Brexit and the ignorance of experts 2

I begin my second installment with the invidious task of having to agree with Brian Cox on one detail more than Matt Ridley. But, as I said to one of my favourite fellow-tweeters the other day, about the controversial Brianna Wu

Louise Mensch had the grace to retweet that. We’ll both be in trouble with Delingpole no doubt. (A culture war thing, between two excellent sceptics, of not only euro but climate type. I expect we’ll come back to it. For now, like Vote Leave, we must focus.)

Pride

I was delighted to help set up Climate Scepticism the blog last year, though I chose to be silent during its early months, not least because I felt that Brexit had the potential to be a crucial milestone opening up exciting possibilities on the climate front. Which of my own initiatives am I most proud of in how CliScep turned out? Without question the strapline: joint ideas under construction. I hope to make some such connections in this series, despite my obvious limitations as a sociologist or any other kind of -ist. Let’s see.

Experts and the future

Matt Ridley made a point both simple and profound about experts last month, first in The Times, then his blog: these well-meaning folk typically aren’t any use on the future. Brian Cox meanwhile has been banging on down-under about Michael Gove’s famous dictum during the Brexit campaign that all experts are charlatan scum (or something to that effect, based on the principled contempt of the remoaner chorus I follow on Twitter).

Think for a moment how unpatriotic it was for Cox to suggest to the good-hearted, science-loving people of Oz, who would never wish to think ill of their esteemed mother country, that a significant segment of the UK have now turned against experts, without mentioning the qualification Gove added that we noted last time:

Michael Gove didn’t quite say that “the people of this country have had enough of experts” – the rest of his sentence was “from institutions with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong” (he was referring to the OECD and the IMF and their views on the euro).

Despite this Cox looked to his hero and mine, Richard Feynman, though strangely the TV star chose not to quote the most obvious aphorism, that science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. (A closet Goveist in 1966? Perish the thought!) Ridley on the other hand cited this very thing in The Times, a day or so after I had. But I felt the lukewarmist egghead was slightly over-interpreting:

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” said the physicist Richard Feynman, reflecting on the tendency of research to explode complacency and embarrass experts who tell you what’s impossible.

Surely that’s Ridley’s (very good) point about the future, not Feynman’s. For that we can usefully turn to Cox:

“Richard Feynman, who won a Nobel Prize, once described science as a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance. You work to understand things always on the basis that your understanding may be shown to be wrong tomorrow. And when it is, you’re delighted because you’ve learnt something.

“The most valuable thing science can give to a society is not a load of facts, but the central idea that you can always be shown to be wrong.”

Expertise is always subject and subsidiary to the scientific method, in other words. And doesn’t that provide a valuable clue about the way climate scepticism may turn out to be different to euroscepticism? There’s something objective-truthy in the mix, that sceptic heroes like Steve McIntyre bring us back to.

Other famous Feynman sayings via climate sceptics on Twitter recently back this up:

The expert and the prophet

What then do we say of the precocious Emmanuel Todd?

He achieved some notoriety back in 1976 at the age of 26 with a short book predicting the downfall of the Soviet Union. His analysis was based, not on the political science of professional Kremlin watchers, but on first hand observation of life in Budapest and analysis of the meagre statistics available. Demographic data are difficult to falsify, since everyone has to be born and die sometime and somehow, and Todd noted that infant mortality, which had steadily declined, even in the worst days of Stalinism, had begun to rise under Brezhnev. To a demographer, an inability to keep newborn babies alive suggests a society in a very bad way, if not on the brink of collapse.

Compare this with a more celebrated expert two years before, who cast the gloom much wider than the dear old USSR:

Although I follow Max, founder of the invaluable OurWorldInData.org, which spells out so much good news about human well-being since 1970s, I noticed his plea only as it was retweeted by Matt Ridley. And who leaped to reply, pointing to a shockfest of expert pessimism? A veritable sceptical trinity of GWPF, Rupert Darwell and Jonathan Jones:

In Intellectuals and Society Thomas Sowell discusses gloomsters like Heilbroner and Ehrlich and how perverse the incentives in academia have to be, that such men are not only not laughed out of future intellectual contention but continuously lauded. Surely one of the deep wellsprings of today’s scepticism in matters climatic and euronic.

But this also got me thinking about similarities and differences between Todd and Sowell in 1970s. Here’s the older man’s story as I remember it. Sowell counted himself a Marxist during his undergraduate and graduate days, before studying for an economics PhD under Milton Friedman at Chicago. A spell working in government in 1960 had put paid to his faith in centralised solutions to society’s ills. He then found himself puzzling over a troubling aspect of the Soviet economy in 1970s and was reminded of a short paper on Friedman’s reading list years before: The Use of Knowledge in Society by Friedrich Hayek. This seemed to unlock the mystery, leading in due course to Sowell’s breakthrough first book, Knowledge and Decisions, published by neoconservative maven Midge Decter at Basic Books in 1980.

But for all that Sowell, like almost all intellectuals of the day, of left and right, did not foresee the collapse of the Soviet system just a few years hence. (I did of course, due to my experiences aged 22 at the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. Hmm, quite topical. Might say a bit more about that before we’re done.)

Words like ‘fluke’ vie with ‘prophet’ as one considers Todd’s astounding achievement here. I’m inclined to take him very seriously as a result. Thanks Geoff Chambers and the developing CliScep French school.

Predicting Brexit

After the fall of the Berlin Wall surely Brexit should have been easy. I can only say with hand on heart that I never publicly expressed belief – or resignation, as it would have been – that Leave would lose the vote. I knew I didn’t know – and for underdogs that demanded hopefulness – for reasons Iain Martin summarised well with thirteen days to go:

Will it mean defeat for Remain? I have no idea and anyone who tells you they know is lying, guessing or wittering. As we used to say in the west of Scotland during my youth: nobody has a Scooby (as in Scooby Do, clue). After the victories of Corbyn, Trump and the slip in the fortunes of the SNP recently, my trade has surely got over the daft idea that predictions are worth anything. The columnist as seer rather than observer and explainer of the chaos is a new and ultimately pointless invention. I speak as someone who has, foolishly, several times in recent years made such bold “calls” and been right sometimes and wrong sometimes.

For the truth is that this is a UK-wide contest without any precedent since 1975. ‎Unlike in a general election, every vote counts – even in places where for years there has been no point voting. It cannot be plotted seat by seat. Turnout could [be] 60%. It could be 80%. There could be a shy Remain vote, as quiet conservatives swing it decisively for the status quo. Or the anecdotal stuff – that out there strange things are happening, forces have been unleashed – that win it for Leave. Yes, there is much data-mining going on in the campaigns, and whichever side wins will claim to have planned it all along with the help of tech wizards. The truth is that we don’t know and they don’t know. Millions of votes are swirling around. People are listening to the arguments and the voters will decide. Might this concept catch on?

I’d already noted the analysis entitled Phone polls have too high a percentage of graduates – YouGov’s online polls don’t a few weeks before. Todd’s interest in western graduate bias was it seems being played out in our backyard – except of course even YouGov didn’t correct for the effect anything like enough.

The only time I confessed to a friend that I thought Vote Leave had lost control (see what I did there?), and thus the result of the referendum, was the evening of the Friday of Jo Cox’s murder, six days before the vote, reportedly by a maniac shouting “Britain First”. But by next morning the hope was back. (Let’s talk another time about accusations of racism and use of “dog whistles” by the Brexit camp. All part of the complex tapestry.)

I’d greatly admired James Delingpole’s contribution to Brexit the Movie, including the segment chosen by Martin Durkin with James as the very first talking head – I think because of the sense of excitement and adventure he engendered as he explained “This vote is for keeps.” This though I would never have conceded:

For the reasons Iain Martin gave I felt we were in the dark – and in such a situation careless talk affecting the morale of all troops mattered. As indeed it does as we turn back to face the unreason of the climate Cassandras. So let’s replay this recent bit of hopefulness from our own Ben Pile:

“It’s all bollocks, mate” is a considered, and in fact sophisticated judgement. You prefer the ‘evolutionary’ explanation, in which we map ‘cultural entities’ to emotions, to speculate about what drives people, yet while you were still drawing, people voted Brexit, and the political trajectory of the entire country changed, the majority of the population demonstrating their contempt at having been treated in exactly that way, by political parties, their focus groups and image and PR consultants, all promising to find the ‘innate’ thing. It doesn’t exist.

