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November 20, 2006

Al Gore at His Best, and Worst


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

In yesterday’s Telegraph (UK) Al Gore has a lengthy article on climate change science and policy. In the piece Mr. Gore includes an egregious and unquestionable misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change. This is unfortunate, because it detracts from a compelling argument for action in the same piece.

Mr. Gore starts out, ironically enough, asserting the importance of peer-reviewed science. I call this ironic because the misrepresentation that follows (a) hasn’t been peer reviewed, and (b) the peer-reviewed literature contradicts the misrepresentation. Here is what Mr. Gore says about the peer reviewed literature:

[T]here is a reason why new scientific research is peer-reviewed and then published in journals such as Science, Nature, and the Geophysical Research Letters, rather than the broadsheets. The process is designed to ensure that trained scientists review the framing of the questions that are asked, the research and methodologies used to pursue the answers offered and even, in some cases, to monitor the funding of the laboratories — all in order to ensure that errors and biases are detected and corrected before reaching the public.

Shouldn’t this also apply to the claims that Mr. Gore makes, and not just his opponents? Here is the misrepresentation:

And with regards to some of the financial implications suggested by the Stern report, one need only look to the insurance industry for validation of the potential costs of global warming. On Wednesday, the reinsurance giant Munich Re reported, "driven by climate change, weather related disasters could cost as much as a trillion dollars in a single year by 2040".

We discussed this particular misrepresentation in depth in a post last week and discussed the Stern report’s misrepresentation the week before in this post. As I have said on many occasions, I am neither surprised nor too concerned that a politician would stretch the facts to advance his political agenda. What concerns me is that many scientists have been complicit in advancing such mischaracterizations and remain selectively mute when they are made. In this manner, a large portion of the mainstream climate science community has taken on the unfortunate characteristics of politicians like Mr. Gore, deciding to uphold scientific standards only when politically convenient. This is one way how science becomes pathologically politicized.

Mr. Gore’s misrepresentation is unfortunate because he makes a compelling argument for why action on climate change makes sense based on short-term benefits, a point a made in congressional testimony (PDF) last summer. Here is Mr. Gore’s argument for the short-term benefits for action on climate change:

Some of the policies detailed in the [Stern] report include: increasing global public energy research and development funding, dramatically reducing waste through energy efficiency measures, expanding and linking emissions trading systems and carbon markets, multiplying programmes to reduce deforestation of natural areas such as Amazonia, and continuing to set aggressive domestic and global targets to reduce the pollution that causes global warming. None of these policy measures should cause alarm.

In fact, not only are they rational, but also they have substantial co-benefits, which include increased air quality, improved access to energy among the rural poor in developed countries, further independence from foreign sources of energy in volatile and unstable regions of the world, and, of course, the obvious opportunities in the new markets developing for low carbon technologies.

We need more good arguments like this and less misrepresentation.

Posted on November 20, 2006 01:37 AM

Comments

'Action' based on Gore's flawed science won't deliver climate control. He misrepresented the NAS panel, climate sensitivity to CO2, and category 3 Katrina, to pick just 3. If the science is sound, why is it constantly necessary to misrepresent it? The questions remain - how much of 'global warming' is man-made, have we or will we exceed natural variability? Few would argue against : 'increasing global public energy research and development funding, dramatically reducing waste through energy efficiency measures, multiplying programmes to reduce deforestation of natural areas such as Amazonia,' or continuing to improve air quality.

Posted by: Paul Biggs at November 20, 2006 03:17 AM


Gore says:

"The [peer review] process is designed to ensure that trained scientists review the framing of the questions that are asked, the research and methodologies used to pursue the answers offered and even, in some cases, to monitor the funding of the laboratories — all in order to ensure that errors and biases are detected and corrected before reaching the public."

This seems to greatly overstate the purpose and effect of scholarly peer review, and dangerously so. It implies a supervisory role for peer reviewers that they do not have, and a standard of accuracy that they are not asked to enforce. Peer reviewers advise editors whether a paper is worthy of being published; that is all.

I have not (yet) read Gore's entire article, but from this snip it appears that he seeks to force (and then enforce) scientific consensus -- i.e., utilize science for political purposes.

It is no defense, Roger, to say that this is unacceptable with respect to those scientific claims Gore makes that you believe are false, but okay with respect to those scientific claims he makes that you believe are true.

If the tactic of politicizing science is unacceptable, it must be so irrespective of one's perceptions of the truthfulness of the scientific claim. If I were to take the position that it's okay to politicize what I consider truthful scientific claims but unacceptable to politicize what I consider false scientific claims, then I have added nothing to this debate and my ethics are indistinguishable from those of my scientific opponents.

