Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Science for a good cause?

Imagine the following scenario. An atmospheric scientist makes a discovery that seems to challenge a particular model of sea level increase due to global warming. She expects her discovery will be refined through further research, and that, in the end, it will not refute the mainstream view. In the meantime, she wants to avoid giving ammunition to climate skeptics, so she postpones publication. But an ambitious postdoc surreptitiously informs the media about the discovery. The media accuse the scientist of a cover-up and report that key evidence for anthropogenic climate change has been refuted.

How would you react if someone concludes in the following way: 'The atmospheric scientist was not wrong to withhold the information from the public; she wisely foresaw the danger that it would be deployed in misleading ways and attempted to do her bit for the promotion of public freedom'.

This is not a scenario invented by myself, but by the philosopher of science Philip Kitcher, recounted in a review of his book by Mark Brown.  (Science in a Democratic Society, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 2011; review article by Mark Brown, published in Minerva (51:389–397; DOI 10.1007/s11024-013-9233-y). As Brown points out, Kitcher is a leading figure in the philosophy of science and has written, inter alia,  Science, Truth, and Democracy. 

In my view this comment exemplifies a problematic attitude not only in climate science but in the social sciences as well. The good cause which allegedly motivates much of the research puts the researcher in a special position. It allows them to dispense with essential standards of professional conduct. It is perhaps not remarkable that we see a 'leading figure' in the philosophy of science defend questionable practices which have been modelled (not by accident I suppose) after the famous climategate affair.

The risks for the credibility of science (no matter which branch or discipline) are clear. Anyone who comes across such commentary will take this as confirmation that science can be twisted according to the will of scientists (or elites); that science is constructed (in the vulgar sense of being 'made up' and 'fake'); and that scientists preserve the prerogative of making judgements which data are for public consumption and which are not.

As I pointed out in a recent talk ( motivated reasoning (Leiserowitz et al) is a problem for scientists. It affects scientists as it does other groups in society, although it is often pretended that scientists somehow escape this predicament. The above comment from Kitcher ('the atmospheric scientists was not wrong to withhold the information from the public')  is a powerful illustration of social scientists falling into the trap of motivated reasoning, justifying the questionable professional standards through recourse to alleged higher ethical standards.

Scientists will only be able to command trust in society if they follow basic professional standards. Prime among them is to publish the results of their research, no matter if they support a desirable storyline or not.

The fact that eminent philosophers of science have been recruited (or self-enlisted) by a dominant discourse eager to push a specific narrative is worrisome, albeit not surprising.

h/t RPJr


Victor Venema said...

"In my view this comment exemplifies a problematic attitude not only in climate science but in the social sciences as well."

If understand the post correctly, this comment was about a hypothetical example from a philosopher. As long as you cannot show that this behaviour is typical for climate scientists, your statement that this is a "problematic attitude in climate science" is way below the level of this beautiful blog.

Personally, I would publish such a finding without thinking. What climate "sceptics" say is discoupled from the scientific literature. If there is no such article, they will come up with some lie or fabrication to claim that the sea level will soon go down.

I just wrote a series of blog posts on statically interesting problems in homogenization. Problems still to solve also point to stuff we do not do well yet.

However, I never "worried". Most likely they will not notice or understand. If they do, their critique would be a bit more sensible as usual and they are at least not claiming the homogenization is just smoothing to make good data into bad data, as they would otherwise write.

Making your scientific decisions based upon that hopeless bunch is the last thing to do.

For clarity: I love science and scientists, they are the sceptical people. If a real sceptic has a good story with strong arguments, I am trilled. But I hate being lied to by people calling themselves sceptics. They should be ignored, it is a pity they get amplified so much that we cannot.

Anonymous said...

Professional conduct? Since 1971 climate scientists have willingly done the bidding of Club Of ROme, UNEP, GLOBE international. Are you kidding me? Yours is not a science, it is an ill-disguised propaganda machine.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Victor Venema

the example is hypothetical with clear parallels to a real world correlate, the climategate emails ('giving fodder to the skeptics'). I am not saying that this is typical for climate science. All I am saying is that condoning such practices (by climate scientists or social scientists) is terrible.

Regarding your suggestion that sceptics get too much media coverage you might want to look at the empirical evidence, e.g. here

Karl Kuhn said...

Victor, I am afraid your comment will unfortunately become the focus of the further commentary. You're just such a nice example of a climate warrior. In your most recent blog post you call Anthony Watts a liar and further write:

"Conservatives, how do you want your children to grow up? Do you want them to say? "Daddy, when I grow up I want to be the biggest liar in the world, just like you."

ob/OBothe said...

re: @Reiner in 3

I'm not sure that Victor meant overall amplification by media.

Already online-amplification may for some be too large to ignore. One could also argue that the false-balance in some media-outlets or the skeptical focus of others (Fox?) are problematic. Which doesn't contradict your paper, since you didn't look at individual outlets if I remember correctly.

But I again would like to point to this by RPJr

Brandon Shollenberger said...

Karl Kuhn, it might be worth looking at how little it takes for Victor Venema to call people liars. A great example is this post of mine which he called "a full deception." He called the fact I quoted one source rather than another a deception even though the difference in source made no difference for anything I said.

I'd wager there is nothing anyone who disagrees with him could do to make him treat them reasonably. And I'd further wager he'll never admit that.

ob/OBothe said...

On the blogpost:

I think, one has to clearly distinguish between Kitcher’s example and the “real world”-case. And to be clear, Kitcher’s conclusions are definitely questionable. Nevertheless, I do not think that the imaginary scientist’s action were a priori questionable (see below).

With respect to the “real world”, let’s focus only on the one e-mail ( ?) and ignore the full exchange. I hope that’s the case that you refer to.

What is said there about the discrepancy between the three reconstructions ending up in TAR Fig. 2.21 is to some extent discussed in TAR chapter 2. And no, we are not talking about the divergence effect here.

