Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Post-Normal" Science As Proof of Global Warming:

Mike Hulme, the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, argues in the Guardian that while scientific evidence may cast doubt on Global Warming why believe science? When a larger truth must be expressed, then "post-normal" science must be employed. (Hat tip: Melanie Philips and a Belmont Club reader)

Hulme argues that Global Warming is so important that everyone must act to stop it, whether or not it is scientifically known to exist.

Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs where the stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken. It has been labelled "post-normal" science. ... 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. ... If only climate change were such a phenomenon and if only science held such an ascendancy over our personal, social and political life and decisions. In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage. ... What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy; it is whether we have sufficient foresight, supported by wisdom, to allow our perspective about the future, and our responsibility for it, to be altered. All of us alive today have a stake in the future, and so we should all play a role in generating sufficient, inclusive and imposing knowledge about the future. Climate change is too important to be left to scientists - least of all the normal ones.

It is an argument superficially similar in structure to Pascal's Wager, which is an expected value argument for the existence of God.

Pascal argued that it is a better "bet" to believe that God exists, because the expected value of believing that God exists is always greater than the expected value resulting from non-belief. Indeed, he claimed that the expected value is infinite. Pascal believed that it was inexcusable not to investigate this question: "Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly." Pascal's Wager is an argument for belief in God that he made and used because he hoped it would convert those to Christianity, who were ignorant, uninterested, or unconvinced by the arguments for the existence of God.

But any resemblance between Pascal and Hulme ends there. While Pascal's Wager describes an approach to problems which are in principle unknowable to science because they are unobservable, at least with present methods, Hulme on the other hand, exiles phenomena which are entirely observable and which ought to be primarily in the domain of science to the realm of political activism. While in Pascal's Wager a personal bet on the existence of God can never alter the fact of His actual existence or non-existence and is therefore entirely private, Hulme's exhortation to base a global program of social and climate engineering on "post-normal" political science amounts to a kind of self-appointed and potentially catastrophic tyranny.

In declaring himself free of the traditional scientific burden of proof Hulme finally abandons any pretense to authority. He has no rigorous way to tell us what is going to happen next. Nor is he willing to discuss it with those who do. There are two ways to predict the future. Statistics can help us predict the future based on trends which arise from the past, like driving a car with a blacked-out windshield by extrapolating from the scene in the rearview mirror. The stronger way is to possess an analytic model of the phenomenon such that we can "see" the future in the way that we can predict the future position of Mars by celestial mechanics in order to meet it with a space probe. Of the two ways Hulme has neither, nor did the Global Warming crowd ever even pretend to have the second; but now there is no requirement to even have the first. Presumably Hulme would object to being labeled a jackass using the "post-normal" methods he advocates. It might be a false accusation, but then we're not talking about proof, are we?


Here's a YouTube clip from a Harvard astrosphysicist on the subject of "precautionary principle" as applied to weather engineering and the punishment its critics faced half a millenium ago. She has another word from the "post-normal" method of thinking: superstition.


Blogger wretchardthecat said...

BTW, Michael Crichton and other scientists are going to debate Global Warming live with advocates.

3/15/2007 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, who's going to step up and write the Global Warming version of Alan Sokal's "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"? After all, the whole field is ripe for its version of "L'Affaire Sokal".

3/15/2007 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

The implications of inserting the process of "post-normal" science into the policy making process are enormous. Any GW study, regardless of the credentials of the authors, which does not reasonably exclude solar activity as the prime cause of climate change, is a fraud, ab initio.

It seems apparent to me at least that the GW canard has become the back door into gaining de facto political power to advance a socialist agenda. The Guardian article author lets this slip with this comment. "Too often with climate change, genuine and necessary debates about these wider social values - do we have confidence in technology; do we believe in collective action over private enterprise; do we believe we carry obligations to people invisible to us in geography and time? - masquerade as disputes about scientific truth and error."

As more and more credible scientists are coming out to debunk the claims of man-made climate change the GW crowd attempts to silence them by calling them "deniers" no different from and no better than Holocaust deniers - as if there were any logical connection between the two.

Post-normal science is the next step - and it's a big one - because it completely substitutes faith & obedience for reason as the basis of policy making authority. The West went through all this not more than a few hundred years ago, and apparently we are going to have to do it again.

