Sunday, November 4, 2012

Normal Accidents of Expertise

Stephen Turner, a professor of philosophy at the University of South Florida has published a thought provoking article in Minerva. The title "normal accidents" in the title of his paper refers to a concept developed by organisational sociologist Charles Perrow who wrote a book with the same title in which he claimed that some technologies inevitably produce accidents. This is the case when systems are complex and tightly coupled (see above for the 2x2 matrix which shows the four combinations). Perrow's examples are technological disasters which happened in chemical or nuclear plants. If something goes wrong in one part of the system the fault will propagate through the whole system and lead to unpredictable, sometimes catastrophic consequences. Lose coupling would prevent the spreading of such failures, they are more forgiving.

Turner applies this thought to science and expertise, using three examples: the Large Hadron Collider,  the Homestake mine experiment, and climate change. He calls the unpredictable consequences in such expert systems "knoweldge risk". According to Turner, science in many areas has become more impact and policy oriented, it is under pressure to come up with solutions which involve various disciplines. Old quality controls which worked in mono-disciplinary settings no longer work. But the new system has not put anything comparable in its place. We have moved from a loosely  coupled system to a tightly coupled system, and at the same time increased the complexity. When confronted with errors produced by the system, the initial response by the experts follows a pattern described by Perrow: confusion and a radical underestimation of the seriousness of the problem; the wrong outcomes are ‘‘not only unexpected, but are incomprehensible
for some critical period of time’’ (Perrow [1984] 1999, 9).

Here is is Turner's conclusion:
But complexity itself produces unexpected interaction effects that belong to no discipline. The expertise in question is about things that are not under any disciplinary domain. Consequently, the structures involve mechanisms of consensus production and control that differ from, and involve more overt use of authority, negotiation, and pidgin communication between specialties than in the model of disciplines with paradigms. The problem of aggregating multidisciplinary knowledge is not a problem that can be solved in any disciplinary way. The pressure to produce results leads to the de facto elimination or moderation of some of the means of correction provided by the traditional disciplinary model—what Robert Merton called organized skepticism is less effective when the objects of the skepticism are not disciplinarily defined. These new structures have many virtues. They produce results that can guide policy and innovation and produce objects that disciplinary science could not. But there is no epistemic free lunch. Each of these differences creates knowledge risk.
Before people jump to the bits about climate change it is worth reading the whole piece.

41 comments:

Reiner Grundmann said...

In his paper Turner mentions the 'failure of the climate science community to anticipate the drop in the rate of temperature change over the last decade. These failures have been much commented on, and the discussion is still in the phase of lack of consensus– including a lack of consensus over whether there was a failure, or whether the failure was major or minor.' This echoes a statement Eduardo made on a recent post where he added the issue of hurricanes.

I think both are related, as the temperature did hot rise as predicted by the models, scientists have started refocusing. This may explain why Sandy has become such a hotly debated issue. But as Eduardo pointed out with regard to hurricanes,’ feeble predictions in the end backlash and achieve the opposite of what they were intended to'

Turner explains the consequences for science community as follows, drawing on Perrow's analysis (read 'anomalies' where he uses the word 'accidents'):

'Perrow argues that the people who operate complex systems think in the following way: they make initial choices about how to think about the accident situation in the face of ambiguous data. If the first steps they take are consistent with the choices they have made about how to think about the data, their mental model of the situation, they psychologically commit to the model, and lose the skepticism they might originally have had. New data that are inconsistent with the model do not become reasons for reconsidering the model. Instead, they are seen as mysterious, unilluminating, or incomprehensible. The data are discounted. The similarity between this response and Kuhn’s discussion of paradigms and the response of “normal science” to anomalies is striking.'

Hans von Storch said...

Reminds me also very much on Ludvik Fleck, - that new and on first sight inconsistent data are used for motivating "repairing" the original concept. (Like the recent explanations of "cold European winters" as a consequence of massively reduced Arctic sea ice in summer).

Reiner Grundmann said...

Hans
of course Kuhn was influenced by Fleck, see e.g. here:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fleck/

Fleck's Denkkollektiv and Kuhn's Paradigm have a similar function in their respective frameworks of scientific development.

Reiner Grundmann said...

