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Discussion > Science is a tell

I thought this was an interesting argument last week:

“Whenever you can’t have a debate, I often think that’s evidence that there’s a problem … When people use the word ‘science,’ it’s often a tell, like in poker, that you’re bluffing. It’s like we have ‘social science’ and we have ‘political science,’ [but] we don’t call it ‘physical science’ or ‘chemical science.’ We just call them physics and chemistry because we know they’re right.”

[The guy concerned] said no one will be upset if you ask questions about the periodic table, because it is actually science. But referring to man-made climate change as “science” tells you “that people are exaggerating and they’re bluffing a little bit."

Any idea who might have said that? That's the other interesting thing to me. John Mashey he ain't.

It might be worth noting the extremely varied views of the climate situation from Silicon Valley pioneers at some point.

H/t Judy Curry for the tip-off.

Oct 30, 2014 at 3:31 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

It's been said many times that, if a subject has the word "science" in its title, that's a pretty good indication that it is not science.

Oct 30, 2014 at 3:40 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Peter Thiel has qualifications in philosophy and law. It is not clear to me why his views on the climate sciences should carry weight.

On the use of the word "science", do you see a difference between the colloquialism "climate science" and perhaps more formal "the climate sciences". There are clearly many components to the study of climate and the term climate science is a useful shortening of, or alternative to, the term "the climate sciences". Just as there are many parts in the study of natural science one of which is physical science (often referred to as the natural sciences and the physical sciences).

The only difference I see is for example when one hears that someone has a qualification in "climate science" as opposed to in "one of the climate sciences". In this case it seems very likely that said person has no traditional "science" qualification unless it is a second degree building on a degree in one of the "climate sciences".

I know for sceptics it is important to redefine words in ways that allows them to be used as hammers. But there is no milage in this deliberate misinterpretation of the use of these words. It just makes you look stupid. That won't stop people disagreeing with me here for the next week or so...

Oct 30, 2014 at 4:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Not bad. One hour, two responses and the Troll is trying to derail the thread already.
Frankly, it is not clear to me why his views on the climate sciences should carry weight.

Oct 30, 2014 at 5:36 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I had read the quote Richard but thanks for reminding us who said it.

Sadly Raff thinks ‘scientist’ is the beginning and end of organised thought. However there is intelligent life beyond the walls of academia and most of us recognise that clever people are quite capable of acting like anyone else. They can lie, cheat, make mistakes and exaggerate.

We are bombarded with spin. We see a washing powder ad and who fronts it? A person in a white coat and glasses. It tries to say ‘our product is created and tested by scientists so it can’t be less than perfect’. Do you fall for that? Some people do but while most people might be susceptible to thinking positively towards science you wouldn’t bet your fortune or your life on everything they have to say. Most people now take the emissions of scientists with a pinch of salt and the harder they try to convince you with spin rather than clear evidence, the more you question what they’re up to.

I’m sure that climate scientists are better than they come across, but in their determination to force belief in their work they’ve acted like con men. They insist that you’re the only one not to sign up. They tell you that there is a time limit to their offer. They get angry when you ask questions. They have no answers to the difficult questions but assure you that things will come good in the end. When things go wrong they’re first evasive and then start making excuses on the fly. They rely heavily on hiding any problems in the small print of long… very long documents that you just know they will use to wriggle out of responsibility if things go pear shaped. They present evidence from dodgy sources and meaningless graphs while at the same time dismissing evidence from other quarters. They bad mouth the competition. They operate in secrecy and fiercely oppose scrutiny. They use moral blackmail especially bringing in your fears for your children. Have I missed anything?

Trust them, they’re scientists. Ha, ha.

Oct 30, 2014 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"the Troll is trying to derail the thread already", except I addressed the subject of the thread. How does your comment or that of Tiny relate to "Science is a tell"?

Oct 30, 2014 at 6:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

@Raff said "Peter Thiel has qualifications in philosophy and law. It is not clear to me why his views on the climate sciences should carry weight."
That statement a logical fallacy of argument from authority
..It is the argument (The "views" themselves) that counts, it is irrelevant who makes it

@Raff what is the difference between "scientists say" and properly validated science ?

@Raff said "I know for sceptics it is important to redefine words"
.. I say in science it is very important that you clearly define your terms

@Raff Qn how do you define "Climate Change " ?

Oct 30, 2014 at 7:10 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

That's a fair summary, TinyCO2.

One of my hopes is that sensible publicly-funded science can be spared from being tarred with the same brush when the day of reckoning comes.