The political trajectory of the entire country changed. Yes!

A sceptic meets some experts

My general practitioner (how does that translate Stateside?) explained about six weeks ago that he thought I might have cancer. That always leads to meeting some experts in fairly short order, within the NHS so beloved of Vote Leave, culminating in my case with one of those clever little cameras being fed inside me and the lady expert concerned having a good look for bad news.

I’d talked to someone else who’d had the same procedure earlier this year who said it was a trifle uncomfortable but my North Somerset pain-relief experts were having none of that – the worst of it was the needle going in to set up the drip. So I was able to enjoy the fascinating TV show. I’m a sucker for technology at all times. And what amazing times we live in, yes indeed Max Roser and his rightly optimistic friends.

The surgeon, if that’s what she was called, was pleased to report that I didn’t have the big C. I had the presence of mind to ask right away what then might explain my symptoms. Medication I’d been given for something else was highlighted as a possible culprit. On how to fix the problem, though, the experts seem united in their ignorance. I am of course very grateful that they’re trying.

Note the normal mixture, in the here and now, of expertise and ignorance. The verdict on cancer, in that part of my body at least, was totally clear. I wouldn’t have dreamed of being sceptical about it. (And lack of evidence of inflammation from blood tests would suggest a wider all-clear.) But the rest was clearly more tentative. I had to be a grown-up in my evaluation. Remind anyone of certain parts of an immature field of so-called science?

Having been given a reprieve from rapid demise one way I managed this Tuesday to get into a spot of bother in the west Mendip hills leading to me meeting some experts from the police, complete with helicopter and dog. I wouldn’t be showing disrespect – quite the opposite – in saying that from the moment the helpful guy in the ‘copter called my mobile the experts were having to improvise. Eventually I was guided to a way of escape and met John and his lovely tracker dog.

I followed the advice of the experts from above, modified by my own observations of the terrain. It seemed the only sensible way to proceed. As any good sceptic would.

John and I had an excellent chat as we came down from the heights to my car, now flanked by his. On hearing of my line of work he said that police software systems are crap – evidence for which had been present in the earlier part of the day. I spoke with real pride of the pioneering work of the Government Digital Service in putting such awful public service systems right – the NHS £9 billion black hole on patient records hopefully soon included. Then I asked him about his dogs. An expert who clearly loved his work. And gentle in his admonition of the idiot who’d got into trouble in the first place. Top marks.

To be continued …

WordPress seems to be struggling with the number of tweets I would like to embed in a single post. Expect more on Vote Leave and its critics, If Brexit then Clexit? and the rest of the excitement real soon.

47 thoughts on “Brexit and the ignorance of experts 2

  1. Many climatologists, not to mention groupies like ATTP, would take issue with Feynman’s depersonalization of science:

    “It doesn’t matter how smart you are, who made the guess or what his name is…”

    On the contrary, they object: that’s all that matters. One of them went so far as to claim—I shit you not—that in science, reputation is everything. Those exact words.

    But of course this obsession with personal authority is the definition of antiscience. This whole conversation, which we shouldn’t be having, is a terminal symptom of the decadence of climate “science.” It’s not just moribund. It’s a dead field. Long may it remain barren.

    Cue the apologetic bleatings of the scientifically-illiterate troletariat…

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  2. I’m glad you don’t have cancer, Richard. On the post, could you say in two sentences what the post was all about; I rather lost interest along the way…

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  3. Perhaps this will reignite a little of Raff’s interest. As Richard [corrected by GC] once again brings up the subject of experts in the field of medicine re. his own experience of being given the all clear for cancer, I feel it my solemn duty to inform you all that there is a new breed of climate change sceptic, distinct from outright deniers, a group which may include, but not necessarily be exclusively comprised of, lukewarmers: that group is ‘neosceptics’.

    “Nobles represents a growing fraction of people who accept that anthropogenic climate change is a real, currently occurring phenomenon but aren’t sure that anything can or should be done about it. In a new policy forum paper published today in Science, Paul Stern of the National Research Council and colleagues call this “neoskepticism.””

    This new breed are obviously going to be a problem:

    “How can scientists and educators, many of whom have their hands full combating outright deniers of human-caused climate change, address neoskeptics? It’s all about communicating risk, argue Stern and his colleagues.”

    Those poor scientists and educators! The things they have to put up with. First outright deniers, now ‘neosceptics’. If this lot are ‘of the right’ as Raff suggests, then it seems highly likely they might also be neo-Nazis. What to do? Cue the medical analogy:

    “Scientists assess risk every day, Stern explained. Whether it’s the risk of an earthquake or the spread of an infectious disease, they develop models to help communicate these risks to the public—just like they develop models to understand how climate change may affect the globe.

    Consider a medical condition like hypertension, Stern said. Hypertension greatly increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, so doctors might recommend a change in diet or exercise. A doctor cannot predict when a patient might suffer a heart attack or stroke, but there are actions that can reduce the risk.

    In the same way, anthropogenic climate change is a progressive phenomenon, Stern said. Although scientists can’t predict precisely its effects on severe weather, sea level rise, or droughts, the longer the world holds off on mitigation, the worse the condition gets.”

    Gosh, haven’t heard that before; that’s a very ‘neo’ response to a very ‘neo’ problem isn’t it? At which point, Gavin joins in the fun to have a go at neosceptic bashing:

    ““The basic error these ‘lukewarmers’ make is in always taking as gospel the lowest estimate of a plausible range. They are simply allowing their biases to eliminate real uncertainty—and this is merely confirmation bias, not ‘rational optimism,’” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    The consequences of neoskeptical thinking are to greatly downplay risk, Schmidt explained. “It would be like only insuring one room of your home because that was the minimum damage you project, ignoring completely that the maximum damage could be much worse.””

    https://eos.org/articles/climate-scientists-new-hurdle-overcoming-climate-change-apathy

    Of course, what Gavin neglects to mention is that those lower estimates of climate sensitivity which neosceptics prefer derive from observationally based simple energy balance models and are therefore distinct in this respect from the estimates emergent in the climate models – therefore do not form part of the same continuous spectrum. But when I pointed this out to Gavin he merely reminded me that that the climate model estimates are also ‘observationally based’. Well, yes, if you can call low resolution ice core CO2 measurements and paleo estimates of sea level etc. ‘observations’. I prefer the more traditional, ’empirical’ type I must admit, but I’m guessing that might be bordering on the neosceptical.

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  4. Brad: Agreed of course that “in science, reputation is everything” is a key marker of antiscience. However, climate, like geology, isn’t an experimental science in quite the way physics is. I’d like to take a look at this point in a future post. (It’s one reason I mention the ‘real experts’ I listened to at the end.) I’d appreciate your input as ever. Welcome back!

    Raff: Thanks for the good wishes. You asked for a couple of sentences so how about these two from the piece:

    I had to be a grown-up in my evaluation. Remind anyone of certain parts of an immature field of so-called science?

    I’m thinking climate there. Do you see a need for grown-up evaluation in that case, not just parroting the statements of so-called experts?

    Jaime: Hey, it was me with the apparent scrape with cancer, not Geoff! You should I think write a main post on neoskepticism. Very interesting. I found this EOS article on it from Googling, although the original in Science is of course behind a paywall.

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  5. Yes, could Jaime’s comment be hived off as a separate article? It’s very interesting, in the opposite way to Richard’s. Richard’s article sends you off in all sorts of different directions, while Jaime’s comment concentrates on one particular subject and an interesting new twist to the warmist utter failure to understand the concept of rational criticism.
    I got a bit lost with Delingpole on Ghostbusters, so it was a pleasure to turn to the relative simplicity of Hayek. He has a pat on the back for Trotsky, which must be confusing for Raff.

    I took the liberty of correcting Jaime’s misattribution of the article.

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  6. Nice discussion, Richard. I noted elsewhere that you need to have a PhD to mistake the experts Gove was talking about — economists — for pediatric oncologists. And you need tenure to be so thick as to fail to have noticed that the expertise industry is bloated. We have experts in all but how to tie up your shoelaces.

