Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Deep Climate: Post Normal Meltdown in Lisbon, part 1

Dear Readers,

This post is really too long to repost all of it here, but it is well worth reading, if you have time:

Post Normal Meltdown in Lisbon, part 1

It was all going so well. The climate contrarians, along with a handful of sympathetic scientists, had offered an olive branch of reconciliation to the climate science mainstream, discussed issues of common concern, and broken bread together. All this, in the salubrious environment of Lisbon and its Gulbenkian Foundation, facilitated by an experienced organizing group of “post-normal” science philosophers and the EU’s Joint Research Committee. The mainstream was noticeably absent, but there was the next best thing: the group’s favourite bete noir, Gavin Schmidt, had arrogantly refused to attend because, supposedly, the “science was settled and there was nothing to discuss”. Or so said New Scientist’s Fred Pearce who was there to capture this epochal moment for posterity.
Then it all went horribly wrong. It turned out that Schmidt had said nothing of the sort, and that Pearce had grossly misrepresented Schmidt’s email reply to organizers, which contained a polite, nuanced refusal, along with a list of subjects that should be discussed. This, even though Pearce had actually seen and read aloud the complete email [albeit accidentally truncated], which was leaked by “ad hoc” invitation committee member and fringe blogger “tallbloke” in what was (to put it charitably) a highly inappropriate attempt at spin. The gullible Pearce didn’t even bother to check with Schmidt, but appears to have accepted “tallbloke’s” version at face value.
But the naivete and gullibility do not end there, for Pearce missed the truly fascinating part of the whole story. “Tallbloke’s” passing around of the email he wasn’t even supposed to have was not just a supremely ironic coda to a workshop ostensibly dedicated to building trust and reconciliation (a circumstance which seems to have completely eluded the befuddled Pearce).  Somehow the fringe blogger and WUWT regular managed to forge a connection between  a highly respected science philosopher and the contrarian blogosphere, and then put himself in the inner circle planning the resulting workshop a year later, providing a fascinating insight into this misbegotten enterprise.
The story of Fred Pearce’s bungled report of the Lisbon workshop has been told elsewhere, notably at Deltoid which has a good, clear chronology of events, along with links to Rabett and all the others to boot.
So I won’t get into all the details. But I will note that Pearce’s behaviour here, while not deliberately malicious , was doubly unprofessional. Not only was the  reference to “settled science”  incorrect and a clear buy-in to a well-worn contrarian meme (one present right in the Lisbon workshop’s very statement of purpose), but “nothing to discuss” is completely at odds with the list of policy subjects that Gavin proposed as more worthy. Moreover, it was also highly unprofessional of Pearce to allow himself to be spun by someone involved in the workshop, without even bothering to check that interpretation with Schmidt. And his lack of curiosity about the provenance of the workshop shows at best an an astonishing naivete for a journalist.
The road to Lisbon began about a year ago, with a pair of surprising guest posts at WattsUpWithThat by noted science philosopher and “post-normal” guruJerome Ravetz. Ravetz has long explored the role of the “extended peer community” in science “quality assurance”, an idea which Ravetz started to apply somewhat indiscriminately and uncritically in the post-”climategate” maelstrom. Hence WUWT.
In his first post, Ravetz did not necessarily accept all of the contrarian critique (much of it self-contradictory in any case) but did acknowledge the central thesis of “climategate”:

No comments: