Re: [asa] ESA: Wilkins Ice Shelf under threat

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Wed Dec 03 2008 - 07:15:41 EST

Hi Lynn,

My point wasn't that nobody other than scientists have a right to comment on global warming.

My point was that you've made such vociferous criticism of the media that it makes your own appeals to same highly problematic - although THIS point is easily lost given your unfortunate treatment of my final paragraph - specifically the highlighting of "to quote the media in response to credible scientific agencies is hardly convincing," and the omission of the qualifying clause "especially when a cornerstone of your argument is that media are utterly devoid of credibility on scientific reportage."

So my comments were NOTHING to do with who has the authority to comment on science issues but rather a comment on your selective use of sources. If you're going to appeal to the popular media, in other words, you'll need to do more than simply make a claim of bias against sources which oppose your favored position on the subject.

As respects Higg's article, I thought it not a bad piece. I have far less problem with it than you might suspect. Indeed, I'd even say that much of what he says works against your anti-GW position. Consider;

Given the not inconsiderable weight of anti-GW sentiment in the US - amongst elements of the public, the media and the US Government (the weak support for Kyoto you cited in your previous post, for instance) - my initial reaction is that any inherent bias on the subject of Global Warming would weight out roughly equal. Actually, the figures you yourself cited put pro-GW sentiment at below 50% so if anything I would expect an ANTI not PRO GW bias to be at work. Either way, there is simply an inadequate weight of ideological bias to sustain the sort of conspiracy that you seem to be implying.

Related to this is the fact is that GW is a headache for pretty much every Western government and they are all routinely criticized by lobby groups for failing to take sufficiently strong action. In that context, it's hard to see government backed science funding agencies going out of their way to make life difficult for their political masters by funding rabidly pro-GW research.

What has to be kept in mind here is that most of the "media hype" to which you refer is largely CRITICAL of government inaction. Here I have to say that I agree with Higgs when he says "politicians aren't dumb". But he should have kept that in mind when suggesting that politicians would selectively fund research which supports the very "media hype" which can only serve to get them voted out of office at the next election. It is, frankly, quite ludicrous to suggest that politicians would act in such a self-destructive manner!

I could write a great deal more on the issue, but I'll forbear as my primary response to it is that I have less problem with Higg's piece itself than I do with your sense that it lends support to your position.