My advice to policy makers is that they should fund people and sciences that generally prefer to focus on finding solutions to known problems, not those with a solution who are guaranteed to find the problem they are looking for.

Oct 30, 2014 at 7:14 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

For those who understand what Peter Thiel was saying, my comment was strictly on topic. He was not trying to redefine the word 'scientist'. Scientist is just a job for a clever person. If you need to flash your credentials to win a debate your arguments suck. Climate scientists are very bad at debate to the point where they are looking positively dodgy. If they tried a bit harder they could move from being lumped with social and political science and join Scientology. Science and an 'ology, can't beat that.

Oct 30, 2014 at 7:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"Peter Thiel has qualifications in philosophy and law. It is not clear to me why his views on the climate sciences should carry weight. "

Because he is *not* a climate scientist?

Oct 30, 2014 at 7:36 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

"It is the argument (The "views" themselves) that counts, it is irrelevant who makes it"

So why did "The Blaze" say "PayPal Co-Founder Is Skeptical of Man-Made Global Warming for This Reason" and identify him (for everyone who has never heard of him) as "often considered one of the most influential people in Silicon Valley"? If it is what he says that matters they should say: "Man in California is Skeptical...". His trivial argument is worthless if expressed in that way, and we wouldn't be discussing it, that is why.

"what is the difference between "scientists say" and properly validated science"

The first is written by a reporter who probably knows little of relevance and the second is published research by the scientist in a recognised journal.

"in science it is very important that you clearly define your terms"

as it is in anti-science propaganda.

"Qn how do you define "Climate Change " ?"

How does that relate to "science is a tell"? And why should my definition be of any relevance?

Oct 30, 2014 at 7:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

And why should my definition be of any relevance?
It almost certainly isn't. In fact I doubt there is one person here who gives a fig for your definition of anything. But the fact that you ask the question, and in so doing refuse yet again to answer a question put to you, simply confirms your trollery.
Out of the 12 postings on this thread, seven have already been taken up by you (or the rest of us wasting our breath replying to you) trying to move the thread away from Richard's idea onto yours.
Be a good little pillock, Raff, and either stick to the topic or f*** off.
Preferably the latter.

Oct 31, 2014 at 8:58 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

(So we can stay on topic : I created a new thread to answer Raffs off topic points )

Oct 31, 2014 at 10:26 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

You reckon that'll work? :-)

But to return to the original.
The quote that Richard supplied raises a good point.
Physicist, chemist, meterologist, selenologist, palaeontologist, psychologist but climate scientist rather than climatologist. And Martin A confirms it: we all know (sort of) what politics are but what is 'political science'? We all have at least an idea what sociology is but what is 'social science'?
I reckon the -ologies are recognised disciplines while the 'sciences' are the woolly ideas that haven't yet (and maybe never will) firm up into anything that will become mainstream.

Oct 31, 2014 at 10:55 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

It's like this in all forms of communication, particularly in the native English speaking world. In order to obfuscate the fact that something or someone doesn't necessarily agree with what you are saying quote it/then and quickly move on. I agree with Nick being a recent example.

Notice also in the quote the word often is used, implying not always.

It is probably a good thing that someone educated in a non-scientific field (B.A. in Philosophy from Stanford) highlights this kind of deception. The statement "the science says/agrees" should always be answered with show me and prove it. Basically that's all that has been said. In a field based entirely on the predictions of models built to prove a single theory then what was said is perfectly valid.

Furthermore he raised this very relevant point


Thiel said there are countless instances where excessive government intervention and regulation stifled growth or led to economic bubbles.

Technology has been “very lightly regulated” in recent decades, and the world has seen extraordinary advances in the field, he said. But almost every other industry has been heavily regulated, and as a result, has seen very little growth.

“If you’re trying to develop a new drug, that costs you a billion dollars to get through the FDA,” Thiel remarked. “If you want to start a software company, you can get started with maybe $100,000.”

Thiel said America “could be curing cancer,” but because the government has made the cost of developing medicine so high, people are dedicating their time and energy to the tech industry instead.

I don't think he is wrong there either.

Oct 31, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

One of the constant warmist positions is "so-and-so is not a trained climate scientist with X years of peer-reviewed publications in climate science journals, so their view can be discounted". I am guessing that people making such statements are not themselves physicists - although they may have some "climate science" training.

My impression is that a lot of climate science teaching is along the lines "memorise the following until you can repeat it" - rote learning, in other words.