    What experts have yet to show is an understanding of the difference between an ‘expert’ and an expert. This is expanded on by Pete North,

    — “I have never been especially fond of academics. For men of books they tend to be abysmal writers. And there is something in that. For me, writing with clarity is essential. It is essential to my own understanding and a means of ordering my thoughts. But it is also a means to communicate difficult ideas to others. By indulging in opaque prose academics are not writing to communicate or to understand. They are asserting with no audience in mind. And there’s a reason for this. “–

    Academics — especially those styling themselves as ‘communicators’ — seem to want influence in the public, political sphere, but seem unduly sensitive when problems with their work are raised. They complain when they are criticised that they, or ‘science’, are being ‘attacked’. This gives the lie to ‘expertise’. Experts that cannot cope with criticism simply aren’t experts; knowledge is meaningless unless it can withstand the pressure of encountering another perspective. Snowflake professors should either stick to the safe blue sky, or issue the challenge, ‘bring it on, mofos’.

    No doubt we want to turn to experts when we need to make sense of a messy world. But it seems apparent that as the ranks of expert’s has swollen, even ordinary, everyday life has been problematised. Things that people have managed to do for themselves for millenia without the intervention of experts are now beyond the understanding of ordinary folk. Either the ‘risks’ that experts claim to protect us from are inflated/invented, or experts have created an increasingly supplicant, dependent, feeble public.

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  7. Do you see a need for grown-up evaluation in that case, not just parroting the statements of so-called experts?

    The grown-up evaluation would be to listen to what, for example, the IPCC is telling us, not to roll your own zero-expertise evaluation.

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  8. Ben,

    They complain when they are criticised that they, or ‘science’, are being ‘attacked’. This gives the lie to ‘expertise’.

    There is some truth to this, but – IMO – it’s overly simplistic. There is a difference between being abusive and insulting (what you appear to excel at) and engaging in constructive criticism (which I’d encourage you to try). Experts are human and – like everyone – probably don’t like being shown to be wrong. Genuine experts, however, probably do respond to thoughtful critiques.

    Experts that cannot cope with criticism simply aren’t experts; knowledge is meaningless unless it can withstand the pressure of encountering another perspective.

    Again, I think this is simplistic. Wilting under abuse from ignorant, but over-confident, attackers doesn’t suddenly invalidate our understanding; knowledge has meaning, even if it isn’t accepted.

    Snowflake professors should either stick to the safe blue sky, or issue the challenge, ‘bring it on, mofos’.

    Again, this seems simplistic; if not completely wrong. Ideally, an expert is someone who has relevant understanding of a topic. This would normally include being able to defend their views against informed critiques, but does not include the ability to defend these views against attacks from the abusive and un-informed.

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  9. Experts hate admitting that they don’t know. It seems universal and not restricted to any one group of experts. They seem to fear what others might make of an absence of fact and so fill it with fake confidence. But this has a consequence, the first time their ‘guess’ goes wrong. At that point nobody can tell when they are sure or just pretending. You start assuming that they lie all the time.

    There is some risk to showing the public where fact and guess start and stop, as they might make the wrong decision based on the experts’ lack of absolute knowledge but ultimately nobody has given experts the right to make people’s choices for them, even though they periodically demand the role.

    There is a lot of evidence that patients who take an active role in their own diagnosis and treatment show better results than those who just meekly submit to whatever the experts decide. Sure, they may be a pain for the doctors involved but it’s has a positive effect for the individual. Patients may not be medical experts but they are experts in their own symptoms and case. They have the time and the inclination to put their outcome first. Or not. Just because people know what they should do, doesn’t mean they will but it’s not a doctor’s job to make them. Ultimately they are the experts on what they want to do. As are the experts. A great many of them ignore their own advice.

    When the public voted for Brexit it wasn’t a rejection of the experts advice, it was as much about what they didn’t say. They couldn’t say where the EU’s erosion of democracy would stop. Or where its accountability would start. They wouldn’t say how many immigrants were too many and what would happen if such a point was reached. They could say that Brexit would have short term economic effects but not what the long term effects of staying in a festering bureaucracy would have had. Fundamentally we weren’t happy in the EU. There hadn’t been a political party that hadn’t moaned about it. Were the public supposed to forget all that and only listen to the new comments? Were Cameron and Osbourne experts when they decried the extra money the EU demanded? But suddenly it as OK to keep paying unfettered amounts into the bottomless pit a year later? At some point they were either lying or idiots or both. The experts could say that immigrants weren’t a problem…. but what they really meant was the immigrants weren’t a problem to them. And what expertise could they draw upon to say that mass immigration would never be a major problem? All examples from the past say otherwise. That we might now be able to integrate large numbers is something of an experiment.

