by Judith Curry
But when evaluating climategate, a variety of responses is seen, ranging from the apologetic to the highly critical. It is argued that reluctance to critically examine the climategate affair, including suspect practices of scientists, has to do with the nature of the debate which is highly politicized. A call is made for more reﬂection on this case which should not be closed off because of political expediency.
Bishop Hill points to two very interesting articles written by Reiner Grundmann.
- Climategate and the scientific ethos
- The legacy of climategate: revitalizing or undermining climate science and policy?
Climategate and the scientific ethos
An enduring debate surrounding climategate is whether the scientists involved committed malpractice. Grudmann addresses this issue by “assessing the e-mail affair in the light of two normative analyses of science, one proposed by Robert Merton (and developed further by some of his followers), the second by a recent suggestion to use the concept of honest brokering in science policy interactions.”
Excerpts from the Conclusion:
Do the practices highlighted by the e-mails exemplify any of the four norms suggested by Merton? (universalism, communism, disinterest, ogranized skepticism).
The exposed climate scientists did not adhere to the norm of universalism as they gave preferential treatment to close allies. They did not share their data as would be required under the norm of communism. They did not act in a disinterested way as the whole e-mail communication reveals. On the contrary, they acted strategically, showing self-interest and zeal. Above all, they wanted to communicate the political message of their research (that the Northern Hemisphere has never been as warm in the past millennium as it is at present) and boost their own careers. Finally, they did not foster organized skepticism but tried to stifle skeptical voices. It is interesting that the Climategate investigations describe this as ‘‘bunker mentality’’ but do not see unethical behavior.
However, sociologists close to Merton have suggested that scientists do not conform to the Ethos when engaging in scientific controversies. Here, different norms apply, above all the cognitive norm of adhering to technical standards in data gathering and analysis. Still, the hockey stick controversy and the dealing with the ‘‘divergence problem’’ could be seen as an instance of violating a cognitive norm. But only skeptical scientists and bloggers seem to put forward such a case.
This leads to the conclusion that the Mertonian ethos of science is not operating in practice, and that it has been irrelevant for defining proper behavior in the CRU e-mail scandal. This may be due to the fact that today there are many more scientific debates and controversies, and that they are increasingly politicized.
The second normative framework considered here, Pielke Jr.’s Honest Broker, recognizes the politicized nature of scientific controversies. Advocacy can be carried out very effectively on an individual basis, honest brokering much less so. But Pielke is aware of the institutional aspect of honest brokering. Above all, his point about stealth advocacy is well taken and should inform our endeavors to devise institutions for effective science policy interactions that are trustworthy.
Merton is ambivalent when it comes to personal virtues but surely puts emphasis on institutional design which matters when assessing scientific practice. He emphasizes the institutional integrity and the policing of the science community. From this perspective, it would seem a moot question to discuss the question whether there was individual failure exposed by Climategate. High-profile reviews have focused on the procedural and institutional aspects, leaving aside the issue of research ethos. In so doing, they concur with Merton in emphasizing institutional procedures above personal virtues. We have to establish processes that are open, transparent, and robust enough to avoid conflicts of interest to arise in the first place. And this should be the major focus for an institutional redesign of the scientific advisory process on climate change, post CRU scandal. The IPCC procedures were not robust enough to prevent these abuses, as the IAC review found. Likewise, the peer review process proved to be weak in many instances. It needs to be complemented by communication tools that provide more transparency. Science policy makers would be well advised to study the hockey stick controversy as an exemplar case in order to learn crucial lessons to make science policy interactions more robust in the future.
There are examples where powerful people in the review process have not abused their position. But it would be problematic to rely on human virtues alone. Honest brokering can only be achieved on a routine basis through institutions, not through individuals. This does not deny the fact that sometimes exceptional individuals will play a decisive role in politicized science controversies. However, it would be naive to take such interventions for granted. One should rather design institutions of knowledge provision and advisory systems that do not fall prey to such vagaries.
Moving from the individual level to the collective level brings the risk of group think, nepotism, and deference to authority. To forestall these, one needs to include viewpoints that go against the grain of the views of established elites of expertise and policy making. As we have seen in the case of the e-mail scandal, we cannot rely on individuals’ research ethos but need institutions that foster such aims.
JC comment: I found this paper to be quite insightful in terms of separating misconduct from ethos and institutions vs individuals. The entire article is well worth reading.
