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Science, values, and “Melanie” again

Global warming is so important that scientists need to practice “post-normal” science. So writes Mike Hulme, professor in the school of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia and the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. We need to recognise, he argues, two aspects of science: “scientific knowledge is always provisional knowledge, and […] it can be modified through its interaction with society”. That second point sounds a bit odd. He explains it further:

The other important characteristic of scientific knowledge – its openness to change as it rubs up against society – is rather harder to handle. Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs where the stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken.

It has been labelled “post-normal” science. Climate change seems to fall in this category. Disputes in post-normal science focus as often on the process of science – who gets funded, who evaluates quality, who has the ear of policy – as on the facts of science. […]

Too often with climate change, genuine and necessary debates about these wider social values – do we have confidence in technology; do we believe in collective action over private enterprise; do we believe we carry obligations to people invisible to us in geography and time? – masquerade as disputes about scientific truth and error.

The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow. […] If the battle of science is won, then the war of values will be won.

If only climate change were such a phenomenon and if only science held such an ascendancy over our personal, social and political life and decisions. In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage. […]

Two years ago, Tony Blair announced the large, government-backed international climate change conference in Exeter by asking for the conference scientists to “identify what level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is self-evidently too much”.

This is the wrong question to ask of science. Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking, although science will gain some insights into the question if it recognises the socially contingent dimensions of a post-normal science. But to proffer such insights, scientists – and politicians – must trade (normal) truth for influence. If scientists want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy, they must recognise the social limits of their truth seeking and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity.

If I understand him correctly, Hulme is making some uncontroversial points about how science is itself a social institution predicated on certain values, and how scientific findings in themselves do not recommend any particular political course of action. After science has found its (provisional) truth, the public debate about what is to be done in regard to that truth has yet to start. All this is perfectly reasonable. Yet the way Hulme makes these points is bizarre, to say the least. Scientists must therefore “trade (normal) truth for influence”? What would this involve? Abandoning established theories and becoming mere propagandists? Are scientists not already able to exert “influence” in the public sphere without having to “trade” away truth in return? I think the climatologists at Realclimate might have something to say about that. Indeed, happily to accept, as Hulme seems to accept, that “truth” and “influence” are mutually exclusive looks like a surrender to politics at its most egregious: the politics of Unspeak on both sides and nothing more.

And then there is this sentence, glutinously tricky to parse:

Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking

Eh? What will not emerge, exactly? Is he talking about “dangerous climate change” itself? I suppose he can’t be: it wouldn’t be very novel to insist that the scientific process in itself does not heat the planet much. He must mean that a convincing theory of “dangerous climate change” will not emerge from “normal” science. But the somewhat obscure compression of this phrase is, I think, dangerous in itself. The idea is visible when we concentrate on the word “dangerous”, and notice that the sentence is properly punctuated, though it is easy to read it as though there were a comma after “Self-evidently”. But he is not saying “It is evident that…” He is saying that self-evidently dangerous climate change, ie a picture of “climate change” that by itself uncontroversially implies peril, is not what is to be expected of science. Why? Because the word “dangerous” is a value judgment applied in the context of whether we as human beings fear what might happen to certain populations. Hulme’s point, then, is that science per se does not deal in calling things “dangerous” or otherwise. Just as science per se cannot tell Tony Blair what amount of some gas is “too much” – well, “too much” on what scale of judgment, from whose point of view? Nothing, in purely objective terms, is “too much” or “self-evidently dangerous”. (There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.) Science tells us that some or other thing is likely to happen: it’s then up to us whether we consider this sufficiently “dangerous”, ie contrary to our interests and those of future generations, to do something about it.

Again, read in this way, Hulme’s message is quite sensible, although again, the recommendation he draws from it – that, instead of retorting to Tony Blair “It’s your job to decide what is ‘too much’ based on the scenarios we predict for various levels”, scientists should shuck off their lab coats and start emoting about their own values – is dubious. More unfortunate, though, is the fact that his clotted style makes what he has written a hostage to morons. Just so, “Melanie Phillips” has leapt astraddle this sentence in shouting ecstasy:

What an admission! Let’s read that one again. Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking. Of course not. The facts don’t support it. It’s not true. So, says Hulme, let’s abolish the need to establish the facts and the truth and impose the theory on the basis of — what’s that again — “values and beliefs”. In other words, climate change science has got to be anti-science. It’s got to be anti-truth. It’s got to be nothing more than an ideology.

