Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why do smart people disagree about facts?

Because climate change is a concept developed by climate scientists, there is a wide spread belief that once the facts are known, there should be no reason to stop a proper course of action form being implemented. The problem is that sometimes the facts are not as clear as they seem to be, or least this is what some people claim. So do we get a pseudo controversy where there is no reason to disagree? Are the media presenting a false symmetry of positions where one side has no standing (see Seumas Milne's comment today)?

Two eminent social scientists deny this line of reasoning, David Victor (San Diego) 

and Dan Kahan (Yale). 

'Why do smart people disagree about facts? Some Perspectives on Climate Denialism' -- this is the title of a talk given by David Victor at the end of January at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Andy Revkin has covered the talk and put up a link to the paper here. Dan Kahan spoke at the STS event last week at my university where I had the pleasure to talk to him before and after his lecture. The title of his talk was 'Culture, rationality, and the tragedy of the science communications commons.'

Victor examines the role of climate consensus and the role of contrarians. With regard to the latter, he distinguishes three categories of 'denialists': shills, skeptics, and hobbyists. The shills are the professional policy delayers, skeptics are people like Freeman Dyson, and hobbyists populate the blogosphere. Victor thinks that the their influence is vastly over estimated:
[T]he whole climate science and policy community is spending too much time thinking about the denialists and imagining that if we could just muzzle or convince these outliers that policy would be different. That’s not right—in part because the denialists aren’t such a hearty band and in part because the real barriers to policy are cost and strategy.

His conclusion is reprinted below, but read the whole paper, it is illuminating.

First, we in the scientific community need to acknowledge that the science is softer than we like to portray. The science is not “in” on climate change because we are dealing with a complex system whose full properties are, with current methods, unknowable. The science is “in” on the first steps in the analysis—historical emissions, concentrations, and brute force radiative balance—but not for the steps that actually matter for policy. Those include impacts, ease of adaptation, mitigation of emissions and such—are surrounded by error and uncertainty. I can understand why a politician says the science is settled—as Barack Obama did…in the State of the Union Address, where he said the “debate is over”—because if your mission is to create a political momentum then it helps to brand the other side as a “Flat Earth Society” (as he did last June). But in the scientific community we can’t pretend that things are more certain than they are.
Second, under pressure from denialists we in the scientific community have spent too much time talking about consensus. That approach leads us down a path that, at the end, is fundamentally unscientific and might even make us more vulnerable to attack, including attack from our own. The most interesting advances in climate science concern areas where there is no consensus but the consequences for humanity are grave, such as the possibility of extreme catastrophic impacts. We should talk less about consensus and more about the consequences of being wrong—about the lower probability (or low consensus) but high consequence outcomes. Across a large number of climate impacts the tails on the distributions seem to be getting longer, and for policy makers that should be a call for more action, not less. But people don’t really understand that, and we in the scientific community haven’t helped much because we are focused on the consensus-prone medians rather than the tails.  

In a similar vein, Dan Kahan argues that people's tendency to use motivated reasoning while trying to maintain social bonds is the root cause for a highly polarized science communication with regard to climate change (the slides and notes from his talk are on his blog; see also his Nature paper Why we are poles apart on climate change).

During his talk at Nottingham, Dan presented research which examined two approaches from psychology, one called the 'public irrationality thesis' (PIT), the other the 'cultural cognition thesis' (CCT). According to PIT, public controversy over climate change and other societal risks can be attributed to the public’s excessive reliance on unconscious, affect-driven heuristics (“system 1” in Kahneman's terminology) and its inability to engage in the conscious, effortful, analytic analysis (“system 2”) form that characterizes expert risk analysis. But this is not borne out by the facts, as Kahan explains: 'Those members of the public who display the greatest degree of “system 2” reasoning ability—are no more likely to hold views consistent with scientific consensus. Indeed, they are even more likely to be culturally and ideologically polarized than members of the public who are most disposed to use “system 1” heuristic forms of reasoning.'

