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August 28, 2006

Do the Ends Justify the Means?


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

On climate policy many people apparently believe that the answer is "yes!" I do not. As an example of this perspective, consider the following comment from climate sceintist Andrew Dessler:

As a citizen, there are many issues on which I have a strongly held positions (tax reform, the Iraq war, privacy issues, and yes, AGW). For each of these, I have a preferred policy. I want my policy adopted, and I don't really care why it gets adopted. Not everyone has to agree with *my reasoning* and I don't have to agree with theirs. If some people support action on AGW because they misunderstand the science ... well then they cancel the people that oppose AGW because of a cancelling misunderstanding.

I don't excuse misrepresentation of science, and I correct it wherever possible ... but if, in the final analysis, Katrina helps get a GHG policy enacted, then I'm fine with that. [emphasis added]

[Note: To be perfectly clear, this post is not about Andrew specifically, but about the more general attitude, using Andrew's comment as an example of this perspective, which is apparently widely shared.]

From my perspective, a view that bad policy arguments should be acceptable so long as they help us "win" in political battle is exactly the sort of thinking that motivated the Bush Administration's selling of the Iraq War. Not only did a bad policy result (i.e., one that has not achieved the ends on which it was sold on), but it has harmed the ability of the President to act (maybe a good thing in this case), and certainly diminished the credibility of intelligence. The exact same dynamics are at risk in the climate debate when scientists support their political preferences with bad policy arguments, or stand by silently while others speak for them.

Apparently my perspective is also widely shared. Hans von Storch, Nico Stehr, and Dennis Bray have written (PDF) of this attitude:

The concern for the "good" and "just" case of avoiding further dangerous human interference with the climate system has created a peculiar self-censorship among many climate scientists. Judgments of solid scientific findings are often not made with respect to their immanent quality but on the basis of their alleged or real potential as a weapon by "skeptics" in a struggle for dominance in public and policy discourse.

Oxford's Steve Rayner provides a similar perspective (here):

The danger of using bad arguments for good causes, such as preventing unwanted climate change, is two-fold. Generally, it provides a dangerous opening for opponents who would derail environmental policy by exposing weaknesses in the underlying science. Specifically, it leads to advocating policies for reducing future storm impacts that are likely to be ineffective in achieving their declared aim. With or without greenhouse gas emissions reductions, the costs of storm damage are bound to rise. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have far less impact on storm damage costs than moving expensive infrastructure away from coastal margins and flood plains.

For good or ill, we live in an era when science is culturally privileged as the ultimate source of authority in relation to decision making. The notion that science can compel public policy leads to an emphasis on the differences of viewpoint and interpretation within the scientific community. From one point of view, public exposure to scientific disagreement is a good thing. We know that science is not capable of delivering the kind of final authority that is often ascribed to it. Opening up to the public the conditional, and even disputatious nature of scientific inquiry, in principle, may be a way of counteracting society's currently excessive reliance on technical assessment and the displacement of explicit values-based arguments from public life (Rayner, 2003). However, when this occurs without the benefit of a clear understanding of the importance of the substantial areas where scientists do agree, the effect can undermine public confidence.

This is of course an issue much broader than climate change, and at its core is about how science is to operate in a democracy. The practice of science, insofar as it is related to action, is all about questions of means. That is, science can tell us something about the consequences of different possible courses of action. Science however cannot tell us how to value those consequences, which is the territory of ethics, values, religion, ideology, etc..

Once a scientist (a generic scientist!) decides to elevate ends above means in the area of their own expertise then they are in fact giving up on what their science can most contribute to the political process, and that is knowledge relevant to the means we employ in pursuit of desired ends.

If you want insight on the contemporary pathological politicization of science within the scientific community, look no further than the perspective held by many scientists that on issues related to their expertise, the ends do in fact justify the means. In my view this is bad for both democracy and for the sustianability of the sceintific enterprise.

Posted on August 28, 2006 03:50 PM

Comments

Roger,
I agree with your argument I think scientists do themselves a diservice when they knowingly use bad arguments to push their prefered outcome.

I found it particularly interesting because I had only just read an article by Terry Hunt on the environmental destuction on Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/53200?fulltext=true&print=yes#53337

It has been claimed that Rapa Nui is "the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources."

Hunt disputes this instead he believes it was the introduction of rats and contact with Europeans which destroyed the environment and the society.

But what I found telling was his closing paragraphs:

"I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island's prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today's problems."

"Ecosystems are complex, and there is an urgent need to understand them better. Certainly the role of rats on Rapa Nui shows the potentially devastating, and often unexpected, impact of invasive species. I hope that we will continue to explore what happened on Rapa Nui, and to learn whatever other lessons this remote outpost has to teach us."

