Politics and the Changing Norms of Science

by Lucas Bergkamp

 “The politician is sometimes tempted to encroach on the normal territory of the scientific estate. In such issues the problem is less often whether politics will presume to dictate to science than it is how much politics is to be influenced by the new findings of science.”[1]

The climate change debate has exposed a deeper problem with our science and scientific knowledge. The problem is not that science is unable to answer all of our questions. Rather, the problem is that the body politic has come to see science as an instrument to pass on ‘hot potatoes,’ i.e. complex issues raising a large range of empirical questions and implicating important value judgments. Scientists have failed to point out the limits of science and to bounce the ball back to the politicians. In the market for ‘evidence’ for policy making, politicians demand arguments for their desired policies, which scientists supply in the form of research and reports. Their research, however, does little to resolve the policy issues faced by the body politic, and does not advance social progress. Climate science is the poster child of these developments.

Science has been able to respond to the political call, because the culture of science has changed. Under the influence of post-modern social science and the precautionary principle, the old proven social norms have faded away. They have been replaced by a new set of moldable beliefs, which accommodate scientific advocacy and activism for the social good. These new beliefs facilitated the rise of ‘victimhood’ culture and the social justice movement, which influence the nature of research and scientists. As a result, a body of new activist science has developed in entrenched environments shielded from criticism. In the field of climate change, scientists are assisted by a large group of ‘spin doctors.’ There are enormous vested interests in this body of new science. To dismantle these bastions of politicized science, a return to the traditional social norms of science is needed.

To avoid confusion, this essay does not discuss the content or substance of climate science.[2] Rather, the focus is on the political economy,[3] sociology,[4] and culture of science,[5] which provides insights relevant to understanding the external influences on the production of science: what are the imperatives driving research and scientists, and in what kind of environment does science come about.[6] I also look at how science assists policy makers. Incentives (social, moral, financial, etc.) and norms play a substantial role in this kind of analysis. The main issue here is how politics and culture have affected the norms of science; my explanation is multi-factorial and involves several inter-related, and each other reinforcing factors: the science-technology link, the rise of social sciences, science’s social norms, victimhood culture, and, importantly, the political use of science. A related question I attempt to answer is what climate science does for society and social progress (not what society can do for climate science). While the analysis is positive (descriptive-analytical), the conclusions set forth some recommendations on a way forward.

The Science-Technology Link

Science and technology have enabled societal progress and brought us the steam engine, antibiotics and computers.[7] The heydays of technological innovation, however, may be behind us; the rate of technological innovation has decreased and thus weakened economic growth. We may have reaped the “low hanging fruit” so any further progress might be increasingly difficult. As a result, major scientific and technological breakthroughs have become rare. At least, this is a common belief in economic circles.[8] But could there be something else going on?

Science’s expansion after WO-II was facilitated by the close relationship with technology and industry. There was a symbiosis between science, technology and industry; nuclear energy, for example, was the result of this symbiosis. In the end, science derived its legitimacy from its practical usefulness, although that use was not known in advance in the case of fundamental knowledge.[9]

Usefulness does not require technology in a narrow sense. Science can produce also knowledge that is useful to government, or indeed to the practice of science itself. If ‘technology’ is interpreted in a broad sense, the science-technology link serves as a way to ensure science is useful. Another way to increase science’s usefulness might be to tilt the balance between public and private funding.[10]

The Rise of Social Sciences

On the wings of the success of the natural sciences, the social sciences[11] prospered. By applying the scientific method to social problems, it was expected that society’s most difficult issues could be solved or at least alleviated.[12] Fields of study, such as social risk studies, science and technology studies and science communication, came to fruition. Other areas of social science that expanded significantly included anthropology, behavioral science, and social psychology. Unlike the natural sciences, however, the new social sciences were more prone to bias and ideology.[13]

Vague theories accommodated a diversity of perspectives, thus mandating further (inter)subjective interpretation.[14] Instead of prediction, ‘understanding’ was the objective. Understanding, however, cannot avoid the scientist’s own perspective. In social science, claims often cannot be tested against pre-established impersonal criteria consonant with observation.[15] Whether a claim is true or false might be a matter of the personal or social attributes of its proponent.[16] In social science, particularism does not preclude scientific claims.

Post-modern ways of understanding the world opened the door to explicitly ‘politicized’[17] science; the theory that what authorities claim as “scientific knowledge” is really just a means of social control, shed an entirely different light on the scientific enterprise, issuing an invitation to resort to science to all those who want to either apply or fight social control. By integrating ideology and subjectivity into the academy and science, these fields may also have exercised an influence on the biological and natural sciences.

The new social sciences had an explicit social agenda.[18] In itself, this may not be objectionable, but it created two main risks: the specter of academic activism disguised as science, and the risk of spill-over to the natural and biological sciences. Through disciplines such as cultural anthropology, the social sciences have pushed self-refuting concepts such as cognitive relativism[19] and moral relativism.[20] If their claims were true, science would have no special status, or even no point at all. Although these propositions never became part of the mainstream, they did have the effect of undermining the authority of science as a privileged social institution, and opened the door for new forms of ‘science’ that could claim equal validity. Indeed, the suggestion that the urgency of a social agenda, which itself is in part prompted by science, determines a need for supporting science became an acceptable vision.[21] The seeds for new activist science were sown, and there was no barrier to prevent its expanse to the biological and natural sciences.

To address these persistent issues, it has been argued that the social sciences should endorse the rational, rigorous, and empirical scientific method.[22] In the social sciences today, we are still governed by “superstition and fear fueled by ignorance.” To escape from these new Dark Ages, the sociologist “should put himself in the same state of mind as the physicist, chemist, or physiologist when he probes into a still unexplored region of the scientific domain.”[23] The question arises whether social science has a future as science, if it does not endorse the empirical method.

Despite these deficiencies, with the added social science disciplines, the scope and size of the industry of science grew rapidly to the point where universities have become more interested in their finances than in knowledge.[24] Universities have assumed the role of the main provider of information to government agencies and the body politic. As public funding increased, government was able to increase its influence on science; science had to serve it, rather than society. Political usefulness replaced practical usefulness. A strong link between science and technology remained visible only in a few fields, such as engineering.

New Science’s Social Norms and Advocacy

During the same period, science witnessed a development in the social norms governing the practice of science itself. While this development might be related to the growing influence of social science, it can also be evaluated as a separate, stand-alone issue.

In the postwar period, science was defined by strong social norms.[25] Science was regarded as communal, which meant that all scientists not only had access to all scientific data, but were also willing to collaborate with other scientists. It was generally accepted that scientific knowledge should be objective, universal and independent of personal opinion. Critically important was the norm that science had to be constantly open to criticism and debate. Scientists held beliefs only tentatively, based on the evolving theories and evidence, always subject to falsification.[26] Only through the open, fierce battle of theories and evidence science might find truth.[27] Scientists believed that they should be disinterested in the outcome of their research, and scientific institutions were always supposed to act for the benefit of the common scientific enterprise, rather than for the personal gain of scientists or the institution itself.

In our times, scientists no longer subscribe to and internalize these norms, at least not to the same extent.[28] There still is strong support for ‘communism’ as an academic norm. On the other hand, disinterestedness, defined as “personal detachment from truth claims,” is the least popular contemporary norm, as academics align their research interests with funding opportunities. Organized skepticism and openness to criticism have also come under serious pressure due to post-modern thinking that promotes “deconstruction,” “relativism,” and understands science as means of social control. An example of this trend is the issue of defining uncertainty in climate change science: “the mere occurrence of uncertainty talk is not interesting unless we can document and interpret its construction, representation, and/or translation. According to constructivist accounts, representations of uncertainty do not reflect an underlying ‘reality’ or a given ‘state of objective knowledge’ but are constructed in particular situations with certain effects.”[29] In this account, ‘reality’ and ‘objective knowledge’ are relative concepts that depend on individual perspectives.[30]

As the importance of disinterestedness declined, scientists have found it acceptable to start acting as issue advocates.[31] To justify advocacy, it was pointed out that scientists are also citizens, who should be free to engage in advocacy on the issues they study.[32] In some cases, such activism can go so far that scientists push for a particular ideological position without having any ability to understand the implications of their advocacy. In a Dutch climate court case, for example, scientists, using their academic titles and affiliations to enhance the authority and credibility of their statements, petitioned the Dutch government not to appeal,[33] although they could not read Dutch or knew Dutch tort and constitutional law, which were the key issues relevant to the decision whether to appeal.[34] These academics thought it appropriate to opine on issues far beyond the reach of their expertise,[35] using their academic titles and affiliations to give their petition undue authority and credibility, and as a science-based aura it does not deserve.[36]

Thus, science’s social norms have evolved, which has changed the conditions under which science is produced. Scientists have adopted a new set of social norms to replace the old norms of “universalism, communism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism.” It has been suggested that the contemporary social norms of science include “capitalism, particularism and interestedness.”[37] The evolution of science’s institutional imperatives have resulted in a new ethos of science, an ethos that allows for much greater subjectivity, social engagement and advocacy. Under this new ethos, as experience has shown, there is an increased risk of ‘activist science.’[38]

