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« Light blogging | Main | Praising post-publication peer review »

Terence Kealey on post-normal science

Another brilliant talk from the EIKE conference, this time from Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham. Kealey's message is essentially "never mind the idealised version of science put forward by Popper, let's look at how it works in practice".

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Reader Comments (77)

This quote from a Guardian article about Terence Kealey last June.

"I suspect he'll do almost anything for publicity, and he's quite touchingly anxious about making a good impression on Guardian readers..."


Apr 8, 2011 at 7:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterR2

Unfortunately climate science has taken advocacy a step too far.

Apr 8, 2011 at 7:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

Total rubbish.

It wouldn't matter two hoots if all scientists were advocates (as he says endlessly) because the rationality of science rests not in the behaviour and predispositions of men but in the process of exposing hypotheses to the criticisms of others and of the world of phenomena through their observable consequences.

In any case, it is not true that all scientists ignore falsification. Popper says that the attitude of Einstein to falsification, in contrast to the attitude of Freudians and Marxists, was exactly what led him to his demarcation criterion for distinguishing science from non-science. Einstein apparently said that if stellar parallax of the extent uniquely predicted by the General Theory of Relativity were not present in Eddington's forthcoming observations in 1919 during a solar eclipse, he would give up the theory altogether. Freudians and Marxists were seeking, and more often than not, finding confirmations wherever they looked

Kealeys example of the age of the earth and the competing geological schools in the 19th century doesn't get him very far, either, because, as he says, the dispute was firmly settled by other scientists working in the field of radioactivity. Both schools could not have been right, as he claims, for the simple reason that they were making contradictory claims: this is a matter of logic not scientific method.

Kealey seems to be elevating a descriptive statement about science ("all science is produced by advocates") into a normative one ("all science should be done without reference to falsification"). This is both dangerous and shallow.

Apr 8, 2011 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

"Kealey seems to be elevating a descriptive statement about science ("all science is produced by advocates") into a normative one ("all science should be done without reference to falsification"). This is both dangerous and shallow."

No, I don't think he is going that far he is merely pointing out the obvious (but often not appreciated) fact that most scientists are advocates and suffer from confirmation bias. He does say all, but I suspect he is exagerating for effect. Science advances by falsification in the Popperian mode but scientists are rarely objective. What we see in climate science is common in most other disciplines, but in most other disciplines it doesn't much matter.

Apr 8, 2011 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Hmmm. If all scientists were as pig-headed as Kealey describes them then there would be no progress in science in any field. The revolution in quantum mechanics in the 30s, say, would have been studiously avoided by all the other people who were being 'advocates' for their view of things. This is rubbish. In the right context, scientists are happy to drop their pet theories and run with others. Quantum theory was taken up amazingly quickly, and scientists do change their mind all the time. Of course, this does not happen always, and climate science does seem to be a field where some researchers' prejudices from some 20 years ago are still driving a research program looking for confirmation of the CO2 theory, rather than seeking to falsify it (or even pay attention to evidence available now that seems to falsify it).

A more interesting question in philosophy and sociology of science concerns trying to understand which contexts favour healthy developments in a scientific field, and which do not.

In the "Light Blogging" thread last week, Geogg Chambers and I discussed this in a number of posts. I suggested:

My experience as a science researcher is that some incorrect theories do get a very uncritical "ride" for extended periods of time, with seemingly much too intelligent people subscribing to them for a long time. Not anything like the same scale as climate change, but it does happen quite a lot. So you can learn from such episodes. Such theories seem to be favoured for several reasons: ones that spring to mind are (i) that an influential person backs them vigourously, or (ii) that they are fashionable hence seem to offer opportunities in terms of getting high-profile papers, or funding, or (iii) that they somehow fit in with peoples non-scientific world-view. To be fair, there is also (iv) that such theories do not interfere with other vigorous research programs - it is easier to have the luxury of an incorrect theory when it doesn't really matter. Of course, there are counter-examples to all of these.

In fact, Popper was aware of most of these pressures to ignore falsification. See the discussion of ad hoc hypotheses in the Wikipedia page on Falsificationism. Prof. Kealey seems to have a straw man version of Popper's theories (as Arthur Dent says, he is perhaps exaggerating for effect). In his book "Science, Sex and Politics", he also seems to have pretty naive views on the philosophy of science as a whole. One of the reviews of the book on Amazon says "One starts this book thinking it will be a well researched and well argued historical analysis, but soon it becomes apparent the author is more interested in pushing his views that private enterprise is good and government action bad." Leaving his book aside, on the evidence of this talk, Prof. Kealey looks like proof of a modified version of his own theory: that some people sometimes put forward theories and run with them despite all the contradictory evidence.

