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Sunday
Mar102013

Review of ‘What counts as good evidence for policy?’ 

This is a guest post by Mark Piney. It looks at the Institute of Physics seminar on science policy of a few weeks back. Although the seminar has already been reported on here, Mark brings up different aspects of the event, which I thought were interesting.

Perhaps 100 of us sat in a rather airless meeting room, early evening on Monday 4th February at the Institute of Physics (IOP) to listen to four speakers (Roger Pielke, Georgina Mace, Richard Horton and Jonathan Breckon) give us their take on evidence and policy. The event was chaired by James Wilsdon from Sussex university’s SPRU.

Seminar set-up

James Wilsdon introduced the event saying that, in the UK, the debate amongst policy people, and in Whitehall (apparently), about the role of evidence in policy, had been “hotting up”. Things discussed included the use of randomised control trials, seeking external sources of evidence, and using the network of chief scientists.  Together with a wider call for a stronger use of, and role for, scientific evidence. He thought that the discussion had been ‘a tad simplistic’ and that,

…applying evidence is rarely straightforward and often the turn to evidence-based policy shifts the political debate and argument to what forms of knowledge, articulated and advocated by whom, actually count in the policy process…

Apparently policy people are concerned to debunk linear models, and to emphasise ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity.

Each speaker spoke for ten minutes, and then questions were put to the panel. The whole thing was recorded.

Three of the speakers were selling something. Roger Pielke was selling his book. Jonathan Breckon was selling NESTA’s capabilities. Richard Horton was selling his left-wing, medical, state-interventionist ideology. The only person not selling anything was Georgina Mace. She just told the truth as she saw it; so refreshing!

So what did the seminar reveal about the speaker’s attitudes to evidence and policy?

  • Pielke was mixed and odd, but did at least mentioned democracy and used the word ‘trust’.
  • Breckon was catholic in his vision, straightforward and optimistic, and mentioned Parliament.
  • Horton came over as slightly bonkers, blinded by his righteous ideological zeal.
  • Mace was clear, honest, and keen on science separate from advocacy.

Here’s the seminar highlights, by topic:

Evidence and politics

Pielke explained why Hurricane Sandy, which did so much damage to North East coastal USA in late October 2012, wasn’t really a ‘hurricane’, and why. The states at risk and the insurance companies had, in anticipation of the risk, developed a ‘hurricane deductible’ element of $25,000 per household policy. But this only kicked in if a hurricane was declared by the US National Weather Service (NWS). Sandy was described by the NWS as a ‘post-tropical cyclone, of hurricane strength’, so the ‘deductible’ didn’t kick-in. The insurance companies, and ultimately their customers, will pick up a bill of around $20 billion, not individual constituents or states. The NWS did this because it’s a governmental creature, and because of overt public pressure from several influential governors and senators, one of whom sat on the NWS funding committee (Pielke gives more detail here).

As Pielke said, ‘In this case the evidence didn’t matter. The (political) decision had already been made’. Politicians didn’t want the evidence to matter. The mistake was made years earlier, when the NWS was founded.

He didn’t explain where you would best put an institute that had the responsibility to formally describe an event as a hurricane, to insulate it from overt political interference. Wherever it was ‘put’, it would need an independent source of income.

Later Pielke was asked whether he thought that the evidence was strong enough to support the UK Parliament voting, almost unanimously, for the 2008 Climate Change Act. His answer was accurate, but flippant, ‘Yes, obviously, the Act passed’ (audience laughter). He reified the democratic process, and didn’t really offer any solutions (see later) if our representatives make mistakes – huge mistakes like the UK’s ‘longest suicide note in history’.

Horton is very politically involved; very. He started his talk thus:

Today is world cancer day. So it’s particularly appropriate to have a public health part of this discussion, because I’m going to talk about the birth of the nanny state, a wonderful moment in the history of public health, which took place in 1962 with the Royal College of Physicians report on smoking and health, and that really marked the watershed in health where evidence in public health came face-to-face with policy..

Notice his use of the term ‘nanny state’. He’s not using it pejoratively, he’s pro nanny state. He’s celebrating it (or maybe he’s being very smart and it’s post-modern irony?). It’s a particularly revealing in the light of what he said later in answer to a question questioning his ‘politics’ and independence (as long-term editor of the Lancet)

He went on to describe the “policy-cycle”; timely delivery of evidence that comes from trusted sources, with the media on-side, and at a point where the zeitgeist is right. Tricky stuff. The zeitgeist was right for a smoking ban, but not for other nanny-state actions, yet:

The best available evidence tells us that we should tax junk food, and tax junk beverages.

In one fell swoop Horton reduces all the multifactorial complexity of a cultural and social phenomena, to one (populist) cause. Notice how his simplistic nostrum leads directly to a call for governmental regulation and taxes. To yet more regulating of the (sub-text, not-to-be trusted) marketplace.

It’s the same mind-set, almost the same phraseology, as Ed Milliband, when he was ‘minister responsible for climate’, endlessly incanting, ‘but the science tells us’. It’s politics, but it goes under the guise of ‘science’, of ‘evidence’. They use science as if it was god-given truth. And if it is treated that way, doesn’t that make the creators of these truths, priests, with all the power and influence that follows?

But where does the meaning, the status of evidence fit into Horton’s policy-cycle? He tells us:

And then the last thing that matters is whether the evidence is true or not, whether it’s valid. All those other things … they are all anterior to the last bit, whether the evidence is true, or not true.

This is an ambiguous statement. If evidence comes last in the policy-cycle, what’s its status? Shouldn’t it ‘know its place’? Couldn’t this, doesn’t this, potentially lead to production of evidence that ‘supports’ the policy. Isn’t there a big risk, that evidence producers are tempted to give you the evidence they think you want?   And what price evidence-based policy if this happens.

And Horton amplified his views of politics and science in this reply to a questioner who accused of him of being very pro state intervention – of being ‘Dave Spart’ (a fictional joke ultra-left character from Private Eye magazine) – and asked him why the science his journal produces should be trusted.