‘giving fodder to the skeptics’ indeed is put as: ‘we have to comment […] explaining […] the potential factors that might lead to it being "warmer" than the Jones et al and Mann et al series?? We would need to put in a few words in this regard. Otherwise, the skeptics have an field day casting doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates and, thus, can undermine faith in the paleoestimates. I don't think that doubt is scientifically justified, and I'd hate to be the one to have to give it fodder!’

I think, every researcher usually tries to present his results in a way to minimize criticisms. The expressed sentiment can indeed be read as a problematic attempt to smooth out the message though I am tempted to interpret it as request to provide the necessary discussion to minimize criticisms by fully addressing the discrepancies between the different estimates.

Once more: This is not about the decline.

On Kitcher’s case (as Brown tells it in his review): “She expects her discovery will be refined through further research, and that, in the end, it will not refute the mainstream view. In the meantime, she wants to avoid giving ammunition to climate skeptics, so she postpones publication.”

Here I have one question: Does she postpone writing it up primarily because she doesn’t want to give the skeptics ammunition or is the main reason her own wish to do “further research”. I think we don’t want to ask scientists to put all their more or less spectacular “discoveries” into the public domain at once, do we?

Let’s assume she really only wants to hide negative results. That’s definitely questionable conduct, and the op-ed discussions suggest such behavior is quite common in some parts of science. Is it common in climate science as you say? I don’t know, but I’d like to see research on this topic. Can Werner Krauss help?

May social/psychological mechanisms lead climate scientists to stop pursuing paths they regard “uninteresting” (because of these mechanisms)? Possibly.

Will they stop from pursuing initial results which look like they are going to contradict previous consensus? They may say “that has to be wrong” and dump it. Are they going to dump it when it’s in a nearly publishable state? I doubt that. Let’s say the recent Climate-Sensitivity studies from Norway and the US suggest that it’s not a general tendency.

Which leads me to my question: Does the behavior of the ambitious postdoc constitute good conduct, in your opinion? Let’s forget about the adverb used by Brown and/or Kitcher. Does he/she blow the whistle about potential misconduct or does he/she hinder science/the scientist in triple-checking her results? (and thus the postdoc (possibly unwarranted) damages the scientists and the institution’s reputation)?

As said Kitcher’s “good-cause”-reasoning is (at least) doubtful.

Nevertheless, I have to ask: is this post more about the social sciences or more about climate science.

And to give fodder to the skeptics: Isn’t the interesting question: what would have happened to the scientists results in peer-review? ;)

eduardo said...


I can imagine several situations in which scientist are confronted with a moral dilemma. Let us just consider nuclear research in the 1940s' . We also had a recent example involving research on influenza viruses.

In this hypothetical case, I would say that it is always difficult to tell when a piece of research is finished, and that it lies within the own judgement of the scientist to decide when her model has been sufficiently tested to warrant publication. As a human being, her decision would be influenced by her political/moral views. So it is difficult to say a priori whether her decision is defensible or not.

A different situation is if she would be reviewing a paper written by others. If her recommendation to publish or not to publish would be motivated by 'giving fodder to sceptics' and not by scientific judgement, that would be reprehensible.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

The hypothetical "noble-cause corruption" described by Kitcher has various real-world analogues in my experience. I discuss several in this talk from last year:

Victor Venema said...

My apologies for writing such a long comment.

Dear @ReinerGrundmann, thank you for confirming that there is no evidence that this is typical in the climate sciences, that we should have a discussion about philosophers and not about climatologists. This may be the first time in 1.5 years of blogging. Typically I have the feeling that arguments are inconsequential and I am talking to a wall.

The response of Brandon Shollenberger is a typical example of the latter. Proudly linking to his deceptive post, very, very weird.

Oliver Bothe, exactly, I was not just talking about the media. WUWT claims to be the largest blog about climate. That is mainstream climate “scepticism”. Even if that may not be true, it is still a lot of people that read a blog that is found to be misinforming, disinformation, lying and deceiving almost every day.

If I understand the above mentioned article by Reiner Grundmann and Mike Scott on media right, it is only about “scientists as claims makers.” and not about politicians and climate “sceptics”. I have no object to media attention for scientists, whatever their opinion. I do expect from a balanced scientist, that if he holds a fringe opinion that he makes that clear, also explains the mainstream fairly and explains his arguments for deviating.

If scientists do not deviate from their role as scientists, I would not even know how to distinguish a sceptic from a non-sceptic. I would hope they all are, why else did they become scientists?

Dear Karl Kuhn, on the internet it is very easy to link to another text if you make a quote. I thus wonder why you did not make a link to my recent post on the deception of Anthony Watts of his readers. Afraid that the deception is too obvious? That “sceptics” without much knowledge of climate are still able to detect deception when it comes to something as straight forward as web traffic?

It is a pity, and unfortunately typical, that your comment does not give any arguments why my comment was wrong. Just the “ad-homin” mentioned above and the vague label: “climate warrior”. Would you expect a climate warrior to claim that daily climate may not be good enough to reliably study changes in extreme weather? Would you expect a climate warrior to complain about expressing climate change in terms of atomic bombs per second?

I am simply fed up with the lies of WUWT, EIKE, die Kalte Sonne and colleagues. I have no problem with people have other preferences about climate policy. That is democracy. I do would find it terrible if the wrong decision was made based upon the misinformation campaigns.

Oliver Bothe, it would in indeed be an interesting study how often such cases occur and also in which cases. As Eduardo write, in case of scientists working on dangerous substances or micro-organisms, I can imagine such problems. In case of climate science, I have trouble imagining a case, why would being less informed about the climate system be dangerous?

Also if you are not sure yet of your results, I can imagine that you prefer not to publish spectacular results. The Italian that found that the speed of light could be exceeded was fired, if I understood it right. That is something I find terrible, especially as he made it very clear that he expected the results to be an error. Still I can imagine people being extra careful in such cases.