CCT, on the other hand, posits that the social bonds individuals have interact with their risk perception. Studies show that individuals are much more ready to perceive 'scientists to be “experts” worthy of deference on disputed societal risks when those scientists support the position that is predominant in individuals’ cultural group.'

This selectivity can be expected to generate diverging perceptions of what expert consensus is on disputed risks.  And, indeed, empirical evidence confirms this prediction.  No cultural group believes that the position that is dominant in its group is contrary to scientific consensus—and across the run of disputed societal risks, all of the groups can be shown to be poorly informed on the state of expert opinion.

The source of the science communication problem is not too little rationality on the part of the public but rather too much.  The behavior of an ordinary individual as a consumer, a voter, or an advocate, etc., can have no material impact on the level of risk that person or anyone else faces from climate change. But if he or she forms a position on that issue that is out of keeping with the one that predominates in that person's group, he or she faces a considerable risk of estrangement from communities vital to his or her psychic and material well-being.  Under these conditions, a rational actor can be expected to attend to information in a manner that is geared more reliably to forming group-congruent than science-congruent risk perceptions.  And those who are highest in critical reasoning dispositions will do an even better job than those whose “bounded rationality” leave them unable to recognize the evidence that supports their groups’ position or to resist the evidence that  undermines it.
Both Victor and Kahan point to an important issue. The issue is the role of scientific expertise in public affairs, and the social dynamics which ensue when risk issues are debated among scientists and the public at large is invited to comment (if only through opinion polls). The knee jerk assumptions of non-specialists in the field are not borne out by the facts, which means that progress on climate policy is not stalled primarily by contrarians, and more science education or information will do nothing to convince the public. Victor, the political scientist, shows how different forms of climate denial are over estimated while Kahan, the psychologist, shows that people actively seek information which fits the cultural group they belong to. No amount of 'neutral' information will change their views and campaigns of educating the public (through science or alarm) are futile. It looks as if those of us who want to see progress in climate policy need to focus their energy on different issues.


Anonymous said...

David Victor shows some improved understanding relative to some other social scientists but still has a long way to go. He appears to be realising that the idea of the lavishly funded well organised network of 'denialists' has been greatly exaggerated. It is strange that he uses the d word throughout, despite saying early on 'stop calling them denialists'.

Like many social scientists in the field, he has a very one-sided view. For example, on motivated reasoning, I wonder whether it has occurred to him that people on his side of the argument may also suffer from this? Could it be, as suggested on last night's interesting BBC Moral Maze, that some scientists might be motivated bytheir own left-wing anti-industry views?

Kahan's talk was very good, but he also over-estimates the importance of the worldview / motivated reasoning aspect. You talk here of 'social bonds' and 'cultural groups', but sceptics tend to be
individualists, mavericks, who don't have strong social bonds to a cultural group.

As the late Robert Phelan put it, "It’s ironic that Professor Kahan and his colleagues are perfectly correct in their estimation of the importance of cultural cognitive systems in determining views on a variety of issues with scientific inputs, but then fail to turn that mirror on themselves. They start from the position that the consensus must be correct, without examining the cultural presuppositions and intellectual history behind that consensus".

Paul Matthews

MikeR said...

It's not clear to me who goes into the third category of "skeptics". Freeman Dyson, but he's kind of an out of the box example. What about Steve McIntyre or Steve Mosher? What about Judith Curry? The author doesn't seem to take seriously the idea that this isn't scientists vs. clowns. I think that a lot of the political drag on AGW has come from the fact that some of these skeptics have done a pretty good job, and some of the scientists have done a pretty bad job. When social scientists studying the issue don't take that into account, they are likely to get weird results.

Dodgy Geezer said...

The problem is that sometimes the facts are not as clear as they seem to be, or least this is what some people claim......

...No amount of 'neutral' information will change their views and campaigns of educating the public (through science or alarm) are futile...

I suppose that I count myself as a 'hobbyist denier' in this field. But I can assure you that I am quite prepared to change my views.