Here’s Horton’s reply, which didn’t deal with whether his Dave Spartism sometimes affected his editorial judgement, but made lots of revealing assertions:

You know, the NHS when it was first created was created not to be this monolithic employer and organisation, which had these Trotskyist tendencies, it was actually created for a very simple reason, it was actually created on the principle of freedom. The idea that if you could attack disease, then that will actually deliver freedom. Freedom from a whole range of problems, and anxieties that faced the population at that time.

So the reason that I believe in judicious intervention, based upon sound evidence is because it delivers freedom. And the reason why I’m so horrified when people refuse to accept evidence about potential state intervention. Tobacco is one example, alcohol is another. Taxing junk-food might be a third, is because they are denying the possibility of freedom to citizens of this country or it could be any country in the world.

It’s not about control. You totally, totally get it wrong when you say that. And that’s my failure, for failing to communicate it to you. So I apologise for that failure. Because it is exactly the antithesis of control. It’s about creating the conditions for people to live free lives. To fulfil their desires, their preferences, their choices. That’s the principle on which public health is based. It’s not about nannying. It’s not about control. It’s not about the state. It’s about giving you, and your partner and your family freedom.

Horton’s post-hoc NHS ‘history’: Horton’s first paragraph is a complete re-write of the NHS history. It was a treatment service from the start in 1948, based on the principle, ‘that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth’ link. If there was any freedom involved, it was the freedom of not having to pay for health care or prescriptions or equipment. There were elements of prevention, such as vaccination against polio and diphtheria, but wide-scale public health initiatives were not part of the NHS plan, and they still aren’t.

Horton’s ‘freedom’ rallying cry, invoking an NHS public health foundation myth, is a post hoc fiction. Why does he do this, and what does he get out of it?

Horton’s ‘freedom’: In his second paragraph Horton blithely claims ‘the science’ tells us that taxing junk food would bring us freedom, and he uses the word ‘denying’. This is a key trigger, a dog-whistle word. If you don’t follow and bow down before my ‘sound evidence’, you are a denier. And being a ‘denier’ you are fair game.

Horton’s state-banning brings freedom and choices: So state regulation, if not banning and control is all about ‘freedom’, but only if it’s medically agreed and sanctioned ‘freedom’. Desires are OK, as long as they are the right desires, preferences and choices. Choices deemed acceptable by the public health fraternity and sorority. To the well-salaried liberal-left academics who create the ‘sound evidence’. There must be a terrible temptation to ‘create’ the ‘sound evidence’. Which in turn can be corralled into a consensus, which justifies their existence, power and control. It’s what priesthoods do.

While, at the start of the meeting, he wants and likes the nanny-state, here  he denies he wants it. And he’s liberal in his use of the word freedom. ‘Freedom’ is an inchoate political rallying cry, but what’s he rallying people to do, and to want? What’s Richard Horton’s programme for power? A technocratic dictatorship? Endless ‘nudging’ by Richard, and his mates? It’s not clear, but it is clear that he has no intention of getting a democratic mandate by convincing people with arguments and debate, i.e. taking the democratic route. His ‘freedom’ is to come through lobbying, legislation and laws that ‘make you’ free. Orwellian or what?

Science, peer-review and truth

Peer review has become fetishized by the media, science-based institutes, and scientific pontiffs. And it’s used as a weapon by activist groups to shut down debate, and bludgeon politicians and business into doing things, things that the activists want. Or by politicians, to bludgeon us.

The panel were asked specifically about science and fraud, and the role of peer review. Horton answered thus:

Peer review and journals – I couldn’t agree with you more, absolutely. I mean peer review is an utterly corrupt, ignorant stupid, mad system that we’ve created it’s just that we haven’t come up with anything better.   

But let’s understand what peer review is:

  • Peer review is not about checking the validity of data
  • Peer review is not about reproducibility of data
  • Peer review is a check on acceptability, acceptability in the scientific community

And that’s why I think you will still need editors, because our job is to be awkward. To say, even though you’ve got three or four peer reviewers who don’t like this, and don’t want it published. To hell with them, we’re still going to publish it. Because it still says something interesting. It looks interesting, even though it’s not accepted by this tiny group of people who we call peer reviewers.

Horton’s said similarly critical things about the status of peer review before. And he’s probably the most honest and forthright of editors, saying, quite clearly, that peer reviewed science isn’t necessarily valid, reproducible or true.

But here he was more revealing of his attitude as editor of The Lancet. He portrays the process as him being sometimes awkward, a free spirit, and to hell with it if the reviewers don’t like it, if it’s ‘interesting’.

So then it becomes a question of what Richard Horton finds interesting. On the face of it this is completely arbitrary, and down to his personal knowledge and prejudices. So what he believes, sometimes becomes central to what’s published. At least he’s honest about what he does. And it may go some way to explaining how Wakefield was able to publish his spurious research connecting MMR vaccination to autism. And other ‘edgy’ papers that have appeared in The Lancet.

Evidence, policy and evaluation

Jonathan Breckon quoted David Cameron as saying’ ‘On all the big issues that matter to Britain we are heading in the right direction, and I have the evidence to prove it’.  

Breckon talked about government, local and national and charities, ‘flying blind’, and the need for standards of evidence. Apparently the Dutch have had a ‘Dutch Central Planning Bureau’ (since 1945), and all policy has be vetted by it. The UK isn’t planning such an Orwellian beast but the Cabinet Office’s is keen to get ‘What Works’ institutes set up to cover social policy, schools, police and crime, copying NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence), which is regarded as successful.

He emphasised that evaluation should be planned and built in from the start of a policy. This is rarely done, which makes finding out what works difficult, if not impossible. Another contributor (Paul Nightingale, SPRU), who has done lots of evaluation, wasn’t convinced, as evaluation of large projects is difficult, and often protracted, and out-of-date by the time it’s delivered. While this maybe true, it appears to be a counsel of despair. If you can’t evaluate, how do you know what works, and how do you know whether you’ve wasted your (others) time and money?

Pielke was more confusing, and confused, on policy and evidence.

He recognises that a lot of research is wrong, and misleading. At one point he cites work done by John Ioannidis (link), who Pielke said found that,

Most of what we think is true (in health and medicine) is just wrong … because of the macro-structures in science such as the file-drawer problem...not publishing trials which came out negative....