Clearly he does not believe that the ends justifies the means and instead bad arguments can lead to bad policies that can only hurt the cause.

Posted by: Ross McNaughton at August 28, 2006 06:52 PM


I won't get into this tiresome debate again, but Roger, answer me this: even assuming that exaggerated science is ultimately a danger to the cause of sane, rational climate policy ... is it the *greatest* danger? Is it a danger that eclipses all others, such that it warrants your full-time attention? I have trouble understanding how you've come to that conclusion.

Posted by: David Roberts at August 28, 2006 07:40 PM


Ross- Thanks for your comments.

David- Thanks for yours as well.

And yes I do think that the role of scientists in policy and politics is incredibly important. It is one of the most important issues in all of science policy today. It is why I have spent much of the past 4 years writing abook on the subject (shameless plug). It is also an issue that goes far beyond just climate change and touches just about _every area_ where we rely upon experts to make a contribution to policy. So, important? Yes, very. BTW, climate change plays just about no role in my forthcoming book.

However, it just so happens that I have also been studying the claimte issue for the last 15 years and I see this issue manifest itself there on almost a daily basis. Does it matter? Yeah it matters. In fact it is one of the reasons behind the dismal track record of progress on climate policy.

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 07:56 PM


Roger-

First off, your post implies that I support making false or tendentious scientific arguments to push a policy viewpoint. I've never said that, and I hope that all your readers (and you) recognize that.

Let's get back to this issue. We agree that
1) policy debates would be more rational if everyone understood the science
2) but #1 is not going to happen anytime soon --- and there's misunderstanding of the science on both sides of the AGW debate.

So what are the implications of the lack of scientific misunderstanding of the general public? I suppose that because people misattribute Katrina, I can no longer support GHG regulations, right? Or do I only have to be outraged, like you?

My view is that misunderstanding of the science is part of the policy debate, and I accept it as such. I don't support scientific misrepresentation, but I know that it's going to happen --- on both sides. Thus, it really doesn't bother me.

So Roger, what I'm interested in is what *I* should do about this issue? What behavior should I change? Or should I just be ashamed of myself? Or should I quit science?

Regards.

Posted by: Andrew Dessler [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 07:57 PM


Ross-

Thanks for demolishing the strawman. It turns out we all agree that scientists should not make misleading arguments to pursue a policy agenda.

The question is what we should do if there are people out there that misunderstand the science.

I'm waiting for Roger to tell me what I should do, besides correcting misapprehensions when I encounter them. Any suggestions are welcome.

Regards.

Posted by: Andrew Dessler [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 08:17 PM


I'd like to repost something I wrote on the other thread, which helps explain my position a little more clearly than Roger has done:

I'm not sure I understand what the problem here is. In any high-stakes policy battle, advocates use whatever arguments they think will win the policy battle. That's why guys like Frank Luntz exist --- to tell advocates which arguments work. Legitimate science areguments are used if they are the persuasive, but advocates have few qualms about using false or misleading ones if they turn out to be more effective. Thus, it would be amazing if advocates in favor of action on AGW *did not* use Katrina as a lever for action.

What can be done to limit the scope for partisan distortion of scientific knowledge in policy debates? One approach that is not likely to be effective, but which Roger seems to enjoy, is exhorting the purveyors of false and misleading scientific claims to be more honest. The powerful incentives to use scientific arguments in policy debates – good ones if you have them, bad ones if you don’t – are likely to overwhelm any such attempt at moral suasion. Moreover, even if public exposure destroys the credibility of one or a few egregious liars – which seldom happens – the rewards of this role provide ample incentive for others to step up and take their place.

As I've argued before, the key to limiting partisan distortion lies with scientific assessments. They provide the best summary of what we know and what we don't. There are of course barriers to successful adoption of this strategy, but it's still the most likely to achieve a goal that we all say we support: accurate science in the policy debate.

Regards.

Posted by: Andrew Dessler [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 08:24 PM


Roger, perhaps you will answer this simple point here as you have not done so on the previous thread that has now spilled over:

Ok Roger, here we have your mistake as clear as it ever will be:

====
"I want my policy adopted, and I don't really care why it gets adopted." This is about as clear a statement as you'll ever see of the principle that "the ends justify the means."
====

Respectfully, no, it is not. You are completely confusing "why" with "how". The ends justifies the means is a philosophy that says it does not matter *how* something is done as long as you end up better than you start. In other words doing wrong is justified by coming right in the end. The statement above expresses that it is not important why you do something as long as you do the right thing. No one holding Andrew's view or agreeing with my expression that kicked this all off, is advocating doing anything wrong.

"I don't care how you do it, as long as it gets done" emphatically does not equal "I don't care why you do it, as long as it gets done."