Lynn Walker wrote:
> On Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 2:11 AM, Murray Hogg <
> <>> wrote:
> Hi Lyn,
> /...I'll only add - in reiteration both of a point Rich Bline made
> in a previous post on this thread and which follows from my second
> paragraph above: to quote the media in response to credible
> scientific agencies is hardly convincing, ../
> You know, you're right. Please allow me to quote Dr. Higgs regarding
> just who is, and who is not qualified to speak on various scientific and
> economic matters:*
> Peer Review, Publication in Top Journals, Scientific Consensus, and So
> Forth
> *
> Robert Higgs
> /Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy for The Independent
> Institute and Editor of the Institute?s quarterly journal The
> Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns
> Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington,
> Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics,
> Prague. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford
> University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National
> Science Foundation. He is the author of many books, including
> Depression, War, and Cold War.
> /In following the discussion of global warming and related issues in the
> press and the blogosphere, I have been struck repeatedly by the
> assumption or expression of certain beliefs that strike me as highly
> problematical. Many writers who are not scientists themselves are
> trading on the prestige of science and the authority of scientists.
> Reference to "peer-reviewed research" and to an alleged "scientific
> consensus" are regarded as veritable knock-out blows by many commentators.
> Yet many of those who make such references appear to me to be more or
> less ignorant of how science as a form of knowledge-seeking and
> scientists as individual professionals operate, especially nowadays,
> when national governments most notably the U.S. government play such an
> overwhelming role in financing scientific research and hence in
> determining which scientists rise to the top and which fall by the wayside.
> I do not pretend to have expertise in climatology or any of the related
> physical sciences, so nothing I might say about strictly climatological
> or related physical-scientific matters deserves any weight.
> However, I have thirty-nine years of professional experience twenty-six
> as a university professor, including fifteen at a major research
> university, and then thirteen as a researcher, writer, and editor in
> close contact with scientists of various sorts, including some in the
> biological and physical sciences and many in the social sciences and
> demography.
> I have served as a peer reviewer for more than thirty professional
> journals and as a reviewer of research proposals for the National
> Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and a number of
> large private foundations. I was the principal investigator of a major
> NSF-funded research project in the field of demography. So, I think I
> know something about how the system works.
> It does not work as outsiders seem to think.
> Peer review, on which lay people place great weight, varies from being
> an important control, where the editors and the referees are competent
> and responsible, to being a complete farce, where they are not.
> As a rule, not surprisingly, the process operates somewhere in the
> middle, being more than a joke but less than the nearly flawless system
> of Olympian scrutiny that outsiders imagine it to be.
> Any journal editor who desires, for whatever reason, to reject a
> submission can easily do so by choosing referees he knows full well will
> knock it down; likewise, he can easily obtain favorable referee reports.
> As I have always counseled young people whose work was rejected,
> seemingly on improper or insufficient grounds, the system is a crap
> shoot. Personal vendettas, ideological conflicts, professional
> jealousies, methodological disagreements, sheer self-promotion, and a
> great deal of plain incompetence and irresponsibility are no strangers
> to the scientific world; indeed, that world is rife with these
> all-too-human attributes.
> In no event can peer review ensure that research is correct in its
> procedures or its conclusions. The history of every science is a
> chronicle of one mistake after another. In some sciences these mistakes
> are largely weeded out in the course of time; in others they persist for
> extended periods; and in some sciences, such as economics, actual
> scientific retrogression may continue for generations under the
> misguided (but self-serving) belief that it is really progress.
> At any given time, consensus may exist about all sorts of matters in a
> particular science. In retrospect, however, that consensus is often seen
> to have been mistaken.
> As recently as the mid-1970s, for example, a scientific consensus
> existed among climatologists and scientists in related fields that the
> earth was about to enter a new ice age. Drastic proposals were made,
> such as exploding hydrogen bombs over the polar icecaps (to melt them)
> or damming the Bering Strait (to prevent cold Arctic water from entering
> the Pacific Ocean), to avert this impending disaster.
> Well-reputed scientists, not just uninformed wackos, made such
> proposals. How quickly we forget.
> Researchers who employ unorthodox methods or theoretical frameworks have
> great difficulty under modern conditions in getting their findings
> published in the "best" journals or, at times, in any scientific
> journal. Scientific innovators or creative eccentrics always strike the
> great mass of practitioners as nut cases until their findings become
> impossible to deny, which often occurs only after one generation's
> professional ring-masters have died off. Science is an odd undertaking:
> everybody strives to make the next breakthrough, yet when someone does,
> he is often greeted as if he were carrying the ebola virus.
> Too many people have too much invested in the reigning ideas; for those
> people an acknowledgment of their own idea's bankruptcy is tantamount to
> an admission that they have wasted their lives. Often, perhaps to avoid
> cognitive dissonance, they never admit that their ideas were wrong.
> Most important, as a rule, in science as elsewhere, to get along, you
> must go along.
> Research worlds, in their upper reaches, are pretty small. Leading
> researchers know all the major players and what everybody else is doing.
> They attend the same conferences, belong to the same societies, send
> their grad students to be postdocs in the other people?s labs, review
> one another's work for the NSF, NIH, or other government funding
> organizations, and so forth.
> If you do not belong to this tight fraternity, it will prove very, very
> difficult for you to gain a hearing for your work, to publish in a "top"
> journal, to acquire a government grant, to receive an invitation to
> participate in a scientific-conference panel discussion, or to place
> your grad students in decent positions.
> The whole setup is tremendously incestuous; the interconnections are
> numerous, tight, and close.
> In this context, a bright young person needs to display cleverness in
> applying the prevailing orthodoxy, but it behooves him not to rock the
> boat by challenging anything fundamental or dear to the hearts of those
> who constitute the review committees for the NSF, NIH, and other funding
> organizations.
> Modern biological and physical science is, overwhelmingly,
> government-funded science.
> If your work, for whatever reason, does not appeal to the relevant
> funding agency's bureaucrats and academic review committees, you can
> forget about getting any money to carry out your proposal.
> Recall the human frailties I mentioned previously; they apply just as
> much in the funding context as in the publication context. Indeed, these
> two contexts are themselves tightly linked: if you don't get funding,
> you'll never produce publishable work, and if you don't land good
> publications, you won't continue to receive funding.
> When your research implies a "need" for drastic government action to
> avert a looming disaster or to allay some dire existing problem,
> government bureaucrats and legislators (can you say "earmarks"?) are
> more likely to approve it.
> If the managers at the NSF, NIH, and other government funding agencies
> gave great amounts of money to scientists whose research implies that no
> disaster looms or no dire problem now exists or even that although a
> problem exists, no currently feasible government policy can do anything
> to solve it without creating greater problems in the process, members of
> Congress would be much less inclined to throw money at the agency, with
> all the consequences that an appropriations cutback implies for
> bureaucratic thriving.
> No one has to explain all these things to the parties involved; they are
> not idiots, and they understand how the wheels are greased in their
> tight little worlds.
> _Finally, we need to develop a much keener sense of what a scientist is
> qualified to talk about and what he is not qualified to talk about.
> _Climatologists, for example, are qualified to talk about the science of
> climatology (though subject to all the intrusions upon pure science I
> have already mentioned). They are not qualified to say, however, that
> "we must act now" by imposing government "solutions" of some imagined sort.
> They are not professionally knowledgeable about what degree of risk is
> better or worse for people to take; only the individuals who bear the
> risk can make that decision, because it's a matter of personal
> preference, not a matter of science.
> Climatologists know nothing about cost/benefit considerations; indeed,
> most mainstream economists themselves are fundamentally misguided about
> such matters (adopting, for example, procedures and assumptions about
> the aggregation of individual valuations that lack a sound scientific
> basis).
> Climate scientists are the best qualified people to talk about climate
> science, but they have no qualifications to talk about public policy,
> law, or individual values, rates of time preference, and degrees of risk
> aversion.
> In talking about desirable government action, they give the impression
> that they are either fools or charlatans, but they keep talking worst of
> all, talking to_ doomsday-seeking journalists_ nevertheless.
> In this connection, we might well bear in mind that the United Nations
> (and its committees and the bureaus it oversees) is no more a scientifc
> organization than the U.S. Congress (and its committees and the bureaus
> it oversees).
> When decisions and pronouncements come forth from these political
> organizations, it makes sense to treat them as essentially political in
> origin and purpose.
> Politicians aren't dumb, either vicious, yes, but not dumb. One thing
> they know above everything else is how to stampede masses of people into
> approving or accepting ill-advised government actions that cost the
> people dearly in both their standard of living and their liberties in
> the long run.
> Lynn

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Received on Wed Dec 3 07:16:31 2008

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