This is an incomplete summary of Ioannidis’s work. Yes, part of the problem is the non-publication of negative studies. But the problem is far more to do with fundamental organisational and institutional bias. Often the forces skewing the results are to do with funding and tenure. But they are also to do with beliefs, which is where advocacy really gets a grip and influences ‘knowledge production’. Pielke didn’t delve into the fundamentals of this structural bias, which is odd because he identified the need for stronger scientific institutions later.

Science and advocacy

Georgina Mace was quite clear on activism and science:

I think the real problem is when the research is too strongly directed. It’s too narrow, its goal oriented, around proving a supposition is true or false. It doesn’t really help anybody, and it doesn’t actually move the agenda on at all.

And Pielke too:

Experts, and expert institutions, have choices in how they relate to decision makers. And the choice to become an advocate and try and reduce the scope of choice that’s available, is a noble thing to do in a democracy. But it’s not the only role that experts can play.

There are times like drug safety, policy makers will ask an expert questions that can be resolved empirically. You want to hear what can the experts say about that . That is not compatible with also having a role of advocacy…’

Horton’s an activist, and proud of it, along, apparently, with many other public health medics and scientists:

On the activism, you know, in public health this is just part of the DNA of a lot of people in public health. They go into public health because they want to see improvement in the health of society. And so they see their research as an instrument in order to do that. And they see themselves as inherently activist. Not activist in terms of marching or joining a political party but in wanting to see the evidence that they are generating actually make a difference in policy and politics. So I don’t think in public health anyway it doesn’t seem anything unusual. I do take Georgina’s point about the dangers of it, but … If think that this is different in some sciences, different disciplines perhaps have different standards by which they judge activism. In public health it would be seen as absolutely completely normal.

If Mace or Pielke had been asked to comment on Horton, which they weren’t, I guess they would have warned Horton that he, and his compadres, could either be advocates, or scientists, but they couldn’t be both. And this is true. But Horton, and the activist ‘scientific’ hordes, are in too deep. Too much money and too many careers are on the line. And anyway, on ‘Planet Public Health’ the zeal for ‘the cause’ tells them that what they do is right, and true. True priests have a hot-line to god. Public health priests have a hot-line to health ‘truths’, and we must obey them.

Good evidence, which is true, that you can trust

It’s true that what people perceive as reality, is reality, for them. If this perception clashes head-on with how the world actually works, the world will win hands-down, every time. Reality will, eventually, bite you on the bum. Societies and individuals suffer if they make big decisions on the basis of false beliefs; on unreliable evidence.

Former Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, along with all senior civil servants, says that the central role of the Civil Service is to be ‘fair, honest, decent and true’. But how does Gus, or any individual, or organisation, find out the truth? Where do you go for evidence you can understand, that’s reliable, that you can trust?

Pielke was the only speaker that used the word ‘trust’, and made a trenchant observation about climate scientists, and the IPCC:

The tendency, and I think we see this in climate science… instead of calling for stronger institutions, what many in the scientific community do is assert the essential nature of science as an authority itself, that doesn’t require stronger institutions. ‘You should believe us, we’re scientists, we’re experts, we know better, trust us’.

And that exhortation to trust, doesn’t always work when things don’t go right. And I’ll just give you a quick example to end. The only scientific institution that provides advice to government world-wide, that I’m aware of, that doesn’t operate with a conflict of interest policy, is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Now, for a body that asserts its importance, I cannot see how they can seek to maintain the trust of folks like we here, if they don’t abide by the very simple standard that every other scientist in international government advisory panels hold themselves to’

His answer, as a ‘policy wonk’ (his term), is to push for stronger (more independent?) institutions. Given that some, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were set up by a political organisation (the United Nations) to do a political job, and others have been more-or-less been completely corrupted by shed-loads of money, and far too many advocate scientists, it seems unlikely that this will work. But I guess it should be tried. Perhaps Breckon’s NESTA, which prides itself as being innovative, can find ways of sorting out the salvageable from the lost organisations?

While Pielke’s clear about scientists and institutions claiming trust based on claims to authority, or simply by position in the institutional firmament, when it comes to climate policy he seems to be virtually divorced from the evidence:

The science is plenty good enough to justify action. Where the failure lies is with people like us, policy wonks who have not been creative enough to come up with policy solutions that meet broad common interest ...’

And;

The one role that we seem to not value. The expert body that opens up options. Instead of telling policy makers what they should do, they tell policy makers what they could do. The climate-change issue is at a standstill not because we don’t have enough science, it’s at a standstill because we don’t have enough options

Is he really saying that the empirical scientific evidence linking carbon dioxide levels to the Earth’s temperature, is so strong and unquestionable, along with the model projections, that all policy people have to do is consider control and mitigation options? On the lack of an increase in weather-related damage he’s very clear (link, link), but far less so on claimed human-induced global warming. Maybe he feels he has to accept IPCC pronouncements on ‘the science’ as the gospel truth, despite knowing, for example, that the IPCC has no conflict of interest policy, and uses blatantly partial NGO people and ‘grey’ literature.

And those options, that there ‘aren’t enough of’, what’s he talking about? Mystical sources of ‘green energy’? Magical green economies? What? It really wasn’t clear. Maybe it’s all in his new book!

Conclusions: Elephants, trust and speaker score-cards

Chris Patten (Tory panjandrum, and current BBC Chairman) believes that the ‘existential elephant in the room’ in any discussion of the future, is human-induced catastrophic climate change. I think his elephant is imaginary, not existential, and to mix metaphors, the noisy climate king that has no clothes.

There are far more solid and real elephants to notice and to listen to. Old fashioned elephants such as truth, and honesty, and how we get a grip on reality and what works. We’ll be much safer and happier if we listen to these elephants. They’ve always been our firm friends.

So, what’s the answer to the seminar title question; What counts as good evidence for policy? It’s the same old answer; evidence that’s well warranted, systematic, coherent, and objectively and fairly collected (as much as possible). Evidence that is, as far as is humanly possible; true.

And this, ultimately, comes down to trust: whether you trust institutions (Pielke), and individuals (Mace) to have moral and intellectual integrity. Are they honest, fair, intelligent and unbiased? These are all human qualities for which there is no substitute.