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 07:32 AM


Interesting:

http://www.generationim.com/

Generation Investment Management

The firm was created in 2004 by six founding Partners:

Hon. Al Gore is Chairman;

David Blood, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, is Managing Partner;
Mark Ferguson, previously co-Head of Pan-European Research at Goldman Sachs Asset Management and a Global Equities Portfolio Manager, is Chief Investment Officer;
Peter Harris, previously head of International Operations for Goldman Sachs Asset Management, is Chief Operating Officer;

Peter S. Knight, formerly Managing Director Met West Financial, lawyer, Chief of Staff for Senator Al Gore (D-TN) from 1977-1989, and Campaign Manager for President Clinton's successful re-election in 1996, is President of Generation U.S.; and
Colin le Duc, previously Director of Research for SAM Sustainable Asset Management in Zurich and strategy consultant for Arthur D. Little in London, is Head of Research.

Our Chairman, former Vice President Al Gore, has assembled Generation's Advisory Board which consists of global leaders and thinkers from capital markets, industry, sustainability, economics, and geopolitical fields. The Advisory Board plays an important part in establishing our long term thematic research agenda into global sustainability issues, such as poverty, climate change, ecosystem services, biodiversity, pandemics, demographics, migration, public policy and responsible lobbying.

Posted by: Paul Biggs at November 20, 2006 07:56 AM


Richard-

Thanks for your comments.

It seems to me that you and I have different definitions of what it means to "politicize" science. How do you define "politicize"?

From where I sit we want science politicized. Politics is how we get done the business of society. Science offers a powerful way to understand the world, why wouldn't we want science contributing to the business of society?

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 08:13 AM


Now that I have read Gore's article, I do not believe that the snip on peer review was the most important element. Because he offers such a ringing (if grandiose) defense of scholarly peer review, reporters (if they have the courage) can challenge him with respect to scientific claims he makes that are not supported by peer reviewed research. And if he is honest, he will withdraw those claims.

For me the most salient aspect of Gore's article is he says stopping global climate change is a moral issue. If that is so, then it is most definitely NOT a scientific one. Science has neither the tools nor the legitimacy to address moral issues. Indeed, moral issues often transcend science. It is a plausible moral argument that anthropogenic global warming ought to be stopped even if science does not show it to cause significant harm. Just as there is no utilitarian defense for slavery, if global warming is a moral failure then there is no defense for it, either.

But we should be clear: if the issue is moral, then science is merely instrumental. Science serves the purpose of excluding all other values from the political debate. The exclusion of other values is necessary because democratic decision-making processes yield compromise, and compromise is incompatible with morality. If you believe slavery is morally wrong, then the only tolerable amount of it is zero. If you believe that abortion is evil, then agreeing to a compromise means accepting a positive and measurable amount of murder.

A thought experiment is helpful in this regard. If tomorrow some new bit of scientific information were discovered which proved that the human contribution to climate change is negligible, what position would Gore and like-minded moralists take? If their moral views are founded on science, they would withdraw all previous claims and policy recommendations and find other things to do. But if their moral views transcended science, they would alter their policy views not a whit -- except that they would now wage war on science.

Coming full circle, Gore makes claims about hurricanes and global climate change that Roger convincingly says are scientifically false. Then Gore's true view about science can be discerned by his conduct after being confronted by this falsehood. If he fails to withdraw the false claim, then we may infer that his embrace of science is merely instrumental: science has value to him only insofar as it advances his moral vision, and it may be freely discarded when it does not.

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 08:30 AM


Roger,

I'll take a stab at your question.

"Politicization" is a pejorative term used two ways. First, it describes the use of scientific information for policy purposes when it is convenient or expedient but not otherwise. Second, it is used to imply falsification, corruption, or some other unsavory conversion process has occurred.

Thus, the term implies either hypocrisy or corruption. I cannot think of an example in public discourse in which the term was morally neutral, much less used positively, as you have done in your response. Is this a political science jargon thing?

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 08:59 AM


Richard-

Thanks. I agree that "politicization" is generally used pejoratively. But just as the term "political" is often used pejoratively, there is far more to it.

Political scientists do indeed see more to "politics" than the pejorative, and so too should we in the issue of "politicization".

Unless we are rigorous in our thinking on this issue, "politicization" of science will simply refer to the use (or misuse, as the case might be) of science by one's political opponents, and the same behaviour by one's political allies will be overlooked. This would lead us to the politicization of the politiiczation of science!