In short, as other commentors have pointed out, you are erecting and tearing down a strawman with this post, which is a shame because there is in fact a valid point to make in there, but you have not found examples to illustrate it in mine or Andrew's words.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 08:57 PM


Coby writes:
"I don't care how you do it, as long as it gets done" emphatically does not equal "I don't care why you do it, as long as it gets done."

The first speaks to methods, the second speaks to reasons. They are different, but when arguments and reasoning are the methods by which points are made and policies chosen, the line is not as distinct as you appear to suggest. If I get someone to accept a particular policy perspective because I convince them with a particular (disingenuous) reason, I've utilized (and abused) both how and why.

If one is to maintain some level of credibility in scientific or advisory circles, their process needs to be transparent and with a minimum of bias - bias that is clear in how they work. If they cut corners in both how they acheive certain goals or why certain people come to support those same goals, they lose credibility where the strength of their knowledge is concerned. They may be seen (perhaps correctly) as more politically astute. But they aren't honest. It then becomes a political competition than a search for options that have some chance at stability, at surviving through transitions in power.

If you don't care why or don't care how certain policy outcomes come about, please do not claim to have any special standing in such discussions based on scientific knowledge. That special standing depends as much, if not more, on how it is developed than the content that results.

Posted by: David Bruggeman [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 09:50 PM


"Not only did a bad policy result (i.e., one that has not achieved the ends on which it was sold on),..."

1) Is Saddam Hussein in power?

2) Are Saddam's sons in power?

3) Will any of them ever be back in power?

4) Is it necessary to have U.S. troops in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia to protect either country from attack by the government of Iraq?

5) Is it necessary to maintain "no fly zones" to keep the central government of Iraq from butchering the Kurds or the Shia?

6) Is the central government of Iraq democratically elected, with Kurds and Shia able to participate?

7) Is the central government of Iraq attempting to develop or obtain WMD? Is it likely to try any time in the forseeable future?

8) Saddam Hussein's government deliberately sheltered terrorists who had killed U.S. citizens, including Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and Abdul Rahman Yassin (one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers...who were attempting to topple one tower into the other):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Nidal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Abbas

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdul_Rahman_Said_Yasin

http://husseinandterror.com/

Is Saddam Hussein ever going to be able to shelter and support terrorists again?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 09:56 PM


Well said David B. You pretty much hit the nail on the head. I think that illustrates why many deeper thinkers are skeptical of the IPCC (nee UN of Oil for Food scam fame) drone - skimming is the name of the game.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 10:31 PM


Coby,

The statement "the ends justify the means" is made when the means are being implemented, not when the end has been achieved. Invariably, when the means are less than noble, the noble end is NEVER achieved!

While you and Andrew have not stated that Katrina was the result of AGW, others have and the masses have been given a false impression. Both of you have stated that you are complacent with that result if it leads to policy you find desirable.

The problem with that stance is that it legitimizes the technique, even if it is just in a passive sense. As long as you think it will deliver the ends you want (effective AGW policy, whatever that is), you are "grateful" for the means.

Now suppose the tables are turned. Suppose something happens that is not related to AGW, but it gets spinned in such a way that the majority of citizens start to believe that AGW is not a threat and does not require any policy changes. Do you stand by and say, "Oh well, that's how the ball bounces"? Or do you scream bloody murder and fill blogs, editorials, newspapers and the airwaves with news of this terrible abuse of the 'truth'?

If it is wrong for those who disagree with you scientifically, to knowingly condone misinformation that helps their cause, why is it alright for you!

I think Roger is right on target when he expresses his concern!

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 11:05 PM


Jim-

You wrote: Suppose something happens that is not related to AGW, but it gets spinned in such a way that the majority of citizens start to believe that AGW is not a threat and does not require any policy changes. Do you stand by and say, "Oh well, that's how the ball bounces"? ...

I've repeatedly said this, but I guess I have to say it again. I always correct the misapprehension that Katrina and AGW can be proven to be related. Thus, I would treat your hypothetical exactly the same way I treat the Katrina issue.

The question here: what about my attitude are people objecting to? I'm still not clear about this. Is it that I'm not outraged by the existence of misinformation in the policy debate? Misinformation clearly exists and always will. So deal with it.

I'm still waiting for someone to tell me what action I can take (or cease to take) in order to bring my behavior into moral compliance with the decrees of Roger.

Regards.

Posted by: Andrew Dessler [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 28, 2006 11:30 PM


Andrew-

Thanks for your comments. Let me start answering your question by asking you a question. Given what you've written, presumably you would not have any problems with the tobacco executive saying the following about his tactics in selling his product:

"If, in the final analysis, belief that smoking is safe helps sell my product, then I'm fine with that."

Now I know your answer to that because I've read your blog! ;-) Clearly you have taken issue with the means employed by the tobacco industry in the past to sell their products.