In the field of climate science, this new ethos is even able to accommodate the ‘denormalization’ of scientific debate, the silencing of dissenting opinions, and the stigmatization of skepticism. These deviations from the traditional scientific process are brought about by a combination of strategies and tactics: professionalization of climate scientists,[39] the use of artificially constructed scientific consensus,[40] a wide range of rhetorical devices,[41] intimidating language,[42] ‘bullying’ strategies,[43] political attacks,[44] and even civil and criminal litigation.[45] In implementation of an overall strategy to influence policy decisions and public opinion, climate scientists are assisted by flanking strategies that treat ‘consensus positions’ as dogma. These strategies include the deployment of ‘spin doctors’ that sell the dogma invoking urgency and doom scenarios,[46] while discrediting skeptics.[47] They include also the implementation of institutions that treat the findings of climate science as foregone conclusions, and, thus, engage in climate science awareness, communication, education, and ‘solutions.’[48] Few climate scientists have publically disapproved of these strategies and tactics. Fewer yet have insisted on open, free, and honest scientific debate, and disassociated themselves from those who do not subscribe to these norms.[49]

Reflecting a more general trend, scientists have deemed it acceptable to participate in climate activism groups that seek to manipulate public opinion with a “narrative that creates public outrage” and to deploy “multiple, complementary legal strategies” to solicit assistance from the machinery of law to go after companies.[50] Partisan scientists that are concerned about climate change serve as main drivers and instigators of such activism.[51] Needless to say, there is an issue as to whether an activist attitude is compatible with the open-minded, objective, impartial attitude required by scientific debate.

In short, the evolution of science’s social norms has raised concerns about the privileged status of science itself. Where value judgment or subjective beliefs are disguised as objective science, political debate and policy-making are distorted. As Merton has pointed out, “[t]he abuse of expert authority and the creation of pseudo-sciences are called into play when the structure of control exercised by qualified compeers is rendered ineffectual.”[52] Climate science may be a case in point.

Politics and New Science

In politics, as elsewhere, knowledge is power. Because knowledge is power, power is inclined to solicit support from science. Indeed, science can be a powerful argument in debate. Accordingly, politicians have realized that there is potential political gain in science, at least if it ostensibly provides the right ammunition. Since having science on one’s side in political discussions is a substantial advantage, politicians tend to measure science’s utility not by its objectivity and veracity, but by the policy-support it provides. Although they talk of science-based policy, they are often more interested in policy-based science.

As the ‘risk society’ unfolded, politicians saw themselves increasingly faced with risk issues.[53] Genetically modified organisms, chemicals, electromagnetic waves and greenhouse gas emissions were hot issues. Politicians were careful not to ‘shoot from the hip’ on these highly complex and politically explosive issues. With reference to the precautionary principle, which had been laid down in international treaties and legislation,[54] they passed on these ‘hot potatoes’ to science. The result was that science became involved with matters that are only in part scientific, and also involve a series of subjective choices, values, and social norms.[55]

Scientists had to figure out how these choices, norms and values could be considered and reflected in their studies and reports.[56] Given the nature of the issues, science could not provide an adequate response. As scientists started investigating and reporting on ever small, more remote, more uncertain, and more ‘long tail’ possible hazards or risks associated with industrialization and technology, the political demand for such science increased. A new ‘science of the objectively unknowable’ was born: a science that addresses possible hazards or risks in value-laden, ambiguous and epistemically and politically uncertain contexts. This new science leaves ample leeway for scientists’ subjective preferences to shape the science. The body politic does not mind, as long as it can use science to deflect and manage political risk. Hence, a conundrum arises: since science is controlled by politics,[57] it is the body politic that is in charge of solving this problem, but it has no incentive to do so.

Weakened by the new ethos of ‘capitalism, particularism and interestedness,’ scientists, instead of bouncing the ball back to the body politic, attempted, for better or worse, to deal with the implied values, ambiguity, and uncertainty. They did so by stating explicitly the assumptions, conditions, and parameters they used in developing a wide range of possible scenarios and models to answer the unanswerable questions posed to them. They also stated the unknowns, at least those unknowns that they knew of; all others were relegated to the ever expanding category of ‘unknown unknowns.’ Of course, these attempts had to fail. Even worse, they brought science in disrepute.[58]

In some areas, including climate science, science is at now risk of becoming an extension or peddler of the body politic or bureaucracy.[59] Science is recruited not to advance technological innovation, but to assess the potential or possible risks of both industrialization and new technologies, from bio- and nanotechnology to pesticides, electromagnetic waves, and greenhouse gas emissions. Like the problems it addresses, this new science tends to be imprecise, ambiguous, contingent, and uncertain. As such, it serves no useful purpose, except to enable politicians to launch a fight against industrialization or to restrict, if not, prevent the introduction of new technologies by invoking the precautionary principle.[60] As a result, new science, and maybe all of science, is at risk of losing its non-political, non-partisan status.

Academic Victimhood Culture

Further complicating the state of affairs, the problem of new science’s politicization is related to, as well as compounded by, the rise of a new culture, the ‘victimhood culture.’[61] Facilitated, if not actively promoted, by the rise of the social sciences, victimhood culture had made its way from US colleges to European universities. Closely related to the precautionary principle, victimhood culture instills beliefs in scientists’ minds that aggravate the crisis due to the demise of the ethos of traditional science. Consistent with post-modern textuality, a novel key belief is that spoken and written language determines the fate of the world (“as if there were nothing but texts”).[62] An important implication is that words can both hurt and do good. The proposition that words can hurt, however, comes dangerously close to the idea that knowledge can hurt; it would seem to be a small step from hurtful knowledge to “forbidden knowledge,” i.e. “knowledge considered too sensitive, dangerous, or taboo to produce.”[63]

The victimhood culture is visibly at work in the spreading adoption of academic policies regarding political correctness, racial and ethnic diversity, micro-aggression, inclusion, and ‘safe spaces.’[64] Due to such policies, academic debate and free speech have been seriously curtailed.[65]   Its effect is not necessarily limited to academic policies, however, but may also affects the practice of science itself. Science’s motto no longer is “dare to think” but “beware of thinking.” Instead of the open mind, the cautious mind prevails. Science’s lodestar no longer is human ingenuity, creativity, and the infinity of possibilities, but the vulnerability of people and the planet, and the urgent need for protection, precaution, and sustainable development.[66]

Victimhood culture is not an isolated phenomenon; it is part of a new social justice movement. Social justice involves the pursuit of a just society by challenging injustice, valuing diversity, and demanding a right to equal opportunities and outcomes, respect for human rights, and a fair allocation of resources.[67] Pursuant to the social justice imperative, top universities have declared that the use of free speech may reflect “the lack of sensitivity to others, the lack of consideration for the community, and the lack of responsible concern for the University as an institution,” and, as such, “seem to [b]e reprehensible.” Accordingly, it is “entirely appropriate” for a university “to attempt to persuade a group not to invite a speaker who may cause serious tension on campus.”[68] But why would this imperative apply only to invited speakers, and not to faculty members and research proposals? Victimhood culture rejects knowledge for reasons unrelated to its objectivity and veracity. As a logical culmination, claims are now made that science is racist, colonial, or imperialistic, and that it should be decolonialized: “[d]ecolonizing the science would mean doing away with it entirely and starting all over again to deal with how we respond to the environment and how we understand it.”[69]

Through its unavoidable effects on the mindset of scientists, this culture stifles the ability of science to advance innovation and technology, and move society forward. As Haidt has pointed out, the pursuit of social justice is incompatible with the pursuit of truth.[70] Although his argument is limited to education, the social justice movement is likely to exercise also a strong influence on research, as academics have broadly internalized (and in some cases actively promoted) its ideals. The new social justice-driven science might produce information relevant to political debate and policy-making, but does not necessarily improve the lives of the people. Scientists involved in the new science tend to “have no doubt of [their] premises, and want a certain result with all [their] heart,” and therefore “naturally sweep away all opposition.”[71] Once doom scenarios and grave injustice become the drivers, little is too extreme if it advances the good cause. Quite possibly, however, the kind of science that is aimed at saving the world and establishing a just society, is also less likely to deserve the label ‘science.’ In other words, victimhood culture works to inconspicuously make academies and research an extension of politics.

While the effects of victimhood culture are stronger in the social sciences and humanities, the natural and biological sciences, being constituencies of academic institutions, are by no means immune to this culture. Climate science, for example, has been made part of the vision for social justice; whether or not all climate scientists are happy about it, climate science has been tied to a climate justice movement.[72] Since climate change has been recognized as a global problem with grave environmental, social, economic, distributional, and political implications,[73] activists and the body politic have now firmly put climate science in the position of having to support policies to protect the threatened planet and the human, animal, and plant life on it.

