by Judith Curry
How can scientists avoid fooling themselves. Humility is a start. Here are some additional suggestions from a post on criticalthinking.org entitled Valuable intellectual traits. The material is posted below in full with JC comments:
Intellectual Humility: Having a consciousness of the limits of one’s knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one’s native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one’s viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs.
Intellectual Courage: Having a consciousness of the need to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs or viewpoints toward which we have strong negative emotions and to which we have not given a serious hearing. This courage is connected with the recognition that ideas considered dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified (in whole or in part) and that conclusions and beliefs inculcated in us are sometimes false or misleading. To determine for ourselves which is which, we must not passively and uncritically “accept” what we have “learned.” Intellectual courage comes into play here, because inevitably we will come to see some truth in some ideas considered dangerous and absurd, and distortion or falsity in some ideas strongly held in our social group. We need courage to be true to our own thinking in such circumstances. The penalties for non-conformity can be severe.
JC comment: The IPCC SREX Report showed intellectual courage, in terms of pulling back from previous conclusions about the attribution of extreme events.
Intellectual Empathy: Having a consciousness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, which requires the consciousness of our egocentric tendency to identify truth with our immediate perceptions of long-standing thought or belief. This trait correlates with the ability to reconstruct accurately the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than our own. This trait also correlates with the willingness to remember occasions when we were wrong in the past despite an intense conviction that we were right, and with the ability to imagine our being similarly deceived in a case-at-hand.
JC comment: The IPCC has a massive fail here, in terms of ignoring or misconstruing skeptical arguments.
Intellectual Integrity: Recognition of the need to be true to one’s own thinking; to be consistent in the intellectual standards one applies; to hold one’s self to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one’s antagonists; to practice what one advocates for others; and to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one’s own thought and action.
JC comment: As per the ClimateGate emails, the hockey team wasn’t paying much attention to this one. It seems that they are starting to pay some attention to this.
Intellectual Perseverance: Having a consciousness of the need to use intellectual insights and truths in spite of difficulties, obstacles, and frustrations; firm adherence to rational principles despite the irrational opposition of others; a sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time to achieve deeper understanding or insight.
JC comment: Superficially, it would seem that IPCC would score well in terms of perseverance, with its 5 assessment reports over the course of decades. However, there is a misguided sense in the assessment process that confusion and unsettled questions can be ‘settled’ at a high confidence level by expert judgement in a consensus seeking process.
Faith In Reason: Confidence that, in the long run, one’s own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason, by encouraging people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties; faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves, to form rational viewpoints, draw reasonable conclusions, think coherently and logically, persuade each other by reason and become reasonable persons, despite the deep-seated obstacles in the native character of the human mind and in society as we know it.
JC comment: The defenders of the IPCC that slag off on the ‘deniers’ are putting their own perception of the higher interests of humankind above reason. The combination of appealing to the IPCC consensus authority and the pejorative dismissal of ‘deniers’ is not consistent with giving the freest play to reason.
Fairmindedness: Having a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one’s own feelings or vested interests, or the feelings or vested interests of one’s friends, community or nation; implies adherence to intellectual standards without reference to one’s own advantage or the advantage of one’s group.
JC comment: Journal editors, grant program managers, and reviewers need to pay special attention to this one.
JC summary: Well these should be included on our list of New Year’s resolutions, we should remind ourselves of these traits at least once a year. And consider seriously at least once a year whether we are fooling ourselves.
Each of us as individual scientists struggles with these issues in our own scientific research, evaluating the research of others, and communicating with the public. Often it is expedient and rewarding (in the short term) to take short cuts on these. Individual shortcomings should get shaken out in the course of checks and balances of the scientific process.
However, when these shortcomings are institutionalized, then we have a substantial problem. It’s not just an issue of concern for the IPCC, for also for the professional societies and funding agencies.
I like this list, and will include it in our course for beginning graduate students on Introduction to Research and Ethics. Some of you might be interested in exploring the criticalthinking.org website, it is a rich resource that I want to dig further into.