Victor Venema said...

Dear Roger Pielke, Jr., I just scanned quickly through your long 60-slide talk and could find one quotes related to "noble-cause corruption". The quote by Steven Schneider. If I read his Wikipedia page right, you took the quote out of context and he was not claiming that one should behave that way. I still do not like what Schneider wrote there, but it is a lot more sensible as your part suggests.

How many people do you know? Would you thus agree that there is hardly any evidence and no evidence of this being a problem for scientific progress in the climate sciences, which would require this to be a common phenomenon?

None said...

It's hard to imagine that scenario occurring for a couple of reasons:

1) The climate scientist would just drop the study rather than publishing it. We see this thing regularly, for example the recent Gergis et al paper. When the proposed method produced a hockey stick then the paper was published. However when "luke warmers" pointed out that one of the methodology steps in the paper had accidentally been omitted, and that if it was included as intended then a hockey stick was not produced, then the paper was withdrawn.

2) The majority of the media are hysterically pro global warming, with the reporters being true buddies of the established climate scientist believers. Being faced with some evidence to the contrary, and being unable to evaluate it for themselves (being unable to parse maths/statistics for themselves) they'd run to their believing climate scientist buddies who would tell them "Well I have not seen the paper yet and as it has not been peer reviewed we can't really say anything about it. However the vast majority of publications support the consensus view of climate science and there will always be a couple of studies which for some reason do not reveal the true picture" etc etc. (See (1) for why that is a self perpetuating case)

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Victor Venna

I think it would help if you could avoid using strong terms such as 'liar' for people with whom you disagree. As we have often said on this blog, to lie means intentionally misleading other people with knowingly false information.

Your interpretation of my paper (Grundmann/Scott) is not correct. If you read it you will see the point.


I think there are many cases where moral dilemmas arise. The case in point is quite specific in that a scenario is constructed which assumes non-publication because the results contradict a story that is otherwise believed to be true.

Victor Venema said...

@ReinerGrundmann, I do not use the term liar for people with whom I disagree.

Did you believe Brandon Shollenberger's claim that I called him a liar without checking?

Did I call you a liar somewhere?

That word is, however very appropriate for people like Anthony Watts. I have a hard time believing that he did not know that his post on the web traffic of WUWT was a lie. If this would have been the only piece of misinformation on WUWT, I would still have given him the benefit of the doubt and would not call him a liar, would just point to the misinformation. However, as WUWT posts are so often wrong, I feel that he no longer deserves such a benefit.

If you are interested in the scientific errors at WUWT Wotts Up With That Blog and Hotwhopper are great. Read that and the accompanying WUWT posts with an open mind and it becomes very hard to give Anthony Watts the benefit of the doubt.

I have printed your article.

Brandon Shollenberger said...

Victor Venema suggests my claim that he accused me of lying is inappropriate. Outside of extreme semantic parsing, I can't see how anyone would say that isn't a fair description of:

"yes Brandon claims to have found more. But after his deception,"

"the rest of the post seems to be a full deception."

Hans von Storch said...

Victor, I ask you to not use general claims such as liar, deception. This practice is unnecessarily causing aggression and polarization. If you have a case, then present in some detail, and we can invite the person, whom you consider lying proof deceicing what he or she thinks bout your case.

The purpose of debating here is not to win but to open new communication channels.

Victor Venema said...

Hans, I fully agree that those words should not be used here. Every blog has its own culture and you should adjust to that. That is why here I wrote that evidence if lacking for the central thesis of this post, that there is a problematic attitude in climate science.

The terms liar and deception were brought in from the outside by Karl Kuhn and Brandon Shollenberger.

I you follow the link to my recent post on WUWT or the post by Brandon Shollenberger, you will find the evidence I have for my case. Please read them and then come back an tell me Anthony Watts was not lying and Brandon Shollenberger was not deceiving. (As a scientist I had the habit of believing the facts people tell me and first doubt the interpretation if I disagree. With climate "sceptics" you have to check the facts, they are typically wrong. So please read these posts and my comment below them.)

I would very much welcome a guest post by Anthony Watts and Brandon Shollenberger on these topics. Please invite them.

I do not aim to win, but to understand the climate. This is not helped by people making wrong claims and repeating debunked stories over and over again. This way they drown the interesting challenges to climate science, such as your previous post by
Lennart Bengtsson on modelling or the McNider et al. paper on the minimum temperature observations.

If you search for comments by me, you will find that I am normally civil and try to correct errors in scientific understanding. In fact, I just got a compliment, for a
nice informative answer.

After following WUWT and co. more than a year and having seen so much nonsense, I am no longer able to assume good faith with people like Anthony Watts. I am sorry about that, but think this in not entirely my fault.

Do you have WUWT in your blog feed? As I know you as a excellent researcher, I am sure you will get a similar reaction. No matter with how much good will you start, this stuff does not fit in a scientifically trained mind.

But do invite him for a guest post on the spike in his Alexa traffic statistics. Would be interesting.

Wotts Up With That Blog said...

I guess the problem I have with this scenario is twofold. One is that if a scientist makes a discovery (which I would take in this case to be some kind of observation or measurement) that they think is incomplete and will be refined and ultimately changed in time, it's not clear why withholding publication is a bad thing. Many would regard this as good practice. If further work doesn't change the result, then continuing to withhold may be suspect, but overall being careful should be encouraged. There's also nothing wrong with publishing preliminary results, but not doing so is not immediately misleading.

The other issue I have is related to the scientific method. If, as the hypothesis suggests, this is applied to an individual researcher or research group then with-holding publication can only really delay improving our understanding as, in a field as dynamic and vibrant as climate science, someone else (or another group) will do a similar study, get similar results and publish. The only way I can see it really being a big problem is if everyone in the field would do the same. I know some probably think that this is likely. Personally, I think that's heading down the conspiracy theory route and results that are paradigm shifting will eventually be published and accepted.

