Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Morally Confused

Judith Curry has wandered into ethics, without much of an understanding about such things.  She enjoys going on about how she is the protector of research integrity, without really understanding scientific ethics, perhaps first investigated by Max Weber, although Eli is sure that Willard may know of earlier sources.  There are many interesting things about this, first, that scientific ethics as distinct from ethics could not have been a subject much earlier, because science as a stand along thing really only blossomed at about the same time as global instrumental temperature measurements started in the late 1900s.

Second, that separating ethical behavior as a scientist from ethical behavior in general is not something that your average bunny in the street holds in high regard and is one reason that many people distrust science and scientists, as in Godless Scientists, etc. which is really a belief that science and scientists would gladly sell everybunny down the river for a Nature pub.  

Be that as it may, Weber pointed out that the distinction must be between facts and value judgements.  Since as has been mentioned here a few times, we have no data from the future, value judgements about the future must condition our views of how what we are doing now will affect the future.  Stephan Gardiner explains how this can easily lead to moral corruption

In conclusion, the presence of the problem of moral corruption reveals another sense in which climate change may be a perfect moral storm. This is that its complexity may turn out to be perfectly convenient for us, the current generation, and indeed for each successor generation as it comes to occupy our position. For one thing, it provides each generation with the cover under which it can seem to be taking the issue seriously – by negotiating weak and largely substanceless global accords, for example, and then heralding them as great achievements – when really it is simply exploiting its temporal position. For another, all of this can occur without the exploitative generation actually having to acknowledge that this is what it is doing. By avoiding overtly selfish behaviour, earlier generations can take advantage of the future without the unpleasantness of admitting it – either to others, or, perhaps more importantly, to itself
In discussing the House of Parliament Committee on Energy and Climate Change report Judith Curry shows how only valuing the things of today leads to such corruption
If people are concerned about the adverse impacts of extreme weather events, reducing CO2 emissions are not going to have any impact on policy relevant time scales, even if you accept the IPCC analyses.  Resources expended on energy policy are in direct conflict with reducing vulnerability to extreme events.
Oh yeah, that and as Gardiner call out, the full Lomborg, that you can't spend resources on both.
The first is the threat of a false dichotomy. Arguments from opportunity cost crucially rely on the idea that if a given project is chosen, then that choice forecloses some other option. But this is not the case in Lomborg's version. Helping the poor and mitigating climate change are not obviously mutually exclusive. . .

Second it is not clear even that the two projects are independent of each other, in the sense that they are fully separable opportunities rather than necessarily linked and perhaps mutually supporting policies. . . .

Third, it is not clear that the opportunity that Lomborg wants to emphasize is really available.
The good Lord protect the future from the defender of research integrity.

Tip of the ears to Matt at the Weasel's for pointing to this


Anonymous said...

"So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

"I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she think’s she’s doing, but its not helping the cause"

"It would help the cause to be able to refer to that reconstruction as confirming Mann and Jones, etc."

"that should help the cause a bit."

"Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we
get – and has to be well hidden."

"I think that we would weaken that case if we supplied the information in this case."

"My work is as Director of the national centre for climate change research, a
job which requires me to translate my Christian belief about stewardship of
God’s planet into research and action."


JonnieG said...

My thought is that discourse about ethics in science predates the 1900s. Jules Verne's novels deal very much with ethics in the application/misapplication of science. The Food of the Gods is one that comes to mind for biosciences. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is another with respect to the use of science for weapons (even of mass destruction as dealt with in that time).

Marion Diabolito said...

Curry of Heartland Apologetics Incorporated can use the word ethics without setting her lips and tongue (or in this case her typing fingerS) aflame? There is no God.

Okay I wrote this years ago on greenfyre and unfortunately, it's still spot on or spot-onner:

"Dr. Inaccuracy would be a good postmodern comic book heroine. One day she looks up from her latest revision of her latest paper that she’s one of 10 authors on – or is poring over her latest lit search – and something snaps. It’s all too much.

Yes, yes, I remember the time… when it was all very inspiring and enlightening… You think learning is a really big thing…and you become this big fucking intellectual… and sit around trying to out-intellectual… all the other big fucking intellectuals .. You spend years and years… with your nose buried in these goddamn tomes.. while the world is passing you by.

