Robyn Williams is Australia’s science communication guru in the sense that he’s one of the few in our country who’s been making a living at it with a regular radio program (or two) for decades. He’s been doing this so long, he was proclaimed a National Living Treasure, and that was twenty-three years ago.
He’s posted his thoughts on the climate debate at ABC unleashed, Climate Change Science: The Evidence is Clear.
He’s been passionately defending science for years, sharing curious points, and explaining how things work. And yet in the upside down world in which we live in 2010–after all these years, he (and nearly everyone else in our profession) has lost sight of the most important things in science, and somehow ended up defending science-the-bureaucracy, instead of science-the-philosophy.
It sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but instead, I’m exposing a grievous flaw.
It sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but instead, I’m exposing a grievous flaw. For science-the-bureaucracy is not science at all; it’s just another cluster of committees, each run by six or ten people who discuss articles published in niche magazines owned by mega-conglomerate financial houses and ultimately controlled by a few editors who print articles reviewed by a couple of anonymous busy and unpaid people. Occasionally, a really big committee forms to issue a really long report, but in the end, the few pages that everything else hinges on are only assessed by four dozen names, most of whom are reviewing their own work, and most of whom are collecting grants that would be smaller if they…discovered less of a crisis.
science-the-bureaucracy is not science at all, it’s just another cluster of committees
Meanwhile giant banking corporations have already factored in billion dollar profits from the “science”, and thousands upon thousands of concerned citizens have been coached into thinking that if they insult the scientists who disagree, they are somehow helping the planet.
Who better to expose all this than the few people who understand the science, who know how the process of science ought to work, and who don’t have a major vested interest in the outcome? This is exactly what science communicators ought to be doing. There is no more appropriate specialty to interview scientists on both sides of the story, to see who makes sense, to ask hard questions of both teams, and point out the flaws in the reports. Instead, science communicators take the side of the mediocre committees, the scientists with the well-paid and high-status positions, the power-hungry bureaucracies, and the calculating world of high finance. Then these same science communicators throw insults at the unpaid whistleblower scientists. Ouch.
he’s so used to assessing systems where only millions of dollars ride on the outcome, not trillions, that this is something completely and utterly beyond the scale of anything he’s seen before.
Most scientists are not in it for the money, but perhaps that’s the problem. Robyn Williams is so used to interviewing scientists who are good people, he’s so used to relying on the peer review system, and he’s so used to assessing systems where only millions of dollars ride on the outcome, not trillions, that this is something completely and utterly beyond the scale of anything he’s seen before. The very scaffolding of science has been exploited and strained. (The galvanised iron has been swapped for galvanised rigatoni). There’s an ugly convergence of the most powerful of coincident interests. Big Politics meets Big Money, and nice science gets crushed.
Williams doesn’t seem to even notice that despite his assertion that the evidence is clear, he doesn’t provide any evidence. He doesn’t even allude to the kind of evidence that shows the catastrophe might be upon us. He probably assumes he covered it 20 years ago, and doesn’t realize the results didn’t turn out as predicted. Or maybe he assumes that the international committees are in good working order? It’s time he started asking some hard questions about empirical evidence.
Instead, he almost certainly doesn’t realize he is contributing to the PR campaign for bankers and bureaucrats by propounding the myth that there is a “campaign” working against them…
There has been an unrelenting campaign to destroy trust in the IPCC and mainstream climate science. Find a fault – and there is always something a nitpicker or Jesuitical actuary can find – and use it to demolish the entire edifice of scientific research going back decades.
We are not attacking decades of research. We’re attacking specific assumptions about positive feedback in climate models.
Accept no counter arguments. Reject authority…
Which is exactly what Galileo, Aristotle, and the Wright brothers did. Is that so bad? (Show me the evidence).
Professors are suspect, willing to utter any catechism for a grant. And if massive evidence is offered dismissing your arguments about the Earth cooling – then ignore it, and just retort with the same old denial, only more loudly.
What “massive evidence” do we deny?