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  10. If you need to be an expert to engage in grown-up evaluation of what other experts are telling us, then we might as well give up on trying to make sense of what the experts say and just accept that what they say is 100% correct all of the time. If a few experts happen to disagree with a majority of experts in the same field, we can also assume that the consensus experts must be right – 97% and all that. As amateurs, we need not bother to evaluate what experts say at all – within the framework of our own inexpert knowledge and experience. We just need to listen and act upon majority expert advice. And thus we meekly march up the wooden gangplank to the handcart to hell.

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  11. Ken,

    “Ideally, an expert is someone who has relevant understanding of a topic. This would normally include being able to defend their views against informed critiques, but does not include the ability to defend these views against attacks from the abusive and un-informed.”

    Why not? An expert would presumably easily shrug off attacks from the abusive and uninformed – mainly on account of the fact that their line of attack would be transparently abusive and ill-informed. Were this not immediately apparent to non expert onlookers, an expert would have no trouble making it apparent. Of course, one has to have a certain resilience and thick skin to do this, but again, such qualities should arise naturally in a person who is confident through years of research and investigation that they are in possession of the facts, or at least the best interpretation of the facts that research grants, accumulated knowledge and razor sharp intellect can buy.

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  12. While in an ideal world nobody would be rude, ATTP if you think this is an ideal world, you’re not any kind of expert. The higher profile the issue you seek to get others to listen to you, the more likely people will hurl abuse. Not an excuse for bad behaviour, just a fact of life. The moment you try to use your expertise to influence others you become a political figure and will be treated as such. If you don’t want that sort of heat, submit your papers and walk away, to let others promote them or not.

    With the role of leadership comes responsibility (albeit very little these days). Cameron thought he was an expert at politics, he was wrong. When the going got tough he quit, demonstrating how few qualities he posessed. Blair, Brown and Major demonstrated they were far from experts on how the public saw them. In fact a great many Remain experts demonstrated they hadn’t a clue what the public were thinking or how to sway their opinion. I’m not even sure if project fear actually didn’t rebound into a ‘screw it, I’ll show them’ vote. What a pity all those experts didn’t think to learn about their test subjects by asking them what worried them and discuss what could be done to fix the problems before they put it to a vote. They’d have probably decided never to have the vote. Which is a reason why many voted for Brexit. This was our very last chance to do so.

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  13. Geoff:

    It’s very interesting, in the opposite way to Richard’s. Richard’s article sends you off in all sorts of different directions…

    Ouch.

    I got a bit lost with Delingpole on Ghostbusters, so it was a pleasure to turn to the relative simplicity of Hayek.

    Double ouch.

    Let me try and explain, though not justify the reader pain. I was really bothered by James’ attack on Brendan O’Neill in that piece, because Brendan, despite perhaps being less versed in the online nuances, was in my view trying to confront some very nasty racism. I’ve been thinking much about how the right (including the alt-right) has become infected in this way (and this is very relevant to Brexit, at least in perception, if not in reality).

    This relates closely to the polarisation between left and right we’ve been having a go at Raff about. Intolerance of praise for someone on the ‘wrong side’ (be it Trotsky, Hayek or Wu) just isn’t the way to go. But I concede it was a very obscure place to start.

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  14. Ben: Thanks – and thanks for quoting Peter North, who is a key figure in the Brexit debate I was about to mention. See part 3 when it finally flops over the finish line.

    Things that people have managed to do for themselves for millenia without the intervention of experts are now beyond the understanding of ordinary folk.

    But happily the ordinary folk – especially perhaps the older ones – get on with those things taking not a blind bit of notice of the self-important experts. And then in voting for Brexit they gave them the collective raspberry they so richly deserved.