Plainly this is not actually what Hulme means, but I fear it is a possible interpretation of his ill-crafted sentence. In subsequent posts, “Melanie” has been having satirical fun with the phrase “post-normal”, using it effectively to mean “bullshit”. And you know what? “She” is absolutely right to do so. “Post-normal” is an eye-poppingly stupid phrase to recommend for public consumption, inevitably calling to mind (even to minds finer than “Melanie”‘s) the word “postmodern”, and all the contempt for truth, justice and the free world that that word is vulgarly understood to label. If anything is “post-normal” here, I fear it is Hulme’s own prose.

  1. 1  pete  March 16, 2007, 2:49 pm 

    the sentence that bothers bothers me most is this one:

    “If scientists want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy, they must recognise the social limits of their truth seeking and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity.”

    is there a standard set of values and beliefs that scientists bring to their scientific activity? how are they different to anyone elses values and beliefs? and how would they go about revealing them anyway?

  2. 2  Jason Thompson  March 16, 2007, 6:31 pm 

    Hulme’s comment that science is embedded in society is an uncontroversial one: scientists are, after all, members of society. If I’m reading him correctly, his motivation for a “post-normal” evolution in science is driven by the idea that the Earth is potentially so imperiled, and scientists for the most part so limited in societal influence, that it behooves the scientific community to gloss the value-neutral empirical stance of conventional scientific propositions in favor of more politically-oriented statements, in the interests of saving us all.

    To give Hulme credit, one possible reading of this analysis (an ethical one) is quite honorable. Let’s say Dr. Hulme, a scientist, find himself in a burning room with a child. Clearly his responsibility as a human being in this situation subsumes his empirical vocation to indicate the existence of flames. Of course, you might reply that this hypothetical parodies the case. But does it, really? That might depend on how you read the science and the degree of suspected peril therein implied.

    On the other hand, what’s problematic about scientists assuming the role of environmental saviors – even if, for the sake of argument, the degree of potential peril really is extreme – is that, in the society in which we happen to find ourselves, this role-shift unfortunately plays into the hands of people like Melanie (why “Melanie”, by the way? Think I missed that post…) and thus risks proving counter-productive. If we really are in danger, we need scientists to stick to their conventional role as empiricists, rather than activists. To answer Pete’s questions:

    is there a standard set of values and beliefs that scientists bring to their scientific activity? how are they different to anyone else’s values and beliefs? and how would they go about revealing them anyway?

    Yes, scientists bring to their work the principle of experimental falsifiability. This principle differs from non-scientific standards of truth-telling in the sense that, while we as lay people may either agree or disagree with the statement that “human activity is responsible for global warming,” from an empirical perspective, the heavy onus upon scientists is to demonstrate that the causal link between industrial pollution and recent climate change is not just established (in itself, not too demanding), but that we have a very compelling body of evidence to rule out the possibility of non-human factors also having produced this effect. The latter is much tougher, since unlike, say, the law of gravity, we don’t see the causal link borne out again and again to its conclusion every day: we are dealing with strong statistical likelihoods, rather than “self-evident” X=Y linkages.

    The challenge for scientists (and the job of public policy, too), in my view, is to do a better job of educating Melanie and the rest of society about what such a “strong statistical likelihood” (if it can be demonstrated, which according to the authors of the Kyoto Protocol, it can) really means in terms of national global security risk analysis. Let’s say we invest trillions of dollars and revolutionize the world’s infrastructure on the basis of a suspected likelihood that proves to have been erroneous: we will potentially have wasted resources but still prevail intact. But in the reverse scenario, in which we do not act because the “statistical likelihood” does not seem sufficiently likely yet the climate changes catastrophically, Melanie will eat her words as the ice caps disappear. Better safe than sorry: is this really so hard for the GW “critics” to understand?

