PNS – Pretty Nonsensical Stuff

I’ve been thinking about the Lisbon Postnormal Workshop on Reconciliation, which you can read about at Rabett, Climate Progress, Tamino and Deep Climate. What is the whole PNS project? It claims to be about providing a new “science” for post-normal times — one that includes an extended peer community and extended “facts”.

PNS claims that a new science is needed because, as opposed to a previous period of normal times when normal science “held sway”, we are now in post-normal times when “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high” (Ravetz 1990). What exactly makes this period post-normal? There has been some kind of rip in the old division between facts, values and politics such that they’ve leaked into each other. This means the old assumptions about scientific objectivity are no longer valid. Whereas once we [naively] believed that science was about fact and politics was about value, today there is no clear distinction.

Hence a need for a new science. A science where “extended peer communities” provide extended “facts”…

What would this new science look like?

In an article “Extended peer communities and the ascendance of post-normal politics”, Stephen Healy (1999) quotes Bruno Latour, professor of Science and Technology Studies:

“…we continue to believe in the sciences, but instead of taking in their objectivity, their truth, their coldness, their extraterritoriality … we retain what has always been most interesting about them: their daring, their experimentation, their uncertainty, their warmth, their incongruous blend of hybrids, their crazy ability to reconstitute the social bond. We take away from them only the mystery of their birth and the danger their clandestineness posed to democracy”

I can’t tell you how relieved I am to know that Latour and his crew “continue to believe in the sciences”!




But — not so fast… What’s this “danger their clandestineness posed to democracy” stuff?

Apparently this “belief” does not equal “trust”.

Healy writes:

“the taken-for-granted trust in ‘normal’ science is no longer assured, necessitating the cultivation of trust by other means. It is argued that extended peer communities provide a focus for the ascendent politics of the post-normal realm, in resonance with recently articulated insights into broader social theory.”

I don’t know about you, but isn’t this PNS stuff just the biggest bunch of postmodern gobbledegook you’ve ever read?

As my gran once said, Bullshit Baffles Brains…

One can see immediately why, despite the rather opaque language, some among the skeptical / contrarian crowd like PNS. It speaks of science in negative terms, suggesting that it has lost the objectivity it once might have had (or never had to start, it all being a big modernist illusion) and can no longer be trusted. Isn’t that a familiar refrain from the denialist crowd? PNS seems tailor-made for them.

Here’s more from Healy:

“Post-normal science was conceptualized as a  means of confronting increasingly prevalent post-normal situations in which conventional distinctions between the sphere of facts, values and politics no longer hold sway and which without urgent remedy threaten calamitous outcomes…”

“Central to the efficacy of post-normal science is the notion that “an extension of peer communities, with the corresponding extension of facts, is necessary or the effectiveness of science in meeting the new challenges of global environmental problems”.

Hold it a minute! Extension of peer communities — to include whom? Peers of whom and over what? Extension of facts? Do these extended peers have their own facts? How does one determine what a fact is and establish its validity?

I guess that when you no longer trust science, one person’s “facts” are as good as the next person’s.

Extended peer communities not only extend the traditional quality assurance role of conventional peer communities to all legitimate stakeholders and enable their participation in related policy debates but also “positively enrich[es] the process of scientific investigation by enabling the use of ‘extended facts’ involving local and anecdotal knowledge.” (Healy p. 656)

Quality assurance — where have I read that before???

So now we learn who comprises the extended peer community — all relevant stakeholders. They have “extended facts” that involve local and anecdotal knowledge. But but but… you mean non-scientists can put their facts forward on the same footing as scientific facts? Who judges which facts — scientific and non-scientific — are more valid and more relevant to the issue at hand? A vote of hands? Who decides who the legitimate stakeholders are?

This feels all very muddled and unclear, indeterminate.

“By embracing uncertainty rather than futilely attempting to banish it, an arena is revealed in which the limitations and weaknesses of both scientific and lay knowledge may be opened up and examined side by side, so facilitating a dialogue that can be use to effect their reconciliation.”

Here’s the familiar refrain we have come to know from Judith Curry and the PNS crowd — embrace uncertainty. You can’t banish it either by more research or by denying it. The solution is to put scientific and lay knowledge side by side and reconcile them through dialogue.

This seems to be what Curry is attempting — and what the Lisbon conference had as its goal. Reconcilation between the lay knowledge of the skeptics / contrarians / deniers and the scientific knowledge of the climate scientists. They wanted Gavin to come and debate with skeptics over the issues of “ice” and “climate sensitivity” and the Medieval Warm Period, but not to talk about policy. No.

We have been trying to find a way to begin to overcome the polarisation on this issue, which as you know has already done great damage to the cause of coping with climate change, as well as to the reputation of science itself. At this stage we are planning to have a workshop where the main scientific issues can be discussed, so that some clarity on points of agreement and disagreement might be reached. We would try to stay off the policy issues, and will also exclude personal arguments.[my emphasis]

Gavin didn’t see that these were the real issues facing climate science. Rather, he saw that there was a need to discuss what is to be done, not what the climate was 1,000 years ago.

Gavin replied:

The fundamental conflict is of what (if anything) we should do about greenhouse gas emissions (and other assorted pollutants), not what the weather was like 1000 years ago. Your proposed restriction against policy discussion removes the whole point. None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions. No ‘conflict resolution’ is possible between the science community who are focussed on increasing understanding, and people who are picking through the scientific evidence for cherries they can pick to support a pre-defined policy position.

A kerfuffle ensues wherein Fred Pearce wrote up an article in the New Scientist “Short Sharp Science” falsely claiming that Gavin refused to participate because “the science is settled”.

“…leaders of mainstream climate science turned down the gig, including NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, who said the science was settled so there was nothing to discuss.”

You can read about the entire sorry episode at Rabett, Climate Progress and DC.

Back to PNS’s framing of the problem facing climate science:

“Traditional scientific peer communities evaluate core and applied science by established, although implicit, criteria that centre on notions of detachment, objectivity, originality and repeatability. [thank the gods] Fundamental to their operation, and to the practice of science and Western conceptions of rationality more generally, is a posited distinction between notions of objectivity and subjectivity that derives from the western scientific tradition. This postulated difference, while key to the instrumental power of core and applied science becomes an impediment once we enter the post-normal realm in which clear distinctions between fact and value cannot be upheld and knowledge is ‘soft’ and irredeemably indeterminate.” [my snark and emphasis]

This is postmodernism’s claim: there is no objectivity because there is no subject. The whole subject/object dichotomy is a creation of Modernity. A myth that has been perpetuated by science in order to appear to be creating objective knowledge. Objectivity requires a clear break between subject and object, and if there is no subject, well…no object! No objectivity! It’s all a postulation and a posit. Likewise, there is no fact separate from value. Hence all “facts” whether scientific or lay, are to be considered on the same level.  Relative. Value-laden. Judged on equal footing, with no preference for science.

Let me see if I can condense all this down:

One upon a time, we believed in objectivity and science. We believed that we could separate fact from value, science from politics. Now, due to, what — the veil being lifted? The fall of the Berlin Wall? we live in post-normal times which require post-normal science, including extended peer communities and extended facts.

I don’t buy it.

‘Postnormal science’ is infected with the virus of postmodernism and its anti-science and anti-enlightenment nihilism. As a consequence, those who created and promoted PNS have done so with the postmodern orientation to science and objectivity, politics and values. PNS, because it is informed by this anti-Enlightenment ethos, can’t help but get the whole problem wrong as a result.

While it is important to understand how culture influences the larger directions of science and research, and while it is not possible to completely and perfectly separate human subjectivity from science, to follow the postmodern route is to fall into absurdity and cynicism. And frankly, if we were to follow PNS, we’d just spin our wheels even more than we have already done because it gets the main problem ass-backwards!

Here’s my diagnosis:

Politicians and corporate interests have used the normal uncertainty in science to question and raise doubt about the scientific consensus view on policy problems relating to the environment, public health and climate. They did so in order to push their own political and economic agendas, including preventing or delaying government regulation of  their industry or products. The tobacco wars, wars over lead, benzene, CFCs and other pollutants and now the war over climate science are exemplars.

This is not because of some break with normal times or some collapse of normal science and its postulates about objectivity, but because of the corruption of politics and the undue influence of the corporation in the policy process!

These policy actors politicized the science, using uncertainties in the science to undermine the scientific consensus and smear scientists. They hired shill-scientists and PR firms to raise unfounded doubt about the science, overblew uncertainty, and used that doubt to sway politicians and the public and hinder policy development.

For most of the time preceding the modern environmental movement, this was Business As Usual. But the environmentalists challenged this, claiming that the science used to determine policy was bogus or incomplete. They argued that corporate interests had too much power in the policy process and demanded a seat at the table. Since then, the war has been waged between corporations and other interest groups over the direction of public policy.

This is not a problem in science but politics. It does not require a new science or a new peer review system or new peer communities. It needs a new politics in which corporate power is prevented from politicizing science.

How’s that work for you?

The bottom line is this: science must try to be as objective as possible in the pursuit of knowledge. That’s why the scientific method and scientific peer review exists — to minimize the influence of personal values on the science and to also minimize error and bias.  It’s not perfect but frankly, it has been pretty damn successful over the past couple of hundred years. We wouldn’t have made it to the moon, or to the edge of the solar system or have created CERN to the smash the atom and discover the secrets of the universe if it hadn’t been good at this.

The problem is that governments have not done their jobs ensuring that science is protected from political and economic interference. Politicians and the policy process have been unduly influenced by corporate power and lobbyists.

Influenced by postmodernism’s antirationality and anti-science ethos, the PNS group has been unable to correctly diagnose the problem It imagines that the problem lies in science itself rather than in modern politics, mistakenly creating the “uncertainty monster” to star as its very own scientific bogeyman. PNS has become, not the defender of public interest as it supposes, but corporate power’s defacto lackey because it — unwittingly? — feeds into this manufactured distrust of science and denial of the adequacy of peer review.

What does PNS look like in action?

Here’s an exchange that, I’m afraid, does not bode well for the utility of PNS to policy, especially in something as important as climate policy.