Apr 8, 2011 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterj

I have to admit that the video shocked me initially. To hear such arrant nonsense as the 19th century argument about the age of the earth related in such magesterial style as two opposing but equally valid truths really threw me, as did his comment about 'breaking climategate'. Then I realised that the man is an apologist for advocacy and can't tell the difference between an advocate, who promotes a specific and not neccessarily truthful idea, and a scientist who accepts the reality of falsification of a theory.
No wonder the English establishment sees nothing amiss in the farcical 'Climategate' enquiries - Post-Normal science has taken the Establishment over. Truth has been redefined as whatever these Post-Normal advocates say it is, regardless of reality.
Alice in Wonderland becomes more and more a depiction of the real world and the wonderfully clever and entertaining but utterly corrupt opening number from 'The Music Man' is a blueprint for marketing the new truths.

Apr 8, 2011 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

I think Dr Kealey is right. What is post-normal is that climate science has been hi-jacked by activists and politicians to drown out opposing theories. If Dr Kealey were to produce an accurate parallel, he would probably need to show that governments chose to beggar the world's economies on the basis of the 'correct' 19c view that the earth was 5 million years old - before there was an opportunity to show that the theory was, in fact, incorrect.

I don't think any of us have an objection to competing theories; what we object to is the abuse of the scientific method by positing a theory and proclaiming it proven all in the same breath. To this extent, Dr Kealey is spinning the terms of the debate.

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterTime Traveller

I have no objection to his statement as an account of how scientists frequently - not always - behave. But it is totally inadequate as a statement of how we should expect scientists to behave and, more importantly, how we collectively assess the merits of their science. If they are not generating falsifiable hypotheses, if they are simply bringing evidence to their theories, if they are not transparent in their methods and archiving of data, etc, and if they resort to ad hominem arguments or any other fallacious arguments and rhetorical devices we should not accept their scientific arguments and should not accord their theories serious consideration. If they interrogate data to the point of torturing it to confirm their theories and rely on rhetorical defences, we should be suspicious. We should certainly not base policy on such 'science'.

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

Total rubbish? A bit strong. I am trying to think of a scientist who's made a significant prediction which has turned out to be completely wrong and has then gone on to further significant work, funded no doubt by resulting tenure and hefty grants. Certainly you can dig out a handful but this is not how scientists do or can behave in general. Einstein said 'call my bluff'. He took a young man's risk and won big-time but to the end of his life he had a rooted objection to quantum mechanics in spite of its numerous successful predictions. We celebrate and publicize the successes not the failures.

It's clever of us now with hind sight to note that geologists were indeed making contradictory claims. At the time, the two groups were coming to conclusions based on the evidence they'd gathered. Why should they not suspect that those coming to different conclusions were in error? Resolution of the debate had nothing to do with logic (in the sense you mean) but on the availability of new observations and the completely unforeseen theory of radioactivity and atomic structure.

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlleagra

Geogg Chambers is of course geoffchambers. Geoff, if you're reading, sorry for this bizarre typo.

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterj

To some extent he's true, all scientists, at least those on the leading edge of their field are advocates, they are also beggars who have no money of their own and who depend on grants and allowances from others. He's simply making an age old point that if you propose something to be true, then you believe that you know it's true, else you would be a fool to propose it. What will influence you away from your "truth" is money or power.

Where he's being obtuse, deliberately or not, is that the advocacy we're dealing with here is outwith the science. I can live with a bunch of scientist sticking to their theories in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that won't do me any particular harm. But when they're advocating that we should reduce CO2 emissions with the myriad malignant results for our economy, our health and our standard of living that goes beyond the boundaries of scientific advocacy into political advocacy.

It's not new of course, the modern day father of the doomsaying Thomas Malthus considered his theory so tight that he proposed that we should stop trying to improve the plight of the poor, and making medical advances so that we could keep the death rate up to keep the population explosion down. He also proposed moral teachings about sex and birth control, while himself fathering 11 children.

In short nobody has a problem with scientific advocacy, we saw how bitter it could be in the 1950s when the debate on the Big-Bang Theory raged. The dissenters led by Fred Hoyle, a polished self-publicist, had more vitriol poured on them than Steven McIntyre does today by supporters of the Hockeystick. But it didn't matter, those scientists weren't telling us we had to get the earth out of the universe at whatever cost to avoid the conflagration that will occur when the big-bang becomes the big implosion.

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Some People's Climate Beliefs Shift With Weather - Study Shows Daily Malleability on a Long-Term Question

Key quote, "people are too easily swayed by the easiest, most irrational piece of evidence at hand: their own estimation of the day’s temperature."