So what makes climate science any different other than you prefer the end (GHG regulation) to which the bad policy argument is put?

OK, now a more direct answer. You ask, what should a practicing scientist do?

My answer to that is to recognize the potential implications of the following view that you expressed, "I have a preferred policy. I want my policy adopted, and I don't really care why it gets adopted." Does holding this perspective make you immoral? No it does not. But it sure opens the door to those who are immoral to exploit the system. If you hold this view then how do you answer the tobacco executive who parrots your words and says, "I have a preferred policy for my company - selling cigarettes. I want cigarettes sold, and I don't really care why they get sold." When you reduce politics to pure power, don't be surprised if policy arguments cease to matter completely, and hence the significance of science as an input to the process. This would reduce scientists simply to another player exercising power, not intelligence/knowledge.

And this leads to a further point - the integrity of the scientific enterprise itself. If you take the contradictory view that you want to stamp out bad policy arguments, but are thankful for them when they help, this can encourage behaviors (not by you, but by some) that encourage the formulation and promulgation of bad policy arguments -- like GHG reduction will help prevent future Katrinas.

All I am asking to to pay as much attention to the means as to the ends. How about this -- "the country should adopt good policies for good reasons"? In the long run I think that this is good for both democracy and science.

Does this make sense? Thanks again for keeping it civil!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 06:42 AM


Coby- Thanks for your continued participation. David B. provides a better reply than I would have. Read it closely.

Mark B.- Not going there in this post. Lets agree to disagree for now. Thanks.

Jim C., Steve H. Thanks for commenting.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 06:48 AM


Andrew- A further thought - if you want an example of what I think is responsible behavior by scientists in the face of the political debate over hurricanes and global warming, see this statement led by Kerry Emanuel:

http://wind.mit.edu/%7Eemanuel/Hurricane_threat.htm

What are they saying? My paraphrasing:

"Despite our scientific differences that have been caught up in the political winds, hurricane policies should nonetheless be made on sound policy arguments." And they describe a few such arguments. Notice what is not on their list.

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 06:53 AM


Roger-

After reading these comment I'm starting to ask myself if the problem lies with the scientist to some exception of course.

We read time and time againfrom scientist that not a single extreme weather events can be attributed to GW. Although they often use these exstreme weather event to predict our doom future.

I believe that the use of these double meaning comments leave the door open to advocacy goup like Greenpeace, WWF, Sierra Club, etc, to use them and spin it into attributing recent extreme weather event to AGW misleading people to act on their agenda, not on the science.

Also'

Here is an example of what I believe Roger means:

Taken from Grist interviewing Al Gore:

http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2006/05/09/roberts/

" There's a lot of debate right now over the best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you scare people or give them hope? What's the right mix?


I think the answer to that depends on where your audience's head is. In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality. And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions. Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis."

Posted by: Sylvain at August 29, 2006 08:57 AM


I think that Roger nails what must be the central issue for anybody who claims to speak "as a scientist" - the integrity of the scientific enterprise itself. White lies have no place in science.

Posted by: bob koepp at August 29, 2006 08:57 AM


We as a society must decide what to do (if anything) about (A)GW. To do this rationally we need to understand the costs and benefits as clearly as posible. If we allow junk science to guide us then we will not be making a rational financial decision and are unlikely to get the results we expect.

I suspect that those who are comfortable for Hurricanes to be listed is the "costs" column feel this way because they believe that this kind of junk science (assuming it is) will help tip public opinion towards a policy they want. If the public feels the cost of AGW is minor they probably won't support the preferred policy.

If stock is sold this way the perveyers are posecuted.

Posted by: Charles at August 29, 2006 09:54 AM


I'm reminded of arguments over nuclear winter 20-25 years ago. For reasons I still don't fully grasp, the prospect that thermonuclear war could foul up the biosphere at large engaged people who hadn't been mobilized by (or had "burned out" on) what it would do to us.

Some atmospheric scientists doubted the scientific arguments advanced for nuclear winter, but kept quiet because they agreed with what seemed a larger goal. Plus ca change...

Posted by: Monte Davis at August 29, 2006 10:11 AM


I think that always intellectual integrity is the best policy. The greatest contribution scientists can make to public debate, is to show unwavering integrity, and (hopefully) eventually to sell the idea to the public that intellectual integrity is the only way to minumize the kinds of serious policy mistatekes that are being made.
In doing this, we neccesarily give up being an advocate (for causes other than integrity), we will willingly discuss all the relevant data -along with the degree of uncertainty.
As for things like a belief that AGW caused(didn't cause) an event like Katrina, the best we can do is point out such such events are X% more (less) likely due to AGW. Naturally the issue of how you came up the the value for X will come up.

Posted by: bigTom at August 29, 2006 11:58 AM


Roger-

First, just to reiterate, everyone agrees that distorting science has no place in a rational debate.