In the post at Climate etc. on Slaying a greenhouse dragon Parts I, II and III, Judith Curry appears to try to put PNS into action. She presents the book to the public and offers to have her readers interact with the authors and see if they can come to some understanding through [non-violent] dialogue.

Put nicely, the three threads are a trainwreck of PNS anti-science postmodern crankery.

In the third post on the subject, Curry seems to finally see the light, and ends up defending the normal scientific publishing and peer review system:

I am hoping that Johnson  learns from this that if he wants his scientific arguments to be taken seriously, that publishing them  in a politically motivated book  does not help his credibility and does not motivate people to take his arguments seriously.

I am hoping that Ken Coffman is learning that some discrimination and quality control might be needed in the writings that he publishes if his publishing house is to have any continuing credibility regarding science books.  I am hoping that John O’Sullivan will find better scientific horses to back in his quest to debunk AGW (or better yet, just fight the policies he doesn’t like and stay out of the science).

YAY!  Fight the policies and stay out of the science!  But that’s not what PNS wants. It wants to change the science, to let in a new group of “peers” and their “facts”. Judith still doesn’t get it!

What does our “extended peer community” have to say in response to Judith’s defence of the old guard of peer reviewed science?

I don’t think it’s necessary to dismiss an argument becuase of where it appears. Even if Johnson spray-painted his equations on a highway underpass there’s no reason not take a solid look at them. But you have to argue in good faith, and I don’t think we got that from Claes.

IOW, so what if it doesn’t exist in the peer reviewed literature? We should still give it due consideration. This must be the extended facts to which PNS refers…

The problem with a spray-painted equation on the underpass is this:  while a scientist might see it during the commute to work and scribble it down on the back of a napkin, and then discover if it has any merit back in the office using his or her scientific expertise, us non-scientists can’t.  Peer review provides the rest of society with a modicum of trust that the science has been vetted by the experts. There is no other systematic and trustworthy method. Hence, new astounding discoveries overturning a century of established science must be subjected to peer review or else linger in obscurity…

Speaking of overturning the consensus science on CO2, the claim of the book is just that:

Johnson’s unique approach to unravel the mess climatologist had spun from the various laws succeeded and such that genuine flaws in the foundations of the greenhouse gas hypothesis have been exposed and will never be so glibly glossed over again. Truly, the GHE is not the driver of climate that politicized post normal ‘scientists’ claim it to be.

Even Curry is having none of it:

John, your assessment is beyond belief. Johnson’s “theory” that there is no back radiation is falsified by mountains of measurements made by infrared radiometers pointing skywards (measurements that school children can make). Further, Johnson’s mathematics were shown to be seriously in error by Tomas Milanovic and Dave N. In science, either one of these two would be the kiss of death; re CJ’s theory, the combination of both is a death knell. CJ’s failure to have any of this sink in leads me to believe that he does not know anything about the scientific method. His insistence on not even responding to these criticisms leads people to regard him as a crank/crackpot. Based on Part II, he can probably get this published in E&E, but certainly not in any scientific journal of any repute or credibility.

I don’t claim to understand much of what this Claes person is claiming about climate science, but it seems to me that Rob B nails it:

When I heard that you had agreed to host a discussion on this book I made the remark that it sounded like the publishers/authors were using it as cheap advertizing. The following nonsense merely confirms my suspicions:

John Sullivan: “The authors of ‘Slaying the Sky Dragon’ are delighted that on a blog less likely to be favorable to our position, so little if anything was shown to be demonstrably wrong with Johnson’s analysis.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a reference to your blog in the book’s future promotional material. I think you might have been conned as to their intentions.

A self- or vanity published indie publisher book written by cranks people with questionable scientific credentials given wide exposure to the lay climate science community — what was she thinking?

Here’s more from John O’Sullivan, the “coordinator of the writing” of “Slaying the Sky Dragon”:

Frankly, the evasion by you of any such discussion suggests to me that you know Johnson is right and there is no greenhouse effect causing extra warming to our climate by so-called “back radiation.” Johnson exposes the error whereby the GHE employs a radiative model working with averaged values where emission properties to and from gases dominates yet physical processes cannot react to average values, ever.

Moreover, that there is not a shred of empirical evidence to support your beliefs, despite $100 billion and 25 years spent by climatologists to prove the alleged additional warming effects of such feedback, further discredits your unproven hypothesis. QED on the QED!

Here is the bankruptcy of PNS exposed. It fails to grasp the real problem facing climate science and climate change policy and thus ends up diverting attention from the main issues. PNS does not offer us an acceptable alternative to the existing peer review system. Put simply, the average layperson or even the average policy stakeholder does not have the scientific chops to get the science right. Curry’s whole blog is a testament to that fact. It’s filled with cranks, crackpots and nutters with their own theories and agendas and a lot of Joe and Jane Public who can’t tell the difference between a crackpot and a real scientist.

Curry finally gives up. Even Moncton is not impressed.

Maybe she’ll think twice about PNS’s extended peer community and extended facts after having to deal with crackpots…

We’ll see…

In conclusion, it’s not the uncertainties in the science that is the problem. The problem is the lack of political will on the part of politicians and an attempt by some stakeholders to prevent action. Why is there a lack of political will? Because climate change is a very complex problem and demands very complex solutions.  There is little appetite for the solutions at this point.

Climate change is global in nature, but local in impacts. It will require international cooperation to develop treaties on mitigation but also national programs of adaptation. There is no immediate substitute for fossil fuels, and so there is a need for investments in new technologies. The developed world has caused most of the problem but the developing world’s suffering will be incommensurate with their contribution.

The problem is not one of “uncertainty” in the science, but “complexity” in the politics and economics.

This complexity and lack of political will is made worse by a very vocal and devious denialist movement made up of those who want to delay action so they can continue to benefit from burning fossil fuels and/or by those who want to remain faithful to their ideologies.

This is why, in my opinion, this conference was doomed from the start. These academic policy types have a remedy to sell us but they haven’t even identified the proper disease! Until they do, they are irrelevant at best and a hindrance at worst. If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

132 Responses to “PNS – Pretty Nonsensical Stuff”

    • Hank — why do you hate Capitalism and Freedom! It’s always Koch brothers this and Koch brothers that as if they are involved in some great conspiracy theory to prevent climate policy! U R such a hippocrit I bet you drive a Lexus!



    • The sooner the State of Vermont legally pins down and restricts the definition of ‘a person’ to ‘a human being’ the better.

      • Even so, we’d still need some kind of Bene Gesserit black box…

        Here’s what I found on Vermont’s definition of “person”:

        Under the then applicable law, (FN2) “person” was defined under 10 V.S.A. { 6001(14) as follows, in relevant part:

        “Person” shall mean an individual, partnership, corporation, association, unincorporated organization, trust or any other legal or commercial entity, including a joint venture or affiliated ownership.

        Who do you think has more power in policy decisions in our society — a person like lil ol me or a “person” like Koch Industries? According to Vermont state law, we’re equals!

        • Yes, that’s Vermont’s current defintion in law, but they’re trying to change it so that the definition is limited to ‘a human being’ only. It seems to be an indirect way of challenging the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court and a move to amend the constitution. More here:

          Vermont Is Gearing Up to Strike a Major Blow to Corporate Personhood

          In Vermont, state senator Virginia Lyons earlier today presented an anti-corporate personhood resolution for passage in the Vermont legislature. The resolution, the first of its kind, proposes “an amendment to the United States Constitution … which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States.” Sources in the state house say it has a good chance of passing. This same body of lawmakers, after all, once voted to impeach George W. Bush, and is known for its anti-corporate legislation.

        • It would have other benefits beyond the Citizens Uniting ruling. The Person-hood of Corporations has ruled many, many local environmental regs unconstitutional. Overturning person-hood of corporations would allow such local communities to set standards for the communities in which they live.

  1. Wow. A masterful analysis. I like the way you drew together different threads in the argument. The whole thing reminded me of my time studying literature. Po-mo and poststructuralism had not yet started their decline, and postcolonialism was on the ascendent. Reading Roland Barthes’ “Death of the author” was a seminal moment for me. It seemed to open up the humanities — no interpretation was to be suppressed, though some were “privileged”. It seemed to me that all sorts of things were possible.

    How wrong I was. What followed was years stacked upon years of stagnation in literary studies as everyone gabbed and gabbed and gabbed. Nothing was ever final because no one wanted to close off the “play of meaning”.

    Curry’s fetish for uncertainty and post-normal science is the same creature. Derail any push for policy action into never-ending debates about meaning. Open the debate so that every crank interpretation makes it into the room in the name of inclusion. Ignore the rising temperatures.

    It would be hilarious if the livelihood of millions of people weren’t at stake.


  2. Maybe the word ‘peer’ is confusing them, becuase ‘extended-peer’ is nonsense.

    Just say – anything-goes-review.

    • A scientific “peer” is just a player whose authority is imposed by the existing power structures. Like the dead author of literary criticism, the scientific peer is dead, long live the extended peer unhindered by traditional notions of scientific peer review! Farewell Enlightenment!

      /partially snark

  3. Susann,

    I thought nothing could get you angry… I was wrong. It starts here.

  4. How’s that work for you?

    Superbly, thanks. Awesome post.

  5. Another very well-written post. I admit to knowing nothing about post-modernism or post-normal science.

    In my previous life in agricultural science, the research structure involved scientists, farm advisers and farmers – all of whom were involved in some way in getting the research done, and much was made of the interaction between the three groups. I suppose you could call that post-normal, but at the time it seemed pretty normal to everyone. Made sense to have practitioners and researchers working together. Farmer groups were consulted in new legislation as a matter of course most of the time. The same approach applies whenever there is an emergency situation, such as a disease outbreak. These arrangements were developed decades before post-normal science was invented, so it probably doesn’t count.

    I can’t think how it would apply to climate science in any meaningful way. (Do I get onto the researchers and tell them it’s a bit cold tonight and ask what the government is going to do about it?)

    Science informs us of the facts. Policy makers work out what to do in the face of those facts. Governments already use advisory groups, focus groups, wide community consultation in developing policy.