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/ogmius/archives/issue_6/exchange1.html

We do need some abiltiy to distinguish the effective use of science in politics from the alternatives.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 09:07 AM


Just a couple of quick thoughts:

If global warming is a moral issue, than no laws can be passed regarding global warming, for Al Gore's party has long maintained that we can not legislate morality!

While I agree with Al Gore that some actions can be taken that should cause little pain and have obvious co-benefits, I don't believe all of his recommendations qualify. Certainly some people are positioning themselves to benefit from global warming related industries (like Al Gore), but trading schemes and subsidizing new technologies (that may or may not work) are net drains on the global economy. Al regularly employs the 'broken window' fallacy when making his economic calculations.

To all AGW crisis supporters: Either drop the nonsense about skeptics being stooges for big oil, or distance yourself from Al Gore! One can not claim that a few thousand dollars from an oil company discredits anything a scientists has to say, then praise Al Gore, who stands to profit greatly from this alleged crisis. If money corrupts, then the AGW crisis side of the argument is significantly more corrupted!

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 10:39 AM


Roger,

The question on the table: How do you define "politicize"?

In your post of Nov 16 you offered this definition:
"politicization of science by scientists" as "the use of science by scientists as a means of negotiating for desired political outcomes."
[def #1]

In the comments for this post you write:

"From where I sit we want science politicized. Politics is how we get done the business of society. Science offers a powerful way to understand the world, why wouldn't we want science contributing to the business of society?"
[def #2]

Later in the comments:
"Unless we are rigorous in our thinking on this issue, "politicization" of science will simply refer to the use (or misuse, as the case might be) of science by one's political opponents..."
[def #3]

In the initial message of this thread/post you write of:
"deciding to uphold scientific standards only when politically convenient. This is one way how science becomes pathologically politicized."
[def #4]

Do you distinquish between "politicization" and "pathological politicization"? In your view are there desirable and undesirable type? (A distinction not made in the Nov 16 posting)

So it seems there are at several different elements or aspects to your working definition of politicization of science and at least two elements to a possible definition of pathological politicization. I'd like to know your concise, definition.

Posted by: Cortlandt [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 12:20 PM


Roger,

Thanks for the link. The juxtaposition of Waxman and Hoover is helpful, though you seem to throw up your hands at the challenge of critically reviewing the merits of each set of charges. Just because both sides accuse their opponents of (pejoratively) politicizing science doesn't mean that both sets of charges are equally valid.

Also, it seems to me that the horse of pejoration has been out of the barn an awful long time. Recovering any neutral usage for that term seems hopeless to me. There once was a time when "partisanship" meant merely fealty to party and was neither objectionable not malevolent. Somewhere along the way it lost any notion of principle and became associated with the absence of same.

In your article on the politicization of the the politicization of science, you yearn for the good old days before OTA was terminated. If OTA was such a great source of neutral scientific information, why did the 104th Congress kill it?

Also, in the case of CFCs, I don't think there was anything innovative about the distinction between "essential" and "nonesssential" uses. EPA's authority to make these assignments interfered with programmatic success because it created unnecessary uncertainty. Market allocation of scarce Freon would have made this distinction more effectively and efficiently, and without a bureaucratic intermediary.

If I recall correctly, the political consensus happened because there was a single producer (DuPont), not zillions of them. Also, DuPont happened to make both Freon and its Montreal Protocol-compatible HCFC substitute. Where ammonia was substituted for Freon, the ban created a significant health and safety risk.

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 12:23 PM


I'm uncomfortable with the assertion that peer review should be used "to monitor the funding of the laboratories". It's hard not to conclude that such monitoring would be used specifically to screen out climate research funded by oil companies. If research is to be screened out, it ought to be on its lack of merit, not on the basis of who paid for it.

It constitutes the injection of politics into the peer review process -- only politically-correct funding is allowable.

Posted by: Kerry Thompson at November 20, 2006 12:26 PM


Cortlandt-

Thanks for your comments and questions. A few replies:

"politicization of science" = the use of the systematic pursuit of knowledge in the process of bargaining, negotiating, and compromising in pursuit of desired outcomes

"pathological politicization of science" = misuse of the systematic pursuit of knowledge in the process of bargaining, negotiating, and compromising in pursuit of desired outcomes

You might ask, what constitutes "misuse"? Among the types of misuse are:

Mistake
Mischracterization
Delegitimization
Arguing politics/morals through science

What is not misuse?

