I feel a little awkward in that M’s comment on the post “Sciencey Spice Etc” is such a perfect set up for the post I was intending to write regardless that even I am a bit suspicious about it’s authenticity (it is a real comment nonetheless).
In a nutshell, the comment reveals a naive and dangerously simplistic notion about what both science and politics are, but which I believe is fairly common in the science community.
The post in question discusses and seeks to understand the phenomenon of Judith Curry and her blog Climate Etc as a social and socio-political event within the broader context of climate change Denialism, and begins to examine some of the gender and other dynamics which appear to be in play.
M says “I find the gender-based speculation in this post highly unnecessary, and even inappropriate. Stick to criticizing the lack of science in JC’s blog rather than attempting amateur psychoanalysis.”
“Stick to criticizing the lack of science in JC’s blog“
That’s worked really well for us.
We simply document the bad science and lack of rationality in the climate change Denier arguments and they simply go away, c’est touts.
For those who missed it, climate change Denial has been increasing, not decreasing. Our strategy is not working. When are we going to acknowledge that while documenting the absence of science or rationality in the Denialosphere may be necessary to making our society a reality based one, it is clearly not sufficient.
More accurately, since we already acknowledge it, when are we going to change our behaviour accordingly? (HINT: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.)
Why would a community that self-identifies as rational “stick to” a strategy that on the face of it is largely ineffective?
Or are we as afraid of change as the Deniers are?
GUILDENSTERN: Is that what people want? THE PLAYER: It's what we do.
Make no mistake, documenting the Denier lies and frauds is absolutely necessary, it just does not seem to be sufficient.
“Ways of knowing” for two hundred points
Seeking to understand and explain observed phenomenon is a field of human endeavour known as …. science?
Further, in conceiving of science we too often simplistically jump to the more formal rigourous testing of a hypothesis as dictated by the scientific method, forgetting (if you have never been a working scientist) that it is preceded by a long period of more informal (but often quite rigourous) discussions of possible hypotheses.
To even begin to formulate a testable hypothesis about anything except the most trivial phenomena it is necessary to intellectually explore the possibilities. In the scientific world this is done constantly in every conceivable settings, often in discussion with others. That one would begin or continue this more informal phase of intellectual inquiry on a blog is not contrary to science, it IS science. This phase is not sufficient, but it is necessary.
“Things are the way they are because they got that way.”
As a former evolutionary biologist I know it was the question that ruled every aspect of what I did, and I assume the same is true of cosmologists, anthropologists and many other fields of enquiry. Unfortunately too many fields seemed to lend themselves to forgetting it.
Imagine someone who is trying to understand the science of billiards. They are given a “snapshot” of a game as it is just after the cue ball has been struck and then as it progresses over the next minute or so. Once they have determined the mass and kinetic energy of the cue ball, the friction coefficients of the relevant surfaces, etc they may even accurately predict the eventual pattern of the balls on the table once they come to rest.
However, the mysterious energy which the cue ball had, where did it come from? If it occurs again, will it be of the same force and vector? Will the initial energy input be found only in white balls? only in one ball at a time?
The pattern of balls as we found them is the consequence of historical forces at play, and real understanding now is only possible by looking at the past. If our metaphorical game of billiards took place extremely slowly over epochs it would be eons before we understood how it worked.
Now try to imagine understanding continental drift by only taking measurements from this moment on rather than using the historical record. Or evolution, or climate, or the solar system, or pretty much any of the sciences. You cannot understand “now” until you understand the forces that shaped it.
So how is it that we hope to understand the political moment that is now without critically examining the forces that shaped it?
attempting amateur psychoanalysis
A smug remark obviously meant to be disparaging to which I can only reply that I thank God that Darwin was not afraid to attempt science as an amateur, and Einstein, and Mendel, and …
Notice how “psychoanalysis” includes the word “analysis?” If the thinking is flawed then cite specifically where and how, but do not cavalierly dismiss it in the erroneous belief that an uninformed opinion stated as a baseless observation is somehow more intellectually rigourous than an actual argument (whether flawed or not) that is laid out. The argument is at least an attempt at science, the dismissal is mere ignorance and prejudice given voice.
highly unnecessary, and even inappropriate.
Documenting the reality of anthropogenic climate change may be a scientific issue, but what society does about it is a political one.
Insomuch as i) we are not dispassionately watching a yeast culture poison itself, but a rather more grandiose version of that analogy that includes our own species as well as millions of others, and ii) whether scientists or not we all inhabit this globe and have a direct interest in the consequences of the social response to climate change, and iii) we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to participate positively in our society, why would we not participate in the socio-political process?
Politics should have no place in science, but that does not mean scientists and the scientifically literate should have no place in politics. I realize that as it is currently playing out it seems as if one is required to pass an incompetency test to participate in the political process, but that is not how it was meant to work.
So how is an attempt to understand the underlying forces that have shaped our socio-political moment “highly unnecessary, and even inappropriate.”?
The historical forces that shaped our current situation with respect to climate change (both the change itself and our lack of response to it) are political. We cannot understand where we are without examining and understanding those forces, and without understanding we cannot hope to participate effectively.
It is no more coincidence that the groups that are preyed upon (women, people of colour, etc) by the powers that be are the same ones that will be hit first and worst by climate change, any more than it is mere coincidence that both gorillas and whales have hair and suckle their young. The historical forces that shaped the denial of climate change are the same ones that shaped the status of women, and for the same reasons.
So why the objection to a gender analysis? or a class analysis? or race? or generational? Why the objection to attempting to understand?
Consistency, a radical concept
Which of the following errors do we wish to keep repeating (choose as many as needed):
- ignore the ineffectiveness of our tactics and strategy (corollary: give lip service to acknowledging the failure, but no more);
- continue doing what we know despite it’s ineffectiveness;
- dismiss/reject analyses that threaten our world view;
- cling to the belief that the role of science in politics is distinct from all other politics;
- wallow in arrogant and smug rejection of newer fields of science and enquiry because they have not yet developed the tools and other foundations that older fields have.
Or for the purpose of ease and simplicity do we wish to commit the Grand Denier fallacy? viz simply bundle up all of the empirical evidence that threatens our simplistic world view into one convenient package and refuse to deal with it on the grounds that in our opinion it does not exist. Is that to be our strategy?
Here’s a radical notion, how about when participating in the politics we don’t be as ignorant and naive about politics as the Deniers and public are about science?
I will go even further, how about we bring to politics the same sort of rigour and intellectual intensity as we use for science? Put another way, how about we actually know wtf we are talking about and wtf we are doing?
If we hope to understand and hence meaningfully engage in the politics we have to study them objectively, learn the literature, recognize the patterns and commonalities, and act appropriately.
For some this may not be a palatable prospect, but then heliocentricism, evolution and quantum mechanics weren’t either.
To imagine that the politics of climate change is somehow separate from and independent of other political struggles in naive and delusional. Those that embrace the “coincidence” hypothesis are not competent at either science or politics.
If we want the world to deal with the reality of anthropogenic climate change we are going to have to deal with the reality of real world political struggle, and we do not have the luxury of a few decades to wallow in denial and self-absorbed quibbling first. If we want to wear the mantle of scientific rationality we are going to have to earn it by actually living it, now, without exception!
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
It is worth knowing and abiding by whether you comment on this blog or not.
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