    As you rightly point out, when the policy process becomes corrupted that leads to poor outcomes for everyone. This seems particularly bad in the USA at the moment, but it happens from time to time in my country (Australia) as well.

    Maybe I just haven’t figured out what the terms mean. I’m willing to listen if anyone has a different take to what this post describes. As it is, shewonk makes a lot more sense to me than what I’ve read from the post-normal science advocates.

    • Sou, you are correct that in the development of policy, all stakeholders need to be consulted because policy is political and needs to be inclusive to be true to democratic principles. This does not mean that there are no standards for the evidence or data used to inform policy decisions — they should be scientific standards. But the impacts of policy actions on all stakeholders should always be considered. Pluralism in the development of policy is necessary for its legitimacy.

      Unfortunately, this isn’t always followed and some policy players, stakeholders, have more influence over the process than others and the resulting policy is unbalanced and doomed to fail its purported goals and values. I have nothing against consultation in policy development and believe it is absolutely necessary and appropriate but it has to be balanced. Governments are too often unduly influenced by the more powerful (financially) stakeholders, who hold the political purse strings. Too often, the interests of these players determine the limits of policy. Tobacco and environmental policies are good examples of this in action.

      • I agree completely, shewonk. To explain further, the farmers have a say in setting the priorities for research (for which they pay half the costs). They do not otherwise interfere in the research methodology or the results, although some field research is done on farm properties.

        In regard to legislation, the farmer groups are consulted and their views ‘taken into account’ (euphemism for we’ll listen but not necessarily do what you want).

        That’s not to say that undue influence is never exerted on politicians, but that happens outside of the systematised processes.

        Same in other areas of policy development. Research in other areas is more mixed. I’m not aware of any corruption of research done in government agencies or universities, which is where most research is conducted here in Australia. (There’s always the odd case that proves the rule like the occasional academic fudging results, but that’s normally for personal gain of the academic not corruption of the research from outside).

        I know there are different influences operating in different countries. Australia is still small so more manageable and maybe more transparent.

        I do think climate change policy is unduly influenced by the fact that coal mining and coal-fired power stations are so integral to the Australian economy (some government-owned, some private-owned and quite powerful unions). Climate science itself is not subject to those same corrupting influences here in Australia (though our climate scientists do get threatening emails from deniers).

  6. I’ve been looking for a good analysis of PNS for some time. Thanks. The beauty of this is that the whole discussion has been derailed by a post-normal interpretation of an e-mail passed around at the conference. The mood seems to be that of “Gavin’s entitled to his own interpretation of what he wrote, but so are we.”

    This has now become farce.

    • There is no author — that’s a fiction of the Modernist project. Even if Gavin wrote that email and had an intention for what he meant, there is no author and every reader’s interpretation is of equal merit. That’s why PNS will turn out to be a wheel-spinner, if truly implemented. In postmodernist approaches like PNS, there is no real objective meaning to anything, only what we construct and enforce and deploy. Hence, every crackpot and nutter gets their say on what scientific evidence means.

      Who can say that the value of Pi is not 4? Prove it!

  7. Note that title of Nealy’s article contains the expression **post-normal politics**.

    • willard, this is something I have wanted to ask you: do you agree — in a normal-science, truth-as-truth, evidence-based way — with the gist of this post? And if not, what is your main point of contention?

      • GP,

        Thank you for your question.

        I’d have to think a bit more about it and have no time now.

        I’ll try to gather some thoughts tomorrow night.

        Bye for now,


      • In the meantime, I’d ask you and other readers to consider what kind of work is done in this very blog.

        The subject seems highly uncertain. The stakes are as high as can be.
        This is an interface between science and politics.

        Sounds like extended-peer review alright.

        Disproving PNS that way is the surer way to prove PNS.

        • That’s quite brilliant of course Willard, and I’ve always admired you because of your subtle mind.

          My problem is this — refuting PNS and PM is a bit like refuting Psychoanalysis — there is always the comeback that you are just repressing your underlying desire for the father…

          Let me see … my response is that PNS is imprecise in its self-definition, claiming it is one thing, but really being all about something else. That does not bode well for its utility. It really is about policy but its imprecision results in it identifying the wrong object — science. In that, it can only contribute to the very problem it seeks to solve.

          As to what my blog is doing, well it ain’t science, post- or normal. I ain’t a peer, traditional or extended. In my non-post-normal view, I’m a member of the public with some background who is trying to understand what’s going on in the climate wars.

        • willard, this is what I was afraid you would (non-)answer. I hoped beyond hope that you would recognize this nonsense for what it is. A brain like yours wasted is a terrible thing.

          “Extended peer review”, ugh. The expression itself is a lie. It’s just as intrinsically mendacious — though differently — as “people’s democracy”. Don’t you see?!?


    • Titles are deceptive. The meat of the article is about post normal “science” and how the notion of extended peer communities can be operationalized. If you read the article, Nealy spends a great deal of time identifying the problem, which is in science. A new science, PNS, is needed for the new political reality…

      Here’s Healy:

      “Central to the efficacy of post-normal science is the notion that “an extension of peer communities with the corresponding extension of facts, is necessary for the effectiveness of science in meeting the new challenges of global environmental problems.”

      And more:

      “If we are to clarify how extended peer communities may be institutionalized we must first understand how they might be configured and extended facts enrolled. A particular opportunity to achieve both these aims is granted by uncertainty — not the narrow typically stochastic measure of traditional scientific practice that details merely a simple unitary measure of imprecision but extended multidimensional conceptions that embrace both ignorance, where we don’t know what we don’t know, and indeterminacy.”

      Embracing ignorance and indeterminacy — what a great post-normal motto for science!

      Oh, I think the article is all about post-normal science…

      You see, in postmodern visions of the world (if one can even say “the world” exists beyond our conception of it), politics and science are practically one, since there can be no real separation of fact and value, science and politics… Hence, you can call post-normal science a “politics” and vice versa, It’s all good.

  8. So, I open the discussion on: is or is not PNS worse than Scientific Socialism?

    We have seen the body piles of the latter. Can the former beat them to the game?

    • Egad, I cringe at both. Do we have to choose? Why not label both failures and be done with it?

      I don’t want to see PNS have a go at informing climate policy because climate change, anthropogenic global warming, has such, well, global and temporal implications.

      • shewonk, tongue-in-cheek. But with a serious undertone: we don’t yet have those piles of corpses for PNS. The metaphor may help the mind’s eye.

  9. Here’s an interesting quote about the origins of PNS from Jerry Ravetz, and why the word ‘science’ is even in ‘post normal science’, posted at Libertarian International by Willis Eschenbach via a cached Google page (original is gone).

    Here’s a quote about PNS:

    ‘More serious, why do we call this “science”? Many friends have told us that the idea is great, but the use of “science”, rather than “policy”, is misleading. For “science” is the sort of thing that happens down in the lower, safer zones of the diagram, where people do things in labs or on computers. The sorts of debates that lie in that wild, outer zone are not “science”, are they? I should say that when we reflected on that very reasonable criticism, we were confirmed in our choice. A good title must shock at least a little if it is to be noticed, and we think that the shock in this one is part of its message.’

    That’s you, Dr. Ravetz, explaining how rather than naming something for accuracy, you named it for shock value. Call me crazy, but I prefer honesty to shock value.

    Naturally, Willis goes on to have a rant at climate science but it’s an interesting quote, nonetheless. Willis also quotes it HERE AT JC’s, where Marxism is blamed for being at the root of Ravetz’s PNS.

    PNS doesn’t even seem to be about science, per se, it’s about policymaking and was named to stir up a hornet’s nest; and didn’t it do just that. For instance… Revolutionary Science: Post-Normal Climate Science and neo-Marxism, which criticises PNS from an environmentalist’s and uncredentialed philosophy of science perspective, attributing PNS to neo-Marxism while using climate science as an exemplar of PNS. The same blogger cites Crichton and Lomborg on his About Page

    The more I told my greenie peers of my concern, the more I came to understand — though their incredulous responses — the very unexpected nature of the problem. I started reading Crichton and Lomborg, and I became fascinated with the question of the rise of this whole phenomenon within science. I knew well the long history of apocalyptic alarmism in our culture, and if this history taught one lesson it was to expect such movements in every age. But this movement had developed in a major way within the institutions of science. The very instutions established during the Enlightenment, and heralded as remedies for such enthusiasm were, themselves, promoting it as based on a phoney science.

    Of interest…

    Post-Normal Science in the context of transitions towards sustainability (Ravetz, 2006) PDF:

    The principal policy context of the original insight of PNS was probabilistic risk assessment. This scientific field, created mainly in the service of civil nuclear power, attempted to apply standard mathematical methods to problems where the uncertainties were actually overwhelming. The ‘probabilistic risk assessments’ enjoyed an initial plausibility because they were presented as
    Science, that is objective and certain, free from bias and doubt. The policy agenda was clear: a risk of one-in-a-million is acceptable, hence an installation with such a risk is scientifically proved to be safe. In many of the national debates, those who criticised those exercises were branded as subversives or sectarians, motivated by political or even psychological agendas in their opposition to the authoritative judgements of the established scientific communities. Only with the Three Mile Island disaster, when a reactor with a one-in-a-million chance of a serious accident exploded within a few months of start-up, did the façade of scientific complacency and arrogance begin to crack. The risk analysts had to admit a category of ‘zero-infinity’ risks, strictly speaking with negligible probability but unacceptable harm. The product is indeterminate, and so quantitative risk analysis found its limits.



    This essay has been written to foster new thinking about PNS with colleagues who are engaged on the new dominant problematique, no longer technological risks but rather the characteristic contradictions of sustainability and survival. Perhaps even for some at the workshop on Transitions, and more for those who read its Proceedings, the icon of PNS can still be a liberating insight. But before I can adapt that older theory of scientific methodology directly to the resolution of the new characteristic contradictions of our civilisation, I will have to wait for some further maturing, of PNS, of our understanding of the contradictions, and of my own ideas.

