other half. If you think I gave up too early and missed the great stuff later on, put up a quote in the comments.
Lets move on to the WSJ piece.
Immeadiately, this looks better. I quibble it has become difficult to disentangle political arguments about climate policies from scientific arguments about the evidence for man-made climate change and the confidence placed in predictions of future change. I don’t think that is true at all. If you’re interested in the science then you ignore this hacking incident entirely, and people who try to mix them together. Unless he means, it is difficult based on the media reporting in which case I agree entirely, but point to any number of past posts where I’ve said it would be utterly hopeless to try to understand climate change based on the meeja.
One reaction to this “unreasonableness” is to get scientists to speak louder, more often, or more dramatically about climate change. Another reaction from government bodies and interest groups is to use ever-more-emotional campaigning. Agree; and both are bad. Too often, when we think we are arguing over scientific evidence for climate change, we are in fact disagreeing about our different political preferences, ethical principles and value systems. agree entirely; all too often the press mixes them up. sometimes deliberately, the septics certainly do. More often accidentally, though a lack of understanding.
If we build the foundations of our climate-change policies so confidently and so single-mindedly on scientific claims about what the future holds and what therefore “has to be done,” then science will inevitably become the field on which political battles are waged. The mantra becomes: Get the science right, reduce the scientific uncertainties, compel everyone to believe it. . . and we will have won. Not only is this an unrealistic view about how policy gets made, it also places much too great a burden on science, certainly on climate science with all of its struggles with complexity, contingency and uncertainty. Yes, this is excellent. How can one man write this, and then the tosh of the Beeb piece? Weird.
Climate scientists, knowingly or not, become proxies for political battles. The consequence is that science, as a form of open and critical enquiry, deteriorates while the more appropriate forums for ideological battles are ignored. No, now he has gone off the rails again. The straight and narrow path is indeed narrow. Unless he is responding to the issues James has been raising, about the problems of getting critical responses to dodgy septic papers past the same editors who approved said dodgy papers in the first places? Somehow I don’t think that is how the WSJ audience will be reading his words.
There is more, but I think that is enough. Conclusion: the WSJ piece is far better than the Beeb piece. Hulma has some valuable things to say and manages to say some of them, but needs to look a little more carefully at his phrasing, perhaps be a little harder-hitting in some of his examples (is he interested in Open Inquiry? Then lead by example: Name Names), and get better co-authors.