Ten Replies to Ten Replies about Advocacy vs Science
Jeff Id, the author of the skeptical (with respect to anthropogenic global warming) blog The Air Vent, has posted several replies to Gavin Schmidt’s “Advocacy vs. Science” post over at RealClimate. Thus, in the name of a good ol’ fashioned blog-o-sphere tumult, I’d like to reply Jeff’s responses to Gavin’s post (which is in response to posts at WattsUpWithThat and Chris Colose’s blog.) We’ll do this block-quote style (all quotes are from Jeff I’ds post above unless otherwise noted):
1. A scientist accepts tough questions, an advocate stifles them.
Gavin Schmidt and the folks at RC are hardly the type of people which refuse “tough questions.” The entire premise of RC is to answer precisely those questions that are commonly flung by skeptics. They published a two-part FAQ on climate models in the past few months, and their entire site is a repertoires of answers to practically every “tough question” that are asked (do I really need to link the posts about G&T, or Tsonis, or anything else?). Of course, the “toughest” questions the authors face don’t actually come from skeptics – they come in peer-reviewed journals. The authors at RC are actively publishing researchers who themselves are asking the “tough questions” necessary for furthering our understanding of the climate system. The allegation implict in this point is that RC moderates comments to remove some of the noise from their discussion threads. Gavin’s final comment here sums the sentiment up nicely.
2. A scientist is interested in the quality of his data source, an advocate adjusts and processes the data until it fits his conclusion.
It’s a bit hazy what exactly is meant to be implied here. If we’re talking about GISSTEMP, it’s a null point; biases are constantly being found, analyzed, and corrected in the temperature record (and other scientific records). It would be bad science to ignore obvious errors. On the other hand, where do we find people constantly obfuscating the true nature of the data sets they’re utilizing by cherry picking beginning and endpoints? The year 1998 and a plethora of graphs come to mind…
3. A scientist using an instrument for measurement doesn’t assume the measurement is correct simply because of producing the intended result. An advocate will accept a tree ring proxy as a thermometer based on simple correlation analysis.
Um, what? For starters, there’s a large literature on dendrochronology (a literature I’m positive Jeff knows about because of his collaboration with the ClimateAudit project) which goes far beyond mere “simple correlation analysis.” This is beside the point though; my response to (2) is just as appropriate here. Climatologists and meteorologists are very aware of biases within our instrumentation and we do everything we can to eliminate them. This RealClimate post comes to mind.
4. A scientist models data based on measured data, an advocate adjusts the numbers until the final result matches the assumption. How is moisture feedback measured for computer models?
Actually, a scientist models based on theory. Theory is translated into mathematics which can then be translated into a model. Once the model is built, we spend 99% of the rest of the time analyzing how it matches up to real, measured data. Sometimes models capture certain behaviors better than others; based on the large amount of analysis done with the model, it might be tweaked to better capture those anomalous behaviors. Some tweaks are better than others, which is why there is a constant development process to create new formulations of the basic theories of atmospheric chemistry, physics, and dynamics which help us better capture the h0listic behavior of the atmospheric system.
Moisture feedback isn’t measured for computer models. Feedbacks are part of emergent behavior resulting from the basic chemistry, physics, and dynamics which make the foundation of the model. For instance, some models which will be used to performs runs for the IPCC 5AR will utilize cutting-edge cloud microphysics. This single addition could have dramatic impacts on the model runs – particularly with respect to climate sensitivy and precipitation changes. (Curiously, I don’t know of anyone expecting it to drastically change our estimates of the equilibrium climate sensitivity… I wonder, why is that)
5. A scientist accepts that 50 people in agreement have often been wrong, an advocate declares consensus and stifles dissent.
6. A scientist is concerned about politics in the peer review process, an advocate accepts it silently as long as it supports their project and conclusion.
7. A scientist reveals their methods and calculatoins to the world for reproduction, an advocate hides (censors) to prevent errors being noticed.
8. A scientist admits errors and goes back to work, an advocate hides them by concealing data and reproducing similar results with equally flawed methods. Who’s the denier about the latest hockey stick Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, Tamino or me.
9. A scientist doesn’t lobby congress for pet political policies to be enacted, an advocate (Hansen) does.
This depends on what discourse you take with respect to governance. Hansen’s actions and rhetoric embody a combination of what Dryzek might refer to as the discourses of Survivalism and Administrative Rationalism. Hansen is an expert in his field, and thus should be involved in the policy process. The extent to which he should participate, on the other hand, is up for debate. Like it or not, the up-and-coming generation of scientists will feature a great many ‘scientist-activist’ – people who are trained to deal with complex scientific issues but also wish to participate in the policy-making process. Personally, I think more scientists should be involved in politics; it can be much to emotional at times, and the cold rationality that science might offer to the policy process would likely be very beneficial. The bottom line is that our society faces legitimate issues which the lay person might not fully comprehend. It is up to scientists and experts to communicate those issues and to actively engage in efforts to help resolve them.
10. A scientist doesn’t backhandedly and without good evidence (as I have presented) lecture scientists who disagree about being advocates.