If human estimation is considered irrational then where does that leave human estimates of the possible impacts of future climate change?

If acceptance of climate change is based on societal concerns dealing with a range of possible outcomes (post normal science) rather than making sure the scientfic process is robust then surely that is largely irrational as well.

Post normal science is getting to make your cake and eat it.

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

I am always uneasy when the term "post normal science" is used, and essays by Jerome Ravetz in WUWT? did nothing to calm that unease, even though the concept was developed by him and Silvio Funtowicz.

Richard Feyman is closer to my own concept:

Some argue that there seems to be little to distinguish post-normal science from the skewed cargo cult science described by Richard Feynman in 1974.
Post-normal science

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Carr


You don't always need hindsight to see that there is a tension between two competing theories. Take another example, the wave theory and the particle theory of light in the 19th century. These had different observable consequences in terms of the speed of light travelling through media of differing densities. It was this conflict in their predictions that made possible Fizeau's crucial experiment.

In the example quoted, one geological school concluded that the earth was about 5 million years old, the other that it was several hundred million years old. The fact that both schools carried on with their own theories doesn't change the logical fact that both theories could not be true. This could be known then.

Unquestionably Einstein was unusual in laying bare a prediction at odds with classical theories and apparently offering to take refutation seriously. Few scientists behave like this I know. Most look to pile up confirmations and overlook prima facie refutations. My point, or rather Popper's as I understand it, is that progress towards truth in science can only come through falsification, since no number of confirmations logically makes a theory any more likely to be true, but a single negative prediction can refute it. Here the rationality of science is divorced from the rationality of the scientist.

Apr 8, 2011 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Perhaps some are a little too intent on shooting the messenger, here. If you accept Kealey's argument then there is an imperative to address flaws in scientific research regarding conduct and regarding the veracity of discovery. If you don't accept Kealey's point then science isn't broken and the climate scientists - who some of us believe did bad things - didn't do unacceptable things.

What Kealey is describing is confirmation bias, pal review masquerading as peer review and political/socio-ideology masquerading as scientific advancement.

My epiphany regarding climate science, and the thing that made a climate sceptic of me, was exactly this realisation: That science is not GUARANTEED to be of maximum integrity; that gangs of like-minded scientists of an anti-scientific political persuasion CAN distort the course of scientific knowledge in entire subjects, and; that in fact there are NO tangible mechanisms in place to prevent any of this happening.

Kealey is describing what IS, not what SHOULD be. He's describing what is currently accepted, not what should be regarded as acceptable. If you accept what he says then you understand that what are needed are mechanisms to expose/correct these flaws - flaws that effectively slow down true scientific advancement and lead us in directions that are more ideological than they are scientific at all, often for as long as the passing of whole generations of scientists. As he says, in the absence of (judicial) mechanisms to address the status quo of scientific endeavour, "science advances one funeral at a time".

Apr 8, 2011 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Mengele was a scientist

Apr 8, 2011 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

Roger, I remember that Jerome Ravetz did get a rather rough ride over at WUWT. I'd agree with you that the name "post-normal science" is rather unfortunate - as someone said here on another thread recently, anything with "post-normal" in the title is going to upset many people. Also, Jerome's essays that he had on WUWT were written in a very academic way, and I think were very hard to understand as a result. But I think he does have a point, and that he is basically on "our" side with respect to climate.

What he is saying (as I understand it) is this: some scientific questions can be resolved in such a way that there is no major uncertainty (at least, no uncertainty from the practical point of view). E.g. while we may not understand the basic reasons why steel has such and such mechanical properties, we do know enough about those mechanical properties to be able to say whether a bridge with such and such a design will withstand cars going over it. But some other scientific questions are different: it is simply not possible to resolve them well enough to have 100% (or 99%) confidence that we know what will happen. An example here is climate science. Despite what the most red-blooded sceptics might claim, it is theoretically possible that CO2 emissions are a problem. Despite what the IPCC consensus types may claim, it is completely possible that they will not be a problem. And it is even difficult to work out how likely each range of outcomes is. Ravetz argues that in such cases, it is better to realize that the problem is not a purely scientific one, to acknowledge the uncertainties, and to ask people what they think, instead of talking down to them and telling them what the solution must be.

In my book, this is much more healthy than Kealey's views, which seem to me to be a low-quality rehash of the worst bits of Kuhn's theories. With Kuhn, you were never sure whether his theory of paradigms was about how scientists do behave in practice (where his analysis was broadly correct in my book), or about how they should behave given the nature of the world. That second line of thought leads to a very subjective interpretation of scientific theories, whereby they are "true" (with scare quotes) if enough people believe them strongly enough. Aynsley Kellow was alluding to this above in his discussion of Kealey, who frankly seems to be interpreting Kuhn in the second way, which I (and many other scientists) find abhorrent.

