Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sustainable climate science

A discussion about "sustainable climate science" has been published as

von Storch, H., 2012: Sustainable climate science, In: M. Reckermann, K. Brander, B. MacKenzie and A. Omstedt (eds): Climate Impacts on the Baltic Sea: From Science to Policy, 201-209

The full manuscript is available from academia.edu, the abstract reads:
To do climate science sustainably, a number of constraints in practicing research and communicating science need to be implemented. Among them are the admission of uncertainty and the possibility for future revision, the recognition that scientific knowledge is challenged and influenced by cultural constructions, and the usage of accurate language, which is not conflicting with every-day language. That scientific knowledge does not directly lead to political conclusions must also be recognized. A few elements needed for a successful science-public dialogue are listed and discussed.

36 comments:

Harry Dale Huffman said...

Scientific knowledge (a.k.a., the objective truth) is NOT challenged and influenced by cultural constructions. I know what you are saying, but it is simply a lie. On the contrary, cultural constructions either acknowledge the truth, or THEY will increasingly be challenged by IT--and this is just what has been going on in science since Darwin. If you want to get it right, say "consensus claims are challenged and influenced by cultural constructions (but more fundamentally, by the truth, of real knowledge)". Real knowledge is above the fray. Get it right, or don't talk about it at all, if you want this physical scientist's respect.

Hans von Storch said...

Mr. Huffmann,

first I do not ask for your respect. I really do not mind.

Also, I do not appreciate if you claim that I would "lie". If you think it is "untrue", fine, but claiming that I knowingly would make an "untrue" assertion, is an insult.

Werner Krauss said...

In my opinion, this is a very "conservative" agenda how to get out of the current conceptual crisis in climate science. The attempt to separate decidedly nature from culture and science from society clearly contradicts the developments in science & technology studies and other disciplines, which instead try to overcome these conceptual separations.

In your vision, we have on the one hand an objective, only curiosity driven climate science, and on the other the somehow deficient society with their values, believes and NGOs. Thus, the current dilemma is reduced to a war of the pure "Mertonions" against the evil forces of interest driven societal groups like NGOs (be they alarmist or skeptic).

In my opinion, this argumentation confuses a call for "good scientific practice" - to which I would totally subscribe -, with an idealized vision / mission of science.

In my understanding, science is indeed a social practice, which is NOT opposed to the media, everyday language, believes and other things societal. Instead, scientific practice is closely connected to and associated with these entities and practices. Instead of cutting off these connections conceptually and to purify the image of science, I suggest to analyze and become aware of the nature of these connections in order to get in control of them. This would be in my opinion the prerequisite for an honest and open communication about how to face the climate challenge. But this would be quite the opposite of separating nature from culture and science from society.

Werner Krauss said...

(sorry, I forgot to paste the rest)

Thus, I suggest to follow in each and every debate the multiple connections between for example the scientific measurements in the Arctic, the NOAA press release, and how the story of a new tipping point travels across the world - just like we did here on klimazwiebel. Such a story cannot not be "resolved" by separating good Merton here and bad media there; instead, it is something we are all involved in, science and society. That'javascript:void(0)s maybe something new; maybe in the anthropocene, we have to think about how to change our conceptions of the society / science interface accordingly.

Werner Krauss said...

of course, in #4 there is a "not" too much in "Such a story cannot not be "resolved" by separating good Merton here and bad media there" - it reads correctly like: "such a story cannot be "resolved" by separating good Merton here and bad media there".

Hans von Storch said...

Werner,

I am a bit disappointed about my inability to express myself correctly: I never implied that there would be "bad" media, and I am surprised that you read it from my text. How could your conclude "current dilemma is reduced to a war of the pure "Mertonions" against the evil forces of interest driven societal groups like NGOs (be they alarmist or skeptic)." Who said "evil" or "pure"? I pointed to differences, not moral superiority. What I am trying to explain is that there are different explanations (knowledge) systems, one type mostly fed by scientific constructions (conditioned by culture), and others by cultural and medial constructions. At least some social scientists seem to have suggested this concept, see
Nico Stehr and Reiner Grundmann (eds), 2005: Knowledge (Critical Concepts in Philosophy). Maybe, Reiner wants to contribute?