  3. 3  Steven  March 16, 2007, 8:02 pm 

    Why “Melanie”? See Enemies of civilisation, Rehearsed, A radical imbalance of power, etc, ad nauseam.

    I like your analogy of being in a burning room with a child. On the other hand, if climate scientists could just flick a scientific switch to douse the present warming, which I suppose would be the analogous act to saving the child, they would probably already have done it.

    Now, you say that scientists have a standard value of experimental falsifiability. That’s quite right. But I don’t think it’s quite the case that the theory of CO2 as the main forcing factor of the present warming is based only on “strong statistical likelihoods”. After all, it has also been well understood scientifically for more than a century that CO2 is in fact a greenhouse gas, and how extra CO2 warms the planet. And taking account of industrial emissions is the only way yet found to make computer models match the warming actually observed in the last few decades. (Arguably, that counts as some falsifiability right there, though of course the computer models reflect only the current best understanding of the fantastically complex system that is the climate.) That appears to be the best we can do at the moment – sadly, we can’t create a duplicate 1850-era Earth, delete the industrial revolution, and see how hot it gets by 2007 – but it’s better than statistical likelihood alone.

    You appear to be saying that the onus upon scientists is that they also prove a negative – “rule out” all other possible non-human explanations. Well, they already have an explanation, and are getting on with the business of refining their understanding of feedbacks with various other factors and predictions of what will actually happen. It is true that alternative explanations do arise, and it is already part of the “normal” scientific process that these competing theories – such as that it’s all due to sunspots etc – get close scrutiny and criticism. And every alternative explanation of the present warming as due solely to “natural factors” so far has been found wanting. I don’t think you can ask scientists to do more than that, to “rule out” any vague alternative possibility that hasn’t been specifically proposed in detail by one of their colleagues.

    But in any case I don’t think this can be what Hulme is suggesting scientists talk about. It all comes under “normal” science’s investigation of truth, etc, and given that it is still all empirical argument, it won’t win hearts and minds for action, which is what he wants to accomplish. I think the “values and beliefs” Hulme is suggesting they talk about are those he outlines in the third paragraph that I quote:

    do we have confidence in technology; do we believe in collective action over private enterprise; do we believe we carry obligations to people invisible to us in geography and time?

    Apparently scientists should be answering those questions. I am sceptical that they should, as scientists. And I am still very alarmed at whatever he means by saying they should “trade (normal) truth for influence”.

    Your last paragraph is a very good point, which brings to mind what is often called the Precautionary Principle. As I understand it, the PP says that if there is a tiny chance of something happening, but the something is immensely catastrophic (such as an asteroid colliding with the Earth that is large enough to destroy all life on the planet), then we should go to greater lengths to avert it than a merely dispassionate look at the probability would suggest. Actually, “Melanie” appears to subscribe to this principle “herself” when “she” feels like it, as here, recommending a “precautionary approach” to the MMR vaccine; or as when, on the basis of the possibility that Iran would nuke Israel, “she” insists that we attack Iran now. Of course, our confidence about the present warming is far higher than a “tiny chance”. So as not to feel obliged on the basis of consistency to apply the PP in this case, I suppose “she” is forced to think that global warming is not just hyped or exaggerated in its predicted effects but a total fiction.

  4. 4  ozma  March 16, 2007, 9:04 pm 

    I agree with your reading of Hulme.

    Another issue perhaps is that some people (like MP perhaps) read ordinary scientific disagreement as betraying that something is unknowable or false. There is a sense in which the operations of normal science (disagreement–even if it always occurs within widespread agreement, abandonment of certain hypotheses when better ones become available, etc.) are ripe for political exploitation. Some of these problems are addressed when scientists succeed at popularizing a narrative of their actual disputes against a clear background of the substantive agreement they may have. However, there will always be the politically interested vultures at the margins looking for lacunae and unanswered questions and the like that they can distort and use politically. I don’t see any way of getting around that completely but perhaps one thing Hulme’s argument suggests is that scientists should close ranks on climate change rather than do business as usual.

