Google and the quote doctors

by John Quiggin on November 14, 2005

Via Jennifer Marohasy, I found yet another version of one of the blogosphere’s (and, more generally, the anti-environmentalist right’s) most popular doctored quotes reproduced this time by Frank Furedi who writes in the Times Higher Education Supplement

Appeals to a “greater truth” are also prominent in debates about the environment. It is claimed that problems such as global warming are so important that a campaign of fear is justified. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University, justified the distortion of evidence in the following terms: “Because we are not just scientists but human beings… as well… we need to capture the public imagination.” He added that “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified statements and make little mention of any doubts that we have”.

Schneider’s statement was originally quoted in an interview in Discover magazine (not available online as far as I can tell). Read in full and in context, it’s an unexceptional statement about the difficulties of dealing with the media and their penchant for oversimplication and overdramatisation. However, the history of the quote, and its use by anti-enviromentalists is fascinating and, in many ways, a demonstration of Schneider’s point.

An early hostile use of the quote was by the late Julian Simon, who not only omitted crucial sentences but inserted some fabricated ones. Although Schneider forced him to retract the fabrication, Simon continued to use doctored versions in which crucial phrases and sentences were omitted, and these have proliferated throughout the anti-environmentalist media and blogosphere.

Thanks to the marvel of forensic Googling it’s possible to trace the evolution of the quote as it is passed from one propagandist to another, with hardly any of them ever checking the original, or even bother with a claimed provenance. Furedi’s version, with the exact pattern of misquotes, omissions and ellipses can be traced back to Dick Taverne in the Guardian in February 2005, who also recycles the standard farrago of lies about Rachel Carson and DDT. I’d guess Taverne derived his version from The Economist which in turn took it from Bjorn Lomborg (who used the doctored version but was careful enough to print the full version in a footnote).

The interesting point about all this is that Schneider’s opponents are committing exactly the offence of which they accuse him. They are convinced he is a dangerous scaremonger who needs to be exposed in the interest of “making the world a better place”. Unfortunately, their best piece of evidence has a lot of “ifs, ands and buts”. So rather than “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but”, they extract the “simplified dramatic statements” and serve them up to “capture the public imagination”. Indeed, “each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest”, and for not of all us does it mean being both.

Here’s the full statement

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

fn1. Schell, J. (1989). ‘Our fragile earth’, in “Discover” 10(10):44-50, October. (thanks to reader Greg Bauer for the exact reference).

{ 193 comments }

1

jet 11.14.05 at 8:34 am

I see no substantial differences between the cut up quote and the original. The original certainly appears to be supporting unethical behavior.

The full quote starts by saying scientists must say the whole truth and include everything science requires them to. Then he goes on to say, in an effort to “make the world a better place”, scientists need to minimize their doubts and basically spin the results. Extremely hard to make that look any worse regardless how the malformed quotations break MLA standards.

2

Ray 11.14.05 at 8:49 am

But how does the quote end? “Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

3

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 9:03 am

I am stunned to find myself in agreement with jet here. Hoping that you can be honest really isn’t nearly good enough. As a scientist, and moreover one working in an applied field (forensics) in which my credibility is my livelihood, I would have to say that Schneider really jammed his foot way into his mouth with that quote, and I would like to think that he would have regretted saying it even if the quote hadn’t had such an interesting subsequent history.

4

Louis Proyect 11.14.05 at 9:04 am

5

jet 11.14.05 at 9:05 am

That last bit is just sophistry. What he is endorsing is finding a balance between effective and honest. IE. lie, but only when you really really need to make your point to “see the world a better place”.

And on a side-note this is one of the main detractors of Lomborg, so now you have to wonder if what he said about Lomborg was just being “effective”?

6

Marc 11.14.05 at 9:16 am

I guess I don’t have the special glasses that they give global warming denialists – because I see exactly his point, and see nothing unethical about it whatsoever. (Yes, I’m a scientist. Yes, I take scientific ethics seriously).

He is saying that the usual language that scientists use with one another does not translate well into the public domain. Let us say that you’re actually convinced that a given idea is correct, and it has important public policy implications. You have a responsibility to say that. There is pressure from the media side to simplify and exaggerate.

Jet, here is a working example. I make theoretical models of the Sun. Recently there has been a re-interpretation of data on abundances in the Sun. The claim is that the Sun has far fewer heavy elements than we thought; in particular, oxygen and neon. (Anything heavier than helium is a metal as far as astronomers are concerned. Yes, even noble gasses and carbon). Doing this creates serious tension between other solar data and theoretical predictions. It is also based on an otherwise untested new generation of solar atmospheres theory, which has problems in detail that I won’t go into here.

I’ve written some long papers on this question, and in them I include the usual language – e.g., either the new abundance scale is in error or we need new physics to explain the solar interior.
The actual story is complex, and the details involved are subtle. The journal papers have the appropriate caveats.

I’d feel completely justified, however, to say to a reporter that the new proposed abundances are simply incorrect – because that is the bottom line. The usual code of scientific writing simply translates poorly to the public, and you do have to switch gears.

7

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 9:31 am

There’s a simple solution. If for whatever reason you don’t feel you can talk to a reporter without saying something misleading in order to make a nice neat story, then don’t talk to reporters. The idea that a scientist has a “responsibility” to push a particular public-policy optiion, as opposed to a responsibility to the truth, is corrupt. If I were seen to play fast and loose with the truth in the pursuit of a desired result then my testimony would quickly becone useless to the side that subpoenaed me.

8

JRoth 11.14.05 at 9:33 am

Marc, when will you stop lying to the public to protect your dogmatic notions of solar abundances?

This kind of fundamental dishonesty from scientists is why jet and I are moving to Kansas next week.

9

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 9:41 am

jroth, that “witty” remark is pure crap. For example, not only am I am very far from being a “global warming denialist”, but I have little doubt that statments like Schneider’s actually play directly into the hands of the denialists. Indeed the subsequent history of the quote, whether doctored or not, makes that point very nicely. Once you do anything to compromise your credibility, it’s damned hard to get it back, and that’s a serious disservice to the very cause you support. It’s even more tempting for some people in my field to give the prosecutors what they want than it is for a research scientist to give the reporters what they want, but it’s a temptation that must be resisted.

10

Andrew Brown 11.14.05 at 9:47 am

Well, as a journalist writing about science, I am constantly in the business of lossy compression. I don’t see that it’s avoidable. The kind of information interesting to other scientists is not the kind of information primarily interesting to decision makers and even non-specialists.

The Steve Labonne position — if in doubt, don’t talk to reporters — makes sense in lots of cases but rests on an interesting and flawed assumption, best exposed by asking “What is the equilibrium that a strong scientific claim on a novel subject disturbs?” Among scientists, the default position is conscious ignorance. That’s to say, they will assume the position is a subtle and complicated one which will deserve study, and the expect new information to be equally subtle and complicated.

Among the general public, the default assumption about stuff they don’t know is that everything’s fine and simple, too. In this particular case, the default assumption would be that there is no climate change, no threat from climate change, and no reason to modify our behaviour arising from climate change. That’s not a position any scientist would uphold, if put that baldly, against another scientist.

I think that if jumping up and down and making a fuss brings the default position closer to the region where truth lies, it’s not just defensible but necessary.

11

alex 11.14.05 at 9:49 am

It seems like those who would like to defend Simon tend to cut the quote half-way and claim he is only speaking of the fundamental conflict between appealing to laypeople and being scientifically rigorous. They seem to completely ignore the second part of the quote in which he posits a fundamental conflict between being honest and being effective.

Simon explicitly suggests that scientists may feel justified in omitting doubts that they have about the validity of the claims they make. That is dishonesty, plain and simple.

I’d agree that the cut-up version is not terribly different from the original. It is outrageous to suggest that scientists ought to capture the public imagination without being 100% honest. Hoping that this will end up being the case simply isn’t enough.

12

Ray 11.14.05 at 9:50 am

I read him as saying ‘As scientists, we are bound to the truth. As humans, we want to be persuasive. How do we balance this? I hope, by doing both”

He says that _we are all_ faced with the balance between being honest and being persuasive. He doesn’t say that he thinks we should give up some honesty for the sake of persuasion. He says we should be both honest and persuasive.

13

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 9:53 am

No, he says he HOPES we are both. Again, that’s just not good enough. He just shouldn’t have said that. Look, I’m sure he is a terrific guy and an excellent scientist, but he said something dumb. It happens. But there’s no point in trying to deny it.

14

soru 11.14.05 at 9:53 am

To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.

I bet you could find a precisely parallel quote from some Bush scriptwriter on the topic of Saddam’s WMD.

soru

15

Ray 11.14.05 at 9:54 am

If you read Schneider as saying that “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have”, you must also read him as saying “we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts”.

16

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 9:57 am

This is the same kind of question that used to come up repeatedly on Brad DeLong. Some scientific purists (loudly seconded by conservatarian hacks of the “jet” type) believe that Krugman has demeaned and diminished himself by entering the political fray.

Scientific discourse and political discourse are different. Anyone participating in both is going to be producing some writing which is scientifically scrupulous and political ineffective, and also other writing which is scientifically exaggerated but politically effective.

It has to be that way. The science world is savagely critical, and as a result scientists tend to underreport their results, avoiding making big claims and letting their peers make the judgement. It’s sort of like the modesty of the old-school gentleman, who waits for others to recognize his excellence.

But that kind of writing can’t make it on Bill O’Reilly or Chris Mathews. You have to set the contrast higher and make your statements more definite and more vivid. Conservative spokesmen are masters if this.

Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg aren’t scientists at all, so they feel no guilt about making wild, unverifiable claims about the future. Julian Simon, for example, has claimed that we cannot run out of resources, since “resources” are conceptual, they are infinite, like the infinite number of points on any segment of a line. Or Google “Lomborg” and “cornucopian”. Then ask yourself whether people who write like that should be pointing fingers at others.

Scientists are very skeptical of new ideas within their disciplines, and some scientists remain skeptical longer than others. When the science looks dangerous to their causes, policy advocates scavenge up the skeptics (global-warming skeptics, tobacco cancer skeptics) and use them to discredit the science — in the political context, the goal is simply to neutralize the science and keep it out of the discussion, not to find the best science.

Conservatarians typically also overstate the reach of the dogmas of freemarket economics, making claims on a priori principle even though they are refuted by experience. Tyler Cowen’s recent silliness about single-payer healthcare plans was a nice case of that.

In short, this is a game that both sides play, but the conservatarians pretend that they aren’t playing it. It is consistent with the fact that conservatarians and cornucopians, like intelligent design advocates (think Luskin), aren’t scientists at all and don’t bother to wear two hats. They’re purely and simply ideologues, advocates, and polemicists.

Simon source: http://www.mnforsustain.org/daly_h_simon_ultimate_resource_review.htm

17

Ray 11.14.05 at 9:57 am

“No, he says he HOPES we are both. Again, that’s just not good enough.”

What should he have said? “I do decree it thus – from this day on, every scientist, on this or any other planet (or in interplantery space) will be both HONEST and PERSUASIVE. Or face the wrath of Stephen!”

18

jet 11.14.05 at 9:59 am

Jroth, that was too damned funny, I now have coffee all over my tie.

Marc,
I see your point, and in most cases that would be a perfectly valid stance. But global warming and what to do about it, are extremely contested ideas. Since the consequences of policy decisions will be large, the public deserves a firm well thought out explanation from the scientist they trust. Never mind that lying will probably never occur in Solar metal quantities, but it has and continues to occur in the Global Warming debate. Schneider’s statement paints him as one of the liars and casts doubt on his colleagues and supporters.

So here’s my for instance. Schneider says anthro GW is real and a change in Earth shine doesn’t effect the conclusions. Then Rush Limbaugh goes on radio and says “fancy-pants mc’smarty says that a change in cloud cover has caused the Earth to warm faster due to changes in solar irradiance.” Now Schneider should have said he was unsure of the results of Earth shine, but regardless of those results, anthro GW is the prime driver. But he lied, and a loud mouthed fool like Rush painted him that liar, now who’s got the credibility?

19

Ray 11.14.05 at 10:08 am

It occurs to me that Stephen Schneider should have said
“As scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. When we are asked to give our opinion on matters we think are important, we consider nothing but this promise, and are always only driven by the desire to present our subject in all its wondrous complexity.”

20

Enzo Rossi 11.14.05 at 10:13 am

This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula.

How about distinguishing neatly between academic publications (full of all the due ifs and buts) and opinion pieces written in the light on one’s academic expertise? Is that too simple?

21

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 10:15 am

ray, he should simply have stopped with the first sentence in the full quote. The suggestion that it is appropriate even to consider “offer[ing] up scary scenarios, mak[ing] simplified, dramatic statements, and mak[ing] little mention of any doubts we might have”, and that there is some balancing that needs to go on between that and accurately summarizing the state of the science, merely ended up damaging his own credibility (and worse yet, that of his colleagues) as an advocate of policy measures to deal with warming. So he got the worst of both worlds- he advocated compromising what should be the prime directive for a scientist, yet not only failed thereby to advance, but probably in fact retarded the cause he feels so deeply about. Hard to see how that could be a smart move.

22

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 10:17 am

Thanks ray, looks like you beat me to it and we’re now in agreement. In the long run that’s the only way to do things, tempting though it may sometimes be to take shortcuts. (As the Bush Administration is now finding out the hard way.)

23

wage slave 11.14.05 at 10:20 am

“Since the consequences of policy decisions will be large, the public deserves a firm well thought out explanation from the scientist they trust.”

Which the public will never get from the media. And the public and politicians wouldn’t understand the ifs, ands, and buts anyway (not that it lets the press off the hook).