My daily experience tells me that scientific constructions are different from others, as they are - at least in principle - based on efforts such as the S in CUDOS. Think of Feynman's famous quote on the S.

I am also convinced that there is a social system called Naturwissenschaft, which is useful with specific properties and services - just as Gewerkschaften (unions) and media are useful and provide specific services.

When we want to play science playing a constructive role in society, we have to analyse what the utility and the possible service of Naturwissenschaft is. In the same way, media and Gewerkschaften, churches, political parties and NGOs, to name a few. This is a task of social sciences, and the answer is not that all is part of culture(s).

The issue of sustainability applies to all these societal actors, but depends on - the utility and service. For me, as an active scientist, the question concerning science and my own fields practice is priority.

Discussing the role of science in society makes little sense when we have not agreed what makes a social activity "science". I wonder if your definition is "science is what scientists do"?

Reiner Grundmann said...

Science and Technology Studies (STS) have indeed shown how science is socially constructed, and Werner has a point. However, the description of this situation/process does not carry any normative dimension and it is noteworthy that scientists are lukewarm at best (but mostly opposed) to STS. The reason is that they think that an admission of this fact would undermine their cognitive authority.

And so we see that despite all the scholarly work of STS the official self description of science as made by scientists is different, "conservative" perhaps to use Werner's term. They insist that what they do is based on truth, and the term construction raises suspicion in their view. The same applies to other terminology such as science being part of society or reflecting culture...

I have used the conceptual pair of hybridization/purification (taken from Latour which he developed in a slightly different context) to describe the double process in which scientists are involved. They bring to bear many different strategies and elements which are extra-scientific in the strict sense (political, cultural). In the end result these are made to disappear. A scientific result appears as fact, it is TRUE, and not the product of social processes.

If we bear this double process in mind we are able to understand the Werner's point that STS makes accurate descriptions of scientific practice, but also Hans's point that science has a special function in society and has to be careful about its claims.

Werner, remember the comment from one referee of my Climategate paper (as discussed here on Klimazwiebel)? S/he said that there could no surprise that scientists used all kinds of practices when doing their research and when devising publication strategies. And that my paper did not offer any new insights in this respect. Would you agree with such a position?

Werner Krauss said...

I consider it interesting to see a climate scientist trying to make claims in the field of social sciences; to provide a water-proof theory of society; to assign tasks to the social sciences (finding out the utility of Naturwissenschaften for "society"), and even to restrict the range of possible answers:

"This is a task of social sciences, and the answer is not that all is part of culture(s)."

Consequently, as a cultural anthropologist, I am of course excluded from this task, as for us, every human activity is cultural. And, with all due respect, science is a human activity. Interesting.

But maybe we are excluded in a kind of counter-magic: everybody knows that when the anthropologists come to document their culture, the days of the respective tribe are already counted ... Understandable, I have to admit. But sustainable?

hvw said...

Reiner,
Science and Technology Studies (STS) have indeed shown how science is socially constructed,..

Would it be possible to explain to someone not familiar with the lingo (or point me to a compact source that explains) what it means, for a scientific result, to be the product of a social construction?

To document the nature of my ignorance:
"Social construction" seems to imply some sort of relativism in the sense that it implies the existence of alternative social conditions leading to different constructions. Would there be an alternative to the current social setting that could lead to results contradicting the ones we we have? Or does the relativism refer to other, non-science, "knowledge systems", such as religious traditions? Or does it mean that under different conditions, the results, if produced, were the same, but they are not produced because different questions were asked and considered meaningful? Does it mean that scientific results loose meaning or explanatory power outside the scientific realm, or outside our society, which attaches a certain authority to the scientific tradition?

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

"Social Constructivism" is a broach church and your examples could all be considered valid.

Recently we had a discussion about specific aspects at the Lagerfeuer.