    People may start to become afraid of radical changes in the weather (they are already starting to) and it will be harder to press the MP line on climate change–if that happens, anecdotal evidence benefits the truth even if it is usually more likely to lead us away from the truth.

  5. 5  Jason Thompson  March 16, 2007, 11:12 pm 

    OK, I’m with you on MP. Clearly, you’re right: the persona must be a satirical fabulation, because the irony of “her” deploring the state of British education is just too funny. As to why she invokes the Precautionary Principle only when “she” feels like it, maybe “her” puppetmasters are consciously replicating the human tendency – identified by sociologist Ulrich Beck (in “Risk”) – to apply a valid analysis to relatively small risks while proving incapable of doing so when much larger risks are involved. Beck makes an evolutionary argument: while our Neolithic brains are well adapted to avoid being eaten by lions, the longer-term dangers posed by nuclear proliferation or industrial pollution don’t have the same visceral punch. But as to why she can apply the PP to the threat of a nuclear Iran or the MMR vaccine but now to GW, I guess this is part of her quixotic satirical charm…

  6. 6  Gus Abraham  March 17, 2007, 7:53 am 

    This is worrying: “Mick Hulme of the Tyndall Centre has an interesting piece in The Guardian, looking at what science can and cannot tell us about climate change.” Not just becaue Tim ( is worrying in general but the idea that Hulme is being accepted as Mick Hulme of the Tyndall Centre rather than Hulme of the RCP / LM / Spiked:

  7. 7  Steven  March 17, 2007, 11:21 am 

    Spells his name two different ways, does he? Mike Hulme vs Mick Hume? Or perhaps they are in fact two different people?

  8. 8  Steven  March 17, 2007, 12:03 pm 


    Another issue perhaps is that some people (like MP perhaps) read ordinary scientific disagreement as betraying that something is unknowable or false.

    Yes, this is a real problem. If I may quote from Unspeak, p49:

    In a technical sense, the science of global warming was uncertain, in that all science is provisional and able to be overturned by new evidence. As one writer put it: ‘If it wasn’t uncertain, it wouldn’t be science.’ But this did not mean that the main facts about global warming were up for grabs. There was also considerable uncertainty among physicists as to how the theory of gravity could be reconciled with quantum mechanics. But this did not give anyone reason to doubt that if you dropped an apple it would fall to the ground.

    Should scientists, as you suggest Hulme implies, then pretend that there is less “normal” scientific disagreement than there actually is over the details of global warming theory, for political purposes? I don’t know. In an ideal world where people understood really basic ideas of how scientific ideas operate, they wouldn’t have to. But our world is not so ideal.

  9. 9  K  March 18, 2007, 3:19 pm 

    Listen to last night’s Moral Maze ( to hear Melanie Phillips and, as a bonus, ex-RCPer Clare Fox, in dialogue with George Monbiot. In her spoken form, Phillips usually sounds more reasonable than in her written manifestation. Here the quivering vocal delivery of Phillips, and Fox too, gives the game away. They are merely polemicists who don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

  10. 10  pete  March 19, 2007, 10:26 am 

    “Yes, scientists bring to their work the principle of experimental falsifiability.”

    this is where i struggle with the philosophy of science… i don’t see how anthropogenic climate change can ever be falsified, even with recourse to a null hypothesis. therefore it is not a scientific theory (according to popper).

    regardless, i agree that lay people should not be leading the discussion of the science involved.

  11. 11  Gus  March 19, 2007, 12:09 pm 

    K – ‘They are merely polemicists who don’t know what the hell they are talking about.’

    Unfortunately not so – they know exactly what they are talking about, so much so that they co-ordinate a bizarrely effective media infiltration campaign which hints at higher forces at work.

    I see Frank Furedi is talking in New York at the invite of The Nation magazine.

    These people are a dangerous disgrace.

    * Hume not Hulme Steven – rogue ‘Ls’ being inestigated by the Keyboard Kops

  12. 12  Alex Higgins  March 19, 2007, 4:09 pm 

    “i don’t see how anthropogenic climate change can ever be falsified…”

    It is, in principle, testable – if only we had a few other planets like ours we could run an experiment on.