Cherrypicking
Dueling experts

For details, please see this report:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-1935-2004.27.pdf

Is this analysis perfect of bullet proof? Not at all. But it does represent an effort to systematically think through these issues.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 12:48 PM


Richard-

Thanks for the follow up. I am not too concerned about popular uses of wonky jargon ;-) But it does present challenges for communication to a broad audience.

On CFCs, a political consensus occurred for a number of reasons, the limited number of producers was an important factor, as was the invention of substitutes. But, as I've argued, breaking the problem up into smaller, more tractable problems (essential v. non-essential) is also part of the story.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 12:52 PM


>"politicization of science" = the use of the systematic pursuit of knowledge in the process of bargaining, negotiating, and compromising in pursuit of desired outcomes

That sounds like 'scientification of politics' to me.

In my opinion "politicization of science" = the use of the process of bargaining, negotiating, and compromising in controlling the pursuit of knowledge.

Posted by: Steve Gaalema at November 20, 2006 12:59 PM


Steve- Thanks. The phrase "scientization of politics" I first saw used by Peter Weingart to refer to efforts to turn politics into science, that is to assume that we can resolve our political debates (bargaining, negotiation, compromise) through the sytematic pursuit of knowledge. In other words, once everyone agrees on the facts, then they will also then agree on what to do.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 02:10 PM


Dr. Pielke said:

>What is not misuse?

>Cherrypicking
>Dueling experts

The report doesn't say that these are *not* misuse, it says, "A misuse may be present in cases of cherry picking and dueling experts but to make such an argument requires additional interpretation on a case-by-case basis."

This seems like an important point, no?

Posted by: JJ at November 20, 2006 04:12 PM


JJ- Thanks. Yes, this is a very important point. It is possible that cherrypicking or dueling experts might fall into the category of misrepresentation, but this is not necessarily the case.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2006 05:11 PM


I disagree with the original post and think it's fair for Gore, Munich Re: or others to express concern over the contributions from climate change to extreme weather events, irrespective of compounding factors like increased coastal development, and that the exact extent of climate change's influence on storms may be unknowable.

To refrain from communicating trends and impacts likely scenarios to the public is more irresponsible than sounding the alarm based on our best understanding of the science today. Without knowing all the risks, how can politicans and the public make the right choices?

Posted by: Roger S. at November 20, 2006 10:16 PM


R. Belzer says:
Peer reviewers advise editors whether a paper is worthy of being published; that is all.

Actually, the system of peer review is also used to evaluate proposals to various national funding bodies (NSF, ARC, etc) For labs that are mantained by grant money, the system does have an indirect supervisory role.

As for the moral angle, many moral issues become moral only after the economic aspect of those issues are settled. For example, moral restrictions on the treatment of horses used for transport in the industrial world were developed only after these animals became obsolete.

Posted by: Lab Lemming at November 21, 2006 12:51 AM


I accept Lab Lemming's friendly correction RE peer review, though think Gore was speaking about published research, not grant proposals. Peer review is used by both governmental and nongovernmental funders to evaluate competing proposals.

Nevertheless, Lab Lemming's point also raises another limitation of grant peer review. To the extent that funders rely on cycles of prior grant recipients to peer review current proposals, peer review becomes both incestuous and conflicted. To the extent that funders have well defined policy, political or bureaucratic agendas, they will tend to seek out like-minded peer reviewers willing and able to steer funds in a preferred direction.

Elsewhere, Roger has said that climate change research is biased in favor of long-range mitigation instead of short-range adaptation. I would bet that funders are not interested in short-range adaptation and proposals are evaluated by peer reviewers who share this disinterest.

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 06:43 AM


Roger,

It appears that I was not alone in having difficulty with your jargon. Inasmuch as your argument depends so much on clarity of language, it is troubling that each effort to clarify the terminology has created additional definitional issues, exceptions, provisos, etc.

I am no longer clear just what it is that Gore said that has you ticked off, except that he linked global climate change with hurricane damages in ways that you believe are scientifically inaccurate and unjustified based on your own research. Depending on which of your definitions we use, Gore could be located either well within (non-pejorative) "politicization of science" or way outside of it.

Let me suggest a different approach. Let's define "scientific error" as belonging to three types:

(1) statements that are flatly wrong;

(2) statements that are not supported by scientific evidence or are based on inferences that exceed what can be inferred from scientific evidence; or

(3) statements that exceed what science is capable of speaking about authoritatively.

"Scientific error" ought to be exposed in political and policy debates, because if it is allowed to stand it undermines the integrity of science and weakens its legitimate role in policy- and decision-making.

Using this system, I understand you to be saying that Gore's comments about AGW and hurricane disasters belongs in category (2). (I don't recall if you made other claims and cannot cycle back to your post without losing my place in the comment editor.)