– Fritz The Cat

Suddenly, none of it matters. NONE OF IT MATTERS! Ah-hahahahahaahahahahahahahaha!

And then the next time she runs into someone who actually cares about all this stuff to the last decimal point, it’s still too much. At least Roger and Keith understand – really get it – that it’s just a game. It’s not about actual clouds and energy and so on, it’s about how you play the game. Why is this hard?

And so, late one night she steps into a phone booth – okay, it’s a lab storeroom – and out emerges DR. INACCURACY!

Scourge of the sure. Foe of the strident fact-Nazis. A fighter for that rarest of things in so-called scientific controversies – nuance. Someone who understands the inherently social and political – in the best possible sense – nature of physical science.

Of course, Dr. Inaccuracy saves the day and wins the key to the city, but mild-mannered Judith Curry must still go through the motions with her Peter Parker day job as a tenured professor and researcher. But only at night does she LIVE!

Sou said...

Thanks, Eli. I started an article about that weird article of Judith. It's not unusual, I expect, for a person who has demonstrably questionable values (and morals) to preach about values and morals. Nor that they don't have a clue what they are talking about - which Judith doesn't. (Not a surprise.)

Even if I didn't know her past transgressions, when someone claims the moral high ground as their own, as Judith does from time to time, one is instinctively distrustful. A bit like when someone says "to be perfectly honest..." as if that's something they are normally not.

Anonymous said...

Anon n+1

The next ad hominem thread in the Eli Rabett hole is open for piling on.

Unknown said...

do you know what an argumentam ad hominem is?
Saying that you think what someone else has said is rubbish is not an ad. hom.

Lars Karlsson said...

Actually, the first quote in the comment of Anonymous 1, which has been attributed to Stephen Schneider, does raise some valid questions about ethics. Not about the ethics of Schneider, but about the ethics of those misrepresenting the position of Schneider.

Here (p 5) Schneider himself explained his position.

Anonymous said...


it says Schneider thought it was ok to lie if the ends justified the means.

That's ok if you are a moral crusader, but it most instances, lying is not science.


Anonymous said...

When one moves to advocacy, one relinquishes objectivity.


Anonymous said...

Anon n+1

Fergus Brown, see Sou at 6/8/14 3{43 AM, above.

Not a single word about the issues. Every word about the person.

:: QED

Simply 'saying' does not address the issues, either. It's a fuzzy approach completely devoid of content. Especially when the person is included in the approach.

What's wrong with directly addressing the 'rubbish' with your facts, omitting any reference to the person.

Lars Karlsson said...

Luficer, now you are definitely unethical. But I suppose you think it is OK to lie if the ends justifies the means.

Gator said...


This could be made relevant with the right substitution for "bioethics".

Jeffrey Davis said...

"When one moves to advocacy, one relinquishes objectivity."

That's nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Lucifer - "When one moves to advocacy, one relinquishes objectivity."

Do you claim that ethical judgement is one you advocate for objective reasons?


Anonymous said...


Do you claim that scientific advancement comes from emotional dedication to a cause without regard for the truth?

Anonymous said...

"So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

"mak[ing] little mention of doubts we might have' is actually not science at all. In fact, it is the very antithesis of science.

as Richard Feynman said
"It is our responsibility as scientist, knowing the great progress and great value of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress that is the the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom, to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed, and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations."

J Bowers said...

"it says Schneider thought it was ok to lie if the ends justified the means."

You spell well for a ten year old.

Susan Anderson said...

hey guys, please don't feed the trolls. The discussion is a lot more interesting if you let them condemn themselves rather than giving them an excuse to go on ... and on ... and on. Not only wrong but boring.

Unknown said...

Thought you were criticising the rabett, but no, it appears you're taking umbrage at someone else.
Point about ad hom in this instance probably correct, but if you wish to defend JC's position, it may not be useful to try to take the moral high ground. On this blog, people generally get what they deserve.

Lars Karlsson said...

Anon, I gave a link to an article where Schneider explained his position. Please read that instead of making things up.

Anonymous said...


yes, I have read it numerous times.

The context is clear.

Schneider was justifying the wandernig from the truth in the name of what he felt was right.

Hansen echoed similar ideas.

Mann wanted to do things for the 'cause'.

That doesn't mean everything they said was a lie.

But when someone tells you they'll lie, when do you trust them?

