by Judith Curry
This report outlines the main positions and debates surrounding the literally hot topic of man-made global warming. Inspired by social studies of science and technology, the goal of the report is to document, describe and take stock of this potent scientific and public ‘battlefield’ that plays out arguably some of the more pressing issues of our time. – Emil Royrvik
SINTEF has published a report entitled Consensus and Controversy. This report seems to me to be unbiased, which is why I am highlighting it on Climate Etc. And SINTEF seems a somewhat surprising sponsor for a report like this.
From SINTEF’s web page:
SINTEF is the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia. We create value through knowledge generation, research and innovation, and develop technological solutions that are brought into practical use.
SINTEF is a broadly based, multidisciplinary research concern that possesses international top-level expertise in technology, medicine and the social sciences, and our aim is to become the most renowned contract research institution in Europe.
SINTEF is an independent, non-commercial organisation.
From their page on Environment and Climate:
Although Norway is one of the smallest country in Europe in terms of population, we are among the world’s leading exporters of energy, and SINTEF is one of Europe’s most important research and educational centres in the field of environmentally friendly technology.
Most of the areas of environmental research in which we operate are climate-related, and tackle the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is the field that we are profiling on these web-pages.
With regards to the author of the report, Emil Royrvik’s list of publications can be found [here].
From the Table of Contents:
1. Introduction 1.1 The four myths of climate change 1.2 Scope and definitions 1.3 Notes on the philosophy of science
2. Consensus perspectives in science and the public) 2.1 Consensus repertoires 2.2 Critique of the consensus studies
3. Hot debates 3.1 “The hockey stick” 3.2 The measure of measuring: A note on temperature constructions 3.3 “Climategate”
4. Contrarian perspectives in science (and the public) 4.1 Surveys and petitions of dissenting and contrarian positions
Excerpts from the conclusions section of the report:
To illustrate the way that scientific, political and ethical concerns are mixed in the debate on Anthropogenic Global Warming this report used the by now famous quote from Gro Harlem Brundtland, that ”doubt has been eliminated”, and that it is ”irresponsible, reckless and deeply immoral to question the seriousness of the situation” as a point of departure.
The goal of the report was to enter this debate and “battlefield” of arguments and take stock of the debate about anthropogenic (man-made) global warming. Based on the present review of this debate there are several conclusions to be drawn. The first and simplest one is that considered as an empirical statement, the assertion that “doubt has been eliminated” on AGW is plainly false. Although as documented the level of agreement in the scientific literature that AGW is occurring is quite extensive, the magnitude of dissent, questioning and contrarian perspectives and positions in both scientific discourse and public opinion on the question of AGW evidently contradicts such a proclamation.
The second conclusion is that the scientific debate may be considered healthy. The levels and types of disagreement crosscuts most camps and categorizations, so that a presentation of two-sided war with a 97-98 % majority consensus and 2-3 % group of sceptics and “deniers” is flawed. At the level of scientific exchange, there is in the climate sciences an ongoing discussion and organized critique that seems to a large extent (with arguably some major exceptions as highlighted in the “climategate” affair) to be working as “normal science” should. The allegation that the science of AGW is settled to such a degree and cohesion that the debate can be closed, contradicts the findings in this report. There are multiple on-going debates and questioning, also in mainstream scientific outlets, even on such fundamental issues as whether the greenhouse warming effect is a reality or a fiction; if it is scientifically meaningful at all to talk about a global temperature; if the significant warming that seems to have happened since the Little Ice Age in the perspective of longer timescales can be considered extraordinary; the significance of other sources, such as the sun, on climate change; if warming means better or worse conditions on earth; and the extent to which man contributes to the changing climate of earth.
The scientific debate has not yet been “black boxed” in the case of AGW, and the case illustrates a general argument made that the more “upstream” into the specific details of the diverse topics scientists dive, the more technical and controversial the issues become. It is not uncommon to seek to close scientific debates prematurely, but although seemingly substantial efforts are being made to do so in the case of AGW, they have not fully succeeded. We might add, in light of the findings in this report the scientific debate should (and most likely will) continue on its own terms, unhampered to the extent possible by ideological constraints.
Thirdly, we see that the normativity in the Brundtland statement has several problems when interpreted as a general statement about the practices, authority and truth claims of science in the context of science. In this context the form of dogmatism expressed by Brundtland, even explicitly asserting that raising further critical questions is immoral, is itself unscientific and contrary to the norms of the scientific institution from which she lends her authority in this case. Such a position then rather seems to represent a form of quasi-religious faith in science .
The general questions about the justification and legitimacy of the authority of types of perspectives and positions have received massive attention in philosophical and epistemological discourse, and they have no easy answers, yet Brundtland’s and other similar statements, carries with it an inherent contradiction that undermines its legitimacy. If, as we have shown earlier, science is defined epistemologically as fallible and as a practice “that embodies norms of doubt and self-criticism, the belief in Science cannot be too dogmatic and too hostile towards criticism raised against it without becoming unscientific”. This problem is undoubtedly something we can observe in the quote from Brundtland, and as shown in the case of “climategate” and other examples used in this report, it also arguably applies to some extent to parts of climate science more in general.
Indeed, the Norwegian Research Ethics Committee for Science and Technology (NENT) processed a complaint about Brundtland’s speech in 2009, and gave an answer including these comments: “Traditional academic norms allow and encourage doubt and critical questions. Doubt may in such contexts be well or ill founded, but not irresponsible and immoral by itself”. NENT concluded that Brundtland’s speech differed from “accepted language use in scientific contexts” , implying that they violated the ethos of science.
As a response to this critique one might argue that Brundtland not at all was representing the voice of science, participated in the context of science, or was trying to be a philosopher of science, but rather communicated as a concerned citizen and public official that sought to spur the public to action based on the precautionary principle and broader beliefs (not only based in scientific beliefs) about the looming dangers of global warming. Based on all the diverse experience of Brundtland, this caveat is not entirely unlikely. Nevertheless, her statement, and the similar voices of the “consensus camp”, to the extent that they solely rely upon, represent or construct more or less dogmatic or relatively “undoubtful” truth claims adopted or adapted from IPCC and other science based institutions, they are simultaneously undermining the authority and legitimacy of their broader concerns by expressing this unscientific faith in Science (with capital S as the one and only Truth).
By insisting on scientific consensus and the “elimination of doubt”, seeking to declare the science of AGW settled once and for all, and imbuing this putative settlement with highly normative and pejorative allegations (to question is “irresponsible, reckless and immoral”), the consensus approach clings to being (solely) “science-based”, but its position is at the same time implicitly in direct opposition to the ethos of “normal science”. It is not supported, justified or endorsed by science in its canonical expression, where science, based on thinkers such as Kant, Popper, Merton and Polanyi is seen to be constituted on continued discussion, open criticism, antidogmatism, (self)critical mindset, methodological doubt, and the organization of scepticism.
In open societies where both scientists and the general public are equipped with critical skills and the tools of inquiry, not least enabled by the information revolution provided through the Internet, the ethos of science as open, questioning, critical and anti-dogmatic should and can be defended also by the public at large. Efforts to make people bow uncritically to the authority of a dogmatic representation of Science, seems largely to produce ridicule, opposition and inaction, and ultimately undermines the legitimacy and role of both science and politics in open democracies.
JC comments: Although I find some of the choices and characterizations of the contrarian arguments to be unfortunate, I think there is some wisdom in this analysis. The analysis was not kind to the overly staunch defenders of the consensus. I find the final bolded paragraph to be very well said. And I am impressed by the objectivity of this analysis. I look forward to your comments.