Second, you said I was "thankful" for people misunderstanding the science. I don't think that's true. I agree with everyone that the best debate would occur if everyone understood the science --- both the pro- and anti-AGW camps. I said that I was fine with it because there's nothing I can do about it and there's misunderstandings on both sides of the debate.

Third, I disagree that my attitude is somehow corrosive to the debate. If I hadn't posted to this blog, no one would have ever known what I think on this issue. My actions and yours are identical on misrepresentation of science: we both support good science and correct errors when we find it.

In reality, the rewards of misrepresenting science are so great that advocates will do it if they can get away with it. My actions do not allow people to get away with it any more than yours do. Arguing thst somehow I enable them is ridiculous.

My statement in a previous post that I didn't care about how I won an advocacy debate was probably an overstatement ... clearly there are some methods that are unacceptable, such as misrepresenting science.

Regards

Posted by: Andrew Dessler [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 12:03 PM


Hey all,

The only thing I want to add here is to point out that a subtext to some of this discussion is how an individual balances the roles of scientist, private citizen, and scientific advisor.

As a "pure" scientist, I'm probably not engaging with the larger public at all, and all I'm worried about is the quality of the science and the scientific honesty of myself and my colleagues. As a "political" private citizen, I think I can be grateful if a "good" policy (given my political leanings) emerges in spite of flawed reasoning/understanding/bad-faith arguments, while at the same time, depending on how thoughtful I am, deploring any damage that this flawed reasoning/understanding/bad-faith arguments might have caused to the quality of public discourse, the public perception of scientists, etc. By contrast, as a so-called "scientific advisor" (meaning, perhaps, someone that is either directly informing policy makers or the general public), it seems that my entire job is to make sure that I steer those that I am informing away from flawed reasoning or misunderstandings and to the "truth" as the scientific community currently sees it.

Some might argue that "scientist" and "scientific advisor" should really be one category, but I disagree, because they each embody a different primary focus.

Posted by: Chris Weaver [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 12:06 PM


Roger says:

==
"How about this -- "the country should adopt good policies for good reasons"? In the long run I think that this is good for both democracy and science."
==

I heartily endorse this, and clearly so does Andrew. As one last attempt to ensure my POV is not misuderstood, let's identify the possible combinations of good and bad reasoning and policy:

1 - Good policies for good reasons.
2 - Good policies for bad reasons.
3 - Bad policies for good reasons.
4 - Bad policies for bad reasons.

I have presented them in the order of best case to worse, IMO. Roger agitates for number 1, so do I, so does Andrew. No one in this little dialogue is saying that (2) is better than (1).

Unless there is someone here who believes that the world is better off with (3) than with (2), I just don't see any serious disagreement. All we have is is some expressions of gratitude that we appear to be moving from 4 towards 2 and some entirely unwarranted and (undoubtably unintentionally) self righteous condemnation of being happy about anything less than the ideal.

A few months ago, I asked you "should one advocate for what is best, or what is achievable?" You replied "it depends if one is interested in real-world outcomes".
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/moveabletype/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=798
My personal view is that one should advocate for what is best, (maybe we disagree on that?), but that doesn't mean I am nevertheless grateful for less than perfect real world results.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 12:50 PM


"look no further than the perspective held by many scientists that on issues related to their expertise, the ends do in fact justify the means"

Who are the many scientists doing this? Maybe a link to a peer-reviewed paper that lists them?

"In my view this is bad for both democracy and for the sustianability of the sceintific enterprise"

I think the problem is the rules that govern how scientific conclusions are very different from how political decisions are made. Once science is involved a political decision-making it is naive to think that politics can change.

In my view some politicization of science is inevitable. Maybe the best thing is to accept politicization of science but try to keep it to reasonable methods.

Posted by: Joseph O'Sullivan at August 29, 2006 01:21 PM


Coby- Thanks for these additional comments. If I properly understand your ranking as you have intended it, then you have indeed formalized the notion that the ends justify the means.

Your ranking suggests that getting the desired outcome ("good policy") trumps how you get that policy (the "reasons").

Again, for the tobacco executive whose corporate policy is focused on making money, under your ranking making money because people misunderstand the health effects of tobacco (that is #2) trumps not making money because people properly understand the relationship of smoking and health (that is #3).

Do you really want to assert this rank ordering?

While I wouldn't sign up to a general rule, I do think in many many cases #3 trumps #2, especially is cases where experts are responsible for making policy arguments to policy makers and the public.