If I may offer some hints to the believers in Global Warming and to how to achieve this, I suppose that the best way to start would be for the scientific establishment and their journalist supporters to stop calling me names, threatening me with violence, and pretending that I am paid by Big Oil.

The next thing that could be done, once we are talking politely, is for the supporters of the theory to stop changing their ground and avoiding questions every time one of their 'settled science' predictions proves false, and actually produce a fully stated coherent theory which can be tested.

Once we have got that far, I would invite them to examine their proposal that increased CO2 concentrations will result in increased humidity causing a positive feedback resulting in runaway temperature excursions, in the light of the following data:

1 - there has not been a global increase in humidity as predicted
2 - there has not been a signature 'tropospheric hot-spot' as predicted
3 - the temperature rise has paused, and is now starting to fall in spite of increased CO2, in direct contravention of the theory
4 - the temperature record so far shows nothing which is outside the realm of natural variability, and there are several credible processes currently being examined which seem to render our climate much more stable than the Global Warming hypothesis speculates.

Satisfactory answers to these points would go a long way towards making me change my mind.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dodgy Geezer,

you ask some really interesting questions. Yes, aside from the infamous Cook consensus there are a lot of open questions in climate science. Questions which alarmists like Michael Mann or Gavin Schmidt try to hide in public.

If you want to get some further insights in hot spots I recommend the presentation one of the greatest climate scientists, Richard Lindzen, gave in London one or two years ago. Also interesting a discussion with John Christy at


So, das war die zugespitzte Form eines Kommunikationsansatzes, wie ihn Kahan empfehlen würde, wenn ich ihn richtig verstanden habe. Vielleicht wäre auch Victors Empfehlung der Kommunikation des Risikos von Klimakatastrophen einen Versuch wert gewesen? ;-)

Karl Kuhn said...

@ Reiner Grundmann

It is telling for the degeneration of the debate at the interface between science and policy on climate change when even 'eminent' social scientists consistently use such language ('deniers' by David Victor). This term neither describes climate scepticism (what do all these people 'deny'?), nor is appropriate by any standards.

This language should be unthinkable for scientists. And I am actually not aware of any other similarly politicised public debate (think e.g. of 'retain the Euro or not', civil rights for homosexuals, the role of Islam in Western countries) where the language and public behaviour of many of the participating scientists(!) has pervasively sunk to such lows, without much contradiction from within or the media.

This is, by the way, my motivation to follow and join the debate ... a feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong with the science/policy interface here, which deeply concerns me as a scientist and a citizen.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Karl Kuhn

I wonder if you have actually read the piece by Victor. If you had, you would revise your judgement about his use of the term 'denier', he explicitly advises his colleagues in the climate mainstream calling them such. His three categories are an attempt to offer conceptual alternatives.


I think McIntyre et al would fall in the category of hobbyists. Where does he say this is a debate between serious people and clowns?

MikeR said...

Reiner, it seemed to me pretty clear from his comments that the only group that he thinks knows anything is the "skeptic" group. The other two groups are people who don't really understand the science.
Here are some of the things he says about "hobbyists": "These are people who disagree because it gives them something to do. Perhaps it is a constant of conscious life that people want to be relevant." "The hobbyist perspective also explains persistence and resistance to evidence. If your mission is to stir things up then evidence marshaled by experts doesn’t much matter. And if the evidence becomes too problematic then you move on to a new hobby while a new crop of denialists with a new quiver of wacky ideas takes over."

And as Karl pointed out, though he objects to calling them "denialist", he then proceeds to call them nothing else for the rest of the article. Weird. Imagine a civil rights advocate telling a crowd of bigots that it's wrong to call blacks "nigger", then using the word nigger to refer to them for the rest of the speech.

Dodgy Geezer said...

...there are a lot of open questions in climate science. Questions which alarmists like Michael Mann or Gavin Schmidt try to hide in public....

That is a really important comment.

Few people have the time and skill to assess all the relevant scientific papers which are published. Few researchers read ALL of them. So most people make up their minds on a 'gut feeling'.