The Disutility of New Science

Even disregarding the issues discussed in this essay (but maybe not independent of them), science is in dire straits. Bad incentives have caused bad science.[74] There are regular reports of scientific misconduct,[75] including “other-harming” misconduct that leads to “falsely negative conclusions about someone else’s work” through “biased quality assessment, smear, and officially condoning scientific misconduct.”[76] Deceitful tactics and abuse of the scientific process may involve appeal to emotion, personal (‘ad hominem’) attacks, mischaracterization of an argument, inappropriate generalization, misuse of facts, misuse of uncertainty, false authority, hidden value judgments, scientific misconduct, and science policy misconduct.[77] Unsurprisingly, according to several researchers, most published research findings are false.[78]

Scientists and institutions are exposed to a wide range of possible biases[79] that may distort research findings. Some common forms of bias include self-selection bias, recruiting bias, institutional bias, ‘group think’ or tunnel vision, funding bias, study design bias, cognitive or paradigm bias, modeling bias, peer review bias, publication (or outcome reporting) bias, citation bias, policy-support bias, ideological or confirmation bias, scientistic bias, and precautionary bias.[80] Systemic biases, such as funding and ideological bias, are particularly harmful, because they affect all research findings.

Due to politicization, science’s disutility increases further. By introducing bias at all levels, politicization causes a structural deficiency of the scientific process that affects all research. Consequently, the new science produces an endless stream of uncertain, ambiguous, and vague information about social issues such as immigration, poverty reduction, nanotechnology, and climate change, without ever moving closer to resolution or ‘the truth.’ For example, the science of the endocrine disruption is concerned with the identification of hardly measurable, possible long term effects of minuscule doses of chemicals on the human body. With severe overconfidence, climate science even tries to predict the state of the climate in the year 2100. But this information, even though it meets a political demand, does not bring us closer to solving problems for the benefit of society. To the contrary, the resulting ‘scientization’ of politics (or ‘scientized framings’ of policy issues[81]) may make it harder to reach a compromise.[82] Due to such distortions, science is “in deep trouble,” as an authoritative science scholar recently proclaimed: it “isn’t self-correcting, it is self-destructing.”[83]

Conclusions and Way Forward

In pursuit of precautionary policies, science has become an instrument used by politicians and agencies to arm themselves with powerful arguments in complex value-laden debates about often small, remote, multi-factorial possible hazards or risks. Scientists have let the politicians hijack the scientific enterprise. Capture of science by politicians (a phenomenon that I have elsewhere called ‘scientific capture’[84]) is accompanied by ‘regulatory capture’ of the policy process by activists and scientists.   Both policy makers and scientists exploit scientific uncertainty, which is ubiquitous, to avoid debate on the relation between science and politics, facts and values. Armed with science, politicians reap the added benefit of avoiding accountability for decisions. Under the guise of science, a new pseudo-science has developed that, to varying degrees, reflects values or even political, subjective opinion.[85] Climate science is the prime example of this troublesome development.

Paradoxically (‘uncertainty is certain’), the politicized new ‘science of the unknowable’ has purged out or marginalized doubt and skepticism, the hallmark of all science.[86] In lieu of serious debate, it has allowed a socially constructed dogma of scientific consensus to stifle further discussion necessary to advance the science. In science, truth might emerge only through the clash of diverging opinions. In climate science, to the contrary, debate has been ‘denormalized,’ skepticism stigmatized, and dissent squashed. Disinterestedness has been replaced by scientific advocacy or even activism. Activist climate science makes use of a series of strategies and tactics to influence public opinion and politics. Climate scientists, with a few notable exceptions, have not had the courage to oppose the abuse of science, and to demand science free from political ideology, debated on the basis of its scientific merits. They can no longer remain silent, however, because science itself has now come under siege.

Due to the current lack of effective mechanisms to protect against misleading science (whether politicized science,[87] activist science, pseudo-science,[88] junk science,[89] voodoo science,[90] or other forms of pathological science[91]), society has to actively manage the risk of being led astray by new science. As part of the remedy, science itself has to rehabilitate the proven, traditional social norms of universalism, communism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism. Scientists should reinstate ‘truth,’ not policy, as their principal.[92] To ensure its usefulness, science’s relationship with technology is to be reinvigorated, and private funding should be encouraged further.

In short, scientists should stop catering to the needs of politicians, so that science can again contribute to social progress. For their part, politicians need to respect the limits of science and refrain from dumping complex value-laden problems wholesale on science’s plate to avoid accountability. Scientists and politicians need to take their responsibility to society seriously, and live up to their raison d’etre.

If both parties honestly evaluate the current state of affairs and take appropriate action, science’s future may be bright. They will realize that a reformation is necessary. Given the strong vested interests and the political pressures that will likely be applied, courage will be necessary.[93] In the area of climate change, a reformed, probably substantially slimmed down, climate science with realistic ambitions may well be able to make a useful contribution to society.


Extensive EndNotes are in the attached file [end-notes]

Moderation note:  As with all guest posts, please keep your comments civil and relevant.

132 responses to “Politics and the Changing Norms of Science

  1. “Scientists have failed to point out the limits of science and to bounce the ball back to the politicians.”

    Had they given the politicians sound science in the first instance, there would have been no rapture.

    The best dissection I have read to date Lucas, bravo.

  2. An excellent, detailed analysis of the pathological relationship between politics and the various pretender ‘sciences’. The threat to freedom of speech is particularly sinister when the legislators rely on fraudulent, academic activist advice.

  3. Politicized science can be analyzed and fought against scientifically, which is better than just railing against an abstraction. Here is my approach:

    • Unfortunately your coauthor has long embodied what Bergkamp laments- the collapse of objectivity along with the disinterested tradition of scientific inquiry. It’s hard to take a critique of ‘buying science’ seriously if you make a career of purveying what one side wants to hear: the truth that sets me free is seldom heard on K-Street.

  4. The footnote links are not working.

  5. I would say that politicians expect and demand certainty and couched in overly simplistic sound bites. Risk they seem to tollerate to some extent, but uncertainty is unacceptible

  6. stevefitzpatrick

    Of course science has become politicized. Of course political advocacy stealth and explicit) is producing weak science and distorting what should be discussions mainly about values and priorities. Of course climate science is one of the most politicized sciences, and has the potential to do great social harm by avoiding the needed discussions about values and priorities, and distorting what discussions there are. I just don’t see any simple way to reform science that has become an extension of politics short of public defunding. Society has no need whatever for social ‘science’, political ‘science’, and it is impossible to justify public funding of those ‘sciences’. Continued public finding of fields of physical science which have devolved into production of little more than policy advocacy should be contingent those fields foreswearing policy advocacy. Defunding is the only path remaining to reform dysfunctional science.

    • Think of how many kids that could have college funded if we defunded all the social sciences.

  7. Excellent analysis.

    Where is reform going to come from? Our “learned” societies are part of the problem. Our next government is all about the technical elites using science to mold society to their liking.

    I find it difficult to be optimistic that the reform is coming.

    • MS, perhaps not short term. But the pushback on PC and junk science grows every year. The eventual failure both of ‘settled’ climate science and of the politicized climate solutions (COP21, renewables) is bound to cause massive reform eventually. Socialism or worse has always failed everywhere when governments run out of other people ‘s money. Happening in Venezuela right now. Happening with Obamacare right now. Just happened with Brexit despite Obama’s meddling. Happened at my alma mater (chasing me for really big contributions since years). I finally made it clear not one of the three schools was going to get another dime until the University got rid of Naomi Oreskes. That was after the shameful Scripps RICO nonsense she led in 2012.

  8. This is a preliminary survey of some of the factors which have brought climate science to its current perplexed situation. The idea is to “join the dots” to get the picture.
    In brief the “dots” include:
    * The post World War 2 decline of education at all levels.
    * The radicalisation of the environmental movement, “Environmentalism gone mad” as Alan Carlin described it.
    *The postwar development of Big Science funded by Big Government.
    * The rise of relatively uncritical “normal science” flagged, but not resisted, by T. S. Kuhn.
    * The long-term implications of the radicalisation of university students in the 1960s and ’70s.
    * The role of environmental entrepreneurs in the United Nations, the proliferation of climate relate organizations and the defective governance of the IPCC.
    *Finally the contribution of the economist Gordon Tullock to explain how certain motivational factors on the part of scientists and the institutional structure of science can combine to run down the quality of scientific publications.

  9. Very interesting, thank you Lucas.

    I don’t think you’ve managed to capture root cause though. The climate domain hosts the most easily visible model. Scientists (e.g. James Hansen and an army of others) have captured politicians as much as politicians (e.g. Al Gore and an army of others) have captured scientists. This is a mutually impelling marriage driven by emergent emotive narrative; the latter is root cause. In this sense it is not a new phenomenon, only in scope and flavor. However, having both the courage and the discipline to refuse the emotional imperatives, and also enact a separation, seems to be the reasonable conclusion you reach anyhow. Not at all easy for the individuals already immersed, and with enormous inertia in society now carrying so many along. As far as I recall, Donna LaFramboise thought correction could only come with a new generation of scientists, in the climate domain I presume, (sorry don’t have a link).

    • Steven Mosher

      Climate Skeptcism has a half life of about 10 years.. A new generation?

      To have a new generation you need a Fecund current generation. The current generation of skeptics is Sterile. No work of any substance has been forthcoming. Standing on the shoulders of impotent midgets is no way to build a movement.

      • Stepjhen Mosher,

        You have all this backwards. You are making baseless assertions. You are getting more and more like a religious fanatic as time goes on. You are using the language of the Deniers. You deny the relevant facts

        One of the most important facts you deny is that, without evidence that GHG emissions will do more harm than good there is no justification for mitigation policies.

