Friday, December 10, 2010

Climate science & Politics

Daniel Sarawitz wrote an interesting article about "Lab politics" with a special focus on climate science. According to a recent poll in the US, only 5% of US scientists are Republicans, while 55% are Democrats, 32 % are independent and the rest is "don't know. " Does this matter? "After all, it's the scientific facts that matter, and facts aren't blue or red".  Of course, this matters: 66% of Democrats (and 74% of liberals) say the effects of globl warming are already occuring, as opposed to 31 % of Republicans. Don't Republicans understand the math? Are they scientifically illiterate?
The reason is, of course, that the differences are essentially political:
For 20 years, evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of wealth. These are the sort of things that most Democrats welcome, and most Republicans hate. No wonder the Republicans are suspicious of the science.
Democrats see themselves "as keepers of  enlightenment" (remember the Bush era!), while  Republicans "have come to believe that mainstream science is corrupted by ideology." This is a problem, indeed. There are not enough Republicans in science.
Of course, the US are different from Germany. But anyway, we are familiar with this problem; the problem as stated by Sarewitz is at the very origin of klimazwiebel, I guess:
Yet there is clearly something going on that is as yet barely acknowledged, let alone understood. As a first step, leaders of the scientific community should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue.


itisi69 said...

There are not enough Republicans in science.
Of course, someone has to work and make money to pay for the scientist's income, grants etc?

ghost said...

interestingly, Jim Hansen said once, he is not a Democrat but much more Republican, but he cannot elect the GOP, because he thinks global warming will cause big problems and we should act. The official GOP politics is the opposite.

Therefore, I do not think that the Republican must be afraid of science and scientists, but should embrace them and could easily be successful. Well, but I think the ideology and corruption (well, funding) do not allow this change.

Stan said...

"the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews conducted from May 1 to June 14, 2009 with members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

And the society didn’t just provide Pew with its membership list. “[AAAS Director] Waylon Butler and his colleagues as AAAS were instrumental at constructing the sample of scientists and managing the recruitments of participants for the scientist survey,” says the Pew report.

This is important, because the AAAS is (as its name suggests) a political advocacy group. And, according to its website, the top issues it advocates for are climate change legislation, increased funding for the National Science Foundation, stem cell research, and green energy initiatives. Obviously, these aren’t the types of efforts that Republicans tend to support. It’s not hard to see why GOPers wouldn’t want to shell out the $146 membership fee to join an organization whose main mission is to advocate for issues they personally oppose.

Marco said...

Next Daniel Sarewitz will tell us that we need more christian scientists in the US. How else will people ever believe the theory of evolution?

It's also interesting to note how easily Sarewitz put a highly controversial political claim in his column. Werner has been so nice to quote it. I guess Sarewitz can show us where Democrats in majority welcome "international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and redistribution of wealth. Last time I checked the politics of the Democrats, they were more right wing than the FDP.

Werner Krauss said...

Marco, I do agree: his strict distinction Republicans and Democrats is not only too American, it even doesn't work there. Just consider the latest tax deal by Obama. But on a more general level he is right; there is a very fine line between the scientific and the political which is permanently blurred.

Hans von Storch said...

Werner, why is it a "fine" line? And, is it a "line"?

Werner Krauss said...

It's a "fine" line because it maybe is purely imagined; and it is a "line" because it separates the one from the other. Makes sense?

sHx said...

The survey finds that 32 percent of AAPS member scientists are politically "Independent", a figure comparable to 34 percent of the public. But the similarity is misleading. The same survey also finds that ideologically scientists are more Liberal (52%) and Moderate (35%) than Conservative (9%), as opposed to the figures of 20%, 38% and 37% respectively for the public.

What does that mean? It means that most of those scientists who declared themselves as politically "Independent" might not be as independent as thought. It can be hypothesised that at the ballot box the "Independent" public splits more or less equally into Democrat and Republican lines with a small percentage going to the likes of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan and the political/ideological streams they represent. However, come the ballot time, those scientists who are "Independent" is much more likely to split heavily in favour of Democrat and Ralph Nader's Greens. Again, please make note, the survey represents the views of AAPS members scientists not the general scientific community.

Scientists' political opinion is a rarely discussed matter as though it is not the right thing to do for a scientist to engage in politics. Mathematical equations are not ideological statements, and facts are not opinion. But how much can they, or should they, influence each other? I understand and fully agree with the moral imperative of keeping science and politics separate from each other but that doesn't mean that scientists should stick to science and ignore politics.