A completely different world from "figure out how to construct a formula for xyz, listing the assumptions and approximations you make. Then devise a lab experiment to assess the range of validity of your formula".

Oct 31, 2014 at 1:47 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

I'm right on topic. My first post addressed the use of "science" in a subject name.

On the use of the word "science", do you see a difference between the colloquialism "climate science" and perhaps more formal "the climate sciences". There are clearly many components to the study of climate and the term climate science is a useful shortening of, or alternative to, the term "the climate sciences". Just as there are many parts in the study of natural science one of which is physical science (often referred to as the natural sciences and the physical sciences)
The rest of the comments are from people who prefer to attack me than to accept that the premise is wrong - natural science and physical science are obvious counter examples for your preferred dogma.

Thiel's statement says more about his "libertarian" political views than any insight he might have into science and how science works.

Oct 31, 2014 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

When you consider you only need 2 E's to get onto the Climate Science Degree course at UEA then the last person you should listen to on Climate is a climate Scientist. They are just no intelligent enough to know their own subject matter as aptly demonstrated by the 'Amateur' Steve McIntyre's ability to run rings around them on their own papers.

Oct 31, 2014 at 2:38 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Raff:

I'm right on topic.

I find that declaration and the post that follows interesting, because it doesn't mention me. There's something else characteristic of the climate debate here: presumption. If you're interested I'll explain what I mean. But only if you're interested.

Oct 31, 2014 at 2:48 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I thought that "Science is a tell" was the subject of the thread. Silly me, the subject was Richard Drake all along. I see now why I was considered off topic (although the same goes for everyone else, I think) :-)

But yes, I'm interested. Since the idea that "science is a tell" is demolished by simply considering the names "natural science" and "physical science", please explain your new subject: presumption.

Oct 31, 2014 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

The subject wasn't me. But how could you know you were 'right on topic' without reference to me? That's the presumption problem. So many so-called debates in the climate scene are ruined by this.

Oct 31, 2014 at 3:56 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Here's something I wrote in September 2002, that I think is valuable as a piece of intellectual history in its own right and may shed light on what I mean by presumption above:

Bob Taylor was the genius who set up Xerox Parc around 1970 and assembled that awesome crowd of leading computer scientists with gigantic reputations and in just a few cases, kinda like ... egos. Plus a few unknowns like an eccentric jazz musician out of a PhD at Utah (that's an important man called Alan Kay for the non software buffs by the way.)

Anyway, every now and again these great gurus would disagree about something, perhaps at great length and quite heatedly, sometimes an detached observer might even say childishly. And early on in the story of Parc, Taylor sat such people down on the bean bags with him (so it is said) and explained the difference between disagreements of "type A" and disagreements of "type B":

Type A Persons P1 and P2 disagree and P1 cannot explain person P2's opinion to P2's satisfaction and vice versa.

Type B Persons P1 and P2 disagree and P1 can explain person P2's opinion to P2's satisfaction and vice versa.

With skill and patience Taylor coaxed the great men to move from type A disagreement to type B disagreement. The very strange thing was ... once both parties accepted that they had a type B disagreement, it proved to be very unstable. It almost always seemed to decay into something resembling agreement, personal harmony and deeper understanding all round.

Not that this had anything to do with what was achieved at Parc in the 1970s of course.

From 1982 I was deeply influenced by the output of Kay's team from Parc. I still am. So this story, wherever I read it (which I've long forgotten), resonated. It also hints at a major part of the motivation for this thread. It wasn't ever meant to be a knockdown argument for or against anything. I mentioned John Mashey. John would be extremely welcome to participate. I noticed after writing this that he's recently been supportive of Nick Stokes on Climate Audit without himself showing up on CA. I reiterate that he'd be very welcome - and 'right on topic' - here.

Oct 31, 2014 at 4:16 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I now have no idea what this thread is about, but you might be interested in disagreement hierarchies.

Oct 31, 2014 at 5:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Raff, if I may say so, "I now have no idea what this thread is about" always sounds a bit petulant.

It's pretty simple really. I was interested in how Peter Thiel attacked the problem, both in itself and as an example of the views of one Silicon Valley pioneer. I mentioned John Mashey but I was also very mindful of John Doerr as a great contrast to Thiel. You were misled by my title that this was all I wanted to think about (as were others no doubt - sorry guys). No, an interesting take on the problem. But my interest is really in the wider scene in Silicon Valley. These guys should understand about the limits of software modelling. But do they?

Oct 31, 2014 at 5:23 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Oh oh - he's stamping his feet.

Oct 31, 2014 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin