Two articles appeared in uClimate.com almost together:
Whilst Andrew Montford tends to be a moderate, in this case his comments did not seem appropriate for what appeared to be a good attempt to move the debate forward by Mike Hulme:
Mike Hulme is going to find himself given “the big cutoff” if he carries on like this. “Infamous” eh? Perhaps word is getting round that John Cook and his acolytes at Skeptical Science are a bit of a liability. With quote fabrication now added to the list of misdeeds of which he stands accused.
Whilst there must be more to this, I will focus on responding as well as I can to what was said:
“Science can’t settle what should be done about climate change”
Whilst this sounds like an admission that “science” has its limits and is not the sole authority on climate, I do not know if this is what Mike Hulme meant. The position is the more difficult because unfortunately, often when the term “science” is used in the public arena, it does not refer to the application of the scientific method, but instead to the socially constructed boundaries erected around a group of academics which seems to serve the purpose of demarcating themselves as being “good science” and anyone else as “bad science”.
If he is using the “scientific method” definition, then in effect, this is a statement that it cannot ever(?) be possible to know enough about the climate, its effects and the economic and social implications to make a decision. Perhaps what Mike Hulme means is that “present science” cannot know. But to say that the scientific method cannot ever settle the issue, is …. unscientific!! Because unless you believe science is set in concrete and cannot improve beyond our present knowledge then how do we know what we will know in the future? How do we know science has a limit? So I do not believe this is his meaning.
If however, by “science” he means the socially constructed boundaries around the group of academics – then yes, as public employees, with little real knowledge of the world outside academia, they were always going to be challenged to have the same understanding as those in the commercial economy outside when it comes to the economic implications of what they were proposing. Admitting this is an important step forward.
However, it was this that caused me to reply:
“What matters is not whether the climate is changing (it is); nor whether human actions are to blame (they are, at the very least partly and, quite likely, largely); nor whether future climate change brings additional risks to human or non-human interests (it does). … In the end, the only question that matters is, what are we going to do about it?”
As a scientist, engineer, with a business MBA, who has dabbled in politics, I may be biased as it seems to fit me to a “T”, but I cannot disagree with that statement. And it is the first time I’ve felt real progress as it shows a remarkable degree of candid honesty which should have been applauded. Knowing isn’t everything. It’s what we do with that knowledge which is!
However, I was also a little concerned that taken on its own this statement might be perceived as saying that science (as in those using the scientific method) would not have an important role.
Moving from “thinking” to “doing” may be taking the emphasis away from the boundaries of “science” within academia, but it should not be seen as the end of the involvement of science.
Science (as in the scientific method, not a consensus amongst academics) is the bedrock of good decision making. That is why so many sceptics who clearly (from our survey) have important jobs working in the private sector are also scientists and engineers. The problem is this perception by many inside academia that “science” only refers to academia and therefore anyone outside speaking on science must be “bad science” or “unscientific”. This is a real problem and it is this failure of academics to trust those outside which I think is the biggest problem we face on this issue.
The reality is that whilst science isn’t the sole focus of many outside academia, it is the foundation on which we make day to day decisions very similar in nature to the issue of the climate. Any engineer or doctor works daily with scientifically based projections, scientific tests, models & risk assessments. Far from rejecting science, this is embracing science, but it is done in a way that balances their knowledge of science against economic and social concerns. That is where I think the big disagreements arise. Academics have demanded science and (academic) scientists should have pre-eminence as the authority on this issue. Those outside have known they should not.
But in most other spheres of public life it is those outside academia in medicine, engineering, agriculture etc. that any reasonable government would turn to if wanted a decision equivalent to that regarding the impacts of CO2, because it is largely those outside who have the experience of balancing the scientific, with the economic and social issues.
“So politics, not science, must take centre stage.”
So here Mike Hulme completely misses the point, because the key ingredient is missing. I repeat, in every other field of human endeavour I can think of, we don’t let academics dictate to the rest of us what to do. Almost invariably there is a group of people whose role it is to take academic research and translate it for use in society. In medicine we call them doctors, in most science we call them engineers and for example in other areas they are called “consultants”.
These outsiders to academia act as a vital intermediary between academic science and society. Almost invariably from the private sector, they filter out the public sector bias of Universities and add in their own commercial understanding of real functioning economy. The result is a balanced viewpoint – one often not to the liking of academia, but one far more in tune with the needs of society.
What Mike Hulme is proposing is not balanced. It is public sector academics advising public sector politicians how to run the private sector economy. This has never worked in the past and it never will in the future. Instead we need is people who not only understand science but also empathise with the working economy & reality of a commerce-based society to help guide governments. As such, any such attempt for [public-sector academic] scientists to advise [largely scientifically illiterate public sector] politicians will fail particularly on an issue like energy which is so important to the real economy.
We must get back to basics. Academics don’t build bridges, academic do not perform operations, academics don’t “do”! So, when the key question is “what are we going to do about it?“, the wrong answer will always be that academics should “do” anything other than produce good science.
So, I think the real problem with the climate issue is that we are missing that key group of “doers”. Politicians are not “doers”, academics are not “doers”. We need that group of “doers” who have been so far excluded from this issue.
Now, without giving too much away before the survey is published, I can say sceptics are doers! I think the reason so many people are “sceptics” is because they have naturally come in to fill in the missing space and provide the vital ingredient in this debate. As such, only when their views are not only listened to, but respected, will we know we have any chance of making a good decision on “what to do”. And hopefully, those who seem to be trying to find a way forward like Mike Hulme will be pleasantly surprised to find how well sceptics fit this role (that is the real sceptics who answered the survey and not the imaginary group called “deniers”)