Here is an example of how one keeps science and politics apart. Many physicists will wince at the thought of Linguistics as a scientific discipline probably because one cannot put syntax under a microscope or study words in a test tube. Probably, a lot more physicists would have done so if it wasn't for a particular figure: Noam Chomsky, the famous Linguist and the great political dissident!

Did Chomsky really transform the field of Linguistics or is that accolade given to him unjustifiably by his fawning academic admirers largely on the account of his political/ideological work? This very question would be extremely offensive to Chomsky. For all his career, he's striven meticulously to keep his work in linguistics separate from his dissident, anarchist political work. He has always rejected any attempt to link his science with his politics. He won't, for example, talk about politics and linguistics in the same lecture. He won't be questioned about both in the same interview, lest anyone attempt to link the two. That is Chomsky's fine line between science and politics.

Now, compare and contrast that example with Climate Science. Climatology, which is supposed to be a more 'physical' science than Linguistics, has intense, overt links with political/environmental activism. James Hansen is a scientist and an activist in the same lecture, same book, same breath. When he speaks, one never knows whether it is a scientist or an ideologue that one is hearing. There is no fine line to speak of that separates Climatology from politics. Climatology is a unique scientific discipline, it seems, if it is science at all.

eduardo said...

@ sHx

The average ideology of scientist may depend quite strongly on the time and space. I can imagine that many established scientist in the US became started their careers in the 70's and experienced the convulsions of the US society about the Vietnam war. In my experience in Spain as a young PhD student, I would say that the established professors tended to be quite conservative whereas the younger assistants tended to be quite leftist. I would also say there may be differences between universities, where scientist are in daily contact with the 'revolutionary youth' and national laboratories, where daily work is much more calmed.

Anyway, we should also consider that the examples of politicization in climate science are only of a few vocal and quite active scientists, and these do not represent the bulk of community of climatologist, which by the way very diverse, much more diverse that other disciplines such as physics or chemistry. Within climate science you can find scientists with backgrounds in biology, geology, geography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. Here I can see more clear 'fine lines' and it would be quite interesting to explore the positions of all these disciplines about climate change. Obviously, I have not conducted a poll, but if I were asked, I would say that geologists are the most sceptic and biologist are the most convinced of catastrophic climate change. It may happen that the scientific background is correlated with ideology as well. All in all, an interesting play ground for our Klimazwiebel sociologists.

You mention the example of Chomsky as of a fine individual that knew how to separate science and politics. But another linguistic scientist, Steven Pinker in his book The blank slate, bemoans the strong politicization of the linguistics and in general anthropological science communities.

In general politization of science is quite damaging for science itself. But given the economic implication of climate science the chances that someone at some moment would cross the line were, with the benefit of hindsight, very high. Once the ball starts rolling it is almost impossible to stop it.

Marco said...

sHx, comparing Chomsky and Hansen is not appropriate.

Hansen's activism comes directly from his science, not from his ideology. Chomsky's political activism and linguistic research have very little overlap.

Note that Hansen-type activism can be found in other fields, too. There are quite a few vocal biologists that will go out and actively try to keep evolution part of the curriculum (and ID/creationism out). I know several physicians who actively work to ban smoking, having seen first hand what it does. And it really is no problem finding biologists who turn activist when they find out what is happening (and why) to the subject of their research.

Leigh Jackson said...

Pew polls record that 51% of AAAS scientists believe in God or a higher power, and 87% consider evolution through natural processes to be a fact. These figures compare with 95% and 32% respectively for the general public. There is scarcely a hotter political potato in the USA than the teaching of evolution in schools. Is this because only 6% of scientists are Republican supporters? Or are only 6% of scientists Republican supporters because a great swathe of those supporters has a religiously-based, gut-level distrust of science due to the central importance of evolution in biology?

Is stem-cell research a similar science turn-off demographic, preponderantly found amongst Republican supporters? Does the Republican mindset consider itself to be God's bastion against Godless science? Is this the explanation for that measly 6%?

Clearly, Pew shows that it makes little difference whether you are a religious or non-religious scientist when it comes to acceptance of the fact of evolution by natural processes - and supporting the teaching of that fact. Is the general support of scientists for the teaching of the fact of evolution by natural processes a function of them being Democrat supporters and not a function of them being scientists?

Or are the particular religious beliefs of a stratum of American society the cause of this political hot potato? A stratum which will always hold to their religious beliefs in the face of any scientific evidence to the contrary - 64% of the public, according to an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Do these members of the public think of scientists essentially as Godless? Half of American scientists, after all, don't profess to believe in God or a higher power, compared with 95% of the general public who do profess to. A large chunk of the public may respect science when it is useful in a non-challenging way - to beliefs, values and behaviours - but that's as far as it goes. Supplying a useful service by and large, but not something a self-respecting, righteous and God-fearing person would want to do. Not too much money in it either! Now engineering or medicine...

Compare 84% of American scientists who consider anthropogenic global warming to be a fact with 49% of the public; the latter figure breaks into 30% of Republicans, 64% of Democrats and 49% of Independents.

These figures may reflect the fact that American scientists want the scientific consensus on global warming to be recognised and addressed by the society to which they belong: a society which contains a stratum of the population which appears not to want to recognise that consensus, or if it recognises it, wants not to believe it, so as not to have to address it seriously - exactly as in the case of evolution.

Leigh Jackson said...

Pew 2009:

"Despite the overwhelming agreement among scientists about evolution and climate change, substantial minorities of Americans think there is no scientific consensus on these issues. While a 60% majority of the public says that scientists generally agree that humans have evolved over time, nearly three-in-ten (28%) say that scientists do not generally agree.

A comparable majority (56%) says that scientists generally agree that the earth is warming because of human activity. However, more than a third (35%) says that scientists do not generally agree.

In both cases, people’s perceptions of a scientific consensus are strongly correlated with their own views on the issue. Fully 79% of those who say life has evolved due to natural selection say there is a scientific consensus on this issue. Fewer than half (43%) of those who say life was created in its current form see such a consensus.

This pattern is even more pronounced when it comes to views about whether there is a scientific consensus over climate change. About three-quarters of people (76%) who say human activity is driving global warming think that most scientists agree on this point. Fewer than half (41%) of those who say warming is mostly due to atmospheric changes think there is a scientific consensus on the issue. Among the small share of the public (11%) that says there is no solid evidence of global warming, just 22% say there is scientific agreement that human activity is causing global warming, while 68% think there is no agreement among scientists on the issue."

Could this be because the US media - Fox TV to name but one notorious example - overwhelmingly reinforce the prejudices of that stratum of the population which prefers to believe what it wants to be true, rather than what scientists tell them is true? That stratum being ensconced within the media itself, of course.

Wanting to be true not merely that there is no human-caused global warming; but that there isn't even a scientific consensus on the question. Just as in the case of evolution.

Sarewitz wants scientists to investigate themselves to find out why they are mostly Democrat supporters; but he knows they won't, because they would have to acknowledge that their political partisanship has compromised their science.

Sarewitz offers no suggestions as to why so few scientists support the Republican Party. Why not? It's not hard to think of plausible reasons which in no way imply that dirty partisanship has compromised the science.

Basically he's asking scientists to justify their political preference for the Democratic Party and demanding they admit that a dearth of Republican scientists means that science in the U.S.A. is tainted wherever there are political implications. Lysenko couldn't have dreamed it. As presumptuous as he is preposterous, he cannot be taken seriously.

Sources: An Overview of Religion and Science in the United States
Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media

Werner Krauss said...

and here is how Pielke jr. & friends discuss Dan Sarewitz's article:

Leigh Jackson said...

I don't think Pielke is saying that Democrat scientists have taken advantage of their superior numbers to corrupt science for political purposes.

He could have made himself more clear, however.

Leigh Jackson said...

In the U.S.A. voters with no religious affiliation (Nones) prefer the Democratic Party. Over the last twenty years, Nones - 15% of the adult population - have been changing colours from red to blue. In 1990, 21% were Republican supporters, today the figure is 13%. The corresponding figures for the Democratic Party are 27% and 34%.

There has been a smaller drift away from the Republican Party in the direction of independent amongst non-Nones.

It is interesting that None ex-Republicans gravitate to the Democrats whilst non-Nones go independent. This means that whilst the Republic Party is losing both religiously affiliated and non-affiliated voters, the Democrats are gaining only the non-affiliated voters.

What is the religious profile of Nones? 35% are agnostics, 24% deists, 27% are theists and 7% atheists (7% don't know).

In 1990, 12% of independents, 6% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans were Nones. As of 2008, figures are independent: 21%, Democrats: 16%, Republicans: 8%. Secularisation is happening fastest within the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has the greatest inertia - but even it cannot resist the force altogether.

Sarewitz says that there ought to be more Republican scientists – to balance the numbers. How to stop secularisation? Increasing scientific understanding goes hand in hand with decreasing superstition - and vice versa.

Cap the number of Democratic scientists, perhaps?

Hat tip: The LatiNone

Anonymous said...

@ Leigh Jackson (# 15), let us regard some of the "weakest links" in the chain of climate science: money/wealth respectively cost-intensive science, trust, and (obviously the weakest(!) link) climate models.

One aspect on religious rites/traditions in comparison with the quality of scientific question processes in the light of economic dependencies:

Some may argue -- (under certain circumstances: particularly under economically difficult conditions) still in 2010 (with a view through the eyes of a (rational(?)) economist like Peter T. Leeson) -- about what medieval Europeans referred to God's judgments (trial by ordeal):

      "The superstitious society outperforms the scientific one." (Leeson, Ordeals)

Leeson desribes how science depends on money and that, from economic terms, the benefits of the "superstitious" society can surpass the benefits of the "scientific" community. Science is -- sometimes too -- expensive and time-consuming. See Leeson's unpublished paper "Ordeals" (paper I (of probably three papers by Leeson about his theories about "law and economics of superstition" and to the 'mechanism design theory'; paper II: "Trial by Battle", Journal of Legal Analysis, forthcoming.)). Does he suggests Peer review in a different way?

A property -- especially also but not only in (paleo-climate) science -- is called "trust" and can be -- among others -- explained to some extent with "faith"/"belief"/"respect" (also cf. HERE).

Well, even if the IPCC respectively their paleoclimatologists still want to get rid of the Little Ice Age (LIA), there is something striking to see/say:

      "The most active period of the witchcraft trials coincides with a period of lower than average temperature known to climatologists as the 'little ice age.' The colder temperatures increased the frequency of crop failure, and colder seas prevented cod and other fish from migrating as far north, eliminating this vital food source for some northern areas of Europe [...]. Several kinds of data show more than a coincidental relationship between witch trials, weather and economic growth." (See Emily Oster: "Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe." Journal of Economic Perspectives (2004), Volume 18, Number 1.)

More politically: Even nowadays, for example in the poor country Tanzania:

      "[T]here are twice as many witch murders in years of extreme rainfall as in other years." (See Edward Miguel: "Poverty and Witch Killing", Review of Economic Studies (2005), Number 72.)

As we see, remarkably, even the *social movement* of "scientific skeptics", who are *fighting* for what they think is rational/bright science, "temper the wind to the shorn lamb" and are already revolting against the current General Circulation Models (GCM):

      "Claiming GCMs yield a reliable picture of future climate is like insisting that an indefinable blurry blob is really a house with a cat in the window." (See Patrick Frank: "A Climate of Belief", Skeptic (2010), Volume 14, Number 1.)

(with material of Vitezslav Kremlik (h/t))

Leigh Jackson said...

The Pew poll to which Sarewitz refers shows that the opinions of Democrats are significantly more likely to be in line with the scientific consensus on the subjects of evolution and global warming than Republicans.

Whereas 2/3 of Republicans do not accept human-induced global warming, 2/3 Democrats do. On evolution the difference is less striking but real. 23% of Republicans accept evolution by natural processes compared with 36% of Democrats. However, Pew found a clear correlation between church attendance and opinions about evolution. Half of those who seldom or never attend religious services accept the scientific consensus, compared with 36% of those who attend at least yearly. Most strikingly, only 14% of those who attend services weekly or more accept evolution by natural processes. Secularisation brings scientific acceptance and/or scientific acceptance brings secularisation. Every year over half a million U.S. adults become Nones. Their preferred political home is the Democratic Party. We can expect the difference in acceptance of evolution and anthropogenic global warming between the parties to keep growing as long as this remains the case. Why would None scientists be any different to non-scientists in preferring the Democratic Party as their home?

Leigh Jackson said...

If I were a criminal None, I would elect to live in a deeply superstitious feudal society. I would breeze through trial by ordeal. There would be no stopping me; I would a baron in no time at all. As a law-abiding None I prefer democracy, forensic science and trial by jury.

Trial by ordeal may have worked but only if the results were fixed in advance: if the process was systematically dishonest; if the church knew that God had nothing to do with it; if it was all pretence.

eduardo said...