Unknown said...

who to believe, someone who says 'never mind the science, trust me, I'll tell you what you need to know and it will all be true', or someone who says 'in the interest of better understanding, sometimes it is necessary to simplify complex ideas, so folks get the point'?
I know where my money goes...

Canman said...

The whole notion of a false dichotomy as it is used in climate policy arguments is absurd. Whether you want to talk about Curry's choice between climate mitigation and storm preparedness or Lomborg's choice between mitigation and addressing poverty, these are not false dichotomies. They are part of a larger polichotomy. Any increases in spending for any of these purposes has to come from somewhere. From simple set theory, you can take the union of Curry's mitigation and storm preparedness or of Lomborg's mitigation and poverty addressing, and within the set formed by either of these unions, somehow, a TRUE dichotomy has to be drawn.

Jeffrey Davis said...

For the Curries and Lomborgs of the world to maintain a facade of morality, the ultimate outcome of AGW has to be a world that's not much different than today. And more. They have to pretend to know that the ultimate outcome of AGW will be a world not much different. They are with us in a bus that has just passed a Bridge Out warning sign, and they are advising the driver to maintain speed. After all, there are people on the bus with business meetings to attend.

willard said...

Bacon’s reputation and legacy remain controversial even today. While no historian of science or philosophy doubts his immense importance both as a proselytizer on behalf of the empirical method and as an advocate of sweeping intellectual reform, opinion varies widely as to the actual social value and moral significance of the ideas that he represented and effectively bequeathed to us. The issue basically comes down to one’s estimate of or sympathy for the entire Enlightenment/Utilitarian project. Those who for the most part share Bacon’s view that nature exists mainly for human use and benefit, and who furthermore endorse his opinion that scientific inquiry should aim first and foremost at the amelioration of the human condition and the “relief of man’s estate,” generally applaud him as a great social visionary. On the other hand, those who view nature as an entity in its own right, a higher-order estate of which the human community is only a part, tend to perceive him as a kind of arch-villain – the evil originator of the idea of science as the instrument of global imperialism and technological conquest.


Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

The reason they remain anonymous is that they know history will not be on their side. And a very unpleasant future it will be where anonymous pseudo-scientists will make no useful contributions to change it to a less unpleasant outcome.

Lars Karlsson said...

OK anon, I will generously assume that you simply don't have the brains to understand what Schneider writes. Like this part:

"What I was telling the Discover interviewer, of course, was my disdain for a soundbite-communications process that imposes the double ethical bind on all who venture into the popular media. To twist my openly stated and serious objections to the soundbite process into some kind of advocacy of exaggeration
is a clear distortion. Moreover, not only do I disapprove of the “ends justify the means” philosophy of which I am accused, but, in fact have actively campaigned against it in myriad speeches and writings."

EliRabett said...

"When one moves to advocacy, one relinquishes objectivity" is the moral pablum of bad journalism. Untrue, dangerous, and infantile.

Opinions differ on the shape of the world is another.

jgnfld said...

Small aside...

If you use nautical charts much, you will most definitely find that opinions as to the shape of the world differ. This has led to some rather spectacular accidents from time to time.

afeman said...

When journalism ignores those accidents is what I think Eli and Krugthulu are commenting on. He-said/she-said doesn't work well on seamounts.

Anonymous said...

"When one moves to advocacy, one relinquishes objectivity" "is the moral pablum of bad journalism. Untrue, dangerous, and infantile."

Thanks for playing.

Anonymous said...


Schneider was quoted at length in the original piece - his meaning was clear.

You can choose to believe him later when he was trying to cover his original candor - that's up to you.

His subsequent denial made him even less credible - not about radiative forcing which is demonstrable and at least conditionally testable, but about the exaggerations of extent and impact which are now demonstrably false.


palindrom said...


"... exaggerations of extent and impact which are now demonstrably false."

That's your problem right there.

Susan Anderson said...

OT alert (well, climate dishonesty not exactly OT):

Well, I had fun searching here on Steyn. My oh my you guys are wonderfully accurate in your popcorny way.

Susan Anderson said...

Oh, for the purpose of this:


Little wonder so many of the Watts & Curry cohort prefer to remain anonymous when offering up scary scenarios and making simplified, dramatic statements with little mention of any doubts they might have,

Unknown said...

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