Professor Kevin Anderson on science, silence and ‘neutrality’ #Manchester #climate

Following on from his comments on shale gas and civil disobedience, Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre has given a robust defence of scientists’ involvement in policy debates. Speaking to Manchester Climate Monthly on 17th December, the climate expert stated that he is “deafened by the political roar of most scientists who work on climate change.” Their “silence is an advocacy for the status quo.”  

After explaining where he felt the boundaries of advocacy lay, he concluded “those… who people are throwing political mud at the scientists by saying ‘you are no longer a scientist, you’re now engaged in politics’, actually I think they are the most political and the most dangerous of the scientists that are engaged in these issues.”

Transcript

QUESTION: So what would you say to a scientist who sits in their laboratory crunching the data and producing research who said to you “Well, you’re no longer a scientist, you’re a policy advocate. And you’re using your scientific credentials or standing to advocate for what the Shell blogger called ‘political ideology’.” What would you say to someone who accused you of that?

ANSWER: I would say – I did say this at the event [Radical Emissions Reduction Conference] – I would turn that on its head. I think the scientists – particularly those of us who do work at the interface between science and translating that into a language that others can engage with – not just policy-makers, but broader civil society, businesses and so forth. For those of us to stay quiet about our work, that is political. So I am deafened by the political roar of most scientists who work on climate change.
So we may think we’re doing this neutrally, but we’re not at all. That silence is an advocacy for the status quo. So there are no such things as scientists that are not political. Scientists by their nature are being political, whether they engage or do not engage in the wider debates. And I would argue that the ones are who are the least political are the ones who engage in it.
And the reason I say that is because what is happening at the moment is that the scientists are producing their information and then it is often being misused. It is being misused by a complete array of people, whether it’s members of the public, whether it’s some of the skeptics, whether it’s how it’s misused in the newspapers, whether it’s misunderstood or misused by some of the policy-makers, by business leaders.
And we stay quiet about that. And that is not our job. By staying quiet we are being very political. We’re saying that our science on these issues doesn’t really matter. That’s not a reasonable scientific judgement.
So therefore it is incumbent on us to make sure the work is used appropriately. Now, there is a difference between arguing for that, which I would say is not political, and arguing for things that our science does not justify. So it doesn’t tell us necessarily which set of policies we have to adopt. Sometimes it might tell us that. It might start to favour one set of policies over another set of policies for reasons that can be scientifically justified. But if it can’t, we mustn’t drive that agenda. Other people may do that, and that was clear in the conference – some people have a wider political agenda that informs how they think they should respond to these issues. But of course that’s the case. Society has responded to most of the climate change issues so far using market mechanisms, and that’s because society is familiar with those. They’re the sort of currency we’ve been using. Now, they’ve fundamentally failed to get any grip on ever-rising emissions. So they’ve failed to deliver. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’d always fail to deliver, but the science can ask questions, and empirically they’ve not succeeded so far. Can, from our understanding of how these things work, can they play out and be successful in the future. And I think that some are starting to suggest that these are not necessarily the appropriate tools for dealing with these issues.
But that’s not a political judgement, that’s a judgement on the analysis.
Because it has political repercussions does not make it a political judgement.
So by and large I think that those… who people are throwing political mud at the scientists by saying ‘you are no longer a scientist, you’re now engaged in politics’, actually I think they are the most political and the most dangerous of the scientists that are engaged in these issues.

QUESTION: So you’re off a few people’s Christmas card lists?

ANSWER: I hope so, because Christmas cards have to be transported by vehicles which emit CO2 (laughs). Less Christmas cards is not necessarily a bad thing…

paulo

See Also
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/climate-scientists-then-and-now-espousing-responsible-advocacy/

Which includes mention of the late great Stephen Schneider. Here’s a clip of him from 1979. Yes, 1979, talking about climate change and what might be coming. Sigh. What a species.