    More realistically, if anyone can demonstrate the existence of another climate forcing that more effectively explains what we are seeing today, then that could count as falsifying AGW.

    I don’t think there is any serious question about AGW not being a scientific theory in the sense you describe.

  13. 13  k  March 19, 2007, 4:40 pm 

    seems to me that Phillips and Fox really don’t know much about the climate change discussion. On every topic, they are against whatever the old left/liberal view is. That determines what they say. Nice to see that there is so much shared by two apparently odd bedfellows. In Fox’s case, it was amusing to hear her try to square her belief in Science with the arguments of scientists that climate change is man-induced. The argument got on to GM crops. Fox to Monbiot: “You think they are unsafe to eat?” Monbiot: “No, they are safe to eat. I’m against them for political reasons.” She couldn’t answer.

  14. 14  Steven  March 19, 2007, 5:54 pm 

    * Hume not Hulme Steven – rogue ‘Ls’ being inestigated by the Keyboard Kops

    The man who wrote the piece on global warming in the Guardian is Mike Hulme, with an l. You can look up his scientific papers under that name. Your Sourcewatch link is to a man called Mick Hume, without an l, who has a Wikipedia entry under that name. Do you really insist they are the same person?

  15. 15  Alex Higgins  March 19, 2007, 7:24 pm 

    Checked that Moral Maze link, containing one of the worst summaries of the discussion of climate change ever, ever:

    “The challenge of climate change is seldom out of the news. This week Gordon Brown and David Cameron are competing over which political party has the greenest credentials. Dissenting voices are few, and risk instant mockery – labelled delusional, wishful-thinking, and on a par with holocaust deniers. Climate change has become the New Orthodoxy, the New Religion, brooking – as religions often do – no stepping out of line.”

    “Tonight’s Maze examines the rise of this New Orthodoxy Which Cannot Be Questioned – what happens when it clashes with notions of tolerance and intellectual rigour, even commonsense? Truth versus propaganda – how do you tell the difference?”

    This has to be one of the most ignorant summaries and most dismal statements of fake victimhood I have ever seen on this issue coming from a supposedly neutral source. Shame on them.

    Really abysmal. No doubt anyone complaining and pointing the difference between known facts and self-serving factoids will be accused being some kind of religious fanatic.

    And the more annoyed you get with such stupidity – the more that is evidence of your intolerance!

    Oh God, it hurts, it hurts!

  16. 16  Alex Higgins  March 19, 2007, 7:38 pm 

    Just listened to Clare Fox attacking George Monbiot on the Moral Maze. What an absolute disgrace she is, and what a saint Monbiot is.

    Just an observation.

  17. 17  Steven  March 19, 2007, 7:42 pm 

    I’m glad you people are listening to it so I don’t have to. ;)

    That intro, with its smugly cretinous appeal to “commonsense” (qv, in Unspeak), made me want to smash something.

  18. 18  Jason Thompson  March 19, 2007, 10:21 pm 

    Fringe ideologues of many stripes seem to be relying on a remarkably consistent strategy of appealing to the intrinsic value of “debate” as a defense of evidentially-meager “dissent.” The supporters of “intelligent design”, the “libertarian” critics of “genocide mongering” at Spiked magazine and now the GW “dissenters” are each essentially attempting to lay claim to equitable consideration of their empirically bogus ideas on the basis that argumentative equitability somehow ranks as a transcendant value trumping all else. Just as a news story referencing the circular nature of the Earth is not journalistically obliged to quote the Flat Earth Society for the sake of “balance,” one would hope that the BBC had the intellectual wherewithal to distinguish scientific consensus from “orthodoxy” and “dissent” from “erroneous marginal thinking.” But clearly the Moral Maze producers are suckers for a “‘story.”

  19. 19  Steven  March 19, 2007, 10:49 pm 

    clearly the Moral Maze producers are suckers


  20. 20  Alex Higgins  March 20, 2007, 2:09 am 

    The Moral Maze March 19th, 1865

    Michael Burke: These days it seems that the Germ Theory of Disease is rarely out of the news. Both the Tories and the Liberals argue how to prevent the harm done to the poor by microbes. Dissenters are few and far between indeed, and those there are find themselves the object of a peculiar derision, commonly likened to the zealous enthusiasm of a new religion.

