Friday, February 26, 2010

A Barrow Load: Politics- politics; Mitigation -Adaptation; and Post Normal Science

Lennart Bengtsson tells us that climate change is a political problem

‘While most aspects on the science of climate and climate change are not controversial, at least among the majority of active scientists in the field, the issue is becoming increasingly emotive in the public debate and gradually so in the political community. The main reason to this are the potential consequences for the world economy and the society at large of major reductions in the use of fossil fuels as this is seen as the main culprit behind an anticipated climate warming. [...] These political and economical aspects have led to a polarization of the political debate that indirectly has affected the science of climate change.’

There is some clarification necessary here.

One, the science itself has become politicized (political), i.e. as per internal science politics. The is evident in the current IPCC fiasco.

Two the issue of climate change has extended beyond science and has become Political, i.e. it is a Political issue as much as it is a scientific issue.

Hans von Storch in his posting Adaptation and Mitigation states ‘we have to consider adaptation to climate change, not instead of, but parallel to mitigation of climate change. The goal is to limit the accumulation of greenhouse gases to “only” a doubling (or any other achievable significant reduction) and to prepare societies and ecosystems to adapt to unavoidable future changes.’ This, of course, is a Political (as opposed to political) decision.

As it is Political, it is somewhat of a subjective expression of personal values. In the following I would like to present the values of the sample of scientists from the survey CliSci 2008.

First, what do scientists favor as the best option, mitigation or adaptation?

Figure 1

As we can see, mitigation is the favored path of action, but not by much. A considerable number of scientists offer adaptation as the chosen course. The construction of this question does however prohibit the respondent from suggesting a combination of both. However, a value of 4 could be considered to reflect a suggestion of 50%-50%, the rest can be interpreted as various mixes. I think it would be safe to say that a considerable number of scientists would agree with Hans von Storch.

The means of achieving adaptation or mitigation would seem to me to be Political. (Climate change is an established reality according to both Lennart Bengtsson and Hans von Storch. Establishing the reality should, in ideal circumstances, be the end product of climate science as we know it. Of course, in round two there would be a need for determining viable means for mitigation and adaptation - engineering and ecology/sociology/anthropology, but that’s another story)

In the long run, Politics, not science , should be the main actor (with the support of objective science) in determining the optimal way of mitigating, or adapting to, climate change. But as the next set of figures show, this is not as climate scientists, at least those who participated in the survey, see things. For both adaptation and mitigation, the favored strategy is to ‘leave it to science’ at least for the most part, to provide the solution.


Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7
Let’s build a technocracy - from political to Political!

This also raises questions concerning Ravitz’s notion of post normal science and the prospect of extended peer review. Obviously, the extension of the peer review should remain in science according to the scientists, questioning the use and liberating effect of the ‘blogosphere’. According to the data, scientists think a significant priority should be given to scientific expertise.

This also raises some other issues concerning the concept of post normal science(I do not see it as a theory - a theory is composed of systematic statements that explain something, a concept is a theme or the likes). Regardless, it is defined as conditions of high risk and high uncertainty. High risk to human well being alone, or could it include, for example, a landscape? And high uncertainty in the (methods of the) science or high uncertainty in the nature of the risk, or both? The high uncertainty in the science simply means we do not know. This of course could refer to many aspects of many disciplines. But the high risk. Is this aggregated risk - risk at a global level? Could it be individual risk - i.e. risk to individual persons? If so, does not most of medical research, for example, cancer research, constitute a case of post normal science, high risk that the person so inflicted will die, high uncertainty as to cause and treatment? Now bare in mind that medicine works mostly ‘analog’, (microscopes, wet benches, repeatability) not digital simulations (model) and fairy tales (ok, scenarios). Is the risk in post normal science in some ways associated with the inherent risk of the methods of the science? If that was the case, then wouldn’t the recent adventures at the CERN accelerator constitute a short lived episode of post normal science? The risks, according to dirge-media, could have been full scale Armageddon, the uncertainty was in the outcome of the experiment. Is it possible that one aspect of post normal science has to do with who furnishes the risk to the public? Could it be that post normal science could be characterized as the womb of the Political scientist activist, or perhaps the Political scientist activist is the womb of post normal science - post normal science is the social construction of the Political scientists activist? 


_Flin_ said...

This is interesting data. What bothers me about the survey is the suggestive nature of the questions.

The only really open question (adaption or mitigation) gets a balanced answer, leaning towards mitigation.

The other six questions do not only ask about science and politics/industry/public but expertise on the one hand versus opinion on the other hand. Which, apart from the bias for the own peers, adds another bias.

So while the survey is interesting I wouldn't read too much into it.

P Gosselin said...

"As we can see, mitigation is the favored path of action, but not by much."