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 01:50 PM


Roger, you have on many occasions pointed out that 'good' policies can be agreed on by all sides despite them having fundamental disagreements on why the policy should be adopted. A clear example is improvements in energy efficiency - one side might want it to reduce emissions, another side wants it to increase energy independence. They might completely disagree on each others motives for enacting the policy - and yet may work together to get it passed. Should they not agree on the policy until they have all come to the same conclusion on why it is necessary? No, that would be pointlessly 'pure'. Policy-making in any complex system is inherently compromised and messy - and wishing it wasn't so would appear to be a surprisingly naive view for someone who has seen it in action.

The only 'ends justifies the means' issue worthy of condemnation is if scientists themselves were deliberately obscuring the attribution and misleading the public about the connections. Everyone here has explicitly agreed that would be unethical. Personally, I am on record numerous times (and I would assume Andrew is as well) correcting such mis-attributions as and when they occur. Thus there is no issue here.

However, we can all point to many more examples of 'scientists' deliberately misleading the public on the science of climate change in order to push their preferred policy action... it's just that their preferred course of action is to do nothing. Where are the posts decrying their ethics?

Posted by: Gavin [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 02:03 PM


Gavin writes,

"Roger, you have on many occasions pointed out that 'good' policies can be agreed on by all sides despite them having fundamental disagreements on why the policy should be adopted."

The issue here is what is done when the why is informed by misunderstandings. I think the initial objection was raised by those expressing an attitude of "I don't care why" people want a particular policy, even if it's misinformed. Maybe it's not intentionally misleading, but it's still damaging.

I look at it as pretty similar to research conducted with sloppy methods. That would at least diminish the value of the results. Now they may be particularly useful results. But the bad methods raise doubts and stand a better chance of getting rejected (by journals, scientific colleagues, funding organizations, etc.). It may also damage future research in that area because of prior bad acts - even if by different researchers. If fusion finally becomes viable, how much time will people spend getting past Pons and Fleischman?

It's also similar to bad case law. Take the recent District Court decision against the NSA wiretapping. Many find the decision heartening, but the fact that many provisions of the law were not really addressed by the judge raise problems for when the appeals come about (the appeals must be focused on the decision as written).

Posted by: David Bruggeman [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 02:33 PM


Roger,

Your tobacco executive example is a red herring. The way you have defined it, the goal is making money so yes, of course, from his POV, public misunderstanding is an acceptable downside. So what? All of our discussions delibrately and necessarily avoid the question of what is good or not, this is personal choice WRT policy options and empirical reality WRT scientific reasons. If I were the head of Exxon then I would define good policy as burning as much fossil fuel as possible, and the ranking I proposed above would still hold up though the actual policies and reasons would be very different.

Yes, I stand by the ranking and would be interested in hearing of a situation in which a bad policy is better than a good policy because of the reasoning used to reach it. I also note that you have again misinterpreted what I wrote by saying that when I say "why" one does something is less important than doing the right thing that means that "getting the desired outcome ("good policy") trumps how you get that policy (the "reasons")". For about the fourth time "how" does not equal "why". They are different words for a reason. The "ends does not justify the means" is a moral argument, so it is essential that there be an immoral action. If I lie then you can call me out on it. If the misconception exists despite my having unequivocally stated the contrary many times, I have not done wrong in the name of good.

I would also like very much if you would define what you mean by "the ends justifies the means" because I recall a recent discussion that went much too long before it came out that you consider someone saying "we had better do something" as being a policy advocation and any scientist who tries to reach the public with his research findings as politicizing her/his work. These are meanings that may well be consistent with an ivory tower world but they are a far far cry from common usage.

Perhaps with "the ends justifies the means" we have a similar situation, but I for one have never taken the means to include the motives.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 02:58 PM


Coby,

The problem with your acceptance of "b) good policy for the wrong reasons" is that one can't know if a policy is good or not if valid reasons can't be considered.

You seem to believe that a certain policy is correct without any justification. Thus someone without your preconceived believe will not be able to come to the same conclusion based on a rational evaluation of the costs and benefits of any policy.

Posted by: charles at August 29, 2006 03:10 PM


David B, you wrote near the top:

==========================
Coby writes:
"I don't care how you do it, as long as it gets done" emphatically does not equal "I don't care why you do it, as long as it gets done."

The first speaks to methods, the second speaks to reasons. They are different, but when arguments and reasoning are the methods by which points are made and policies chosen, the line is not as distinct as you appear to suggest. If I get someone to accept a particular policy perspective because I convince them with a particular (disingenuous) reason, I've utilized (and abused) both how and why.
===================================

When I say "as long as it gets done" I am refering to mitigating and adapting to climate change, not choosing a particular policy. When I said I am grateful that the public is waking up to the dangers of climate change, I am grateful because it is urgent that we begin the serious discussion of what are we going to do and put behind us the lies and misrepresentations of those who want to ensure we do nothing.