Robyn doesn’t even nod in passing to one bit of evidence that carbon is primarily responsible for recent global warming, presumably because he can’t. The headline is “evidence”, but the body is just assertion, a continuation of the bluff fed to us by self-serving committees. I’ve talked about evidence before (and here). That mystery paper showing that carbon causes major warming is oft referred too, but no one can name it. It hides in AR4, but appears to have been written by someone called Overwhelming et al (198o-1995). The myth lives on.
Professors do themselves no favors when they can’t name evidence either. And they do even less favors for science when then try to hide data, destroy evidence, and work towards predetermineds outcome with unprofessional attitudes, and possible criminal intent (fraud, intent to mislead for financial gain?).
And it’s working. Public acceptance of climate science and legislation to control gases has plummeted in the last few months. As the Economist magazine wrote in December, “It is all about politics. Climate change is the hardest political problem the world has ever had to deal with. It is a prisoner’s dilemma, a free-rider problem and the tragedy of the commons all rolled into one.”
No. The polls have crashed since ClimateGate exposed just how unscientific and political the process of “science” has become. The problem is that the public does understand what “Hide the decline” means.
Instead, we have a shambles. Science itself is under attack. It is being relegated to a relativistic sideline, where any opinion must have equal merit, where you can bury Darwin, trash the value of vaccination, take herbal unguents instead of science-based medications and avoid GM everything in case it makes you grow horns or give birth to an alien.
If science is being relegated to a pagan festival it because scientists are behaving tribally, worshiping a hypothesis, and sacrificing standards on the altar called “good intentions”
Conflating the issues is hardly going to “make things simpler”. This is supposed to be about the radiative forcing effect of carbon dioxide, and the net result once feedbacks are taken into account. Since when did vaccines have anything to do with cloud albedo, long wave radiation, or water vapor? Williams feels that there is misinformation out there. There is. If science is being relegated to a pagan festival, it because scientists are behaving tribally, worshiping a hypothesis, and sacrificing standards on the altar called good intentions. Science communicators are cheering the ritual and defending the desecration of the most basic precepts of science. If we are supposed to believe the word of “trusted wizards” without seeing them do their experiments in the full light of day, what is the difference between modern climate science and magic?
Williams offers three reasons why the climate catastrophe theory is losing popularity:
1. Scientists are naive “and too polite”.
So they should be ruder? Calling people “deniers” is not enough? The real problem here is that scientists have lost their manners. As Garth Paltridge points out in The Climate Caper, politeness in science used to be seen as a good thing.
2. “And after Climategate – too much mea culpa. It’s time for them to get their skates on. To be aggressive in the cause of truth.”
OK. So no more even weak admissions of the obvious truth that they exaggerated, used poor citations, and hid data. Just stick with outright, err, denial that these are important. (Who are the deniers now?) I don’t know what kind of “truth” Williams thinks he is referring to. Isn’t it the one where experiments can be repeated to get the same results? Whatever happened to credibility, or is Williams saying, “Oh, what the heck, we’ve lost our credibility anyway so let’s just frighten them into submission!”?
Speaking of the search for truth, does a mere assertion from a journal editor really undo the damage in the Climategate e-mails? Surely, this statement from Nature reflects more on the journal than on East Anglia. Has Williams even read the e-mails? Apparently, Nature finally “tackled the smear that science was faking its data”:
“This paranoid interpretation would be laughable … Nothing in the emails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real – or that human activities are almost certainly the cause.”
3. Nameless “lobby groups” resort to baseless speculation and innuendo.
In years to come, lecturers of science communication will use pieces like this one to teach how not to use logic and reason. All science graduates should understand that the politics, businesses, and career structures of science are not science, but only the flawed human face of it.
Robyn Williams is a good man who would be horrified to know that he is not defending the planet, but standing up for corrupt scientists, plundering bureaucrats, and profit-taking bankers. I make no suggestions that he is profiting from spreading such poor reasoning, or that he is corrupt. He is simply working from devastatingly mistaken assumptions: He assumes the modelers are right; he assumes the peer review system is working; he assumes that science will work properly if only one side of a theory is fully funded, and he assumes that UN bureaucrats will publish recommendations that don’t support an increase in their own power and status.
In short, he assumes people will be honest despite massive temptations of all kinds to do otherwise.
I assume people will be people.
Look at the evidence, Robyn. Please.