Apr 8, 2011 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterj

And for a relaxed and pleasant sojourn in the amused mind of Richard Feynman:
Cargo Cult Science

But, be warned. you may emerge from the experience feeling somewhat testy with the prima donna scientists of the over-heating globe variety...

Apr 8, 2011 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Carr

@Simon Hopkinson

"Kealey is describing what IS, not what SHOULD be".

It wasn't transparently clear to me, or it seems to the Bish, that this is so.

He says "Almost the definition of greatness [in a scientist] is that you stick to your beliefs"

Isn't this suggesting that scientists SHOULD behave like this (and ignore contrary evidence)?

To me it seems the very definition of greatness in a bigot that he sticks to his beliefs.

Apr 8, 2011 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Simon, 'shooting the messenger' seems okay to me if the messenger is also an apologist for the dodgy (i am exercising restraint here) goings-on that were exposed with the leaked emails and the ensuing rumpus that became Climategate. I am still more than a little shocked that someone inhabiting his position sees total advocacy as okay.

Apr 8, 2011 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Of course, Kealey is right. Lone scientists sometimes fight for their hypothesis all their lives and die without having seen them accepted, because the congealed egos of the consensus cannot stomach his/her view. So it is a one-on-one tussle, where neither side has the complete data to back one's position but yet is completely convinced.

My former boss, a famous scientist, was the very definition of pig-headedness, but he was a good scientist as well. His obstinacy contributed to his science very much. You will not meet more arrogant, thick-headed and prejudiced people (science-wise, that is) than good scientists. Of course, you will run into trough-sucking, consensus peddlers as scientists too - they probably became scientists because they are good at being busy - writing up stuff, stealing others' ideas, organizing conferences, manipulating graduate students and post-docs (people skills) etc but you can pretty much bundle up their scientific notions and dump it out the window because it makes no difference to science whatsoever. The majority of published papers, fall in this category.

Apr 8, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

I am heartened by J's openness here with regards to Kuhn onb paradigms. A lot of reference is made to Einstein but, if I recall correctly, it is not as if every physicist instantly converted to relelativity - it probably only entered the scientific mainstream in the 1960s. Even early adopters such as Eddington found it difficult to accept some variations on it - hence his falling-out with Chandrasekhar over black holes.

Also, there are the experiences of prof Eric Laithwaite in working against the "consensus" view of gyroscopes. The estabishment did not exactly welcome what he was saying and, regardless of this cult of falsifiability that keeps getting trotted out, he was basically ignored and cold-shouldere4d by his colleagues after 1974.

Apr 8, 2011 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Here's a "post-normal" economist in action:

Regimes won't halt climate change
April 7, 2011 By Alvin Powell article comments (12) share

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“Stop pretending that government will play a role, because it won’t,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, during a talk at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. Credit: Justin Ide/Harvard Staff Photographer

The director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute delivered a pessimistic assessment Tuesday (April 5) of the chances for significant U.S. climate change legislation, calling on the world’s academics to help find a workable path to a low-carbon global economy.

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“Stop pretending that government will play a role, because it won’t,” said Jeffrey Sachs, a former Harvard professor and now a professor at Columbia who is a special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “We need a massive intellectual effort led by the expert community worldwide.”

In an hour-long Science Center talk, part of the Harvard University Center for the Environment’s Future of Energy lecture series, Sachs delivered a scathing review of U.S. actions to counteract human-induced climate change, saying the government has basically done nothing since agreeing to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The framework, Sachs said, was a good international agreement, because it acknowledged the danger of climate change and committed nations to doing something to fight it. Those actions were to be spelled out in subsequent protocols. But the only agreement adopted was the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States refused to ratify and which is set to expire next year.

Sachs blamed the U.S. refusal to act on the power and influence of the oil and coal industries. Opponents have effectively stalled action by using lobbyists, political contributions, and an effective public relations campaign that questions climate change science.

Because the United States is one of the largest global emitters of greenhouse gases, and another large emitter, China, is waiting for the United States to act first, American dithering has effectively delayed meaningful action across the globe, Sachs said.

“No president since George H.W. Bush has honestly taken on this issue — not Clinton, not Bush Junior, not Obama, because they’re scared of the interests,” Sachs said.

Though Sachs credited Europe and Japan with taking some meaningful steps, he said the problem globally has worsened since 1992. The conversations he has had with scientists indicate the problem is worse than is widely known and is accelerating faster than expected. Recent investigations have focused on thresholds that trigger natural feedback loops that, once greenhouse gas concentrations are high enough, will make it extremely difficult to turn conditions around.

“It’s worse than we think,” Sachs said. “Climate change has started. It’s serious. It is impacting the world’s food supply, and it’s going to accelerate.”

Though Sachs said the solutions must come from the academic and expert community worldwide, he didn’t let climate scientists off the hook. The scientific community has been too sensitive to criticism by climate-change deniers, Sachs said, giving them credibility and wasting valuable time responding to attacks like those levied in “Climategate,” when leaked emails prompted charges of scientific fraud, since refuted.

“They know we will engage our time and energy for a year for every accusation they make while they watch us run around in circles,” Sachs said.

Apr 8, 2011 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterwoodentop

@J and diogenes

Kuhn was describing science at it IS done, but also, according to him, how it HAS TO BE done. Scientists working within different traditions, may seem to be using the same language but the terms have different meanings determined by the "paradigm" they adopt. Theories from different paradigms, then, can only APPEAR to be inconsistent with one another, and disputes between paradigms cannot be settled by looking at the evidence since there is no theory-neutral observation language. This thesis developed under the influence of the later Wittgenstein is "incommensurability" and would if adopted undermine the entire rationality of science.

As an account of how science develops, Kuhn's views are useful. It is true that people do not often move from one paradigm to another - this takes an enormous intellectual effort, requiring a completely different way of looking at the same phenomena - and when it does happen it is not usually in response to the "facts". It is more like Wittgenstein's famous duck/rabbit: you either see the duck or the rabbit, but not both.

Nevertheless, it has always seemed to me that Kuhn exaggerates the difficulties in getting clear logical opposition between two theories, and therefore of rational progress in science.

Apr 8, 2011 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Nicholas, you say:

Isn't this suggesting that scientists SHOULD behave like this (and ignore contrary evidence)?

To me it seems the very definition of greatness in a bigot that he sticks to his beliefs.

I don't think so, no. I think Kealey is suggesting that we shouldn't underestimate the weight and momentum of the scientific orthodoxy, that we shouldn't expect that the establishment will self-right itself just because we point out to everyone that it is dogmatic, and that great scientists (and by extension great advances in science) always carry the potential to be flawed, that confirmation bias is prevalent and that hero-worship is alive and well in science.

We often talk about tectonic plates as an example of the obstinacy of science and its resistance to the adoption of valid, viable theories. Kealey is simply pointing out that the same problem as then exists today, and that it would be a mistake to expect things to change tomorrow if science is left to its own devices.

Apr 8, 2011 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

The problem surely is this. It was argued that some forms of the AGW hypothesis had the difficulty that they were unfalsifiable. Others had the difficulty that they appeared to be falsified by observation.

The reaction of true believers was that it 'didn't matter', and to make that argument stick, they had to attack the notion of falsifiability.

Something similar happened with PCA. It turned out on examination that what was done in the Hockey Stick case was not PCA at all, or at least, not PCA correctly done. The reaction was to say (as Tamino did) that it was perfectly fine PCA even though it was oddly computed.

You can be sure that if AGW was inconsistent with the 2nd Law, the 2nd Law would turn out to be wrong.

This is why post modern science keeps getting invoked. If we were doing science the usual way, we would have kicked AGW out a long time ago. But we have not. Therefore there must be something wrong with ordinary scientific process, and this must be because we have invented something new and exciting called post modern science according to which AGW is perfectly fine.

Its rather as if I stick a screwdriver in my fencepost and find its rotten. I know its not rotten, so clearly what I need to find is a post modern screwdriver.

Apr 8, 2011 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered Commentermichel

Kealey got his analogy wrong. Sedimentologists (that's me) and others (Palaeontologists, Darwinists) claimed the Earth had to be 100's of millions of years old. The counter argument was from Lord Kelvin, who ran a cooling model and came up with a maximum of about 30 million years. Kelvin had the physics on his side and won the battle: the science was settled. Radioactive decay was the unknown unknown. Kelvin was wrong.

Apr 8, 2011 at 2:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterHector Pascal

Perhaps Kealey is taken out of context here. But as a fan of his works, I have to say that Hallam is correct: "Total rubbish."

If his cartoon version of the history of science is merely for cartoon effect, then it is still only a cartoon - ie, caricature. In other words, unrecognizable as science to us here.

Apr 8, 2011 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterOrson

Is it just in a post-normal sense of "right" (viz. one in which you can be "right" at the time but "wrong" later on) that Kelvin was "right", as Kealey bafflingly claims?