And another human quality, and effect, follows. Once a person or organisation has lost trust, it’s usually gone for ever. They’ve blown it. IPCC and Horton are examples of organisations and individuals, partially/wholly blind advocates, creating and corralling the ‘evidence’ for their causes. They blew it years ago. The Royal Society, and other august institutions, are in severe danger of following suit (link, link). We live in strange times, strangely dangerous times.

The meeting was ostensibly about evidence and policy, but ultimately it comes down to ‘Who do you trust?’

We all have our own built-in ‘trustometer’. Based on what I heard at the meeting, this is what my meter measured, on a 1 to 10 scale: Mace 9, Breckon 8, Pielke 7 and Horton 1.

So, who do you trust?

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Reader Comments (50)

Excellent and thought provoking.

It cannot be said too often that we need evidence based policy making but we have policy based evidence making. And certainly not only in Climate "Science".

Any Patten's 'elephant in the room' is likely the ghost of one of 40,000 shot on completely bogus theory and 'evidence'.
See:- http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/08/a-bridge-in-the-climate-debate-how-to-green-the-worlds-deserts-and-reverse-climate-change/

Mar 10, 2013 at 8:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Hot off the press; there is no evidence of anthropogenic CO2 emissions raising CO2 levels: http://notrickszone.com/2013/03/09/data-show-that-nature-is-adding-most-co2-to-the-atmosphere-and-not-man/

'Man’s contribution is totally absorbed in the biosphere in real-time. There is no anthropogenic signature. Any carbon emission change is invisible in SST driven change and the continuous noise provided by volcanoes. There is no persistence, no CO2 lifetime beyond the present year. Man does not add to the load. All the “green” efforts are silly, misguided, but hideously expensive exercises in futility. Nature is producing all the CO2, and when the sun stops driving sea surface
temperatures, CO2 will fall again.'

Mar 10, 2013 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Mark

I think you are being a little harsh on Roger. I am a regular reader of his blog posts. Though he may wish to come in and correct me, I get the impression that he believes that humans are modifying the climate, probably for the worst, but the evidence isn't there to say it will be catastrophic. He is more an advocate for mitigation, but that the cost of it is justified by real benefits. That is what is probably meant by the quote.
He is very critical of the advocacy played by many scientists like here:
http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/science-is-shortcut.html
and here:
http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/the-horsemeat-in-your-lasagna.html
Seeing as many warmists try to pin the denialist tag on him, and those on the sceptic camp see him as a CAGW advocate, does that put him in the luke warmer camp, reviled by all?

Mar 10, 2013 at 8:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterChrisM

Thank you for a clear and thought-provoking report.

I had been worried that recent work such as Ben Goldacre's push for RCT
and the NESTA evaluation initiative was ignoring the half-century of
evaluation research. They might be but the evaluation research
community is not ignoring them. Site with lots of useful current
material is http://mande.co.uk/


The RCT cult is of course in the same sort of denial as the CAGW cult.
They don't like humour such as the parachute paper (pdf)

Shame you have fallen for the destruction of Wakefield - if you are
writing here, you should know better than to trust the establishment
consensus! John
Stone
has been on the case  - see especially his
piece 5th Sept 2011

You mentioned the Netherlands - don't forget this bunch http://www.nusap.net/

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrianSJ

Who you trust depends largely on your cultural and political leaning.

The Green/Left, with its herd instinct, trusts institutions (especially government ones) and disdains individuals. It sees strength in numbers.

Traditional conservatives, that is to say most skeptics, hold an entirely opposite view. To them, numbers and consensus are a sign of weakness, not strength (a stance that Mike Hulme argued for in a recent talk).

Where is the bridge between those two worlds?

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

I trust only myself?
And history support that policy 100%
?

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon

As someone who has worked in areas related to public health for some years I found this extremely useful. If there are two areas of "science" which are totally dominated by activism they are public health and climate change. Both have a strong intersection with public policy, both are notable for their underlying moralistic basis, both are deeply paternalistic.

Public health researchers (please don't confuse them with anything to do with public safety -- that's environmental health) are obsessed with deriving "evidence" related to the inadvisability of pleasure (eating, boozing, taking drugs, and having sex). They invariably blame the victims -- addicts, the obese, teenage mums. I have seen blatantly fabricated reports, the suppression of off-message research and whispering-behind-the-hand cronyism. The public health world is competitive and vicious. The stakes are high -- in the U.K.the most senior doctor is always a public health "physician" (i.e. one that hasn't seen a patient since medical school).

The parallels with climate change research couldn't be clearer.

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterBraqueish

Very interesting and well written. Horton was particularly revealing. His definition of Freedom is pure 1984.

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

..Because it is exactly the antithesis of control. It’s about creating the conditions for people to live free lives. To fulfil their desires, their preferences, their choices. That’s the principle on which public health is based. It’s not about nannying. It’s not about control. It’s not about the state. It’s about giving you, and your partner and your family freedom....

The big question for Horton, of course, is whether I have the freedom to disagree with him. His view of freedom is that everyone is free to do what he tells them to do...

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

This is a far better appraisal than my own cynicism-tinged effort still availabe on a discussion thread.

I am reminded of something Roger P said on the day. Along the lines of 'We've known what is happening for a hundred years.' We had the evidence and we didn't do anything about it seemed to be his point. But what does that mean? Arrhenius was not worried about climate change. Not a few seemed to think CO2 was delaying the return to ice age conditions and that was a good thing. Would any edwardian Pielke have stopped emissions (when coal was burned in the house and electricity generation was pretty limited) and prevented the economic growth of the twentieth century? Would the same evidence back then not have generated an entirely different policy in the absence of any demonstrable temperature increase but with killer icebergs on the headlines? Over time evidence develops, but policy is still dictated by the circumstances of the day. No matter how many meetings we have, that will remain true.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

There are far more solid and real elephants to notice and to listen to. Old fashioned elephants such as truth, and honesty, and how we get a grip on reality and what works. We’ll be much safer and happier if we listen to these elephants. They’ve always been our firm friends.

