Home > AGW, Climate Change, Global Warming, Omniclimate, Policy, Science, Skepticism > Stress Vs. Credibility: Modern Science At A Crossroads

Stress Vs. Credibility: Modern Science At A Crossroads

Steven Wiley talks about Biology, but his words explain the one long-lasting damage Climategate has done to mainstream (AGW) climatology, whatever the outcome of the ongoing investigations: an increasing number of skeptics because emotional outbursts destroy confidence in the very data:

it is essential that we maintain respect for each other in our public discourse. Respecting each other is essential for real scientific dialog. If you dismiss someone’s opinion based on your feelings, you lose your objectivity. But being dismissive and emotional during public discussions also makes you look bad to other people and erodes your credibility.

Ideally, a scientist should be a dispassionate observer of the world who weighs the evidence and provides a thoughtful, well-reasoned judgment. This is clearly an idealistic vision of our profession to which we frequently fall short, mostly because scientists find it difficult to be dispassionate about anything. Yet, we should strive for this ideal if we expect that scientific opinions should be given special consideration in society.

This is important because we want people to believe in the data gathered and evaluated using the scientific method. If people aren’t confident in the people who are gathering the data, they won’t believe in its veracity.

[…] Most people can tell the difference between reasonable assertions and unsupported conjecture. The problem is that when emotional outbursts are injected into a situation, any pretense of objectivity becomes lost.

In these times where science offers the best hope for progress in an increasing complex and fractious world, it would be a real tragedy if the bad behavior of some scientists compromised our reputation as neutral seekers of truth. Whether we like it or not, the behavior of each of us colors the popular perception of scientists as a whole.

There’s going to be a need for a huge amount of “the science is settled” declarations before AGW climatology will start to look again as anything remotely objective, in the eyes of the general public. In the meanwhile, it will remain caged within politics and silly holier-than-thou discussions bordering on fundamentalism. And that’s no place for a scientific discipline.


Here two examples of pretty damaging “emotional outbursts”:

(1) Professor Andrew Watson making the cheap shot of calling Marc Morano an “asshole” at the very end of their BBC Newsnight exchange, i.e. when Morano had no way to respond

(2) The LSE’s Bob Ward going hysterical and literally off on a tangent on Spectator’s Editor Fraser Nelson, during a Sky News debate

  1. 2010/01/19 at 17:00

    Glad you liked them.

    Though I doubt Prof Watson and Bob Ward are similarly appreciative, having said that I received many visitors from the UEA and LSE at the time.

    Swiss Bob
    The Daily Politics

  2. Dubl
    2010/01/15 at 21:43

    I don’t fully buy this assessment. Reason being is that the more groomed alarmists, Hansen especially, despite the occassional misstatement will usually cooly and calmly make proclamations, that to anyone who knows are fantastacilly preposterous, while to the unwitting will seem perfectly reasonable. Remember, for all his faults the guy is smart and can speak intelligently. On the flip side, it may seem emotional or irrational to respond to such statements by calling him a fraud, when quite factually he is. He regularly passes off hand selected, statistically massaged figures as the spoken word of planet Earth itself, and uses carefully wordsmithed statements to hide that fact without actually lying.

    This little “exercise in decorum” article is rational, sensible, and nice. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the good citizens follow the rules, and the criminals skirt them. So at the end of the day the whole exercise is worthless. Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me that the topic would not even exist to opine on if everyone followed the LAST set of rules, specifically those of scientific integrity. To pile on rules of decorum that make it that much harder to expose the dishonesty of the dishonest is a pipe dream.

    Speaking of pipes, a lead pipe to the kisser would quickly get the long sought admissions of misconduct out of Hansen or Mann in about 5 seconds and science would be back on the road to recovery. So sometimes the tried and true is better than the by-the-book answer. I respect the intent of the article, but I’m just not buying this one…

    • John Wright
      2010/01/16 at 05:26

      The problem is that two can administer the lead pipe and end you only prove who has the strongest arm, not who is in the right.

      I think the only way out is not to directly address the speaker but to address the camera and deconstruct each tactic and each fallacy as it is thrown up. Not easy to do. It’s also the way to deal with fascists when they adopt the “injured party” stance.

      I agree with Blouis79 about the usefulness of Jo Nova’s Sceptic’s handbook.

      • Blouis79
        2010/01/16 at 07:45

        I agree 100% with John Wright that “you only prove who has the strongest arm, not who is in the right.”.

        Having a proper debate requires the moderator to be very firm on presenting facts rather than opinion. Attacking the person rather than the facts should be an offense punishable by exclusion.

        Finding the truth requires journalists the world over to be critical analysts rather than sensationalist storytellers, and for the consuming public to demand to be informed rather than entertained.

        All of this is a really big problem.

  3. Blouis79
    2010/01/15 at 19:13

    The power of the media in the politics of spin are difficult for true scientists to deal with. Money has corrupted climate science.

    (The Skeptics Handbook is well worth reading for an anti-warmist pro-science perspective.)

    I’ve found it difficult to navigate the apparent science war on the global warming front – how to tell who is right?

    I am comfortable that the science of prediction starts with predicting the outcome of a coin toss. The most reliable prediction is a straight line regression through all available historical data. All the rest is smoke and mirrors.

  4. John Wright
    2010/01/15 at 18:21

    The key word is “dismissive”. From what I have seen in interviews such as these, warmist strategy seems to be to adopt a standardised “finger-wagging” supercilious attitude towards the perceived wayward person. They systematically talk down to anyone who questions in any way their doctrine as though they were dealing with wayward children with whom one has to be firm – perhaps recommended psychology for dealing with those in a state of denial? Another gambit is to unjustly throw back in the other person’s face the very criticisms that have been levelled at them.

  5. Blous79
    2010/01/14 at 20:01

    It’s not like the clues weren’t given earlier.

    This article seems to have slid by most people’s attention, but seems to me to be rather important statement of science by the people on the inside of the IPCC. Note while the author is Professor Ann Henderson-Sellars, she is actually reporting a workshop of IPCC lead authors:

    This article by John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Alabama is compulsory reading – every last word.

    • John Wright
      2010/01/16 at 11:51

      Thanks for the link to the Christy article. I noticed the date, 2007. I wonder when the Beeb will put his next one up their site!

      The Ann Henderson-Sellars report takes some wading through. Phew!

  1. 2010/01/18 at 12:21

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