If a salesman comes to your house selling a new vacuum cleaner, and you ask him about the cleaning power, and he refuses to answer, talking about its pretty colour instead, most people would respond by thinking that there was something wrong with the cleaner. Even more so if he then accused you of wanting a dirty house because you are not interested in his cleaner.

This is what is happening in Climate Change. There is no need for complex sociological consideration. Climate scientists are not responding to valid questions, and attacking the questioner. That's REALLY BAD salesmanship. The public may not be technical experts, but they can spot a dodgy salesman immediately.

MarkB said...

"three categories of 'denialists': shills, skeptics, and hobbyists..."

So we have a reasoned discussion of people the author disagrees with, and he classifies them as either nefarious, deluded or incompetent. And it doesn't understand why he's losing the debate?

Anonymous said...

Reading Victors article has induced a rant, apologies up front.
The article is deeply insulting, from one side of his mouth he is asking for a moratorium on the word deniers and from the other then proceeds to use the word prominently throughout his "lecture"; along with a number of variants, for effect, such as, denier ecosystem, in the shoes of a denier, "we need to learn to live with denialists they are not going away".

A message for Doug, first stop comparing people to holocaust deniers, who's main gripe is how over sold AGW has been by the press and politicians to sell awful policy prescriptions. Secondly apply equal standards to those hyping and overselling the science such .
Thirdly apply your own issued guidelines to onesself.

If for nothing else just to retain consistency in your arguments.

Heber Rizzo said...

Yes, MarkB, you are right. And meanwhile, "climate scientists" keep improving their denialism of past climate and cooling the past in order to magnifize the warming trend due to the last 17+ years of hiatus

Frank O'Dwyer said...

There's absolutely nothing wrong with terms such as 'denier' or 'denialist' - as used here, for example:

The parallels between the various types of denier (evolution denial, AIDs denial, vaccine denial, global warming denial, etc etc) are staringly obvious (the tactics, and fallacious reasoning, for example).

So no wonder denialists of the climate variety seek to try to exclude such terms from use via concern trolling and borrowing the clothes of political correctness.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Karl Kuhn, MarkB

I am still suspicious about the level of engagement with Victor's text. Correct me if i am wrong, but you do give the impression that you jump at the "d-word", register your dislike, and develop some diffuse antipathy against Victor's argument. If you would read his piece you would notice at least two things:

1 He was speaking at a seminar series on 'climate denialism'. The topic and title was given, and he tried to explain that this kind of framing does not help (yes, he uses the term, sometimes in inverted commas)
2 He calls the mainstream 'believer community'. In so doing, he will draw similar ire from this very community which feels insulted by being called 'believers'

As we have seen here on this blog many times, it is not easy to find a typology which satisfies the social groups thereby categorized.

But maybe your frustration with Victor lies somewhere else, at the core of his argument, that after all, the so-called contrarians (trying to find a 'neutral word...) are remarkably ineffective with regard to policy making. Their role has been exaggerated he says, and maybe this is what you don't like him saying? Perhaps you think that contrarianism is a good cause, and winning?
Just asking.

Karl Kuhn said...

I agree with you that I overreacted in my previous comment. Which also a symptom of a degenerated debate.
Your implication about my frustration does not apply for me, as I also agree that it is not scepticism that prevents eg Obama or Congress to enact more extensive carbon cuts.

Anonymous said...


maybe the reason is that from a sceptic perspective those texts seem to be kind of patronizing.

Vielleicht fühlt man sich als Skeptiker wie ein Patient auf der Coach des Psychiaters oder wie ein Kind, das bei seinen Eltern einen Ratgeber "Wie gehe ich mit verhaltensauffälligen Kindern um" entdeckt.


MikeR said...

@Frank O'Dwyer
The user of the term is an attempt to shut down debate. Of course every cause attracts fools. Any of us see fools who believe in AGW every day on any comment thread, saying all sorts of incompetent unscientific nonsense. That doesn't mean that AGW is nonsense, it means that lots of people don't or can't take the trouble to become competent in the science. The same is true of those on the "skeptical" side.