It's not at all accurate to use the present tense here.
Much has happened over the last 1.5years - especially the last few months. The climate science world has been severely rocked, and it is now a completely new age. The claim that scientists favour mitigation is outdated.
In climate politics, 2008 is practically the Jurassic Era!
I suggest updating these ancient statistics. It's like taking a poll from 2008 to gauge Obama's current popularity.

P Gosselin said...

Scorcerers, charlatans, fortune tellers, sybils, witch doctors, palmists, predictors...

And climate scientists too?

Dennis Bray said...

Resonse to P Gosselin

There are plans to update the survey but these things take a bit of time. Just out of interest, on what do you base your onclusions? Maybe another survey is not ncessary :-)

Dennis Bray said...

Response to Flin

Maybe you could elaborate on 'suggestive nature'. The other 6 questions are indeed opinions - the opinions of scientists. That was the purpose of the survey - to gather scientists' opnions.

_Flin_ said...

@Dr. Bray: Since I didn't take part in the survey and couldn't find the exact questionnaire online, I do not know about the exact wording of the questions and I might be totally off track with my analysis. If this is the case please accept my apologies for the above statement. Furthermore it was not my intention at all to state that there was a wanted influence on the results.

In a survey, it usually is a good idea to start off by obfuscating the real intent of the questionnaire by asking questions that are loosely associated with the subject, lead the participant in a false direction (but not influencing him or her) and then come to the point without the participant noticing it.
The questions asked need to be very neutral, because it is easy to influence the participants of the survey by asking questions with a wrong wording.

In the example above the survey asks three questions each concerning who is more able to make decisions about the priorities of adaption and mitigation.

I do not know if the same priority questions were asked about completely other topics like health reform, high school curriculum, affirmative action or sports sponsorship and if these question blocks were rotated randomly, so that an obfuscation took place and the placement of the adaption/mitigation block had no influence on the answers.

_Flin_ said...

Considering the wording, I just assume the questions were similar to the statements below the graphs, having a wording like:
"For adaption decisions, should priority be given to political opinion or scientific expertise? Please answer on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is equal to priority is given purely to political opinion, 7 is equal to priority is given purely to scientific expertise and 3 is equal to priority is divided between political opinion and expertise."

If this was the case, there are three things that could influence the participants:
1. The participants are scientists. As a completely personal opinion I think that groups of people think of themselves better than of others, e.g. parents think they know how the teacher should teach their children, marketing dept. thinks they know how IT should program the software for marketing dept. So there is a first bias. That bias can hardly be removed.
2. The design of the question implies that for each point "given" to industry/commerce, political opinion or public opinion, one point has to be "taken away" from science, from the own peer group. So answering with a 1 is equal to "Science will not be involved in these priorities at all", which is a very unlikely answer for scientists, because it amounts to "our work has no meaning at all and noone should care about it when making decisions".
3. And then there is the wording. "industry/commerce" versus science... well, it is just a personal opinion again, but I think many scientists are quite idealistic, because they still work in science instead of getting higher paid jobs in industry and commerce, so they value science higher by default.
And concerning "public/political opinion" vs. "scientific expertise" it gets even worse.
On the one hand there is "expertise", a positive word with the air a specialist knowledge in a field where a vast amount of scholarly work was done over years of time to acquire the expert status.
On the other hand there is "opinion", which has a rather negative spin. An opinion is just an opinion, and it doesn't need to justified, proved, or similar, so it is by default "worse" (as in the german saying: "Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one"; pls excuse my rudeness) than an expert statement.

These 3 points lead to my judgement that the questions are of a suggestive nature.

A more neutral approach would be "How big should the influence on priority concerning adaption decisions be for the following groups on a scale from 1 to 7:
- industry and commerce professionals
1 to 7
- political professionals (I'd really prefer to split that up between legislation professionals and government professionals)
1 to 7
- public vote
1 to 7
- scientic expertise
1 to 7

This way all groups are described positively and it doesn't look like anything is "taken away" from science.

_Flin_ said...

He who is able to count surely has an advantage. In post 7, sentence 3 it should read "4 is equal to priority is divided between political opinion and scientific expertise."

Werner Krauss said...

@P Gosselin #2 and #3

I read the link you posted: this is what you call the new era? Really? I don't know if Dennis has to update his survey, but I know for sure that you have to update your arguments! 'prof reichhof bezieht Stellung' - that doesn't even bother Mr. Rahmstorf anymore, I guess! This is really Jurassic Age. No NEW arguments in sight?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

In a study on experts' conceptualisations of the role of lay knowledge, a study found that
Evidence suggests a
continuing expert-deficit model of lay knowledge, with suspicions that the public misunderstand
environmental issues. Although the need for public `buy-in' to the solutions to problems such as air
pollution is supported, this does not translate to a more proactive engagement of lay knowledge in the
assessment of such issues. Experts seem to be personally challenged by such notions. The authors
discuss the need for a cultural shift in expert understanding of the value of lay knowledge, supported
by a move away from an oversimplification of the need for, and value of, public participation.