Günter Heß said...

@wotts up with that
It is good practice to reproduce experiments (observations or measurements), but witholding those results behause the results may change is bias and bad practice.
You seem to confuse observations and measurements with interpretations.
Best regards
Günter Heß

Wotts Up With That Blog said...


I may confuse many things with many other things, but I don't think I'm confusing observations and measurements with interpretations. Thank you for you concern though.

I wasn't implying that it would be good to withhold something simply because you think it might change. I was suggesting that a scientist being careful and doing follow up work should be seen as a good thing in general. There may be many reasons why a scientist may choose to delay publication and the results being mis-interpreted because they're incomplete would, in my opinion, be a valid concern. I'm assuming here that the scientist is intending to publish once satisfied and not that the scientist is simply going to bin the work and hide it from the world indefinitely. That would indeed be bad. In that case though, the scientific method would come to the rescue.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


You seem to overlook a crucial fact of the scenario as outlined by Kitcher. This is the politicised nature of the research which makes it a major concern for the atmospheric scientist not be be perceived as giving ammunition to the 'other side' (i.e. the skeptics).

It is one thing not wanting to advertise results that would count as anomalies for a scientific paradigm (this is what your comment is about).

It is quite a different thing to withhold results because of fear they would be used in political debates in a specific way.

Günter Heß said...

@Rainer Grundmann

I think it needs to be clearly specified what is meant by results.

Observations and measurements need to be differentiated from analysis and interpretation.

According to my opinion there is no obligation to publish an interpretation or a hypothesis or an analysis if you are not satisfied with the evidence.

However, once you publish an interpretation you are obliged to publish or at least represent objectively all your data, especially those that point away from your analysis and interpretation. Or are even contradictory

If somebody else publishes an analysis or interpretation and you posses data that contradict those or point in a different direction, I think you are again obliged to publish those data.
Again, you don’t need to publish an interpretation or an analysis.

Best regards
Günter Heß

P.S. Of course this seems to me like a moral obligation. I don’t think there is a legal string attached

MarkB said...

My mother taught me to always tell the truth. It seems as if some mothers didn't get the message across.

Wotts Up With That Blog said...


Okay, in a scenario where a study was complete and there were no obvious problems with the data/observations or with the analysis and someone chose not to publish simply because the results were inconvenient I would agree. There appear some areas where this is indeed an issue (Ben Goldacre's discussions of the pharmaceutical industry for example). I'm not convinved that it is an issue in climate science though.

Jerome said...

In the Anglo-American tradition, jurors are required to swear that they will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The middle category is there as a reminder than 'not-the-whole-truth' is effectively 'truthiness'. Steven Schneider did see the problem clearly, but (in the texts I have read) just hoped that it would go away. Philip Kitcher seems to have come down firmly on the side of truthiness; I would be pleased to learn otherwise.

Günter Heß said...

@ReinerGrundmann and Wotts up

If someone chose not to publish because the results are not convenient,
I guess we all agree.

But let’s consider the following scenario:

A master student discovers a hint that all the computer programs in his institute might be biased. He or she judges that the probability that he is right is about 70%.

He to his director who thanks him for the hint and orderst hat this investigated further, since he or she judges the probability that the student is right with 5%.

Is the student now obliged to publish the result. independently?

Is the institute allowed to publish its other results based on programs that might be faulty?

How are we going to discriminate that from Kitcher’s scenario?

I think that Kitcher’s sentence:
'The atmospheric scientist was not wrong to withhold the information from the public; she wisely foresaw the danger that it would be deployed in misleading ways and attempted to do her bit for the promotion of public freedom'.

is dangerous, because it replaces individual judgement, accountability and risk with a general excuse for political bias.

It is not a matter of right or wrong, but a matter of personal judgement that possesses the risk that others judge it differently.

Best regards
Günter Heß

Wotts Up With That Blog said...

In my opinion, your latter example would require some judgement. I don't think that one should simply try to publish a paper because they think there is maybe an issue with a code. There should be evidence. If there is evidence and it is hidden to avoid people becoming aware of a problem, I would regard that as unacceptable and unprofessional. In this circumstance, however, I would argue that doing a thorough test before publishing would be acceptable as long as it was a genuine attempt to gain understanding, rather than an attempt to delay publication.

Günter Heß said...

@Wotts up

As I understand it, all programs for climate simulations, all climate simulations respectively are biased to some extent and bias corrections are applied.

Therefore a climate scientist who publishes a paper based on simulations did and does so always, because of his personal judgement as a scientist that now the investigation is thorough enough.

Kitcher’s „excuse“ or moral obligation therefore adds a political bias to the scientific judgement.

And herein I agree with Reiner Grundmann. This is dangerous ground.

Best regards
Günter Heß

Anonymous said...

To go back to the beginning: Is this post about the questionable behaviour of social scientists (i.e., in this case, a particular philosopher) or is it about the questionable behaviour of climate scientists? I think it's about the former. The loss of trust therefore attaches to the former not the latter. If one wanted to study the questionable behaviour of climate scientists, one could do this in a variety of ways. This is, it seems to me, not one of them.
The blog post seems to imply that speculation is reality...

None said...

The confirmation bias is so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. It's precisely this that allows climate scientists to have results fundamentally dependent on faintly plausible "teleconnections" and get away with it, without having to prove that there is indeed a physical effect.

Hans von Storch said...

None, your comment is useless - mere claims-making, no substance. There are various blogs where you can act like this, but please let us alone with your insights; when you have arguments you are welcome to come back.

Günter Heß said...