The interesting question is: does climate science have a paradigm? If so what is it?

hvw said...

Reiner,

potentially fruitful question.

Important part of the paradigm is certainly the consensus of utilizing numerical simulations as primary device to assess future climate.

Reiner Grundmann said...

In a paper from 1993 Hart and Victor claim that modern climate science emerged from the combination of two previously separate fields of research, numerical weather simulation and carbon cycle research.

In their abstract they state: "We trace the evolution of two research programmes - carbon-cycle research and atmospheric modelling. The major political strategies followed by the relevant élites connected with these programmes were concerned with the pursuit of professional autonomy, with weather modification and with environmentalism. Changes in élite strategy followed mainly from events outside science, in the policy and politics `streams', rather than from scientific findings."

So we have two scientific ingredients of the paradigm (carbon cycle research and modeling), plus some dose of professional strategy, environmentalism, and practical applications (such as weather modification). While the latter has gone out of fashion (??) the other elements are still visible.

But the field has grown and attracted many more disciplines outside this "core". The question then arises again: is there a common paradigm of these different disciplines? If there is not, then climate science in this broader sense would not be science according to Kuhn (it would be pre-paradigmatic, a hodgepodge like many social sciences).

hvw said...

The question then arises again: is there a common paradigm of these different disciplines?

If you have the breadth of disciplines ranging from "climate economics" to, say, "climate ecology" in mind, the only common paradigm seems to be the use of climate simulation output to feed into the established, discipline specific apparatus. Not surprisingly, in that sense there is no "climate science" as an individual discipline with common theories, paradigm and methods. Hodgepodge indeed.

ob said...

Even then I would say there are some common underlying "features" (I am not fit enough in the "philosophical terminology" to speak of paradigms etc). If we follow Hart and Victor in their history, then we have for climate science the underlying physical, mathematical, statistical and numerical methods and theories. We have geophysical fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, biological oceanography, general geophysics, etc. That is, we may look for the paradigms of these disciplines as building blocks of cs. (the land surface is kind of missing in this list)

Ecology, economics and social sciences would plug in with these paradigms on the shifting borders of cs. And no, I do not think that the anthroposphere is overrated in cs (however, I would say that we should be careful what to include within the label climate science. that is, slightly exaggerating, I don't think that we would include studies on the world wide web in discussions of the paradigms of particle physics, would we?)

Anonymous said...

The interesting question is: does social science have a paradigm? If so what is it?

hvw said...

ob,

Second paragraph: I guess I agree that it is more fruitful to concentrate on the "core" of climate science and ignore the attached hodgepodge for this question. Turns out that the history and the paradigm forming of the core "climate science" is interesting enough.

I found this absolute gem about the history of the discipline, part of an even greater hypertext by science historian Spencer Weart. While Hart and Victor present a case study focusing on "a window of opportunity in the intersection between politics and science, seized by an elite", Weart's narrative is much broader and actually talks about the development of the science, including paradigm shifts. One formational paradigm was the acknowledgement that climate changes (at all - in 1000 years - in 100 years, possibly in 10 years). Then regarding climate as as global dynamical system, as opposed to regional statistics. Finally, and modellers had a pivotal role there, acknowledgement of a necessity for interdisciplinary work actively countering fragmentation tendencies. I am a fan of Spencer Weart now.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Interestingly, Turner uses Spencer Weart as authority on the history of climate science. According to Turner, Weart concedes that this field does not operate as a normal scientific discipline does:

"the social structure is not cohesive. A community in one specialty cannot check the work of researchers in another branch of science, but must accept their word for what is valid. The study of climate change is an extreme example. Researchers cannot isolate meteorology from solar physics, pollution studies from computer science, oceanography from glacier-ice chemistry, and so forth. The range of journals they cite ... is remarkably broad. This sprawl is inevitable … But the complexity imposes difficulty on those who try to reach solid conclusions about climate change." (Weart 2003, 195)

Turner comments:

“He acknowledges that the models rely on ad hoc devices. They fit the actual climate, even roughly, “only because they had been laboriously ‘tuned’ to match it, by adjusting a variety of arbitrary parameters” (Weart 2003, 177). He also acknowledges that generating money for the field was intertwined with politics throughout: self-interest, emotional commitment, and the political cause of promoting action on the problem coincided (Weart 2003, 151). These abnormalities (compared to the classical model of disciplinary science) are, for Weart, justifiable on the grounds of time: “in the case of climate, waiting for a sure answer would mean waiting forever. When we are faced with a new disease or an armed invasion, we do not put off decisions until more research is done: we act using the best guidelines available” (Weart 2003, 198-9). This is the language of the NIH consensus conferences, and of ommissions. In the absence of ordinary disciplinary controls, we must accept the claims of climate science on other grounds. His own judgment of the correctness of the dominant views in climate science rests on his “feeling for where scientific claims are reliable and when they are shaky” (Weart 2003, 199)."

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Reiner, but claiming that climate science does not operate as a normal scientific discipline is humbug. It does. What Weart points out is that climate science, like several other scientific disciplines, is highly dependent on various subdisciplines that are quite broad. There are plenty of other fields that have exactly the same "problem". Take, for example, paleontology, which combines geology with physics (think radiodating) and various aspects of biology (in particular evolutionary biology), and even aspects of social sciences. Evolutionary biology is yet another field that combines multiple subfields, such as cell biology (highly dependent on molecular biology techniques) and population biology (which uses yet other methodology), and is even combined with zoology or the like).
Material science is yet another field that depends on various subfields, like (in particular) chemistry and physics, but often also engineering. Go look at the curriculum of a pharmacist, and you find chemistry, biology, physiology, material science, and even economical and social sciences.

All these fields of sciences depend on subfields that are themselves already quite broad. I have yet to hear anyone state that these fields are "not normal science", so if you really want to, you can be the first!

Hans von Storch said...

Anonymnous -
first, claiming somebody's statement as "humbug" is not what we want read here,
second, if you would have the manners to give a name, I would be able to tell you that you may not have understood what this is about.

Why is it so that broad assertions, which demonstrate that little of the issue has been understood, go along with anonymous contributors and are on the verge to impoliteness? Why do such people rarely see the possibility that they may simply have not grasped the issue?

In principle, your opponent could not be stupid, wouldn't you agree, my brave "anonymous"?

Anonymous said...

This brave "anonymous" does not use a name, because it is not about the name, but about the argument. And an argument I most assuredly made: I showed with several examples that climate science is not abnormal as a field of science.

I never stated Reiner was stupid, nor did I see him as an opponent. But since criticism is apparently immediately interpreted this way, well, good luck with "building bridges"! Just count me out.

Hans von Storch said...

Good bye, "anonymous". You did not understand the point made here. It is not a matter of many sub-disciplines, which is indeed not a rare topology in scientific research fields. The issue is not that simple. There are several dimensions, and you dealt only with a pretty trivial aspect.

The issue is what I call post-normality with the effect that some scientists' (skeptics as well as alarmists) views are intertwined with political visions, which result in a, for me, unfortunate priority of the utility of results over the methodological rigor of the method.

Reiner Grundmann said...

anonymous

Since we entered this discussion via the question if climate science had a paradigm, let me ask you what it is, in your opinion.

It is obvious that Weart thinks it doesn't have one. This does not mean that this is a problem, it is a problem only for believers in Kuhn's framework.

hvw said...

Reiner,

It is obvious that Weart thinks it doesn't have one. [paradigm]

To me it is obvious that Weart thinks climate science has a (several) paradigm(s). Else he would not identify "paradigm shifts" (in one of Kuhn's senses).

I understand that you easily get mistaken from just reading Turner's quotes. The guy is picking quotes from Weart and re-arranging them in a way that partially exactly inverts the original text's meaning. (caveat: Under the assumption that the book Turner cites really "is a compact 200-page summary of what I learned from my research for this Website" (Weart) and doesn't contradict the online text).

Frankly I don't get what message exactly Turner wants to convey in the end -- but it must be a pretty difficult point to make.

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

You don't seem to get the point that Kuhnian normal science operates on the basis of ONE paradigm, not several. In the latter case he speaks of pre-paradigmatic fields, not mature sciences.