    Tonight’s ‘Maze’ examines the peculiarity of this new Doctrine which seems to clash with our nation’s long-established notions of tolerance and good sense.

    On our panel, we have Lord Winnie of Pooh, Sir Rupert Smallmind, Lady Clare Shoutloud and Dame “Melanie Phillips”.

    Our first witness is Sir Walter Sniffpeck, a manager of a reputable firm that has for many years shovelled shit into London’s water supply.

    Sniffpeck: Good evening. I should like to say that I am very ill-humoured by these slanderous allegations that since I favour pouring shit into the drinking water of the less well-mannered classes, that this sullies my opinion of the science.

    My views on the so-called “Germ Theory of Disease” are formed by nothing more than the greatest love for mankind.

    Burke: Quite, quite. We all accept that.

    Lord Winnie of Pooh: Good Sir Walter, I myself have not yet made up my mind on the validity of this theory, but I would like to know why you so confidently reject it?

    Sniffpeck: Well, it seems only in the 1850s, these scientists were all telling us – every one, to a man – that disease was actually caused by too little shit in the river Thames. Now they say it is too much! Clearly, they are fools and knaves all.

    This talk of small, invisible animals causing disease is clearly preposterous. And may I note that many of those talking of germs have concealed ambitions – they use this as yet another reason to disparage the Empire and those they resent most, of course, our noble ally, the American Confederacy.

    Burke: Our next witness is George Monbiot. Lady Shoutloud, would you like to help this poor fellow?

    Lady Shoutloud: No, I should not. This insolent cad is undermining the traditional liberties of England with his intemperate weekly pamphlets in which he describes those he disagrees with as quite wrong.

    Mr Monbiot, I note that you claim to approve of science when it is said to establish your belief that disease is incubated in human excrement, but why then do you disapprove of the machine-gun, which was also produced by scientists, was it not?

    George: Well, the machine-gun is a terrifying new weapon and I am greatly concerned at the suffering it inflicts, but this is not a scientific argument.

    Lady Shoutloud: No indeed! So you do not approve of everything that has ever been the result of scientific endeavour! And yet you shamelessly urge us not to let poor people drink shit because some scientists say so?

    Burke: Excellent point. Dame “Melanie Phillips”?

    Melanie: In yesterday’s Penny Post, Sir Mike Littlefoolish wrote that proponents of Germ Theory should appeal to men’s hearts to persuade them to clean London’s water system and not their minds.

    Is this not proof that you and all scientists with whom you have ever expressed agreement are really sentimental fantasists?

    George: “Not really… A great many tests are showing that…”

    Melanie: “First answer my diversionary question!”

    George: Well, it doesn’t make sense to look it at it like that… The evidence really is very strong that…

    Melanie: You still have not answered my question!

    George: Well, look at it like this…

    Lady Shoutloud: “And Monbiot compares feeding children excrement with the wilful infliction of harm on children!”

    Burke: I must stop you there, George, because Sir Rupert Smallmind has woken up.

    Sir Rupert: My dear chap, would say that you were very sure of this Germ Theory – that you were 101% sure?

    George: Well, it’s not possible to achieve that kind of certainty… in fact talk of “101% sure” does not actually make sense.

    Sir Rupert Smallmind: So it is all a matter of hearsay and conjecture. And I am concerned further that you have been frightfully rude to Lady Shoutloud.

    What I think the real concern is here, is that those who are sceptical of the idea that putting shit in drinking water hurts the poor are being described as the moral equals of the Turks, which is awfully offensive to the victims of Mohamedon oppression. Is that not the implication when people very like Monbiot, if not monbiot himself, refer to these intrepid dissenters as “wicked, heartless, deceitful, superstitious shitheads?”