It fits the topic:

unfortuneatly in German

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Raffa #29

"To go back to the beginning: Is this post about the questionable behaviour of social scientists (i.e., in this case, a particular philosopher) or is it about the questionable behaviour of climate scientists? I think it's about the former. The loss of trust therefore attaches to the former not the latter. If one wanted to study the questionable behaviour of climate scientists, one could do this in a variety of ways. This is, it seems to me, not one of them.
The blog post seems to imply that speculation is reality..."

At first glance you are right. However, there is a deeper dimension which makes this case so interesting and worrying. Kitcher assumes that climate scientists behave in the way he describes (what you have called 'speculation'). He then provides a reason to justify this behaviour. The reason he provides is preventing skeptics from gaining credibility. This higher, or nobler motive provides justification for some prima facie malpractice (he does not call it malpractice but most commentators on this thread are agreed that they find the behaviour problematic).

My perception is that this kind of reasoning is quite common among people who are in favour of climate policies. They perceive the presence of sceptics to be the main problem in a politicised debate and conclude that arguments undermining them is a good thing, and arguments that are provided which cold support them are a bad thing. This attitude ('motivated reasoning') is evident in several social groups, including the sciences, the humanities, wider society. I would assume that the same mechanism is at work in the opposite camp although we do not see much support from philosophers or social scientists.

It is thus not a point of showing how wide spread the behaviour is with climate scientists. There may be only isolated instances but they gain their significance through the eagerness of their supporters to defend such behaviour.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Günther Hess #32

The article you link to is about the risk of wind turbines to bats. Researchers agreed to do research with wind turbine operators on the condition of anonymity. The contract obliges the researchers to make the findings public, but not the raw data. Such contractual arrangements are common and are a very different issue compared to the case at hand. So no this does not fit the topic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Reiner for your detailed response (#29). Is there any real evidence then for this 'eagerness ... to defend such behaviour'? It would be great to see that - beyond what I call this philosophical 'speculation'. That is not to say that I am against such 'thought experiments'. However, they may have impacts in the real world in terms of public perceptions, attitudes etc. So one has to be careful I think (which is, I believe, what you are saying too).

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Raffa #34

I have analysed several social science responses to climategate where I observed a tendency to condone.

Other examples that come to mind are Oreskes/Conway's Merchants of Doubt and Peter Gleick's interactions with the Heartland Institute (of which he later said they were "a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics").

Anonymous said...

What about the Watts draft? Last year A. Watts presented a draft with the extraordinary claim US temperature records to be flawed. A claim which J. Christy presented in his written testimony at US congress.

Several people including McIntyre convinced Watts that he had to use TOBS-corrected data. Watts promised to present a corrected draft within a couple of weeks.

It's now a full year since we've never heard of it again. In my opinion there's a strong moral obligation (espacially because of the former public allegations) to tell the public the results given by TOBS corrected data.


Günter Heß said...

@Andreas #37

I think as a scientist, Watts would be obliged to publish according to my opinion, because he already published his interpretation and hypothesis.

If he has contradictory data now, he needs to publish them.

Best regards

MikeR said...

I also think that Watts should publish his corrected results, whatever they are. Or at least make them public.

I looked at the link Victor Venema posted about Watts' site. I am astonished that he thinks that this proves that Watts is a liar. I can only conclude that he dislikes the other side so much that he automatically thinks the worst of whatever they do.
Unfortunately, that doesn't help the rest of us when it comes to judging his own work. It's hard to trust someone when we can see that (at least about this other issue) he can't think straight. It's too bad that so many visible climate scientists seem to see themselves in a "war" against "enemies", instead of in a process of teaching people who are frequently foolish and stubborn. And of course too many skeptics do just the same.

Jerome said...

Mike's comments provide a key to the whole affair. For some time there has been a 'War on Carbon', something that was formerly called a Crusade. The Climategate emails show this clearly; and John Beddington's call for being 'grossly intolerant' of CC skeptics (among others) is along the same lines. This explains Phil Kitcher's position; skeptics are bad, dangerous types, the Enemies of the People. The situation is thus beyond Post-Normal! Of course, if the temperatures should continue to refuse to rise, and the models become even more discredited, then the reactions among the enthusiasts could become more severe. If, however, temperatures start to rise again, then it would be another story!

Victor Venema said...

MikeR, could you maybe provide an argument and indicate what is wrong with my post?

That is likely the main cultural difference. Scientists like evidence.

MikeR said...

Don't know if I can identify much that is _specifically wrong_ about the post. The whole post is wrong-headed. Watts publishes a silly little post about how proud he is of how his blog is doing. And off you charge, with your armor and waving your broadsword, while he's cutting his birthday cake with a plastic knife. I really think it shows more about you than about him.

If you want those of us on the outside to treat you as one of the scientists who gets deference because of his attachment to scientific objectivity, stop fighting wars. Ignore partisan politicians on both sides, or denounce partisan politics by both sides. Every cause attracts fools.
If you want to disagree with skeptics, do it with those who are doing science. Go to Lucia's blog and refute one of her posts, or McIntyre's. Nick Stokes shows up at both of them and seems to do okay.

Paul Matthews said...

It illustrates the state of the climate debate when a post about a hypothetical scenario proposed by a philosopher leads to such an unpleasant comment thread.

I find it hard to believe the an established philosopher of science would say something so unsound. I would prefer to wait until we have the book in our library and then check exactly what Kitcher wrote.

Victor Venema said...

Don't know if I can identify much that is _specifically wrong_ about the post. The whole post is wrong-headed. Watts publishes a silly little post about how proud he is of how his blog is doing. And off you charge, with your armor and waving your broadsword, while he's cutting his birthday cake with a plastic knife. I really think it shows more about you than about him.

Thank you for acknowledging that the post is factually right.

Watts published a post showing a huge spike in the web traffic of WUWT and was congratulated to this big success of WUWT. Being seen as the biggest web site on climate may be silly to you, but is very important to Anthony Watts, if only for the media attention it gives. The subtitle of WUWT is: “The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change”.

