Re: [asa] Ottawa Citizen: The Skeptics Are Vindicated

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Wed Nov 25 2009 - 17:44:59 EST

Schwarzwald wrote:
> Even Murray Hogg's line of reasoning here is something I have a
> problem with. Murray (whose latest response has come in while I was
> writing this) is saying that, look, scientists are human like everyone
> else. Okay, maybe some of these guys were acting bullheaded, or
> narcissistic, or power-hungry, or whatever. Big deal. Scientists have
> their flaws. It happens.
> There's a problem I have with this. Namely, it's also very human for
> people to deny these very "human" traits - to present themselves as
> utterly correct, their reasoning without flaw, and their detractors
> corrupt, stupid, or insane. And as someone who's been watching the AGW
> debate unfold for a while, the idea of scientists (particularly
> scientists stressing the reality and dire nature of AGW) has been, of
> course, excessively downplayed. The Kyoto Treaty was treated by many
> as a no-brainer, an obvious necessary bit of legislation that everyone
> must, must, must sign onto because it's just so clearly correct. Or,
> lacking that, various legislation has been provided as either the
> absolute best option or 'the best possible option that we can manage,
> so it would be irresponsible not to fully support this because it
> won't get better, only worse'.
> To put it another way: If it's true that there's nothing surprising in
> these emails, on the grounds that scientists are humans and therefore
> flawed like anyone else, then the most reasonable response is - my
> apologies, scientists of the ASA list - to encourage treating
> scientists like humans. As in, regarding them with skepticism,
> questioning their motivations, and perhaps even disagreeing with them
> (either in terms of interpreting their results, or more generally,
> rejecting their advice with regards to public and private policy). And
> that is going to mean treating scientists, even academics in general,
> with less awe and deference than many in these debates generally seem
> inclined to.

Hi Schwarzwald,

I want to bow out of this as I feel like I'm starting to chase my tail
somewhat, but let me just offer the following observations:

First, my response was not "it happens" - it was, "I always knew it
happens" - the first indicates indifference, the second familiarity.
Here let me say that part of the reason I don't bother responding to
many of the criticisms of evolutionists, climatologists, etc, which
float around is precisely because they are largely correct. So what do
you want me to argue with?

BUT, second point - the other reason I let such objections slide is
because they are - in respects of the ultimate goal of science - largely

The fact is that science - as it is actually practised - is a
self-correcting pursuit predicated on the assumption of human
fallibility. This self-correction can take decades, of course, but like
the separation of powers in US democracy it is inherent in the entire

Sure peer-review is often inadequate, sure consensus science is
questionable, sure scientists get it wrong (more often than they get it
right, in fact) - but do you really think that scientists themselves are
ignorant of this? You say we should regard them with skepticism,
question their motives, and disagree with their findings - but what,
pray tell, do you think scientists spend most of their time doing to one

The big difference between scientists and their critics is NOT that
scientists lack critical skills - it's that their critics generally lack
an education in science.

So it's not the fact of criticism per see that I ever object to - it's
misdirected criticism. And as long as the debate centres on the
integrity of scientists, as long as it serves merely to point out the
human nature of the pursuit, then I will neither argue with the
observation nor feign surprise as the observations are, I think, quite
correct - but at the same time somewhat trivial and largely irrelevant.

If anybody wants to make a constructive criticism, then they should go
back to the data and ask: "what does this tell me?" - but,
unfortunately, that requires actually knowing the science, which means
actually becoming a scientist oneself, which means joining the very same
fraternity of rogues which one claims lacks any credibility to pronounce
on the issues at hand.

I think I'll leave off here as I've said my piece and, as I said, I'm
starting to feel like I'm chasing my tail - I'm happy to field requests
for clarification on my position, but responding to critical remarks?
Not so much.


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Received on Wed Nov 25 17:45:25 2009

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