Keep mixing those metaphors, if you apply them like this. I hope Chris Patten reads this.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:05 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Horton is more a "pig" in animal house? Animals are all equal but some(pigs) are more equal than other animals.
He sounds like a self appointed "priest" trying to elevate himself as close as possible to a "God" like creature? People can only get individual "freedom" trough him getting freedom over the people?

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon

"Horton is more a "pig" in animal house?"

Belushi would have made a fine Napoleon, but he was not cast.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

I should add that doctors are bound by oath and statute to do their best by their patients, and, generally, they do. However, their inherent paternalism and objectification of people also makes for very poor policy choices.

They were broadly opposed to the NHS. Bevan was notoriously obliged to "stuff their mouths with gold" to get it off the ground. Many doctors to this day do not support the idea of free healthcare.

In the 1930's the dominant public health theory was eugenics and it was widely supported in the medical profession. Over 90% of German doctors were early subscribers to the Nazi party.

Public health campaigns have led to high taxation and control of tobacco and alcohol to the detriment of poor people. They have endorsed the victimisation of the obese, smokers, and teenage mothers. Climate change campaigns have led to major fuel poverty in the industrialised nations, suppression of development in the third world, and widespread destruction of rain forest habitats (for biofuel plantations). Both are passionately believed by their activist proponents to be of benefit to mankind.

Go figure.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterBraqueish

The interesting question is about the Climate Change Act here. Was there enough evidence? For what exactly? You need a long chain of evidence to justify it. First you have to establish a climate sensitivity number. Then you have to admit that the reductions in the UK emission level will have minimal to no effect on Global temps regardless of even if you have proved a high sensitiivity level, because the UK is too small a percentage of emissions.

So you have to argue that in some other way this will be worthwhile and will have some effects on temps. How? By force of example? Where is the evidence that the example has any persuasive force at all?

The recent US pipeline decision is interesting. For the first time it seems to have been ruled by a government agency that measures which are justified in terms of combatting global warming should actually have some demonstrable effect on global temperatures.

That was always the issue with the Climate Change Act and still is. Its also the same issue with turbines and solar subsidies. What effects will it actually have on the subject which is cited as justification for it? And how are those effects going to be realised.

I doubt very much whether most people who support more turbines, lower emissions etc realise that they are being asked to sign up to things which will have no direct effects on climate at all, and which will only have effects if they motivate the large emitters to follow our example. Honesty is the first casualty of politics.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel

Many thanks, Mark, for your excellent report. A great summary of the meeting and some thought-provoking conclusions.

I too was at the meeting, and I was struck by what Georgina Mace said about science and activism. She described an experience from early in her career (that scientists can identify species at risk, but can’t prioritise their need for conservation as that is a political decision).

But more recently, Prof Mace has co-authored many papers on biodiversity that are full of what’s been termed ‘normative’ science (discussed on Judith Curry’s blog and defined as “information that is developed, presented or interpreted based on an assumed, usually unstated, preference for a particular policy choice.”)

Some examples are here:

Biodiversity and ecosystem services science for a sustainable
planet: the DIVERSITAS vision for 2012–20 (open access)

"The need for biodiversity science to focus on the dimensions and consequences of this accelerating loss and to strengthen its contribution to the development of policy is at the heart of the new DIVERSITAS vision on biodiversity and ecosystem services science."

Colour-coded targets would help clarify biodiversity priorities (abstract).
“we should be setting ambitious but realistic targets for biodiversity policies”

You can see Prof Mace speaking on valuing biodiversity here.

So it was interesting to hear her say that scientists should not be activists. I would describe her as an advocate. I wonder, was she making a careful distinction between these terms?

Mar 10, 2013 at 11:07 AM | Registered CommenterRuth Dixon

Follow the people who are not selling things

Mar 10, 2013 at 11:07 AM | Registered Commentershub

michel at 10:55 am

UK politicians do indeed claim that the UK has set an international example in passing the Climate Change Act, and attribute the 'success' of climate negotiations at Durban in 2011 in part to this.

From a letter from DECC ministers that I discussed on my blog: "it is difficult to imagine how the EU could have made the case for such global action in the absence of credible action at home, including in the UK".

Mar 10, 2013 at 11:18 AM | Registered CommenterRuth Dixon

Ruth
It could be buyer's justification. When I see user reviews for expensive items on Amazon, I see a lot of 5-star reviews. Who's going to foot a huge bill and admit publicly that they were fooled?

Mar 10, 2013 at 11:27 AM | Registered Commentershub

An excellent analysis!
Horton's "... ‘freedom’ is to come through lobbying, legislation and laws that ‘make you’ free." is telling for the attitudes of many policymakers.

There is still a step between (trusted) evidence and the policies based upon this evidence which is wide open to advocacy: the implementation of the appropriate policies and and the urgency of any proposed action. In terms of climate policies for example: is it adaption or mitigation?

Mar 10, 2013 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered Commenterbenpal

How refreshing to read the words of an alert and thoughtful man. This level of detached reflection and critical penetration is not commonplace.

Mar 10, 2013 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

From the article:

And another human quality, and effect, follows. Once a person or organisation has lost trust, it’s usually gone for ever.

I can remember listening to a talk by Warren Buffet who said exactly the same thing about business generally. Lose trust and you lose your business - unless you want to make a quick buck and get out

The climate scientists have lost our trust

Mar 10, 2013 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterSankara

'Chris Patten (Tory panjandrum, and current BBC Chairman) believes that the ‘existential elephant in the room’ in any discussion of the future, is human-induced catastrophic climate change.'

How unsurprising. The more you learn the pattern of strategic placement looks to be premeditated and deliberate. It becomes difficult to conclude other than that Patten, Gummer, Yeo and Barker and lets not forget Cameron himself, and perhaps more, are strategic climate agenda stooges?

Tory panjandrums all? (panjandrum definition - [pænˈdʒændrəm] n a pompous self-important official or person of rank [after a character, the Grand Panjandrum, in a nonsense work (1755) by Samuel Foote, English playwright and actor])

Mar 10, 2013 at 2:52 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Ruth, I think this may be one of Bernard's irregular verbs:
I'm raising an important issue,
You're an advocate,
He's an activist.

Mar 10, 2013 at 2:57 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

What a bizarre bunch! And can you imagine someone referring to the "nanny state" as a positive.