But the use of the term deniers, and especially when someone does what you did and equates it to vaccine denial, etc., is an attempt to deny that there are serious scientific issues that are still open and being discussed. That is the point that Victor makes in his presentation: the science is not solid enough to make a clear statement like, We know that CO2 poses a disastrous danger that requires immediate cuts in carbon emission. Some parts of the science are indeed clear, but other critical parts still need a lot of work. It is those who try to pretend otherwise who are denying the science.

Frank O'Dwyer said...

But I don't say that any debate should be shut down. I say that denial is a real phenomenon that afflicts multiple scientific disciplines. I also say that anyone who thinks deniers are engaged in a 'debate' and can be moved by evidence is mistaken if not deluded. That is not how a denier works.

Nor do I deny that that there are serious scientific issues that are still being open and discussed (though of course they rarely have anything to do with the headline conclusion about global warming, i.e. that it is happening and seriously risky). I simply say that deniers are not engaged in any such discussion. They are not discussing anything, and their zombie arguments and ideas aren't serious.

The existence of this denialist phenomenon across a whole host of scientific issues, and not limited to climate, is not something people are imagining, and it matters. Who could possibly object to there being a word for it?

Still I suppose it is to be expected that when there are people who deny the existence of global warming and global warming risks, there will be people who deny the existence of global warming denial too.

Hans von Storch said...

Frank, please try to avoid inflaming assertions such as "They are not discussing anything, and their zombie arguments and ideas aren't serious."

MikeR said...

I can only repeat what I said to you. The ones who are unmoved by evidence are found on both sides of the issue. You didn't respond to that comment, but they are easy to find on the AGW side as well. Read any comment thread, you will find people who insist that we won't be able to breathe because the acid oceans will kill all the plankton, that vast land areas of earth will be inundated by rising seas, that there are already massive disastrous changes in extreme weather, that 8 or 10 degrees C rise is guaranteed unless we immediately ___. Some of which are perhaps possible, but all of which are against the current scientific consensus, if the IPCC can represent that. You will find people talking about nonexistent hundreds of millions of dollars of oil money being spent each year to promote AGW denial. And you will find people talking about the 97% of climate scientists who agree on everything. They deny that there is a single issue in the physics/ecology/biology/economics/politics worth talking about, that might impact on the need for immediate carbon cuts.

Not only on comment threads. You can hear the President of the United States and other leading figures repeating some of this same nonsense, and saying that anyone who disagrees is from the Flat Earth Society.

It is hard for anyone who knows anything about this to read these and not wonder: These people are sneering at others? Don't they realize how they come across? Do they imagine that AGW skeptics, or independent people who want to understand, will come to accept their point of view when anyone can tell that much of what they say is totally ignorant?

So what are you talking about? Why do you think that the fools on the AGW skeptical side are any worse? I don't claim they are any better. But if these are deniers, so are these.
I don't mean to attack you, but the only way I can see that you noticed one group and not the other is if you think that those claims I mentioned in the first paragraph are true. In that case, what you wrote would make sense, but I'm afraid it would put you into the category of people unmoved by science or evidence.

Anonymous said...

why do deniers call others Nazis, Lysenko alike, communists, bastards, liars, frauds, etc.? And at the same time, deniers are complaining about being called deniers?

Can somebody explain this? Seriuosly, I cannot understand this hypocrisy.

Anyway, this discussion is pretty boring. The causes are pretty well known, why people deny things.

One is this: Just imagine. You have a strong point of view, you have a strong political opinion or follow an ideology. And then you find "information" in the Internet or in "Die Welt" or so that does fit into your view of the world. You will not unlearn this "facts", even they are a lie or at least a wild distortion of the reality and learn the real facts. Instead, you will deny facts that do not fit into your reality because your reality is in danger. All your beliefs. You will deny.

IMHO, this is not bad. It is natural. There are some psychological studies about it. I do think anybody is free of such problems.

It is just bad that some people and groups use this "trick" to defame science.


Hans von Storch said...