      • Steven Mosher: “To have a new generation you need a Fecund current generation”

        Oh, we have Mosher, we have.

        I have both children and grandchildren.

        They are scientifically literate, and they are all AGW sceptics.

        Nor my offspring unique in that regard.

      • Stephen: Though not clear from my above comment, I’m not sure the implication is that any new generation would be built from skeptics. Rather with fresh blood having no strong framing from either current side (hence having less framing bias and so simply progressing the job better). At at a post-polarization date when the fierceness of the current debate has largely burnt itself out. Unfortunately I didn’t save a link, so can’t be sure.

      • Steven Mosher


        Self Study. Do some. the evidence you ask for is all over the place.
        I cannot change your diapers and spoon feed you..


        Its a metaphor DING DONG.

        basically there will be no “new generation” of scientists who overturn climate science. There is no “starting team” for team skeptic. there is no bench, there is no AAA league. there is barely a little league team

        There are old farts on blogs who havent done any interesting work
        Who will never do interesting work
        they have no dtudents
        their followers will all be gone or demented in a short while

        Your kids and grandkids will never do any climate science.
        they will never challenge modify overturn or improve a single bit of climate science.

      • “There are old farts on blogs who havent done any interesting work
        Who will never do interesting work
        they have no dtudents
        their followers will all be gone or demented in a short while”

        Heh! Speaking very much from personal experience I assume, Steven?

        Well, I suppose you should know, being reduced to posting semiliterate – often contradictory – snarky comments and personal insults on blogs!

        Speaking for myself, my (ongoing) career has been long, varied, interesting and moderately lucrative, and my offspring appear set to emulate it.

        As to “Your kids and grandkids will never do any climate science”, until the profession of climate “science” – of which, with a few notable exceptions – most practitioners appear to be making a fairly successful effort to emulate the Augean Stables is thoroughly detoxified by exposure to the Sun, I am heartily grateful for the fact, I have much higher expectations of them.

      • stevefitzpatrick

        Steve Mosher,
        Nic Lewis might not like being characterized as an impotent midget. But that aside, skeptics don’t have to do much of anything so long as GCMs project more warming than observed. The truth is: there will be no meaningful reductions in global CO2 emissions for at least a decade or two, if then. At some point, reality will impose its will on the models and the modelers, or they will become irrelevant.

      • Steven Mosher,

        Self Study. Do some. the evidence you ask for is all over the place.
        I cannot change your diapers and spoon feed you..

        It is you that needs to do the self study on the impacts and damage function. You continually make fact-free, derogation comments like this, but are unable to provide links to empirical evidence to calibrate the damage functions. You have frequently admitted that impacts of GHG AGW is not your area of interest (you’ve repeatedly shown you know nothing about the matter). You simply believe the dogma of the Alarmists. You are not appropriately skeptical.

      • Mosher
        Since virtually all funding for climate science comes from the state, and is thus precommitted to a finding of alarmism, your recommendation for a fecund scepticism is ….. ? Leagues of climate laymen should bone up in their spare time ?

  10. Excellent post Lucas.

    I need to go back to college. It would great entertainment tearing through the sensitive little darlings.

    Plus school is fun. Far more so than working.

  11. I would argue that science is a slave to technology. Take away our technology like electricity, chemistry or mechanized agriculture and science is reduced to thought problems.
    Does this analysis apply to other countries and cultures or are you wearing cultural blinders? Are Russians, Chinese, Israelis and Germans having this ‘problem’.
    My theory is that most of our anxiety stems from the relentless pace of technology that is overloading our capacity to assimilate change. It’s only going to be harder to cope as technology accelerates in the areas of genetics and neuro-science. The author is looking for scapegoats to blame..

    • “My theory is that most of our anxiety stems from the relentless pace of technology that is overloading our capacity to assimilate change.”

      I certainly have to disagree with this theory. In fact humans do adapt to changing situations and technology very quickly. Changing soil productivity, politics, and technology triggered huge rapid changes in both societies and individuals within them. People adapt. Some people may fear change and resent it when it happens but they adapt.

      As for the rate of change of technology, that has not been a problem. In fact, people seem to continually seek updates and improvements in technology. We all want access to the latest and greatest medical equipment, medication, and techniques and anxiously await cures for ever more ailments. People in developing nations see and want the benefits technology.

      Certainly there are aspects of technology that must be approached with caution. As you mention, genetics and neuro-science are areas that include issues that must be handled with caution. However, those two subjects are current hot button items but all forms of technology have had areas that needed caution. We deal with these issues constantly. Remember back early in the development of commercial nuclear power when a plan was presented to develop small nuclear reactors for use in every home? No? It was just one of those ideas that was run up the flag pole and nobody saluted.

      However, look around you today. How many of our young people are traumatized by the introduction of a new model of smart phone? How many people in developing nations are traumatized by cell phone access becoming available in their towns and villages? In fact, how many are traumatized by the arrival reliable electric power service?

      Sure technology is changing. Some of us old farts are not seeing all the changes as improvements over what we were expecting but we adapt, ignore, or fight them. But we realize that change happens. I don’t know about you but what anxiety I experience comes from the political arena, not technology.

      • From what I have been reading in the newspapers with all the STD problems we face, soon we will all need to get used to having sex with robots and the population bomb is going to be solved with us not having to do anything. Unlikly you say…

      • Hi Gary,
        Thanks for your insight.
        Let me add a few more technologies that might evolve faster than societies can adapt:
        Self-replicating nano-technology.
        Artificial Intelligence.

  12. The Social Sciences have been the vector for transformation
    and radicalization of our institutions. Antonio Gramsci, in the
    1930’s wrote the blueprint for the Marxist takeover of a
    society without revolution or coercion, a plan dependent upon
    the willing initiative of activists committed to using a “reversal
    strategy” designed to establish a “counter hegemony”— i.e.,
    an alternative dominant worldview — in opposition to the
    existing capitalist framework.

    Gramsci called for Marxists to spread their ideology in a
    stealthy and gradual manner, by infiltrating existing social
    institutions largely without being noticed in the popular
    mind. This was to be an evolutionary process that over
    decades would cause an ever-increasing number of people
    to embrace Marxist thought. Gramsci described this approach
    as a “long march through the institutions”.

    • The book I am always going on about puts it this way…

      Jude 1:4
      For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

      According to science it has no place in reality.

    • Curious George

      An astute observation. Once you declare a “Social Science” a Science, you are putting a falsehood in your foundations. “Let me assume that 1+1=3, and I’ll prove to you that witches fly on brooms.”

  13. “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

    In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.”

    President Eisnenhower’s Farewell Address.

    He never imagined all the money flowing into “social science” and the growth of university faculty as a major if not primary source of advisors to the government.

  14. The conclusions section of this is so extreme it made me wonder whether the whole thing is a Poe or not, They can no longer remain silent, however, because science itself has now come under siege. Oh, for the simple sword of truth to defend True Science against the ravening hordes!

    It’s therefore constructive to look at the references; it would take an age to look them all up, but one immediately stood out to me, [89]

    Referenced by Bergkamp to imply climate science is “Junk Science”, it is the book of that name by Dan Agin. The content is the polar opposite of Bergkamp’s implication and is forensically scathing of “sceptics”. Just a snippet to give a flavour: At the present time, in its anti-global warming stance, a stance based on twisted science, America is alone – and also the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions”

    With delicious irony, given the subject is “Politics and the Changing Norms of Science“ it appears that Bergkamp is egregiously guilty of violating one of the norms of science, namely not to misrepresent sources.

    Unless, of course it is actually a Poe and Judith has been had. One wonders.

    • 65 – The University of Chicago story was disputed by professors from the University of Chicago… pretty shallow analysis.

    • Steven Mosher

      “It’s therefore constructive to look at the references; it would take an age to look them all up, but one immediately stood out to me, [89]”

      Did the same thing. Found that the reference did not support the claim.

      I mean really.

  15. American’s fear of controlling government and value of personal freedom couldn’t be changed without first changing the education system and American understanding of history. That is a slow process. After 100 years, the results are easy to see. You won’t get science out of the political realm at this point, without first reducing the power of central government over your life and taking back personal responsibility for your actions. When government no longer subsidizes academia, industry, etc. the lines of those waiting with their hands out, willing to trade results for funding will dry up and true science will return.

    For anyone that hasn’t watched it, the Norman Dodd interview on his time as lead investigator for the Reece Commission looking at the Tax Exempt Foundations is a good place to start for an understanding of how education has been changed since the early 1900s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUYCBfmIcHM It’s a little boring and long (50+ minutes), but informative

  16. The politicization of science is actually a bit older. It started at the latest with Comte and became a bigger issue in the US at the end of the 19th century when the bureaucracy was increasingly seen as an instrument to scientifically ameliorate society. Eugenics became a big issue. Over in Europe Pareto and others inspired the fascist movement. All of which didn’t end well.

    My favorite sentence from a new Science article (“Identifying the policy space for climate loss and damage”) was “Risk and risk tolerance are socially constructed.” No comment needed.