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Monthly Magazine/newsletter about all things climate and resilience in Greater Manchester.
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22 Responses to Professor Kevin Anderson on science, silence and ‘neutrality’ #Manchester #climate

  1. Dave Bishop says:

    A very interesting and profound post, if I may say so?
    It’s almost as if our species has created this great institution called ‘Science’, which is immensely creative and with great explanatory power, but, collectively, can’t seem to handle it or its methods and conclusions. Or perhaps our contemporary culture can’t handle them (?)
    For what it’s worth, I used to work as a scientist in industry and I very often used to meet people with impressive scientific qualifications who didn’t seem to understand science at all. As soon as they crossed the threshold, these people seemed to instantly transform into ‘marketeers-in-white-coats’. They were good at office politics and spouting slogans but, technically, they were very often weak.
    ‘Science and Politics’ – now there’s a subject for a PhD thesis!

  2. Interesting post. I think I find myself in two minds about whether or not I agree with the broad point that I think you’re trying to make. It’s not obvious to me that it’s fair to suggest that scientists who choose not to engage are effectively making a political decision. There are many different skills and characteristics that can make a good scientist and some may not feel comfortable doing much more than their own research and engaging with their peers and colleagues. In the case of climate science, the existence of the IPCC surely means that their research results will be made available to policy makers and the public without them necessarily haven’t to personal get involved in public engagement.

    In the short time that I’ve been observing/involved in the climate science debate, what is more concerning are those who choose to engage publicly but who seem to willing to let some get away – without challenge – with things that appear scientifically incorrect. Of course – I’m not a climate scientist – so maybe I’m don’t quite know what is scientifically correct or not, but there do seem to be many circumstances where incorrect claims are left unchallenged.

    So, I guess my comment would be that expecting all to engage seems unrealistic and judging those who choose not to seems unfair. However, those who do choose to engage publicly should – in my view at least – be willing to challenge those who make unfounded scientific claims, on both sides of the debate.

    • “In the short time that I’ve been observing/involved in the climate science debate, what is more concerning are those who choose to engage publicly but who seem to willing to let some get away – without challenge – with things that appear scientifically incorrect.”

      The climate science “debate”? Really? Fear, uncertainty and doubt, a la the old tobacco company tricks. I strongly suspect you are just at the polite/subtle end of the denier spectrum. Personally, I would think the death threats to scientists (in Australia, but not just there) would be the “more concerning thing.” That and the fact that we have done nothing to decrease the acceleration of the build-up of C02 in the atmosphere.

      • I strongly suspect you are just at the polite/subtle end of the denier spectrum.

        Seriously? You got that from my comment? You clearly haven’t tried following the link to my blog, but – hey – why bother doing that when you can choose to judge me based on a single comment. That’s much more convenient than actually putting some effort in. Although, maybe you have followed the link to my blog and have still concluded that I’m at the polite/subtle end of the denier spectrum. If so, then I suspect what I would think of you wouldn’t pass moderation.

        I didn’t say there weren’t other more concerning things. My more concerning referred to a comparison between those choosing not to engage versus those engaging and choosing not to debunk. Yes, there are clearly many other things that are extremely concerning, but my comment was referring only to the suggestion that those choosing not to engage are advocating for the status quo.

      • I did go through to your blog at the time. Found lots of hand-wringing about Anthony Watts and whether he would approve of your blog’s name. Didn’t find much clarity on where you stand on these issues of mitigation, fundamental transformation of energy systems/society.

        You are free to suspect what you think of me. To misquote Melissa Etheridge “Go ahead and close your eyes, it doesn’t bother me.”

        “Qui tacet consentit”, is what Kevin is saying. I agree with him. You seem not to (I am still not clear). That’s fine, but #borednow.