The legacy of climategate: revitalizing or undermining climate science and policy?
The second paper discusses reactions and interpretations to climategate published by social scientists. The opening section entitled ‘Climategate and the risks of political commitments’ gives a critical review of the affair. The paper examines previous essays on the topic written by Nerlich, Wynne, Jasanoff, Beck, van der Sluijs, Ryghaug and Skjolsvold, and Ravetz.
In my excerpts, I focus Grundmann’s assessments and the statements that I find to be particularly insightful:
In fact, what the emails reveal are problematic practices of leading climate researchers acting as zealous gatekeepers in a scientific and political project. Attempts have been made to exclude inconvenient research from the peer review process. Some commentators see this as normal practice in science, others as somewhat problematic stage managing, still others as manipulation in order to defend a ‘dogma’, or ‘orthodoxy’ (of anthropogenic global warming). Such a reading would suggest a parallel to religious practices which then is used in a polemical way against the standard bearers of (climate) science. Official orthodoxy is beyond criticism in both cases. To the extent that such orthodoxy was used to stifle debate, this has arguably had the opposite effect and produced a new generation of skeptics.While the first generation of climate skeptics (such as Pat Michaels) was very much linked to the fossil fuel industry whose interest they defended, the second generation skeptics (such as Steve McIntyre) lacks such an agenda.
However, Wynne has an excellent point when observing the unproductive constellation provoked by the ‘climate wars’. He writes that while skeptics deny the authority of the IPCC, social scientists and policy analysts may notice the fragile consensus provided by the IPCC and feel uneasy as they follow its lead into a technocratic policy trajectory. What is needed is a fresh and outspoken critical evaluation of the IPCC and its problems but Wynne stops short of such a conclusion.
Beck and van der Sluijs et al. take a more radical approach when advocating institutional reform of the IPCC. For these authors climategate is a wake up call to scrutinize the IPCC’s relation to policy making especially the linear model and the consensus approach at its heart. Beck sees major flaws in the design of the IPCC, flaws linked to the linear model of policy making. This has led to a politicization of climate science and a depoliticization of politics, giving rise to ‘proxy debates’ about scientific evidence. In such debates all interested parties cherry pick scientific evidence to advance their case. [Beck] explains that these proxy debates enable interested actors to smuggle their political preferences into the scientific debate. The result is that disagreements appear as disputes over scientific evidence while in reality they are rooted in deeper differences about values and policy making. Thus the notion that the IPCC can deliver the ‘proof’ of global warming and compel politics to act has gained momentum. This approach entails a specific risk in that such proxy debates ‘make science vulnerable to a backlash of public criticism.’ Her way out of this impasse is to call for opening up debates .
[van der Sluijs et al.] take aim at the consensus model of the IPCC, which they see as a fundamental weakness as it hindered a full-blown political climate debate: ‘Paradoxically, the consensus approach was originally chosen in the hope that it would have depoliticized the science, but instead it created vulnerabilities in the science policy interface (such as the tendency of overselling certainty) that can easily be exploited’.
Re Ravetz’s famous (to the climate blogosphere anyways) WUWT post:
Ravetz is no Luddite and does not rejoice from the sudden discrediting of climate science. What sets him apart from his skeptical critics is that he does not see a conspiracy but ‘blundering self-protection (plus agenda-driven hype)’. His main concern is how to re-establish public trust for science. To this end, he suggests to implement mechanisms of extended peer review, partly echoing the message from others above: ‘Detailed technical work is a task for experts, but quality-control on even that work can be done by those with much broader expertise’
Grundmann’s closing statements:
If social scientists want to avoid the dilemma of either denying the authority of IPCC science or faithfully following its conventional wisdom down the corresponding technocratic policy, they had better examine climategate more deeply and ponder the lessons. We need much more reflection on this case which should not be closed off because of political expediency. The debate has only just begun.
JC comments: I’ve read about half of the papers referred to by Grundmann. I found this synthesis, and particularly Grundmann’s evaluations, to be quite insightful. Ravetz statement pretty much summarizes the CRU emails IMO: ‘blundering self-protection (plus agenda-driven hype)’. The problem occurred when the institutions (e.g. IPCC, journals) weren’t sufficiently robust to handle this, largely associated with the fatal flaw in the IPCC process: consensus seeking. And I certainly agree with Grundmann’s final point:
We need much more reflection on this case which should not be closed off because of political expediency. The debate has only just begun.