Classical sources include:

HM Collins, Changing Order, 1985

B Latour & S Woolgar, Laboratory Life. The Contruction of Scientific Facts. 1979

Werner Krauss said...

@Hans #6 and Reiner #7

Both of you ask for definitions of scientific practice (Reiner) or what makes a social practice "science" (Hans). I think this is really difficult to pin down. I immediately think this is an interesting question: but why ask right now? And why ask me? What is at stake? Why is this important? Is science in crisis?

I think it is easy to agree upon something like "good scientific practice" (I am a little bit reluctant concerning the term "sustainable" - from my research on sustainable development, it has so many negative connotations...). Is it CUDOS for natural sciences? I looked it up on wikipedia, and it sounds reasonable. But this is not the problem, I guess. Even CUDOS is so vague that it covers the general, but not the daily practice.

Once, the mayor of a Portuguese town asked me: my politics are based on our culture. You as an anthropologist study our culture, so tell me: isn't our politics in line with the cultural traditions of this region, of its people? You should write a book about us, so people can see the beauty of our culture and what we, the xxx party, have already achieved in preserving it, against all obstacles, and what we do for Portugal, the great nation etc etc ...the point is: those questions are never innocent, be it the one for science or the one for culture. There is always something at stake.

Jerry Ravetz once defined post-normal science as exactly the point when those questions surrounding scientific practices are raised too often. But there are two possibilities to deal with this situation: one is trying to solve the problem in re-establishing the pure and immaculate image of science, to re-invent it. The other way is to look at the situation: what is at stake here?

At stake is anthropogenic climate change. It is exactly the "anthropogenic", which challenges the practice and identity of the natural sciences. Because anthropogenic means culture - something the natural sciences tend to avoid like the plague. In my opinion, climate science will have to go beyond the narrow confines of natural sciences. This is indeed a huge challenge for its cultural identity, it is a culture shock.
(Sometimes, at night, or in the blogosphere, they shyly meet already and talk to each other...).

Hopefully, CUDOS will protect them on their way of slowly merging with the cultural and social sciences towards a new scientific practice and identity not yet heard of (but hopefully it will be of loving grace -:).

Sorry for this early morning brain storming. But maybe it's at least part of the answer to your above questions....

Hans von Storch said...

Reiner - you mean "broad" church?
I guess, the relevant question is where in the scientific process (of generating knowledge) do social/cultural influence matter. No, not the answer - "all", even if this may in principle be true, but specific, in the sense: where is this influence having really an impact on the result. (When coding a Fortran-program, the influence is likely nil.)
My answer: when formulating a project / question / hypothesis, and when assessing if evidence is sufficient for validating / supporting a hypothesis.

Should we do a little case study - the next PhD topic, which I would like to ask a student to deal with: 'What is the "resolution" of a regional climate model?' The motivation for this question is related to the utility of regional models and of scenarios generate with such models - has to do with questions in the public, whether we can discriminate between Warnemünde and Rostock in a contemporary climate change scenario.

When bringing natural and social and cultural scientists together, as we do here, do we talk about the same, when we refer to Wissenschaft? In the anglo-saxon world, the terminology is different, with humanities and science. Reiner spoke of "cognitive authority". Do I, as a trained mathematician have such an authority when speaking about issues mostly related to chemistry, to ecology, or sociology of knowledge, of other fields, dealt with scientifically?

Werner, when I excluded the answer "all is cultural" I meant that this answer would be uninteresting since it is trivial. The question was: "what [is] the utility and the possible service of Naturwissenschaft".

For climate science, at stake is not "anthropogenic climate change" but "knowledge about anthropogenic climate change", which leads to suggestions for how to deal with the societal issue.

Hans von Storch said...

Werner, you asked "but why ask right now? And why ask me? What is at stake? Why is this important? Is science in crisis?".

Why now? - because it is an interesting question, and it seems relevant for making progress inn our discussion. I got the impression that we have different views on this. If you think the debate is unnecessary, just do not join.

