09 February 2010

Jerry Ravetz on Climategate

Jerry Ravetz, a giant among scholars in the history and philosophy of science and someone who I am happy to call a friend and colleague, has written a thoughtful essay on the remarkable events that have unfolded in climate science of recent months. Here is an excerpt:

The total assurance of the mainstream scientists in their own correctness and in the intellectual and moral defects of their critics, is now in retrospect perceived as arrogance. For their spokespersons to continue to make light of the damage to the scientific case, and to ignore the ethical dimension of Climategate, is to risk public outrage at a perceived unreformed arrogance. If there is a continuing stream of ever more detailed revelations, originating in the blogosphere but now being brought to a broader public, then the credibility of the established scientific authorities will continue to erode. Do we face the prospect of the IPCC reports being totally dismissed as just more dodgy dossiers, and of hitherto trusted scientists being accused of negligence or worse? There will be those who with their own motives will be promoting such a picture. How can it be refuted?

And what about the issue itself? Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse. There is very unlikely to be a crucial experience that either confirms or refutes the claim; the post-normal situation is just too complex. The consensus is likely to depend on how much trust can still be put in science. The whole vast edifice of policy commitments for Carbon reduction, with their many policy prescriptions and quite totalitarian moral exhortations, will be at risk of public rejection. What sort of chaos would then result? The consequences for science in our civilisation would be extraordinary.

Jerry's article is thoughtful and worth your time. Jerry sends another strong message as well with his choice of venues where he chose to publish the essay.


  1. Interesting article, but I think he is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Whatever ClimateGate and the IPCC mistakes have revealed, it does not follow that climatology as a whole is entirely discredited, and that climatologists do not properly appreciate or deal with uncertainty. It is a large field with many practitioners, many of whom are top notch.

    The Professor is painting a picture with a brush that is overly broad.

  2. Global warming science became the core element of this major worldwide campaign to save the planet. Any weakening of the scientific case would have amounted to a betrayal of the good cause, as well as a disruption of the growing research effort. All critics, even those who were full members of the scientific peer community, had to be derided and dismissed. As we learned from the CRU e-mails, they were not considered to be entitled to the normal courtesies of scientific sharing and debate. Requests for information were stalled, and as one witty blogger has put it, ‘peer review’ was replaced by ‘pal review’.

    Even now, the catalogue of unscientific practices revealed in the mainstream media is very small in comparison to what is available on the blogosphere. Details of shoddy science and dirty tricks abound. By the end, the committed inner core were confessing to each other that global temperatures were falling, but it was far too late to change course. The final stage of corruption, cover-up, had taken hold. For the core scientists and the leaders of the scientific communities, as well as for nearly all the liberal media, ‘the debate was over’. Denying Climate Change received the same stigma as denying the Holocaust. Even the trenchant criticisms of the most egregious errors in the IPCC reports were kept ‘confidential’.

    "Even the trenchant criticisms of the most egregious errors in the IPCC reports were kept ‘confidential’."

    Is that fraud, what be the scientific definition of fraud? Just wunderun.

  3. mazibuko--
    I don't think he's claiming that mistake or misdeeds by the IPCC or by those scientists highlighted in climategate means that all of climatology is discredited. I think he's pointing out that there is a risk the public will lose faith in climatology; this is a different thing.

    One of the risks of feeding the public a juiced story, and making mistakes has always been that the public will lose faith in when the discover the story was juiced and/or mistakes were made. Many people have been warning about these risk. Turns out the warnings were based on correct perceptions of how the public reacts.

  4. "If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse. "
    I agree with those that think this is overstatement; climate scientists are not the only scientists, and the errant nature of some of their behavior does not reach outside climate science to somehow contaminate all of science.

  5. The public's perception of climatology has been shaped by the much trumpeted "concensus of scientists" regarding AGW alarmism.

    He is therefore correct that the discrediting of extremist certainty on these issues will discredit in the public mind all climatologists. The process is well underway.

  6. Sorry Roger, I can't agree with you positive assessment of that piece. Whatever merit the entire text might contain is destroyed completely by this:

    "Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse"

    Can he really be saying that we have to "keep the faith" or risk the debasement of the role of science in society?

    If we "keep faith" then the situation of science in society is truly alteered for the worse.

  7. I think it's too late in the UK - the public will never believe these soft sciences again. Maybe that was the case for a while. A long succession of evidence-free, hyped-up scare stories probably made them skeptical of anything emanating from academic or government circles - it certainly did that for me.

    With global warming I suspect they only gave it the benefit of the doubt, nothing more. Nobody was ever prepared to pay a green tax. These two really severe Winters that the public were explicitly told wouldn't happen, are what really killed it, in combination with a long succession of utterly wrong seasonal forecasts by the Met office. Now the public know for sure that climate scientists are just making things up to sound important. I frankly doubt anyone is really surprised about CRUgate or the IPCC being found to be unethical because state-sponsored corruption is utterly rife nowadays. They already see it as politicians looking for more taxes and more city corruption vehicles via carbon trading, which of course benefits retiring MP's like Blair or economists like Stern who are employed by the carbon traders.

