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Real science, normal science, and post-normal science

Recently it seems as if we are on the edge of history in the making, with four, five, six hundred classical responses at WUWT to Jerome Ravetz, Judith Curry, and the "slimer" Jeffrey Sachs. And then, with the feeling of the trumpet calls of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Willis Eschenbach channelled his passion and his righteous anger at the degradation of science that has led the whole world astray, that still appears to be leading the worthy Judith astray. Or is the ground shifting faster than any of these can adequately express? Comparisons abound with the Gettysburg Address, with Churchill's speeches, and with Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses. And I'd like to add Martin Luther King, the righteous voice of the downtrodden.

I think I've finally got a handle on why Climate Science has gone so bad, and why the checks have failed so badly. This understanding has eluded many of us for a long time; I believe it will also help to show the way through. But it will take time. I need these three concepts to convey patterns I've discerned behind the inexact situation of real life. It's up to you to recognize the patterns and see that, to name them, I've had to talk in generalizations.

First, let's look at "normal science": a term used used by Thomas Kuhn in his book Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The concept is central because it reaches backwards to what I call "real science", and forwards to what Ravetz has called "post-normal science". Normal science, Kuhn says, is what normal scientists do most of the time. They follow accepted procedures, they develop experiments and tests, they collect data, they write up their findings, the findings get peer-reviewed and published. Most items we buy today depend on the practice of this "normal" science to make them work. If the items do not work, refunds are expected. The workability depends on the collaboration of scientists and others. All this is "normal". However, things can shift ground. Anomalies appear. At first these anomalies are discounted, but if they do not go away, scientists have to think again about whether the principles they believed apply, are sufficient. A new theory is found that fits the data better. Traditionalists may object for a while, but gradually the new theory is absorbed. A scientific revolution, a paradigm shift, has happened.

Kuhn's "normal science" is in dynamic balance with "revolutionary science". But I think he does not take hold of human nature sufficiently; the situation has deteriorated since his time. Let's look at people rather than situations: three types of scientist. I am going to call them the "normal" scientist, the "real" rather than "revolutionary" scientist, and the "post-normal" scientist. The "normal" scientists comprise, let's say, about 90% of all scientists. They do a lot of excellent science, they make things work, they are faithful and methodical. Society depends on them. They are Judith Curry at her best. But they trust the laws of science as they stand, and they trust the scientific practices including the peer-review process. They work within the system.

In contrast, the "real" scientist is always essentially a loner. He checks stuff for himself. He thinks laterally, he has creative flashes of insight, he does his own back-yard experiments on a shoestring. Above all, he is curious and open-minded. And he is so passionate about truth, about finding out stuff for himself, that his passion simply bubbles over and informs his activities. Whatever he does, the passionate quest for truth shines through. It doesn't need to be labelled as "passion for truth". It's clear in the work, the clarity, the data, methods, checks, checkability, workability. It's clear in the challenges to bad science and bad scientific practice. And it's clear in the human qualities that underlie thoroughness and balance: knowing one's limits of knowledge, not claiming what one cannot back up, and practicing sufficient courtesy. His work actually feels good, it satisfies the soul of other real scientists. Why does it satisfy? Because they recognize their own story; and because they too are passionate about Truth. Willis Eschenbach, Christopher Monckton, Anthony Watts, and Steve McIntyre are all real scientists; they all come from the real truth-seeking spirit of Science.

The real scientist is the kind of scientist understood by the Royal Society at its inception, 350 years ago this year. He is strongly intuitive as well as rigorous in testing, his curiosity leads him to become multidisciplinary, a polymath, and he may well have strong mystical leanings too, even if he or history keeps quiet about that side of him, even though it may be his driving force. He is the source of the science on which we now depend: Newton, Jenner, Pasteur, Faraday, Maxwell, Mendeleev, Einstein, etc. He usually has to fight for recognition. The early scientists ran the risk of the Inquisition. Later scientists fell foul of each other. Now once again the real scientist has fallen foul of the authorities - this time, authorities calling themselves scientists. We've seen jeers meted out to Lindzen, Soon and Baliunas, Seitz, Singer, Ball, Jaworowski, and the rest. Nevertheless, the "real" scientist was responsible for the huge advances in science that enabled the Industrial Revolution and our modern world to develop. During the first and second World Wars, his inventiveness was crucial to their outcome. And because of this, Science became patronised by the State.

A subtle shift happened at this point. Science was institutionalized, and with vastly increased numbers, many trained who were temperamentally "normal" scientists, rather than "real" scientists. At first, the business of Science flourished "as normal". But the number of "real" scientists with a passion for Truth was diluted more and more by "normal" scientists until they could vote in "Consensus Science" by sheer numbers. But they lacked BS meters and passion for Truth at all cost, and forgot that Truth needs proof, not majority support. The seeds were sown whereby the Trojan Horse of "post-normal science" could later be smuggled in.