Why you? - It was not a question specifically to you, but a question to all participating in this discussion.

Why is it important? - Because, in my view, all in science is about this process. If scientists claim "cognitive authority" then because they think the process of generating knowledge is superior. What does this process consist of?

Is science in crisis? - I my view: climate science is, not material research or mathematical topology. Because many mix: the political solution of a problem with knowledge supportive for political solutions of a problem. Therefore, climate science is in many cases done, or communicated, unsustainably.

Werner Krauss said...

Hans

#12: you say that "all is cultural" is "trivial". Really? I guess you think it is plain wrong. Because otherwise, your questions wouldn't make any sense anymore ("where in the scientific process..do social / cultural influence come in", for example).

And your whole argument, which is based on the separation of nature from culture and science from society, wouldn't work any more.

Thus, at least in the context of this discussion, "all is cultural" is not trivial.

#13

I thought that my "why" questions were easily to be identified as rhetorical devices, because I used them to tell a long story about a Portuguese mayor to make my point. This is totally different from thinking that the "debate is unnecessary". But obviously, I did not present my point very well, or you didn't get it or else you decided to simply ignore it.

Furthermore, I do not agree that scientific knowledge is superior. Superior to what? Scientific knowledge is well crafted or not. That's enough for me.

(By the way, could someone explain "cognitive authority" to me, please?)

Hans von Storch said...

Werner,

I am afraid, we are not converging in our discussion at this time. What I get from what you write is "all is all", that is we have a problem with the usage of words (and meanings).

I did so say that you would consider "scientific knopwledge superior", I wrote "If scientists claim 'cognitive authority' then because they think the process of generating knowledge is superior.", referring to Reiner's comment, who referred to an empirical fact (namely that many scientists do have such claims.)

Sorry for misunderstanding your rhetorical device.

Let's end this discussion for the time being.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Hans

Sorry for the typo - I meant "broad church"

Regarding "cognitive authority", Hans asked:

"Do I, as a trained mathematician have such an authority when speaking about issues mostly related to chemistry, to ecology, or sociology of knowledge, of other fields, dealt with scientifically?"

You don't have the cognitive authority but you could claim it, at least for physics, ecology, or climate. For example by saying that because so much of the evidence is based on statistics, only a trained mathematician can understand and master the technical side of these fields. And this game is played quite often, reflected in the alleged hierarchies among the scientific fields and disciplines. Physics at the top (based on mathematical rigour), is a common notion. From this claim to superiority follow additional claims, like the special role physicists should play in policy advice about climate change.

How do we deal with this situation? From my perspective is not helpful to either flatly support or reject such claims. STS deconstructs and reconstructs the claims making activities. And we as society grant climate modelling a special place (with resources) only if we think that it makes a contribution which we need. We could simply say "we know enough to act with regard to climate change, and we don't need detailed knowledge about attribution", for example. If we looked at it this way, the special claim to cognitive authority would vanish immediately. But since many people demand more certainty about the cognitive aspects, we have entered a controversial setting which resembles an arms race. In such a race traditional and everyday knowledge is at a disadvantage and scientists feel legitimated to make claims to cognitive authority.

Werner Krauss said...

Hans,

thanks for your patience, and sorry if I got a little too obsessed with my own ideas! Next time I'll try to be more "dialogic", promised!

hvw said...

Reiner, #10

OK thanks. But that means that a statement "science is a social construct" without extensive context is almost meaningless. I was present at the Klimazwiebellagerfeuer and it appeared to me that everybody was using "social construction" in accord with their own idea about what that means. Apparently everybody was right doing so.

I am not wanting to belittle the school of thought behind this. It just appears important to me to realize that for an outsider, i.e. a climate scientist, the only way to profit from the work done in STS seems to be reading two or three books and hope for some widening of her intellectual horizon.

Dennis Bray said...

@ Reiner and Werner

I am not sure, but are you saying that STS produces 'facts' and 'truths' ABOUT science?

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

How would you react if I said that climate scientists have quite a wide spectrum of statements and that "climate change" becomes almost meaningless. And if I added that I did not want to belittle the field but to realize that for an outsider, i.e. a climate scientist, the only way to profit from the work done in climate science seems to be reading two or three IPCC reports and hope for some widening of her intellectual horizon.

Dennis

STS does not produce facts and truths because they are not generally accepted as such in society. They may be accepted as such in STS, or in the branch known as Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK). Here we come back to the fact about social construction and black boxing. In my view at least, the results from STS and SSK are NOT generally accepted by scientists, not even by some more traditional historians of science. Hence they would not be able to claim cognitive authority in their statements about science.

But I guess Dennnis wants to point to the apparent paradox of reflexivity (how can they claim to establish the truth about something if they are saying that no truth is available)? Is this what you are getting at Dennnis?

Reiner Grundmann said...

amendements:

hvw

should read "field but to realize that for an outsider, i.e. a social scientist"

Dennis

sorry about the 3 ns

PS
I am envious of Werner's cryptic typo (can it be called a typo??) in #4 above:

"That'javascript:void(0)s maybe something new; maybe in the anthropocene, we have to think about how to change our conceptions of the society / science interface accordingly."

I have been thinking about a 'javascript:void(0)s and how it could be something new; and how it relates to our relation in the anthropocene, and how we could think about how to change our conceptions of the society / science interface accordingly.

hvw said...

Reiner,

you sound a bit offended. This is not my intention, I am serious about "not wanting to belittle". But I want to point at what I perceive one important difference between the natural sciences and the kind of humanities we are talking about. One that I believe needs to be acknowledged not primarily by yourself, but by those coming from a scientific tradition and wanting to go trans-disciplinary.

To answer your questions:
How would you react if I said that climate scientists have quite a wide spectrum of statements and that "climate change" becomes almost meaningless.
I would ask you to quote one statement, hypothesis, or paradigm in climate science (doesn't even have to be as central as "scientific facts are social constructions" in STS) that you have trouble making sense of because you don't know the meaning of a technical term, which is not in the glossary of the IPCC report. Then I would go to great lengths (because its you) and read up the subject until I could present you a compact and pretty unambiguous definition. I can not image that I were forced to give you multiple, mutually contradicting meanings with the comment that "climate science is a broad church".

And if I added that I did not want to belittle the field but to realize that for an outsider, i.e. a social scientist, the only way to profit from the work done in climate science seems to be reading two or three IPCC reports and hope for some widening of her intellectual horizon.

I would fall on my knees praying, as obviously you came up with

Climatic trends over the past two centuries demonstrate that the Earth is warming beyond its natural cycle of temperature fluctuation. Scientists attribute this warming to substantial increases in the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. If the atmosphere can be viewed as a “sink” with a limited accumulative capacity, the accretion of greenhouse gasses creates a greenhouse effect whereby the Earth's atmosphere reflects back toward the surface much of the solar heat that would ordinarily diffuse outward, in turn melting polar and glacial ice packs and raising global temperatures to levels unsustainable for habitation in many of Earth's most populated places. (Eastin, Grundmann, Prakash, 2011)

all by yourself and Josh and Aseem without using any results from climate science whatsoever.

Reiner Grundmann said...

No offence taken, I am simply trying to understand an argument.

There are indeed several definitions of climate change, most notably the contradicting ones set forth by the IPCC and the UNFCCC (see Pielke Jr. for example).

I am not sure what exactly you want to demonstrate with the fact that we have said something about climate change in the Two Limits paper.

If you want to show that social scientists bother to engage with climate science but climate scientists do not reciprocate, then this would vindicate the point I am trying to make, albeit in a different way.

Hans von Storch said...

hvw, I would like to second Reiner here.