The claim that Turner is falsifying the meaning of Weart is a pretty strong accusation. Would you care to elaborate? Have a look here for on online version which you could have found easily by googling his texts. This chapter contains the quotes in question.

As far as I am aware Weart does not speak of 'paradigm shift'. This term occurs in his timeline where he quotes the US National Academy in 2001 on the possibility of rapid climate change (decadal-scale). This was labelled as paradigm shift.

hvw said...

Good evening Reiner,

You are right, I did not get the point about exactly *one* paradigm. Weart says things like (long quote for context):
"The researchers in such programs no longer spoke of studying "climates" in the old sense of regional weather patterns, but of "the climate system" of the whole planet, involving everything from minerals to microbes. This was a fundamentally novel approach. We could call it a new "paradigm," in the word's basic sense of a pattern (like the amo, amas, amat of Latin grammar texts) that scientists used to structure their thinking as they attacked their research problems.(39*)
*39. The term has multiple meanings in the classic Kuhn (1962); for this particular usage, see Weart (1983)."

And there is even a whole section titled A Paradigm Shift, the contents of which appears (in my lay perception) to refer to a Kuhnian paradigm shift.

But my understanding of Kuhn is bad. You could help my education with the reference to the one and only paradigm of any science where the case is clear, physics or chemistry perhaps?

hvw said...

The claim that Turner is falsifying the meaning of Weart is a pretty strong accusation. Would you care to elaborate?

(The link you provide is also not the book but a pdf - excerpt of the html-text I base my accusations on, link somewhere above)

Examples:

Turner:
He acknowledges that the models rely on ad hoc devices. They fit the actual climate, even
roughly, “only because they had been laboriously ‘tuned’ to match it, by adjusting a variety of
arbitrary parameters” (Weart 2003, 177)
Note present tense.

Actually this language refers to a section about Limitations and Critics about GCMs in the 1980ies. In the following Weart explains how this criticism had been dealt with and goes on to narrate a (even in my mind perhaps overly optimistic) success story of GCMs. A taste:
Finally in 2007 a careful analysis revealed that the global data had been distorted by a change in the way ocean temperatures were measured after the Second World War ended. The models had been better than the observations.

Besides, calibration or "history matching" is nothing that takes credibility from any complex environmental model, or did you ever hear someone complain that Exxon is wrong for calibrating their reservoir geology models?

Turner:
He also acknowledges that generating money for the field was intertwined with politics throughout: self-interest, emotional commitment, and the political cause of promoting action on the problem coincided

On the contrary, Weart stresses the importance of scientific needs and pressure by the scientific community, based on their research programme, as critical and as the main driver for funding. That the political climate (Weart presents several different constellations in favor and against CC funding) plays a role is mentioned but in no way portrayed as dominating, let alone "abnormal, compared to the classical model of disciplinary science" (Turner).

Turner:
These abnormalities (compared to the classical model of disciplinary science) are, for
Weart, justifiable on the grounds of time: “in the case of climate, waiting for a sure answer
would mean waiting forever. When we are ...


The quote from Weart is taken from "A Personal Note: What can we do about global warming, and what should we do?". I can't find any indication that Weart is "justifying" anything here or that he were referring to anything in the sections quoted before, let alone an "abnormality". It is clear to me that Weart doesn't think anything in this context would need "justification". Turners statement is a (double) non-sequitur, anyways. Weart's quote would not "justify" calibrating models or the existence of funding politics if any of that needed "justification", or were special for climate science, which it isn't.

The topping is (although it is not "bad quoting", technically):

Turner referring to Weart's final sentence:
This characterization of the climate science community has now been shown to be false in every respect as a result of the release of e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit

while ignoring that his trusted source's opinion of the matter is exactly the opposite of what Turner then describes as a fact.

When you rely so heavily on the history of the field as presented by one academic, is it good scholarship to completely conceal the fact that this source holds exactly the opposite view about an issue that seems important for your argument?

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

In fact Weart does not say much about paradigms at all (apart from the "paradigm shift" to acknowledge the possibility of rapid change and surprises) and he does not explain his definition of paradigm he gave in his 1983 paper. I think this is not accidental. Had he asked the question about the paradigm he would have entered really difficult terrain.