The evidence suggests that this spike is spurious. It is hard to conceive that Watts did not look at the statistics on his dashboard, especially while writing a post about a spike in traffic. It thus seems reasonable to assume that Anthony Watts intentionally deceived his readers.

This is interesting for a number of reasons.

1. Anthony Watts is often described as a nice man that just sometimes has a little trouble understanding his guess posts. He should be able to understand his number of readers, however.

2. Also for his readers, it can be hard to judge how reliable the science at WUWT is. The climate system is very complex and at a certain moment everyone has to trust scientific judgements somewhere. They can, however, judge very well and independently whether there was a spike in readership.

3. And there is one meta-fact I find very interesting. Every time I point to factual errors on WUWT. The readers do not care about evidence. Also you prefer to attack the messenger and do not complain about being lied to by Anthony Watts.

Don't you mind being lied to? I find this very, very weird.

If you want to disagree with skeptics, do it with those who are doing science.

Interesting, that you admit that WUWT is not doing science. We fully agree in that point.

Go to Lucia's blog and refute one of her posts, or McIntyre's. Nick Stokes shows up at both of them and seems to do okay.

Why would I? That would only make sense if I was fighting a war. If Lucia, McIntyre and Stokes are doing science, let them.

Lucia mainly comments on climate models. There are many good reasons to be sceptical about them. If our understanding of the climate system would solely depend on them, I would not take climate change very seriously.

I am new to climate science, and the only climatic topic where I am half-way knowledgeable is the quality of station data and homogenization. That happens to be one of the favourite topics of Anthony Watts, which explains my interest. Thus it is relatively easy for me to explain the errors of WUWT posts.

It is really a pity that WUWT is producing so much misinformation. Otherwise such a site could have been the natural ally of university climatologists. The information on the quality of climate stations helps to produce political pressure for better measurements. A global or European project such as Watt's US Surface station project would be very helpful for that. Currently there is a massive world-wide Stationssterben going on due to budget cuts. For the same reason stations are converted to automatic weather stations, which introduces inhomogeneities.

If all data would be open and you could also publish your processed data and results, this would greatly benefit academic climatologists. In the US the data is open. In Europe this is getting better, but still a large problem because the European governments want to earn money with the data and block the data to generate an artificial market for private weather services. It will need political pressure to change this.

Hans von Storch said...

Victor Venema, you continue with your assertions of somebody would lie, would deceive,lie. Your post is vague in saying what this deception would be about, what the lie would consist of. Instead: "It thus seems reasonable to assume that XXXXX intentionally deceived his readers.", "Also you prefer to attack the messenger and do not complain about being lied to by XXXXXX. ".

You will possibly not understand the rational, but I will delete further messages from you because of repeatedly aggressive and insulting language. Maybe, you could be so kind of no more commenting in this and similar threads.

itisi69 said...

Venema invades this thread with swinging swords throwing thunder and lightning at the lying deniezers, whilst confessing "I'm new to climate science".

Nuff said me thinks...

hvw said...

Hans von Storch, you write to Victor Venema:
... I will delete further messages from you because of repeatedly aggressive and insulting language.

Just to be clear about the code of conduct here: Do you actually mean to delete all further comments from VV, no matter whether you perceive them as "insulting and aggressive" or not? Thanks for clarifying.

Hans von Storch said...

hvw - if the comments are no longer aggressive, insulting etc., there is no problem for me, but from the series of comments so far, I guess he (?) will be be unable to restrain himself.

hvw said...

Hans von Storch, thanks, I am relieved to hear that. I believe he (!) already has come to the realization of having been suckered into a troll-thread. Kudos to RPjr and RG for this excellent specimen!

Unknown said...

I have found this thread rather late, but I would like to add the point (well made by Spencer Weart) that climate science is inevitably a social undertaking, so the example of an individual making decisions is rather artificial.

Weart put it that it is therefore socially constructed, but this does not mean it is only socially constructed. Teams must make collective decisions and many factors can influence the many choices that have to be made about how to treat data and develop models. There is room for shared values and what Irving Janis called 'Groupthink' to affect this process, especially under highly politicised circumstances. This might be simply tacit, rather than explicit — though Climategate showed some quite explicit conduct to affect both peer review processes and decisions about what would make it into IPCC reports.

The only antidote to this is complete openness and contestation, so there is no justification for suppressing scientific findings that are scientfically interesting because of some presumed noble cause the suppression might assist, in the view of the scientist.

As RPJr demonstrates so amply, there is no linear relationship between science and policy, and there is no predicting where scientific knowledge might lead us. I am sending this using WiFi that was developed by scientists who were working on radioastronomy. Modern chemotherapy emerged from research on mustard gas.

Scientists cannot, in my view, arrogate unto themselves decisions about whether their results advance the right causes.

Paul Matthews said...

Judith Curry in her latest post quotes most of Reiner's post and then says that she is aware of an example of this: Someone did some research that questioned an aspect of the IPCC view, and was advised by three senior scientists not to publish it.
So maybe the Kitcher scenario is not only hypothetical.

Jerome said...

You can be sure that many such instances can be found. An important question is, whether such behaviour is aberrant or 'normal'. Kuhn's account of 'normal science' is of myopic puzzle-solvers operating within a dogmatic 'paradigm'. For a chamber of horrors of examples, see the recent book by Michael Brooks, 'The Secret Anarchy of Science'. After finishing this, one asks whether the current 'scientific consensus' on any issue is other than groupthink enforced by Stalinist methods. This is even more troubling than the picture in Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Pharma', as that could be explained away as the corruption of weak scientists by bad corporations, assuming that the 'normal' state is otherwise. Clearly, there is still a lot of high-quality science being done - the question is how extensive and deep is the corruption, both external and internal. That cannot be measured, but it could be the crucial question for the future of science.

Victor Venema said...

hvw, my sentiments exactly. Eine hübsche Klimafalle.

