by Judith Curry
As the issue of bias in climate science heats up, Christopher Essex has written the best defense of freedom of scientific enquiry that I’ve seen emerge from the Grijalva inquisition.
Essex’s article was published by Breitbart, entitled Climate Science Doubts: Not Because of Payment, but Because the Science is Bad. Excerpts:
Accusing scientists of venal motives when they raise questions about climate has come to be what passes for scientific debate. Al Gore recently renewed calls for climate deniers (as they are pejoratively called by the dogmatists) to be punished. This follows brazen political-style attacks on scientists because of their views on climate. In particular there has been an aggressive assault questioning our ethics, morality, competence, and even sanity. It has been amazingly coordinated, coming simultaneously from a number of fronts: activists, Congress, Hollywood, and even some psychologists.
This entire assault could not be more anti-scientific. The protagonists are political interlopers in science who do not understand or respect the nature of scientific truths and how they are discovered, let alone how they are justified. One of the greatest lessons from the history of science is that humans don’t only get things wrong, but they stubbornly hang on to the stupidest of ideas to the bitter end. I do not absolve myself from this; it is my legacy as much as yours.
What the dogmatists understand well is eristic argument, after Eris the Greek goddess of discord and chaos. Eristic tactics come to us from the ancient Greek sophists.As the goddess’s qualities suggest, they are inherently divisive. The objective is victory, not truth. This is foreign to the training and personalities of most scientists. I, like other scientists, go into debates with a collegial attitude, tolerant of contrary thinking, no matter how wrong it may seem. Freely doubt the ideas; respect the people. When confronted with eristic tactics though, which are often absurd, aggressive, and deeply irrational, we are left gobsmacked. Like any other humans, scientists can speak the language of political nonsense, but they speak it badly. Their famous political naivety makes them easy prey for any political operative. And so we loose against eristic tactics, even when we know they are coming.
The followers of Eris see opposition in terms of a struggle for power, while scientists see opposition as a means for testing thinking. For scientists, opposition is a feature not a bug. Authorities can proudly convince themselves to be absurdly wrong, until some brave souls stand up to them.
It does not mean that experts are always even mostly wrong. It only means that when humanity does take a step ahead, that step naturally concerns something that prideful experts didn’t know before. Over the generations, this lesson has been gradually absorbed into the scientific world. The heretics and crackpots might just be right, and so there is an awareness (even if grudging) that tolerance of what seems wrong is essential—the scientific version of free speech. It is probably no accident that scientific advances tend to be made in the freest environments. Scientists must ask critical questions of each other about their works to move us all ahead. It’s their job. Opposition is necessary, but only opposition with a presumption of good will, where all agree that the objective is truth, not crushing your enemies.
The fields and methodologies of climate science are a disjointed collection that few have anything approaching a universal command of, let alone a universal command from which to form a knowledgable consensus. The shared vision of this collection of fields, as they stand, has simply not been academic for the most part. Its identity is inextricably bound to the climate fervor itself, which is created and fanned by politicians and media through relentless promotion, torrents of funding, and the punishing of nonconforming scientists. It is unclear what defines climate science as a whole academically, let alone what climate is in and of itself. No, we don’t even have a coherent, physically based, definition for climate, let alone climate change. That is not because we can’t recognize change, but we do not know what parts of the endless, ongoing ubiquitous change actually count. This is as deep a problem as there is in modern science. All we have are ad hoc definitions guarded from scientific criticism by ignorant followers of Eris. Those followers call this settled science.
The dogmatists and followers of Eris have destroyed the collegial atmosphere among scientists, and they push for scientists on the wrong side of their dogma to be treated as enemies of the state, as we have all recently witnessed. Science, as a whole, has been damaged by them. Because of them, climate science remains frozen and deeply flawed with no way to grow up, despite avalanches of funding thrown at it. Money is not enough. Academic freedom sometimes seems like a gratuitous anachronism, but climate science is the very thing it was made for. Fortunately, some academic organizations, such as the American Meteorological Society and the University of Delaware, have taken a principled position on this. But others seem to have wilted. Modern universities and academic institutions are not as independent as we would like to believe. They live on grants and government funding.
There is no justification for acting like vicious badgers toward scientists. The response of some GWPF scientists to the climate orthodoxy shows that scientists do not need to be paid to have reason to question the climate orthodoxy. Its positions are scientifically very weak, not strong, and it is the dogmatists that are responsible for that weakness. If they want to employ the credibility of science to support their agendas, they must learn to treat scientists holding contrary views in a credible manner. Such scientists have an important and respected role to play in advancing science. Dogmatists, of course, don’t easily change, so this stalemate may well continue until intelligent laymen have had enough and push them off the stage. Meanwhile, we are still here, and we are not going anywhere.
The statements that I find particularly insightful are bolded. I regard this essay as particularly important as the Grijalvi/Markey inquisitions are heating up (I say ‘heating up’ measured by the number of interview requests I am getting on this.)
In my Pollyanish way, I am hoping for some good to come of all this, e.g. respect and even support for scientific opposition to the ‘consensus’ on climate change. Or at least don’t harass us. As I’ve stated many times, I regard the root of this problem to be treating climate change as a ‘tame problem’, with a negotiated consensus (through the IPCC) speaking to power (mitigation policies). This is a failed strategy; not only is it ill suited to the complex, wicked problem of climate change, but it is destroying climate science in the process.
Kudos to Christopher Essex for his excellent essay.