Nobody, you you know that statements like "why do deniers call others Nazis, Lysenko alike, communists, bastards, liars, frauds, etc.?" are unwanted. Indeed, such summarily assertions must be false, as you speak about a rather diffuse group of people, and you certainly know only very few of them. Try to keep to certain levels of politeness.

You also know that people making such claims are on both side of the aisle - the problem is that there are people like you, who make such unbounded, silly and insulting claims. Undoubtedly there are people of the sort, you describe, but they are in both extremist camps, and both of them are a pain in the back.

Anonymous said...


you won't like to hear it, but you are giving a good example for Kahan's thesis. No, I'm not speaking about your thoughts about global warming (I don't know), but about your disagreement about the facts Kahan or Victor are giving.

So what are you talking about? Why do you think that the fools on the AGW skeptical side are any worse?
No, Kahan says acceptance of facts is a matter of the cultural group you belong to, and that's not foolish behaviour but very rational. Furthermore, people denying facts are often quite smart, see

"Do they imagine that AGW skeptics, or independent people who want to understand,..."

If you were right, the deficit model would be the proper approach. Maybe you are right, maybe there are a lot of people who simply try to understand (Kahan doesn't say accepting of facts is a problem of ALL skeptics! And Kahan doesn't say you belong to the group he's interested in). That's the reason why Cook regards his consensus approach as complementary, see


MikeR said...

Hmm - Andreas, I didn't think I disagreed very much with Victor. I liked his article a lot, and he "spoke truth to power": said a lot of things that AGW believers wouldn't like to hear. I had a few quibbles, but that's inevitable with someone who sees things differently.

Frank and Nobody are a different story, and I was addressing them. As near as I can tell, they don't see that there is anything on the other side but lies and stupidity. I was just pointing out that the lies and stupidity they see are symmetrically distributed.

Frank O'Dwyer said...


"please try to avoid inflaming assertions such as "They are not discussing anything, and their zombie arguments and ideas aren't serious." "

I don't see why this should be inflaming. If I said it about HIV deniers it should be uncontroversial. My point is only that those deniers of the climate variety (and not *all* contrarians) are the same. I certainly don't say that every contrarian fits the the profile, but plenty do (and that's easy to see if you read the plosmedicine link I gave on HIV denial, and make the appropriate substitutions for 'HIV').

Nobody needs to be inflamed by the truth, and well, if they are, it's true anyway.


I agree that there are certainly plenty in the 'believer' camp who misunderstand or exaggerate the science. But I don't go along with the false symmetry and difference splitting because that is *not* the same as a group which routinely assumes/asserts/acts-like scientists are charlatans engaged in fraud, manipulation of data, a conspiracy to silence their 'truth' from the literature, and on and on. The latter is a classic denial pattern and we see it on every topic from evolution to HIV to vaccines to smoking/cancer links. In some cases it is the same people ('crank magnetism').

Anonymous said...

everyone who believes that sceptics are deniers, is a flat earth believer and ignorant!

look at this:

michael m.

Thomas said...

I have carefully read Victor's text.
And I must say that I was really underwhelmed - rather primitive, low intellectual standards, nothing new and/or original.
He basically makes an Nth attempt at partition of the population in the most simplist - binary way.
There are "we" (where he puts himself) and "they".
"They" are further subdivided in " categories - shills, skeptical scientists and hobbyists.
He then proceeds to caracterise (e.g to project intentions) each of this categories what has been also done N times.

However by the same token and applying the same axioms on the "we", there are obviously also 3 categories - shills (Greenpeace, WWF etc), CAGW scientists and hobbyists.
Now the only interesting question is where does belong Victor himself ?
He is clearly not a scientist what leaves shills and hobbyists.
As he gives no evidence that he would be a hobbyist with a level of competence like, say, S. McIntyre or Lucia Lindjgren, that leaves with the highest probability the hypothesis that he is a shill because there are only " categories.