I think that is sufficient to answer your comment because the rest seems built on a different interpretation, let me know if you think I am still missing something.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 03:16 PM


Gavin-

Thanks. You ask, "Should they not agree on the policy until they have all come to the same conclusion on why it is necessary?"

Of course not, people can come to vastly different conclusions about why they support a particular course of action. Your energy efficiency example is well taken.

But lets say that you think that energy efficiency is needed to reduce society's fuel bills (a good reason) and I think it is needed to cure my illness (a bad reason). Lets further say that you are my doctor (i.e., my science advisor). I'd think that you have a responsibility to tell me that my reasoning is wrong even if it means that I might change my support for energy efficiency.

You write, "there is no issue here." Well, I sure hope not, but I do not think that all scientists agree with your views (I've cited examples frequently here on Prometheus involving a range of topics). And indeed a decision to stay silent on a subject is giving a free pass. To take one recent example, if I don't mention how Environmental Defense, a group I have respect for, is making bad policy arguments about GHGs and hurricanes, who else is? RealClimate? You can say that your focus is on the bad/worse guys, and that is fine, but it still leaves some stuff uncovered.

You ask, "we can all point to many more examples of 'scientists' deliberately misleading the public on the science of climate change in order to push their preferred policy action... it's just that their preferred course of action is to do nothing. Where are the posts decrying their ethics?"

Why, just about everywhere! Are you suggesting that these folks to whom you are referring are flying under the radar? I don't think so.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 03:18 PM


"if I don't mention how Environmental Defense, a group I have respect for, is making bad policy arguments about GHGs and hurricanes, who else is?"

Rodger,
The CEI has just put out a PR piece criticising Environmental Defense's hurricane and global warming website. Plenty of people and organizations are paid to attack environmental groups.

Posted by: Joseph O'Sullivan at August 29, 2006 04:25 PM


Coby-

You ask for "a situation in which a bad policy is better than a good policy because of the reasoning used to reach it."

How about experimental medical research? It has long been a consensus that even though useful health information might come from certain studies, the means necessary to achieve that knowledge are deemed unacceptable. See for example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_experimentation

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 05:35 PM


Coby- I'll confess to having no idea to what you mean by this, and how/why it is relevant to our discussion:

""how" does not equal "why""

Want to try again?

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 05:39 PM


Joseph-

Thanks for your comment. You are right, I was unclear. You write, "Plenty of people and organizations are paid to attack environmental groups."

And this is my point. People on the left critique those on the right, and vice versa. In fact, you can almost predict a political advocate's views on science-in-policy by their politics.

When scientists start playing this game it makes their science-in-policy itself look no different from the hired guns. What makes public outreach efforts like Real Climate (or Prometheus, IPCC, NRC, Federal Advisory Committee, etc. etc.) diffetent than CEI or Environmental Defense etc.? I would hope that at least one distinguishing chracteristic would be a willingness to offer critique across the board, i.e., not always filtered by ideology. One way to do this is to offer options rather than advocacy.

None of succeed 100% at this, but we in the science community should be paying attention to it .. lest we in the scientific community morph into mirrors of CEI and ED.

Hope this is more clear!

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 05:46 PM


Interesting.

First off, the why of someone else refers to the how of that person.

But on to the current discussion...

Andrew says: "if, in the final analysis, Katrina helps get a GHG policy enacted, then I'm fine with that"

And Coby then says there is no serious difference between good reasons and bad reasons for what he wants.

Then, Gavin says there is no issue here.

A Hat Trick.

Well done Roger.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 06:25 PM


This whole exchange is pretty funny.

Who commenting here agrees with the statement, "In order for projections of future events to be scientific, they must be falsifiable"?

Now, who commenting here agrees with the statement, "The projections in the IPCC TAR are not falsifiable"?

If you agree with both statements, have you ever pointed out that the projections in the IPCC TAR are not falsifiable, and therefore are not scientific? If not, why not?

If you disagree with one or both of the statements, which one(s) do you disagree with, and why do you disagree?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 06:54 PM


Mark -

Seems kind of esoteric, but brings up the question of whether modelers are scientists or technicians...

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 07:26 PM


Roger wirtes:

"I'll confess to having no idea to what you mean by this, and how/why it is relevant to our discussion"

about my statement:

""how" does not equal "why""

I'm sorry I am having such a hard time expressing what feels like it should be a simple point. 'Why' is about motives, 'how' is about actions. The "ends do not justify the means" principal is not about motives, it is about choosing actions, specifically prohibiting choosing to do wrong regardless of how good the result may be in the end. You have not found a utilitarian dilema in what Andrew or I have said.

Thank you for your example of a bad policy for good reasons being better than a good policy for bad reasons, but I'm not certain of how you map that to the question. Is it bad policy to forbid human experimentation? I rather think it is good policy for good reasons that we don't allow this (well, most of the time:
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/05/05/1357230
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/04/26/1354259

Thanks for your patience.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 08:18 PM


"Seems kind of esoteric, but brings up the question of whether modelers are scientists or technicians..."

