Climate: The First Post-Modernist Science?

When I was in college, we mechanical engineers had little but disdain for practitioners of the various social sciences, who seemed more focused on advancing political ideologies than conducting quality science.  Apparently, denizens of these softer sciences have become convinced that the lack of objectivity or objective research that plagues their fields is par for the course in the hard sciences as well.  MaxedOutMamma describes this post-modernist view of science:

If some reader is not familiar with the full-bodied modern explications of post-modernism, the story of the Dartmouth professor who decided to sue her students will serve as an introduction. Here is her version of the problem with her students. Here is an article
she wrote about working as a post-doc researcher at Dartmouth Medical
School, which may give a hint as to why her students were so, ah,
unwilling to assent to her view of the world:

In
graduate school, I was inculcated in the tenets of a field known as
science studies, which teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect
access to truth and that science is motivated by politics and human
interest.
This is known as social constructivism and is the
reigning mantra in science studies, which considers historical and
sociological understandings of science. From the vantage point of
social constructivism, scientific facts are not discovered but rather
created within a social framework. In other words, scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.


Lab
:
As a practicing scientist, I feel these views need to be qualified in
the context of literary inquiry. My mentor, Chris Lowrey, is an
extraordinary physician- scientist whose vision of science is pragmatic
and positivist. My experience in his
lab has shown me that the practice of science is at least partly
motivated by the scientific method, though with some qualifications.


Through my experience in the laboratory, I have found that postmodernism
offers a constructive critique of science in ways that social
constructivism cannot, due to postmodernism’s emphasis on openly
addressing the presupposed moral aims of science.
In other
words, I find that while an individual ethic of motivation exists, and
indeed guides the conduct of laboratory routine, I have also observed
that a moral framework—one in which
the social implications of science and technology are addressed—is
clearly absent in scientific settings.
Yet I believe such a framework is necessary. Postmodernism
maintains that it is within the rhetorical apparatus of science—how
scientists talk about their work—that these moral aims of science may
be accomplished.

For
those of you who cling to scientific method, this is pretty bizarre
stuff. But she, and many others, are dead serious about it. If a
research finding could harm a class of persons, the theory is that
scientists should change the way they talk about that finding. Since scientific method is a way of building a body of knowledge based on skeptical testing, replication, and publication, this is a problem.

The tight framework of scientific method mandates figuring out what would disprove the theory being tested and then looking for the disproof.
The thought process that spawned the scientific revolution was
inherently skeptical, which is why disciples of scientific method say
that no theory can be definitively and absolutely proved, but only
disproved (falsified). Hypotheses are elevated to the status of
theories largely as a result of continued failures to disprove the
theory and continued conformity of experimentation and observation with
the theory, and such efforts should be conducted by diverse parties.

Needless to say postmodernist schools of thought and scientific method are almost polar opposites.

Reading this, I start to come to the conclusion that climate scientists are attempting to make Climate the first post-modernist physical science.  It certainly would explain why climate is so far short of being a "big-boy science" like physics, where replicating results is more important than casual review of publications by a cherry-picked group of peers.  It also explains  this quote from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) climate researcher and global warming action promoter, Steven Schneider:

We
have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements,
and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide
what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

Additionally, it goes a long way to explaining why Steve McIntyre gets this response when he requests the data he needs to try to replicate certain climate studies (and here):

    We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it. There is IPR to consider.

  • Luis Dias

    I think you are on target. Nailed it. Headshot.

    Now what?

  • Luis Dias

    Of course, the problem is that this also affects “skeptical” works by the Spencers in this world, who enter this post-modernist scheme and aren’t able to see their work cross-checked and properly examined as it should be.

    We are in a fog-of-war. I guess we need satellites to see more clearly (pun intended).

  • It did occur to me that some of Hansen’s schemes smacked of that particular theory of science.

    I think we are going to get terribly bad science if we are going to demand politically correct findings. Whatever is going on in certain branches of climate science, it appears to be far removed from classic scientific method.

    I have been following Climate Audit with increasing concern.

  • Francisco

    Well, the notion that science is not an entity that exists separately from those who practice it, the notion that scientists are part of society, and are therefore affected by social forces, like any other group of people — these are hardly revolutionary observations. Post-modernists sometimes carry these observations a little bit too far, and end up writing silly things, but on the other hand, it is not unhealthy to remind people from time to time that “science” is not a lofty realm residing outside the fray of human society, unsoiled by any other forces, and practiced by disinterested angels whose only aim is the pursuit of truth. In fact, THIS view is precisely the view that AGW official science tries desperately to promote (with the help of media pundits and fervent believers). What they keep saying, or insinuating is something like: “we are the true scientists, the official white-robed creatures representing purity and disinterested motivations. Our critics are not true scientists – they are renegades, or false scientists, or have sold their souls to evil forces…

    You are right that climate change science is today the most blatant and clear illustration of the influence of social forces on scientific practice. In this case the effect is so huge that you could safely say this science is not just “affected” by social forces. You could say it seems to be totally “controlled” by such forces.

    But don’t conclude from this that other sciences are exempt from the influence of social forces. None are, for the simple reason that all scientists belong to a society. This has always been the case. But science has gradually carved for itself a status outside and above the pettiness of other human forces, to the point that EVERYBODY wants to describe his or her views as “scientific.” (Don’t call me a “sociologist,” call me a social scientist, etc.) Everybody wants the validation of having their activities labeled as “science”.

    Post-modernists are, in essence, doing nothing more than reminding people of these games. What you call “post-modernist science” is not so much something advocated by post-modernists. It is simply a view of science that looks at its function from a social perspective — and rightly refuses to accept that somehow science operates as a special entity outside of society, unaffected by social forces. That’s a healthy and common-sense view I find no reason to disagree with.

    For a crystal-clear example: look at climate-change science. Yes, but don’t think it is the only one, or the first one.

  • Franciso: you obscure an important point with your false dichotomy. Of course, science is practiced by scientists. Of course, scientists are real people and do not exist in some noumenal realm.

    The question is: what should govern science? The classic view s that reality and fact should be the basis of science. The Politically Correct theory says that there is no such thing as reality or fact, only politics–and politics dominates everything.

    It is not a matter of taking this to a certain “degree”. Right is right, and deliberately perpetrating wrong (knowing full well that one is doing damage) is evil.

    Yes, I said the word “evil”. Fact relates to value. AGW proponents–almost without exception–are demanding the power of a gun to forcibly deprive others of their liberty and property. They are plain old thugs with a postmodernist “science” to justify their powerlust.

  • Francisco

    I don’t know what notion you have about the meaning of “post-modernist”. Whatever it, it is not a kind of science. It has to do with a kind of critical attitude that looks at the social component of how science is practiced, funded, generated, kept, consumated, etc. These things don’t happen just on the merits of the theories. There is a lot more going on. And that lot more is political. Official science has always been at the service of power, and this tendency has increased, not decreased with time.

    Those are the kinds of things that post-modernist critics look into and analyze. The status of AGW as the “consensus” and the “official view” of “the scientists” totally confirms the post-modernist views. AGW is not what it is on its own merits. It is largely a creation. It has been steered toward becoming what it has become through the creation and massive funding of an unprecedented institution conceived for the sole purpose of proving or keeping alive a certain hypothesis, and also massive media campaigns. We know that. But it is not a “post-modernist” science. There is no such thing. It is a kind of science that illustrates to perfection the post-modernist view of science in general. You are wrong to think that these problems are confined to AGW, and that everywhere else science is all swell and governed by honest seeking of truth. That is not the case, and it has never been. Though AGW is the most monstruous an blatant example of a science almost completely created and hijacked for a political purpose.

  • Pancho

    As Francisco says, postmodernists suffer from congenital cranio-rectal fistulas, and have you know what for brains. This is what your children are being taught instead of how to think and reason and make their way in the world. This is what you saved for all those years, to see your children turned into mind rotting zoombys. Postmodernists are beyond hope. But it may not be too late for your children.

  • Those are the kinds of things that post-modernist critics look into and analyze. The status of AGW as the “consensus” and the “official view” of “the scientists” totally confirms the post-modernist views. AGW is not what it is on its own merits. It is largely a creation. It has been steered toward becoming what it has become through the creation and massive funding of an unprecedented institution conceived for the sole purpose of proving or keeping alive a certain hypothesis, and also massive media campaigns. We know that. But it is not a “post-modernist” science. There is no such thing. It is a kind of science that illustrates to perfection the post-modernist view of science in general.

  • Luis Dias

    Francisco’s point of view is interesting. In “Post-modernism” one should not only look at the criticism of science’s prejudices and influences, which is not a “post-modernist” critic by itself, but rather a positivistic one that believes that there is a certain “truth” outside the pesky stuff happening all around, that there is in fact an abstract construction that has value outside the egocentric interests of any given person.

    No, “post modernism” says that there isn’t any intrinsic value on things and that what does happen is human interference and prejudice judgement.

    The Problem on Post Modernism is that it is not taught as an alarm bell to the students to beware for these things tend to happen in a human world, and that they should instead keep their focus on the scientific method, on objectivity (even when it seems impossible to be objective) and rigor, but rather as cynicism towards the Scientific Method, and as an advice towards subjective action somewhere in their practice. Post Modernism school of thought tries to teach their students to be politicians!!

    This is why, Francisco, you are wrong in your judgement.

  • She writes: “Lab: As a practicing scientist, I …” The mind boggles.

    As to the intersection of postmodernism and science, I have only to refer you to Luce Irigaray, whose article “Is Science Sexed” argues that the speed of light is somehow “privileged” by power-wielding male oppressors. She is no lone nutcase, but “a prominent author in contemporary French feminism and Continental philosophy”.