    There is more to it than that of course. We’ll come to other factors. But that is a big reason to rejoice.

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  15. Raff:

    The grown-up evaluation would be to listen to what, for example, the IPCC is telling us, not to roll your own zero-expertise evaluation.

    I’ve been struck in recent months how much Nic Lewis has been listening to and indeed explaining, to much thicker sceptics like myself, the findings of IPCC AR5. But that’s by no means uncritical listening from Nic. His criticisms are of course far more powerful because he listens so carefully. It’s almost as if Nic were a real expert …

    Otherwise, what Tiny and Jaime said. Thanks folk.

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  16. I’ll add that it’s a popular excuse from warmist scientists that they stopped listening to sceptics because they were rude. Either they are using this as an excuse because apart from a very short period of co-operation between Phil Jones and Steve M, the barriers went up long before there were many sceptics. What they may have misinterpreted was, being used to deferential students and co-motivated colleagues, being questioned by Steve (an expert in his own field) probably felt a lot like rudeness. He might have used unpleasant words like ‘wrong’.

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  17. Ken Rice complains about an ‘overly simplistic’ understanding of experts new roles in society, and posits a difference between abuse/insults and constructive criticism.

    As Ken knows, I detail my understanding in much more depth — and in many more words — on my blog. He knows because he is banned from there for failing to keep his own trolling ‘constructive’.

    He also knows that at least two mainstream climate scientists believed my contribution on expertise was constructive, as my post on that subject at http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2013/07/23/whats-behind-the-battle-of-received-wisdoms/ drew the attention of Mike Hulme and Judith Curry. In particular, they welcomed the observation that the consensus becomes a ‘consensus without an object’, though Ken and a number of his pals were put out because it but a question mark over the non-scientific work of non-scientists Dana Nuccitelli and John Cook. Ken ,a href=”http://www.climate-resistance.org/2013/07/tom-curtis-doesnt-understand-the-97-paper.html”>agreed that

    — “the Cook et al. paper was strategic and not science.” —

    Yet defended it, interminably, by repetition of nought argument there, and elsewhere since, developing his own profile as an anonymous Consensus Enforcer, and trying less and less hard to keep the conversation civil.

    Ken’s emphasis on the distinction between abuse/insults and constructive criticism is so much fluff given his own failures. Indeed, it is a characteristic of Consensus Enforcers to impugn the moral character and ‘motivated’ reasoning of climate sceptics who challenge the ‘consensus without an object’. They will interpret analysis of the UNFCCC or IPCC — political bodies — as an attack on scientists. But all that to one side, the point of noting that people who want to use their authority in the public/political sphere shouldn’t be snowflakes is that we should be free to *abuse* and insult people who assume authority over others. We wouldn’t want the Royal Family or politicians to be protected from the likes of Spitting Image… So why do we put ‘experts’ in a special category? Doesn’t this represent something of a regression to the dark ages? Abuse and insult is exactly what is deserved experts who tell us what to eat and drink, and who tell us what kind of political structures and economy we *must* have, lest there be doom, and those who preach austerity, yet live very comfortable lives.

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  18. Jaime,

    Why not? An expert would presumably easily shrug off attacks from the abusive and uninformed – mainly on account of the fact that their line of attack would be transparently abusive and ill-informed.

    Shrugging off abusive attacks is not the same as defending your views against attack, which is what Ben seemed to be suggesting would define whether or not an expert qualified as an expert. Also, given what is the norm here, it’s not clear that transparently abusive and ill-informed attacks would be accepted as such by all.

    Tiny,

    While in an ideal world nobody would be rude, ATTP if you think this is an ideal world, you’re not any kind of expert. The higher profile the issue you seek to get others to listen to you, the more likely people will hurl abuse.

    Of course, I didn’t suggest otherwise. However, this still doesn’t mean that one’s expertise is defined by one’s ability to deal with abusive attacks. It’s probably true that someone who can’t deal with it should not be engaging publicly, but that doesn’t make them not an expert and doesn’t somehow define the value of their views.

    Ben,

    complains about an ‘overly simplistic’ understanding of experts new roles in society

    It wasn’t a complaint.

    I detail my understanding in much more depth — and in many more words — on my blog.

    In more words, sure.