You blokes have some work to do.

Mar 10, 2013 at 3:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterNoblesse Oblige

Thanks for a very useful account of events, Mark.

Horton's re-framing of the NHS as an institution intended to deliver freedom rather than healthcare is indeed perhaps the most remarkable claims to have emerged.

While, at the start of the meeting, he wants and likes the nanny-state, here he denies he wants it. And he’s liberal in his use of the word freedom. ‘Freedom’ is an inchoate political rallying cry, but what’s he rallying people to do, and to want? What’s Richard Horton’s programme for power? A technocratic dictatorship? Endless ‘nudging’ by Richard, and his mates? It’s not clear, but it is clear that he has no intention of getting a democratic mandate by convincing people with arguments and debate, i.e. taking the democratic route. His ‘freedom’ is to come through lobbying, legislation and laws that ‘make you’ free. Orwellian or what?

I was too surprised by the comment at the time to think much about what he meant. My first impressions were the same as you and others have observed -- I think I said 'war is peace' to someone, and wondered what the purpose of this revision of history is about.

But on reflection, I think what he is saying is consistent with official thinking.

You rightly point out that 'freedom' is a nebulous concept. In this respect, it's not unlike 'nature' in being an idea which is senstive to the context in which the word is uttered. It doesn't mean the same thing at a Greenpeace rally as it does in a laboratory. For scientists, 'nature' -- or rather the nature of a thing -- might be something to understand, whereas for environmentalists, 'nature' typically has rights, and even a personality, that deserve protection. As popular wisdom has it, 'one man's freedom-fighter is another man's terrorist'. Others have noted the differences between 'freedom to' and 'freedom from'.

Politicians seem invariably inclined towards framing things in terms of 'freedom' as surely as they are inclined to express their belief in mother and apple pie. Unpacking those claims is a little more tricky.

So what does Horton mean? A while back, I commented on a post here - http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2013/1/31/the-edge-of-the-academy.html?currentPage=2#comments . (I don't know how to link to comments directly, but it was posted on Feb 1, 2013 at 3:28 AM.) I think that comment may shed some light on the thinking at work.

As discussed there, 'risk' is the predominant political concept (i.e. 'biopolitics'). So 'freedom', being merely a contingent 'signpost' or 'good word', gets absorbed into this framework of risk-centricism. Naturally, then, 'freedom' in a risk-framework means 'freedom from risk'.

There is a lot more that could be said about this, and the problems such a narrow perspective creates. But to try to cut it short, the mistake Horton makes is reading the past backwards, through today's political priorities, ie he sees the politics of the mid C20th through Stern's maxim - "Policy-making is usually about risk management". Thus he is able to equally claim that banning cigarettes, drinking, junk food 'create freedom' by eliminating risk factors. 'Freedom' just means 'freedom from risk'. It certainly doesn't mean freedom to make the choice about which risks individuals expose themselves to: individuals are themselves risk factors in need of management.

Mar 10, 2013 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

" I think I said 'war is peace' to someone," Ben. you said it to me and I replied "arbeit macht frei".

Mar 10, 2013 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

Excellent summary, though with others I believe Pielke is more nuance and balanced. As for Horton, he reminds me that the left is no longer on the factory floor fomenting strikes. They are in Government bureaucracies, the Universities, NGOs, Foundations and Media fomenting ignorance, passivity and conformity. Orwell had it right.

Mar 10, 2013 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

Horton reveals early he is addicted to the 'Money is Power' drug. His lust for power (money) is not to enable him to build an army of warriors meant to plunder the world's riches but to build an army of nannies to reform the self-guided masses so they have no choice but to follow the path better freedoms. His freedoms, to be sure.

This is accomplished by removing bad freedoms (choices, options) which are cloaking the good freedoms we're all in need of but because we are ignorant, also unaware of. And because of that ignorance it is all new to us that we have such suffering of too many choices and options and needs of these cloaked freedoms. That right there justifies his dedicating his life to us as he has. It is no wonder he lacks humility.

As head of The First Church of the Nanny State and Discount House of Worship he should do well by his flocks. He surely does see us all as sheep.

Mar 10, 2013 at 5:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterdp

bernie
Pielke Jr is in line with the rest of the alarmists: 'carbon needs to go'. It is just that he has different trajectories in mind, if we can figure out what they are.

Mar 10, 2013 at 6:37 PM | Registered Commentershub

Policymakers have to sell ideologies handed down from the podiums of their political masters. Policymakers are obligated to find pragmatic interventions that describe the ethereal desires and beliefs of arrogant egos. The conceit of the politician does not necessarily care for these dear policies, except perhaps that they conveniently provide a cloak of popular sincerity. Huhne, as a committed 'environmentalist', makes an interesting case study in the corruption of power via the adoption of an arbitrary ideal.

Popular policy comes from invention, a series of transitionary fashions created and shaped by professional communicators. The best storytellers steal ideas from others and inflate them. They understand human fragility, they know our fears and loves - they feed our terror and passion with dramatic portions fit for our collective consumption. The art of communication does not come from heart felt belief it comes from an evolutionary instinct of survival - sell to eat.

We do not complain about this force feeding. In fact we are receptive, we love to listen to scary fairy tales, we love our basic instincts. We are unable to resist, we are compelled to believe the storyteller and stand firm to slay the dragons that stand in the way of our imaginary progress.

Our contemporary politics are born through myth and distributed by modern day minstrels. We sing to the tune of our Guardian communicators until we feel compelled to collectively petition our leaders against our mythical demons. How can our politicians resist this call to arms? We have an endless procession of ‘leaders’ willing to respond, but they are weak and ruinous; they are leading us into the Dragons Den but not out of it. The best leaders understand the risks of popular rhetoric – they are prepared to be unpopular. They stand firm against unproven theories and instead demand to see the truth themselves.

The job of the policymaker has become an impossible task. There are no practical, sustainable actions that can possibly be taken to satisfy the dogmatic demands of our self-regarding sun gods and their congregation of clueless. The policymaker longs for a new generation of leader who comes forward with depth and understanding. Who believes in empirical evidence and has a genuine desire to put public service before self interest.