First, it is not true that climate scientists use a fixed and well defined set of definitions. See, for example, Dennis Bray's study on the usage of the terms "prediction" and "projection". (Bray, D., and H. von Storch, 2009: 'Prediction' or 'Projection'? The nomenclature of climate science. Sci. Comm. 30, 534-543, doi:10.1177/1075547009333698)

That the term "social construction" is used in different meanings, is certainly so. But this does not mean that the term is useless or void. It would be, if we reduce it to "all knowledge is constructed by humans, thus, all knowledge is socially constructed" (because people live in a social milieu). Werner would insist on such a formulation, rightly so - but then the statement has become trivial. In my understanding, and in the way Nico Stehr and I introduced the concept in 1995 to the climate-science community (Stehr, N. and H. von Storch, 1995: The social construct of climate and climate change. - Clim. Res. 5, 99-105; see http://hzg.academia.edu/HansvonStorch/Papers/1637770/The_social_construct_of_climate_and_climate_change) - we described the knowledge used in a historical case to avert negative consequences of a series of bad summers as reflecting the overall system of explaining the world (physical, social), which was religion at that time. Also in these days, we see such explanations in action - and while one may wonder how independent scientific explanations are fromm these other culturally or socially (the difference is not clear to me) explanations, we natural scientists would usually argue that what makes the difference is the methodology, in particular the efforts made for demonstrating the own explanation false (the S in CUDOS).

Hans von Storch said...

Have placed the manuscript of the prediction/projection analysis on academia.com: http://hzg.academia.edu/HansvonStorch/Papers/1820944/Prediction_or_projection_The_nomenclature_of_climate_science

hvw said...

Reiner,

There are indeed several definitions of climate change, most notably the contradicting ones set forth by the IPCC and the UNFCCC (see Pielke Jr. for example).

Of course there are terms with multiple, even contradicting, definitions in climate science as well. But any (scientific) "statement of fact" that includes such a term will refer to exactly one specific definition. And it will be trivial to figure out which one. But here rhetoric avatars are taking over and steering away from the topic. Second attempt:

I am not sure what exactly you want to demonstrate with the fact that we have said something about climate change in the Two Limits paper.

This demonstrates how social sciences easily use results from climate science in their own work. We both observe that the reverse is not true, but putting this as "climate scientists do not reciprocate" is totally besides the (at least my) point. The question is: Why is this so? All I tried to say above is that one reason lies in the fundamental difference between natural sciences and (some) humanities in the kind of knowledge produced and the way it needs to be communicated. Natural sciences by their very own reductionist paradigm produce compartmentalized knowledge that can be easily separated, packaged and used correctly by "outsiders". That is also quite important inside science (e.g. the climate scientist using results from physical chemistry). A major result from STS on the other hand cannot be incorporated easily into natural science work. I am far from reiterating the usual complaint that it's just to "imprecise" or "wishi-washy". As a matter of fact, you in your work can easily mention the "social construction of climate change", with a footnote "in the sense of Latour XYZ" and convey precise and extensive information. To the reader who digested Latour XYZ and a couple of related books, that is. To scientists who complain about humanities not contributing to the frequently asked for task to extend climate research to include and honor results from humanities I answer: 1) Its your job to extend your work and make it more meaningful. 2) Its not as easy as incorporating glaciology, you basically need to acquire a whole field that is very strange to you and which you may not enjoy. 3) You'll have serious trouble publishing it, because your recipients (aka reviewers) are not educated enough. 4) Giving in to the temptation to do this without the necessary work will result in trivial and embarrassing opinion pieces, which reinforce the perception of social science stuff being imprecise wishy-washy.

hvw said...

Hans von Storch,

First, it is not true that climate scientists use a fixed and well defined set of definitions. See, for example, Dennis Bray's study on the usage of the terms "prediction" and "projection". (Bray, D., and H. von Storch, 2009: 'Prediction' or 'Projection'? The nomenclature of climate science. Sci. Comm. 30, 534-543, doi:10.1177/1075547009333698)

See my comment to Reiner. I find the prediction/projection issue not indicative of definition problems in the sciences (including humanities here). It's all "prediction", conditional on boundary and initial conditions. Some of them are better constraint than others. Period. The issue relates to the adoption of a certain "Sprachregelung" that might have merit in the realm of science communication to the general public and politics. But it is nothing fundamental and a more precise communication of uncertainty might even be preferable.

