Some time ago I promised KK a post on tribalism, and he has never forgiven me for not writing it.
I think the reason I never wrote it was because the word, or the charge, turns out to be so vague as to be meaningless. Tribalism is a charge you fling at people when you have no real arguments left and nothing of substance to say: “you’re being tribal”; “no I’m not!”; “aha! see, you deny it, you must be tribal”. And so on. What is it, anyway? I’d say it is when you defend views and ideas and data from “your” group even when you know it to be wrong, because you don’t want your group to lose face, or you subscribe to some higher ideal. It is a very political thing: all political parties are tribal, at least ones that succeed. However Curry has a different defn:
Groupthink is a form of intellectual laziness, whereby we do not continually challenge the science in a fundamental way. Tribalism is more detrimental to the science than group think, when people who have different opinions and viewpoints are excluded.
Well, this is my blog, I’m using my defn, so there. My defn sort-of includes Curry’s, because real outsiders are exclused, but by my defn some insiders with different opinions are still members of the “tribe”; they just don’t speak out about those opinions. Having written this, I have other stuff to finish this evening, and this isn’t the post I intended to write, but never mind, this is what you get.
How about some examples of tribalism? Well yes, most obviously, the s(k)eptic movement. They defend one another, they never accept that members of their tribe have ever erred, and so on. Classic tribalism. Look at the s(k)eptic response to the Wegman report. It is riddled with errors. See for example a recent post of mine. What “auditor” worth their salt wouldn’t jump on such a figure and loudly proclaim it’s flaws. Ah yes, indeed. Or consider the UAH satellite series – once the septics favourite (oh I forgot the k, but you saw it coming, didn’t you?) when it showed cooling, and still produced by JC and RS, two on the “skeptical” side. So it gets treated very gently – no inquiries into its multiple revisions. Or, consider people’s response to the [[Climatic Research Unit email controversy]]. There was great excitement, there were cries of “fraud!”, “skullduggery!”. This was going to be the final scandal that yet again nailed GW into its coffin. And then… oh dear, 3 inquiries in a row and nothing exciting to show for it (this is a nice link saying roughly that; also a nice follow up about siege). One possible response – the non-tribal one – would be to apologise for the ho-ha and the false allegations. But of course none of the septics have done that. Having nailed their colours to the mast, there is no way back now.
Anyway, what about direct response to some of Curry’s points? I think that Curry is, once again, saying things that don’t stand up (remember all that fuss on KK’s blog a bit back? She has a history of not doing her homework). They “feel” right to her, but are actually substanceless. What about
I arguably entered into this inner circle in 2005-2007, so i’ve been there and been seduced by the whole thing: a sense of doing something important, being very concerned about spurious “attacks” from the politically motivated,
What in particular is spurious “attacks” supposed to mean? That the “inner circle” was exposed only to spurious things that weren’t attacks but were only “attacks”? Come, this is nonsense. There were plenty of genuine non-spurious attacks during that period, that were only “spurious” in the sense of being scientifically invalid.
The difficulty in arranging debates between key climate researchers and skeptics, moderation at RC, disinvitation of Steve McIntyre from the recent dendro conference, playing games with journal peer review process as evident from the CRU emails, I would characterize this as tribalism, not groupthink. Part of the tribalism seems motivated by an apparent political “siege”, whether or not this is justified is another story, but tribalism it remains.
So, Curry sees tribalism only on one side (hey, just like me, only its a different side). Is this because the tribalism on the septic side is so obvious that it isn’t worth mentioning – or is it because she doesn’t believe it is significant enough to be worth mentioning? Who knows, she doesn’t bother say.
Moderation at RC seems to be the “skeptics” favourite playing card. I don’t, any more. But I did. And I moderate comments here. If you don’t, you get wackos, and your comments fill up with worthless stuff. And RC is deliberately targetted by the septics. McI at dendro… dunno. Would need to see details [Update: MB points me at http://shewonk.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/the-one-chopped-down-to-size/#more-347. Presumably this is what Curry means; unimpressive; capture. See also MB’s other points]. CRU emails: see above. Curry’s comment is evidence of her tribalism and groupthink. difficulty in arranging debates between key climate researchers and skeptics – not sure what is meant there. There is a vast disparity in number between scientists who accept the consensus, and respectable scientists who dispute it. So “peer” debates would be tricky – Lindzen would have to show up a lot. And why are non-peer debates a good idea? If you want someone to debate, say, Singer, you don’t need a scientist.
One example of “tribalism” that does spring to mind is the climate sensitivity / uniform prior stuff that JA keeps harping on about. Maybe that doesn’t make a good sound-bite. Notice that none of the septics noticed it.
motivated by an apparent political “siege”, whether or not this is justified is another story is pathetic weaselling. If you’re not prepared to admit that there has been a sustained political attack on climate research, you haven’t been paying attention or you’re not prepared to be honest. This is, again, tribalism by Curry (by my defn): being unprepared to admit to inconvenient facts (you don’t have to *deny* the facts, notice – there is always a way back, later, to say “ah but I didn’t say it wasn’t so” – all you need to do for a while is to refuse to admit them).
I became uneasy by the portrayal of too much confidence in the IPCC findings, and wanted to disassociate myself from alarmism, which i define as undue focus on the plausible worst case scenarios
The first part of this I think has some substance, though not if you’re talking about the IPCC reports themselves (just what Curry is talking about we don’t know of course, she is vague; thought earlier she meant IPCC WGI). As to the “alarmism” bit – I don’t know what she means. This is mood-music stuff: she knows the kind of concepts she has in mind, and somehow assumes that we’re so in tune with her we’ll skip over the lack of evidence. You could call that… tribalism, perhaps?
[Update: there is a nice comment from Curry here on data archiving, in which she stands up to the zealots, so credit to her for that. I don’t really buy the argument that policy-relevance means standards have changed stuff, though. The usual suspects still fail to understand her though.]