“[H]e said something dumb.”

He said something honest and true that plays badly as a soundbite in a political “debate.” Funny, that.

24

Ray 11.14.05 at 10:32 am

Steve, if he’d said that he’d have been telling a lie. Scientists are human, and when they are asked for their opinions they do consider what effect their statement will have, and they are driven by other desires. I’m sure we all hope that these considerations don’t lead them away from the truth.

25

Stentor 11.14.05 at 10:32 am

My comments are here.

26

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 10:34 am

I’m human too, but I have no trouble reminding myself on the stand that I must bring out myself any limitations in my results, and not wait for the cross-examination to drag them out of me. If Schneider had said “we’re only human so we have these temptations but we must resist them” I’d have no quarrel with him.

27

abb1 11.14.05 at 10:43 am

OK, can I say that 2+2=4 and stop or do I have to clarify that under some assumptions the result could be 11?

28

Ray 11.14.05 at 10:46 am

So you’re annoyed that he said “I hope that means being both” instead of saying “We must be both”, or “but we must ignore these human impulses”.

29

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 10:55 am

Not only personally annoyed, but look at the damage those remarks have subsequently done to his own cause. I don’t know how anybody could not realize that saying it the way he did was a significant faux pas. He would have done better to admit he made a mistake and apologize.

30

JK 11.14.05 at 10:58 am

From the original article:

“Public figures along with the media are frequently condemned for their alarmist messages and for initiating moral panic.

Unfortunately, the promotion of fear is not an activity over which the political class has a monopoly. Fear has become the common currency of claims-making in general. Health activists, environmentalists, business interests, pressure groups and lobbyists are no less involved in using scare stories to pursue their agendas than politicians who grab public attention by inciting anxieties about law and order or immigration….

In the post-9/11 environment, academic fear entrepreneurs appear to be active across the ideological divide….

Of course academics are entitled to adopt a partisan role. They also have a right to raise concerns about the problems that capture their imagination.

We are also normal human beings who can get carried away with the findings of our research. Academic passion and commitment make a significant contribution to society. But however noble the ideals that motivate it, the promotion of fear displaces the quest for the truth.”
(http://www.thes.co.uk/search/story.aspx?story_id=2024604)

In an 1800 word piece in addition to the global warming example Furedi talks about hate crime, stalking, MMR, super-volcanoes, child abuse, and kidney theft. He quotes David Altheide’s book Creating Fear, Joanna Bourke’s Fear: a Cultural History, and Michael Walzer claiming that “fear has to be our starting point, even though it is a passion most easily exploited by the Right”.

If you think Furedi is substantially wrong then ellipses in a newspaper article seems an odd thing to pick up on.

31

ponte 11.14.05 at 11:03 am

Ray wrote:
What should he have said? “I do decree it thus – from this day on, every scientist, on this or any other planet (or in interplantery space) will be both HONEST and PERSUASIVE. Or face the wrath of Stephen!”
I think Steve Lavonne means that scientists must always resist the temptation to make simplified statements about life and death matters since there are always scientific uncertainties and underlying complexities. They must eschew the life of the body for the pure life of reason.

32

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 11:05 am

Somebody else join in please. Labonne, Ray, and Jet aren’t up to the job. They seem unaware of the realities of American political discourse, probably deliberately so in jet’s case.

Schneider was aware of the difference between political and scientific discourse, and (mistakenly thinking that he was dealing with people of good will) he commented honestly on the difference.

His statement was picked up by polemicists, publicists, and futurologists who did not have to think about that difference, since they were not scientists at all, and they used it against him. In effect, the non-scientists were trying to stink up the place so that the scientists would leave, and the non-scientists succeeded reasonably well in this.

33

Jake 11.14.05 at 11:05 am

Abb1–
exactly how often do you use base 3?

34

ponte 11.14.05 at 11:07 am

but look at the damage those remarks have subsequently done to his own cause.

And look at what the quote doctors did to Al Gore’s statement about taking the initiative on creating the Internet. You can’t blame Schneider for the decontextualizing powers of the PR industry noise machine. They are masters of the misquote.

35

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:09 am

I’m a scientist, not a politician. And why was anybody interested in interviewing Scheidner in the first place? Because HE is a scientist, not a politician. To attract attention by claiming to speak as a scientist, and then actually to speak like a politician, is unethical. And unwise- he gave ammunition to his enemies (that, John Emerson, is also a reality of American political discourse).

36

soubzriquet 11.14.05 at 11:14 am

Steve, re #24, it is laughably naive to equate being on the stand with talking to the media. I assume you know this, so I wonder what your point is? Mass media reporting on science is at best a flawed channel, so are you suggesting that a scientist not take this into account when discussing their work?

37

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 11:16 am

In what I read about global warming, earth scientists of the various sorts usually believe it’s real (with scattered exceptions). Opponents of global warming tend to be economists, ideologues, and futurologists, plus a grab bag of scientists from unrelated fields.

38

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:17 am

On the contrary, they should be extra careful precisely because of that. Or not talk to reporters at all, which is the choice many scientists actually make. Leave it to those skilled enough to do it right. Nobody says it’s easy to do.

39

Slocum 11.14.05 at 11:17 am

So you’re annoyed that he said “I hope that means being both” instead of saying “We must be both”, or “but we must ignore these human impulses”.

Personally, I’m annoyed that he considers it a balancing act. What he should have said is that scientists should be as effective as possible within the bounds of honesty, but those bounds may not be violated or stretched in the service of ‘effectiveness’ for two reasons — first, because it violates the most fundamental principles of science, and second because when these ‘stretchers’ are revealed (and, sooner or later, they will be) they will tend to undermine credibility and, therefore, effectiveness.

Yes, the quote doctoring is unethical, but even so, the differences between the two versions are not so very great. The undoctored version is bad enough.

BTW, I’m not a global warming skeptic (though I am skeptical of the most extreme scenarios). I am a Kyoto skeptic, though–the U.S., China, and India are not going to sign on, the E.U. is not meeting its targets, New Zealand is facing huge carbon-trading expensese. Kyoto is a dead letter, I think.

Lastly, it’s worth noting the issue of ‘balancing’ effectiveness and honesty is not limited to global warming–it comes up all the time (GM crops, fertility treatments, secondhand smoke, fast food, … ) The problem of blurring the lines between science and advocacy is widespread.

40

antirealist 11.14.05 at 11:17 am

No doubt many scientists are convinced of the safety of nuclear energy, and may also feel as human beings and citizens that it’s the right choice for society to make. Would they be justified if, in order to persuade politicians and the public of rightness of their case, they made simplified dramatic statements about safety, and made little mention of any doubts that they had?

41

abb1 11.14.05 at 11:18 am

exactly how often do you use base 3?

Well, exactly, and perhaps this is what he means by “all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts”. Sientists do simplify, there’s no way around it, and especially when they popularize they simplify and dramatize all the time; that’s just the nature of the beast.

42

eudoxis 11.14.05 at 11:19 am

Partial quotes that give the same message as the original are not a problem.
Overt misrepresentation on the other hand, are a real problem. Recently, on this forum, someone fabricated the claim that cutting CO2 emissions in half by the year 2050 would stabilize global warming. At most, some scientists believe that cutting CO2 emissions in half by the year 2050 would stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels. And so it goes.

43

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:20 am

Re #33, that’s precisely right, and that’s the reason why embellishment of the kind Schneider hinted at is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. When you have the facts on your side, pounding the table will only tend to draw attention away from the fact that you have the facts on your side. People expect scientists to be objective, and there is inevitably a backlash if they’re caught playing fast and loose in order to be advocates.

44

wage slave 11.14.05 at 11:21 am

Steve, as an expert on the stand, you’ll get hours to explain your testimony to jurors, who will already have a basic framework for understanding what you’re going to say from the opening statement. (Even so, jurors typically cannot evaulate expert testimony simply by an objective weighting of the scientific evidence. How could they?)

In the popular media, you’ll get a one-sentence soundbite (frequently taken out-of-context from a much longer conversation with the reporter), a testy exchange with a talking head, a two-paragraph letter to the editor, or–if you’re lucky–a 750-word editorial. And of course few scientists will get even that.

Right-wing think tanks have done particularly well using these forms of discourse to advance their ideas; the intelligent design controversy is an excellent example. Science would benefit from a mildy, honestly hacktacular think tank of to combat the ignorance that spews forth in the press–by no means limited to politically-charged issues.

45

CKR 11.14.05 at 11:22 am

To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.

I’m a scientist too, and I don’t find this acceptable. I’ve also dealt with the question of how to get science across to the public, and this isn’t the way to do it. Much less is it the way to say you’re doing it.

Unfortunately, scientists tend to oversimplify when considering tactics for communicating with the public, and this is one example of it. Other examples are comments #6 and #15. Being accustomed to including all the qualifying details in scientific discourse, they may feel that any simplification is inherently dishonest, so you might as well go all the way with dishonesty and do anything you can to put your views across.

That’s a view that ignores the complexity of communication, and, as some commenters have noted, opens one to some bad backlash.

It’s possible to be honest and get one’s scientific point across simply, but it can take a considerable amount of work.

46

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:22 am

You’ve obviously never been cross-examined by an expert.

47

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 11:24 am

Steve, Rush Limbaugh always has ammunition. He makes stuff up if he has to. Schneider made a reasonable statement about the nuances of introducing science into public discourse, and the hacks attacked him. While he did make a tactical errors, it’s no big deal because the slime machine never has trouble finding something to work with.

You sound like the kind of scientific purist I was talking about on the DeLong thread. A scientifically-well-informed person speaking on a scientific issue he’s knowledgeable is BOTH a scientist AND a politician. What he says will be different than what he would say in a purely scientific context, as he acknowledged and as any reasonable person would acknowledge. It is ALSO different from what a scientifically uninformed person says about the issue, and that’s the value of what he says.

Schneider’s mistake here was in being straightforward and honest about what he was doing, on the assumption that he was dealing with people of good will. What people are really saying he should have done is to be more dishonest and less forthcoming. That’s what the right wing does — they pretend to be speaking scientifically when they’re not, and they pretend to be scientists when they’re not.

48

eudoxis 11.14.05 at 11:27 am

I’m a scientist and I am no more bound to tell the truth than a politician. That is, we are all ethically bound to tell the truth. Unfortunately, a remedy for global warming is, at this time, a political discussion. Yet, when scientists speak in public, even on issues non-scientific, they are perceived to speak as scientists. It is especially important for them to tread carefully in those areas.

49

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:29 am

If being a “scientific purist” means I don’t like to lie (or deliberately mislead, which amounts to the same thing), I’ll happily plead guilty. As I said, my credibility is my livelihood. Someone who is “both a scientist and a politician” is in the same position- as Schneider found out the hard way.

50

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 11:30 am

Or not talk to reporters at all, which is the choice many scientists actually make.

Stinking the scientists out is a major goal of the rightwing hacks. This response amounts to surrender.

51

jlw 11.14.05 at 11:31 am

The funny thing is, Schneider wrote something in perfect candor and honesty–and is being pilloried for it.

The thing is, unless you are a scientist, just about everything you think you know about science is a product of simplified scenarios and dramatic statements, often with little mention of any doubts some may have. That’s the way lay science writing works. I was once a very good science writer (grown rusty now from a slight career change) and I can tell you that the difference between what I read in Astrophysical Journal or heard at the AAS meeting and what made it into the pages of Discover was pretty large. It wasn’t wrong, but it was definitely a product packaged and targeted to non-specialist readers who didn’t have the time or background to handle (the journal) Nature red in tooth and claw.

To this extent, Schneider is simply recognizing that this is the way science diffuses to the wider world: toy models, catch phrases, imperfect analogies. You may think that you have a better handle on the issues than this, and can toss off impressive sounding examples of recent findings, but really, unless you’ve spent half a decade or more studying the topic as part of your job, you’re just faking it. And by castigating Schneider for trying to present the science in a way that you, me, and your Aunt Tillie can handle, people are really trying to shut out that entire line of information.

If people won’t act because the raw science is too complex to comprehend and then scream when the science gets boiled down to an understandable nugget, then the underlying message is that someone wants people like Schneider to sit down and shut up.

That Schneider’s adversaries (indeed, humanity’s adversaries) have chopped and twisted his words to their own purposes is no reason to criticize Schneider for telling the truth. Hell, they have proven willing to misrepresent anything and everything. Furedi, Simon, Lomborg and the rest are the ones whose credibility seem to be shot.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 11:31 am

If being a “scientific purist” means I don’t like to lie (or deliberately mislead, which amounts to the same thing), I’ll happily plead guilty..

You’re misrepresenting Schneider in a malicious way. You’re not purist about that, at least.

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CKR 11.14.05 at 11:32 am

While I was composing my comment, John Emerson asked for someone else to jump in. I think Steve Labonne is doing a good job of representing the kind of communication scientists must do.

Schneider was aware of the difference between political and scientific discourse, and (mistakenly thinking that he was dealing with people of good will) he commented honestly on the difference.

His statement was picked up by polemicists, publicists, and futurologists who did not have to think about that difference, since they were not scientists at all, and they used it against him. In effect, the non-scientists were trying to stink up the place so that the scientists would leave, and the non-scientists succeeded reasonably well in this.

I would argue that to the extent Schneider was being honest (and I think he was), he was also being extremely naive. There isn’t a dichotomy between presenting scientific findings in a generally understandable way and being honest. Unfortunately, many scientists are so steeped in the discourse of their part of the world that they emotionally react to any other sort of discourse and feel that it is dishonest.