3/15/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Apparently Crichton's debate team walloped the Global Warming advocacy team by a margin of 46% to 42% when the margin going in was in favor of Global Warming by 57% to 30%. And the Global Warming advocates were a strong team, so Crichton et al converted the faithful in front of their spiritual leaders.

Global Warming Skeptics
# Michael Crichton is a writer and filmmaker, best known as the author ofJurassicPark and the creator of "ER." Crichton graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College, received his MD from Harvard Medical School, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He has been a visiting instructor at Cambridge University and MIT. Crichton's 2004 bestseller, State of Fear, challenged extreme anthropogenic warming scenarios.

# Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT since 1983, previously held professorships at Harvard, where he received his A.B., S.M. and Ph.D., and the University of Chicago. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of various awards. He is the author or co-author of three books and over 200 papers. His current research is on climate sensitivity, atmospheric convection and the general circulation of the atmosphere.

# Philip Stott is an Emeritus Professor and biogeographer from the University of London, UK. Although a scientist, for the past ten years he has also employed modern techniques of deconstruction to grand environmental narratives, like “global warming.” Stott was editor of the internationally-important Journal of Biogeography for 18 years. He broadcasts widely on TV and radio, and writes regularly on environmental issues for The Times of London , among other publications.

Global Warming Advocates

# Brenda Ekwurzel works on the national climate program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Prior to joining UCS, she was on the faculty of the University of Arizona. Doctorate research was at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and post-doctoral research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

# Gavin Schmidt is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. His publications include studies of past, present and potential future climates. Scientific American cited him as a top 50 Research Leader in 2004, and he has worked on education and outreach with the American Museum of Natural History, the College de France and the New York Academy of Sciences, among others. He is a contributing editor at

# Richard C.J. Somerville is Distinguished Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. He is a theoretical meteorologist and an expert on computer simulations of the atmosphere. Among many honors, Somerville is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society. He has received awards for both his research and his popular book, The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change.

3/15/2007 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

Someone should create a comprehensive list of signs we ought to see before ordinary people start worrying about global warming. A few suggestions:

- The price of beachfront property falls significantly

- Politicians and movie stars stop flying in helicopters and private jets

- Environmental activists recommend policy changes they weren't already in favor of to combat global warming

My personal recommendation, as a precautionary measure, is that nobody should hold their breath waiting for these signs to appear.

3/15/2007 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger OregonGuy said...

The new normal is no science.

I can't imagine how liberating that must have been to write. It reminds me of Tom Jones' lyric

"God is Dead, that's what they said, done in by Darwin, Marx and Freud;

Free are we of diety,
Of course it sort of leaves a little void." -Celebration 1969.

3/15/2007 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

"Too important to matter if it is true" sounds just like the Tawana Brownlee accusations trumpeted by Al Sharpton to propel himself to power.

The accusations of rape and torture of a black girl by white politicians were argued to be "too important for the real truth to matter." The accusations made a point that some thought sacred, so the point was valid even if the evidence clearly was not. So ignore the evidence.

Hulme puts himself in the company of race baiting demagogues with this assertion. And that's just where he belongs.

3/15/2007 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Peter UK: Circa 1993 I read an assessment by an alleged scientist that "Global warming would not be a problem if everyone would stop breathing for a couple of hours."

Even without examining the evidence and seeing the calculations it is difficult to argue with that assertion....

Them first!

3/15/2007 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

The attack on the west by Islam and the attack on the west by GW are separate endeavours with the same result as the goal.

Obviously we appear very weak to have so many opportunists attacking at once.

3/15/2007 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Db2m said...

Dinosaur bones found with blood tissue?

Naw, couldn't be. Dinosaurs lived 100 million years ago.

Irrespective of your view on global warming, gentle blogger, statistics say that you probably believe the party line on the age of dinosaur remains.

So don't be too hard on the blokes duped on the global warming thing, if you are one of the blokes duped on the dinosaur thing.

3/15/2007 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Db2m said...

Circular reasoning, I love it.

3/15/2007 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Greg Marquez said...

Well this kind of science is nothing new. Try suggesting that Darwinism isn't true, or that homosexuality is not genetically based.

This same strategy of winning the argument by shouting down opponents has been used against the opponents of Darwinism for over a hundred years.

It's kind of hard to take the complaints about the politicization of science seriously now, after all these years.

