Update: WUWT has posted the rationale statement prepared by the workshop organizers, Jerome Ravetz and Angela Pereira
by Judith Curry
This week, I will be in Lisbon attending a Workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate. The Workshop was conceptualized by Jerome Ravetz, Silvio Funtowicz, Angela Pereira, James Risbey, and Jeroen van der Sluijs.
While I (relatively) rarely travel overseas for meetings, I jumped at this invitation. The topic is certainly intriguing and an issue that I have spent a great deal of time pondering over the last year. Further, I really want to meet Ravetz, Funtowicz, Risbey, and van der Sluijs, whose papers I have been avidly reading over the past year, including citing them on a number of Climate Etc threads:
- Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster
- No Consensus on Consensus
- Decision Making Under Climate Uncertainty. Part I
- Overconfidence in IPCC Detection and Attribution. Part III
- Extended Peer Community
- Waving the Italian Flag. Part I: Uncertainty and Pedigree
- Politics of Climate Expertise: Part II
What has impressed me about their writings is that they recognize that climate change is not only a scientific subject, but also a political, economical, and ethical subject.
The names Funtowicz and Ravetz are associated with the concept of postnormal science. The issue of postnormal science is widely misunderstood in the climate blogosphere. As per the Wikipedia:
James J. Kay described Post-normal science as a process that recognizes the potential for gaps in knowledge and understanding that cannot be resolved other than through revolutionary science, thereby arguing that (in between revolutions) one should not necessarily attempt to resolve or dismiss contradictory perspectives of the world (whether they are based on science or not), but instead incorporate multiple viewpoints into the same problem-solving process.
Detractors of post-normal science, conversely, see it as a method of trying to argue for a given set of actions despite a lack of evidence for them, and as a method of trying to stifle opposing voices calling for caution by accusing them of hidden biases. Many consider post-normal science an attempt to ignore proper scientific methods in an attempt to substitute inferior methodology in service of political goals. Practitioners advocating post normal science methods defend their methods, suggesting that their methodologies are not to be considered replacements for dealing with those situations in which normal science works sufficiently well.
Von Storch has also discussed postnormal science in the context of the climate change debate:
This paper addresses the views regarding the certainty and uncertainty of climate science knowledge held by con- temporary climate scientists. More precisely, it addresses the extension of this knowledge into the social and political realms as per the definition of postnormal science. The data for the analysis is drawn from a response rate of approxi- mately 40% from a survey questionnaire mailed to 1000 scientists in Germany, the United States, and Canada, and from a series of in-depth interviews with leading scientists in each country. The international nature of the sample allows for cross-cultural comparisons.
With respect to the relative scientific discourse, similar assessments of the current state of knowledge are held by the respondents of each country. Almost all scientists agreed that the skill of contemporary models is limited. Minor differences were notable. Scientists from the United States were less convinced of the skills of the models than their German counterparts and, as would be expected under such circumstances, North American scientists perceived the need for societal and political responses to be less urgent than their German counterparts. The international consensus was, however, apparent regarding the utility of the knowledge to date: climate science has provided enough knowl- edge so that the initiation of abatement measures is warranted. However, consensus also existed regarding the current inability to explicitly specify detrimental effects that might result from climate change. This incompatibility between the state of knowledge and the calls for action suggests that, to some degree at least, scientific advice is a product of both scientific knowledge and normative judgment, suggesting a socioscientific construction of the climate change issue.
Where do I stand on the postnormal science issue? I prefer to use the term “postnormal environment for science” to avoid the perception that proper scientific methods are being ignored. The environment that brought about the behavior of Mann, Jones et al., the blogospheric obsession with their emails, and publication of statements such as those by Hasselman and Trenberth does not reflect a normal scientific environment, but rather a highly politicized one. Scientists and others being labeled as “deniers” or “alarmist” is a clue that this is not a normal environment for science.
Climate science is fraught with uncertainty, as acknowledged Funtowicz, Ravetz, and von Storch. The key point is the incompatibility between the state of knowledge and the calls for action. The “call for action” aspect introduces the extended peer community, of which the climate blogosphere is a poster child. So I think there is merit in this concept, provided that that postnormal science is not used either as an excuse to short cut the scientific method or to dismiss the science. At the science-policy interface where the science is highly uncertain, understanding of the postnormal environment for science can help avoid situations of overconfidence in the science and keep the focus on understanding and characterizing the uncertainty.
Ravetz makes the point that the situation with climate science is a long way from the classic problems of the philosophy of science as laid out by Popper and Kuhn. Ravetz argues that there is a new class of epistemic problems that are dominated by uncertainty in the context of social and ethical concerns.
I am hoping that there is some sort of path for reconciliation in this debate for the benefit of both scientific progress and social consideration of the issues surrounding climate variability and change. I don’t know what this should look like, other than:
- transparency and traceability in the science
- loyalty to truth and the scientific method
- understanding and acknowledgement of uncertainty and the possibility of error
- win-win situations such as no regrets policy.
I know what it DOESN’T look like, and that is reflected by Kevin Trenberth’s essay, where the blame is put on the deniers, the media, etc. (everybody but the IPCC scientists and their supporters). The domination approach only “works” if you can actually pull it off; climate scientists are babes in the woods when it comes to this kind of politics. A partnership approach makes much more sense and might actually produce a good outcome.
I will be posting more on this topic after the Workshop (and possibly during); I look forward to your thoughts on this topic.
I just received a list of the participants last week, an interesting group to say the least. A total of 28 people are participating. In addition to the organizers, a number of names will be familiar to denizens of the climate blogosphere:
- Judith Curry
- Steve Goddard
- Steve McIntyre
- Ross McKitrick
- Steve Mosher
- Fred Pearce
- Nick Stokes
- Hans von Storch
- Peter Webster
Note: I am on travel this week, not quite sure how regular internet access will be. I have someone moderating in my absence, in case I am away from the blog for any length of time. Behave :)