    The zealots shot their bolt on an all out PR blitz, going way beyond what the science says in order to force policy. They lost, not because of CRUgate but because what they demanded is just not easy to do - unlike the CFC scare. They need to accept that now and disappear from our lives forever. If there is a need for greener energy - and I firmly believe there is - then these guys are not helpful in finding the solutions anyway. All they do is pretend to know things that they obviously don't. What use is that to anyone?

    Meanwhile in France nobody knows anything about CRU or the IPCC failings because the government controls the media and their main concern was always the green-washing of nuclear power in the face of rising costs. So we'll get a carbon tax regardless that will go to the nuclear establishment. Some might go towards wind, wave and solar power - but a scant amount compared to the nuclear camp. At least it's a plan though! Likely the Brits will end up buying French nuclear power, if they don't go bankrupt first.

  8. Climate alarmists are not interested in public trust, there preference is public adherence.

    So in the end it does not really matter how many transformations the climate scientists, the IPCC and national governments undergo that preference is still the same.

    "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

  9. interesting

    If your spouse repeatedly tells you that they are loyal while all the time cheating on you and then you find out you are overdrawn in all your accounts. Do you believe that your spouse was just lacking in fidelity or a total scoundrel?

    Climate Science has not only been a unfaithful to the public in regards to its public hyperbole, it has been unfaithful in regards to the truth. Yet we have people supposedly of great intellect defending this prostitution of science claiming it was only doing so to protect us from ourselves. No truth can be built on lies yet that is precisely the argument defenders use.

    Lose faith (?) science is not about faith, science is about truth.Every aspect of this charade has been built upon some lie whether it be the Senate hearings that kicked it off, the hockey stick, the Inconvenient Truth nonsense, the attempt to change historical reality with ideological gobbledygook by eliminating the MWP. Destroying scientist with opposing views or theories, creating processes and strawman arguments to do so. The hyperbole about weather disasters, glaciers, ice caps, disease, droughts the discounting of the Sun's role, or the oceans role, or, or, or , or.

    The entire AGW religion has become a child's game played by intellectual giants that have the common sense of midgets.So vested in their intellectual chess games to justify their self generated esteemed place in society that they can not only not see the forest for the trees they do not even realize they are lost in the woods intellectually.

    It is truly sad. Yes the public has lost trust in climate science, because it isn't science. duh

  10. It's nice to see a theoretical analysis that provides the categories to describe the politico-scientific swirl we're in. Thanks, Dr. Ravetz, for posting your essay at WattsUpWithThat! And thank you for recognizing the new role of the blogosphere. The "journalists in pajamas" that brought down Dan Rather in 2004 are being joined by "scientists in pajamas" everywhere. May an "extended peer review" give us better science and better politics!

  11. There are three types of propaganda.
    White - The whole truth nothing but the truth.

    Grey - primarily sins of omissions
    If I go look at the NASA site they have a piece on antarctic ice melt.
    Sea Levels are rising as a result of antarctic ice(true)
    If all the anatarctic ice were to melt sea levels would rise 60 meters(also true).
    If I do a little work myself...I can calculate that it will take 30,000 years for sea levels to rise 60 meters. Or If I surf the net someone will have done the work for me.

    Black Propaganda - The Himalayan Glaciers will be gone by 2035.

    Grey and Black Propaganda have a shelf life.
    They are only effective short term.

    If one believes a single round of legislation or treaties will fix the problem then engaging in black or gray propaganda could be useful.

    Kyoto didn't fix the problem if there is a problem. Multiple rounds of treaties and legislation will be required.

    Who has the credibility left to make the case for further action?

  12. Jerry Ravetz may be "a giant among scholars in the history and philosophy of science", but that doesn't seem to stop him talking out his arsehole. I thought you social science people were supposed to actually go and study the scientific communities before reaching these kinds of conclusion? Ravetz has clearly never been to a geosciences conference, nor spent any time investigating what kind of research geoscientists do and how they do it. The only kind of science that's being called into disrepute here is the kind of social science that Ravetz claims to practice.

  13. I was going to post a link to Willis Eschenbach's excellent reply to Ravetz at WUWT, but find that Steve Easterbrook has distilled the essence of the matter here rather well.

  14. No, honestly guv, I never bit her at all.

  15. "The whole vast edifice of policy commitments for Carbon reduction, with their many policy prescriptions and quite totalitarian moral exhortations, will be at risk of public rejection. "

    That is an excellent point and the banshee calls from certain quarters, confirm it.

    Professor James Hansen, GISS, NASA

    "Keith Farnish has it right: time has practically run out, and the 'system' is the problem. Governments are under the thumb of fossil fuel special interests - they will not look after our and the planet's well-being until we force them to do so, and that is going to require enormous effort. -"

    In the book Hansen endorsed, Farnish himself wrote.

    "The only way to prevent global ecological collapse and thus ensure the survival of humanity is to rid the world of Industrial Civilization"


  16. To paraphrase Farnish in terms from another time: The only way to save humanity is to destroy it.

  17. eric144,
    Hansen has gotten off far too lightly. Over the years he has gone from rebel scienctist, to philosopher king, to nihilist prophet of doom.
    His endorsement of a book by a guy who wants to to the world what Pol Pot did to Cambodia, is only the latest step of Hansen's devolution into a latter day Lovelock.
    The interesting question to me is how much and shen did his science get corrupted by this degeneration?