AS other commenters have noted, that opens them up to justified charges of politicization and abandoning their scientific principles

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 11:37 am

Would [scientific supporters of nuclear energy] be justified if, in order to persuade politicians and the public of rightness of their case, they made simplified dramatic statements about safety, and made little mention of any doubts that they had?

Yes. They do it, and their point of view is widely accepted.

Steve, as with the people I talked to on the DeLong threads, you seem to have little or no knowledge about how political dialogue happens in this country, and to have given little or no thought to that question. What you say about what scientists should do is, in real political terms, just not true at all.

Your further willingness to call people liars is also offensive. That’s what you just did.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:39 am

I did not intend to assert that Schneider himself has shaded the truth in his public pronoouncements (frankly I don’t know enough about the science involved to make a judgement on that, even if I were familiar in detail with his public statements on warming.) But I do know that as soon as he allowed himself to even to posit a balancing act between accuracy and telling a good story, he trespassed onto ground where an ethical scientist should never go. There is no “double ethical bind” for someone who’s simply commited to being ethical, period.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 11:39 am

I only meant to bold three words.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:40 am

John, I wrote the previous reply before seeing your latest (#50). To that one I will simply say, you’re an idiot, and like all idiots you’re sabotaging your own argument, such as it is.

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 11:52 am

“There isn’t a dichotomy between presenting scientific findings in a generally understandable way and being honest.”

I agree there is no such dichotomy. Schneider wasn’t advocating being dishonest, as his letter to APS makes clear (apparently it’s not sufficiently obvious). But I do believe is impossible to communicate a full understanding of technical issues in a generally understandable way.

I have scientific training in a different field, so I understand some of the statistics and scientific evidence that come up in global warming debates. But I do not have the knowledge to fully evaluate the technical ifs, ands, and buts. Most of the public and legislators are substantially worse off.

I think it’s a reasonable solution to communicate the bottom line and (quoting Schneider)

produce an inventory of written products from editorials to articles to books, so that those who want to know more about an author’s views on both the caveats and the risks have a hierarchy of detailed written sources to which they can turn.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 11:56 am

As to the nonsense about political naivete, the Bush Iraq experience is a perfect counterexample. Selling your policies in a less than honest way may seem, and sometimes even be, very expedient in the short term, but eventually it nearly always comes back to bite you in the ass. Those who seem jealous of the Right’s apparent abiliity to get away with lies may want to ponder this lesson. Lately we’ve gotten so used to the climate of dishonesty in our politics that we may be tempted to believe that the only solution is to fight fire with fire, but that conclusion needs to be examined a lot more critically.

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soubzriquet 11.14.05 at 11:57 am

Steve, re #50: have you considered that you may be reading him (Schneider) in a maximally pessimal way? I think he had poor choice of wording, because it is hard to interpret. However, one may read him (with, I think, more justification than your take) as meaning that there is a `balancing act’ between accuracy and *detail*. If you want full story, you have to read the peer reviewed literature, period. If you want an accurate overview, you are going to have to ask an expert to summarize, and hence some of the detail is lost. `telling a good story’ or `making a good summary’? This is, of course, a difficult thing to do, especially when your audience is somtimes only reached through an inimicable channel.

Of course politics and other random `human’ issues come into play. Sometimes a scientist is faced with the problem that if they do talk to the media they will be misrepresented, and if they don’t, they will be misrepresented based on someone elses words. Not an easy choice.

You seem to have developed a very pessimistic (and inaccurate, in my experience) view of the ethical tendencies of scientists (as compared to say, politicians, or to return to your previous thread, lawyers). I’m curious as to why.

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Simon 11.14.05 at 12:00 pm

Isn’t the real problem with this passage that it is utterly tautological? The last sentence seems only to say that in order to be both truthful and effective, we should be both truthful and effective?

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jlw 11.14.05 at 12:01 pm

Sigh. My comment seems stuck in moderation limbo, so let me try again. . .

The thing is, unless you are a scientist, just about everything you think you know about science is a product of simplified scenarios and dramatic statements, often with little mention of any doubts some may have. That’s the way lay science writing works. I was once a very good science writer (grown rusty now from a slight career change) and I can tell you that the difference between what I read in Astrophysical Journal or heard at the AAS meeting and what made it into the pages of Discover was pretty large. It wasn’t wrong, but it was definitely a product packaged and targeted to non-specialist readers who didn’t have the time or background to handle (the journal) Nature red in tooth and claw.

To this extent, Schneider is simply recognizing that this is the way science diffuses to the wider world: toy models, catch phrases, imperfect analogies. You may think that you have a better handle on the issues than this, and can toss off impressive sounding examples of recent findings, but really, unless you’ve spent half a decade or more studying the topic as part of your job, you’re just faking it. And by castigating Schneider for trying to present the science in a way that you, me, and your Aunt Tillie can handle, people are really trying to shut out that entire line of information.

. . . conclusion to follow.

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 12:01 pm

“you’re an idiot, and like all idiots you’re sabotaging your own argument, such as it is.”

Words to live by, Steve.

“Selling your policies in a less than honest way may seem, and sometimes even be, very expedient in the short term, but eventually it nearly always comes back to bite you in the ass.”

I agree what the Bush administration did to sell the war was dishonest. But who, exactly, is advocating dishonesty?

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jlw 11.14.05 at 12:03 pm

Hmmmm. . .

I’ve tried commenting a couple times and seem to be hitting the spam filter. Does the phrase “t o y m o d e l s” set it off?

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jlw 11.14.05 at 12:05 pm

OK, let’s try this:

The funny thing is, Schneider wrote something in perfect candor and honesty—and is being pilloried for it.

The thing is, unless you are a scientist, just about everything you think you know about science is a product of simplified scenarios and dramatic statements, often with little mention of any doubts some may have. That’s the way lay science writing works. I was once a very good science writer (grown rusty now from a slight career change) and I can tell you that the difference between what I read in Astrophysical Journal or heard at the AAS meeting and what made it into the pages of Discover was pretty large. It wasn’t wrong, but it was definitely a product packaged and targeted to non-specialist readers who didn’t have the time or background to handle (the journal) Nature red in tooth and claw.

To this extent, Schneider is simply recognizing that this is the way science diffuses to the wider world: t o y m o d e l s, catch phrases, imperfect analogies. You may think that you have a better handle on the issues than this, and can toss off impressive sounding examples of recent findings, but really, unless you’ve spent half a decade or more studying the topic as part of your job, you’re just faking it. And by castigating Schneider for trying to present the science in a way that you, me, and your Aunt Tillie can handle, people are really trying to shut out that entire line of information.

If people won’t act because the raw science is too complex to comprehend and then scream when the science gets boiled down to an understandable nugget, then the underlying message is that someone wants people like Schneider to sit down and shut up.

That Schneider’s adversaries (indeed, humanity’s adversaries) have chopped and twisted his words to their own purposes is no reason to criticize Schneider for telling the truth. Hell, they have proven willing to misrepresent anything and everything. Furedi, Simon, Lomborg and the rest are the ones whose credibility seem to be shot.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:06 pm

I think wage slave and you are reading him in a maximally optimal way. Regardless, he should have foreseen the inevitability of the “maximally pessimal” reading and realized how bad it would look.

What makes you think I’m pessimistic about the ethics of scientists? I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Scientists are just like everybody else, some keep the straight and narrow, others fall into temptation. Social controls are needed to stiffen the backbones of the latter, but the controls that work quite well, on the whole, within science don’t work as effectively when scientists venture into the wider world of policy and politics. When evaluating the statements of scientists who are speaking as advocates, it’s a good idea to go and read the literature yourself, if you’re able and the issue is sufficently important to you to merit the investment of time and effort.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 12:06 pm

Thanks, Steve. You yourself are an idiot about political discourse and about the ways that political information is actually disseminated — things about which you apparently know nothing at all. You’re well advised to stay out of politics in the future. (Your attempt at tactical advice strikes me as particularly laughable — Limbaugh doesn’t need ammunition, he makes it up if he has to.)

An oddity of the whole thread is that the same people have been saying that Schneider should have been more purist (never shading the science) and also more dishonest (never admitting out loud that, inevitably, scientists in politics have to shade the science).

But I do know that as soon as he allowed himself to even to posit a balancing act between accuracy and telling a good story, he trespassed onto ground where an ethical scientist should never go.

I don’t think that Schneider posited a dichotomy, as you said further up. But there’s a tension. In order to function in politics, scientists have to understand how politics works, and they have to learn how to function in the political realm. That’s what Schneider was commenting on. And there IS a balancing act, whether you think there is or not.

Economists who go into politics all know that they have to speak differently, and in fact they do all run the risk of damaging their scientific reputation. This is what people were talking about on DeLong, with regard to Krugman. Some believed that scientists should never smirch themselves with politics, which I regard as a horrendous belief. Others believed that scientists should maintain their purism when doing politics, which I regard as equally ludicrous.

This started as a thread about the malicious selective quotation of Schneider by many hacks. A peculiarly inept group of commentators seems to have derailed it.

And yes, Steve. You did call a lot of people liars: If being a “scientific purist” means I don’t like to lie (or deliberately mislead, which amounts to the same thing), I’ll happily plead guilty.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 12:10 pm

Steve, Schneider was not advocating Bush-level lying. You consistently misrepresent him.

You also wrongly claim that Bush’s lying was ineffective. It actually worked quite well, but the war didn’t. Your claim that dishonesty in politics usually fails is pretty good evidence for your ignorance.

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 12:14 pm

“Regardless, he should have foreseen the inevitability of the “maximally pessimal” reading and realized how bad it would look.”

In other words, it was a bad PR move, even though it was the truth. I can buy that.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:14 pm

When you say that there is a balancing act and a double bind as between scientific accuracy and public persusasion, that legitimately can, and inevitably will, be interpreted as advocating dishonesty. No amount of blather by Schneider’s defender’s can obscure that. Moreover, I rather suspect that he regrets making that statement and would be quite embarrassed by some of the “defenses” offered in this thread.

Honesty is the best policy. That includes public policy. It’s the denial of this that’s naive, as once again, Bush is now discovering.

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BigMacAttack 11.14.05 at 12:17 pm

John Emerson,

‘Schneider’s mistake here was in being straightforward and honest about what he was doing, on the assumption that he was dealing with people of good will. What people are really saying he should have done is to be more dishonest and less forthcoming.’

No. What people are saying is that he shouldn’t endorse lying in the name of advancing this or that public policy.

His willingness to admit that he is a liar is admirable. I say that without a trace of irony.

I just disagree with the notion, that as a matter of course, we must and should lie in order to be effective. I do not think that is true.

Perhaps it is but I do not believe that is. That belief does not indicate that I lack good will and it does not make me liar.

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CKR 11.14.05 at 12:23 pm

And there IS a balancing act, whether you think there is or not.

But the balancing act is between full, boring to the uninitiated, scientific detail and a more compact version that can be understood by a more general audience.

There’s also a balancing act between understanding your audience, giving them something they can understand and getting caught in a variety of political traps.

Schneider’s comment missed it on this second balancing act. Now the anti-global-warming crowd has a stick that they’re not going to stop beating him and other scientists with.

There shouldn’t be a balancing act between honesty and effect. That’s the cheap way out. That’s the balancing act that Schneider’s quote seems to advocate.

To go back to the original post,

The interesting point about all this is that Schneider’s opponents are committing exactly the offence of which they accuse him.

I hate to stand up for Schneider’s opponents, but they have some (only some) justification in his poorly chosen words for what they are saying. Of course, some run with it, but this seems to be the fate of quotes and words used again and again. Has anyone seen “begging the question” used correctly this year?

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 12:23 pm

Steve, you failed to see that what Schneider said was being misrepresented by a bunch of non-scientist hacks, and you refused to try to understand what he was actually saying. Instead you endorsed their smear and (laughably) accused Schneider of being naive and tactically careless.

You have advocated an unrealistically strict standard for scientists in politics — a standard which will not be applied to non-scientists misrepresenting science to the public — and you have called anyone who violates those standards a liar. You have advocated the utterly ludicrous theory that dishonesty in politics is usually punished in the end.

The caution you advocate for other scientists is not at all evident in your own statements here — you really swing quite wildly. I do not think that scientists in general should stay out of politics, but I think that you should.

Idiot.

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abb1 11.14.05 at 12:24 pm

The issue is not of lying but of advocacy. Can a scientist be involved in advocacy or there should be ethical ban against it? I think scientist can be an advocate.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:28 pm

A scientist not only can be an advocate but should be, when the particular field is one that impacts directly on the public weal. It’s just that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Schneider at the very least left himself wide open to charges of advocating the wrong way, and the dishonesty of many of those who are beting him over the head with this quote doesn’t excuse him. As ckr said, he handed them the stick.

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Doug 11.14.05 at 12:30 pm

I’m new here.

Two comments. First, about economists (I am one): in general economists don’t deny the existance of global warming. Nor do they even deny that global warming is anthropo . . . caused by humans. In general, economists accept these as “truths” given us by the scientific experts (acknowledging that there is always a chance for some sort of misinterpretation), but what we generally “doubt” is whether the existance of global warming NECESSARILY means that we SHOULD cut CO2 emisions by X percent by the year Y. It is positively true (we think) that humans cause global warming, but it might not be (normatively) the best idea to, say, ban the automobile. The cost in human lives (not to mention decreased incomes) to an automobile ban would be too great. Now, an automobile ban is obviously an exagerated policy intervention, but the same balancing between costs and benfits is what makes economists SEEM like doubters of global warming. We are not. We are skeptical about the efficacy or efficiency of global warming POLICY.

