Friday, January 23, 2015

Science? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it does.

Brad Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz of Slate have a doozey of magical thinking and cargo cult thinking.  Seriously this is an article entitled "What The Wizard of Oz TellsUs About Climate Change"

Buckle up folks.

Because their idea of "Climate Denial" is about to get... weird.

The essence of the Anthropocene is not really about humanity’s planetary-scale impact, but about the beginnings of a radical destabilization of the core human ideas and institutions that made this impact possible.
No better example of the existence and consequences of this collective denial can be found than the ongoing debate over climate change, in which public discourse has plunged to levels of name-calling and character assassination that would humble a nursery school class.
At the core of this debate is an idea that has been central to the development of our identity as humans for the past 400 years: that the key to solving the problem is rational action dictated by scientific knowledge.
Give it up, folks.

That's right,  they come off the bat telling you to give up the idea that "rational action dictated by scientific knowledge" is key to solving problems.

Let's read on"

First: Science ain’t what it used to be. Our ideal of science is of a highly structured activity for establishing cause-and-effect relationships that can be tested in the field and the laboratory. Now the focus is increasingly on computational models and scenarios aimed at exploring complex phenomena (such as climate change) that unfold on scales from the global to the molecular.

Erm...   are the writers even aware that eventually molecular scientists have to actually, you know,  built those molecules...  and test them.

That there's still... laboratory work.  I mean the whole point of the computer models is to guide the actual real world application.  Otherwise it's just a video game.

Oh but it continues:

The process of observation, hypothesis development, and testing has come to seem like the embodiment of rationality itself. At the core of this first phase of scientific culture was reductionism—understanding things by studying their component parts—controlled experimentation, and confirmation and replication of results. If I didn’t believe your story that fish died in water with high lead content, I could repeat the experiment, changing nothing but the lead concentration in the water. Despite how complex the water and fish physiology and my conditions were, I could change that one variable, and over time achieve a clear pattern of increasing lead, increasing mortality.

Yup... basic science there.  The whole, let's acutally test what you're saying instead of taking it on faith.

But wait!  They claim there's a New Science!

But this method works only for simple, controlled, and closed systems, in which pulling out one variable to experiment with is possible. It does not apply to complex adaptive systems, in which the very process of separating out a single variable changes the underlying system unpredictably. Such systems cannot be replicated, and therefore cannot be subject to standard scientific processes of confirmation. No one can replicate global environmental conditions in such a way as to experimentally test climate change. For such complex systems, the best we can do is create complicated computer models.
(Emphasis added)
No...  the best you can do is run repeated and careful trials, attempting to untangle things as best you can.   And then you create a computer model, and then you actually test it.

And you know who else says their  ideas "cannot be subject standard scientific processes of confirmation"  con artists hawking  perpetuate motion machines and ESP.

But creating a model necessarily involves generating a set of rules that determines what we include in the model and what we exclude. And any set of rules that enables us to model a complex system that is coherent necessarily gives us a model that is partial and arbitrary—hence the common refrain that “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” We can use the model to generate multiple scenarios of the future that are consistent with scientific understanding, but we cannot have the underlying system itself. The complexity of the Anthropocene—in which, for example, climate change is an emergent phenomenon of 300 years of industrialism—is not subject to the sort of verifiable and predictive understanding that characterized science of the sort that Copernicus, Newton, or even Einstein practiced.
(Emphasis added)

Uh...  if your model cannot be verified in the traditional way then how exactly do you know how useful it is?  That is the entire point of verification, to see if the model can accuratly predict phenomena.

I mean the entire idea of Anthropocentric Global Warming is that given Global Climate X  a certain mean temperature behavior (T1) will be seen with a gas generation G1.  However,  if one were to go with a lesser gas generation (G2)  then there would be some new temperature behavior T2.

Again, this is something where the refrain has been "The science is settled"  and challenges to it are "Denier!"

And now these guys are going on with "Naw,  Science doesn't need to predict things or be verified"

Also note the implicit condescension. 'Old' Experiments are things like "Copernicus, Newton, or even Einstein"  but modern stuff is far too complicated and sophisticated for those old expeirmental methods.

Never-mind that quite modern things like quantum computing, genetics,  fusion, all eventually have to go from computer model to experiment.  Do note that the  Large Hadron Collider isn't a computer model, its a giant experiment.

Oh!  But this paper gets better.   Sure they admit that Global Warming isn't "normal" science.

In this way the politics of fighting climate change share some similarities with those of fighting terrorism. Both have involved campaigns that use apocalyptic and extreme language in an attempt to create fear and insecurity among the public. Both seek to re-engineer society: In the case of global warming, for example, an important goal is to force broad changes in consumption and production patterns in the name of such meaningless goals as “saving the planet.” We should recall, though, that the threat of terrorism—a very real threat, as events in Paris remind us, and indeed in many ways much more tangible than climate change—was used to justify a radical erosion of the privacy of Americans, and to rationalize the invasion of Iraq, an action meant to stabilize conditions but whose destabilizing consequences continue to disastrously unfold.
(Emphasis added)
Yes... they went there.  So...  Global Warming is like the War on Terror...  including the erosion of liberties due to fear-mongering  and may cause "mishaps" like the Invasion of Iraq.

Uh...  is this a troll paper?  I mean is the whole Wizard of Oz thing a red flag that this is satire? Or is a genuine admiration of magical thinking?

 Our computer models can give us a thousand scenarios of how the climate may change. But remember that global warming is an unintended consequence of 300 years of industrialism—why would we think that equally momentous unintended consequences would not accompany the enormous social changes pursued in our effort to control the future behavior of the climate?
Well, given you've abandoned all pretense that these models are actually predicting things.  Then yes,  flailing about with massive unintended consequences does seem inevitable.

There is indeed a cruel dilemma here: In order for the science to matter, it must be heard; in order to be heard, it must be translated into catastrophic visions and simplistic policy formulations that are literally absurd abstractions of the complexity that we inhabit. 
*Facepalms*  So... it's not enough to advocate that science abandon the whole  "let's see if our predictions are right"  it also has to become even more of a fear-mongering Sideshow?

The necessary oversimplification, urgent appeal to fear and insecurity, insistence on predictive certainty, and direct linkage to an explicit social agenda that would create huge new groups of winners and losers (and is thus inherently divisive) obliterate the boundary between science and politics.
Oh bless their hearts.  See  it's not their fault that they have to lie and cheat to push for their economic agenda...  it's just too important!

Everything really is connected to everything else now, and the biggest mistake we can make is to focus too narrowly on one thing or one way of doing things. That’s the most important lesson of the abject failure of climate change policy and politics, and it’s one that we must learn if we are to effectively confront the new world that we have and will continue to create. 

See!  That's the reason climate change policy is failing!   The declarations aren't dire enough!

Oh and since you asked.  Yes...  both Allenby and Sarewitz are professors, in scientific fields.

Thinking on it... I really can't tell if this is an apologia to Global Warming advocates "grow[ing] increasingly loud, scary, and simplistic"  or if it is a satire against them.

Honestly, people who are worried about Climate Change should, frankly, find this article really, really offensive.

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