    • I’m amazed by your response. How does where I stand with respect to mitigation have anything to do with being a denier or not (I think we should mitigate, to be clear, but some level of adaptation is unavoidable)? Also, all I was trying to do was submit a comment on a blog so as to maybe have a discussion about something. I didn’t even think what I’d said was all that controversial. Plus, my criticism was really of those who choose to engage but choose not to debunk, a criticism I can’t really level at Kevin Anderson. Your response makes it clear that you seem to see your blog as a place where you can state what you think and is not a place where you’re interested in any kind of discussion of what you’ve said. Not sure why you allow comments then.

      I’ve been somewhat amazed by this particular topic as it seems to have lead to a number of reasonably heated exchanges with people with whom I probably agree more than disagree. I’m not quite sure what to make of that, to be honest. One conclusion is that I should probably recognise that just because I likely agree with someone and just because what they’re trying to do is fundamentally a good thing, doesn’t mean that they’re not an arsehole. Feel free to moderate that if you wish. I no longer care myself.

      • You are so full of it! Everything about your comments, and your site, scream “clever troll.” The very formulation “climate science debate” as a start; nobody serious believes there is a debate on the climate science. These were your words,and they are revealing as an attempt to ‘frame’ things. That you can even type that sentence says more about you than you intended to reveal.

        Then the aggrieved tone, and point-avoiding tone-policing and faux-modest “all I was trying to do” stuff, and snide sideswipes.

        Whether you are an outright denialist or a delayer, or just a troll looking to waste everyone’s bandwidth, I don’t care.

        Don’t bother commenting again, you’ve been blocked.

        UPDATE: I’ve had a deeper look at your site, than the 5 minute scan I did yesterday. You are clearly not a denialist of AGW. You are not a “delayer.” I don’t think you’re a troll either. I doubt very much you’ll want to leave comments, but fwiw you’re unblocked. Apologies. Far too quick to judge, and having been in a frenzy of moderation is no excuse at all.

      • Okay, we all make mistakes. Correcting them more important than making them in the first place – in my opinion. So, I appreciate the correction.

      • Thanks.

        The irony (well, erm, hypocrisy?!) of all this is that just a few days ago I was chiding a commenter [admittedly an advocate of greater fossil fuel use, but this is about a principle...] for not having done their homework before commenting.

        http://manchesterclimatemonthly.net/2013/12/17/professor-kevin-anderson-on-shale-gas-civil-disobedience-and-barton-moss-manchester-climate/#comment-63823

        Sigh. Human, all-too-human.

  3. Pingback: Professor Kevin Anderson on science, silence and ‘neutrality’ #Manchester #climate | Ecocide Alert

  4. You were perfectly correct in your initial assessment and in what your instinct told you, andtheresphysics, aka wotts aka wottsupwiththatblog, may be accurately (though not derisively) characterized as a ‘clever troll’. Surprisingly, his playing games and posting neutral-sounding, non-commital bland comments earned him the same name from some ‘deniers’.

    In all his climate posts I’ve seen him characterize, what other vocal proponents would accept as axioms, as being open to discussion. He constantly hedges almost all his AGW-supportive statements with such caveats as ‘I don’t know much about this’ and ‘happy to be proven wrong’. Statements which people who know much less than him would have no problems accepting.

    What’s more, as a result of his openminded-ness, he hosted numerous discussions on the now widely-propagated ‘97% consensus’ Skepticalscience/John Cook idea, where he enabled Richard To, I and others to post comments and expose several flaws in the 97% paper. This way, we were able to air criticisms and reach the intended audience we would’ve otherwise found it difficult to, owing to widespread (but no doubt entirely deserving) censorship of deniers.

    Furthermore, during these exchanges, he agreed with several points I, one someone as you would classify instantly as ‘hardcore denier’, had to offer. These are published on his blog

    In all fairness however, more recently, he’s flipped modes, enlisted the services of a trusty aide for moderation services, acquired a (real) in-house troll and cultivated a small band of followers. He’s cleansed his comments sections, as evident from anticipation of deletion of his own comments above. In short, he’s now a reforming, and former ‘clever troll’, and I hope you will accept him into your fold.

    • Er, thanks, I think.