Victor and Hart in their study point to environmentalism as an important element of the emerging climate science elite. I wonder if this can stand as an element of the climate science paradigm (if there is one), apart from the numerical/modelling activity which various people have pointed out. Reading posts like Karsten's (who comments on another thread here on Klimazwiebel) strongly indicates that some such thing is important.

Turner does not quote Weart for his damning verdict on climate science. In fact, he juxtaposes the concluding sentence of Weart's book with his own observation of climate science post climategate.

Here is how Weart closes his book:

"The spirit of fact-gathering, rational discussion, tolerance of dissent, and negotiation of
an evolving consensus, which has characterized the climate science community, can serve well as a model. (Weart 2003, 201)"

Turner's comment:

"This characterization of the climate science community has now been shown to be false
in every respect as a result of the release of e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s
Climatic Research Unit (an institution Weart praises). It is now evident that facts were
mishandled and suppressed, data withheld and lost, peer-review manipulated, a major effort
made to discredit those who questioned the “consensus,” and more: this group is now an example of what Polanyi called the corruption of science."

Reiner Grundmann said...

BTW, what Weart has to say about climategate is pretty unconvincing.

He says:

"The important question, to be sure, was whether there was any truth to the accusation that climate scientists had suppressed or falsified data? Investigations were launched by groups ranging from universities to the Associated Press to the British parliament. In the end they all reported that, while the scientists had sometimes failed to make their data appropriately available, the data sets and the results of their analysis were trustworthy. Hardly a surprise: this was science, after all, so the results of the British group had long since been double-checked and found correct by groups elsewhere, using independent measures. The confirmations of reliability, however, were not reported anywhere near as prominently nor as frequently as the deniers' claims of fraud."

He says, yes they sometimes suppressed data (without bringing himself to use this plain wording), but did not falsify them. He does not dwell on the first aspect but elaborates the second, thus conveying the sense that everything is fine with climate science. This is enhanced with the final sentence about the alleged over reporting of misdemeanors, without providing sources.

hvw said...

Reiner,

OK, I can't really talk about Kuhn's paradigm without having digested his writings. Also we agree to disagree about our respective interpretations of the CRU email incident.

Victor and Hart in their study point to environmentalism as an important element of the emerging climate science elite. I wonder if this can stand as an element of the climate science paradigm (if there is one), ..

The short answer is "probably not". "Environmentalism" as a political and ethical movement is orthogonal to science. Most environmental scientists will at least disagree with as many of the environmentalists' claims du jour as they support, the "elite" being no exception.

Victor & Hart and also Turner seem to want to establish that climate science is special, fundamentally different from other sciences and to characterize that difference. My take is this:

After a phase of "physics envy", where most science tried to follow the successful path to rigorous lab-based experimentation and quantification, which led to a deepening fragmentation and specialization, a new view emerged in many fields in the 60ies and 70ies. That was the realization that important questions could not be posed and answered in such a framework, and that whole, complex, interlinked environmental systems need to be studied in their entirety, instead of slicing them into portions that fit into the lab.

Surely the emerging Zeitgeist of environmental awareness fostered or even initiated this new view. Some aspects of the newly forming, "integrating sciences" seem of concern here:

1. The lack of lab-based experimentation left an epistemological gap. The chosen strategy was to re-build the system under consideration in silicio to make experimentation possible. The implications of this new paradigm (in whatever sense), in comparison to the "classical" methodological toolbox, are still the source of a deep philosophical debate. There is no doubt however that this approach has been enormously successful and that the naive application of the method (oversimplisticly: just pretend the model is a good enough representation of the real world) has resulted in an ever increasing body of robust knowledge that would be unobtainable otherwise.

2. That a (the?) motivation to take up this challenge (of looking at big and complex systems) was the desire to answer relevant questions for society of course resulted in new boundary conditions for doing (funding) research that originate in the value and conflict laden political sphere. This however is not new. Just a new set of political positions added to the brew that fosters or inhibits science in almost random fluctuations (from the science perspective). I reject the idea (not sure whether anyone has it at all) that research programmes in general are developed primary according to political positions, to support some values and not others. Weart's essay about Keeling's funding shows very nicely that funding was acquired and funneled according to research needs, the more or less successful exploitation of the varying political situations being just annoying administrative and promotional work for the senior scientists.