Apr 8, 2011 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Not to long ago no one would have been able to hear or see anything like this, never mind be able to criticize

The real reason they are all worried is the simple fact that we can now, not only watch, digest and then go away and research what they have said before having our say.

Forget "Post Normal"! It was suggested way before the internet got going and is so passe!

The world of opinion has moved on but scientists with an agenda and lazy profs have not. They are so upset that we can all use internet tools to check them out and I find some comments under this post surreal!

The most horrible problem the scientific world has is we can no longer trust the various journals or their editors, but then again, that has been going on since before Darwin!

One only has to have read the garbage coming from MSN and so called experts they have used over the last few weeks with regard to the radioactive releases in Japan!

Bless the rise of the blogs and the excellent work of skeptics here and elsewhere! !

Apr 8, 2011 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

This guy is spouting nonsense. Maybe that's how the high-brow respecter-of-persons culture in the old world works on science. In the modern world, what matters is what works. Engineering and science are intertwined such that if you're a scientist unwilling to let the facts speak for themselves, you'll someday find yourself looking the fool when a new instrument constructed by pimply-faced engineers proves you wrong.

Scientists who act like advocates are not scientists, they're closed-minded fools.

Apr 8, 2011 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

Jeremy, Better, as an engineer, put than me!

Apr 8, 2011 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

Science IS driven by advocacy from many different groups.

In determining the age of the earth, the sedimentation and cooling groups had reached a stalemate. More information was needed!

Scientists, with expertise from many different areas, had looked into this, with varying levels of interest, and came up with nothing useful, until ...

It just so happened that there was a group, with knowledge in radioactivity. Looking at the DETAIL on both sides of the argument, they realised that they could help to give a better explanation and were allowed to do so.

Kealey says scientists are not judges, but judges, in normal circumstances, do not judge the outcome of a trial; they sentence and, beforehand, ensure that discussion takes place between advocates, so
the jury can make its decision known.
It is the jury that decides: guilty or not guilty, after hearing both sides of the argument.
To protect their funding, the Global Warming Activists have destroyed this culture that encourages discussion between advocates, stopped the exchange of information and ideas with specialists outside their field, like the radioactivity group in the example. This is why Climate 'Science' has not progressed (and I use quotes); their club has become isolated from other scientists (and statisticians?), even though they still influence governments, pressure groups and drive a world religion, CAGW.

So who or what is the jury? It is the ability of (twelve?) scientists, good and true, after seeing evidence: all the raw data, any computer code and the reasons why decisions were made in the research, to be able to choose different explanations and BE HEARD. It is the closing down of influencial discussion that is harmful.

The Popper question of falsification is part of this process. We cannot expect this aspect to have been ‘sorted’ by an Authority beforehand; we cannot outsource this responsibility and remain credible.

Also, I expect that not all the radioactivity group were geologists, yet they were allowed to contribute! How did they do that? What a scary idea for the politically motivated and morally superior in the CAGW club.

PS: I didn't know that people smashed Climategate by breaking into people's websites and I don't know which side of the argument he is on here. :)

Apr 8, 2011 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

LOL! OK, that does explain why scientists can never be engineers! Engineers are not driven by belief (ego or stubbornness). Engineering and technology do not evolve funeral by funeral.

Engineers absolutely live by falsification (or how else would we avoid collapsing bridges, exploding shuttles, faulty safety systems on airplanes). We also live by indisputable proof. If you are debating, we are not applying. Engineers and medicine have a lot in common. Until you prove your treatment works and is safe, it is not applied on the public.

I work in one of the few areas where scientists and engineers are partners and equals. We can speak the others language, use the others tools, and take a scientific concept for an instrument and turn it into a real operating robotic system that goes out and measures the universe.

It is why we lowly space system engineers have no problems keeping up (and sometimes ahead) of many scientists - especially backwood types like the CRU, GISS, etc. Not only do wedevelope, test and validate the systems that produce the data - we know their limitations (especially precision and error).

When AGW wanted to go mainstream, it was always going to go into the engineer's gristmill for an acid test. Those of us who live to throw away the unproven or invalidated to find the core truth hiding behind all the false starts are quite good and detecting classic warning signs and flaws (like a total lack of an error budget and bogus/made up confidence levels as used by IPCC).

If you want to really test a scientific theory - have engineers review so as to give it a much needed reality check.

This is why most engineers (and scientists) at NASA scoff at GISS and their lame claims.

But more importantly, if you want to put your life in the hands of someone, contrary to Hollywood's misguided approach - but it in the hands of doctors and engineers and not in the hands of stubborn, self promoting scientists.