As a goodbye present, maybe a bit off topic, but of interest to this community: the University of Aarhus is searching for two post-docs to work on the history of climate modelling from NASA's James Hansen to Hermann Flohn from Bonn.

Karl Kuhn said...

there seems to be agreement that research should not be withheld when results seem inconvenient. To me, this is not as straightforward as to most others here.

1. Shouldn't scientists be allowed to think about the damage that an imature publication could do to the public good? Or do only economists enjoy the privilege of pondering public costs and benefits ... ;-)

2. Isn't there a considerable premium for patience in climate research, as many time series are still pretty short? The allegation of sceptics is that big policy projects have been started on the basis of a still premature understanding of the climate system, resulting e.g. in the recent backpaddling in area of climate sensitivity. (I am aware that this problem is more about years than months, but anyway ...).

3. Shouldn't we abandon this super-human ideal of the impartial, detached scientists, accepts them as normal human beings, and rather improve transparency and checks and balances on what is actually published?

Just my 2 cts ...

Anonymous said...

I'd like to provide a counter example:

Pons / Fleischmann and their cold fusion. They were almost in the same situation as the researcher in the example. But they published, did a big press conference and announced the arrival of cold fusion. Their results weren't reproducible, their reputation gone, and the whole field of "Cold Fusion" a laughing stock.

So when you think you can prove the mainstream wrong, you are better 100% sure and very humble about it.


Anonymous said...

Karl Kuhn, totally agree!

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Karl Kuhn

in principle you are right but the issue here is different. It is about motivated reasoning, based on the scientist's belief (!) that the new research will be invalidated in the future but could do (political) harm if published. Are you really saying scientists should ponder these hypothetical risks when developing their publication strategies?

Anonymous said...

-> 49 hvw

@Hans Von Storch

Do you now see what I was talking about in the other thread.

Does it leave you speechless?

Or is it just good practice in "climate science"?


And what about this:

(Mojib LATIF:)

"I am not one of the sceptics," insisted Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University, Germany. "However, we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves or other people will do it."

My opinion: "It is important WE ANSWER the questions before SCPETICS do it."

Best regards

Karl Kuhn said...

@ Reiner Grundmann #57

To answer your question: yes, why should a scientist not question the validity of premature research and try to avoid causing it public damage by waiting a bit with the publication? The urge to publish or perish is strong enough anyway, so I would not appeal to increase it. Scientists are not publication robots.

The problem in climate science is that this kind of caution could, if it is perpetuated, lead to ever further kicking the can down the road. The issue here is climate sensitivity, attribution, and the validity of theories about positive feedback.

I do not believe that the Kitcher scenario is such a big issue as a one-time event. It is rather that certain problems are collectivly kept under rug over longer time periods. The comments in the von Storch/Bray climate scientists survey a couple of years ago clearly name these issues.

More generally, and clarifying my third point, I do not believe that motivated reasoning can be avoided by a human being. Rather, I guess that it is a major motivation for scientists to prove theories they somehow like and, by doing this, contribute to the public good. This is following self-interest instead of the monasterial ideal propagated here by other, but as an economist, I do not have a problem with this. A well-designed market economy uses the self-interest of its actors to increase public welfare by creating an appropriate institutional framework that constrains personal greed. It is about time to rethink the insitutions of science such that they can work in a similar way. Current scientific institutions, particularly in the area of publishing, are built on the assumption of the monasterial ideal of the scientist (no self-interest, impartial). This is increasingly making them dysfunctional, particularly when strong passions and politicisation are in place.

Karl Kuhn said...

... and what this super-human ideal is doing to scientists themselves is yet another issue ... que qui veut faire l'ange fait la bête, as physisist Blaise Pascal noted a couple of centuries ago.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Karl Kuhn

I agree, it is not about appealing to individual virtue. The picture of scientists as committed only to truth is a (necessary) fiction which nevertheless has real power. It is the self-description of science and it is the way non-scientists see science. They demand from science to be impartial and value free.

So while there is nothing wrong with scientists being self-interested and following particular publishing strategies (including the one mentioned by Kitcher), some of these practices will be regarded as untrustworthy (especially the one mentioned by Kitcher).

Scientists should realize that they are running a big risk when engaging in such practices. More reflexivity on part of scientists is needed, especially by those who think they are in the business of 'doing good' to society. Yes, Pascal was right. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Anonymous said...

You say " The picture of scientists as committed only to truth is a (necessary) fiction" but you want scientists to conform to this fiction. Isn't that a bit paradoxical?
I am also not sure whether this fiction really is a 'self-description' of science. To quote Feynman: "I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”

Günter Heß said...


Excellent comment. Thank you. I agree, one must leave the door open to the unknown.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


It is not me who demands scientists should conform to the fiction, it is society which expects it. Inasmuch this expectation is shared, the fiction becomes reality. When scientists are perceived to deviate from this fiction they have a problem.

Your Feynman quote does not really relate to the problem at hand.

Anonymous said...


"The picture of scientists as committed only to truth is a (necessary) fiction which nevertheless has real power. It is the self-description of science and it is the way non-scientists see science. They demand from science to be impartial and value free."

Non-scientists must be very stupid?! One must feel very superior being a scientist?! This arrogance is part of the problem.

When science is not value-free it is not science. It is important to preserve scientific integrity and objectivity. While policymaking relying on science cannot be value-free, science must be value-free and disinterested.

When we pretend that science cannot be value-free, we are speaking about different aspects of science. The one aspect is honesty, objectivity, truth and science as such; the other aspect is the confidence level we give to scientific theories.

On the one hand scientists who are led by their ethical beliefs, want to make (influence) policy and on the other hand we have scientists who want to evaluate the probability of how much their scientific theory is true or proven.

You cannot explain scientific fraud or intentional deception (dishonesty) by philosophical discussions about scientific ethics and value-free science. In this case we would have to speak about policymaking and the need to distort scientific truth "for the good cause".