My wine glass is half empty.

Mar 10, 2013 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterChairman Al

Horton was the Lancet editor who published the Wakefield MMR study, and the two Iraqi causality figure papers, all without peer review. Horton made sure that the publication of the Iraqi death figures paper occurred just before Presidents GWB's reelection vote and he conspired with the authors of the paper to have this release date.

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterDocmartyn

There are a lot of great comments posted to add to the original thought provoking article.

The question these scientists asked themselves is the wrong one. One might persuade policy makers that cutting CO2 80% is necessary with a relatively small amount of proof (as the 2008 Climate Change Act vote demonstrated). The cut may be genuinely necessary which would make it good policy. Persuading people to live up to it is another matter as is working out if it’s remotely possible.

The hot topic for warmists to promote at the moment is that the public don’t understand the risk of CAGW. This is not true. The public have been deluged with warnings that they face a future of fire, wind, flood and famine. Ambitious scientists have upped the ante and added snow, cold, disease and earthquakes. Hollywood has grabbed this, packaged and sold it in a way science never could. They’ve made it tangible and yet the public have shrugged and carried on. This says one of two things. Either they know about the risk and are prepared to gamble or they don’t believe it’s going to be a problem. This applies as much to international leaders and businesses as it does to the man in the street.

What is it with these very clever people who congratulate themselves on the quality of their science when it’s obvious that the only people they've convinced are themselves?

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

People new to this discussion should be explicitly warned that there are two Roger Pielkes, though most of us here well are aware of the fact.

Pielke the Younger: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/
Pielke the Elder: http://cires.colorado.edu/science/groups/pielke/people/pielke.html

Both are highly respected in sceptic circles, though Pielke the Younger is more of a luke-warmist, a viable position imho, though not subscribed to by me.

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Roger Snr. used to run an excellent blog that highlighted a wide assortment of climate science papers. Last year he closed it down because of the time commitment. I certainly miss it. While he never enabled comments he was more than willing to respond to individual queries. Roger Jnr's blog is more eclectic and policy oriented. It is also stimulating though less visited than this one.

Mar 10, 2013 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

@Braqueish


If there are two areas of "science" which are totally dominated by activism they are public health and climate change. Both have a strong intersection with public policy, both are notable for their underlying moralistic basis, both are deeply paternalistic.

One part of public health which suffers from extensive fraud, deceit and suppression is water fluoridation. One big difference is that fluoridation is largely a feature of English-speaking countries and has been rejected by most countries in Europe.
See www.fluoridelink.info for evidence of this long-lasting fraud.
It would be useful if those aware of scientific suppression in various areas would work together to expose fraud in science.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterAntifraud

On the subject of policies to combat AGW or ACC or whatever you want call it, Dennis Wingo had a very compelling post last night at WUWT:

Click Here

As for Roger Pielke Jr., he's not going to engage in debate on policies adopted or on policies that should be adopted. I believe he wants to stick exclusively to the science. He apparently believes some mitigation is necessary, and I don't know what he bases that on, but also knows he's in over his head when policy is being discussed, which differentiates him from the scientist/activist community. I find that to be consistent with his primary role as a scientist and researcher.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

"I think his elephant is imaginary, not existential, and to mix metaphors, the noisy climate king that has no clothes."

To unmix the metaphor, I would say it's beginning to appear that the elephant in the room is a pink elephant and the only ones seeing it are those who are drunk on anthropogenic climate change.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

A disappointing review. It says more about Mark Piney's bullshit filter settings than anything else.

I am curious to know how a scientist generating papers which might influence policy should behave.

To what extent should he contribute to the policy discussion?

How should he respond to criticism of his work by other scientists?

How should he respond to outsiders misrepresenting his work for political purposes?

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Roger Pielke Jr's book The Climate Fix should be read before criticising his verbal comments. It is a complex subject he covers and it requires a book, not a ten minute talk to do his arguments justice. The shocking outcome of his calculations are his revelations of the cost of decarbonising the world. It is impossible to imagine either China or India embarking on decarbonising without completely changing to nuclear power generation.

Mar 11, 2013 at 3:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterTommo

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:30 AM Entropic man says

I am curious to know how a scientist generating papers which might influence policy should behave.
To what extent should he contribute to the policy discussion?

I think that Roger Pielke jr’s definitions in the Honest Broker describe the alternatives.

According to Pielke, a scientist can take one of the following roles (my paraphrases)

• a pure scientist (providing information related to the policy field)
• a science arbiter (answering policy-makers’ specific questions),
• an issue advocate (recommending a particular policy)
• an honest broker (expanding the policy options)

These roles are all legitimate. The role that Pielke criticises is the stealth advocate, someone who passes off issue advocacy as impartial information.

Scientists can get thoroughly involved in the policy discussion and are free to advocate a particular policy position. Though, in my opinion, even issue advocates should be as scrupulous about presenting evidence that disagrees with their position as evidence that supports it, and show how they weighed all the evidence to arrive at their conclusion.

I see a particular danger in trying to represent the position of a whole section of the science community (‘the biodiversity community’, ‘the climate science community’) as supporting a particular policy. This marginalizes dissenting views, suggesting that they are not part of that ‘community’. Pielke argues that the scientific community should play the honest broker role, describing all the possible options.

Mar 11, 2013 at 9:09 PM | Registered CommenterRuth Dixon

@Ruth Dixon

It is hard to argue with the perspective you put forward. But perhaps it is too difficult for simplistic souls such as Entropic Man, with his bizarre beliefs such as heating suddenly sinking into the deep ocean, untracked by any measurement device known to man, to stomach, however.

Mar 11, 2013 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

@Mark Piney. As some may have been aware it was I that asked Roger P the question about the Climate Change Act. Of course the context was that of the meeting title "What counts as good evidence for policy?" His flippant response shows that he will accept second hand hearsay as acceptable evidence where it supports his case. I have read his older book "The Climate Fix" and realise that he has never challenged a number of fundamental assumptions (following his father) that are simply wrong. By the way I agree with you about Georgina Mace. The rest of the panel scored badly in my book.