    Ugh. Anyway, is it possible that PNS is [partly?] a policy tool for incorporating the possibility of Black Swan events into policy decisions (Three Mile Island is an example), where science interfaces with the political and policymaking process for evaluating such risks? Just a question, but it would explain why it’s derogitorally referred to as a “the sky is falling” approach to policy, which is in complete opposition to the Cornucopian School (e.g., Lomborg – technology will save the day) approach to the problem of climate change.

    • That’s a very interesting question and deserves more analysis.

      I haven’t been able to figure out whether the PNS crowd just doesn’t “get it” or is being deceptively strategic in its labelling in order to attract attention and gain some kind of legitimacy in academic circles. Either way, it deserves a good spanking.

      I agree that what PNS really should be is PNP — Post-normal policy but even then, enough with the [post] BS! From what I have read, PNS seems to have arisen in response to the environmental movement’s attempts to combat corporate power in the policy making process, which I completely embrace. However, instead of stating it so boldly and simply, they have prettified it up by couching it in postmodernist terms and thus lose all analytical power.


      • Indeed, the whole terminology is quite ugly, starting with “post-normal”.

      • I think part of the problem is that there was no ‘Black Swan theory’ in the 70s, while the main problem is that ‘Post Normal Science’ is a red herring. Small wonder the argument is so heated. How about ‘Extreme/Urgent Risk Assessment’ instead of ‘PNS’?

        From Ravetz’s Bio page:

        …and we have also developed the concept of ‘Post-Normal Science’, a mode of scientific problem-solving appropriate to policy issues where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent.

        The fact that he’s at the Said Business School at Oxford says a lot, as far as I’m concerned.

        • PNS’s focus on uncertainty seems to be to be like the ER trauma doctors standing around arguing about the need to start a central line, whether they should start one since there is still debate about its use. Some research shows that it is unnecessary while other research argues it is a life saver. Oh, the uncertainty — it must be embraced and worried over and everyone’s extended peer data incorporated.

          Meanwhile, the patient codes beside them.

          • I’m reminded of Homeopathic A&E

            • OMG that is hilarious! Quite appropriate as well considering the snake oil that folks are trying to sell over at Climate etc….

              Speaking of which, you may not have seen my post questioning the provenance of the Slaying book. Note the unveiled threat to sue anyone who dare question the status of the publisher?

              Can’t even get the grammar right on the website…

  10. When I first started reading the various climate blogs over a year and a half ago I quickly came to associate “post normal” negatively without knowing much of what it meant in much the same way someone reading a health forum might come to think poorly of “dilution” without knowing about homoeopathy.

    One thing I find confusing is the usual incoherence of the collective skeptic position: I see one group of skeptics routinely criticise climate science on the basis that it’s “post normal science” and other group of skeptics criticise it because it should be post normal science. Of course this is where both groups would lay claim to the wonderful individual and democratic nature of skepticism without even a moderate hint of irony.

    Another is this: What exactly is the problem post normal science is trying to solve? Being an engineer (of the software variety and hopefully I’ve avoided being as nutty as the ones that infest science discussions) I tend to start from there before coming up with a solution. All too often people end up arguing over different solutions when they don’t even agree on what it is they want to solve.

    Just as an example, I remember around 2002/2003 it was common for certain people to claim the UN needed reform. Certainly it’s a body that could do with improvement but these concepts are all relative to what you’re trying to achieve, in that case the people calling for “reform” were trying to achieve the objective of “Rubber stamping any war we damn well feel like”.

    The same goes for the IPCC. I cheerfully accept it’s a process that could be approved (and the recommendations from last year all seemed mostly good to me) but I’m not prepared to accept reform from individuals whose objective is “Reform until they give the answer we already know is the truth”.

    Going back to PNS it seems the problem is one of equivocation. There are groups of people who feel like their ideas should be equivalent to well tested and well supported ideas. Consequently they want to change the rules in a way which favour them as opposed to changing the rules in a way to produce better answers.

    The Lisbon conference and the situation around Gavin Schmidt’s email should give anyone a chill in their spine at the thought of people of similar mindset running anything. All interpretations are equal (unless it’s collectively decided they’re not, consult the collective or their self-appointed leaders for a comprehensive list of which are which) and being “wrong” is only one criteria among many.

    • What got me was that these folks read Gavin’s email out loud at the conference! I find that highly offensive and unprofessional. Am I nuts? I know for certain that any email I get from our stakeholders or individuals is viewed as private unless I am given direct license to make it public or someone makes an FOIA request.

  11. shewonk :
    …PNS seems to have arisen in response to the environmental movement’s attempts to combat corporate power in the policy making process, which I completely embrace. However, instead of stating it so boldly and simply, they have prettified it up by couching it in postmodernist terms and thus lose all analytical power.

    To be honest, I think it possibly caused a split in the environmental movement. It’d explain a lot about the Guardian verbal bloodbaths I take part in, where there are actually a number of “sceptics” who claim have environmentalist roots but side with neoliberals, possibly LM Network activists, and Tea Partiers; in opposition to a number of environmentalists and others who accept the science behind AGW.

    Dorlomin, if you’re reading this, what do you think? Remember Arbuthnott?

    • Well we get a steady queue of people claiming to be scientists (physicists is especially popular) but most can be exposed and phoneys with 5-7 posts (some do pass muster) so there are a lot of blaggers out there and blagging about being former enviromentalists is a easy one. New people with things like ‘eco’ or ‘green’ in their name tend to be a give away of being full of it.

      But then the word ‘enviromentalist’ is so broad and covers so much it is little wonder that many who consider themselves ‘enviromentalists’ are also anti AGW. ‘Enviromentalism’ is basically a tension that has run through human society since the dawn of agriculture. Preservation of old ways of life and open spaces vs enclosure and turning it into agriland. The march of the hearding Bantu tribes into former hunter gather lands in Africa would be an example of this, as would the sort of mystical romaticism of the likes of Blake and his ‘dark satanic mills’. So the idea of people believing their comitment to an unpsoilt ‘natural’ world is enviromentalism as is the ‘blut und bonden’ types in prewar Germany. That people who believed in various kinds of preservation of the English (or further afield) ‘natural’ world now believe these ideals are being compromised by the modern metropolitan ecowarrior and there obsession with the phoney global warming is no suprise. But by and large they are a minority confined to the conservative broadsheets.

      A few who would be into what we today think of as the sort of soft, fluffy left enviromentalism may not be sold on global warming; but I think they are few and far between.

    • Having followed some of the CiF threads you’ve posted on JB, my impression is that those self-proclaiming environmentalist sympathies but rabidly anti-AGW are full of it, merely using it as a prop (hug a whale!) to cloak their agenda and they’re really not right-wing, astroturfin’ anti-science nutters, no way no-how.

      I doubt “tofu eater” for example would even know what tofu is.

      • I agree, chek, and they’re the ones Dorlomin refers to. The Name Game itself is interesting, for instance the likes of ‘Friends of Science’ who we all know and love, but more recently for me, and I suspect highly applicable to CIF, LM Network (aka Living Marxism) which is actually a neoliberal group. What I was talking about in my question to Dolomin was the ones without the propaganda names who I’ve long thought to have genuine environmental concerns, but see the attention on climate detracting from their own concerns with the environment, particularly the poor, and even defunding [in their view] more pressing concerns. If you go to my post above (#37), I actually cite such a person’s About Page, where that individual is highly active in the environmental movement in Australia, but feels betrayed by a corrupt field of science (Lomborg and Crichton have much to answer for). It’s not black and white…. unless they call themselves ecocampaigner and sockpuppet with other similar names while using neolib arguments with hardly any awareness of science or even ecology 😉

  12. “By embracing uncertainty rather than futilely attempting to banish it, an arena is revealed in which the limitations and weaknesses of both scientific and lay knowledge may be opened up and examined side by side, so facilitating a dialogue that can be use to effect their reconciliation.”

    It’s odd that contrarians and the Curry crew portray mainstream science as attempting to banish uncertainty. If anyone has spent any time objectively reading the IPCC reports or the peer-reviewed literature, they would find this laughable. Conversely, contrarians tend to state vehemently that climate sensitivity is low and that global warming isn’t a signficant problem, and allow little room for uncertainty in their assessment.

    I do like this keeper from Curry though:

    “Based on Part II, he can probably get this published in E&E, but certainly not in any scientific journal of any repute or credibility.”

    It’s worth noting anytime someone tries to pass of E&E as a legit peer-reviewed publication.

    Shewonk writes “Put simply, the average layperson or even the average policy stakeholder does not have the scientific chops to get the science right.”

    While that might be usually true, the normal peer review system doesn’t prevent the average layperson from publishing. Occasionally someone outside the academic world might come up with a brilliant idea. Such ideas, if robust, eventually get published.

    • Yes, I agree. Occasionally, some really bright layperson does have very good ideas, but the average person doesn’t have the chops and isn’t likely to try to publish in the scientific peer literature. They don’t need to. There’s blog science. 🙂

  13. An excellent essay, but also …


    Who can say that the value of Pi is not 4?

    an excellent tweak of the famous Einstein photo.

    J Bowers:

    It’d explain a lot about the Guardian verbal bloodbaths I take part in, where there are actually a number of “sceptics” who claim have environmentalist roots

    I wouldn’t take those claims at face value. While in a few cases I imagine they’re true, do remember that this is a traditional Creationist tactic (“I used to believe in evolution until I examined the science …”) and was adopted by Lomborg himself (“I’m an environmentalist and indeed I used to belong to Greenpeace, until I began to examine the science itself”).

    Do you believe Lomborg? I don’t. Nor many of the others making such claim. It’s just a ploy to gain credibility, much like folks like Watts and Fuller pointing out that they own electric cars or are in other ways “Greenies” (“I drive an electric car, which establishes my environmental cred, therefore you can trust me when I tell you climate science is a fraud!”).