Often, all the "normal" scientist may understand of a real scientist is a maverick, a misfit, a misguided minority. I can understand Judith's incomprehension. I had a six-month email conversation with a "normal" PhD scientist who could not understand me challenging peer-reviews, and could not check the science for himself. Since I had no science degree, I could not possibly "do" science, in his books. When I said that CO2 caused no appreciable heat increase, UHI was neglected, the ice core CO2 was suspect, etc, and provided the evidence, he kept slipping gear and reverting back to his start position. He had a big blind spot. Many cannot understand that the passion for truth could motivate some people to work for thousands of hours without pay.

Now consider the science institutions. A front of excellence has to be maintained. "Normal" scientists get key positions. Trained in universities that teach the passing of exams rather than fostering allround curiosity, inventiveness, originality, passion for Truth, or integrity, they may be competent administrators but secondrate scientists who are unappreciative of the crucial difference between "real" and "normal" scientists, and remain ignorant of these limits of their capacity. Not being inquisitive polymaths, they fall back on belief in matters outside their discipline, and dismiss mavericks outside their professional training; they assume peer-review is good enough.

The scene is set for the entry of the Trojan Horse within "post-normal science". Now I believe PNS has crucial work to do in the future, if it chooses to build and re-integrate holistic awareness, including responsibility as planetary citizens. But first it needs purging of its dogma, its fanaticism, its superstition. Its genesis in apocalyptic fanaticism can be described thus: After the Communist "enemy" had gone, the "enemy" was redefined by the Club of Rome as - ourselves. We are wrecking the planet - strict laws are needed to control us - let's scare people into accepting draconian laws - what can we use? ah, carbon dioxide and flaky science - build on flaky global warming - let's control the naive scientists. It has been described well by Lindzen and others: how the august institutions of Science left the back door open to activists, who crept in and then installed their cronies. Here you can see Bob Ward, former PR for the Royal Society, in full idiotic flow. They are the polar opposite of the activists who said "let my business thrive - no matter how corrupt and environmentally damaging it is". But although twenty years ago a number of such activists were indeed among the climate skeptics, they have long since been totally dwarfed by the apocalyptic activists and their funders, a fact which the apocalyptic activists strenuously hide.

"When the stakes are high and the uncertainty is great, we may have to act even if the science is not very good" seems to be a key statement of "post-normal science". But this notion is dangerous rubbish. Anyone who thinks for herself can see that the higher the stakes, the more important it is to check the basic facts, to establish the truth, to let the evidence speak for itself. When alarms are sounded, the first thing real scientists do is check the science, the evidence, the data; use commonsense; use backup checks from other sources. The last thing real scientists would do is confuse correlation (rising CO2 to rising temperatures) with causation, or suppress or exaggerate the data or the results (as the Climategate scientists did). To a real scientist, it is self-evident that Truth matters at all levels, both practically and to the soul. Mistakes can happen; they can be painful to acknowledge; acknowledgement brings fear of public censorship and punishment; but to pass on without checking, or to suppress, exaggerate, or lie is even worse for the soul; the worst of all is to suppress, without fair hearing, those who might have better explanations. The Climategate scientists would still do well to read Charles Colson's story: his involvement in Watergate, and his spiritual awakening that sustained him with miracles throughout his subsequent prison sentence. The issue is not being formally a Christian: it is closer to following the Twelve-Step Program, originally developed for, and by, alcoholics.

All these virtues linked to Truth seem self-evident necessities to real scientists. But "normal" scientists, cosseted within a still-workable tradition, think about such things far less in the course of their work, if at all. Therefore they have been all the more vulnerable to the infiltration and takeover by activists, who like the inquisitors before them, have projected personal shadows into political attacks, and have changed the direction of Science, particularly by controlling the purse-strings of research and specifying that research must support AGW. Thus the activists have created the illusion of supportive Science. But it is all puppetry, hysteria and fraud. The warming that has happened lies well within natural limits of both rate and extent and cyclic fluctuations; carbon dioxide follows warming (from the sea); almost certainly a significant quantity of UHI has been neglected, despite the appearance of peer-reviewed papers saying otherwise. And more and more and more. Read my primer and update it through the blogs.

Now increasingly excluded from mainstream "science", the real scientists, the loners, have gathered in the skeptics' blog oases, particularly Climate Audit and Watts Up With That. They have exchanged the real science and gained wisdom and the support that, due to the substitution of Real Science with Normal Science followed by a corrupted Post-Normal Science, has been missing where it should be found. For me, one use of PNS was to make me see more clearly the importance of recognizing Truth as a spiritual reality and light to Science that we all know and touch and can claim, and the reality of current PNS as impostor and trojan horse. But there may be other more positive achievements of PNS that deserve recognition. Responsibility as planetary citizens is essential for the future. But without transparent, checkable truth in the form of data, methods, articles, statistics, peer-to-peer-reviewing, etc, we have no foundation of evidence from which we can determine the actions we really need to take as planetary citizens. Despite Climategate, the fight to reclaim the real Climate Science has not yet been won. Right now, reactionary forces are working to whitewash the enquiries - and more. This raises the question, what can real scientists do? Perhaps it is time to formulate a scientists' equivalent to the Hippocratic Oath - or Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses. Another very practical way of seeking and defending the truth in Climate Science would be to help build up the skeptics' wiki that now exists in "alpha" state - Neutralpedia. Here are ways we can channel positively the passion, the indignation, and the anger.

Page created 25th February 2010

 

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