In my opinion this is not the only reason why some climate scientists don’t tell the whole truth, but *the purpose of debating is to win and not to open new communication channels.*

On climate blogs non-scientists and policymakers are treated as if they were unable to understand what they read about climate science, as if every non-scientist could easily be misled and politically indoctrinated. Eating from the tree of knowledge is dangerous.

This is the most stupid an arrogant kind of thinking. Who believes this shit is the one who can easily be misled and indoctrinated.

Do we have to reject the role of scientists as decision makers? In my opinion science must be part of the decision making process. But this process must be based on objective disinterested value-free science. And democratic decisions must be respected even if policy-involved scientists disagree.

After democratic processes have taken place, the Juchtenkäfer might disappear from the park of Stuttgart 21 and no science or political activist screaming and grinding teeth must be allowed to win over a highly democratic process.

The dishonest behavior of some of the best known climate scientists might be counterproductive and this might corroborate the theory, that the “only purpose of debating is to win”.

If it were only just not telling the whole truth ......


Jerome said...

"The picture of scientists as committed only to truth is a (necessary) fiction which nevertheless has real power."

Now we are in deep water. Does Science need a Noble Lie?

This could be worth another thread.


Anonymous said...

But who perpetuates this fiction? Social scientists or natural scientists? And do 'non-scientists' really swallow this fiction? And who are the non-scientists? Are social scientists non-scientists? Are biologists non-scientists in the context of climate change? Are amateur meteorologists non-scientists?.... (and lots of 'non-scientists' read Feynman's self-description of science)

Anonymous said...

Imo natural scientists only start to discuss these problems when it comes to ecological or purely ethical questions, like the atomic power. Nobody imo questions the need to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

One theory might not be complete or not be the final answer but nobody would think we need to talk about ethics when we are searching for the "theory of everything".

These postnormal science and philosophical questions only distract us from the real problem:

If you intentionally don't tell the truth about your findings, you mostly have a political or environmental agenda.

People should be aware of this fact before they take a decision. That's all. Imo the rest is philosphic drivel.

The whole process of scientific policymaking might be very complicated, scientific dishonesty is very straightforward.

Best regards

Hans von Storch said...

Yeph/65 - what is wrong with ""The picture of scientists as committed only to truth is a (necessary) fiction which nevertheless has real power. It is the self-description of science and it is the way non-scientists see science. They demand from science to be impartial and value free." ?

This is an observation of social reality (by a social scientist) - and this observation is mostly consistent with my observations, apart of the detail that I see many, who expect "science" to act as as supportive forces for their "good case".

If this status is something we welcome is another thing. Obviously, society as paymaster of the social system "science" should find out for itself, which rules science should adopt as professional code. But how would we do that? How decide this, how to implement this, how to balance it with the freedom of science?

RainerS said...

@69 HvS

you said:

"Obviously, society as paymaster of the social system "science" should find out for itself, which rules science should adopt as professional code."

If "society" indeed was overseeing scientific activities, you might have a point here. However, this imho appears not to be what is happening. It is not "society" deciding on grant applications. It is not "society" doing peer review. And it is not "society" deciding which findings are communicated to the media.

I am sure I don´t have to tell you, but it´s science bureaucrats signing off grants, it´s scientists recommending or not to accept papers for publication, and it´s university PR staff disseminating peer-reviewed (sometimes not) "findings" to the media.

I don´t know whether or not you are following other areas of "Sciece-meets-policy-and-media". Earlier this year, some Seralini made public results about feeding GMO fodder to rodents (they all died of cancer, of course...). There was a robust response from experts in the field, dissecting this study.

Why doesn´t this happen with alarmist PR in climate science?

As long as climate scientists aren´t massively called out for publishing outlier "results" and pushing those via some media channels, or abusing weather events for their cause, credibility of the whole enterprise might, just might suffer.

wflamme said...

After rolling two dice severel times does it make sense to question the dice model after havong obtained two sixes?

wflamme said...

Sorry, wrong thread - please disregard.

Anonymous said...

@Hans Von Storch (n° 69)

Sorry for replying so late. I was very busy this week.

You write:

"This is an observation of social reality (by a social scientist) - and this observation is mostly consistent with my observations"

After having written my long reply, my conclusions were not very different from yours.

First I was a little upset and wrote the long answer and in the end I realised that there was no reason for being upset.

You wrote:

"Obviously, society as paymaster of the social system "science" should find out for itself, which rules science should adopt as professional code. But how would we do that? How decide this, how to implement this, how to balance it with the freedom of science?"

It might be possible to sentence scientists who have been convicted of "science-crime".

Some nice examples of science-crime can be found in medical science.

If sombebody obviously did hide findings which could contradict his theory and he did it to promote his political (or other) goals, he could have to undergo some kind of sentence.

Some scientists explain on blogs that real science is very different from the positivistic view of science we non-scientists have.

But what they really say is that cheating, hiding and exaggerating findings is normal and that disinterested science is just wishful thinking or pure fantasy.

The honest broker does exactly what non-scientists expect from scientists. Disinterested science makes no sense if cheating is the rule.

If somebody believes in doping-free sports and desinterested science he is treated as if he was just naive.

And yes some of us might be naive, but this is not an impossible goal.

Righteousness is what you expect from somebody who pretends to proclaim the real truth.

What you call postnormal science sometimes appears to me like justifying cheating in climate science. If you don't have enough facts to promote your goals, why not tell the truth. People might be much less stupid than "you" might think.

When you pretend that everything is much worse than we thought and people find out that you lied, they won't believe you anymore.

This is a fact an corroborated by many social experiments.

If you are part of this machination you are "mitgegangen - mitgehangen". Honest brokers should be the rule rather than be the exception.

And thank you very much for your kind reply on the other thread. I will not forget it an keep it in my mind before I become upset!! ;-)

Best regards,