Second point about the ethical considerations here. Was my 12th grade physics teacher lying to me when he taught me Newtonian physics? No, he was simplifying a complex subject so that students could gain access to some fundamental relationships. Later, if we are interested, we can learn about Einstein and after. Similarly, in economics, we present very simplified models in our introductory classes. These models are only telling a small part of the story. Are we lying? No, we’re laying a groundwork on which to live.

It is not a distinction between scientific speech and political speech, it is a distinction between speech between initiates and laypeople. When speaking with lay people, you need to speak differently or you will confuse, offend or bore them. That’s life. Anyone who has ever attmpted to teach (well) knows this. The press are laypeople. When scientists talk to the press, they need to give them simplified models, simplified statements, as they do in an introductory class.

Nothing about the quotation in question necessitates dishonesty. Scary situations and projections are fine, as long as they are qualified somewhere in the speech with, “One possible situation . . .” YOu can also end your statement with “now, the situation is alot more ocmplex than this, and the normal scientific caveats apply, but this is the main thrust of our knowledge at this point in time.” If a reporter asks how it more ocmplex, then let them have it. When the reporter cuts all these equivocations from the sound-bite, that is their problem, not yours.

Now, all projections of the future come with bounds: there is a central tendancy in our estimates, and a probabalistic cloud around there. If by “scary scenarios” Schneider meant “present your worst case, highly unlikely scenario instead of your central tendancy” I think this does verge on the dishonest. But again, if a scientist reports all three (his central tendancy, and an upper and lower bound), but the reporter only reports the sexiest number . . . whose fault is that? I think you would have to do a lot of readings in ethics to get an answer in that. In econ, we tend only to report our point estimates (and only if they are statistically different from zero). That is the “rule” we have. I don’t know exactly what Schneider was advocating, but it could deffinitely be construed as dishonesty.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:31 pm

I would add, though, that when a scientist is speaking as an advocate, caveat auditor. Before you act on his / her words, check the actual state of the literature as best you can. Science is not supposed to function via the argument from authority, though human nature being what it is that argument does sometimes tend to carry more weight than it should.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 12:33 pm

I just reread Schneider’s full statement. He did not advocate lying. He’s been misrepresented. He advocated presenting a dramatic, simplified form of complex issues. This is what happens whenever any expert gives a report to a non-expert on any matter of concern (eg, policy papers of any kind within any political or business organization). You boil it down. In American political discourse you boil it down to sound bites of ten words or less.

Alas, Schneider did use the word “honest”, so he seemed to be confessing to lying. He felt guilty about simplifying — his own purism killed him. If he were merely being accused of the wrong choice of words, I’d judge him guilty.

Suppose he’d written “Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being thorough”?

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 12:35 pm

The nonsense in the media about the Lancet study provides a dose of reality. Here you have a good (considering the circumstances) study with the necessary ifs, ands, and buts. And it was ripped apart.

If scientists communicate to the public through meticulous journal articles, science will have little role in shaping public policy. Communicating the bottom line–and including a non-technical assessment of how robust your results are is important–while saving the technical disclaimers for an academic journal is not “lying.”

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:43 pm

“Offering up scary scenarios” with no mention of important caveats in the supporting science would be misrepresentation, not just oversimplification. Nice try, though. Also, your extremely charitable interpretation of Schneider’s deliberate contrast between “honest” and “effective” needs an argument to support it, not just your say-so. Even you admit that it could plausibly be interpreted (“seemed to be confessing”)as advocating dishonesty, which is exactly what I said. So your point is what, exactly?

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:44 pm

The truth of the Lancet study will shine through long after the liars have been consigned to the dustbin of history. One needs to think beyond just the next news cycle or two, if one wants to build anything lasting.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 12:45 pm

What wage slave says about the lancet study is apropos. The other side always can find ammunition. Another very similiar case is evolution. Evolution is an ambitious theory, and there are lots of points of contention within it. IDers and Creationists zero in on the problems and make it seem that evolution is in doubt.

When presenting evolution to a lay audience, you present the outline of the theory, without the doubts. One reason is that the ID strategy is to spread confusion — PZ Meyers Pharyngula diligently refutes the ID arguments as they arise, but the issues are pretty abstractand the general public does not want to get involved at that level of depth — a lot of people just say “That stuff makes my head hurt” and reserve judgement.

Presenting important, complex material to a public which is not necessarily willing to invest any energy in it is a dauntingly difficult task. I think that Schneider understands that task better than most of his critics here do, and we should also remember that most of Schneider’s critics in the original post wre being deliberately dishonest.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 12:47 pm

One needs to think beyond just the next news cycle or two, if one wants to build anything lasting.

Scinetifically, yes. Politically, no. Stay out of politics, Steve.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:51 pm

As a biologist I’ll tell you that you’re quite wrong about the evolution argument. It’s extremely important to present the facts and stay on the plane of objective science. That’s why PZ, and the magisterial “Index of Creationist Claims” on talkorigins.org, are very important resources. As the Dover trial, and subsequent wholesale rejection of the IDiot school board members, showed, the liars will get entangled in their own lies and are found out even by a scientifically naive public- provided that the scientists don’t destroy their own credibility by stooping to the level of their opponents.

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Colin Danby 11.14.05 at 12:54 pm

John Emerson has it exactly right — the distinction is between different kinds of discourse, different ways of talking. There is a scientific-academic style that is deliberately understated and cautious, and which depends on an educated audience to understand the larger implications of whatever you’re pointing out. If people don’t have a framework that lets them see the implications, what do you do? One of the things that you can do is provide an example of how something like global warming might play out.

The original quote may have been injudicious but, read carefully, is completely reasonable and endearingly self-critical. It is only because the guy is *not* a hack that he recognizes the tension. And if the Schneider quote is really a problem as it stands, why do opponents prefer to use doctored versions of it?

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 12:54 pm

John, I wish people like you would stay out of (Democratic) politics. The trouble with Dem politicians is that they don’t have the cojones to publicly call out the Republicans on their lies while citing chapter and verse, not that they’re insufficiently prone to shading the truth themselves. “Realists” of your stripe are as boring as they are ultimately ineffective.

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 12:58 pm

“The truth of the Lancet study will shine through long after the liars have been consigned to the dustbin of history.”

That may be long after the point when it could change the conduct of the war in Iraq. One could term this a problem.

Certainly the general public won’t discern that bright shiny truth without scientific communication (either directly to a lay audience or to reporters), then or now or years down the road.

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Kieran Healy 11.14.05 at 12:59 pm

jlw — sorry about the delay in moderating your comments.

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 1:01 pm

“The trouble with Dem politicians is that they don’t have the cojones to publicly call out the Republicans on their lies while citing chapter and verse…”

And standard errors and confidence intervals? Whatever.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:05 pm

By the time the Lancet study came out it was already too late to derail Bush’s Iraq policy. But the deaths it documents will stand as part of the debacle that will inhibit future administrations from undertaking irresponsible wars of choice for some time, as Vietnam did previously.

The right thinks constantly about what it can accomplish in the long haul, the problem on the left is precisely that too many people have a short attention span and are overly reactive. IMHO of course.

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jlw 11.14.05 at 1:08 pm

People won’t act if the raw science is too complex to comprehend. But when people such as Schneider try to put things in a manner that the average reader can understand, there are those that scream bloody murder. Schneider wasn’t advocating lying–rather, he wanted to highlight the potentially perilous implications of a complex mathematical models and hard to decipher data.

If he’s not allowed to do this–nor presumably are science writers and journalists–then where precisely is the public supposed to gain its understanding of scientifically laden issues? If resorting “scary scenarios” and “simplified, dramatic statements” is forbidden, how are the 99.9 percent of humanity that has not spent years studying climate science supposed to understand what’s going on?

That Schneider’s adversaries (indeed, humanity’s adversaries) have chopped and twisted his words to their own purposes is no reason to criticize Schneider for telling the truth. Hell, they have proven willing to misrepresent anything and everything.

[apologies if my previous posts finally make it through moderation]

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ponte 11.14.05 at 1:09 pm

Steve LaBonne wrote:
The truth of the Lancet study will shine through long after the liars have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

But it’s real significance is its relevance to current policy decisions, not just historical persistance.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:11 pm

Another comment with IDiocy as the example since I’m very familiar with it- the biggest plague in press coverage of this stuff is “he said, she said” coverage. It is admittedly very difficult to get the press to print anything about the actual state of the science, but the attempt has to be made, otherwise all the naive public sees is “dueling experts”. Chapter and verse, yea even unto standard errors and confidence intervals where appropriate, is exactly what “we” have and “they” don’t, and underplaying it, or undermining our own credibility as honest purveyors of it, would be a very serious political mistake.

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ponte 11.14.05 at 1:12 pm

Steve LaBonne wrote:
By the time the Lancet study came out it was already too late to derail Bush’s Iraq policy.

Obviously, but politicians still have to weigh the justifications for maintaining a troop presence in Iraq.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:14 pm

jlw, again that is an extremely charitable gloss on what Schneider actually said. People are just not really confronting the placing of “honesty” on one side of the scale and “effectiveness” on the other. That is not a good thing either to say or to do. That’s not chopping or twisting, it’s citing what he actually said.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 1:15 pm

Steve, you have nothing to teach the Democrats. Whatever they end up saying about global warming will be too simplified and dishonest for your taste. The kind of thing you want them to say wouldn’t even get on the air on NPR, much less network TV.

You are misrepresenting what I’m saying just as you misrepresented what Schneider said. Trust me, Steve — there’s not a single elected politician, from any party, above the level of alderman whose scientific ethics would meet your approval. ALL of them are “realists”, compared to you.

I highly admire PZ Myers, but someone giving a five-minute talk (or a 50-minute talk) about evolution should stress the strong points, and not organize the talk around controversy,. Evolution is well-established, and while there are areas of uncertainty (for further research), a brief statement should be about its strengths.

Since evolution has been politicized, it’s not a good example. So how about this: how much attention should someone giving an introductory one-hour talk about Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, and the solar system give to Poincare and the three-body problem?

I find the three-body problem tremendously interesting, but I think that in an introductory lecture it should get exactly NO attention.

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 1:16 pm

The Lancet study could have changed the tactics used in the war. I believe the authors hoped as much. Alas, that would have demanded quality media coverage and an effective response to uninformed critics.

(I believe the US military is actually doing better now about avoiding civilian casualties, maybe in part because of the surveys but mostly for other reasons.)

98

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:21 pm

On the contrary, evolution is an excellent example. As Dover showed, the side with the truth can “play fair” and win a decisive victory which probably could not be won any other way. You need to absorb that lesson.

99

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 1:23 pm

I think that the Lancet study is a pretty good piece of evidence that Steve’s method would not work. History is littered with the skeletons of high-minded scientists who thought that people wanted to know the truth.

Schneider, alas, does use the word “honest”, but he’s being over-scrupulous. What he was proposing was not dishonesty, but the normal kind of advocacy that everyone in the public realm uses. It’s stuff that wouldn’t fly within science, and Schneider allowed his own residual guilt to cause him to accuse himself.

100

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 1:25 pm

The Dover case was won with an empanelled jury committed to spending many hours and many days to listening to testimony. Politics is fought in the minds of people who spend less than half an hour a day learning about the news. If we could force people to listen, the way the jury was forced to listen, we’d win a lot more arguments.

101

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:27 pm

You seem to have forgotten about the school board election. The IDiots were trounced, every single board member was defeated.

102

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:28 pm

P.S. It weas a bench teial, and the judge hasn’t issued his olpinion yet, at least that I’ve heard. Getting facts straight does help arguments, you see.

103

jlw 11.14.05 at 1:28 pm

Steve:

Read my comment at #51 (now out of limbo!), but the basic point is that my job was once to move information from Astrophysical Journal and Icarus to the pages of Discover and The Sciences. What Schneider describes is that essential process, whether it’s disseminating ideas about changes in the global climate or new theories of making planets.

Does some subtlety get lost along the way? Sure. But that’s not the same as lying, and to say that it is betrays a misunderstanding of the way we come to know the stuff we think we understand.

Everybody’s an expert these days, and the internet has sold people on the illusion that they can drink the truth straight from the hose. But unless you are capable of reading, say, the Los Alamos preprint server (or whatever it’s called these days) you can’t really handle the raw truth. So you need guys like Schneider (and me) to slip it to you in slightly sweetened spoonfuls.

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John Emerson 11.14.05 at 1:31 pm

This is the nub of what Schneider said: To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.

This is true of every advocate in the public sphere. I do not see it as the advocay of lying.

And I’d just like to remind everyone that the original topic of this thread was the way Schneider was misrepresented. Misrepresentation included not only quotation out of context, but also making up fake quotes. The people doing the misrepresentation were all people who habitually committed sins far greater than those that Schneider has been accused of.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:31 pm

jlw, did you see yourself as balancing “being honest” against “being effective” in that process? I should think, and hope, not. Why is it so hard for people to admit that Schneider, at minimum, made an extremely unfortunate choice of words?

106

Brendan 11.14.05 at 1:32 pm

At the risk of muddying waters that were muddier enough to begin with: may I suggest that the ‘problem’ such as it is with the statement ‘we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified statements and make little mention of any doubts that we have’ lies in its assumption. Read it again: this time with the emphasis: ‘we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified statements and make little mention of any doubts that we have.’

Now the key question is, why do we have to? Because I think it is at least arguably true that ‘we’ do have to: in order to get the headlines, in order to get the interviews, in order to get……..publicity.

And this moves the spotlight slightly: from the environmentalists, to those who channel their words, to the media ‘echo chamber’ that amplifies some noises (and quietens others), the media funhouse mirrors that distort, magnify and simplify.

