Friday, July 28, 2006

Politics and science

Dropped in on both the Prometheus and Climate Audit websites to see what their respondents were saying about the House hearings and the NAS and Wegman reports that those hearings initiated.

A couple of posts caught my eye. The first presented a succinct point. A previous comment had stated:

" is all about the broader issue of whether or not GW is anthropogenic or not. On this front the scientific battle has been over for quite some time, thus there is no moral equivalency in this political debate."

And the response was:

Oh, really? According to the NASA GISS surface data, the total warming from 1885 to 2005 was approximately 1.0 degree Celsius:

How much of that temperature change was anthropogenic, and how much was not anthropogenic?

Which seems to me to pretty much summarize the issues: those who believe in global warming see those who don't as ignorant skeptics. Those who are skeptical just don't understand how data such as that quoted above can be ignored or invalidated.

Which leads me to the second post, where Roger Pielke jr. had this response on the politicization of science:

1. Politicization of science is inevitable and desirable.

2. But there are healthy and unhealthy ways to politicize science.

3. Pathological politicized science includes stealth issue advocacy when a scientist claims to be discussing only science but is using the science to advance a particular agenda.

4. There is nothing wrong with straight out advocacy for a particular agenda -- that is democracy at work -- so long as it is recognized that such advocacy goes well beyond science.

5. There can be a problem when all or most scientists engage in straight out advocacy. What can be lost is new and innovative options. So I recommend that some, hopefully authoritative groups like the NRC or IPCC, might play the role of honest broker of policy options -- presenting a broad spectrum of choices and their relationship with the state of the science.

Global warming shares with all other ecomyths the defining characteristic that the underlying science often is obscured, manipulated, cherry-picked and/or misunderstood by those who employ it in the advocacy of their chosen politics. What rankles most academics and environmentalists is when business (especially BIG business) is seen to finance "wrong" science. What offends others, is when academics and government officials fail to recognize that their own activities are equally as culpable.

In my classes, I challenge my students to distinguish between advocacy and bias. Its clear from reviewing the climate blogsphere that many commentators would also benefit from giving this point some added reflection.