UPDATE: G’day, AndThenTheresPhysics readers!
Now that your fearless bleader, a practitioner of what the sages call the Fourth Way (flee first, then whine) has sent you flocking/trouping here, perhaps you can help us with a mystery that’s got Anders himself stumped:
what was the scientific, academic or scholarly purpose of the Consensus on Consensus paper—a paper you [Ken Rice] condoned by attaching your name to it as a coauthor?
I know what its political/demagogic function was; Cook, Oreskes and others have been making no secret of it.
What I’m asking is its *scholarly* purpose.
WordPress is thoughtful enough to tell us exactly how many of you are reading this, so every time we get a referral without an answer to the above question, I think we can count it as confirmation of the (so to speak) null hypothesis: that Ken and the other fifteen authors owe their respective governments a refund. ■
Not unforeseeably, a CliScep post I wrote last week caused some umbrage. But truth is an absolute defence to charges of umbrage, so the purpose of this followup is to assure anybody whose feelings may have been hurt that their grievance is indeed with reality, not me.
Reader, unless you’ve been living under a rock—or living, truly living—I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the latest stool of a paper to come out of the climate-consensus cargo cult of Oreskes et epigones. But since I have no life, I thought I’d read it so you wouldn’t have to.
That’s just a figure of speech: you were never obliged to read it. Nobody was.
But then, the publicity blitz surrounding the paper had already given me a pretty good idea how execrable the contents were, so I decided to watch a moth die instead.
The paper is advertised as discovering a “consensus on consensus,” which, if true, would settle once and for all the Medieval scholastic riddle of whether a vacuum can contain a vacuum. For readers who prefer their references a bit more ’90s, let’s call it a Seinfeld paper about Seinfeld papers.
[Scientific epistemology in 15 seconds: opinion is not evidence; expert opinion is not evidence; majority opinion is not evidence; consensus is not evidence; unanimous opinion is not evidence. Only evidence is evidence.
What Scientists Think™ means literally nothing, to 2,000 decimal places, in science. Papers on said question are scientifically worthless, by definition, and the act of writing them can only be motivated by the desire to glamor the gullible with baubles. Nobody has ever offered an innocent explanation for such papers (a challenge from which even the culprits are smart enough to silently back away every single time), because there is none.]
The authors have described themselves, not dishonestly, as an “all-star cast of consensus experts.” (Like many Climate English idioms, this has no exact translation; but it would be something close to “the cream of the crap of academia.”) They even amended “all-star cast” to “all-star lineup” in later statements, demonstrating proper use of the collective noun for petty criminals. I’m guessing they had adult help with their word choice.
But one of the authors, a Dr Ken Rice, belongs to a more redeemable species of hominid than the rest—he’s a CliScep reader, no less!*
So I had some constructive notes for Ken, better known as AndThenTheresPhysics, who shares a sixteenth of the blame for the stercoraceous pseudostudy that is Cook’s CoC. A fellow sixteenther—one Sarah Green—was peddling misinformation about science on Reddit, and I wanted to know (among other things) what Ken intended to do about it. In closing, I reminded would-be commenters to make allowances for Ken’s deep scientific illiteracy.
Reactions to my post were mixed.
I thought it was “great,” whereas readers used words like “appalling,” “nasty piece of writing” and “is everyone who associates with this site happy to be associated with this post?”
OK, that was all the one reader: Ken Rice. Nobody else seemed to have a problem with it. Even Green didn’t object to my harsh description of her remarks, nor dispute my corrections of her science.
But it does raise the question: was I being unfair to Ken? Is it possible that he has a tighter grip on the logic of science than I gave him credit for?
Have I finally fallen into the trap that’s claimed the credibility of so many climate commentators before me: have I allowed myself to get carried away with my own rhetoric?
I was reminded of the accuracy and justice of my criticisms the other day, while revisiting Ken’s accidental debut on the climate-comedy stage: an old blog he named (with commendable candor) To The Left Of Centre.
Honestly, I wasn’t even looking for material to embarrass Ken with. But I may have hit the mother lode.
Reader, check it. Try to get past the first paragraph below, in which Ken declares his unfamiliarity with the concept of quoting. Excuse his clumsy substitution of ‘prove’ for ‘show evidence for; confirm.’† That’s just the beginning of this encyclopedia of ignorance. It gets stupider (my emphasis) and stupidererer:
I also came across a comment on another article that may also indicate an issue related to how some interpret the scientific method. I’ll paraphrase as I don’t want to plagiarise what someone else has said, but it was essentially
As far as climate models are concerned, it’s up to scientists to prove [sic] their hypothesis, rather than for us to disprove it.
I think this completely mis-represents the scientific method. In an area like climate science …
[Special pleading special pleading special pleading. The point of the next paragraph, if there is one, seems to be that we can’t possibly expect climate science to meet the same standards as every other science. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the corollary to occur to Ken: namely that if he’s right, climate science has no right to demand the same respect as a proper science. Pennies don’t really drop for Ken; they just tend to float away to the Antarctic, like so many chlorofluorocarbons.]
He keeps digging (my emphasis):
We are not obliged to act just because scientists present their results to us, but our decisions should be informed by this information. The scientists are also not obliged to prove [sic] their hypothesis. In fact, I would argue that in the case of climate science, it’s not a hypothesis. It is what the science is indicating.
Read that paragraph again, if you dare.
Sentence 1 is a flaccid platitude.
Sentence 2 is a point-blank contradiction of the scientific method—a denial, in other words, of science.
(Hey Ken, you know all that contempt you feel for ‘science deniers’? Right back at ya, sport.)
Sentence 3 is a cognitive dog’s breakfast. Either Ken thinks it’s a profound revelation that fields and hypotheses are two different things, or he’s made the Freudian slip of metonymizing ‘AGW’ to ‘climate science.’ It’s hard to believe anyone could be so uneducated as to actually identify an entire multidisciplinary field, in his brain, with a single hypothesis therein—but what’s more disturbing is that he then proceeds to “argue” that said hypothesis is not really a hypothesis at all, crossing the line from low IQ to florid psychosis.
Sentence 4—a raging, throbbing non sequitur—ratifies the latter diagnosis, I’m afraid. (Weep. Weep for Scotland.)
Remember those (premeditatedly) hilarious YouTube clips in which a girl who hasn’t seen a Star Wars movie in her life takes her best shot at reconstructing the plot of the three good ones by piecing together overheard fanversations and clues gleaned from her boyfriend’s action figures?
I can’t help thinking of that short-lived virus with a grin every time some Dunning-Krugmanned schlemiel, who’s never been told the first thing about the scientific method, subjects the rest of us to his imaginative mental model thereof—reverse-engineered, presumably, from 97% of movies and TV series that feature labcoat-wearing protagonists. Rice’s forays into the genre, I think you’ll agree, are every bit as laughable as those of Chris Mooney, world’s leading scientifically-illiterate science communicator.
Marvel, reader, as I spend this thread opening Ken’s mind to the novel idea that maybe scientists should try not to conceal things from the public.
Incidentally, I remember wasting hours on Twitter one day striving to infiltrate the very same dead-simple ethical precepts through the calvaria of a twit called WottsUpWithThat [sic]. What I didn’t know at the time—nobody did—was that that Lefty, Wotty and Andy were all aliases of the same Edinburgh astronomy lecturer, our friend Kenneth. Like any good science communicator, Ken is intensely shy and made every effort to keep his secret identity that way; he was what Churchill might have called an anonymous blogger with much to be anonymous about. So I can only imagine his chagrin when skeptical sleuth Poptech outed him last year. The personal embarrassment must have been second only to the institutional embarrassment felt at the University of Edinburgh, where someone had seen fit not only to allow but to pay LeftyWottyAndersKen to teach his unique brand of “science” to impressionable teenagers and 20-somethings.
First there’s politics, and then there’s physics. In this post Rice makes little secret of the fact that he gives the claims of fraudulent quack Stephan Lewandowsky the benefit of the doubt because… wait for it… they have a common antipathy to libertarianism!
The post that I’m reblogging is reporting on a couple of his papers and suggesting that there is a link between having a libertarian (free-market) ideology and rejecting climate science. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I have real issues with the basic tenets of free-market thinking and with those who reject climate science, so this post certainly gels with my thinking and it is interesting that it is based on published work in cognitive science. Doesn’t make it right, I guess, but I would recommend giving it a read.
But don’t fear, Edinburgh U. students: that’s an ancient blog post. Ken Rice, “science” lecturer, was 3 years younger when he made the foregoing unguarded admission. I’m sure evidence takes priority over ideology in his chain of reasoning these days. You’re probably at very little risk of being fed scientized politics in Ken’s lectures any more, so there’s no need to complain to University management about their academic hiring practices. And the last thing I’m suggesting is that you should transfer en masse to a different class!
I hope the coda to this story amuses you, Ken. Yesterday my sweet old nan took one look at your CoC Abstract and declared it “a complete wank.” Now, as much as I respect my elders, I couldn’t agree with this kind of language. Completion suggests some sort of payoff. Whereas your paper, like its ancestors, lacks all redeeming value, doesn’t it? It’s irredeemable. I wish I could sugarcoat this, Ken, but I can’t. Nobody can, because it’s a straightforward, syllogistic consequence of the laws of science: consensus surveys tell us bugger-all about climate change. Your paper is a worthless addition to a worthless genre.
Every cent of public money that went into writing it was—ipso facto—embezzled.
Even you ought to have begun to grasp this, Ken, however dimly. If you’re still confused, go find a scientist. Ask her to explain slowly, using short words, the nature of the crime against human knowledge to which you became an accessory when you appended your John Hancock to this quote-unquote study.
The metaphor my nan was looking for, I suspect, was masturbatio interrupta. Your paper is half a wank, Ken. And not the good half.
* This sentence was edited to reflect reports that Ken has a PhD and is no longer a Mister. Thanks to reader JustAnotherPerson for the correction.
† Mathematicians prove things; the most a scientist can normally hope to achieve is to find evidence for, or confirm, something. (They usually do so by trying to disprove it and failing. That’s the logic of scientific discovery in one sentence. And I didn’t charge you a cent.) So the verb prove doesn’t really belong in a scientific discussion, or at any rate not in the one Ken is trying to have. One can only assume it was introduced in his attempt to put the unnamed source’s statement in his own words lest he be sued for “plagiarism” (or whatever he fears would happen if he did the proper thing and quoted his antagonist). In order to make any sense at all of Ken’s “argument” with the mystery person, it’s necessary to undo the paraphrase. Finally, the “something” in question is called a hypothesis—another word Ken doesn’t seem to like, accept or understand.