    That’s a bit of a diversion from the subject of this thread but … establishing credibility in the world of post-normal science appears important to some. I think they believe that people as a whole aren’t likely to treat *everyone* as equally credible in regard to science. “My heart’s in the right place therefore you can trust me” vs. “scientists are engaged in a massive fraud in order to enslave your children” …

  14. The idea, if I read the part V thread correctly, is not to include post normal science, per se,, it’s to re-frame the decision making process based certain criteria for what makes good science to her. Judith has decided that, yes, the greenhouse effect is read, and yes, we are emitting CO2. For whatever reason, all the other tenets, conservative estimates with the uncertain stated in the IPCC, are missing. This leads to common Judith rhetoric, which as every knows, the uncertainty monster, which is big, scary, unmeasurable, boo, reckless, etc., and now a new slogan, “truth to power”. This, of course, is murmured once in a while, but more importantly is traced back to leftists, like Chomsky, making it an easy strawman to attack for the opponents (but read further for the kicker). This has very little to do with PNS, as she claims, but the real deal is re-framing. A continued mantra of slogans and picking out tidbits that assist to squeeze the debate into a new place where certain parts of science that we have high confidence in, ie more warming next century, are no longer part of the debate. We are forced to argue only things that Judith is certain of. I thought PNS was captured well by Hulme:

    The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow. Singer has this view of science, as do some of his more outspoken campaigning critics such as Mark Lynas. That is why their exchanges often reduce to ones about scientific truth rather than about values, perspectives and political preferences. If the battle of science is won, then the war of values will be won.

    Oh how ironic the reading of PNS can be when associated with other individuals.

    This is the wrong question to ask of science. Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking, although science will gain some insights into the question if it recognises the socially contingent dimensions of a post-normal science. But to proffer such insights, scientists – and politicians – must trade (normal) truth for influence. If scientists want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy, they must recognise the social limits of their truth seeking and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity.

    But read the whole article to see what the major difference is in the framing with Judith, as the both articulate it’s use. It’s rather astonishing. Hulme would likely correlate truth to power with Judith and Singer (I agree, but it’s sloganeering either way). Yet Judith uses it to help her case. PNS is about using values and science to make decisions, as far as I know. Judith’s version does not cut it. Hers says we can only use known science, and never mentions what I think the main issues are.

  15. Would you mind providing the reference for “Ravetz 1990”? As far as I know, the first time Funtowicz & Ravetz used the term Post-Normal Science was in a 1991 book chapter, although the book they published in 1990 clearly laid the groundwork for it. And although they do discuss the need for new methodologies given new kinds of challenges, I did not find any mention of Post-Normal “Times” prior to when I started the Post-Normal Times blog in February 2005. My selection of the name was in part to focus more on the policy context of science. I think the discussion of PNS in the blogosphere has become quite muddied and confused, and it is not a subject that lends itself to soundbites. I’ll have more comments later on my blog and post another comment here when they are up.

    • The quote was in Healy, Stephen. “Extended peer communities and the ascendance of post-normal politics.” Futures. 31. (1999): 655-669., from Ravetz, Jerome. “Knowledge in an uncertain world.” New Scientist. 1735 (1990).

    • Silvia: unlike most of us, I think you actually know and have worked with the key organizers of the Lisbon event. Perhaps when the dust has settled on this a bit more and more facts pinned down (I suspect in a few weeks) you might favor us with any insights you’d be willing to share.

  16. Oy. Where that leads (from the abstract):

    “… when ‘facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high … and the framing of the problem involves politics and values as much as science’ (Ravetz J. Knowledge in an uncertain world. New Scientist 1990;127:2) the taken-for-granted trust in ‘normal’ science is no longer assured, necessitating the cultivation of trust by other means. It is argued that extended peer communities provide a focus for the ascendant politics of the post-normal realm, in resonance with recently articulated insights into broader social theory.

    ‘… we continue to believe in the sciences, but instead of taking in their objectivity, their truth, their coldness, their extraterritoriality … we retain what has always been most interesting about them: their daring, their experimentation, their uncertainty, their warmth, their incongruous blend of hybrids, their crazy ability to reconstitute the social bond. We take away from them only the mystery of their birth and the danger their clandestineness posed to democracy’….”
    Extended peer communities and the ascendance of post-normal politics
    Stephen Healy

    There it’s “politics” not “science” described as beginning to move toward post-normal.

    Tho’ “… the mystery of their birth and the danger their clandestineness pose[s] to democracy …” hardly describes scientists who are speaking up about issues. That would be corporate and industrial and foreign money, not scientists.

  17. Bruno Latour on the perils of “post-” and global warming:

    • That’s a great article!

      Here’s an interesting quote:

      …what’s the real difference between conspiracists and a popularized, that is a teachable, version of social critique inspired for instance by a too-quick reading of, let’s say, a sociologist as eminent as Pierre Bourdieu–to be polite I will stick with the French field commanders? In both cases, you have to learn to become suspicious of everything people say because “of course we all know” that they live in the thralls of a complete illusio on their real motives. Then, after disbelief has struck and an explanation is requested for what is “really” going on, in both cases again, it is the same appeal to powerful agents hidden in the dark acting always consistently, continuously, relentlessly. Of course, we, in the academy, like to use more elevated causes–society, discourse, knowledge-slash-power, fields of forces, empires, capitalism–while conspiracists like to portray a miserable bunch of greedy people with dark intents, but I find something troublingly similar in the structure of the explanation, in the first movement of disbelief and, then, in the wheeling of causal explanations coming out of the deep Dark below. What if explanations resorting automatically to power, society, discourse, had outlived their usefulness, and deteriorated to the point of now feeding also the most gullible sort of critiques?

      I could glibly say that Latour is finally realizing that while the Enlightenment project and Modernism may be flawed, they are better than the alternative. Science is the greatest advance humanity has made thus far IMHO and to demonize it because it has not lived up to our fantasies like a child finally realizing its parent is only human is to descend into conspiracy theory and nihilism when what we need to survive is reason and logic and science. It shows to me how important science truly is and how Sagan was correct:

      “We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

      • This quote from Latour’s essay Why Has Critique Run out of Steam deserves note:

        In this most depressing of times, these are some of the issues I want to press not to depress the reader but to press ahead, to redirect our meager capacities as fast as possible. To prove my point, I have not exactly facts rather tiny cues, nagging doubts, disturbing telltale signs. What has become of critique, I wonder, when the New York Times runs the following story?

        Most scientists believe that [global] warming is caused largely by manmade pollutants that require strict regulation. Mr. Luntz [a lobbyist for the Republicans] seems to acknowledge as much when he says that “the scientific debate is closing against us.” His advice, however, is to emphasize that the evidence is not complete. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled,” he writes, “their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue.”2

        Fancy that? An artificially maintained scientific controversy to favor a “brown backlash” as Paul Ehrlich would say.3 Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent sometimes in the past trying to show the “lack of scientific certainty” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “primary issue.” But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument–or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from a prematurely naturalized objectified fact. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?

        In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact–as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past–but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we have now to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices? And yet entire Ph.D programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always the prisoner of language, that we always speak from one standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant? Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not? Why can’t I simply say that the argument is closed for good?[my emphasis]

        I would say it wasn’t his intent to contribute to this cynicism and war, but perhaps he and others like him were naive. I guess I’m old fashioned but I tend to be a materialist who believes that there is a universe out there and that for the sake of our survival, it is a good idea if we try to know it as best we can. Science and the scientific method are the best ways yet devised to obtain knowledge about that universe. It may not be perfect, but there is a difference between being aware of these imperfections and devising ways of dealing with them (scientific method, peer review) and the mistrust of the whole project. I sometimes wonder if the postmodernist critique of science stemmed from a despair for the possibility of truth that slid into cynicism and thus the critique was not adequate.

        What do you think? Obviously the deniers are using uncertainty in science to further their policy goals, but what about the rest of those who adhere to the “skeptic” side of the debate and who are not in the pay of the corporate interests or not ideologically driven to its side — say, the radical Libertarians? Has this era of loss of faith in Enlightenment principles led us down this path and is Latour and the postmodern movement, at least in part, to blame?

        • One does not have to be a radical libertarian to go against the science. Science has been under attack on many fronts.

          In the US, the fundamentalist Christians evoke similar arguments against evolution. Mainstream conservatism has gone further into the nether regions by showing its fearful side – they chafe against constraints, and any actions to reduce carbon emissions will constrain our activities.

          • No of course not, but I have run into a large number of libertarians among climate denialists. They seem to oppose the science because they fear government intervention, not because they have any real issues with the science. Their complaint with science is secondary to the politics. It’s an excuse.

            • Yep, we’re in agreement. Back at my own turf the feared consequences of any action drives the opposition to the science. It certainly drives their views of scientists, who (in their minds) either favor one-world government or are interested in feathering their own nests with grant money.

              For the Curry crowd the views of Manuel provide a good example.

        • > and is Latour and the postmodern
          > movement, at least in part, to
          > blame?

          Hmmm, that is taking it to the other extreme. Scientific discourse should not be constrained by fear of consequences of it being disastrously misunderstood or intentionally misrepresented. If the original discourse is intellectually honest (right or wrong), guilt by association with its distorters is plain wrong.

  18. These PNS types would no doubt expect to run off a cliff, like Wile E. Coyote, and stay there in mid air because they hadn’t noticed. Bizarrely, I think some of the more solipsistic would expect not to fall even after they had noticed!

    All that Enlightenment malarkey was just soooo last Millenium!

  19. We now have a post from Curry inspired by the kim bot. It joins the one inspired by Girma. Is anyone taking bets on the trifecta? Cripwell? Manuel? Courtney? Glassman? I can hardly wait.

    • Too late, you apparently missed the fact that the post inspired by the kim “=========” bot was also supported max anacker (manacker).

      Trifecta in two posts, hard to beat, no?

      If you’re not familiar with manacker I’m sure some brief time in google will make your head explode. He’s pretty much been banned by the serious climate science blogs.

      • I acknowledge that manacker more than completes the trifecta. Perhaps we could go for a grand slam. I don’t think Curry has elevated Joe Lalonde above the fold yet.