I am curious as to why would Democrats accept more easily AGW (2/3 of respondents) than evolution (1/3).

I would say that evolution is scientifically more strongly established: it is an older theory, experimentally verified, no scientist is opposed to it as far as I know- the opposition is mostly religious, and it is relatively easy to understand by lay persons, at least its basic mechanisms. It has however no practical political relevance, only moral or religious.
On the other hand, AGW involves concepts like infrared radiation, feedbacks, radiative forcing, etc,which seem to me much more difficult to grasp. In addition, the experimental evidence is more equivocal. It has however a strong political connotation (capitalism is bad)

Could it be that here also one tends to accept scientific theories that better fit in own political views ?

Leigh Jackson said...


I think that the cause of the greater negative bias against evolution than against AGW is simply a function of the religiosity of the U.S.A. That the AGW negative bias in the Democratic Party is much lower than in the Republican Party, I think reflects a greater balance of opinion on the subject. I would expect there to be a greater negative bias amongst non-scientists compared with scientists in matters which profoundly challenge beliefs and/or behaviours. Learning to do science involves awareness of the ever-lurking danger of bias

Of course, some positive bias will be present in both cases. Some predisposed atheists will welcome science which, they believe, confirms their predisposition, purely for that reason, even if they don’t understand the theory or are familiar with the evidence. Predisposed creationists will hate it in the same way but for the opposite reason – if true it disconfirms their predisposition. Dippy head-in-the-clouds-one-with-nature anti-capitalists will welcome scientific confirmation of what they feel in their bones to be true – humans are destroying the planet – as much as pure-undiluted-unfettered-individualistic-libertarian-ultra-capitalism-is-the-one-and-only-rational form of economics types will fear in their bones that their freedom to do whatever the hell they like in order to get filthy-stinking-rich-and-make-life-better-for-everyone is under threat. Neither of these two groups may have the first clue about the science, but the hippie types will sing its praises to heaven, whilst the get-out-of-my-way-I-have-money-to-make-and-the-poor-to-save types, will damn it to hell.

The fact is that both Democrat and Republican parties have science-credibility deficits. Both parties fall short of the scientific consensus. Both parties have net negative bias regards evolutionary and climate science relative to the scientific consensus. Exact positive and negative bias population figures for the two political parties would be useful but I am not aware that they exist.

Leigh Jackson said...


A few more incidental remarks.

The political impact of climate science centres on possible economic and environmental effects. The political impact of evolutionary science centres on education.

In the U.S.A. the teaching of evolution is a profoundly political issue. Organisations like the AAAS and NCSE try to reassure religious America that evolution (not the theory but the reality) is not a threat to Christian faith. They do so to combat attempts by politicised religious groups to get evolution dropped from the school curriculum or to have "Intelligent Design" taught alongside evolution as an equally valid scientific theory. For these groups "evolution" spells atheism.

I would say that evolution is to biology as the laws of thermodynamics are to physics. If a physicist was to spend her life today attempting to disprove one of those laws, the rest would shake their heads in disbelief and get on with trying to make further progress in our understanding of nature by means of those laws. Yet creationist scientists are not lacking in the U.S.A. Scientists who seek to convince themselves and others that evolution isn’t true. Michael Behe to name but one (Catholic) biologist. Pew found 2% of scientists believe that humans have always existed in their present form. Imagine if 2% of physicists refused to accept the 2nd law of thermodynamics!

8% of scientists believe that evolution is guided by a supreme being. That belief is not supported by evidence or theory; it is purely a matter of faith. It is like a physicist saying he believes that God uses the 2nd law to make the universe be the way it is – the way He wishes it to be. So amongst all scientists there exists a net negative religious bias against the consensus position of 10%. My guess is that bias would practically vanish in a poll confined to biologists.

14% of scientists dissent from the consensus position on AGW. l allow the dissenters the benefit of the doubt for the time being and hope that their doubt is genuinely scientific in nature and not blindness due to political bias. Perhaps in a hundred years a few scientists may still be denying AGW but with no more scientific credibility than creationists; or perhaps AGW will only exist in the history books.

Leigh Jackson said...

Correction: post #20. The balance of opinion on AGW is not greater in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party: it is equal and opposite (see post #17).

Even so, there is still a substantial negative bias within the Democratic Party against the scientific consensus.

Leigh Jackson said...

#22 is horribly phrased. What I meant to say is that opinion is not more balanced in The Democratic Party on the subject of AGW.