Thursday, January 03, 2013

Sarewitz Butchers Brian's Song

UPDATE: The Policy Lass does the dozens on Sarewitz

Brian  has made an excellent statement of where the junction between science and politics must be if the world and your country and your local water supply is to survive. Eli will quote a couple of sentences here, but everybunny should re-read the entire thing, with the thought in their minds that Brian really does have his skin in the game, he is the real deal
It's not "science" that matters most at the intersection of science and policy but scientific consensus that does. If there's a well-established consensus with very few expert dissenters, then you've got factual conclusions as far as policymakers are concerned.  The consensus could be wrong of course, but that's not really relevant to policymakers - they don't have a choice of waiting for a perfect consensus because that won't happen.  What's missing from the commentary I've seen is that policymakers also don't have the choice of second-guessing the consensus by becoming their own Galileos. ..
Contrary to what scientists often say, the science can all-but-decide policy because some policy questions are easy.  Scientific predictions of climate change in the next century under business as usual emission scenarios run from "bad" to "potentially disastrous".  That's pretty much all we need to know from a policy perspective to conclude that we have to deal with it.  The question of how we deal with it isn't easy or exclusively a science question, but whether to deal with it was answered by science. 
Eli, has on occasion dealt with how journalists are also in the business of denying their responsibility to inform. We report, you decide is a cop out, because what is reported determines the decision
.  . . .a whole lot of other people appear to think that scientists are lousy communicators, and indeed, a whole lot of scientists agree and there are workshops, meetings and even, shudder, blogs, devoted to self improvement, or not. This goes into the file under missing the point.

 It's not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and Eli will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It's their fucking (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well. It ain't just climate either. What journalists produce often makes the average cut and paste student paper blush with modesty 
Which brings Eli to the latest from the Pielkesphere, a comment by Dan Sarewitz in Nature, telling science that it needs to become more Republican
The US scientific community must decide if it wants to be a Democratic interest group or if it wants to reassert its value as an independent national asset. If scientists want to claim that their recommendations are independent of their political beliefs, they ought to be able to show that those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs. Expert panels advising the government on politically divisive issues could strengthen their authority by demonstrating political diversity. The National Academies, as well as many government agencies, already try to balance representation from the academic, non-governmental and private sectors on many science advisory panels; it would be only a small step to be equally explicit about ideological or political diversity. Such information could be given voluntarily. 
Sarewitz views politics as informing science, rather than, as Brian points out, science informing politics.  Having crossed his eyes, he rushes downhill only to crash at the bottom advocating rebalancing the national academy with Republicans
To connect scientific advice to bipartisanship would benefit political debate. Volatile issues, such as the regulation of environmental and public-health risks, often lead to accusations of ‘junk science’ from opposing sides. Politicians would find it more difficult to attack science endorsed by avowedly bipartisan groups of scientists, and more difficult to justify their policy preferences by scientific claims that were contradicted by bipartisan panels. 
Again, Sarewitz confuses the relative merits of doing science and attacking science from a political soapbox.  Sarewitz does the Fox news thing.

Sarewitz, like his fanboy Pielke, lacks any critical understanding of politics. They take the political situation as given and legitimate, then direct all their criticism at the science community. Sarewitz is saying that the science community should be 'harnessed' to the beliefs and priorities of policymakers. The bunnies at RR are not about to tell scientists to bend themselves out of shape in order to make themselves relevant to the policy agendas of right-wing ideologues, science deniers, and political hacks of either party but we have always encouraged scientists to become politically more savvy and to learn to read political situations.

Increasingly over time it has become evident that, in the collision between climate science and the realities of Washington politics, the problem is overwhelmingly on the political side of the bridge and on one particular side of that in the US. This is an American problem something that Sarewitz does not appear to relaize. Scientists could benefit from learning to communicate better with civilians, but the US political arena has much deeper problems, primarily but far from exclusively on the right-wing side. Otherwise, given the heroic efforts of the climate science community to communicate via assessments, testimony, and otherwise, we would be farther along than we are.

But Sarewitz, Pielke, et al. just ignore all that and continue to beat up on the science community. It is seriously wrong-headed, really inexcusably wrong-headed in its failure to come up any learning curve on this after all this time.   But perhaps  a feature.  Sarewitz has a column in Nature, just as George Will has one in the Washington Post.

It's good work when you can get it.

Sarewitz' piece in Nature is drivel. Just clueless, and that's putting it diplomatically.

But wait, there's more . . .

Sarewitz doubles down
Pielke clucks in approval
Curry steps right into it

Maybe tomorrow Ethon will lend a hand.


Mark said...

I didn't get that, either. Sarewitz writes:"Given the bitter ideological divisions in the United States today, scientists could reach across the political divide once again and set an example for all." So, what do those scientists across the aisle (i.e. Republicans) have to offer? Other "scientific facts"? If so, those are not facts. If not, as it should be, they have the same facts as other scientists and nothing prevents them from "advocating" them.

There is another possibility: that scientists are gathering one side of the aisle because they tend not to deny facts there. Because, well, facts have a liberal bias. In this case, there is simply nobody to reach across the aisle, and that's a problem.

Pinko Punko said...

A Pielke Poe?

Arthur said...

Hmm, in "Sarewitz doubles down" he seems to be unaware (or is he?) that the reason basic science funding has triumphed these past few decades is precisely because of the Republican party's opposition to "picking winners", government-funded industrial policy, etc. It's the Republicans who always want to do away with the Department of Energy after all. Basic science has had bi-partisan support for a very long time. Applied science funding has been attacked and parts of it killed off by one side. There are certainly plenty of academics who would happily work on applied things if there was money in it - many applied physics departments do research largely funded by the defense department for instance.

