Tuesday, August 15, 2006

advocacy or bias?

This article was brought to my attention by a colleague. (Edit: here is a subsequent response by Terence Corcoran).

Notwithstanding the substantive discussion on climate and the motivation behind the article, it is interesting as it represents a good example of political correctness in environmentalism. In particular, it represents a good illustration of the failure to distinguish advocacy from bias.

Advocacy is the representational activity of vested interests within a democracy. It is the promotion of a particular set of policy choices with an intended outcome. Those choices reflect the varying beliefs, ideologies and values of the promoters. Advocacy is best characterized by an explicit disclosure of assumptions, beliefs and sources of support.

Bias is a systematic distortion of information and/or the wilful manipulation of data in an attempt to prejudice a result toward a preconceived outcome. It is often implicit and imbedded within the inherent, unstated, assumptions of a study and/or on behalf of its audience. (For example, the fact that the defining links I have used here are from Wikipedia is sufficient for some people to be dismissive of the whole post).

The fallacy in political correctness is to assign attributes of advocacy to those who are correct (government funding, refereed journals, consensus science, the Globe and Mail, media that agrees) and to accuse those who disagree as being biased (private-sector funding, blogs, skeptics, the National Post, media that presents a counter argument). Issues of clarity, accuracy, precision and ideology are subsumed within this characterization and instead those that are politically correct are praised and automatically exempt from accountability, whilst those who deviate from that norm are subject to personal scrutiny, vilification and innuendo.

The reality in environmentalism is, of course, that there is substantial advocacy of a myriad of political opinions. Moreover, bias does not respect nor observe prescribed political labels: it is common throughout all policy issues. And, as most glaringly illustrated by the recent examination of climate science in the NAS and Wegman reports (see my previous posts), bias has been a rampant characteristic of the government-funded, IPCC inhabited, refereed journal world of consensus climate science in the past 10-15 years.

Such nuances are seldom found within the mainstream media. Sadly, those who prescribe to political correctness don't really want their world to be confused by such subtleties.