    I see the real problem in the dichotomy of complex societies which are essentially composed of an interface with the physical environment (“the economy”) and a detached social sphere which is enabled by a high energy input to construct a kind of “reality simulation” which can work according to rules different from and even in contradiction to the physical world and which supports its own set of strategies to make a living. If the physical system isn’t able any more to supply the energy to keep this running the whole thing collapses. The bigwigs of the social part who control the political process simply have no sufficient idea of the reality has to be respected to thrive.

    No idea how to fix it. Empirically all kind of nutty schemes are (mostly) carried on until the bitter end. If you point people to obvious faults instead of being glad to be kept from producing even more damage you get attacked instead.

  17. Excellent post. I think there is a simple summary. Science got paid by politics via government grants to produce the ‘climate science’ it did. Wrong on sensitivity. Wrong on attribution. Wrong on tipping points. Wrong on polar bears. But useful for politicians with warmunist beliefs and watermelon agendas, themselves in the pockets of avowed leftists (Christina Figueres of UNFCCC), uneconomic renewables (Solyndra), and developing world beggars (Tuvalu).

  18. Interesting piece with a lot to think about. I am most concerned about the growing role/influence of “spin doctors” which seemingly seek to protect and speak on on behalf of science but effectively limit the scientific process by there defence of consensus or status quo. “Spin doctors” should be seen to range from media elites to your run of the mill meme poster on Facebook.

    Had such been significant, wouldn’t the savaging and silencing of Alfred Wegener by “spin doctors” have delayed the already prolonged eventual acceptance of continental drift? Was it “spin doctors” who kept eugenics so closely allied with evolution giving such advocacy the blessing of science?

  19. In pursuit of precautionary policies, science has become an instrument used by politicians and agencies to arm themselves with powerful arguments in complex value-laden debates about often small, remote, multi-factorial possible hazards or risks. Scientists have let the politicians hijack the scientific enterprise.

    In an article discussing the scientific method, it’s somewhat ironic to find an assertion like this that appears to have little actual supporting evidence. There is a vast difference between politicians utilising scientific results to drive their policy agendas and politicians directly influence the scientific results themselves. Yes, they can of course influence what is funded and what is not (but even this is only in a very broad sense) but I do not think that there is much evidence to suggest that politicians have hijacked the scientific enterprise.

    • but I do not think that there is much evidence to suggest that politicians have hijacked the scientific enterprise.

      Given the funding priorities and the text of the grant RFPs there is no evidence that they haven’t. Further there is a lot of evidence of hijacking by the bureaucracy. The EPA regularly goes fishing for studies to support planned activities. The NOAA and GISS also cheerlead for global warming but GISS had to be bribed with Stimulus money.

      Bribing the agencies to promote global warming is a pretty brazen political act..

    • try reading pedestals emails from wikileaks. Meddling from the very top of the political food chain

      • Judith,
        Some emails do not necessarily imply hijacking of the scientific process by politicians. I’m not suggesting everyone behaves as they should, but a suggestion that there is a significant hijacking of the whole process is without much support.

      • And that’s only half the story! Where are the republican emails? It’s like trying to read a book when someone ripped out half the pages!

        The House Oversight committee in an interim staff report, released on June 18, 2007:[18]
        At least eighty-eight Republican National Committee email accounts were granted to senior Bush administration officials, not “just a handful” as previously reported by the White House spokesperson Dana Perino in March 2007. Her estimate was later revised to “about fifty.” Officials with accounts included: Karl Rove, the President’s senior advisor; Andrew Card, the former White House Chief of Staff; Ken Mehlman, the former White House Director of Political Affairs; and many other officials in the Office of Political Affairs, the Office of Communications, and the Office of the Vice President.
        The RNC has 140,216 emails sent or received by Karl Rove. Over half of these emails (75,374) were sent to or received from individuals using official “.gov” email accounts. Other users of RNC email accounts include former Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor (66,018 emails) and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings (35,198 emails). These email accounts were used by White House officials for official purposes, such as communicating with federal agencies about federal appointments and policies.
        Of the 88 White House officials who received RNC email accounts, the RNC has preserved no emails for 51 officials.

      • No question that there is a lot of evidence (not to mention suspicions) of politicians (across the spectrum) meddling in the scientific process (and in damaging the reputations of scientists with inconvenient perspectives)

      • Politicians meddling is not the same as the entire process having been hijacked. I don’t dispute that politicians will meddle nor will I dispute that politicians (and activists) use science to try and support their policy preferences. What I dispute is that there is any real evidence to support that, in some substantive way, science has been hijacked by politicians.

      • The issue is policy relevant science. This does not appear to impact to any great extent fields like physics.

      • You don’t believe science was bribed? How much money is involved?
        Hi Jack, got the time…

      • What I dispute is that there is any real evidence to support that, in some substantive way, science has been hijacked by politicians.

        And as if on cue,

        Nature makes a political endorsement.

      • > You don’t believe science was bribed? How much money is involved?

        Dunno, Arch. What’s the present value of proven fossil fuel reserves?

        Did you have any other special pleadings?


        > The issue is policy relevant science. This does not appear to impact to any great extent fields like physics.

        Theoretical physicists don’t like grant money too, Dr. Curry? Show me a human being and I’ll show you evidence (not to mention suspicions!) of self-serving interest. Hardly any effort is required to make this argument — it’s about as profound as saying the sun will rise tomorrow. Look how easily I handled Arch’s crap just above.

      • @Brandonrgates… on physics, you miss the point that JC makes. Theoretical physics does not produce results that have any interesting political value. Hence there is no incentive for politicians to steer the science. There may be incentives of other sorts… like a big accelerator in one’s district would be a bonus. Modern science always has incentives to publish results maybe more interesting than real. But there is no incentive to skew the science.

      • > […] on physics, you miss the point that JC makes.

        You miss the point Dr. Curry (routinely) doesn’t make, John M: this would be a problem in *any* policy-relevant science and has been since there’s been science and policy. What matters is how correct (or how wrong) the science is, and what answers that is the science itself … not noting that there has all but surely been political influence on it.

        Or to put it less charitably, FUD isn’t a good proxy for determining what is true and what isn’t. Those who sling more FUD than actual product when they have the training, credentials and expertise to make the actual product might warrant additional *suspicion* … especially when that person mentions *suspicion* in the same sentence as *evidence* when it comes to supporting her argument.

        At least on the planet I’m from. YMMV.

      • “At least on the planet I’m from.”

        And which one would that be?

        That’s a genuine question, incidentally.

      • The planet where evidence talks and suspicion walks, catweazle666. You?

    • I disagree. As one particularly vivid example, when renowned hurricane expert Dr. Bill Grey refused to go along with then VP Al Gore’s global warming nonsense at a Gore hosted climate science conference, he lost all further federal funding for his world class hurricane research.
      As another example running the other way, the House Science committee under Lamar Smith investigated Geoge Mason’s warmunist Jagadish Shukla for misappropriation of NSF funding a story told by Steve McIntyre anongst others), then turned the clear findings over to the NSF IG for followup. Absolutely nothing has been done.
      Most of the political influence on ‘climate science’ is more subtle, and out of sight in research grantsmanship. Some isn’t, as in grants and subsidies for politically favored ‘sciency’ projects like Southern’s Kemper Mississippi CCS experiment costing twice as much per KW as Vogtle 3 and 4 nuclear, but deperately needed to support CPP. About $1 billion in taxpayer money essentially wasted on that one project alone.

      • I’m not surprised that you disagree. However none of your examples provide substantial evidence for politicians hijacking the scientific process.

      • The Shukla situation is worth following up on, not sure that is now officially being ignored.

      • About $1 billion in taxpayer money essentially wasted on that one project alone.


        The US got its money’s worth in learning curve. Now, whether that technology is really in the taxpayers’ interest buying learning curve…

      • Rud — I asked this previously — Have you seen any actual or estimated marginal cost numbers on Southern’s Clean Coal Project? I haven’t. Thanks.

      • SS, not sure what you mean by marginal cost here. Data: Kemper is lignite gasification using GE process, CCGT, then CC via the amine process (same as Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan), then S in old gas and oil fields. Cost is $9450/KWe. CCGT costs not more than 1500/KW. We can estimate from Logansport Indiana (also GE coal gasification) that gasification is ~$2000/KW (assuming no disfference lignite to bituminous–dunno). So Kemper CCS is ~$6000/KW. That fits with Boundary Dam, which is capturing 90% of only one of 4 units that is 1/5 the MW of Kemper using the same amine process, at a cost estimates by Roger Andrews of Energy Matters of >$5000/Kw. By comparison, Voglte 3 and 4 nuclear are coming in at ~$4800/KW for everything.
        We also know from Boundary Dam that the actual parasitic CCS load is 32% of that one unit; the original plan was ~22% per MIT TR. And through 8/16 this years availability has only been about 60% versus planned 85%. Apparently the amine process works fine for natural gas in a reducing environment, but not in an oxidizing flue gas environment. They have to shut down for maintenance more frequently than planned. SaskPower is a bit coy about 2016 over all– should not reflect horrible 2015 teething problems and 40% uptime. It reports a month of 100 uptime, then down for ‘scheduled maintenance’–but that is the new 60% overall uptime schedule. Actual from SaskPower by month: Down all of Feb2016, down all of May 2016 plus one week in June, down all of August 2016. 60% uptime.
        Bottom line, ‘marginally’ very expensive on many dimensions.

      • Marginal cost is the cost for the next unit of production. Keeper would have a curve showing a series of marginal cost values ranging from each state change from minimum dispatch through maximum output. I doubt Southern Company or Mississippi Power Company would share that curve, but it might not be that hard to guess. The marginal cost numbers should depend on the extra fuel (coal) cost, pollution abatement and maybe include extra stress/wear on the machines at higher operating points. One would not expect these numbers to be high even if the total fixed costs were to be astronomical.

        For a traditional pulverized coal plant the gas coal spread is such these days that gas in a CC is usually cheaper then coal in a traditional pulverized coal plant. When the capacity of a coal plant is needed, it would be dispatched but operation above minimum would mostly be displaced by CCs (but not CTs’) because gas CC units would have lower marginal costs. Producing synthetic gas and using though a combined cycle operation should put Kemper ahead of other coal units. It’s marginal cost relative to gas would depend on the spread between coal and gas prices. As gas prices climb Kemper may run all out. Ignoring fixed costs it could look very good. It depends what the discussion is about though, whether it makes sense to ignore fixed costs, as the figures for marginal costs do.

      • Rud — I was inquiring about marginal cost (e.g., dispatch cost) along the lines that Planning Engineer talked about.

        Coming better up to speed on the Kemper project, it now appears that the IGCC aspects of this project (coal gasification) will really not start happening until 2017.

        Probably the biggest disappointment of my engineering work has been the lack of accomplishment in efficiency goals with gasification. Always so high expectations with projects — and then much, much lower actual performance.

        Only time will tell if Kemper breaks this disappointing track record of expectations.

    • In the climate domain at least, it’s a mutual hijack. Scientists have been issuing ultimatums about the certainty of climate calamity to politicians for decades (and still are), since Hansen in 1988 and possibly before. Domain unknowledgeable politicians ultimately found it extremely hard to resist such emotionally and critically framed imperatives, so they passed the calamitous messaging on to the public, also passing science’s recommendations down the policy chain. This they did via their most senior figures (presidents and prime ministers), plus an army of lesser ranks too; in some countries (e.g. the UK) via all mainstream parties, in others via more asymmetrical support. It’s not a surprise that they have also worked to re-align large swathes of science itself, in order to maximize furtherance of those very same recommendations, of which one was essentially to pour money and priority into orthodox climate science activity, another to align to policy, because these were presented as helpful regarding understanding and mitigation and worst case predictions and so on. The politicians might be tempted to say in response to voices pointing out that such large-scale interference is essentially a harmful hi-jack (and some of it dubiously done too), that science itself instructed them in very clear terms what was needed, i.e all possible mobilization to save the planet. Mutually reinforcing social engines like this have their own inertia. No doubt many scientists are unhappy with the way things are going, yet their colleagues who have fallen prey to emotion and issued / issue the narratives of certain calamity, are as much part of the emergent problem as the politicians who likewise failed to resist the very same emotive narratives. The science of what may or may not be a major problem would likely have advanced a great deal faster if both scientists and politicians (and a great many others besides) had kept their heads. Yet that’s easy to say, and in a crowd not so easy to do.

      • AW, more like Kabuki theater than a mutual hijack.

      • Rud: Bizarre, ritualized, and sometimes scary. Well maybe that too, yes!

      • I agree that it is mutual, Andy, but there are several other major groups involved. First the green advocates who promote the scariest science, then the press that amplifies the scary message, followed by the public who react with concern, which the politicians then respond to, as is their duty. It is basically a science intensive social movement, with lots of internal synergies, so there is no simple cause (to the cause).

        Nor did it begin with the climate scare. That is just the latest and greatest scare, the big push. I have watched it since 1968, when this movement was already getting strong.

      • David: And I agree regarding those groups. Over time their amplification has pulled in more and more previously unconvinced (or neutral or young and starting out) scientists, because scientists are embedded within society not separate to it, plus in the end are just the same as everyone else in respect of emotive reactions and corresponding bias. Not to mention the policy wonks too, hence the emergence of funding bias as you’ve noted elsewhere. So up to a theoretical maximum (there are social forces that will arise in opposition), this makes the original problem progressively worse.


        What’s common to all such groups is (co-evolving) emotive narratives that have high selective value. Such selection often trumps veracity, as is observable throughout history. This is the cause, which results in an emergent social phenomenon having typical characteristics. The same mechanism sustains religions, for instance. The synergies manifest from co-evolution and cultural alliances.

  20. “To address these persistent issues, it has been argued that the social sciences should endorse the rational, rigorous, and empirical scientific method.”

    This would be akin to asking the social sciences to commit seppuku.
    I humbly offer my service as second.

  21. As long as we’re looking into the estimative possibility that the natural sciences have been contaminated by the activism, bias and ideology of the social sciences, are we talking something that is highly probable, highly likely or highly possible — as in a serious or great possibility — or, is there some other possibility?

    • Probability that all sciences are affected by the biases, agendas and other human foibles of its practitioners is 1, Wagathon. This is not exactly earth-shattering, and there is no other possiblity until we become, say, perfectly objective and unselfish robots or cease to exist altogether.

      That means you’re in luck. Pretty much any published conclusion you don’t like can be summarily dismissed because you can rightfully and correctly claim that its “findings” are contaminated by the fact that they were written by human beings. Nifty trick, innit.

      • brandonrgates,

        On the other hand, if can reproduce the results of a scientist’s physical experiments, to a degree satisfactory to you, you may agree with his findings.

        If somebody claims that CO2 is capable of increasing the temperature of an externally heated body, but can neither demonstrate the effect experimentally, or even propose a verifiable hypothesis, then I might choose to believe conventional experimentally supported physics.

        if my conclusions were supported by observations of the highest surface temperatures on Earth occurring in places with the least supposed GHGs, and even higher temperatures on the Moon with even less GHG’s, I would summarily dismiss claims of a GHE. And rightly so.

        I also dismiss claims of the luminiferous ether, phlogiston, caloric, and many other things, regardless of published conclusions assuring me that such things exist.

        Don’t you?

        If prestigious journals retract articles because they are just wrong (even after peer review, editorial scrutiny and all the rest), do you continue to believe the article?

        There are always gullible people who believe any old tat because some delusional scientist claimed it to be true. Just because “everyone knows” that CO2 has unique and magical heating powers, doesn’t mean it’s true, published paper or no.


      • > On the other hand, if can reproduce the results of a scientist’s physical experiments, to a degree satisfactory to you, you may agree with his findings.

        A car in every garage, chicken in every pot, and fully-equipped laboratory in every basement. A Large Hadron Collider if it’s a *really* big basement.

        Some of us are content to read the literature, Mike. Out of practical necessity.

        > If prestigious journals retract articles because they are just wrong (even after peer review, editorial scrutiny and all the rest), do you continue to believe the article?

        Obviously not. Everybody knows that science is self-correcting and that peer review is always right, except when it isn’t.

        The rest of your standard babble mercifully ignored.

      • The IPCC apparently is so confused it actually believes Western scientists of the Western government-education machine who try to dominate the discussion by claiming a 97% consensus of opinion concerning AGW theory. Amazing, ain’t it?

      • Oddly enough, 97% of Western scientists believe that the moon isn’t made out of green cheese, Waggy. Now NASA does Gorebull Warming. It’s a conspiracy I tell you.

  22. industry, thrift, intelligence and property vs reparations and social justice

    Such were the banners of Booker T Washington in late 19th & early 20th Century and the 1909 reprise of W.E.B. DuBois that fomented the NAACP and its varied manifestations of social justice derivatives of today.

    Now, lets step back for a moment to see where we are with regards to where activism has gotten us. Are we any closer to social justice today than before? especially when leadership states: there never will be social justice, ever! Being white is being racist.

    The vehemence and vitriol of the above statement is observed in the climate wars and the invoking of the Holocaust denial meme. Yet it is here and used regularly by leadership including POTUS Obama.

    I am afraid, like Julius Caesar in crossing the Rubicon, “the die has been cast” and a civil war, a war of attrition around issues of social justice has commenced. Indeed, as the French Revolutionary Robespierre became consumed by the flame of his own ignition, social justice institutions will go up in flames as well: Academic; Industrial; Governmental. Careers will move forward or backwards by the beliefs of social agencies and groups that are accountable to no one, irregardless of the merits or demerits of one’s productivity.

    There is no simple remedy to unhinge the social justice campaigners from the institutions needed to sound a clarion call and begin addressing issues instead of belief systems. The meme of social justice has become imbued within our culture now. It seems so many current ideologies have grasped upon these catchwords.

    It may mean that there will be few remaining scientists left after the embers die out to pick up pieces. Maybe, as a phoenix there will be an opportunity to develop a new paradigm, akin to the Scottish Enlightenment of the late 18th Century.

    After reading my own words, the above sounds just as doom and gloom as the CO2 activists. Yikes! Get a grip! I am reasonably upright and taking nourishment. I’ll start with that. Going forward: The sun is out on a cool crisp Autumn day. Time for a walk.

    • Yes RiHo08, walking’s a respite. Yesterday on a fallen tree
      by the river, a pair of Azure Kingfishers…

      Serf musings on the Happy Wanderer.