      Frankly, my head is beginning to hurt. I feel like I have stumbled into a John le Carre novel, and I don’t know who is Smiley and who is Karla. I, however, am clearly the stooge who gets sent on a suicidal mission behind the Iron Curtain. Meanwhile, there’s a Manchester to help become less unprepared for the approaching shitstorm, and it is to that that I shall be devoting my Christmas break.

      Marc Hudson

      PS Nice trick with the screengrab of the awaiting moderation comment! I’ll be using that!!

  5. Brandon Shollenberger says:

    This made for a strange read. On the one hand, Anders is certainly not a “denier” in the intended sense. On the other hand, he fits the denier trope quite well. For example, he says:

    Okay, we all make mistakes. Correcting them more important than making them in the first place – in my opinion. So, I appreciate the correction.

    Yet when I showed he had flat-out made things up about a paper in order to criticize it and its authors, he refused any sort of civil discussion then banned me from his site. Making things up, being uncivil, and running from discussions is largely what deniers are “known for.”

    I think it’ll always be possible to find people on both sides of the global warming argument who fit whatever characteristics you ascribe to “deniers.” That’s why the term seems pointless to me. I can’t see a way to define it that doesn’t just ask for the response:

    Tu quoque.

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  10. Mooloo says:

    “And I would argue that the ones are who are the least political are the ones who engage in it.”

    And welcome to the black-is-white world of climate science, Where democracy is served by shutting down communication, and science is advanced by politicising it.

    You are welcome to tout this line around, but it’s plainly wrong. Anyone not blinded by the desire to achieve a specific aim will see that. A corollary would be that an economist (say working in a bank) is more political than the Chancellor of the Exchequer! Or a policeman who does not speak is more politically active on law and order than Nigel Farage!

    The difference is that people who do not speak on a subject are allowing a full range of options to others. A person who does speak, and most especially one who claims authority to speak, is telling others what to do — which is the essence of political thought.

    One of the key features of a political position is certainty. One of the key features of science is uncertainty. The two are not really compatible in the same context. Yes, you can be a scientist and politically active, but only if the political thinking doesn’t intrude on the science. Once it does then the science must suffer, because some answers are “right” politically and some are “wrong”.

    A test: is it possible that CO2 is not going to cause dramatic warming? If you cannot concede that point, however remotely unlikely, then you are not operating as a scientist, but as politician with scientific training.

    • Oh Mooloo,
      if C02 wasn’t very very likely to cause “dramatic warming”, it would be not doing so by now. In that, the impacts we are experiencing are in advance of what was predicted (yes, I know, you will doubtless talk about hiatuses/pauses/no warming since 1998 and so on. Because you hope that people don’t know about Skeptical Science etc.) C02 is a greenhouse gas, you admit this (which makes you smarter than the average denialist). And we are pumping ever-increasing amounts of it into the atmosphere, despite the incredibly powerful conspiracy of climate scientists trying to cripple Western economies.

      I wish it weren’t true. I wish you were position were tenable, and that we could continue as we have been doing. But it’s not and we can’t.
      You certainly write “One of the key features of a political position is certainty. One of the key features of science is uncertainty.” This is gibberish, of course, but so confidently and sententiously put!
      Political positions change, have unexpected consequences etc. Science, well, we discover new things, don’t we? And while there is always “uncertainty” at the margins, of course, other things are tolerably well understood. How do you feel, for instance, about gravity? Or the theory of evolution by natural selection, that was contested for so long. Or germ theory?
      The science of climate change is merely 19th century physics and 20th and 21st century sensing. I have been following this debate since 1988, and time after time the skeptics have clung to a position (remember the satellite data and the stratosphere), long after everyone else has moved on.

      And btw. The person who runs this blog is not Professor Kevin Anderson.

      Marc Hudson

    • deminthon says:

      “A test: is it possible that CO2 is not going to cause dramatic warming?”

      That is a not a test. You have no understanding of science.

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