    To be continued apparently forever…

  21. 21  TomHewitt  March 20, 2007, 5:44 am 

    I don’t know if this is what Hulme was trying to say, but nevertheless an important part of the difficulty in obtaining public acceptance of politically controversial results comes from conflation of methods/values.
    The largest stumbling block is public conflation of the values -and methods of science, versus the fields of public relations, marketing, and legal
    battles. In all the later cases, pursuit of victory trumps pursuit of the truth. And all players pretty much understand that as the case. In the case of science, winning the argument is never (at least in the ideal) valued, over trying
    to determine the truth. Detractors have done great damage by claiming the scientific results are created to serve some political agenda. I.e. scientists don’t care about truth, but rather their agenda. Progress will only be made when we can educate the public about what we are striving to do, and how our methods and values contrast with that of those professions.

  22. 22  Steven  March 20, 2007, 7:48 am 

    I hereby nominate Alex’s #20 as Comment of the Month – not just on this blog, you understand, but on the entire internets. If this carries on I will have to instigate some sort of prize.

    Tom, you make an important point. The problem, I fear, is that “Melanie” and her ilk pander to a real constituency of the public that doesn’t want to be educated, that doesn’t want to make even the relatively small intellectual effort required these days to seek out a decent popularisation of the established science; in short, whose political prejudices already outweigh its commitment to the truth. I like to think, though, that this constituency is in the minority and actually shrinking, hence the current desperate outburst of denialism – a last gasp, you might say.

  23. 23  pete  March 20, 2007, 12:43 pm 

    “denialism” – unspeak?

  24. 24  Leinad  March 20, 2007, 1:16 pm 

    #23: it is a bit, says I. I’m sure Melanie and the other climate change deniers are in denial on this and numerous other issues but ‘denialism’ (must resist urge to pun on longest river in Africa…) seems to imply a coherent or consistent ideology where I don’t think one exists. A ‘denialist’ sounds like someone who refuses to accept any proposition put to them:

    L: “Gosh, the sky sure is blue today isn’t it Mrs Phillips?”

    M:”You sleazy conniving liberal doomsayer! How dare you go around peddling outrageous fantasies like this…” etc, etc.,

  25. 25  Steven  March 20, 2007, 4:38 pm 

    Touché! I will try to stick to “denial” and “deniers” in future.

  26. 26  pete  March 20, 2007, 7:53 pm 

    i was thinking of any derivative of “denial” actually, in so much as it implicitly implies an implication that the thing in question is true, and the “denier” is therefore wrong by default.

    incidentally, i don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. it’s just a form of rhetoric – as valid as any other.

  27. 27  Steven  March 20, 2007, 7:59 pm 

    I don’t think that saying someone “denies” x or issues a “denial” of x or is a “denier” of x implies that x is true. Still, in this case x is true.

  28. 28  pete  March 21, 2007, 1:09 am 

    i guess so, but “in denial of x” and “a denier of x” seem different to “denies x” and “issues a denial of x”. i can’t imagine any context in which the former two do not imply that x is true.

    “Still, in this case x is true.”


  29. 29  Jeff Strabone  March 21, 2007, 4:46 am 

    Steve, have you or anyone else forwarded your recent work to ‘Melanie’ ‘herself’?

  30. 30  Alex Higgins  March 21, 2007, 9:08 am 

    “I hereby nominate Alex’s #20 as Comment of the Month – not just on this blog, you understand, but on the entire internets. If this carries on I will have to instigate some sort of prize.”

    Aww, shucks!

    I’d like to thank my…

  31. 31  Steven  March 21, 2007, 2:28 pm 

    Not that I’m aware, Jeff. Is that a threat?

  32. 32  Jeff Strabone  March 21, 2007, 6:23 pm 

    No, I just think it would be a shame not to share it with her. A few years ago Dan Savage, a syndicated sex-advice columnist in the States ran a contest to turn homophobic U.S. Senator Rick Santorum’s surname into an unpleasant common noun. The winning entry was ‘The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the pyproduct of anal sex.’ Part of the joy of spreading the word was knowing that Santorum himself was aware that his name had been redefined.

    I’m sure ‘Melanie’ is aware that she has critics, but you and your readers have devoted considerable electrons to analyzing her work and you ought to pass it on. If I were more naive, I’d say that she could learn a lot from it. More realistically, it might at least piss her off, and I’m a big fan of pissing off those who deserve it.

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