  20. If there’s no subject, how can there be knowledge? PNS – Paranormal Neophyte Scapegoats

  21. The issue here, if there is one, is that the Curry’s and Ravitz’s are stating the problem as “everything is up for grabs” whereas the Gavins and Elis think the uncertainty is bounded, that there are a number of fixed points from which any discussion has to start. There is no point trying to negotiate with the champions of ignorance.

  22. Watching the Deniers Reply February 6, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    I can’t begin to describe just how horrendous this watered down PoMo stuff is.

    And yet the very same conservatives decry “post-modernism”?

    The intent is of course to not simply delegitimize climate science, but all science… after all, being told pumping Co2, CFCs into the atmosphere, that smoking can kill and that peak oil is just a myth suits some.

    In the end, they’ve ripped this play right out of the creationist play book. After all groups like Answers in Genesis are always on about the difference between their “science” and the “evilutionists”.

    • It’s very strange that PNS seems to be difficult to swallow on the part of skeptics and AGW supporters alike… I find I’m on the same side but for different reasons with Delingpole…

      Have I fallen into some kind of tear in the space-time continuum?

      Delingpole and his denizens hate PNS because they blame it for the ills of “climate science” while people like me criticize it because it seems to undermine confidence in modern science instead of indicting politics, which is the real culprit. This either means it’s spot on and we’re both nuts or it’s completely irrelevant and we both recognize it but for different reasons.

      The conceit in me wants to think it’s the latter, of course, but I have to hold out that the former might be true.

      Hmm. They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but this is creepy.

  23. In the latest post on Curry’s blog she uses the expression “truth to power” to mean the mechanism by which scientists attempt to use (or misuse) their ownership of knowledge to control policy decisions. She seems unaware that this expression is used to referred to the oppressed correcting the lies of the powerful.

    The mind continues to reel

  24. Well how’s this?

    An observation of the world is one(1) observation of the world. The sequentiality of observations (if one accepts the existence of future and/or history) might provide a number system that can be used to measure things among those who accept there’s future and/or history. Those who ‘live in the day’ cannot deduce anything, as their philosophy doesn’t accept changes between observations.

    I sure this could be said with much morre accuracy.

  25. What I think is going on here is that there are two flawed ideas running simultaneously, both de-crying their own, IMHO highly dubious, versions of PNS.
    The first is Dellingpole’s et al – that modern science, especially climate science, has moved away from traditional ‘hard’ science of facts and objectivity, into a value laden ‘post-normal’ science. In essence, this is a methodological critique, but you’ll never hear them utter a sensible word on methodology. Really, this is just a political position – they don’t like what the science says and this is a handy weapon to bludgeon it with.

    The second – a flawed take on Kuhn’s revolutionary science , ie that science moves through periods of stability in accepted paradigms, and then revolutions due to the build up of serious anomalies in the accepted paradigm. The mistake here is that Kuhn was really about the revolution in scientific ideas – he wasn’t saying that the conduct of science was revolutionary (or ‘post-normal’), just the outcomes. In their defence, Kuhn was a bit obscure and confusing in the way he discussed this, and this is not the first time that weird interpretations of Kuhn have lead to some pretty ‘out-there’ ideas. In blog-world, Kuhn is to scientifc philosophy what Popper is to scientific method – the latter invokes cries of ‘it’s not falsifiable, ergo, it’s not science!!’, the former ‘these are unsual times, we need new science!’. Sorry, but we’ve moved on since both of them.

    But, I’m a big fam of social science methods and qualitative research. Though the usual caveat applies – these are tools to be used in the correct context. In my work, that’s in the feild of health and medical research. Here they have been a boon in complex areas of inquiry, breaking down what has been in times past, overzealous positivistic and reductionist epistemologies. Would I apply them to atmosphereic physics etc – have you got rocks in your head?! But I defintely would use a range of participatory and inclusive techniques for discussing the policy implications of the science.

    So, when Gavin declined that invite, his reasons for so doing were logical, and his suggestion of avenues for further discussion was 100% correct and Curry et al 100% wrong (+/- 1%).

    • I’m reading so many different portrayals of PNS in several different papers and books, it seems to depend on the audience as to how it’s sold. For example, in more technical books or journals, it seems to shed its postmodern veneer, and is far more technically oriented and concerned with the policy process. In other forums, those of more theoretical or philosophical bent, it takes on this postmodern veneer that so makes me cringe. Which one is the real PNS? Is this different face just a means of selling it to different audiences?

      At times, PNS is described as a means to overcome the misuses of scientific “uncertainty” in the policy process, recognizing that this has taken place in the policy debates over environmental and other issues. The existence of uncertainty is used by policy actors as a proxy for their own agendas, such as to prevent policy action. The “normal science” response would be to just do more research in order to reduce uncertainty and the truth will eventually be revealed.

      Yet, they (PNS) argue that because of the unique status of the global environment, we cannot run a traditional experiment to see if our theory and predictions are supported so there will always be a great deal of uncertainty as to the future and predictions will always be uncertain. Politicians and stakeholders will always be able to play the uncertainty game and precious time to respond is lost. Models, the only way we have to try to predict the future based on different policy and emissions scenarios, will always be uncertain until the experiment — our actual climate — is finished, and of course by then it will be too late.

      As I understand it, this is the setting for “a new scientific method” which Funtowitz and Ravetz (1991) describe in this way:

      Because of the very rapid changes in environment, society and science itself, and in their interactions, a general awareness of the new state of science has yet to be achieved. In this essay, we make the first articulation of a new scientific method, which does not pretend to be either value-free or ethically neutral. The product of such a method, applied to this new enterprise, is what we call post-normal science.

      We adopt the term “post-normal” to mark the passing of an age when the norm for effective scientific practice could be a process of puzzle-solving in ignorance of the wider methodological, societal, and ethical issues raised by the activity and its results. The scientific problems which are addressed can no longer be chosen on the basis of abstract scientific curiousity or industrial imperatives. Instead, scientists now tackle problems introduced through policy issues, where, typically, facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent…

      In general, the post-normal situation is one where the traditional opposition of “hard” facts and “soft” values is inverted. Here we find decisions that are ‘hard’ in every sense, for which the scientific inputs are irremediably soft. [my emphasis]

      I agree that the decisions are hard, but are the scientific inputs irremediably soft?

      Does this describe accurately this new reality in which policy is made and does it justify the need for a new scientific method?

      I’m not convinced.

      It’s true that policy relevant sciences such as that of the environment, climate, public health and medicine are often contested because of the competing interests of those affected by public policy — oil companies, pharmaceutical corporations, chemical companies, tobacco companies, etc on the one hand and consumers, patients and citizens on the other. And of course, let’s not forget that politicans have interests as do political parties and their proxies.

      Uncertainties in the science can be used by both sides to push their own agendas and as we know it’s possible to produce politicized science, bad science and fraudulent science in support of these agendas and interests. VIOXX and Vaccine-Autism are two examples where science has been misused to push agendas. Greenwashing, astroturfing, and shoddy science on the part of denialists of several varieties shows how science can be misused to prop up an economic agenda.

      Does PNS provide us with a way out of this mess? Does this new scientific methodology with its extended peer communities and extended data help solve the policy impasse?

      If the results of the Lisbon conference is any indication, I am not hopeful. It seems to me that the organizers had the wrong starting premise and as a result, were attacking the wrong elements of the problem, and as such, can’t provide a solution except by pure accident.

      I’m open to consider other views of PNS, but I leave with this quote from a Ravetz on PNS, which does not inspire confidence in the overall PNS project:

      Ravetz, The Postnormal Science of Precaution

      In retrospect it appears that, in spite of all the traditional propaganda about science and the freedom of thought, in many ways science inherited the dogmatism of the literalistic religious world-views that it supplanted. Students spend all their formative years being force-fed incontestable facts. There is no place for judgment, still less independence of thought, in the traditional science curriculum. The idea of error in science, which enters so crucially when science is deployed in the policy process, has no place whatever in the received views of science.

      Within this system of ideas it is unimaginable for a well-conducted scientific inquiry to produce an erroneous result. The cases where this has actually happened to great scientists, such as Newton’s denial of the wave nature of light and Lavoisier’s assimilation of combustion to acid-formation (hence ‘Oxy-gen’ rather than ‘Pyro-gen’), are suppressed (Ravetz 1996 p.115). This dogmatic approach could not be transmitted successfully unless the teachers themselves still believe in it; and who will teach those teachers who will re-train the current teachers? The reform of science education may itself become politicised, so that the new understanding of ‘precautionary science’ can be integrated into the education of the next generations of scientists and requires different professional capabilities.

      Here are some of the professional capabilities of scientists under the post-normal reality, from an presentation on PNS, Post Normal Science: working deliberatively within imperfections by van der Sluijs:

      – Scientists’ integrity lies not in disinterestedness but in their behaviour as stakeholders.
      – Facts still necessary, but no longer sufficient.
      – Post-normal scientists should be capable of establishing extended peer communities and allow for ‘extended facts’ from non-scientific experts.
      – key task of post-normal scientists is maintenance and enhancement of quality, rather than the establishment of factual knowledge.
      – This new role of scientists is challenging and requires different professional capabilities.

      So science is not what it claimed to be, and that old view of science is not adequate for the new reality. As a consequence, scientists must have new professional capabilities and be involved in the policy process, not as reducers of uncertainty and producers of truth, but as quality assurance managers of both scientific and extended data and managers of extended peer communities.

      What do you think?

      • I think PNS needs to die a quick death. To my mind, Ravetz does not seem to have an understanding of either scientific research or policy development. Nor does he seem to understand who does what, and what happens when scientists move into positions of science policy.

        I think he has confused a lot of things. There are certainly situations in which action must happen quickly but most often there are already procedures in place for crisis management (disaster plans). In areas such as public health, human epidemics, animal disease outbreaks, floods, cyclones, fires etc all involve scientists and science practitioners (such as doctors, vets, meteorologists) as well as the public.

        When someone has to decide on the spot if a commercial forest is worth more than a national park or someone’s home – in directing fire fighting efforts, on the spot technical experts are consulted and value judgements are made – very quickly
        (of necessity) and not necessarily by the technical experts – eg could be a coordinator who makes the final call.