I am proven wrong many times a day and that is fine with me. The projects I work on progress and are of premiere quality because none of us gets hung up on our own concepts, and we move past the misstep to find the best next step. I make the right step 10-50 times more often than the wrong one. But think how slow my progress would be if I stood on the wrong step and whinged about it for a decade!!!!

Apr 8, 2011 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrata

What Kealey said about Climategate was this:

"We did not smash Climategate through peer review. We smashed Climategate through people using Freedom of Information and through breaking into people's websites"

The "we" is funny here. Is he claiming he was involved? As with much of his speech, it's difficult to know exactly what point he is making - which partly accounts for the tiny ripple of applause that starts up and then peter's out as people reflect that we has said was not what they thought it was.

It reminded me of a speech by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, of which it was said that his views were so wrong, yet so unclearly expressed you didn't know when to start heckling.

Apr 8, 2011 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Simon wrote "What Kealey is describing is confirmation bias, pal review masquerading as peer review and political/socio-ideology masquerading as scientific advancement."

Hear, hear!

But yes there is a mechanism to challenge this - open and free debate. If not for Al Gore's wonderful internet, the AGW pal brigade might have succeeded.

Apr 8, 2011 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrata


I am trying to think of a scientist who's made a significant prediction which has turned out to be completely wrong and has then gone on to further significant work,

I think you yourself pointed to the best example, Albert Einstein. Even though Monsignor Georges Lemaître based what is now known as the "Big Bang Theory" on Einstein's work. The great man, however -- for whatever reason -- chose to believe in a finite-size static universe even though Lemaître's math was absolutely correct. Indeed, Einstein is quoted as saying:

"Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable"[4] ("Your math is correct, but your physics is abominable.")

We all know what came of that.

Apr 8, 2011 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

dls:"Indeed, Einstein is quoted as saying:

"Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable"[4] ("Your math is correct, but your physics is abominable.")

We all know what came of that."

If the jury's still not out on BBT it should be, I'm aware that the so far the forecast for the microwave message has been proved correct, right spectrum, right part of the sky, and that we are looking at an expanding universe, but there are still many questions left unanswered. There are too many fudge factors for it to be cut and dried as certain, and the physicists, including Stephen Hawkins dodge the "what happened before" question because it can't be answered. Having said all that I'm quite happy to take it on board until someone comes up with a better idea because nobody is asking our government to impoverish us on the basis of the theory.


Apr 8, 2011 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Nicholas, thanks for your response. The geology debate? No doubting that there was tension but that doesn’t get you very far either. Transport yourself back to that era. You’re commenting on the matter of these two competing theories! How do you decide? You cannot because the evidence as was then available for both theories was unassailable (though necessarily in ignorance of other factors). Wave or particle? An obvious contradiction but hold on . . .turns out they are both true now that we see see matters more deeply.

Popper pointed out what should happen in science. I had the good fortune to meet him before he died and was an avid disciple in the sense that I, like many others, found him to be a philosopher of science who described what happened in science in a way that chimed with what scientists thought they were actually doing. We were evidently engaged in a beautiful intellectual enterprise! Trouble is that his great examples were indeed from great scientists like P B Medawar, a famous avocate of his ideas. Great scientists have great ideas and intuitions. But they didn’t get there by falsifying their theories as a career move. They, with supreme instincts and competence. made damn sure sure their theories were right to start with. We don’t hear too much of the failures.

Kealey is saying there is a divide between what one says one does in science and what one actually does and he's right. Science does benefit from funerals. In practical terms you cannot go on being shown to be wrong time and time again and expect to keep your job - unless you struck lucky earlier. The astronomer and cosmologist Fred Hoyle was undeniably a great scientist (he should have got a Nobel Prize for his work on the processes in the sun) but he maintained to the very end that the steady state theory was correct in spite of the killer observation of background radiation as the ‘final nail in the coffin of the steady-state theory’.

By the way would it not be nice if AWG advocates would publish a falsifiable prediction in terms of CO2 and climate - with a result expected in, say, the next year or so. Trouble is that it's bye bye to all that lovely grant money and life as they know it if the theory is falsified.

Don Pablo de la Sierra - I don't quite follow your example but thanks - I'll read up on it!
I'm not sure that Einstein would have had to offer a mea culpa on that one.

Apr 8, 2011 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered Commenteralleagra


The consensus :) is that there was something that happened, what, we are now spending billions on trying to figure it out, but in any case, nobody, but perhaps ZDB argues for a finite-size static universe. My point is that a scientist can make a damn fool of himself and still contribute greatly.