That the term "social construction" is used in different meanings, is certainly so. But this does not mean that the term is useless or void.

Agreed, see my comment to Reiner.

It would be, if we reduce it to "all knowledge is constructed by humans, thus, all knowledge is socially constructed" (because people live in a social milieu). Werner would insist on such a formulation, rightly so - but then the statement has become trivial.

I disagree. I think the statement in quotes is close to the "mainstream" understanding of "constructed knowledge" in STS and I believe it is not trivial. Thanks for the pointer to the really nice 1995 paper. I find it also interesting as a historical document that shows (by being still topical and to the point) that exactly zero progress has been made in the last 17 years on that front. That front is science communication and you apply the "construction" exclusively to what happens outside the science, at the interface, the media, etc. I found only two shy hints at the possibility that also the "scientific truth" is constructed, presumably Stehr smuggled them in ;). So your interpretation of the post-modern paradigm is very much at the edge to modernism and I guess we have here your litte disagreement with Werner, above, again. Now this is all important, topical and potentially very useful and necessary, but I would like to point out that climate scientists could well profit from letting enter post-modern ideas into their turf, although it ain't easy.

Example for application outside science:
I got a laughing fit from Latour nonchalantly stating the obvious [INCLUDE 'next comment'] and thereby making crystal clear my previously diffuse nagging feeling about the clumsy and somehow besides-the-point response of the scientific cummunity to "climategate". Our response would have been so much better, had everyone realized this!

Example for application 'inside':
In climate impact research one is frequently concerned with "extreme events", presumably motivated by their superior impact on society. In practice however, variables are chosen and the part of the distribution's tail to be modelled is chosen, to be able to apply a convenient mathematical theory (based on the Fisher-Tippett theorem) and the question how the modelled "extreme events" are "extreme" for society, whether, where and when they have what impact is not examined, or even blatantly disregarded. There is room for improvement! And also a chance to take up social scientists philosopical style when explaining the obvious contradiction in the definitions used here (yes, you all were right before ;): Extremes are rare, by definition. So we really are concerned with current extereme events becoming non-extreme in the future. Or not? Are the new, rare, and hitherto unobserved extrems the main problem?

hvw said...


In the fall of 2009, critics and proponents of anthropogenic climate change realized, by sifting through the thousands of emails of climate new literary history scientists stolen by activists of dubious pedigree, that the scientific facts of the matter had to be constructed, and by whom? By humans! Squabbling humans assembling data, refining instruments to make the climate speak (instruments! can you believe that!), and spotty data sets (data sets! imagine that . . .), and these scientists had money problems (grants!), and they had to massage, write, correct, and rewrite humble texts and articles (what? texts to be written? is science really made of texts, how shocking!). . . . What I found so ironic in the hysterical reactions of scientists and the press was the almost complete agreement of both opponents and proponents of the anthropogenic origin of climate change. They all seem to share the same idealistic view of Science (capital S): “If it slowly composed, it cannot be true,” said the skeptics; “if we reveal how it is composed,” said the proponents, “it will be discussed, thus disputable, thus it cannot be true either!”

After thirty years or so of work in science studies, it is more than embarrassing to see that scientists had no better epistemology with which to rebut their adversaries.

An Attempt at a "Compositionist Manifesto". Latour (2010)

Werner Krauss said...

Thanks for this great comment, hvw. Well argued; I really mean it!

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

Interesting comment but I feel you are underestimating the challenge posed by STS (or SSK). The four points you use in your reply to climate scientists are comparatively easy to deal with. Much more difficult is the issue of admitting that all knowledge (also scientific knowledge) is socially constructed.

As Latour put it, "if we reveal how it is composed... it will be discussed, thus disputable, thus it cannot be true either!"

Such tasks are left to philosophers, historians and sociologists of science. These are seen as accompanying sciences, which are reflexive and parasitic to some extent. Real scientists are not interested in the history, or in reflexivity. They want real knowledge about the real stuff.