        Most governments and many businesses do their best to plan for the unknowable, for example through capability planning.

        I’m still willing to hear an explanation of how PNS concepts differ from what already happens, or another explanation of what PNS is and how it is better than what already happens. There is always room for improvement.

      • It sounds like a desperate attempt to reframe the argument, because the facts of anthropogenic climate change are becoming too hard to deny.

        This part of Ravetz quote really struck me, with regards to PNS: “The scientific problems which are addressed can no longer be chosen on the basis of abstract scientific curiousity or industrial imperatives.”

        As a newly minted PhD (Physical Geography) and active researcher, I can attest that this is nearly universally untrue in my field, and in all the fields I’ve been exposed to.

        Climate change science as a whole is remarkable because it has such profound implications on the way societies operate. Hence the deniers charge that the science is being directed by communists, lefties, etc. to push a political agenda. However, if you distill the components of climate change science to their individual fields, they each have at their core a curiousity-driven kernel.

        Ironically, Ravetz was accused at WUWT of being a “Trojan Horse” and a Marxist…

        • What a polarizing man and “new scientific method”! It’s either brilliant or completely nonsensical — or just plain confused.

          I think, from everything I have read, that it correctly identifies a problem in the policy process with respect to how uncertainty in science is used to buttress policy agendas, but I’m afraid I am not liking the underlying theoretical assumptions (the hints of postmodernism), the suggestion that the problem is in scientists having hidden agendas, or the call for a “new scientific method” which puts the scientist right in the centre of the policy process as a stakeholder in charge of QA…

          Scientists are already involved in the policy process as advisors to politicians in positions of authority in the bureaucracy. Keep them separated from scientists who do more of the pure research. Let the science bodies summarize the state of the science. They are the experts. I know the lines are not totally clear and there is some overlap, but I really don’t want to see scientists being anything other than purveyors of the evidence and clarifiers of the bounds of knowledge. There are already processes in place to keep them at arm’s-length and they should stay there unless they are specific advocates and public educators. Professional ethics and the normal processes in place to address conflict of interest should be enough for assurance of the validity of their work, but I am open to considering other opinions.

          • Speaking of Ravetz, after looking at an essay of his on his website, the first thing which jumps out at me is that he has to be using a different definition of science to what scientists use. He seems to be taking in everything from the research itself to its implications and implementations, policy and all, whereas most scientists take a view that science is what they do in the lab and although its goals can be affected by outside considerations, the actual results generally aren’t. Ravetz doesn’t seem to understand this approach.

            He isn’t as bad as Steve Fuller at least.

    • Michael just fulfilled my promise to provide an answer to Gavin’s Pussycat. It also prevents me to look for where Kuhn is talking about “revolutionary science”. My version would have been way more obscure, to Joe Sixpack’s liking.

      I think that Ravetz has a point, but as he has no knack for terminology, I’d rather let his conception suffer from his poor wordmanship.


      By the way, Michael, one of your comment have been a guest post there:

      I hope you do not mind,


  26. Michael :
    But, I’m a big fam of social science methods and qualitative research. … Would I apply them to atmosphereic physics etc – have you got rocks in your head?! But I defintely would use a range of participatory and inclusive techniques for discussing the policy implications of the science.

    Exactly. Treating climate science as if it were an enterprise with a flat interpretive field completely misunderstands the point of qualitative research. Qual has a vital part to play in ensuring that the policy response to climate change takes heed of all stakeholders and encourages the greatest buy-in. But the skeptics are a long way from this. I doubt they’ll ever get there.

  27. Ronin Geographer :
    …PNS just said that in applied science, peer review by itself is not sufficient…

    Ah! Applied science. That makes a lot of sense, thanks.

    • Applied science, as in engineering? I agree with that because engineering specializes in building things and things have to work well enough so that they don’t harm people, etc. So I agree that any engineering science that is part of the solution to global warming should be held to the usual standards for engineering, but I suspect this is not what PNS means, otherwise there would be no need for a “new scientific method”.

      Another question is this: is all science used to inform policy considered “applied”? I don’t think that would be workable. There is a lot of pure science that is relevant to policy development, but we can’t exactly expect to set up the kind of QA used in engineering for the biologist studying the movement of habitats or a atmospheric scientist studying ice cores. That would add a whole costly layer of bureaucracy to pure science that could hinder its progress.

      Does this mean we can’t use pure science to inform policy? I don’t think so, although I have heard this kind of talk from the likes of the CA inhabitants before.

      • I’ll take a punt, and it’s probably wrong:

        If you take it within context of things like Three Mile Island, which Ravetz mentions in the paper I linked to above (a one in a million chance of a disaster actually happened), then I can see where engineering would be more applicable to PNS rather than research science. A practical technology solution to a problem is more likely to be found from applied science than research science, where engineers have already turned research science’s results into practical and useable technologies. The extended peer review msy be more likely to bear fruit where there are many non-academic “inventors” and engineers who regularly use engineering principles, even physics, outside of the faculty paradigm who could have much useful information via their practical hands on experience with materials and through “building stuff”. In terms of climate science, though, how many armchair climatologists have drilled an ice core or even handled one? At a guess, not one. Even with a temperature series, only a handful have come up with one, not even McIntyre (that we know of). An inventor is more likely to contribute in a meaningful way, possibly having already tried what is being proposed, but they never published simply because he/she was doing it in the workshop/garage/shed/lab and they deemed it to have no value because the end “invention” failed for some reason. But there may have been some aspect to their work, a principle, that could be relevant elsewhere, and if part of extended peer review they may find a flaw in an unrelated proposal.

        Probably wrong, but hey.

      • I’m not familiar with the process used in engineering but a core idea behind PNS is that climate science needs to be held to even higher standards because more is at stake than in engineering. So in addition to peer review, scientists need to be able to make their case in the public arena. I imagine there should be some other form of accountability in between – just as engineers and doctors have to be licensed and lawyers have to pass the bar exam. But the areas of knowledge relevant to climate are so diverse I’m not sure how one would go about that and have not seen it articulated by anyone else. The Public Health profession seems to offer a good model for policy advocacy that rests on science.

        • Climate science is being held to a higher standard than the rest of science, but it’s become an impossible standard to achieve.

          Chris Colose has summarised it quite clearly:

          Have you read Merchants of Doubt by Oreskes and Conway?

          • Given what is happening, do you think it is possible for climate scientists to avoid the public arena? I do think boundaries are needed, and that it should not be necessary to debate with cranks who mindlessly repeat allegations that have been responded to. I The gatekeeping role of peer review is a proper one.

            I need to finish reading Merchants of Doubt but have read earlier Oreskes papers that led up to it.

          • Climate science is being held to a higher standard than the rest of science

            True, and this has been internalised by the research community — they are much more sensitised to ethics issues in their work than any other science community that I am somewhat familiar with, including my own (a different geo-science).

            …and actually this is fine. This is how it should be. I suppose the same holds for medicine.

            And then, if you go from science as such to policy-support science review (like the IPCC does), it goes up one notch more. And that is okay too. But I would like climatologists to remain human 😉

            • What if I amended my post to:

              A specific set of climate scientists are being held to a higher standard than the rest of scientists, while a specific set of other climate scientists are not.


            • …and actually this is fine. This is how it should be. I suppose the same holds for medicine.

              Just so people realize it. But I hae me douts. In fact, I suspect the general view among the skeptic / contrarian / denier crowd and anyone under their sway would deny it, claiming the opposite.

              Here is a great comment from Adam R. over at Tamino on a post titled Bullseye, reprinting Chris Colose’s comment:

              It is not just that engaging with the likes of the WUWT choir is futile; it is destructive to science: they are time wasters.

              Gavin Schmidt’s wisdom in dismissing the foolish Lisbon conference should be an object lesson to all in how to deal with the Tallblokes of this world and, alas, the Judith Currys as well. People who have never acted in good faith cannot be trusted to become suddenly honest in any context.

              There is no reconciliation possible between science on the one hand and deceit, ignorance and cynical distortion on the other. Making such attempts achieves nothing besides conferring a patina of respectability upon liars; better to let them dangle and devote the time to constructive work. [my emphasis]


              • This new article up at Think Progress and highlighted at Climate Progress and the revelations of Koch Industries already planning to gut the clean air act with Republican cronies suggests to me that the PNS approach is not going to do much to deal with the “science policy interface”…

                Not that this cozy relationship between Republicans and Koch Industries is any surprise to me. This is what people need to study in order to understand the stagnation in climate policy, not the “uncertainties” in climate science. But that’s just my opinion…

                Nice that the CP article appears below one covering the severe 2010 drought in the Amazon — which was worse than the 2005 drought and itself was responsible for as much CO2 emission as the entire US in one year.

                This is feedback, right? The stuff the denialists / contrarians / skeptics — lukewarmers aren’t so worried about?

        • I don’t like this idea of climate scientists having to make their case in the public arena for it’s a double-edged sword and a lose-lose situation. When they do go public to defend climate science, they are attacked as being advocates, and when they don’t they are attacked as not being willing to defend their science in public. This whole debate has been so politicized by the merchants of doubt that it’s almost impossible to separate out the misinformation and spin from the truth.

        • > So in addition to peer review,
          > scientists need to be able to
          > make their case in the public arena.

          Sure… (repressing tears… haven’t they tried, dammit? Tell me smartass, what would you do differently?)

          > The Public Health profession
          > seems to offer a good model for
          > policy advocacy that rests on
          > science.

          Yes, and doesn’t work either, see Mashey’s example below.

          Go away.

  28. Re: public health
    That has plusses and minuses.
    It has been 46 years since the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on cigarette-disease link.
    The medical profession tried pretty hard.
    I think something like 20% of American adults still smoke. Most people who start after 18 can stop, to really wire the addiction it usually must start while brains are developing, say 12-18.
    In round numbers, any adult born after 1950, most likely started as a kid AFTER 1964.
    Tobacco marketeers are the best.

    Then, there are the anti-vaccine folks.

