Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The next tack in Climate Disruption denialism - Scientists must be Nihilists

The Earth's atmosphere refracts the sunlight, ...Image via Wikipedia
Pair of posts on Keith Kloor Collide-a-Scape, about the Q&A with Judith Curry.

Might as well prepare for the next tack in Climate Disruption denialism, pieced together from those salivating at the opportunity presented by Judith Curry's delight in the role of "anti-warmist" gadfly:

1) Rollicking dialogue favored over disciplined argumentation

1 Prime) Consider dialogs under discipline that allow them to terminate at conclusions where it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.  Call these dialogs "rationally terminating" dialogs.  Beware any forum where "rollicking dialogue" is always preferred to "rationally terminating" dialogs.  Those forums simply exist to aid the Art of Controversy.

[ quote web search: "perverse to withhold provisional assent" Gould ]

2) Scientists must be held to a higher standard than their critics... becomes... The critics of scientists can sink to impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation... becomes... It is off limits to point out in the critics their impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation.

2 Prime) If there exists a forum where there is no crime that brand someone a bad actor, that forum simply exists to aid the Art of Controversy. (No problem with scientists being held to a higher standard - the problem is when the critics are never under risk to their status as a member in good standing, no matter how impossibly shameful their tactics.  Also, the standard should be stated up front, or else the floor can sink down into a infinite number of basements of shameful argumentation.)

3) With the critics of scientists, you must never consider the motivation of those critics (strangely, scrutinizing the motivation of the scientists themselves is encouraged).

3 Prime) You don't need to be much of a Bayesian to see value in being informed by judgements of motivation.  Forums where there are peculiar restrictions on when motivation can be considered simply exists to aid the Art of Controversy.

4) Scientific facts can be contaminated by a scientist with an outcome preference or a policy preference, and the critics of scientists are under no burden to speculate on the mode of contamination.  And demonstrating contamination can be a substitute for demonstrating falsehood.

4 Prime) Forums where such a concept of contaminated facts is allowed simply exist to rid the record of facts that a group of augmenters find fatal to their viewpoint.

5) Only certainty can motivate action, and uncertainty can never motivate action.  That is why nobody ever buys homeowners insurance without getting a statement of intent from an arsonist that your home is scheduled for a fire.

5 Prime) A peculiar status for uncertainty gives the motivation for the Art of Controversy.

4 + 5) Scientists must behave as perfect nihilists.  A policy or outcome preference from a scientist, even if the logical consequence of a common humane morality of care-taking for the benefit of future generations, is disallowed.  (Strangely, this requirement to be perfect nihilists only applies to scientists.)  If imperfect nihilism is demonstrated, the publications affected can be discarded.

Commentary on 4 + 5) Forums with such a concept of mandatory scientific nihilism simply exist to rid the record of facts that a group of augmenters find fatal to their viewpoint.

6) Scientists writing in casual forums always risk their reputation, for a certain group of scientists.  Scientists writing in casual forums always have their casual statements enhanced by their reputation from scientific publication, for a certain *different* group of scientists.

6 Prime) Forums with such a concept of a blessed group of scientists simply exist to rid the record of facts that a group of augmenters find fatal to their viewpoint.

7) You are not to notice that delay serves privileged groups well.  So the Art of Controversy must be only seen as a Quest for Truth.

7 Prime) Forums where the profits from delay are off limit topics simply exist to be in harmony with those profits, if not to be compensated by a fraction of those profits.

Conclusion) I will assume the burden of discipline to avoid these failure modes, in anticipation that I will be called out when I violate them.  Then, properly shamed, I will document my failure and correct.

Finially, with a sour taste in my mouth, I end with a comment reply:

"Roger Pielke Jr. Says: April 27th, 2010 at 1:12 pm" speaking of "stealth advocacy"
> No one can control how their statements are used by others.  One can however be clear on how their views map onto policy.
This implies that "stealth advocacy" can be a sin of omission.

And, let me guess, a fact put forward by a scientist guilty of "stealth advocacy" has permanent fractional worth, irregardless of the truth of the fact.

You don't need to be much of a Bayesian to see value in informing an initial judgement in a fact from a judgement of the motivation of actor positing the fact.  But it is only fair to apply this to scientists, critics, pundits, others alike.  And, eventually, the judgement of the fact in isolation of political outcomes has to swamp out the initial judgement informed by motivation.  And, the judgement process must provisionally terminate, because the value is in the result, not in the sustained controversy (provisional on information fatal to the judgement).  And, uncertainty can compel action, in the same way that uncertainty about the risks to my home can compel me to spend money on homeowners insurance, now.

It is my opinion that you would not agree with the above.  I would like to be assured otherwise (of course, you are under no obligation).

Another of my comments:
> Stealth advocacy occurs when someone claims to be only discussing the fact, but in reality, is working to constrain the scope of policy options.  Such work can be intentional or unintentional...
The thing to be maximized is not the "scope" of policy options.  I could enlarge the scope of school-day bed-time options by actively soliciting the opinion of my middle-school daughter, but I am maximizing for long term education outcomes.

Publishing valid results of the significant possibility of climate disruption inconsistent with post-industrial human population numbers would "constrain the scope of policy options", if the published work was taken seriously.  Surely this is not what you want to curtail?

If I was to be uncharitable, I would say discussing "stealth advocacy" is a technique to indefinitely prolong the process of committing to an action commensurate with the possibility of climate disruption, because uncomfortable scientific results could be judged guilty of "constraining the scope of policy options" by removing comfortable but [untenable] options from consideration.

[more 4/27/10]

quoting "Roger Pielke Jr. Says: April 27th, 2010 at 4:35 pm"
> Discussion of issues related to advocacy among scientists long pre-date arguments about climate policy.
How could I forget the controversy of tobacco carcinogenicity? ... Oops, there I go, "constraining the scope of policy options" again.

from "Judith Curry Says: April 27th, 2010 at 6:03 pm", quoting Mike Hulme: "Heated debate" http://www.thersa.org/fellowship/journal/features/features/heated-debate

I agree with Hulme that "different legitimate positions people adopt about these ideological and ethical entanglements" can, with rhetorical tricks, be falsely turned into "arguments about belief (or otherwise) in scientific claims".

But, without a motivating morality about care-taking for future generations, the whole climate disruption argument is just so much dry stuff.  And, with that motivating morality, uncertainty is a call to action, not an excuse for inertia.

Again, using the example of [purchasing] homeowners insurance, certainty does not have a monopoly on rational reasons for action.

And it would be a peculiar motivating morality about care-taking for future generations, if it did not prompt skepticism against those who would prolong discussion before meaningful action.  If it did not, it could hardly be called morality at all.

Accepting this, you would expect some viewpoints to remain permanently separated.

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