Greg Marquez

3/15/2007 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

What is different about the Global Warming crowd is that, unlike Creationists, Scientologists or anyone else that come to mind, they are negotiating a framework of binding laws to make the world conform to their beliefs; limiting economic growth in the Third World in line with their ideas on "sustainable development" and recasting, if I understand the post-normal scientific method aright, the accepted standards of rationality. They are also and not so incidentally, claiming sovereignty over the environment.

These are monumentally huge claims. Not even Communism in its heyday openly went so far. The sheer effrontery of it is breathtaking. What I really like about the "post-normal" scientific method is that it is nothing more than "manos arriba" spoken with a quasi-religious tone of voice.

3/15/2007 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Pascal said...

Hey! Crack open a Watermelon and you're astounded to find a rotten Stalinist core?

Surely you kind of wretch.

Hulme's exhortation to base a global program of social and climate engineering on "post-normal" political science amounts to a kind of self-appointed and potentially catastrophic tyranny.

3/15/2007 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Pascal said...

Well, of course!

Where would Postmodernism be without post normal science? /s

Mother Gaia, will C4 come out and play soon?

3/15/2007 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Maybe it all started when they had to learn that they were "pro-choice" which is completely nothing like "pro-abortion" even though the only "choice" involved in the discussion is "abortion."

3/15/2007 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger pantapon rose said...

So the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, someone with a clear financial motive to promote fear over global warming, is now telling us just to trust him???

3/15/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger TM Lutas said...

Lysenkoism has usually been condemned on two counts. First of all, it was wrong on the facts. But nearly as damning was how it was promoted through political means. Woe to a mendelian who served under a lysenkoite commisar!

But the reality, as far as I can tell, was that there wasn't much of a fight put up internally. Those who were not convinced of lysenkoism and had a shred of dignity simply changed their field of study and Soviet science was deformed. I wonder if an outside examiner could detect similar deformations occuring among the research profiles of our own scientists?

3/16/2007 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger pst314 said...

Speaking of Alan Sokal's hilarious hoax, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", it can be found in the book "Fashionable Nonsense" by Alan Sokal an dJean Bricmont.

Other useful books are:

"Fashionable Nonsense" by Paul Gross, Norman Levitt, and Martin Lewis
"Higher Superstition" by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt
"A House Built on Sand" by Noretta Koertge
"Prometheus Bedeviled" By Norman Levitt

3/17/2007 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger drrocket said...

Post-normal is yet another word for political correctness. Something is politically correct/incorrect because it is invalid in every other discipline.

3/19/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Huan said...

the counter to Pascal's wager is that what if there is a God and he isn't anything like what you wager is, thus take a dislike to false acknowledgement rather than true understanding and faith.

similarly, the counter to the post-science of global warming is that the steps we take to minimize global warming may actually make things worse, and somehow cool the world that is over due for the next ice age.

3/19/2007 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger drrocket said...

Under the rules of Post-Normal science, an equally valid, but even more devastating upcoming climate crisis is the next ice age. To prevent this crisis we must increase greenhouse gases (if you buy IPCC science).

Is it possible in Post-Normal logic to both increase and decrease CO2?

3/20/2007 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger aefields said...

I'd never seen the term "post-normal science" before, and after a brief look, I don't like it. If they want a phrase for making policies that way fine, but it shouldn't have the word science in it. Once policy starts to affect science it isn't good science anymore, maybe not science at all. It's like the bogus studies on the detrimental effects of marijuana where a condition on the grant money was that there were not to be shown any positive effects. Research on such a basis is nearly useless scientifically, and worse than useless politically.

But the real research into climate has not included such bogus ideas.

Some people have been spreading falsehood, implying that climatologists don't realize that the climate is always changing, or that research hasn't taken into account solar fluxuation or other non-human sources. As a matter of fact, in all the serious studies, all such factors were considered, and non-human influences alone cannot explain the current trends.

The idea that global warming is made up as some sort of attack, as Mike H. said "The attack on the west by Islam and the attack on the west by GW are separate endeavours with the same result as the goal." is completely ludicrous. I suppose Mike H. wears an aluminum foil deflector beanie and subscribes to half the conspiracy theories out there.

3/30/2007 03:02:00 PM  
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5/03/2007 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Jay Currie said...

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8/14/2007 01:24:00 AM  

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