    • With respect to the public health profession – what you say is true. But it is generally recognized that public health is inseparable from policy, and for better or for worse, most public health experts are not shy about making their case in the public arena. I was recalling an exceptional group of occupational health doctors who, after seeing patients, and tracing their symptoms back to the workplace, then became advocates for the community. Given the higher concentration of chemicals in the workplace, occupational health docs can also be a source of information on chemical hazards to the surrounding communities – it was made possible in part by funding from labor unions. But then there were the company docs whose m.o. was “publish and perish”.

      • When scientists do advocate on behalf of communities or for legislation to address some problem their research reveals, they run the risk of being attacked by interests aligned against action, their motives questioned and their science (and personal lives) subject to scrutiny. This is clear from the tobacco wars, and many other environmental wars over the past few decades. I don’t see PNS being in any way a solution to this. I’d like to see evidence that it is an improvement and has had success.

    • There is an interesting analogy here with Climate Science.

      As noted, despite the pretty much undisputed link between smoking and ill-health, realtively large numbers of people still smoke. You could invoke a ‘PNS’ style science-policy interface approach, assuming that it’s the policies or approach to education that is the failing and we should search for more efffective ways to communicate the dangers of smoking. Yet, studies show that the level of awareness of the harms of smoking are roughly the same among smokers and non-smokers. So, you could focus on those aspects, but you’d be wasting your time. The issue is how that information is understood, valued and acted upon, along with a range of factors that influence an individuals ability, or desire, to act. Social science methods of inquiry have been very helpful here.

      Admittedly, I am stretching things a bit, but climate ‘skepticism’ has some similarities. We have a fairly well-established body of evidence indicating a causal link. We have 2 rough groups; people who accept that scientific explanation and those who reject it. Like with smokers, you could spend much time and energy pondering what it is in the transmission of information process that is going awry (scientist could be more engaged, or ‘nicer’ etc), but, as with smoking, that would likely be a complete waste of time. Somewhat paradoxically, a ‘po-mo’ approach, combined with epidemiological techniques, would likely to be more helpful. In the case of ‘skepticism’, this would mean using the understanding that knowledge is socially-constructed, where attitudes, personality, past experience, values, judgements and environment all come together to produce this ‘knowledge’ (or, less charitibly, anti-knowledge) about climate science.

      I’m sure there is a PhD in there somewhere. And I wouldn’t be surprised if someone is already doing it.

  29. How many people have a problem with the Einstines, Slizards, Fermis and others who were very public in their anti nuclear weapons advocacy? Is Sakharov not treated as a hero by the right for being a Soviet anti nuclear campaigner?

  30. I’m surprised that there has been so little mention of the great philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. His book Against Method is a great read, full of fresh insights and some rather nutty aphorisms, which, I assume, were thrown out to provoke debate, but maybe I’m biased since I liked the guy’s style. You can get a good feel for his work here. His epistemological anarchism basically amounts to: “… treating science as an ideology alongside others such as religion, magic and mythology, and considers the dominance of science in society authoritarian and unjustified.” Wiki

    I would guess that the reason that the PNS folk haven’t embraced Feyerabend is because he takes, as mischievous philosophers do, the idea of extended peer community to its logical extreme to include everyone. I doubt that people like Tallbloke & co want to share equal time and consideration in the extended peer group with the Taliban, yogic flyers, environmental extremists and the Shining Path. It seems that the only other voices that mainstream researchers need to hear from are a small subset of past-their-sell-by-date scientists and their blogging fan-boys.

    • Feyerabend – nuttier than a sack full of squirrels.

      Though his name had crossed my mind more than once recently with all this PNS talk.

      Feyerabend is a cautionary tale for all those who seek to improve on science by infusing it with an extreme post-modernist critique. He started off reasonably enough I guess, but ended up advocating bunk, not science. Judith Curry should take careful note.

  31. Certainly Ravetz has been so much misguided about the situation of climate science.

    But I still think that PNS is a concept relevant to the situation of climate science.

    Though not equivalent, it is related to “trans-science”, a concept proposed in 1972 by Alvin Weinberg, a physicist worked on the issue of safety of nuclear power. Trans-science means such issues that can be posed within science but that cannot be answered within science.

    In normal science, scientists (as disciplinary communities) are simply silent about such questions that they cannot answer anyway.
    (In “revolutionary” science in Kuhnian sense, scientists try to answer them, but then they decide themselves what questions then need to answer.)
    Part of climate science is still in state of such pure science and it should be.

    But, part of climate science is already in PNS state
    at least since 1988 when IPCC was established. Some policymakers demand accurate climate prediction, which is certainly a trans-science issue. Scientists must make negotiation with policymakers for what they should provide, which resulted in “projections”. Governmental delegates enter the process of formulating IPCC reports. This is certainly a paradigmic example of “extended peer review”.

    I admit that Climate Audit and WUWT may be another kind of extended peer review, but that so far they are unsuccessful ones. Some of my thoughts (one year old) is here.
    People actively participating CA and WUWT do not share the lexicon (system of concept) with the scientists so that they can only do “disjoint peer review”.

    “Reconciliation” must contain elements of learning. Perhaps we need something very much like schooling for (graduate) students.

    In this aspect, efforts by Zeke Hausfather at Lucia’s Blackboard blog is noteworthy. I think that his efforts resulted in a group which share concepts about how to get global mean values from temperature records at stations, and that the group includes some notable climate change “skeptics” such as Mosher (even though he may identify himself as a “lukewarmer”).

    Some subjects, such as radiative processes in the atmosphere, are more difficult to share. I am tired to respond to such blog commenters saying that “greenhouse effect is already saturated”. I am thinking about starting a session (in Japanese — Excuse me, English speakers) to read Grant Petty’s “A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation” (458 pp.) very carefully. But actually I am not sure whether I can find time to do that, and, sadly, I doubt any climate change “skeptics” want to join.

    • If the arch-critical-scientist Ravetz could be so hoodwinked by the great global warming scam, writing “There’s a confession for you! Jerry Ravetz, arch-critical-scientist, suckered by the A(C)GW con for years on end. That really shows the power of plausibility”, why should I trust his judgement and analytic skills? Why should I trust his abilities to analyze the situation correctly when it comes to what’s needed in the science-policy interface in order to overcome the policy problems we face?

      I really have to question the honesty of the organizers of the meeting, which includes this statement:

      “We believe that the possibility of harmful climate change is real, and that the resolution of the science (even recognition of its inherent uncertainties) is urgent.”

      If Ravetz and his acolytes really do believe that global warming is a scam, this meeting seems more like a propaganda stunt than a serious attempt at rapprochement.

      • Susann, I think Ravetz’ been playing his cards depending on the audience. He most assuredly did not write these things on Klimazwiebel, for example.

  32. shewonk :

    What do you think?

    “extended facts” = opinion.

    Torturing the English language to say banal things hardly seems like a step forward.

  33. willard :

    By the way, Michael, one of your comment have been a guest post there:
    I hope you do not mind,

    Not at all.


  34. Here’s an article of some relevance to this topic. There are many who have in the past validly criticized NYT’s Tierney’s coverage of climate science. Regardless, this article is worthy of some thought.

    Extended peer review and ‘negotiating’ environmental science findings are not useful concepts, I agree. But at least part of what’s going on, sociologically, is that the global publics are slowly, fitfully, but increasingly digesting the findings of climate/ocean monitoring and change, and beginning to argue heatedly about what it all means. Its awfully messy and discouraging at times, but an important first step to real climate action policies. The ‘merchants of doubt’ may be working hard to acquire the best government money can buy; but achieving such goals is far from assured, even in US Congress.

    Finally, somewhat OT, but it seems difficult to say much definitively about the views of those just lurking (a group likely to be much larger than the set of folks who post and comment), trying to gauge the truth of it all; and how all the blogs and on-line scientific and management portals are impacting this group(s).

    There are quantitative indices of visits and hits to various internet addresses, but those of course say nothing useful about who is visiting, how they’re reacting, and how influential, or not, they are in relevant policy processes or private sector decisionmaking.

    • The internet has definitely revolutionized science and has increased the public’s exposure to science and debates in science. It’s like any other technology — good and bad. I’m all for science education — I think that there needs to be more but it should also be accompanied with training in logic for a bunch of facts without the ability to use them is pretty lame. There’s so much noise, it’s hard to manoeuvre and find quality commentary or determine what is quality and what is a load of bollocks.

      As to that study on political affiliation and academia, I could see how the social sciences would tend to be less likely to attract or be open to the right-leaning or Republican voter. As someone who taught university social science for five years, I can attest that the curriculum and faculty makeup was definitely left-leaning. I saw very few students who openly identified as right-leaning, both among undergrads and graduate students. Most of the profs I knew were left-leaning to radical leftists.

      • That’s partially true.

        The 19th C was full of some pretty robust ‘debate’ via the use of newspapers and pamphlets,and the kind of bunk and nonnsense we see on blogs today was present then.

        There was some character (can’t remember his name) running around in England at the time decrying the ‘fraud’ of modern science, and in particular, that the earth is a sphere and challenging any scientist to come up with proof of that, and offering a cash prize. It was big news in the day.

        The trick of course, was that said skeptic was the final arbiter of the proofs. Alfred Russell Wallace had a particularly nice proof that used

        Of ocurse, in a fit of handwaving, the proofs were all declared wrong and off he would go, doing it all over again – very WUWT, CA.

  35. from leo hickmans twitter
    leohickman Leo Hickman
    Congrats to Fred! RT @newscientist: ASBW Lifetime achievement award goes to @newscientist consultant Fred Pearce! #eg



  1. The Post-Normal Times , Archive » New normal or post-normal? - February 8, 2011

    […] with the recent Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate. The latter has the Policy Lass wondering if PNS is tailor-made for the denialist crowd, and has Deep Climate wondering if the PNS […]

  2. Out of 13,950 only 23 article peer reviewed articles dispute Man Made Climate Change - Page 67 (politics) - March 1, 2013

    […] in E&E, but certainly not in any scientific journal of any repute or credibility."…ensical-stuff/ Originally Posted by gmb92 We know deniers publish there. The fact that Tol is a reviewer is […]

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