3. The interdisciplinary nature might have fostered new modes of the social organization of science, as now a researcher of one field might critically depend on knowledge which she can't validate/reproduce herself but rather has to trust the expert next door. This seems to be understudied. That climate science exemplarily would show that this is dangerous, or not working, based on the published CRU emails, is, excuse my French please, utter bullshit. On the contrary, climate science shows that the inability of one researcher to reproduce everything he uses is more than balanced by the much more independent checks of a theory made possible by interdisciplinary work.



Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw
"I reject the idea (not sure whether anyone has it at all) that research programmes in general are developed primary according to political positions, to support some values and not others."

The IPCC has its place in the UNFCCC process which has the ultimate goal to prevent dangerous climate change. Now the IPCC is not a scientific body but a hybrid. However, many research programmes are undertaken to fit into this framework.

hvw said...

Reiner,

Point taken. I changed my mind on this one, thanks.

Research programmes are made of topics and questions, which in turn are set to no little extent by such conventions.

What I had in mind was more that research programmes would not be influenced by the ambition to come up with "scientific" support for one side of a conflicting values pair, as seemed to be implied by suggesting an attachment of climate science to environmentalism.

But come to think of it, even in that sense my previous statement doesn't make sense: Of course, if the chemical industry is funding environmental research, you'd expect some kind of bias as to which proposals win and which loose, the integrity of the researchers involved notwithstanding.

BTW: The objective of the UNFCCC states that GHG concentration stabilization should be achieved "within a time frame sufficient ... to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner".

I wonder whether that means "fast enough to be sustainable" or "slow enough to be sustainable".

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw

I appreciate you granting the point but where does this leave your comment #23? Would this not also imply that climate science is fundamentally different from 'normal' science also with regard to the influence of environmentalism and that your 'short answer PROBABLY NOT' should be PROBABLY YES? Of course there is a difference to political environmentalism (NGOs or Green groups and parties) but the elective affinity is clear, isn't it?

And you sketch the cultural and political environment which has influenced climate science at its epistemological core.

ob said...

Let's follow these latest arguments: Which fields of science (link goes to wikipedia)remain thus untouched by the cultural and political conditions and thus "normal"?

Reiner Grundmann said...

ob #27

It would be rather unusual to think that any science was 'untouched by the cultural and political conditions'. What I tried to say was that environmentalist concerns have been adopted into the epistemological core of climate science. The context of our argument is the question if climate science has a paradigm. From the discussion above it seems to emerge that it has one, and that environmentalism (as defined by hvw in #23) is part of it.

hvw said...

Hello Reiner,

Would this not also imply that climate science is fundamentally different from 'normal' science also with regard to the influence of environmentalism ...

Only if you make the class of "non-normal (postnormal?)" science pretty large: Any discipline for which the direction, research programmes, funding opportunities, etc. are influenced by priorities set in the political sphere. That would reach from a large chunk of physics (Manhattan Project to StarWars to current weapon research) to little known subjects such as vadose zone hydrology (which got a boost from research into the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository). Even if you regard "environmentalism" as a value having a fundamentally different effect on science than other values, this state of affairs would be "normal" in the geosciences at large.

wonder if this [influence of environmentalism] can stand as an element of the climate science paradigm (if there is one)
Probably not
... and that your 'short answer PROBABLY NOT' should be PROBABLY YES?

Probably not :). I suspect our ideas of "paradigm" are incompatible. I understand it as some sort of axiomatically set of assumptions, frameworks of thinking, accepted methods, a set of accepted exemplary "good science", etc., on which researchers consciously or unconsciously base their work and assess its quality.

Having "environmentalism" as a paradigm, lots of environmental science, including climate science, would be impossible, because accepting any of the dogmas which form integrated part of environmentalism would prevent research into the question already answered by the dogma. For example, an ecologist can't study the meaning of "biodiversity" if she believes a priory that it must be a beneficial and desirable thing in all circumstances. A climate scientist accepting the common environmentalist dogma that "human intervention is bad and nature knows best" would not be allowed to do research about geo-engineering.

Of course that doesn't prevent anybody from taking funding that was lobbied for by environmentalists.

hvw said...