      • beththeserf

        How beautiful. How sincere. Tears whelm up in my eyes. Thank you.

        You have connected me to some literature I had not connected in the same way as you have done now.

        ‘The real home of man is not his house but the road. Life itself is a travel that has to be done by foot,’

        Out back is a lake I walk around. Out back is 57 acres of wetlands with a trail. Here and there nature comes and go, deer and ducks, geese and turkeys, other birds and ground rodents. Bees and insects swarm and busy in their industry. There is the occasional red fox sighting. But, most of all, the solitude to think and muse, to get my head on straight again. To walk and feel. To smile.

    • Sober thoughts indeed. Socialism IMO is mainly about redistribution of wealth in the interests of “fairness”, irrespective of the underlying reasons why people are so different from each other.

      It is easy it is to be pessimistic when it seems to be the prevailing mood around the globe in these times but isn’t this the result of the MSM’s emphasis on the negatives? – this sells more newspapers and gets more people to watch TV newscasts and the advertising that it entails.

      By all means take a walk, we all need to get closer to nature and appreciate the beauty to be found there, in all seasons. Have a couple of wines or whatever is ones favourite tipple with your partner or anyone else who happens to be around.

      IMO the loss of connection to the land that has occurred as a result of industrialism and the advent of large cities made possible by improved roads and infrastructure in the late 19th century has resulted in much alienation of people, which has been compounded by a decline in the family as the basis of their traditional values.

  23. Some scientists themselves hijacking the scientific process. Biased peer review, gate-keeping against inconvenient results, silencing, pseudo-papers. Not the politicians said that “the debate is over” and that “the science is settled” but our own room-mate colleagues in our own institutes. — And, sorry, is the skeptics community better? Are they offering a clear, complete and unquestionable set of evidence to politicians that AGW is wrong? Whereas the facts are at hand …

  24. Very interesting and informative piece, Professor Curry. Thank you for having the courage to publish it, in the full awareness that it will bring all the “usual subjects” out from under their noisome bridges to smear you, insult you and cast doubt on your intelligence and integrity.

    As a wise man once said, ‘they don’t like it up ’em!”

  25. Let’s face it: all SRES and RCP scenario’s are science fiction. For the first time in history the world’s policymakers are worrying about science fiction.

    • ” For the first time in history the world’s policymakers are worrying about science fiction.”

      The current situation concerning AGW is analogous to the period the USSR spent in thrall to Lysenko’s crackpot theories from approximately the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s, which caused untold damage to both the economy and the relevant academic studies as any researchers disagreeing were summarily executed. Stalin’s adherence to Lysenkoism did inestimable damage to the Soviet Union for almost half a century, and doubtless contributed to its ultimate downfall.

    • Curious George

      Science fiction? You are too generous.

    • In dutch we call the science fiction fantasies of Malthus and Ehrlich “doemdenken”, doom thought. It’s very destructive. Lysenkoism is different. The current climate doom thought is a “what if”, not a “what is”.

    • Steven Mosher


      the RCPs are designed to be sensitivity studies. fictional BY CONSTRUCTION ON PURPOSE

      Like asking… what happens to my product revenue if I

      set the price at 1 dollar, 2 dollars, 3 dollars,, etc etc


      • Fictional scenarios give you a fictional answer.

        The CO2 emissions and CO2 levels are already parting ways (emissions roughly RCP8.5, concentration roughly RCP4.5) so we know the scenarios are fictional.

      • Steven Mosher

        Sorry PA you are wrong.

        the RCPs represents WATTS.. not c02.


        What if we see 2.6watts? I dunno run the model
        What if we seee 8.5 Watts? I dunno run the model.

        Standard approach.

        What happens to your taxes nect year if I give you 2.6Million?
        How about 8.5 M?

        Thats the modelling question.


        How likely is either one of those?


      • Steven Mosher | October 25, 2016 at 8:15 pm |
        Sorry PA you are wrong.

        the RCPs represents WATTS.. not c02.

        Ummm. I am going to assume that you didn’t think before you wrote this.


        The only useful part of the RCP files are the trace gas concentrations. The trace gas forcings are the IPCC computing the forcing for people who are bad at math (or unaware of the supposed CO2 vs forcing relationship).

        If the IPCC forcing file doesn’t exactly correlate to their concentration file they are generating the forcing numbers by magic.

      • what part of RADIATIVE FORCING IN WATTS is confusing you

      • PA.. you should actually look at the files.

      • “Sigh”, you can lead a horse to water…

        CMIP5 Recommendation*:
        Global Annual Mean Mixing Ratios:

        The global annual mixing ratios are the only relevant information.

        The RCP8.5 file is:

        For information:
        Harmonised Emissions:
        Global Annual Mean Radiative Forcing:

        The Harmonised Emissions and Radiative Forcing files are commentarial and there for information only. The Emissions have no relationship to the concentration. Apparently the radiative forcing doesn’t either.

        The emissions and forcing are NOT the CMIP5 recommendation.

  26. Steven Mosher

    “In the postwar period, science was defined by strong social norms.[25] Science was regarded as communal, which meant that all scientists not only had access to all scientific data, but were also willing to collaborate with other scientists. It was generally accepted that scientific knowledge should be objective, universal and independent of personal opinion. Critically important was the norm that science had to be constantly open to criticism and debate. Scientists held beliefs only tentatively, based on the evolving theories and evidence, always subject to falsification.[26] Only through the open, fierce battle of theories and evidence science might find truth.[27] Scientists believed that they should be disinterested in the outcome of their research, and scientific institutions were always supposed to act for the benefit of the common scientific enterprise, rather than for the personal gain of scientists or the institution itself.”

    Science Fiction about some “golden age of Science”

    Question. I mean this is just basic freshman college research paper kind of stuff

    Claim 1. “”In the postwar period, science was defined by strong social norms.[25] Science was regarded as communal, which meant that all scientists not only had access to all scientific data, but were also willing to collaborate with other scientists.”

    Does the Citatation [25[ support the claim, that ALL scientists had access to ALL scientific data? Err, No the citation does not support the claim. The IDEA of sharing data openly can be traced back to the late 50’s. See the history of the ICSU-WDS. In short, there never has been universal access to all the data by all scientists, and this “history” of some golden age of science is mere fairy tale. Communal? One big happy family?
    Hmm. I like my facts about what “science” was like “after the war” in all their unvarnished glory. On Data and “working together”


    So we have this tale that there was some kind of mertonian Garden of eden and somebody somewhere bit an apple. Didnt Happen.

  27. Steven Mosher

    “As Merton has pointed out, “[t]he abuse of expert authority and the creation of pseudo-sciences are called into play when the structure of control exercised by qualified compeers is rendered ineffectual.”[52] Climate science may be a case in point.”

    Physics maybe a case in point.
    Biology may be a case in point
    Chemistry may be a case in point
    Unicorns may be a case in Point

    “may be a case in point”, is what we call a dog whistle. or worse. the author actually doesnt have a case to make, with evidence, or anything like that
    All he has to do is say “maybe a case in point”

    This wouldnt pass muster in Freshman Composition.

    I will tell you where we have a case in point.

    “Blog science”

    take Goddard as an example. or take Javier posting here.

    • Steven Mosher,

      The IPCC states that future climate states are not predictable.

      You deny this, but can’t actually provide facts to substantiate your denial. May I ask why you think future climate states can be predicted?

      Can you even define climate (apart from the obvious – the average of past weather)?

      Are you hiding some secret predictive ability?


      • Steven Mosher

        “The IPCC states that future climate states are not predictable.”

        Flim Flamm Flynn mispresents a quote from the TAR?

        the TAR?

        really flim flammer

        But yes, As the IPCC argued ( since you use them as an authority) we can only know the probablity distrubution… Not a POINT PREDICTION

        That’s hardly news to anyone but you

      • Steven Mosher,

        Deny, divert, confuse.

        The probability of something as simple as the next flip of a coin is 0.5 – 50%.

        Accurate, but useless.

        You complain that when the consensus said that predicting future climate states was not possible, they were mistaken. So they were wrong, but they are to be believed now! Really?

        Latest lot of weasel words (after realising they’d inadvertently shot themselves in the foot, so to speak) –

        “A dynamical system such as the climate system, governed by nonlinear deterministic equations (see Nonlinearity), may exhibit erratic or chaotic behaviour in the sense that very small changes in the initial state of the system in time lead to large and apparently unpredictable changes in its temporal evolution. Such chaotic behaviour may limit the predictability of nonlinear dynamical systems.”

        In other words, we haven’t a clue, really, but we’re certainly not going to admit it! We haven’t the faintest notion of the initial state of the system, but we’ll hope nobody brings it up.

        Are you saying that the IPCC has changed its science, and now believes the climate is predictable, or are they only pretending, to keep the money flowing?

        Sorry Steven, you haven’t managed to advance your case. Climatology provides nothing from their toy models that performs any better than a naive persistence prediction from a 12 year old child with 30 minutes instruction from myself.

        No GHE, no predictive ability – nothing of use at all. Maybe you can point out a single instance (hopefully many more, considering the funds this farce has sucked out of the taxpayers’ pockets) where climatology has provided something of benefit to the population at large, which was previously lacking.