Mar 13, 2013 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter F Gill

Dear Commentators
Thanks for your complements and detailed comments.
Apologies for not responding in a timely manner.
Work commitments have prevented me (my excuse) from responding, but I will.
Meantime, if you want to listen to the Seminar, see the link towards the top of my piece or go to this Site https://soundcloud.com/politicalscience/good-evidence
Best wishes

Mark Piney

Mar 13, 2013 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Piney

As an aside, Mark, I had the privilege of hearing the reflections of one of the first eight employees of SoundCloud in a small gathering in the Old Street area the other night. A Berlin-based startup that's really making waves - of the audio kind, obviously :) Smart company.

Mar 13, 2013 at 11:14 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

(Repeat not required!)

Mar 13, 2013 at 11:15 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

ChrisM Says

“I think you are being a little harsh on Roger.”

Maybe so, but I did find him ambivalent. A curates egg of a policy wonk (his term). I like his clear stances on the lack of evidence of increasing extreme weather damage. And he’s clear about activist, campaigning scientists. And he’s got a high public profile. So, I am a fan.

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Piney

Braqueish says:

“If there are two areas of "science" which are totally dominated by activism they are public health and climate change. Both have a strong intersection with public policy, both are notable for their underlying moralistic basis, both are deeply paternalistic…The parallels with climate change research couldn't be clearer.”

Ben Pile, Rhoda and others noticed Horton’s Orwellian re-writing of history, and his claim that public health activists make us ‘free’.

Here’s Horton being snotty about drains, and ‘brave’ about the politics of behaviour:

“We were no longer talking (and this was deeply politically sensitive and still is today) we were no longer talking about drains or sewerage or dirt. We were talking about individual behaviours. And this is where evidence and public health in politics and policy making have become so difficult. Intervening in people’s lives...”

“Drains or sewerage or dirt” – the stuff of unsexy sanitary engineering. He doesn’t quite sneer at these passé public health concerns, but it’s close. And there’s an important tribal angle not to miss. From his professional tribal point of view, medical public health involvement in the early days of “Drains or sewerage or dirt” “We are reinvented the language of science today in order meet economic objectives set by a coalition government that nobody voted for.

But nobody’s voted for Richard, and the public health hordes, either. We know what the insides of Homer Simpson’s brain looks like Link But what does the inside of the brain of a public health activist, like Richard Horton, look like?

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Piney

Comment submitted again - Braqueish says:

“If there are two areas of "science" which are totally dominated by activism they are public health and climate change. Both have a strong intersection with public policy, both are notable for their underlying moralistic basis, both are deeply paternalistic…The parallels with climate change research couldn't be clearer.”

Ben Pile, Rhoda and others noticed Horton’s Orwellian re-writing of history, and his claim that public health activists make us ‘free’.

Here’s Horton being snotty about drains, and ‘brave’ about the politics of behaviour:

“We were no longer talking (and this was deeply politically sensitive and still is today) we were no longer talking about drains or sewerage or dirt. We were talking about individual behaviours. And this is where evidence and public health in politics and policy making have become so difficult. Intervening in people’s lives...”

“Drains or sewerage or dirt” – the stuff of unsexy sanitary engineering. He doesn’t quite sneer at these passé public health concerns, but it’s close. And there’s an important tribal angle not to miss. From his professional tribal point of view, medical public health involvement in the early days of “Drains or sewerage or dirt” “We are reinvented the language of science today in order meet economic objectives set by a coalition government that nobody voted for.

But nobody’s voted for Richard, and the public health hordes, either. We know what the insides of Homer Simpson’s brain looks like Link But what does the inside of the brain of a public health activist, like Richard Horton, look like?

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Piney

I am less and less sure that any scientist, in contentious policy-critical sciences, can be neutral and objective. In a science that’s been thoroughly politicised, with funding and preferment strongly linked to having the correct thoughts, parroting the correct lines and submitting the correct research proposals, there’s little or no space for an ‘honest broker’ scientist. Especially if they point out, serious undermining observational, theoretical or methodological anomalies.

Public health is one such corrupted science (as Braqueish and Ben Pile point out), but climate science is the exemplar. There are dissenting individuals and groups, but they are small in number and size, and influence.

As for ecology, it seems to be informed and lead by unquestioned assumptions of goodness. The goodness of diversity, the goodness of all species of anything living, the goodness of ‘natural capital’ that we humans ‘live off’ of. Goodness. In as much as the ecological paradigm that ecologists become inculcated with, as they train and work, is underpinned by such assumptions, the basis of this ‘science’ leads to almost automatic advocacy.

There’s no neutral ground on which to stand, as a fair and objective ecologist. This hasn’t happened due to overt political pressure, although the various Green parties have turned the unquestioned goodness assumptions into political dogma. The assumptions were developed, and became unquestioned dogma, as ecology developed as a science, infused with the conservationist zeigeist. It wasn’t there when Darwin wrote in the 19th century, but probably started to be incorporated from the early 20th century as conservation movements took off. As with climate research, there are probably pockets of dissent, but they’re not mainstream. They are dissenting, marginal and ignored by ‘the-one-true-church’ of ecology.

From what Ruth Dixon has pointed out of Georgina Mace, she does in fact follow the ecological herd, with her normative science full of unquestioned assumptions of goodness. Pity, I thought she sounded like a sound independent scientist. Perhaps such a person doesn’t, and can’t really, exist in ecological sciences?

So Pielke Junior’s fourfold division of potential scientist’s roles (pure scientist, science arbiter, issue advocate and honest broker) appears neat and neutral. And perhaps it would help policy makers if they required scientists to be clear on which role they were in. Which hat they were wearing. But where a whole science is suffused with advocacy, there’s no neutral space. And there’s something else, of even more concern than the ‘stealth’ advocacy of an individual scientist.

Some sciences make progress. They generate and face anomalies as part of their practice. Sometimes, when an anomaly becomes critical, the science eventually undergoes a paradigm shift. But sciences built on advocacy, and political imperative, don’t make progress. They have all the trappings of a proper science, but they don’t go anywhere. Climate science, ecological science and a lot of public health science, aren't really sciences any more. When this happens it’s very difficult for policy makers to make decisions based on the ‘evidence’ these dead sciences produce.

Apr 17, 2013 at 5:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Piney

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