Reiner, #28

What I tried to say was that environmentalist concerns have been adopted into the epistemological core of climate science.

Environmentalist concerns might partly motivate, fund and justify climate science. But be part of the epistemological core? That is quite a strong accusation which you might want to explain a bit more detailed than just pointing out the historical interaction between environmental concerns and science. Isn't it enough for you STS people to declare our epistemological core empty ? ;)

ob said...

Reiner #26&28

I read your "cult and pol" as directly linked to the value of environmentalism (or other isms) and replied to that.

That is, I agree with hvw that assuming an enviro-core of cs is quite extreme.

I do not need environmentalism to run a model-simulation with doubled CO2 and describe and discuss the dynamical atmospheric and oceanic, biogeochemical atmospheric, oceanic and surface, and carbon cycle variability. I do not even need environmentalism to discuss possible impacts, if there are impacts.

I indeed think that the argumentation of Hart and Victor can be misunderstood. While their abstract states "environmentalism", there argumentation only starts at the historical US American view of man's environment, continues with the note that environmentalism can act as "midwife" for new scientific agendas but then concentrate (in my reading) on research which is rather typically "environmental science". However, I admit that in H&Vs telling SCEP, SMIC and UNCHE based to some extent on "environmentalistic" values (which obviously were combined with, for UNCHE, "Development aid" ideas). Nevertheless, the paragraph on page 668 bottom to 669 top is interesting since it states that the scientific "elite" did not exploit all possible environmental(istic) concerns.

There is no doubt that a lot of climate researchers sympathise with environmentalism. Especially many of the younger ones likely were motivated by environmentalism to pursue their specific education. But does that put environmentalism at the core of their science? I would say much of the argument is done with few specific loud-speaking scientists in mind.

PS: However, maybe we just disagree on what is meant by climate science? (And on the other hand, what is meant by environmentalism? (e.g. env'ism vs. political env'ism; or did H&V mean the same as we do; or was the term used in the early 70s (at all or) differently from today or the early 90s?)

PPS: Of course it is possible to argue that env'ism was at the core until recently and I only see recent shifts, but I don't think so.

Reiner Grundmann said...

hvw, ob

I really like the discussion we are having, I am not sure about the questions either. Just trying to understand what is going on in climate science (and trying to link my STS teaching to the case of climate change).

hvw
I don't think we have different notions of paradigm (see your definition in #29).

However, you did indicate how climate science was different to other sciences in that it was not based on experimentation but on computer modelling, inspired by the realization that complex environmental questions cannot be studied in the traditional way. You speak of an 'epistemological gap'. In this sense I not accusing you of anything.

So what is part of the paradigm? Certainly not what you have imagined as follows:
'A climate scientist accepting the common environmentalist dogma that "human intervention is bad and nature knows best" would not be allowed to do research about geo-engineering.
We agree on this; however, what about 'climate science accepting the belief that we are on course for dangerous warming'? Would this not be an accurate description? (don't misunderstand me, I don't think it is wrong, but it is not a matter of what I believe but what climate science adopts as paradigm).

ob:
'However, maybe we just disagree on what is meant by climate science? (And on the other hand, what is meant by environmentalism? (e.g. env'ism vs. political env'ism; or did H&V mean the same as we do; or was the term used in the early 70s (at all or) differently from today or the early 90s?'

I fully agree; these are open questions in need of discussion.

ob said...

#32 Reiner Re:'climate science accepting the belief that we are on course for dangerous warming'

This would exclude Roy Spencer, Richard Lindzen (and possibly even Roger Pielke Sr.) from being Climate Scientists. My first thought was: change that to "warming", my second thought was, not even that is necessarily true. The weakest(?) form would be "climate science accepts that human activities can influence weather and climate on various temporal and spatial scales by altering natural forcings". This, I think, is consistent with the H&V-paper.

Reiner Grundmann said...

ob #33

Your are touching on something important here. Perhaps my suggestion is not too far off. The names you mention are often used to describe those outside, the 'deniers' who do shoddy science. Perhaps the fault line runs along this critical element?

ob said...

#34 Reiner

no. I don't think so. They all contribute or have contributed to climate science (especially if one assumes H&V's storyline) and they all accept the weak formulation I put up there (I think).