I am most concerned about scientific errors in category (3). This is where scientists are most likely to betray scientific principle. It is where political actors are most prone to misuse science and scientific information. Scientists who agree with a political actor's agenda are likely to be actively or (especially) passively complicit. Conversely, scientists who object to category (3) errors are likely to be accused of harboring presumptively immoral viewpoints (e.g., climate "skepticism," affinity for "Big Oil," Holocaust denial, etc.)

Gore's use of science to justify moral claims belongs within category (3). Whether he also erred with respect to hurricane damages (a category (2) error) is a relatively minor issue, because his category (3) error would persist even if he stopped making the hurricane damage claim -- or, unimaginably, publicly admitted to the error and corrected it.

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 07:27 AM


Roger,

The only place that Gore mentions hurricanes is in this context:

Sir Winston Churchill said: "One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half."

We learned this lesson again the hard way in the US when we were warned that the levees were about to break in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina and those warnings were ignored. Later, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, chaired by Representative Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia, said in an official report: "The White House failed to act on the massive amounts of information at its disposal."

Gore does not in any way state that global warming caused Katrina. He is making a statement about the lack of action in response to warnings from engineers and scientists regarding the levees. The implicit assumption is that we should heed the warming from scientists regarding global warming

Gore's statement about Katrina is not inappropriate in the context of this article. In the broader context of his op-ed immediately following Katrina and to a lesser extent his movie, he has previously tried to use Katrina in the context of the global warming argument in ways that are not scientifically defensible. I do not think that he did so in this article.

Gore has staffers on board to carefully vet the scientific accuracy of what he is saying/writing. In fact, Peter Webster was contacted by someone from Gore's staff a week or so ago (possibly in the context of this article) regarding the veracity of a particular statement he wanted to make regarding hurricanes. So Gore is being extremely careful about what he is saying with regards to the science.

All in all, given the complexities of the issue, the challenges of communicating with the public, and the political importance of the issue, I would say that Gore did an excellent job with this piece.

He wanders into slightly dicey but nevertheless very important territory on the morality issue. The whole issue of values is one that has not received sufficient examination in the context of global warming. The main value that has been put forward in the U.S. is short term economic prosperity (as in we can't do anything about it because it will jeopardize the economy). The importance of Stern's report (in spite of its technical flaws) is that it addresses the longer term economic issues. Evangelicals, environmentalists, and others are trying to bring additional values to the table (environmental stewardship, social justice, etc.) This definitely adds a new dimension to the global warming issue, one that I predict will become more prominent with time.

Posted by: Judith Curry at November 21, 2006 08:54 AM


Today's news has another example of category (3) scientific error"

"Gender-bending boy fruit flies fight like girls," Reuters, http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061119/sc_nm/science_flies_dc_1.

"People have a lot to learn about the biological basis of aggression, said Harvard neurobiologist Edward Kravitz, one of the study's authors.

" 'It goes without saying aggression, as well as violence, in society is a serious problem. It has to have biological roots. And the biological roots will have genetic components and experiential components,' Kravitz said in an interview."

No, it does not "go without saying" that masculine traits are bad. Kravitz is using science for purposes that go beyond what science is capable of speaking about authoritatively.

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 10:04 AM


How about this quote from editorial of the November issue of Scientific (or "Scientific") American, on California's adoption of CO2 emissions restrictions (and other states adopting similar measures):

"We fervently hope that the courts reject this argument and recognize the fundamental right of states to protect their citizens from the catastrophic consequences of global warming."

So let's see...if *California* adopts regulations to restrict emissions form the "catastrophic consequences of global warming," then citizens in *California* will be protected from the "catastrophic consequences" of *global* warming. That's not merely wrong...it's not even rational!

It's amusing/depressing that the editors and writers at Scientific ("Scientific") American clearly think they are different from fundamentalist Christians who believe completely irrational things. Then they make editorial statements like that. Amazing.

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 10:52 AM


Roger,

In the interests of clearer communication let me make a couple of comments about points that were not clear to me:

The statement: "Shouldn’t this also apply to the claims that Mr. Gore makes"
Do you mean that
a) Mr Gore should refer only to peer reviewed literature and the Stern Report and/or the Munich Re report aren't peer reviewed literature.
b) Mr. Gore's statements about science, such as the one he makes in the editorial, should be peer reviewed.
c) Both a and b.
d) Neither a or b.

--------------------------------------
In my opinion the following passage detracts from the compelling argument of the post:

"What concerns me is that many scientists have been complicit in advancing such mischaracterizations and remain selectively mute when they are made. In this manner, a large portion of the mainstream climate science community has taken on the unfortunate characteristics of politicians ..."

The section of Gore's editorial you quote references to a report from Munich Re and the Stern Report. Do you mean that one of those reports is an illustration of scientists being complicit in advancing mischaracterization? If so, the connection is not clear to me and is not explicitly drawn in your post.

Posted by: Cortlandt [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 01:01 PM


Roger,

Thank you. This exchange helped makes some clear to me that I missed in several readings of various papers. But frankly, I don't recall seeing the following three ideas explicitly juxtaposed.

1) "politicization of science" = the use of the systematic pursuit of knowledge in the process of bargaining, negotiating, and compromising in pursuit of desired outcomes

2) "pathological politicization of science" = misuse of the systematic pursuit of knowledge in the process of bargaining, negotiating, and compromising in pursuit of desired outcomes

3) "The scientization of politics" refers to efforts to turn politics into science, to attempt to resolve political debates (bargaining, negotiation, compromise) through the sytematic pursuit of knowledge.
Often involving the assumption or belief-in-action that once everyone agrees on the facts then they will also agree on what to do.

I propose that each phenomena has related, but distinct consequences for debates and for policy making. For instance, it seems to me that compared to "politicization" issues in 1) and 2) that the "scientization of politics" is a far more important cause of the grid-lock that you and Dan Sarewitz have written about.

Posted by: Cortlandt [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 01:38 PM


Richard- Thanks. You write:

"I am no longer clear just what it is that Gore said that has you ticked off, except that he linked global climate change with hurricane damages"

Please read my post again, as this was not at all my concern. Mr. Gore unambiguously misrepresented the Munich Re report which does not support the point he was trying to make. For details:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000989more_climate_and_dis.html

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 01:56 PM


Judy- As always, thanks for participating.

However, who said anything about Katrina in relation to Gore's Independent piece? Not me. Please have a look at what I actually wrote.

If in fact Mr Gore is doing as you suggest -- "Gore has staffers on board to carefully vet the scientific accuracy of what he is saying/writing." Then his mischaracterization of the Munich Re report is even more amazing, as it would take about 5 minutes to see that this particular claim is untrue.


Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 02:06 PM


Richard-

Thanks. I see a lot of merit in your 3 part taxonomy. It does seem fairly similar to the one our class came up with:

1. Mistake = (1)
2. Mischaracterization = (2)
3. Arguing politics/morals through science = (3)

We also came up with "delegitimization." We could probably get a group of people together to come up with a useful taxonomy. From my perspective it is more important that people are actually thinking about what constitutes a misuse of science, rather than just assuming it.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 02:10 PM


Cortlant-

Thanks for your questions. Let me offer a few replies.

1. Mr. Gore's invocation of peer review is ironic because he is mischaracterizing a report that is not peer reviewed, when the actual peer reviewed literature clearly supports a conclusion opposite the one he is making.

2. My comment about scientists being complicit included a link to this post:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000990looking_away_from_mi.html

Which includes further links to a range of scientists mischaracterizing the science of disasters and climate change. It was not a reference to the Gore op-ed. Sorry for any confusion.

3. Thansk for your comments on politicization/scientization ... one reason that I have written a book on this subject was to pull a lot of these ideas together in a form more convenient than a bunch of papers and a sprawling blog ;-) Of course, the book may be clear as mud, but it is an attempt to draw ideas together.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 02:17 PM


Roger,

Can I un-ask a question please? In re-reviewing the post again today I skimmed right past the answer to my question regarding Mr. Gore and the use of peer-reviewed literature.

I still struggle with the contextual relevance of the comment about how "scientists have been complicit in advancing such mischaracterizations and remain selectively mute when they are made".

Posted by: Cortlandt Wilson at November 21, 2006 02:21 PM


Interesting that Gore has such apparently knowledgeable people behind him, as he says:

"carefully constructed super-computer climate models ... (include) the fundamentally important responses of ... clouds that act to increase the effects of extra carbon dioxide"

Notice everything "increases" the effects of extra CO2 - nothing compensates, or even *may* reduce.

and:

"direct observations from ... the last ice age ... give estimates of the earth's sensitivity to extra CO2 that are exactly in line with model results (around a 3C warming for a doubling of the CO2 concentration).

He somehow forgets that temperature changes preceeded CO2 changes during the ice ages, so nothing in the ice age record shows anything about CO2 causing temperature to change.

and:

"the "hockey stick" graph (an old and worn-out hobby horse of the pollution lobby in the US)"

If the science was wrong and misleading, it is still wrong and misleading. Dismissing that fact is fraudulent.


And that's only page two of six.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 06:39 PM


Roger,

I agree that "delegitmation" belongs, but I don't know what to do with it because I can only remember three points. ;-)

To be clear, we are are only providing a taxonomy of scientific error. So only the elements of "delegitimation" that are unique to science need to be accounted for. Run-of-the-mill character assassination etc is surely not absent from science but is hardly unique to science, either.

So I'm sticking with my trinitarian taxonomy. If pressed, I think I could classify scientific delegitimation into one of those three categories. I could even apply it to some of the posts in this thread!

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 09:09 PM


I want to comment now on this snip from Gore, which has already been commented upon by others:

"We learned this lesson again the hard way in the US when we were warned that the levees were about to break in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina and those warnings were ignored. Later, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, chaired by Representative Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia, said in an official report: 'The White House failed to act on the massive amounts of information at its disposal.' "

First, appeals to the opinions of authoritative opposition figures in lieu of science is a common political tactic, and it should be recognized as such by scientists. It enables the speaker to evade responsibility for the accuracy of the statement. All that matters is that someone "on the other side" made the statement; ergo, it is correct enough for political combat. Whatever a speaker tries to support with mere oppositional authority should be discarded as nonscientific. Had Gore wanted scientific support for his claim, he would have cited a scientific authority rather than a Member of Congress. He didn't, and that decision speaks for itself.

Second, appeals to the opinions of bipartisan authorities also do not establish fact. All bipartisanship does is rule out partisanship as the motivation for opinion. It does not rule out other motives, such as Congress' institutional desire to evade accountability. Given Congress' historic practice of earmarking projects rather than allowing them to be selected based on technical peer review and benefit-cost analysis, it has a strong institutional motive for shifting responsibility to the president. The last president capable of understanding levee design and maintenance issues (never mind having the time to do so) is Herbert Hoover.

Finally, Gore's specific claim that the White House failed to act is preposterous, and he, of all people, knows this having served eight years as vice president. There is nothing the president -- any president -- can do to shore up badly engineered and installed levees, some of which were under federal jurisdiction but most of which were not, much less do this days before a hurricane. Whether FEMA could have done a significantly better job after the fact is arguable, but irrelevant to Gore's point because FEMA doesn't do levees.

Whatever truthful scientific statements Gore might have made in his article, his willingness to make false and defamatory nonscientific statements about his political opponents invites readers to doubt (or even dismiss) his scientific bona fides.

Posted by: Richard Belzer [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2006 09:58 PM


well Gore sure has it much more on the money than fiction writer Michael Crichton and his paternalistic droning on "scientific consensus" etc (and Crichton is continually trumped out as an expert witness by the Creationist Repub crowd).

Posted by: Carl Christensen at November 22, 2006 10:50 AM


Carl-

Thanks for commenting.

Let me see if I have this straight -- We should overlook Mr. Gore's misrepresentations because he is in general more accurate than Michael Crichton who is invoked as an authority by some people that you dislike?

If this is your thinking, then this is a good example of a scientist being complicit in misrepresentations, so long as they are politically convenient.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 22, 2006 12:46 PM


Gore "makes a compelling argument for why action on climate change makes sense based on short-term benefits." For action "on climate change" to make sense it must take account both benefits and costs, not only benefits.

Posted by: Biopolitical at November 22, 2006 02:05 PM


Marcelino- Thanks. You are right, it would have been more accurate to say _net_ short-term benefits.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 22, 2006 04:40 PM


Judith Curry wrote:

"All in all, given the complexities of the issue, the challenges of communicating with the public, and the political importance of the issue, I would say that Gore did an excellent job with this piece."

Mochton of Brenchly has written a line by line response to Al Gore. It is available on the Junkscience website at:

http://www.junkscience.com/nov06/warm_gore.doc

While readers may not agree with everything in the response, it clearly demonstrates that there is substantial peer-reviewed evidence that does not support the IPCC position on climate change, much less the more dramatic Al Gore position. It also clearly demonstrates the weaknesses of Al Gore's non-scientific arguments.

Al Gore DOES excel at touching emotional buttons and tapping into peoples feelings. I am always leary of those who choose to persuade by targeting the heart and avoiding the brain.

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 22, 2006 06:38 PM


Do I really need to go through pages 3 through 6???

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 22, 2006 11:16 PM


"On Wednesday, the reinsurance giant Munich Re reported, "driven by climate change, weather related disasters could cost as much as a trillion dollars in a single year by 2040".
- Al Gore

Your comment on this statement Roger was to call it a misrepresentation and refer back to a previous post.

