måndag 8 november 2010

Science: The Art of Making Distinctions

Compromise in gladiator fight and science has little (public) interest.

Judith Curry writes in Ending the War with Skeptics:
  • The big war is arguably over.
  • The political war over whether anthropogenic climate change will be the primary driver of global energy policy is pretty much over.
  • But it seems that climate change is not going to be the primary driver for global energy policy; the UNFCCC is losing that war.
  • Without political impetus, what is the rationale for continued trench warfare between the climate scientists that defend the IPCC and the skeptics? I can’t think of any.
  • Climate science will continue on its merry way, with a spectrum of view points and ideas on how and why the climate system is changing, and how humans and ecosystems respond and react to this change.
  • Climate scientists have made a clear and cogent case that we are facing risk from the threat from anthropogenic climate change.
  • The nature and magnitude and likelihood of this threat is the subject of continued active investigation.
  • Let the economists, military/defense intelligence experts, resource managers, and yes politicians, sort out how we should manage these risks.
Maybe the political war is over, but not the scientific. So, why not then a nice peaceful compromise between CO2 alarmists and CO2 alarmism skeptics? Because, science is not about making compromises. Science is about making distinctions and compromise blurs distinctions and thus is non-science.

The same holds in war, love, arts and sports, where compromise is of little interest. In the big battle for survival mixing between different species is prevented. A compromise between a peacock and a pig is not fit for life.

A large part of science is classification, and classification is about making distinctions.

It is possible to formulate a compromise between a flat earth and round earth theory, e.g. by saying that the Earth is locally flat and globally round, with the result that both theories are correct: The earth is both flat and round! But what is the interest of such a hybrid theory?

It is possible to formulate a compromise between CO2 alarmists and skeptics, by saying that
CO2 may have some influence (possibly zero) on global temperatures. But again this has no
interest. And the essential role of a scientist is to say something of interest (to humanity), to make a distinction and not a compromise.

Therefore, Curry's call for End of War with Skeptics, has little interest. If the big war is now over, there must be winners and losers.

Blurring of differences is an essential element of democratic society: We are all equal with equal opportunities (in theory). But science is not democratic politics, and equality science is not interesting (to the public financing science).

Compare with the new SPPI report Is the Western Climate Establishment Corrupt?

3 kommentarer:

  1. I agree. In many cases the so called "skeptics" are just as politicized as the alarmists:

    Grab a scientist with reputation whose scientific point of view conforms with your political agenda and support the science of that particular person.

    A good example of such a behaviour is that of Lord Monckton. Monckton is of course a political animal to the bones (with some mathematical literacy), he finds a person that will be instrumental for his political purposes (Richard Lindzen) and supports whatever comes out of the latters mouth.

    For many other people the opinions of Roy Spencer constitutes the kind of scientific compromise discussed in your post. The greenhouse effect exists and is undisputed, but the human contribution is moderate (due to a negative cloud feedback). Why is this kind of a comprise considered attractive by many skeptics. I can think of a few reasons:

    1. The issue of AGW would be quickly removed from the political agenda without them having to deal with science (which is uncomfortable)

    2. The science was not completely wrong (comfortable) but we were rescued by the negative cloud feedback (which required the genius of Roy Spencer to figure out)

    3. They never had to express their doubts about the greenhouse effect (uncomfortable since your are then by implication a flat-earther)

    This attitude I think was congenially summarized by Ribbing and Björnbom:

    "The greenhouse effect is undisputed, the discussion should concern its magnitude"

    Maybe we could define the greenhouse effect in the following way:

    Any physical process that involves CO2 is by definition a greenhouse effect.

    In that case the fotosynthesis for example would be a greenhouse effect, and hence, undisputed.

    I would reckomend you to read G&T's reply to Halpern et al.


    In particular the section "What is a physical effect"

    My own attitude is the following: Politics should not be based on unsubstantiated science. At present there is no proven CO2 effect on temperature.

  2. I agree: (b) A physical effect involves an interesting outcome. To define the greenhouse effect as anything involving greenhouse gases, is of course nonsensical non-science.

  3. Competence in climate science--indeed, in any science touching upon the study of climate--has been officially outlawed (see the post on the AMS statement). Such utter stupidity will not stand the light of day. You know the science has gone wrong when you see everyone arguing the philosophy of science.