First, we in the scientific community need to acknowledge that the science is softer than we like to portray. The science is not “in” on climate change because we are dealing with a complex system whose full properties are, with current methods, unknowable.
The most interesting advances in climate science concern areas where there is no consensus but the consequences for humanity are grave, such as the possibility of extreme catastrophic impacts. (sic!)

These statements support the hypothesis indeed. By some loose standards one could consider that sociology (or even worse - politology) is a science.
About every physicist would agree that if it is a science then it is a science so far from natural sciences and the scientific method that the word "science" itself starts to loose the sharp meaning it originally had.
So while by these loose standards Victor could label himself "scientific community", it obviously doesn't imply that he has any understanding about the real beef - the dynamics of this non linear, strongly coupled complex system which is called climate.

Finally as his own "theory" implies that he is just a "shill" of a different color than the "shills" of the opposing camp, why should anyone listen to what he has to say?
And especially why "they" should listen ?

As for me, I have only one question.
What EXACTLY in this Victor's text (that would be called in French "Bouillie pour les chats") was considered so important or interesting that it deserved to be published here ?

Karl Kuhn said...

@ Thomas

you asked:
"What EXACTLY in this Victor's text (that would be called in French "Bouillie pour les chats") was considered so important or interesting that it deserved to be published here?"

The justification is that Victor argues against the alarmist conviction that it is climate deniers who, by confusing the public about some 'crystal-clear science', prevent effective policies to do something about climate change (this 'something' is almost never further specified ...). Instead, his argumentation supports the notion that it is the costs of policies in terms of public budget, consumer purchasing power, and swing votes that determine the course of 'climate action' in different countries. I find this a reasonable proposition. We must not forget that the international consensus to 'do something on climate change' is somewhat older (Kyoto 1997?) than the scientific consensus (IPCC 2001?), so the political consenses arguably did not need the scientific consensus as urgently as the Cook crew wants us make believe.

Wording issues: His text seems targeted at hardcore alarmists. In order not to get labelled denier by them yourself, it seems you have to do a bit obligatory denier bashing.

Discussing whether a politologist is a 'scientist' or not, or a 'Wissenschaftler' or not, does not help making positive use of Victor's arguments.

Werner Krauss said...


I agree with some of the inconsistencies you mention in Victor's argumentation; to make use of the same categories on the "we" side is perfectly legitimate. I also agree with Karl Kuhn here. I think science and political science are not really comparable; while science tries to give answers to clearly defined questions, political or social sciences often make arguments based on theories and empirical findings. Different game, different rules. Problems arise when political or social scientists assume the attitude of scientists - even when working quantitatively, political science cannot give "scientific" answers. So far, so good, but: unfortunately, climate scientists also notoriously tend to assume the role of social scientists without having the theoretical and empirical basis. And here Victor is right: scientists as "hobby" social scientists easily come to wrong conclusions - such as defending consensus and fighting skeptics instead of addressing the real problems of adaptation and mitigation. The strict separation of science and politics realistically does not make much sense anymore; the climate issues is tempting both sides to illegitimate border crossing.

Anonymous said...

Can you give an example of a working climate scientist who assumes the role of a social scientist?

Werner Krauss said...


from Hasselmann to Hansen, from Schellnhuber to HvStorch, all "big men" in climate science have their social theories. They suggest economic models or apocalyptic warnings in order to solve the climate problem or to steer society; they propagate the great transformation, adaptation or honest brokering: all social theories which have nothing to do with their own scientific expertise (which doesn't necessarily mean that these ideas are wrong). These theories are borrowed from social sciences (whose nature is debate), and they are presented in the disguise and with the authority of science (not debatable). This is what I meant by: they assume the role of social scientists - maybe not the best description for my idea. I hope you get my point, anyway!

Anonymous said...

Would you agree with me in saying that, to rephrase slightly what you said (February 28): some 'social scientists are 'hobby' (climate) scientists and easily come to the wrong conclusions', as they lack 'the theoretical and empirical basis'. The poltical actions they propose are however proposed with the 'authority of social science'.....

Werner Krauss said...


sure, social scientists suck, too!