Apr 8, 2011 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

alleagra on Apr 8, 2011 at 5:10 PM
"By the way would it not be nice if AWG advocates would publish a falsifiable prediction in terms of CO2 and climate"

1) One problem is that if the prediction turns out not to be true, parameters can be adjusted and, hey presto, the disagreement goes away! Hence the reference to Popper.
2) I would prefer some Physics in the theory. I cannot understand why the evidence that CO2 concentrations follow temperature has not falsified the faith. Can anyone tell me?

Apr 8, 2011 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

I found Kealey's argument too simplistic and lacking in substance. Surely most scientists (and engineers) are neither pure advocates or pure objective Popperians. (In any case I do not see them as mutually exclusive categories.) Science is process-like and extends through time and most practitioners are both advocates and Popperians - sometimes at the same time or oscillating back and forth. Wittgenstein's duck rabbit conundrum is illustrative: . Who actually does not see both - although maybe not precisely at the same time? Who would really argue that it is a rabbit and not a duck and vice versa?
These are largely semantic games. One issue with many pro-AGW climate scientists is that too frequently they are reluctant to engage in scientific discourse and fulfill well-established norms of scientific practice such as sharing data and fully and transparantly documenting their methods. They appear to have settled into an "advocacy" position that severely limits their credibility as objective scientists and are likely to fall foul of a perennial confirmation bias. McIntyre's great contribution is that his "audits" have disclosed the extent to which certain climate scientists have engaged in advocacy inspired behavior that for stock promoters would be grounds for prosecution.

Apr 8, 2011 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

I am firmly committed to Popper's approach to science and scientific method, though I prefer the way it was articulated by Carl G. Hempel and W.V. Quine. Post-Normal science, so-called, is at best a return to the William James of "The Will to Believe." Surely, we do not need to rehash Pascal's Wager again, even if it is now called "The Precautionary Principle."

The problem with climate science is a lack of scientists. The people who work in climate science are obsessed with temperature measurements and novel statistics but care nothing for scientific explanation and physical hypotheses. Their only physical hypothesis is the one about CO2 concentrations that they inherited from Ahrrenius. They have failed to develop additional hypotheses which could be used to explain forcings. The reason why is obvious: they have no interest in the task. For decades, they have done nothing but push their numbers, scream that they sky is falling, and demand more money. The instinct of genuine scientists is for the explanation, its criticism, and its improvement but not for the result. The instinct of climate scientists, so-called, is for the "gotcha" result. It is really very juvenile.

Apr 8, 2011 at 6:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

I trust the Bish will forgive me for mentioning it here, but Delingpole has just publicly thanked him, Steve McIntyre, Richard North and Christopher Booker for their help in fighting the UEA over their complaints about his blog to the PCC.
The PCC's judgement makes fascinating reading.
Can I too join in thanking Andrew for his obviously sound advice.
What a victory for free speech, commonsense and sound science !

Apr 8, 2011 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered Commentertoad

An impressive thread and much truth from all. Overall, however, I agree with Simon when he says:

"Kealey is describing what IS, not what SHOULD be...what is currently accepted, not what should be regarded as acceptable."

In my youth, I thought scientists were unselfish servants of Truth, who would never lie or distort data. Huff, of course, knew different, as did also Eisenhower. When there's enough money and power involved, many scientists will lower their standards (and their statistics) to match the situation.

Apr 8, 2011 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Off topic but this Delingpole blog is worth a comment:

Basically the Press Complaints Commission has supported Delignpole versus UAE.

Apr 8, 2011 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon

Off topic, sure - but three cheers for the Delingpole PCC verdict. As people who read my comments may have detected ;-) my style is not the same as his. But I do agree with his views on AGW in the broad sense. Great for free speech!

Apr 8, 2011 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterj

I don't think Kealey is right about advocacy. A scientist dealing with the age of the earth would have said 'we have conflicting evidence'. In the present situation perhaps many on both the pro-AGW and skeptic sides are being advocates, but the more sensible scientists are saying that we do not currently know exactly how much man-made CO2 warms the planet.

Apr 8, 2011 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

There is a whole class of scientists who are being overlooked by most posters in this thread, the scientists who are not in academia. They are more likely to have patents than publications. Their research either produces results or they're out of a job.

Apr 8, 2011 at 9:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterPatrick M.

@ Ron,

Not off-topic at all: opinion is just that until it becomes fact. Delingpole's opinion on the state of climate science is currently no less valuable than Jones'. Should Jones come up with something that can be observed as fact then Delingpole may have to eat humble pie but until then the debate must (and still can, thank you PCC) continue.

Apr 8, 2011 at 10:17 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

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