Let's state a "dangerous warming"-paradigm in a form that I can accept: "it is not unlikely that anthropogenic GHG emissions finally can lead to dangerous climate change". Possibly (or probably), the scientists I mention would disagree with this.
However, from my point of view, even this formulation would narrow climate science to climate change (or rather Climate Change) science.

One could think that the "not unlikely..can.."-formulation was valid in the early 90s, one could even assume that during the noughties the formulation changed to "accepting we are on course for dangerous warming". Then, one could further state that it has again been reformulated recently (thanks to social media, the blogosphere and honest brokers) to one of the weak formulations.

I agree with none of the statements in the last paragraph.

I think such a perception is less motivated by a view on the science but rather by how the (classical/new/social-)media see the science (and its online-companions).

Reiner Grundmann said...

ob

I don't get what you mean by 'I agree with none of the statements in the last paragraph' -- can you please explain to me again?

hvw said...

Reiner, #32

It is nice that we agree on something, for once. That helps focus the discussion.

what about 'climate science accepting the belief that we are on course for dangerous warming'? Would this not be an accurate description?

That is not necessarily an environmentalist statement, as mostly the danger for humans is invoked; but that is besides the point. Asking climate scientists you would probably find they answer similar to ob, by modifying the statement until it wraps enough cautious vagueness in precise enough language to be defendable with respect to the current literature.

Because "dangerous" is not well defined (for whom? in relation to what? world hunger, individual car traffic?). It is not a "scientific" statement. But that is what you are after, right? Something dogmatic, axiomatic, paradigmatic outside science, which nevertheless impacts science.

You might be up to something here. Because "dangerous" means that we are talking about something important. Global proportion important. And without that importance, what would climate science be? Ob, ... even this formulation would narrow climate science to climate change science, please help me out here: What is the climate science that is not directly connected to global warming?

Now the importance of the hazard gave rise to the discipline as such, and is cause for its size. I don't know the answer, or if the question is good, but "Is climate science unusual big for apparently being motivated by just one particular fear?" could perhaps help? What motivates climate scientists to do this at all is another question. Maybe "contributing to something mightily important" is part of the answer? Because "wringing from Nature its secrets and using that knowledge to do impressive things" it is certainly not (see epistemological gap).

Of course, anybody constructing my statement as "I told you that researchers exaggerate global warming impacts to serve their own little career" is wrong, and did not actually relate to more than two researchers in person, or, he perpetuates this message despite knowing better to foster his own little career.

ob said...

Reiner #36 I mean I don't agree with this/(my own) construction of a time-line:

One could think that the "not unlikely..can.."-formulation was valid in the early 90s, one could even assume that during the noughties the formulation changed to "accepting we are on course for dangerous warming". Then, one could further state that it has again been reformulated recently (thanks to social media, the blogosphere and honest brokers) to one of the weak formulations.

hvw #37
What is climate science? Do we really need "global warming" to study the climate system of this planet or other planets? From my point of view: No. Does Paleontology need a current "threat" to study fossils? Even if we are only interested in the interactions between the ocean- and atmosphere-compartments of the earth system we are studying the climate. There is no need for "global warming" to do this. Understanding low-frequency climate variability is totally sufficient as motivation.

hvw said...

ob,

sure, but that was not the question. The question was whether now, in the current research landscape, is there a sub-discipline that would stand on its own if there was no global warming as overarching topic. But writing this I am not sure anymore why I thought that was an interesting question in the first place ... You're right in that there would be still lots of incentives for decadal predictions, but the research would look quite differently, I imagine.

ob said...

of course, one could just look at the scientific-society statements on climate to identify what's in the core of climate science. e.g. the current AGU-position which is about to be changed (according to this week's EOS (and with a dissenting Roger Pielke Sr)).

Reiner Grundmann said...

ob
are you talking about this AGU document? The document is very intriguing, given our discussion. It combines environmental concerns with a specific advocacy and education role for scientists.

"The scientific evidence for human activity impacting climate is strong and widely accepted within the scientific community. Given the significant current and potential impacts of climate change, scientists have a unique responsibility to educate the public and public policy makers on this topic."