Now it seems with the libertarians taking over the Republican party, they have no patience for government funding of science at all (governments should only pay for police and national defense is the mantra I believe).

As to the original piece, I'd give him a bit of slack (but it was still naive) - scientists do come in all sorts of political stripes, and it really doesn't hurt to show that. There are quite a few who vote Republican - or who used to anyway. Unfortunately touting Republican scientists (of which we've heard of a number in climate science over the years) tends to fall on quite deaf ears, because of course they can't *really* be a good Republican if they believe that stuff, can they. The old No True Scotsman fallacy at work...

willard said...

How to produce the bi-partisan process (BPP) in four easy steps:

Anonymous said...

drive by comment on "those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs.", somehow i think doing a paper where one author is a buddhist and the other is a muslim wouldn't ring a bell in some other belief systems... should it rather be a catholic and a protestant taking the 'discussion' back to the 16th century?
sub-arctic bunny.

Anonymous said...

Scientists -- and the general public -- have to start behaving much more like Jim Hansen: criticizing the words and actions (or inaction) of leaders REGARDLESS of their party affiliation. No one gets a pass.

The virtual silence of both major party candidates during the US election campaign and the foot-dragging by the Obama admin at Doha indicates the problem is much more deeply entrenched than most people either appreciate OR are willing to admit (if they actually recognize it).

George Monbiot is one journalist who actually does get it


PS For anyone who might have missed it, the election's over. Obama is safely in office.

Brian said...

Sarewitz's argument is something of a rehash of the claim there should be affirmative action for conservative academics. I've never been very convinced of that.

I could see a parallel in this situation to gay rights activists. Most of them are Democrats and one can see pretty easily why that's the case. Those activists shouldn't put their political orientation in the closet. They should know how to talk to conservatives, but that doesn't mean shutting up entirely.

Those few gay rights activists who remain politically conservative may be able to engage their side of the political fence in a different way. But it's a question of the gay conservatives speaking up, rather than silencing the majority of gay activists.

Former Skeptic said...

Sarewitz has a column in Nature, just as George Will has one in the Washington Post. It's good work when you can get it.

A more interesting question is how Sarewitz got the Nature op-ed gig in 2009. Excluding the stunningly insipid stuff from the past two days, the recent output has also been spectacularly bad. He's just another controversy from going the way of the Nature Climate Feedback blog.

Maybe tomorrow Ethon will lend a hand.

Interested bunnies may like to investigate the history that Dan and Junior have. It's definitely worth a look for Ethon.

Hank Roberts said...

How can delay and denial succeed when almost all the scientists agree?

Easy. Fund the extremes, and if there aren't any, fund development of groups that will take a position given them by the politicians and come up with rationalizations for it.

It doesn't have to be good science, just "arguable."

You can make a long list of public policy issues where almost all of the scientists agree. Public health journals are full of them.

Who listens?

The problem with the huge payback for investment in public health is that the benefit accrues to the public -- there's no way to make money doing it.


"Nevin (2000) finds that the variation in childhood gasoline lead exposure from 1941 to 1986 explains nearly 90% of the variation in violent crime rates from 1960 to 1998, and that lead paint explains 70% of the variation in murder rates from 1900 to 1960. Reyes (2002) takes the evidence of a relationship between lead poisoning and criminal behavior and estimates that the Clean Air Act (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2009) in the 1970s and 1980s accounts for one-third of the drop in crime throughout the 1990s."

Lars Karlsson said...

Maybe this post should be given a title.

Lars Karlsson said...

Sarewitz writes:
"This concern rests on clear precedent. Conservatives in the US government have long been hostile to social science, which they believe tilts towards liberal political agendas. Consequently, the social sciences have remained poorly funded and politically vulnerable, and every so often Republicans threaten to eliminate the entire National Science Foundation budget for social science."

So if the Republicans don't like the conclusions of the science, they try to make the science go away.

willard said...

Hereby is proposed a bi-partisan action between Denizens and Rabbits against bi-partisanship:

For sake of coherence, I would call it a Violent Agreement.

EliRabett said...

Let's you and her fight Willard:)

John said...

Sarewitz seems to be playing the science side of the Sandy Hook warning: "don't you dare politicize this issue by uttering the truth and upsetting our carefully contrived self-delusional reverie."

John Puma

Jeffrey Davis said...

IIRC, James Hansen and Kerry Emmanuel are both Republicans.

willard said...

In the spirit of Jeffrey's comment, here's How to gain more balance of power in a bi-partisan process such as proposed by Sarewitz in four easy steps:

1. Become an independant voter.

2. Win a Nobel prize or something that earns you klout.

3. Give your change to the Blue Elephant.

4. Participate in a Bi-Partisan Process, like the signing of a petition.

There. More balance of power.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

How about I'll think about voting Republican when they accept physical reality (e.g. climate change), quit trying to foist off fairy tales as biology lessons, and promoting policies that destroy the middle class?

The last time I read Sarewitz, he was predicting the end of science due to "creeping" systematic error.

I'm starting to feel that Ken Sarewitz is the poster child for the dangers of sending stupid to college.

Lars Karlsson said...

The comment under Willard's at Curry's says:

Chad Wozniak | January 4, 2013 at 2:42 am | Reply
Mr. Starkey:
If my opposition to dishonesty and fascistic tactics makes me polarized, then so be it. I’m also polarized when it comes to Nazism, mass murder and sexual abuse.
I makde no apologies for being thus polarized – and I stand by my statement, which coincides with that of 31,000+ scientists signing the Project Petition, that AGW is utterly without basis in fact.

People that that are obviously never going to accept the science. And this individual seems to be a pretty typical "skeptic".