05 August 2012

Post-Normal Science and the Climate Apocalypse

The following is a brief excerpt from an essay by Steven Mosher, on the difference between "normal science" and "post normal science." What makes the full essay such poignant reading is that Mosher himself has often fallen into the "post normal trap" when arguing the science of climate change with more sceptical fellow scientists -- both amateur and "professional."

This is a particularly important topic. If ordinary people allow science to become post normal -- both heavily politicised while also being placed beyond debate or question -- they will soon be marching well down the path, on the road to serfdom.

Science has changed. More precisely, in post normal conditions the behavior of people doing science has changed. Ravetz describes a post normal situation by the following criteria:

  1. Facts are uncertain
  2. Values are in conflict
  3. Stakes are high
  4. Immediate action is required

The difference between Kuhnian normal science, or the behavior of those doing science under normal conditions, and post normal science is best illustrated by example. We can use the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson as an example. Facts were uncertain–they always are to a degree; no values were in conflict; the stakes were not high; and, immediate action was not required. What we see in that situation is those doing science acting as we expect them to, according to our vague ideal of science. Because facts are uncertain, they listen to various conflicting theories. They try to put those theories to a test. They face a shared uncertainity and in good faith accept the questions and doubts of others interested in the same field. Their participation in politics is limited to asking for money. Because values are not in conflict no theorist takes the time to investigate his opponent’s views on evolution or smoking or taxation. Because the field of personal values is never in play, personal attacks are minimized. Personal pride may be at stake, but values rarely are. The stakes for humanity in the discovery of the Higgs are low: at least no one argues that our future depends upon the outcome. No scientist straps himself to the collider and demands that it be shut down. And finally, immediate action is not required; under no theory is the settling of the uncertainty so important as to rush the result. In normal science, according to Kuhn, we can view the behavior of those doing science as puzzle solving. The details of a paradigm are filled out slowly and deliberately.

The situation in climate science are close to the polar opposite of this. That does not mean and should not be construed as a criticism of climate science or its claims. The simple point is this: in a PNS situation, the behavior of those doing science changes. To be sure much of their behavior remains the same. They formulate theories; they collect data, and they test their theories against the data. They don’t stop doing what we notional describe as science. But, as foreshadowed above in the description of how high energy particle physicists behave, one can see how that behavior changes in a PNS situation. There is uncertainty, but the good faith that exists in normal science, the faith that other people are asking questions because they actually want the answer is gone. Asking questions, raising doubts, asking to see proof becomes suspect in and of itself. And those doing science are faced with a question that science cannot answer: Does this person really want the answer or are they amerchant of doubt? Such a question never gets asked in normal science. Normal science doesn’t ask this question because science cannot answer it.

_Steven Mosher via The GWPF
Read the full essay at Judith Curry's climate blog

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Blogger neil craig said...

"Post normal science" is simply proof that there is a popular and deserved respect for science and that many charlatans find it useful cover. It is no more real science than "climate science", "Freudian science", "Christian Science", "Scientology", Lydia Pinkham's Scirntific Elixer, much of the "science of economics", "social science" and palm reading are.

Feynman's lecture on Cargo Cult Science said it all - science is a matter of following the scientific method of submitting thoeries to trial and experiment and modifying or junking them according to the results. It is not a matter of wearing a white coat, calling oneself a scientist and collecting government money for supporting their scams.

There is nothing new in such frauds though the degree to which they are government parasites, the degree to which so much real science is government funded and the consequent inability of scientists to speak out against fraud is new.

Sunday, 05 August, 2012  
Blogger Whirlwind22 said...


Suprised you havent mentioned this Jim Hansen Op-ed piece in the Washington Post.

Sunday, 05 August, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

If I ever mention Jim Hansen it will be to laugh at the naked mendacity of the corrupt old fool. ;-)

Sunday, 05 August, 2012  
Blogger Lime Lite said...

@ Whirlwind22 - Jim Hansen? Stop making me laugh. I guess he hasn't heard that New Zealand skeptics are busy suing NIWA regarding the falsification of temperatures and how they've used the data to show 'global warming'. In fact, NIWA is refusing to allow the courts to view the report that they promised they'd submit. If the skeptics can show how these alarmists have falsified their data, it impacts on the entire world data sets. Also, it's been shown that airport temperatures are higher than other sites. So, no guesses as to just how accurate, or inaccurate the data is that's being used to 'prove' climate change.

Here's the link for the NZ court case:

Monday, 06 August, 2012  
Blogger Matt M said...

Hard science becomes Social science when society determines what conclusions are drawn from the data.

Would you say we reached the Post Normal mark sometime after Galileo announced that the Earth rotated around the sun?

Tuesday, 07 August, 2012  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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