What is it, after all, that links the quote at the head of this article: the ‘debate’ over the MMR vaccine, the ‘debate’ over the Lancet study, the ‘debate’ over global warming, the ‘debate’ over intelligent design? Surely the key point in all these issues is the media’s distortions of basic science, and its search for quick solutions, black and white answer, easy headlines.

To quote Ben Goldacre in an article that should have become seminal (although it seems strangely not to have done so):

‘Science stories usually fall into three families: wacky stories, scare stories and “breakthrough” stories…A close relative of the wacky story is the paradoxical health story…At the other end of the spectrum, scare stories are – of course – a stalwart of media science. Based on minimal evidence and expanded with poor understanding of its significance, they help perform the most crucial function for the media, which is selling you, the reader, to their advertisers….But enough on what they choose to cover. What’s wrong with the coverage itself? The problems here all stem from one central theme: there is no useful information in most science stories. A piece in the Independent on Sunday from January 11 2004 suggested that mail-order Viagra is a rip-off because it does not contain the “correct form” of the drug. I don’t use the stuff, but there were 1,147 words in that piece. Just tell me: was it a different salt, a different preparation, a different isomer, a related molecule, a completely different drug? No idea. No room for that one bit of information….Because papers think you won’t understand the “science bit”, all stories involving science must be dumbed down, leaving pieces without enough content to stimulate the only people who are actually going to read them – that is, the people who know a bit about science….Statistics are what causes the most fear for reporters, and so they are usually just edited out, with interesting consequences. Because science isn’t about something being true or not true: that’s a humanities graduate parody. It’s about the error bar, statistical significance, it’s about how reliable and valid the experiment was, it’s about coming to a verdict, about a hypothesis, on the back of lots of bits of evidence…So how do the media work around their inability to deliver scientific evidence? They use authority figures, the very antithesis of what science is about, as if they were priests, or politicians, or parent figures. “Scientists today said … scientists revealed … scientists warned.” And if they want balance, you’ll get two scientists disagreeing, although with no explanation of why (an approach at its most dangerous with the myth that scientists were “divided” over the safety of MMR). One scientist will “reveal” something, and then another will “challenge” it. A bit like Jedi knights….The danger of authority figure coverage, in the absence of real evidence, is that it leaves the field wide open for questionable authority figures to waltz in….

But it also reinforces the humanities graduate journalists’ parody of science, for which we now have all the ingredients: science is about groundless, incomprehensible, didactic truth statements from scientists, who themselves are socially powerful, arbitrary, unelected authority figures. They are detached from reality: they do work that is either wacky, or dangerous, but either way, everything in science is tenuous, contradictory and, most ridiculously, “hard to understand”….There is one university PR department in London that I know fairly well – it’s a small middle-class world after all – and I know that until recently, they had never employed a single science graduate. This is not uncommon. Science is done by scientists, who write it up. Then a press release is written by a non-scientist, who runs it by their non-scientist boss, who then sends it to journalists without a science education who try to convey difficult new ideas to an audience of either lay people, or more likely – since they’ll be the ones interested in reading the stuff – people who know their way around a t-test a lot better than any of these intermediaries. Finally, it’s edited by a whole team of people who don’t understand it. You can be sure that at least one person in any given “science communication” chain is just juggling words about on a page, without having the first clue what they mean, pretending they’ve got a proper job, their pens all lined up neatly on the desk.’

THIS it seems to me is the problem. Look at the incomprehensible and statistically illiterate ‘debates’ about confidence intervals and the inclusion (or not) of Fallujah in the ‘debate’ about the Lancet Study (well covered in Media Lens, and by Tim Lambert). Look at the way Intelligent Design was (and is) being turned into a serious scientific theory by well paid lobbyists in the United States (and thereby leading to that other great creation of modern journalistic coverage of science, the meaningless ‘debate’). Or the credulity of innumerate English graduates in the face of corporate propaganda in the ‘debate’ over Global Warming.

And this is the world, which, for, for better or for worse (actually let’s be blunt: for worse) genuine environmentalists, scientists, many of whom have complex and interesting things to say about the world we are living in and where we are heading: this is the world in which they have to function. And in this world I think it is debatable that they DO have to dumb down, becuase if they don’t the media will dumb it down for them .

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 1:35 pm

I doubt that Steve’s interpretation of the Dover elections is correct. We could poll residents to see how many people changed their mind about evolution due to the trial. I suspect, instead, voters didn’t want their school board’s effort and their tax dollars wasted on what they felt was a peripheral issue.

Either way, Dover was great fun, but media coverage was not as extensive as I’d have hoped and ID is very much alive (see “Classes Questioning Evolution Take Hold” on the front of today’s WSJ, about college ID courses).

108

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 1:38 pm

I have granted that Schneider made an unfortunate choice of words, twice now. His residual scientific purism caused him to do so. What he was advocating was “dishonest” from an internal scientific standard, but completely normal and even obligatory in policy debate.

A lot of this discussion is like blaming the victim who goes into a sketchy neighborhood and gets mugged.

109

thibaud 11.14.05 at 1:38 pm

I have no problem whatsoever with Mr Schneider and his statements, provided that he prefaces every public statement or writing with a clear indication as to whether the statement is motivated by “honesty” or “effectiveness,” allowing his audience to ignore the latter and focus on the former.

110

thibaud 11.14.05 at 1:42 pm

jlw,

Does some subtlety get lost along the way? Sure. But that’s not the same as lying, and to say that it is betrays a misunderstanding of the way we come to know the stuff we think we understand

A fair point, but that doesn’t really conform to Schneider’s statement, which used the word “honesty”– not subtlety– to describe the opposite of the process you describe. Did he slip up, or was he merely being… honest?

111

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 1:42 pm

Yes, it’s very much alive, and despite the constant frustrations like execrable press coverage, we biologists will continue to fight it with the facts. And we’ll win and keep winning, and the IDiots really aren’t doing well even in the skirmishes. For eample, the last time Kansas had a state board that played these games, teh IDiots were turned out in the following election, and there were none of the other issues that wage slave cited re Dover. I wouldn’t bet against Kansas repeating that cycle. A lot of people in Kansas are quite upset about the effect of this nonsense on economic development and will be quite motivated to work for their defeat again. And the kangaroo trial the board organized in what they thought was defense of its “standards” will hurt the IDiot members when they run for re-election, precisely because there is now a public record with carefully facts on one side and clumsy, readily exposed lies on the other. Anybody who doesn’t realize the value of this is really clueless about the fight against ID. Trust me, people like PZ Myers don’t need political advice from any of you.

112

fifi 11.14.05 at 1:45 pm

How is Schnieder making a positive case for his results dishonest? Science would never get reported if scientists qualified their work with the uncertainties, caveats, ifs and buts that are the name of the game and included in the technical literature. Even if they always did the press would simply edit. Here’s a caveat you don’t see the quote miners making: although the caveats we’ve listed could mean more than the active research, hanging on to them could kill us.

113

jlw 11.14.05 at 1:51 pm

Steve:

Having dealt with many hundreds of scientists on this sort of problem, I can tell you that “honest” as is being used by Schneider at the end of the extended quote is not the same as “honest” in terms of how many cookies were left in the jar.

Some researchers will wail and whine if you leave out any of “the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts.” Doing so could be seen as being “dishonest” and sure, might lead to an unsubtle and imperfect understanding of the topic. But including all those hems and haws just gunks up the works, and you wind up losing people like my sister, a nurse. So you have to balance providing an imperfect understanding against providing no understanding at all.

And that’s the thing: by providing the greatest understanding to the greatest number of people, you invariably have to sand the edges and apply a bit of polish. If you find that intolerable or not being “honest” then perhaps you as a citizen need to examine how well versed you are on every topic and only speak on those with which you have perfect understanding, and only with extreme, jargon-filled precision.

114

eudoxis 11.14.05 at 1:53 pm

jlw, the truth is no more difficult to understand than an untruth. (I’m reminded of when children are taught an “easy” substitute for a real concept or word that with the same time and effort could just as well have been taught the real thing.)

I see a fair amount of grand claims about potential implications in the science news releases from most institutions. Nevertheless, the actual findings are usually presented correctly even if diluted. There is no more reason to “sweeten” the story than it is to sour it. One can only be as sweet as the data allows.

The present post is actually about a different thing. It is not about explaining a concept to a general audience. It is to move the public on a policy issue when the plain truth doesn’t seem effective. Presently, the suggestion is to move beyond the truth to use scare tactics and pretend there is no doubt.

I advocate holding to the truth. There are many honest ways of presenting the truth that don’t involve scare tactics or lying about uncertainty.

115

wage slave 11.14.05 at 1:55 pm

How do biologists communicate to the public? From today’s WSJ:

Leslie McFadden, chair of earth and planetary sciences at the University of New Mexico, who led a successful fight there to re-classify a course on intelligent design from science to humanities: “You can’t teach whatever you damn well please. If you’re a geologist, and you decide that the earth’s core is made of green cheese, you can’t teach that.”

I like this, even though it’s arguably not fair to ID–ridiculous as it is, ID’s not that unhinged. It’s an accurate metaphor, exactly what Schneider brings up as a solution to the “double ethical bind” in his APS response. Of course, Schneider cannot claim that degree of certainty for his conclusions (since little in science is as well-established as evolution), so he recommends “metaphors that succinctly convey both urgency and uncertainty.”

116

mpowell 11.14.05 at 1:58 pm

One objection to Schneider’s position I have is that I am not a scientist but I am capable of appreciating the subtleties of scientific discourse. So how can I inform myself on this issue if I can’t even trust the scientists to avoid oversimplifications and exaggerations of risk? Whether Schneider accomplishes his political aims or not, I can no longer regard his claims as primary source. He should leave the spin up to political hacks b/c that’s their job, not his, and we have plenty enough of them as it is.

117

jlw 11.14.05 at 2:00 pm

By the way, I always hate making a point by pulling out the dictionary, but of the eight definitions of honest in the third edition of the Am. Heritage Col. dictionary, only two deal directly with lack of deceit. There’s a fundamentalist strain of thinking common in America that each word has only one meaning, but I think it’s pretty clear that Schneider was using “honesty” in terms of fairness or integrity rather than in opposition to lying.

118

wage slave 11.14.05 at 2:02 pm

mpowell: “So how can I inform myself on this issue if I can’t even trust the scientists to avoid oversimplifications and exaggerations of risk?”

Schneider:
“…produce an inventory of written products from editorials to articles to books, so that those who want to know more about an author’s views on both the caveats and the risks have a hierarchy of detailed written sources to which they can turn.”

Sound okay to you?

119

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 2:07 pm

jlw, in my time I’ve seen all kinds of horsebleep presented by scientists in the press to justify getting lots of grant money; how many times has the cure for cancer been just around the corner? I’ve experienced the academic-science system from the inside, I’m not naive, and I know damn well there’s a lot of this kind of BSing that goes way beyond simply not being overly persnickety. Furthermore, all scientists that I’ve encountered know it and can be privately quite tart about this phenomenon. It’s usually worst when large amounts of money are involved but political commitments certainly can sustitute for money. Which of us is really being naive here? I’m with eudoxis.

Wage slave, if scientists fighting ID limited themselves to that kind of comment and ceased making the strenuous efforts they actually do make to get accurate information to the public, they would be far less effective. And I bet Prof. McFadden would be the first to agree. (And actually, ID really is that unhinged. The closest thing to a respectable docment it’s produced, Behe’s book, is full of nonsense and blatant misrepresentation from start to finish. And everything else out there is far worse still. Global warming denial almost looks good in comparison.)

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wage slave 11.14.05 at 2:15 pm

“[I]f scientists fighting ID limited themselves to that kind of comment and ceased making the strenuous efforts they actually do make to get accurate information to the public, they would be far less effective.”

But I agree! And so does Schneider, or else he’d give up publishing scientific papers! Metaphors and soundbites are not sufficient! But soundbites are going to make it in the goddamn paper whether you like it or not! And soundbites matter to frame the debate and give people a rough impression what scientists think is true!

121

e-tat 11.14.05 at 2:19 pm

Google has been mentioned only twice so far in the context of this article. I will provide a third. How difficult would it be to design a search that compares one excerpt with any number of variants? Plagiarism-detecting software is said to exist already, so what would it take to have Google provide a somewhat similar service that would track – as mentioned above – the permutations of a given text? This would be a really interesting tool for certain kinds of research.

122

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 2:23 pm

Steve, I wasn’t giving any advice to Myers. I was talking to you. I’m fine with Myers.

I seriously doubt that the recent Dover voctory was won because of a nuanced debate about biology. My guess is that the locals accepted scientific authority and were tired of being portrayed as yokels, and that the particular faction which imposed ID was a minority in the town.

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jlw 11.14.05 at 2:27 pm

Eudoxis:

You say the topic isn’t about media coverage, but Schneider makes it perfectly clear that it is. He writes, “To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage.” And from that follows all the dreaded sweetening.

But I think you misunderstand my point about that. The choice isn’t between some Platonic Truth and a debased version trafficked by science writers and other low lifes. It’s between communicating from one scientist to another within the rules of scientific discourse (journal articles, conference talks, etc.) and communication between a scientist and the wider public. To effectively communicate between scientists and the public, you have to use different kinds of language and provide different kinds of examples or models. Only the most pigheaded would see that as being untruthful.

As per my point at #116, I think much of the controversy stems from various meanings embedded within the word honest and, indeed, the different ways that we use the word truth. We all see ourselves as upright individuals and dedicated to Truth, so it’s easy to get indignant about this subject. But until we see CNN running sessions from APS meetings or the Paducah Sun reprinting articles from Cell in their entirety, science in the public sphere is gonna be presented in a diluted/sweetened/processed/polyunsaturated form.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 2:29 pm

wage slave, but you need to acknowledge that there is a line between “giving a rough impression” and giving a misleading impression, and that a substantial number of scientists, usually from financial but occasionally from political motives, have crossed it.
Debacles like the overblown rhetoric of the “war on cancer” have done substantial damage to the credibility of the scientific communities that allowed misleading PR to be propagated on their behalf. The price of credibility is eternal vigilance.

The temptations in my current profession are also powerful and have resulted in some well-known scandals. It’s very easy to become emotionally involved in a case and want to “help” bring about the “right” outcome. Sometimes pressure from superiors is added to the temptation. But both must be successfully resisted, full stop. That’s what scientific ethics are about, in any area of science.

125

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 2:32 pm

Steve, if all you were saying was that “honest” was a badly-chosen word, I agree with you.

But that wasn’t all you were saying. You were accusing him of advocating dishonesty, and he wasn’t. You were implicitly accusing a lot of scientific advocates in public life of being liars, and they aren’t liars. You didn’t name names, but your general description maligns a lot of good people.

You have furthermore completely ignored the context of the debate, which is the way that Schneider’s words were opportunisticaly distorted by a bunch of unscientific hacks whose standard of honesty is far lower than Schneider’s. If you weren’t accepting their interpretation of what Schneider had said (but I think that you were), you were at least blaming the victim for making it easier for the goons to attack him. Yopu should have said something about the goons themselves. (And the goons ALWAYS find a way to attack).

126

jet 11.14.05 at 2:33 pm

John Emerson and others seem to have stepped beyond the original scope of the debate about how the words should be interpreted and have started reading the mind of Schneider to tell us what he really meant. And while I applaud their attempts at ESP, there is a much easier way to tell the motivations of Schneider. We can simply look at how he behaves in his world as a prominent scientist with an outlet for his ideas. I’d say the extremely dishonest work he did at Scientific American is fairly good evidence his quote means it is okay to lie “see the world a better place”.

127

abb1 11.14.05 at 2:34 pm

Oppenheimer was a scientist turned antinuclear activist – not just scientists but human beings as well. He said: “I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Was that a lie?

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 2:37 pm

Sorry, I feel perfectly entitled not to just take on faith without further evidence the ethical solidity of anybody who is even capable of writing “Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” You’ll just have to deal with that. As Feynman said, the first thing is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. When you allow yourself to think the way Schneider was thinking when he said that, you’re in the danger zone. I don’t see why we need to keep going round and round with this, as it certainly doesn’t appear that either of us is likey to convince the other.

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Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 2:42 pm

abb1, I’m not aware of any instance in which Oppenheimer stretched the scientific truth to support his position. Are you? The unadorned reality of what nuclear weapons can do was quite horrible enough. So, if you think I disagree with you, I don’t.

130

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 2:43 pm

Jet, the “original scope of the debate” was misleading citations of Schneider by hacks such as yourself. I’ve tried several times to return to that topic, but no one’s very interested. It’s you and several others who have tried to shift the debate, but I’d be a fool to follow you in that.

Can the bullshit jokes about “ESP”, you clown. What I’ve done is reprint Schneider’s words as to what he was actually advocating, and it wasn’t lying.

I’m not going to take the Cato Institute’s word about the Scientific American. Sorry, guy. They aren’t exactly paladins of scrupulosity themselves. Schneider is being trashed by hacks.

131

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 2:48 pm

Everyone should read the Cato link. The Cato people are, as I said, economists, ideologues, and futurologist, not climatologists or scientists of any kind. Two thirds of their piece is standard hackery and aspersions Schneider’s motives and those of his co-authors. The scientific third is weak, unimpressive, and conjectural.

132

jet 11.14.05 at 2:48 pm

John Emerson,
You forgot to end that all with “because I said so!” You’re cracking me up with your, ah, “logic”.

133

jlw 11.14.05 at 2:50 pm

Well, Steve, you are perfectly entitled to be hung up on the word “honest” and to banish all potential uses of the word other than dictionary definitions 2 and 4a.

But at least admit that you then really aren’t interested in what Schneider was saying, and instead only want to know how to use his words as a cudgel. It would be sad to hear this, though, since for all of your pigheadedness on the topic, you don’t seem to be a bad guy. And if someone like you has given up on public discourse as a means for understanding (rather than as a battleground for political power) then we may be closer to lost than I’ve feared.

134

jet 11.14.05 at 2:51 pm

John Emerson’s attempt at a argument “Jet, the “original scope of the debate” was misleading citations of Schneider by hacks such as yourself.”

You take 1 quart of half baked logic
Add in about 3 pounds of personal insult
Mix thoroughly with heavy sprinkles of bullshit

Half-bake for 5 minutes and there you go, a John Emerson Argument.

135

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 2:52 pm

Up to a point, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and even Mondale practiced the kind of scrupulosity Steve advocates. (I’m not sure that he’d be quite satisfied with what they did, but they all surpassed their rivals by far). All of them were heavily ridiculed for exactly that, and all of them lost.

Steve should stay out of the politics biz.

136

wage slave 11.14.05 at 2:52 pm

I’ve read grant applications too, Steve. Schneider is not asking scientists to mislead for the greater good. That is, in my opinion, a clear misreading of his statement to Discover. You disagree. Either way, the point of the original post stands: quotes have been fabricated and taken out of context to make a political point.

In any case, Schneider clarified his views in the note for APS News, which seems quite unobjectionable. Deliberately misleading the public is bad and scientists should not do it.

137

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 2:55 pm

Fine, jet, you poor abused little thing. I was mean to you.

But you did factually misrepresent the original scope of the debate. Read the original CT post.

138

jet 11.14.05 at 2:58 pm

John Emerson,
You don’t like the CATO link? Try googling for your own then, there are plenty. You could even read a letter Richard Lindzen (Professor MIT Meteorology) wrote about how “honest” Schneider really is.

139

abb1 11.14.05 at 3:01 pm

Well, I mean, once one becomes an activist – and this Schneider guy suggests that one should – then that’s what you do: you advocate your position, you emphasize arguments in favor of your position, you minimize arguments against, you polemicize.

Again, I agree that it’s kinda controversial whether a scientist should be involved in advocacy related to his field of expertise; I agree that it casts doubts on his objectivity, but what’s the alternative? He obviously feels that the status quo is extremely perilous. That is his expert opinion.

140

Steve LaBonne 11.14.05 at 3:06 pm

Well, my answer in a nutshell is “yes, but please be careful because your reputation for objectivity is the very source of your influence.”

141

John Quiggin 11.14.05 at 3:07 pm

You don’t have to “read Schneider’s mind” to see what he originally meant, you can just ask Schneider. He has repeatedly rejected the interpretation put on his words by Simon and others.

And let’s remember yet again, it’s these guys who are actually displaying the dishonesty (or, if you prefer, oversimplification) that Scheider is supposed to advocate.

And jet, you’ve followed the debate long enough to know that Lindzen hasn’t exactly been scrupulous with the truth himself, which makes him a rather poor choice of adverse character witness.

142

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 3:13 pm

Jet doesn’t care. The Cato link was a joke. Everyone should read it.

143

jet 11.14.05 at 3:25 pm

There I go again. Someday I’ll learn to never bullshit someone who knows more than I do ;)

Regardless of Lindzen’s familiarity with “truth”, the last 6 years have born out complaints against Schneider’s Scientific American article attacking Lomborg. Schneider’s attack was pure spin, distortion, and his being “contextually challenged”. But that’s par for the course, as I’ve yet to read an attack on Lomborg that didn’t follow Schneider’s lead.

144

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 3:32 pm

Jet, you complained about my use of personal insult. But as I just said, 2/3 of the CATO link you just cited consisted of sneering at Schneider and his co-authors. Talk about brazen!

145

mpowell 11.14.05 at 3:43 pm

wage slave-

Providing an inventory of articles is certainly a good idea and convenient, but what this leads to is doing a fairly substantial amount of research to develop an informed opinion. That’s great and all, but it would be nice if there were some intermediary ground b/w press releases and lots of research. A good scientist should be able to provide a summary of the state of the science by referencing well-represented theories or pivotal studies. However, I don’t think that you can just switch b/w the pundit and the scientist hats. I don’t trust a pundit to accurately describe the state of the science and I find it difficult to trust a scientist who acknowledges that he frequently speaks as a pundit.

146

abb1 11.14.05 at 3:53 pm

He wants to be a pundit who actually knows a lot on the subject of his punditry. What’s wrong with that?

And as far as his credibility as a scientist – that can only be assessed by other scientists, not the laymen.

147

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 3:55 pm

Mpowell, I think that you just described an utterly insoluble dilemma. If you’re not a swcientist yourself, you have to trust someone else. If it’s a policy issue with a significant scientific aspect, that person has to be a politically informed scientist or a scientifically-informed politician.

While so far the discussion here about “wearing two hats” has focussed on the tension and difficulties resulting from that, I’m convinced scientists who get involved in policy matters can learn a lot from it. There really can be a positive outcome — look at Keynes. (I think that there Stiglitz and Krugman both learned a lot once they started looking at concrete policy outcomes).

148

abb1 11.14.05 at 4:02 pm

Now, what the heck is this purism all about? US scientist quits top stem-cell team over ethics

A top U.S. researcher has quit an international team of pioneering embryonic stem-cell researchers based in South Korea after one of its members was accused of donating her own eggs to the program.
[…]
Bioethicists were quoted as saying that there should be an arms-length relationship between researchers and donors.

Huh?

149

mpowell 11.14.05 at 4:15 pm

John Emerson,

I agree that its quite a dilemma, but I’m not sure its as bad as you make it out to be. I’m not convinced that a scientist has to be politically informed- or at least not participate in political discourse the way that Schneider recommends- to contribute to my understanding of the political debate.

For example, it seems to me, that a climatologist could say that the science supports that claim that chemical X causes climate change, and that w/ current trends that change will be temp Y w/ uncertainty Z over the next 100 years. Statements like these can help inform w/o attempting to provide policy solutions. But if the same scientist also makes claims that highlight the worst-case outcomes I think it clouds the issue.

I have a particular view of the ideal political discourse where pundits make arguments for different policies and when the political issue is very scientifically-based they reference statements from scientists that reasonable people from both sides of the debate can acknowledge as being mostly reliable. Obviously we are not there, but is this view too hopeful to be useful? Or would we benefit by at least aiming for it?

150

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 4:27 pm

If the questions the scientist asks are not keyed to the important political issues, they won’t be useful in desiding those issues. The scientist really has to understand what the debate is about in order to give usable information.

The dream of having political debates decided by Pure Scientific Fact is chimerical. If a poltical issue has a scientific aspect, in order to deal with it you have to understand both ends of it.

This does not necessarily mean that the scientist must be, or should be, an advocate. However, once a scientist finds that the science on an issue is pretty clear (e.g. tobacco and cancer), then he will probably become an advocate, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The level of advocacy proposed by Schneider is a step further down the road, and there is in fact a risk he runs by going that way. But if scientists take a purist approach to their politics, they’ll effectively leave the field to the uninformed and the hacks.

151

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 5:09 pm

I just reread some of Steve’s early posts, and found that his field is forensic science (type uspecified).

Forensic scientists are defined as neutral arbiters, as I understand. Even so, they often become “players” — certain of them specialize as prosecution witnesses, others as defense witnesses. Nonetheless, I agree that a forensic scientist’s credibility depends on his reputation for impartiality.

So he’s right that Schneider forfeited his arbiter status. The way he defined what he was doing, Schneider was functioning as a scientifically informed advocate, like a lawyer, and not as a neutral arbiter, like a forensic scientist.

Steve apparently believes that only the arbiter role is legitimate for scientists, and not the advocate role. I disagree.

Our judgement of the value of what Schneider was doing depends on the validity of the science he uses and the rightness of the cause he’s advocating, just as with a lawyer advocate. It doesn’t depend on whether he’s taking the neutral arbiter role or not.

The lawyer’s form of advocacy is a pretty good comparison here, as is the politician’s form of advocacy. You compare them to other advocates, not to neutrals, and judge them by the specifics of what they’ve done, not on whether or not they’ve done something they weren’t trying to do.

152

Barbar 11.14.05 at 6:01 pm

Steve Labonne’s interpretation of the eventual imoact of the Lancelet study suggests the rather limited range of his grasp of American politics.

So scientists should stick to the facts, and not attempt to enter politics, which is made up of sound bites and viscerally appealing arguments. This leaves politics to people who are not informed by science, which of course is a terrific outcome, as long as the scientists maintain their purity. See, it doesn’t matter how many people die in Iraq; what matters is whether or not historians view the war as a mistake.

Also, scientists who have attempted to advocate politically regarding global warming are to blame for their opponents twisting their words. Had they said nothing, we would have had much better policy outcomes regarding global warming, because then the issue wouldn’t be political, only scientific, and this would allow scientists to maintain their standing in front of the policymakers (including voters) they wouldn’t be talking to.

153

Randy Paul 11.14.05 at 6:22 pm

Just wondering when effective and honest became mutually exclusive. Indeed, it strikes me that one’s honesty makes one’s argument effective.

154

jet 11.14.05 at 7:20 pm

Another gem showing Schneider’s dedication to truth and impartiality. John Emerson, you’ll be glad to note this is from the Danish Space Research Institute, a far cry from CATO which so feels your bowels with fear.

155

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 7:28 pm

Bad link, jet.

Cato is a cheesy advocacy group. The Cato link you gave was mostly cheesy gossip and snide remarks. No fear was involved on my part. Before clicking it I had feared that there would be some substance, but I needn’t have.

156

jet 11.14.05 at 7:51 pm

Whups, let me try again. That may not work with wordpress as it is a poorly formed URL with %20’s “spaces” in it.

157

jet 11.14.05 at 8:40 pm

I know CrookedTimber authors are very learned people, with very interesting lives, and vast pedigrees, which of course makes their time extremely valuable. But I do wish they participated more in the free-for-all that occurs in the aftermath of controversial post (okay mad props for Belle for always wading in and slugging it out). For instance, this post of John Quiggin’s had very nearly the same response as his last post about a year ago, to which he links, on this same subject. Now the respondents here very neatly lined up to opposing sides on if the doctored versions were in the same spirit as the original version. We went through the pains of parsing the semantics, of challenging intentions, and perhaps even questioning the existence of god (okay, just kidding, but we did meander off topic and never made it back on topic). We of course all value John Quiggin’s reasonings on this or we wouldn’t all keep coming back. So I do wish the impressive minds of CT would participate a bit more, and perhaps Quiggin himself might explain why Schneider is being treated poorly or at least mock those who say he’s not.

158

John Emerson 11.14.05 at 8:59 pm

They prefer to use lowly surrogate thugs, jet. Though they won’t link to our blogs.

159

jasmindad 11.14.05 at 9:06 pm

1. OK, here’s the scenario. In response to the claims by the Flat Earth Society, I — a physicist/geologist, say — am being interviewed by the newspapers, and am being asked, “Is the earth round or flat?”. I *know* that the earth is isn’t quite round. It is an oblate spheroid. Actually, it isn’t even that, given the mountains and the valleys; it is an extremely complicated three-dimensional solid. I consider, “It is closer to round than flat,” but then imagine a sentence in the stoty, “The professor seemed uncertain and diffident — I got the impression that he wasn’t really sure it is round.” I then consider, “It is an oblate spheroid,” and then imagine the headline, “The professor says plague on both houses — the earth is neither round nor flat.” I finally say, “The earth is round,” but feel a bit dishonest in saying something that isn’t quite true. I think of stalwarts like Steve Labonne, feel that I have let them down and brought dishonor to science.

2. Here’s another scenario. I am a nuclear engineer in the 50’s. The military-industrial complex is pushing nuclear power like the cococola company is pushing their cola. I think the safety problems are being underestimated. I think that not enough attention is being paid to safety. I try to interest newspapers in the problems, and I don’t want to scare anyone by presenting worst case scenarios, so I present the information with all the caveats, including that a bad accident, while not highly likely, is possible. The newspaper guy shrugs his shoulder — why bother about stuff that is not highly likely, and with all my caveats, their readership would simply be uninterested. I finally decide to write a book in which I highlight the bad scenario, dramatize it. I also say that the scenario is not highly likely, but could happen. The book is a best seller, and congressmen demand action to make reactors safe. I feel guilty and feel that I have let science down, because I have had to present the worst case, scary scenario, to get action. Even though all I said in the book was that it *could*, not *would* happen, I still feel guilty. I can’t look at my nuclear engineering colleagues in the eye, since obviously I have failed in my scientific objectivity.

In the above two cases, in some senses of the term “honest,” I have been dishonest.

160

John Quiggin 11.14.05 at 10:21 pm

I’m in two minds about post authors wading into comments threads, Jet. In a dispute like this, most of the points I would want to make have already been made, often better than I would have done. In any case, I posted before I went to bed and there were already 100 comments when I woke up.

I do think this thread has done better than the last one in terms of clarifying the issues.

But since you’ve asked, let me repeat my tu quoque. Using an abridged quote is, at the very least, the kind of necessary simplification that Schneider is talking about. Using it in the way that Furedi and Taverne and Simons and dozens of others have done, with a claim that Schneider is urging scientists to lie, is committing exactly the crime of which they accuse him.

161

soru 11.15.05 at 5:42 am

I just reread Schneider’s full statement

Alas, Schneider did use the word “honest”, so he seemed to be confessing to lying.

Suppose he’d written…

Quite a remarkable degree of double-think. Perhaps if you continue that process of reading _closely and accurately_, you could find the _true_ meaning of what he wrote. Perhaps it’s a stock tip, or a commentary on Hamlet?

What was written was an advocacy of dishonesty, or at least selective honesty. If he wants to recant that, admit to a slip of the tongue, then he is free to do so.

soru

162

rollo 11.15.05 at 7:58 am

The subject being “global warming” Schneider would have to be selectively honest from the get just to speak to the subject under that heading.
Certainly anthropogenic climate forcing won’t have much effect, if any, on the earth’s interior mass. That will remain consistent in temperature, barring the odd volcanic eruption and tectonic shift.
It’s the thin bit at the surface, where we live, that’s heating up. And the use of the word “warming” is misleading enough to be near dishonest, given the consequences of even small increments of rise.
So it isn’t “global” “warming” exactly. Sort of, but not precisely.
Pacific Coast US fisheries are frighteningly depleted this year, seabird die-offs are also scarily high, more than troubling, more than a cause for concern.
I think that’s what’s bugging you Jet. We were right – it’s really bad. And you and your brothers-in-arms fought us every step of the way to that realization; and your attitudinal forbears fought us back when it still may have been possible to have averted this.
That’s what’s really irritating isn’t it? Being wrong about something so serious.
Take what heart you can from the fact there’s no pleasure in having been right.

163

rollo 11.15.05 at 8:00 am

Not Jet.
Soru.
My apologies.

164

John Emerson 11.15.05 at 8:41 am

Soru, read what I’ve written.

What Schneider advocated was dishonest by the scientific standard and would not be acceptable in a scientific context. It was not dishonest in a public-policy context; he was using the same argumentative and persuasive methods that everybody in politics uses. Schneider’s anti-environmentalist critics are not exceptions; in fact, anti-environmentalists characteristically use an especially slippery and misleading kind of argumentation — “Jet” here had to try three times before he was able to find a critique of Schneider which was not fatally flawed.

The dishonesty of Schneider’s critics, which was well documented, was the original theme of this thread. Besides selective quotation, the most eminent of Schneider’s critics (Julian Simon, a scientifically literate ideologue and futurologist, not a scientist) actually attributed to Schneider himself what was really Simon’s own dishonest and tendentious paraphrase of Schneider.

I’d be willing to bet that if I were to follow your own argumentative career I’d find that your argumentative style is at least as “dishonest” as Schneider’s, and probably much more so. (I know that that’s true of Jet here, who has a long history; Steve Labonne here is genuinely scrupulous, though his strict standards do cause him to wrongly malign people).

I have the feeling you just dropped by to dump. We’ll clean up after you, but please go away.

165

Steve LaBonne 11.15.05 at 9:40 am

What Schneider advocated was dishonest by the scientific standard and would not be acceptable in a scientific context. It was not dishonest in a public-policy context; he was using the same argumentative and persuasive methods that everybody in politics uses.

You, and Schneider, can’t have it both ways, John. If he wants to talk like a politician, he forfeits the special regard due to a scientist speaking objectively within his field of expertise, and has only the same credibility as any other politician. Good luck with that. I personally, in my “naivete”, actually do think that in fact the incautious behavior of some people like Schneider has something- far from everything, but something- to do with the success of the right-wing smear campaign to convince the public that anthropogenic warming is a myth. When the confused public thinks it just sees non-objective advocates on both sides, it does not feel compelled listen to the side that wants it to make inconvenient choices. Yes, the right will resort to sleazy tactics no matter what, but it still makes little sense to hand them additional ammunition. In my “naive” opinion, at any rate.

166

soru 11.15.05 at 9:58 am

It was not dishonest in a public-policy context; he was using the same argumentative and persuasive methods that everybody in politics uses

Well I guess that’s ok then. Noone could possibly consider setting themselves a higher standard than that exemplified by Fox news, the Creationists, et al.

soru

167

John Emerson 11.15.05 at 10:15 am

Steve, as I said, Schneider did forfeit his “neutral arbiter” status when he bbecame and advocate. By and large, though, neutral arbiters in politics are mythical; it’s something we wish we had, so that we could avoid the messiness of politics, but not something that often exists. (In fact, those who make the claim to be neutral arbiters in politics most often are just stealth partisans, and it is scarcely possible to be neutral on most political positions; at best you end up taking a centrist consensus position, which is NOT neutral. Politics, in other words, is inevitably adversarial, and the dream of someone coming in from outside politics and settling things for us is really unrealistic.)

Schneider did not forfeit his claim to be a scientifically well-informed advocate. The people he was arguing with were, without any excpetion that I know of, also advocates. Some of them may have been as well-informed as Schneider, but most anti-environmentalists I run into are publicists, ideologues, and economic fantasists who are winging it on the science.

You have a foolishly binary point of view on this. Either someone is a scrupulous scientist, or else he’s “just the same as any other politician.” Can’t you see the stupidity of that? A scientifically well-informed politician is DIFFERENT than a scientifically ill-informed or misinformed politician. I presume that your problem is a pure dislike of politicians. If you want a country without politicians, go to Saudi Arabia or China. In our country big decisions are made by public political processes, not by objective administrators, and you need politicians for that.

I have conceded that Schneider should not have used the word “honest”. That’s your tactical “handing them ammunition” argument. But you really don’t mean that. Your criticism of Schneider goes far deeper than tactics. (Your suggestion that the Democrats would do better if they followed your advice is laughable.)

The carefully and scrupulously written stuff about global warming has been out there for years. It never gets past the wonks and the Greens. Schneider was talking about an attempt to bring these ideas to the attention of a wider public, and more power to him.

Anyone who hopes for an objective, neutral, nonpolitical authority to decide substantive political issues has failed to understand how politics works. Ordinary voters looking for that kind of thing tend to get suckered. When you make this misleading ideal the standard for scientific participation in politics, you show your own ignorance.

The strict standards you propose are only applied to liberals and Democrats. The Republicans just don’t care. There’s an internal pressure in the direction you suggest from high-minded liberals, but conservative and libertarian hacks, as you can see from this thread, are more than willing to chip in and impose on us a strict standard which they would never dream of accepting for themselves. They use whatever ammunition they have, but being scrupulous doesn’t protect us because if they don’t have anything valid they’ll make things up.

168

Barbar 11.15.05 at 10:22 am

When the confused public thinks it just sees non-objective advocates on both sides, it does not feel compelled listen to the side that wants it to make inconvenient choices.

Can you provide examples of debates where there is only one side advocating anything, but somehow the confused public decides that the other side is right, even though reaching that conclusion would be inconvenient?

169

Steve LaBonne 11.15.05 at 10:31 am

I really don’t think you’re grasping the problem. Look, I’m Joe Sixpack, and one the one hand I hear Scientist A feeding scary global-warming scenarios to the press while openly admitting he’s functioning as an advocate and not sticking strictly to science, and on the other side I hear industry-shill “Scientist” B telling me that A’s stories are a load of horse-hockey and pointing me to A’s public admissions that he’s willing to color the scientific truth for advocacy purposes. A wants me to give up my SUV, B tells me to go right ahead and buy the even bigger one I have my eye on. Since A has made it so easy to dismiss his objectivity as a scientist, then even if I grasp that B isn’t objective either, what on earth is going to persuade me that I should listen to him rather than to B? I’m going with B- he’s telling me what I want to hear and as far as I can tell, he’s no more or less objective than A.

It’s delusional to think we can win by playing “their” game. They’ll always be better at it. We’ll be guaranteed to lose, and we won’t even hold the high ground from which we can assail the Republican War on Science. Once again, in my “naive” opinion.

170

Steve LaBonne 11.15.05 at 10:34 am

barbar, I don’t understand your question- could you explain what you mean by “only one side advocating anything”? By definition a debate consists of (at least) two sides advocating different things.

171

John Emerson 11.15.05 at 10:53 am

The one saying Schneider is a shill is you, Steve. Not Joe Sixpack. And the right wing shills will also say that Schneider is a shill. You have been wrongly maligning Schneider all along. Thanks a lot, buddy.

Meanwhile the honest scientists you respect will be writing the same sober reports as ever, and Joe Sixpack will be unaware that they even exist. A garbled version might reach NPR, where they quite likely will give equal time to an anti- environmentalist shill who will use various radio tricks to make the scientist look bad.

Speaking for Barbar, Schneider was proposing that he would be an advocate, and you’ve been smearing him all along for that reason. You make your living as a neutral expert wiutness, and apparently it’s your dream that political issues will be settled by neutral expert witnesses stepping in, but it’s never been that way. It’s always been advocates doing the work.

Global warming is an uphill fight, as you said, because it’s inconvenient and requires sacrifice. The rest of what you say is fantasy.

172

Barbar 11.15.05 at 11:03 am

Exactly, a debate must have at least two sides.

For scientific results to make their way into the public discourse, somebody needs to take articles in peer-reviewed journals and bring them into the political arena (the one with soundbites and visceral reactions). You’re just arguing that scientists shouldn’t be the ones doing that, because that way the scientists can keep their status as objective arbiters. And this is not only morally good, but will lead to better policy outcomes as well.

I don’t think this is correct. For one thing, this won’t take away the strategy of “attack the scientist as non-objective” at all. Science can still be attacked: evolution is only a “theory,” scientists disagree with each other, you can pay someone with a Ph.D. to work for you and churn out misleading Wall Street Journal op-eds. Additionally if scientists aren’t advocating politically, then others will be, and they will be attacked for politicizing science. And according to you, seeing non-objective people on both sides will inevitably lead Joe Sixpack to buy his big SUV, and then we will have lost. (The scientists might still be considered objective, but how will that help exactly? Joe Sixpack isn’t going to hear them. He doesn’t read Science magazine.)

Blaming scientists who become advocates is definitely blaming the victim here. It should be fairly obvious that scientists can shut themselves in the lab and stick to churning out articles that no one reads; no matter, if undesirable political outcomes might result from the science, everyone involved will be attacked. Non-advocate scientists are harder to attack, but this comes at a price, and I don’t see the gain.

Now it might be the case that there’s some “fighting without fighting” approach that will work wonders for American politics. For the reasons I’ve outlined above, I consider this incredibly unlikely, but it’s still possible. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. And so I ask: do you have actual real-life examples of what you’re suggesting actually working politically?

173

Steve LaBonne 11.15.05 at 11:03 am

Godddammit, stop telling me I’m smearing Schneider- you’re using sleazy Republican tactics yourself. I’m saying no more about Schneider than what YOU SAID YOURSELF in the words of yours that I quoted in #165. I’m not interested in having a Fox News-style “debate” with you.

At this point it’s obviously useless to imagine that you’ll actually try to think through what I argued and come up with a coherent response. Sayonara.

174

soru 11.15.05 at 11:31 am

And so I ask: do you have actual real-life examples of what you’re suggesting actually working politically?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CFC#Chlorofluoro_compounds_.28CFC.2C_HCFC.2C_HFC.29

soru

175

paul 11.15.05 at 11:40 am

If scientists don’t offer up the scary scenarios that get people’s attention, who will? As far as I can see, if you think, say, that global warming will result in sea-level rises of some number of meters, and you look at the map and notice how many cities are within (X + storm surge) meters of sea level, it’s the height of irresponsibility (and even dishonesty) not to point out that global warming could inundate some number of populate centers. It’s as if the epidemiologists who picked up the association between smoking and lung cancer should have made sure that their work stayed quietly between the pages of learned journals.

Of course, as a sometime science writer and onetime lab worker, I’m biased here. I know that by the Strong Schneider Standard, almost all scientific papers are “dishonest” — the abstracts certainly are. There are always things authors leave out or gloss over in trying to communicate their results. That’s why a scientific paper isn’t just a trancript of people’s lab notebooks and whiteboards.

My rule for compression: anyone who knows what details have been left out should also be able to see that those details don’t affect the final conclusion. And that’s where I don’t see people like Schneider fitting the role of “dishonest” in the global-warming debate…

176

jet 11.15.05 at 11:45 am

John Emerson,
“Global warming is an uphill fight, as you said, because it’s inconvenient and requires sacrifice. The rest of what you say is fantasy.”

Only because environmentalists are pig-headed and can’t eliminate the crazy lunatic fringe from themselves. Correctly Global Warming is a great excuse to do a lot of extremely useful things to our infrastructure. For instance, if we swallowed the short term costs, simply upgrading all existing power plants to late 1970’s technology and design paradigms could reduce electric energy consumption by 40%. But to do this would require a lot of plants being decommissioned and then many times that number of new plants being created. Creating a new power plant in the US requires a California black out to accomplish. And this of course side steps the green-left’s illogical hatred of nuclear power.

So yes, the fight over global warming has largely been hi-jacked by power plays from the left and right, the optimal solutions are being ignored.

177

John Emerson 11.15.05 at 11:51 am

Steve, I have about as much respect for you as you do for me. You are useless and harmful whan it comes to politics. You stupidly endorsed other peoples’ smears of Schneider, agreeing with them that he’s advocating lying. You’ve put out a lot of doubletalk about “tactics” and “handing them weapons”, but that’s not what you mean. What you mean is that he was advocating lying and thus was a liar.

The hacks are happy to accept your endorsement of their smear, though they would never think of holding themselves to your standard.

Schneider confessed to dishonest science, and he shouldn’t have, because that was a gimme for the bad guys. But what he was doing was not dishonest politics or dishonest advocacy. It was an attempt at an effective political presentation of the scientific material. That’s a fairly simple argument, but you’re a bonehead. I’m glad to see the last of you too.

Your whole stupid argument hinges on that one word, “honesty”. What he was advocating doing — dramatizing things, leaving the doubts to talk about later — was not dishonest in the politics context in which he was operating. It was what every single peron in politics does. But it was not something that would fly in a scientific journal.

Soru, are you saying that the chlorofluorocarbon ban happened without advocates?

178

John Emerson 11.15.05 at 11:59 am

Thanks, jet. Could you direct your tendentious, selective libertarian hackery to Steve?

Everything’s so easy for libertarians. They even can solve global warming, once they decide to admit that it exists, and they can blame everything on the environmentalists too. No sacrifice is necessary! (Except by environmentalists, of course).

179

soru 11.15.05 at 12:48 pm

Soru, are you saying that the chlorofluorocarbon ban happened without advocates?

No, it happened without the benefit of dishonest, Fox News style advocacy. To the best of my knowledge, everyone involved held honesty as a standard to aspire to, not an unfortunate disadvantage to be worked around.

soru

180

jet 11.15.05 at 1:16 pm

Everyone realizes that Schneider’s quote is from 1989 right? And that he’s had a long history of being a climate change advocate? And that’s he’s been involved in several altercations with other scientist/political advocates?

The reason this quote has stayed alive is Schneider has, on occasion, been accused of spinning things.

181

John Emerson 11.15.05 at 2:00 pm

Soru, I am not talking about Fox-style advocacy and neither was Schneider. And I do remember that there were some vivid scare stories about skin cancer going around during that debate. Normal political PR was used.

The reason this quote has stayed alive is Schneider has, on occasion, been accused of spinning things.

Bullshit, Jet. The reason the quote has been kept alive is because Schneider has been involved in a political debate all that time. As the original post here pointed out, Schneider’s adversaries started out by making up a quote, and most of them have track records worse than Schneider’s.

There are lots of fake quotes out there, and they “stay alive” because they do the job. The cheesy CATO thing you linked to wasn’t strictly fraud, but it mostly consisted of attacking the character of the envirnomentalists, which is the normal anti-environmentalist strategy. So whine all you want when I say bad things about you.

Schneider’s understanding of the science caused him to become a advocate. But to the CATO people, as soon as he became an advocate, he was just as sleazy as them (an opinion Steve shares) and “the truth must be somewhere in between”. Conservatarians don’t try to be right any more, they just try to prove that their opponents are equally bad.

182

jet 11.15.05 at 2:21 pm

John Emerson,

So back in the 70’s was it “Schneider’s understanding of the science caused him to become a advocate.” that led him to tell the whole world we had to stop polluting or enter another ice age? Yes, he was absolutely sure of the science before he started advocating our impending coldness.

And “As the original post here pointed out, Schneider’s adversaries started out by making up a quote, and most of them have track records worse than Schneider’s.” doesn’t mean a whole lot since almost everyone agreed that the made up quotes were in the same spirit as the original. Only a kneejerk supporter would instantly be able to see the nuance.

“But to the CATO people, as soon as he became an advocate, he was just as sleazy as them…”. For those who have followed some of his scandals, he has done some sleazy things. If you looked at both sides of the Schneider Lomborg Science debacle, you might even see how people could come to this conclusion, as in some lights his article was sleazy, dishonest, and unkind in the extreme.

Now granted I’ve just been harsher on Schneider than he deserves as he is obviously a man of good will, but he has traded his scientific integrity for a megaphone a few times in the past.

183

John Emerson 11.15.05 at 2:39 pm

“Almost everyone agreed” — basically you mean Steve plus a lot of anti-Schneider hacks. This thread is not a sample.

And you just said, this very minute, that making up quotes is basically OK if there’s just a difference of “nuance”, and that only true believers object. That’s as bad as anything Schneider’s been accused of.

Why should I take you seriously as an arbiter of honest political debate.

184

John Quiggin 11.15.05 at 3:12 pm

Soru you might be interested in the contributions of Sallie Baliunas and others who are now leaders on the denialist side of the anti-GW debate. Molina et al copped plenty of abuse from these guys, though Baliunas went pretty quiet after they got the Nobel prize. Here’s a piece on Baliunas, though others like Fred Singer kept up the attack.

You’ll notice that Singer in particular makes exactly the same claims against supporters of action on CFCs as are now being made against supportes of Kyoto.

185

Barbar 11.15.05 at 3:14 pm

This entire discussion proves Schneider’s point exactly.

“We must make little mention of any doubts that we may have.”

Ironically enough, this quote itself is a mention of doubt. He is acknowledging that scientific journals and mainstream news sources have different standards. In science, you need to lay out all the evidence and go into all the detail and caveats. In the news media, you get a short sound bite.

What happens when Schneider acknowledges this? It gets jumped on as proof that scientists admittedly “stretch the truth” when they talk about climate change.

I guess he was wrong — obviously mentioning every single caveat is a good PR move, and you can count on your opponents not to amplify the doubts so as to twist the results.

People should read the Rich Puchalsky link from the beginning of the post. Schneider discusses the quote in some detail, which eliminates much of the need for speculation about what he is advocating exactly.

And Jet, there is an obvious difference between the full quote and the short quote. The tension in the full quote is between including all the caveats and providing simplified scenarios. The tension in the short quote is between being honest about what is going to happen and stretching the truth to provoke action.

186

Barbar 11.15.05 at 3:49 pm

And I should say that I somewhat messed up the Schneider quote in my last post, the “must” should be replaced by “have to…”

And the Puchalsky link isn’t exactly at the beginning of the post.

Something else that is strange about the short quote is that it seems to have Schneider saying that there is a “need to capture the public imagination” because scientists are also human beings. Bizzare place to put the ellipses.

And of course the points in my last post were actually stated in the original post by John Quiggin. Indeed, that was the thrust of the post. Sometimes you get into arguments with people who have you back on ground that should have been settled a long time ago.

187

jet 11.15.05 at 3:57 pm

Barbar,
Interpretation of the quote is still wide open. You want to answer this definitively, then examine how Schneider applied this quote to himself. Did he mislead to promote his stances, or did he simply streamline to remove unwarranted doubt? You can start by reading January 2002’s edition of Scientific American.

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soru 11.15.05 at 4:12 pm

You’ll notice that Singer in particular makes exactly the same claims against supporters of action on CFCs as are now being made against supportes of Kyoto.

So reasoned debate was able to prevail against know-nothing smears and slander then. What’s different now?

Did people get dumber since 1987?

soru

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John Emerson 11.15.05 at 4:20 pm

Soru, you haven’t established that the proponents of a chlorofluorocarbon ban used different debating tactics than those proposed by Schneider. I remember very well that there was a lot of dramatic stuff thrown out in that debate.

I can’t be sure whether you just came in late, or whether you are deliberately misrepresenting what’s been said, but neither Schneider nor any of his defenders is advocating Fox-news type falsehood and demogogy. We’re just advocating putting together a dramatic, memorable, persuasive political case different than, and more simplified than, the case which would be made at a scientific conference.

Interpretation of the quote is still wide open.

Postmedernism rears its ugly head. Jet LOVES wide-open interpretations.

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John Quiggin 11.15.05 at 4:22 pm

There’s a lot more money at stake in GW, soru. Unlike with CFCs, big corporations like Exxon are willing to back GW denialists, and denialism has become an ideological test of faith on the right.

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Robert P. 11.16.05 at 5:17 pm

The first phase of the “Ozone War”, which ran from about 1972 to 1978, actually resembled the AGW debate in many respects. The scale of the issue was much smaller, of course. Dupont, ICI, and others mounted an enormous PR campaign devoted to emphasizing the scientific uncertainties. They hired a British atmospheric scientist, Richard Scorer, to travel around the U.S. giving talks and debating the proponents of the CFC-ozone hypothesis (including an appearance on W. F. Buckley’s Firing Line.)playing the Richard Lindzen role. Robert Abplanalp, the inventor of the thingumajig on top of aerosol spray cans, even called the Chancellor of UC Irvine and tried to get him to put pressure on Rowland. On the other side, there was a movie called “Day of the Animals”, about animals driven crazy by UV coming through a depleted ozone layer, that by all accounts was even kookier than _The Day After Tomorrow_.

One major difference was that the affected industries didn’t use astroturf back then – they lobbied openly. Another was that they actually put a major amount of funding into primary scientific research on the issue, and in doing so used mechanisms that insulated the researchers from pressure. (The industry money was administered by a neutral agency established by the American Chemical Society, which solicited and evaluated grant proposals through a peer-review process.) In the end, much of the scientific support for the hypothesis came out of this work.

The second phase, which followed the discovery of the Antarctic Ozone Hole, began in similar fashion, but the results of the 1987 AAOE mission were so overwhelmingly decisive that the affected industries did a quick somersault (having prepared the ground by research into CFC alternatives during the interim period.) This, together with the industry-funded research mentioned above, led to the conspiracy theory popular in the early 1990’s, to the effect that the halocarbon industries had staged the whole thing so that they could collect windfall profits from the new CFC substitutes. (The proponents of this theory argued that the patents on CFC’s were “running out” – in fact, they had expired many decades ago.)

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John Quiggin 11.16.05 at 8:06 pm

Robert, thanks for pointing this out. I’ve followed up and found lots of interesting stuff.

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Harald Korneliussen 11.18.05 at 4:23 am

Jet said: “I now have coffee all over my tie.”

Well, jet, do you really have coffe all over your tie? You really should not drink coffe near your computer, you know. But I believe that you made a poetic exaggregation.

That’s fine by me, though, because it doesn’t change what you are actually saying. Nor, perhaps, does condensing a 30-page text on human-affected global warming to “It happens, and it’s Bad” change what it’s actually saying.

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