by Judith Curry
Over at Die Klimazwiebel, Hans von Storch has a provocative post where he provides his answers to recent interview questions on the subject of climate scientists’ attitudes. The first question is:
1. Climate Science and Political Power: birth of a new relationship
The climate issue has become very prominent in the political agenda and climate science results, methods and outcomes have taken a primary role in the political decision process. Why, in your opinion, climate science has become so important for political power?
Von Storch has some interesting and insightful responses to these questions. This interview raises some important issues that aren’t often explicitly discussed by climate scientists and policy makers, but they should be.
So what is the “politics of expertise?” What does this have to do with climate science or climate scientists? My first encounter with this phrase was last summer, on the occasion of Steve Schneider’s passing. I went to his web site at Stanford, and was reading a biosketch, and in a listing of his areas of expertise, I saw “politics of expertise.” I can no longer find this particular link, but apparently it was a topic he often discussed in seminars, etc.
So after googling around and reading a few papers on the subject (e.g. Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise, Massachussetts v EPA: From Politics to Expertise”), this got me thinking about what this might mean in the context of climate science/scientists. Politics of expertise is how technical expertise gets entrained into the political process and policy making. Politicians can use science and scientists to achieve political goals, and scientists can use their expertise for political purposes and to influence policy.
One of the questions in that von Storch replied to was:
Q: Who are the most important players, both scientists and politicians, in the history of the relationship between climate science and politics? Who did play the most important role in forging this relationship ? Who are the scientists or politicians that you shouldn’t forget to cite if you are talking about climate science and politics?
HVS: You mean individuals? Bert Bolin would be a name, Stephen Schneider another, Jim Hansen, Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber and Hartmut Grassl in Germany – my view is certainly rather parochial. Al Gore in the US.
Looking at Steve Schneider and Jim Hansen in this context, we see two very different strategies re playing politics with climate expertise. Jim Hansen has become an activist, and IMO has lessened his political influence (others have different opinions on this, I’m sure). Steve Schneider is a far more interesting case in this regard (and ultimately more effective IMO), using the strategies of consensus (particularly in the context of the IPCC), elitism in terms of the science and scientists (e.g the PNAS article), and organizing statements from prestigious institutions like the NAS and professional societies. In short, much of the strategy that proved to be pretty effective until . . . well, climategate. While effective over a fairly long period, these strategies are no longer effective.
The combination of Schneider’s passing and climategate has arguably been a game changer in this regard. So what is a concerned climate scientist to do? By concerned climate scientist, I refer explicitly to the ideology described in this previous thread. Well, it looks like the Climate Rapid Response Team and the gang at RealClimate have stepped up to the plate. The strategy seems to be to make themselves available to the media and policy makers to provide the “correct” scientific information, and to debunk articles in the media, the latest example being this post at RC debunking a recent article in Forbes, the RC post authored by Michael Tobis, Scott Mandia with input from Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, and Kevin Trenberth.
So how is this working? In the RC post on the Forbes article, their frustration is palpable, and they bemoan:
Ultimately, though, the criticism of the press is ludicrous. The naysayers ought to be thrilled at the lack of interest in climate change shown in the press, at least in North America. The longer we delay, the bigger the topic gets, and the more ridiculous the refusal of the press and policy sector to grapple with it becomes.
Tom Yulsman has a post on RC’s post about the Forbes article. He responds:
So I have some advice for Michael Tobis, Scott Mandia and other scientists who are frustrated that they haven’t been able to get their message across to the public and want to blame it all on journalists: Take a look in the mirror first. Then let’s talk.
Oh my, there are several ways to interpret that one, but “ouch” anyways.
As per the IPCC/UNFCCC ideology, the reason climate scientists want to get the message across is to influence politics and policy to do something (preferably the UNFCCS solution) about climate change. My thoughts on playing politics with climate expertise? Don’t, unless you are knowledgeable about policy and understand politics. Michael Oppenheimer in his recent AGU talk has some sage advice in this regard.