"We discussed this particular misrepresentation in depth in a post last week ..."

What is the nature of Gore's misrepresentation in your opinion? Does it derive all and only from the implication that ALL of the predicted losses are be due to climate change or is it something else? Are you willing to hang the charge of misrepresentation on a reading that that you infer, but is not explicitly stated?

Going back and reading the previous post and referenced literature I am wondering exactly what, in your opinion, that Gore misrepresented.

The post referenced is: http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000989more_climate_and_dis.html
and it refers to the "Workshop on Climate Change and Disaster Losses: Understanding and Attributing Trends and Projections" of which you were a key organizer.
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/sparc/research/projects/extreme_events/munich_workshop/workshop_report.html

The statements of the consensus report at times read to me as almost contradictory. There are certainly opportunities to "cherry pick".


[quote]10. There is evidence that changing patterns of extreme events are drivers for recent increases in
global losses.

Statistics of loss events related to weather show both globally and for some regions substantial increases over the past decades. The major contributions are from storms and floods. For instance, in the North Atlantic there has
been since the mid-1990s a higher basin-wide hurricane activity then on average. ... Damage in the U.S. related to hurricanes since 1995 (11 years) already exceeds that which occurred from 1970-1994 (25 years), even after adjusting the data for societal factors. [unquote]

Play devils advocate here, but recalling your and your students published work I wonder if "cherry picking" rather than misrepresentation might be the better term of art to describe Gore's writing.

Indeed, amoung the consensus statements one can find grounds for a catastrophic view. Statement 15 for example:

[quote] 15. Mitigation of GHG emissions should also play a central role in response to anthropogenic climate change ...

... Emission reductions, however, influence the future levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and by this an even further increase in global temperatures and the potential for more and more intensive extreme events. Emission reductions are necessary to reduce the risk to reach levels of CO2 concentrations which might lead to abrupt climate changes and/or processes in the atmosphere which could become irreversible ... [unquote]

These statements do seem to support a more general concern about the impacts of AGW on storm losses.

Posted by: Cortlandt [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 28, 2006 05:17 PM


Cortlandt-

Thanks for your comments and questions.

You ask, "What is the nature of Gore's misrepresentation in your opinion?"

Answer:

He writes: "And with regards to some of the financial implications suggested by the Stern report, one need only look to the insurance industry for validation of the potential costs of global warming. On Wednesday, the reinsurance giant Munich Re reported, "driven by climate change, weather related disasters could cost as much as a trillion dollars in a single year by 2040"."

The Munich Re report does not present the "costs of global warming." In fact it says quite the opposite. Gore is clearly suggesting that the "trillion dollar" figure has some attribution to global warming, when it does not. This is a clear misrepresentation of what the Munich Re report says.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 28, 2006 06:26 PM


Roger,

I am wondering if I am daft, "missed the memo", or just am the first to state the obvious but it seems that Gore must have misattributed the author of the report when he wrote:
"On Wednesday, the reinsurance giant Munich Re reported ..."

He must have been refering to the UNEP FI’s Climate Change Working Group publication of "Adaptation and Vulnerability to Climate Change: The Role of the Finance Sector" which was release Wednesday, November 15.

I could find no such report on Munich Re's website or by a search via Google. A search for "Munich Re 2040" landed plenty of hits for the UNEP's report.

Posted by: Cortlandt [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 29, 2006 10:40 AM


Cortlandt- Thanks. Munich Re is a member of the UNEP FI Working group, and as I understand it, the report was released at a side event organized by Munich Re at the recent Nairobi climate meeting . So it would have been correct for Mr. Gore (and us in follow up) to refer to this as a UNEP report prepared by its FI CC Working Group and written by a consultant. Does this make sense?

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 29, 2006 10:50 AM


Roger,

You wrote:
"So it would have been correct for Mr. Gore (and us in follow up) to refer to this as a UNEP report prepared by its FI CC Working Group and written by a consultant. Does this make sense?"

Yes it makes sense. And I note that no one did it correctly, that is, in the way you describe. I regret that I didn't follow through in my efforts to track down the report much earlier. Identifying the UNEP report as a report by Munich RE is about as helpful as identifying this entire posting as Cortlandt's post because I made several comments to it.

I would call this an error of attribution in Gore's article. I proposed that a fact checker in a newspaper would have found this error. I see this as ironic given Gore's emphasis on the importance of peer review.

Posted by: Cortlandt Wilson at November 29, 2006 10:02 PM




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