        Only joking, of course. You’ve got nothing but hope, and all the hope in the world plus $5 will probably buy you a cup of coffee somewhere.


      • Mike: You frequently claim that there is no evidence for the greenhouse effect. The case of planet Mars is an example, it is both measured and calculated. Its atmosphere consists of about 96% CO2. Outgoing LW radiation 110 W/m2, surface upward LW radiation 123 W/m2, their difference (called GHE) = 13 W/m2. Back-radiation (LW emitted by atmosphere to the surface) = 29 W/m2, LW emitted by atmosphere to space = 20 W/m2, LW absorbed by the CO2-atmosphere: 33 W/m2, “atmospheric window” radiation = 90 W/m2. Radiative transfer computations had presented these numbers long before the detailed observations. You can find the Martian “Trenberth”-diagram, taken from a recent publication, in my website at the Results section:


      • Miklós Zágoni,

        It’s even easier than that. There is no GHE. Whether on Earth, or anywhere else.

        CO2 provides no heat. The GHE enthusiasts don’t even have a falsifiable hypothesis, let alone experimental support!

        Creating sciency new words like “back radiation” and all the rest, or producing impossible brightly coloured nonsense cartoons, is not science.

        You may well be enthusiastic, but you’ve been misled.

        If you can come up with a falsifiable hypothesis, or even a repeatable experiment showing an increase in temperature caused by a reduction in available energy (needed for the GHE), I would change my thinking in a flash.

        Nobody else has ever managed such an impossible thing. You may be the first.


  28. Hillary lashes out at Matt Lauer with profanity-laced tirade. Although it’s a YouTube, it doesn’t actually show the “profanity laced tirade.” But it’s interesting.

  29. Science can influence policy? I hope so.

    Policy can influence science? Yes

    Scientists can be bought? Some can.

    Democrats have more power to buy scientists than Republicans? Nah !

    • Please let it be “good” science. Policy shouldn’t influence true science should it? Does everyone has a price? Not everyone – agreed. Your thoughts on Democrats and Republicans are noted as a non American and respected.

    • Max1ok
      There is a built-in bias that effectively does effectively favour democrats. Democrtats lean to a more totalitarian (statist) approach, as do state (in the broad sense) employees in general. And state funding agencies naturally favour those scientists and projects that best serve the state’s interest, which in the case of climate science means that espouse the CAGW ‘consensus’

  30. Mother Nature does not do politics.

  31. > Scientists have failed to point out the limits of science and to bounce the ball back to the politicians.


    The “Science Always Falsifies” Pitfall

    The dominant paradigm in science is to administer replicable experiments that test, or “falsify”, existing hypotheses. If the test fails, the hypothesis is rejected. Sociologists of science have long pointed out the deep flaws in the exclusive use of falsification as a test of “truth.” Objective science based on collecting frequency information from observations, is indeed a good and necessary part of transforming speculative ideas into better hypotheses, but it is applicable only under very limited conditions. For starters, only past or present systems are observable. Falsification based on observation requires that an infinite set of replicable experiments be performed — an unobtainable abstraction in many important applications, like climate change. Futhermore, obtaining frequency data on future events is impossible before the fact. Some die-hard frequentists deliberately avoid problems built on the subjectivity of climate change projections based on the non-falsifiablility of future events. I was told in 1985 by a senior member of the atmospheric science community at a National Research Council assessment on “nuclear winter” that I was “irresponsible” for working on post-war climate change at all since it couldn’t be “falsified.” Before I could shut my dropped jaw to rebut, a social geographer delivered an eloquent oration, saying that it is a scientist who lets a professional paradigm impede him or her from helping society anticipate problems who is irresponsible, not the scientist trying to peer into the shadowy future with the best available knowledge. He also correctly noted that while such projections use subjective rather than objective science, they are still very important expert judgments.

    ~Stephen Schneider

    > Their research, however, does little to resolve the policy issues faced by the body politic, and does not advance social progress.

    Gee Lucas, thank you for telling this member of the body politic what his dogma should be. I don’t know if I could have done it without your assistance.

  32. Bias on impacts of GHG emissions

    SCC Calculations In addition to such procedural problems with the use of the SCC in federal policy, there are deeper conceptual concerns. The average layperson may have the belief that the SCC is an empirical fact of nature that scientists in white lab coats measure with their equipment. However, in reality the SCC is a malleable concept that is entirely driven by analysts’ (largely arbitrary) initial assumptions. The estimated SCC can be quite large, small, or even negative— the latter meaning that greenhouse gas emissions should arguably be subsidized because they benefit humanity—depending on defensible adjustments of the inputs to the analysis.

    But the possibility of such negative SCC values is rarely, if ever, reported. A recent study assessed the scientific literature on the SCC and determined that there exists a large and significant publication bias toward reporting only those results that indicated a positive SCC.4 The authors calculated that the selection bias resulted in a three- to four-times overestimate of the mean SCC value in the current mainstream economics literature. Such selective reporting of results can build upon itself to further enhance the biases in the literature, for example when future studies are developed from extant findings.


  33. Pingback: A”la ciencia” ya no le queda mucha vergüenza | PlazaMoyua.com

  34. Ingvar Warnoltz

    When an issue becomes political and money is involved, all common sense ceases to exist. It does not matter whether we are dealing with fact or fiction (read scientific hypothesis).

    • This is one more reason why people who believe God, shy away from science fiction.

      • Human nature is unusual, we all want to drive the fast car but very few of us take the time to read and understand the owners manual.

      • > Human nature is unusual, we all want to drive the fast car but very few of us take the time to read and understand the owners manual.

        I couldn’t have said that any better myself, Arch. I wholeheartedly agree with it.

    • On the other hand, the political system is the decision making system of democracy. Not something to be despised, unless you think you are that much smarter than everyone else.

  35. The worst case RCP8.5 (a variant of SRES A2!) is framed as the business as usual scenario. It’s a very unlikely pessimistic painting of a global Britain of the nineteenth century: heavily polluted, overcrowded and poor.

  36. Ingvar Warnoltz

    What surprises me is that so much talk can emanate from nothing. That is another issue. But we must ask the following question to all climate change warriors:
    If we say that the presence of water on earth, as solid, liquid and vapor, equals 1, then who or what may the edict that a% of that must be solid, b% must be liquid, c% must be vapor and d% must be groundwater?

    Don’t ask any politicians, because they don’t know. It comes back to the scientists who may be activists and feed everyone with unsolicited, unaccountable data. The average dolt, like myself, don’t want to be lied to.

    The taxpayer end up paying for the research and questionable ‘renewable’ equipment to generate electricity, and they suffer. I believe that there is possible some global warming is around, but linking it to CO2 is ludicrous. Has any scientist been in a sauna lately?

    The scary part from my end is that no scientist has ever told us the individual greenhouse gases, their ppm and the limitation for the report. Some of the ‘dangerous and man-made’ greenhouse gases include water vapor and ozone.

    We did ban CFC because of the damage to the ozone layer (political decision), but we also boil water to make water vapor. Something’s got to be done!

  37. Any fool can appoint themselves a “scientist”. It’s obvious that many do. Education doesn’t necessarily lead to scientific advances. Just repetition of accepted wisdom.

    As a matter of interest, a few publishers admit to profits (profits, not turnover) in the tens of billions of dollars per annum.

    I assume that publishing fees are the smallest component of the research funding.

    So is it unreasonable to guess that Government research funding in total is in the hundreds of billions of dollars? Nobody has yet demonstrated that giving people more money increases their intelligence, or even augments their ability to think what hasn’t really been thought before.

    Judging from the number of retractions in prestigious journals, much research is either incompetent, fudged, fraudulent, or purely nonsensical. And theses are only the ones that are so egregiously bad that even the editors, peer reviewers and authors have no choice but to acknowledge their faults.

    Why doesn’t the Government just offer rewards for achievements – completed, and ready to go, if possible?

    It worked in the past – the marine chronometer, the six shooter, and many other things. Wasting Government money during wars is fine. If you lose, you may be worse off! Waste away – you might back a winner!

    From time to time, the winds of change blow ferociously – chaos at work?

    Cultural revolutions, killing fields, persecution of academics of all stamps. If your life is so miserable that you feel you have nothing to lose, the privileged inhabitants of the ivory towers best gird their loins, and bolt.

    “But it won’t happen to me. I’m far too important, knowledgable, well respected, or whatever . . .”

    Yeah. Right.


  38. Pingback: Politics and the Changing Norms of Science - Principia Scientific International

  39. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #246 | Watts Up With That?

  40. “scientists should stop catering to the needs of politicians”

    Simply not possible while the political structure holds the purse strings.

  41. Pingback: Science in Trouble | wryheat

  42. Pingback: Politics and the Changing Norms of Science — Climate Etc. | theBREAD

  43. Pingback: Great read about: Politics and the Changing Norms of Science — Climate Etc. | The musings of a legal schnauzer

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  45. Fantastic essay! I recently had to write an essay for Uni about whether scientific funding is justified for blue-skies research and basically discussed capitalism and politics and the control and manipulation is exerts on science! Wish I’d seen this before writing it, would have given me a lot of inspiration!!