It is therefore not a matter of good will and education.

BTW, the climate scientists involved in climategate do not even seem to have learned the lesson with hindsight, still defending the practices they used (because they believe they were correct and nothing else matters).

Georg Hoffmann said...

Another comment was as usual dumped into darkness.

@Reiner

"Science and Technology Studies (STS) have indeed shown how science is socially constructed,"

Amusing. Whatever climate physics study might appear: THERE ARE HUGE UNCERTAINTIES, one can hardly exagerate the uncertainties. Basically climate physics is like a permanent Rohrschach test.

But "Science and Technology Studies have shown". Period. Thats a fact.

If only we climate scientist could produce once such clear and undisputed results. Sigh.

hvw said...

Reiner,
I feel you are underestimating the challenge posed by STS (or SSK).

I am not in a position to estimate anything in that regard, but for sure you´ll have to pick your fights there:

Real scientists are not interested in the history, or in reflexivity. They want real knowledge about the real stuff.

Real scientists do not care at all what is "real". They want to do fun stuff (usually the fun comes from normal, puzzle-solving activity) and they want to do cool stuff, which is stuff very close to the physical world, where they are very successful in producing very impressive results. Real scientists are doing just fine; just give them more and better instrumentation and computers and don´t impact their efficiency by confusing them with history or self-reflexivity.

What I have in mind are the lost souls in Environmental Science/Studies. They are usually additionally motivated by a sense of ethics, steering the world on the ´right´ path and having a ´positive´ impact on society. I think it won´t be such a tough sell to argue that their aims are social constructs, their potential impact happens in the whole of society and their (natural) science activities are at least informed by normative and constructed values. They might be more willing to actually study the basics (STS etc.) to escape the horrible fate of ending up doing Life Cycle Impact Assessment, ecosystem services accounting, or voluntary carbon offset consulting. Shudder. This of course has to target the next generation and would require quite a change to the current curricula of these topics.

BTW, the climate scientists involved in climategate do not even seem to have learned the lesson ...
I don´t know what you mean, exactly, but I probably disagree. Anyways, anything that needs to be said about this topic has been well put by Kerry Emanuel and needs no further elaboration.

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

Where do climate scientists belong? Among the lot of environmental studies? Or real science?

Your endorsement of Kerry Emanuel's piece seems strange to me. Typical of a mindset which reassures itself by pointing to dubious motives of climate sceptics. He does not realize that bigger things are at stake, public credibility for instance.

hvw said...

Reiner,

Where do climate scientists belong? Among the lot of environmental studies? Or real science?

Its a broad church obviously :) There are really real scientists (e.g. meteorologists aka physicists of the atmosphere, the guys and girls who build the climate models, ...) the traditions of which don't seem to support mixing with the social sciences very well. On the other hand, there are for example geographers (traditionally accepting to be somewhat handicapped by trying to keep a leg in each camp), who both run and analyze the models of the real scientists but also search for collaboration with historians (of science and society and environment) for advancing climate science. What do you think for example about this crowd in terms of being predispositioned to some injections of reflexivity?

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

The conference in Bern you mention is very much in the history of science - I don't see how the "lost souls" in environmental studies are represented, let alone the "real" climate scientists. So to answer your question about "this crowd's" predisposition to reflexivity: this is to be expected.

hvw said...

You are right in that this "target population" is not represented among the speakers. But it should be among the audience (those are the ones supposed to learn, no?), given that a major natural science climate research center is organizing this.

Anyways, what I am saying is that a lot of people are already underway to find new directions in climate science which transgress the traditional natural/social schism. And many of those come from the "real science /environmental science" side and "skeptics" are not among them. This is because only the perception of an existential importance of climate change will make people leave their familiar terrain and accept a serious impact on their publication count rate.

These people, I believe, could profit from tools that help to view their own field from a different angle and enable some reflexivity. However, there is no chance of this happening if the experts of these tools need to populistically flirt with the the anti-science side of the debate.