I think it brings up the question of honesty. If:

1) Projections of the future must be falsifiable to be science, and

2) The IPCC TAR projections are not falsifiable...

...then they are not science.

However, if the IPCC TAR projections are not science, how many commenters in this discussion have ever made that point? Wouldn't that be both an important and policy-relevant point?

Is it because stating that the IPCC TAR projections are not science would be, "An Inconvenient Truth?"

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 08:28 PM


All, Coby, Andrew, Gavin-

Trusty Wikipedia provides some clarity here. Under "Do the Ends Justify the Means?" it includes the following:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_ends_justify_the_means

""The ends justify the means" is a phrase encompassing two beliefs:

1. Morally wrong actions are sometimes necessary to achieve morally right outcomes.

2. Actions can only be considered morally right or wrong by virtue of the morality of the outcome.

Conversely, people who believe that the consequences of an immoral action are greater than those of the expected outcome will often say that the ends do not justify the means."

As I understand this thread Andrew and Gavin have eschewed #1 in the context of policy arguments in support of action on climate change. In other words, they have said that it is wrong for scientists to make "bad" policy arguments in support of desired policies, even if those scientists in fact believe that those policies are worth pursuing. Fair enough?

Coby, as I understand this thread, has expressed an endorsement for the views in #2 above via his ranking system which has outcomes trumping actions. Fair enough?

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 10:06 PM


Coby,

I think we're coming at this from different perspectives, and perhaps that is where the conflict is.

First, I am in agreement that why speaks to motives and how speaks to tactics. I think they both matter, in terms of being honest and transparent about them. Disingenuousness with either tactics or motives is a problem, especially if the person using the tactics or operating on motives (either theirs or someone else's) is reliant on some conception of the special standing accorded to scientists/researchers due to their fealty to certain processes and methods.

For me, mitigation of or adaptation to climate change is a policy choice, much in the same way that reliance on the free market is a conscious choice, even if it is constructed as letting other forces decide.

Posted by: David Bruggeman [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 10:19 PM


Notice the rhetoric employed in the Pop Quiz, the post that started this discussion. It implies a moral equivalence between the anwers. The vice president deliberately and repeatedly lied to lead this nation into an aggressive war, and has yet to admit that there was no link between Iraq and Al Queda.

Colby on the other hand had no part in propagating the misunderstanding about the link between Katrina and Global warming, has never misrepresented the link and does correct it when the opportunity arises.

It is bad reasoning to imply that there is a moral equivalence between these two. Even if it in support of a good point!

Nosmo

Posted by: Nosmo [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 10:48 PM


I also wonder how many readers interpreted the phrase “a commentator at Real Climate”, as someone affiliated with the web site. Colby I believe works in the field of artificial intelligence not Climate. I’m sure this was inadvertent, but I wonder how Roger would have felt if someone had referred to some of Dano's or Eli Rabbit's posts as written by “a commentator at Prometheus.”

Posted by: Nosmo [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2006 10:52 PM


Nosmo -

Coby said "I guess this is just people holding the correct opinion for the wrong reasons and let's accept it with gratitude."

Subsequently, Gavin has stated "there is no issue here"

Gavin runs Realclimate, along with Michael Mann who used poor science in his "how" of this discussion, so I think it can be said Coby pretty much reflects the "company line" of the Realclimate site.

Plus, since we really don't know how much of warming is related to increased CO2 (or even how "bad" it will be) and there is some benefit to increased atmospheric concentration thereof, compared to the fact that there may end up being some benefit gained by removing Saddam Hussein from power (we may not know for decades) the comparison is not that far off.

Elimination of CO2 gains may starve magnitudes more than the problem we appear to have created in Iraq.

Not an unfair comparison.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 30, 2006 06:59 AM


Roger said:
======
...
2. Actions can only be considered morally right or wrong by virtue of the morality of the outcome.
...
Coby, as I understand this thread, has expressed an endorsement for the views in #2 above via his ranking system which has outcomes trumping actions. Fair enough?
====

No, it is not. I have umpteen times emphasized the distinction between actions and motives, and I have umpteen times stated that I believe it is *outcomes* that trump *motives*. I have umpteen times disavowed the notion that outcomes trump actions.

I have a very difficult time maintaining the assumption that I am not being intentionally misrepresented.

On to the next thread for me...

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 30, 2006 11:01 AM


We need the best policy possible. The reason should be obvious: Bad policy has killed many, many more people than bad weather over the years.

We need the best science has to offer. Any thing less ...

I think this is what roger is working for.

Thanks,

Jim

Posted by: Jim Lebeau at August 30, 2006 02:42 PM




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