    He knows because he is banned from there for failing to keep his own trolling ‘constructive’.

    I did not know this. I think I only commented on one or two posts, but it was quite a long time ago, so maybe it was more. Odd, however, that you say Snowflake professors should either stick to the safe blue sky, or issue the challenge, ‘bring it on, mofos’. Are you sticking to the safe blue sky? Don’t take that as some complaint about being banned, or a request that you change it.

    He also knows that at least two mainstream climate scientists believed my contribution on expertise was constructive,

    So what? Appeals to authority are pretty weak.

    we should be free to *abuse* and insult people who assume authority over others.

    The problem here is that you appear to feel that you’re free to define what others assume, and – therefore – are free to define if someone is open to abuse, or not. Also, I didn’t say you shouldn’t abuse them, I suggested that how they respond does not define the value of the information they provide. Not being able to effectively counter your abuse doesn’t mean you’ve somehow challenged their views.

    Of course you’re free to abuse and insult those who choose to engage publicly, and seem to exercise your right to do so quite regularly. Hlowever, this doesn’t somehow reflect on them, or define the value of their information, it reflects mostly on you. I would have thought this was pretty obvious.

    Like

  19. Ken Rice — “It wasn’t a complaint.” —

    My mistake. Let me put it right…

    — “Ken Rice , about an ‘overly simplistic’ understanding of experts new roles in society, and posits a difference between abuse/insults and constructive criticism.” —

    — “So what? Appeals to authority are pretty weak.” —

    Well, it rather does reflect on your whinge above that I didn’t make sufficient effort towards ‘constructive criticism’, and that my point was unsophisticated, rather than merely ‘abuse’/’insult’. And you yourself claimed that I raised some important points… Your outrage in the end being revealed to have been caused by your disappointment that your magnanimous deference to those good points wasn’t reciprocated by me (or others) saying that you, too, had raised an important point. You didn’t, you just banged on and on hoping to get a rise when others’ patience was exhausted, so that you could complain about ‘abuse’. Clearly the experts — who the denizens of your own blog called ‘idiots’, for which you apologised, and promised to revise your ‘trying to keep the conversation civil’ tagline — found it a useful contribution to the debate. So the worst you could say is that the distinction you posit is subjective. In which case it’s rather more your problem, you having somewhat appointed yourself as the outraged snowflake on behalf of the Consensus [TM].

    — “you appear to feel that you’re free to define what others assume,” —

    I am absolutely free to ‘define what others assume’. You appear to feel that I’m not. And that’s one of the most remarkable things about you consensus enforcers. You seem to think that experts live on some higher plane… Until they agree with me, of course, or dare to print what I write. At which point they become ‘idiots’.

    — “… and – therefore – are free to define if someone is open to abuse, or no…” —

    Oh, there’s a simple test for it, since you ask. Anyone who *assumes* a position over others — i.e. *authority* — should not expect to enjoy freedom from abuse or insult. Not the church. Not politicians. Not Remainian academics. And not climate scientists. This is particularly so in the cases of the climate and Brexit debates, since expertise is routinely posited in both issues over popular democratic will, and in both cases we can see ‘project fear’ mobilised against the principle of democratic control over political authority. You and your fellow consensus enforcers… You’re more worried about what people say on blogs though, than in substantial changes to the relationship between people and their governments.

    I think you imagine the ‘insult’ and ‘abuse’, in fact, Ken. I think it’s a convenient pretext for ignoring the debate of substance, to emphasise instead on character — virtue — as the fundamental distinction between lofty scientists and grubby deniers. As I pointed out at the time, you can’t behave like a prick, and then complain that being called a prick is ‘abuse’. It’s similar in debates about Brexit, where the outrage that experts’ expertise should be challenged by the unwashed masses — How dare they? — led to an outpouring of perhaps the most contemptuous snobbery seen since the Victorian era. It was as if the entire academy was determined to demonstrate to the very people who pay for it — and the privilege of academics — that they really did live on another planet, and made small fortunes on nothing but smoke and mirrors.

    Fortunately, most people can see the difference between their doctor, and the company you keep, Ken.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. ATTP, the climate scientist excuse for failing to persuade the public is that sceptics have conducted a well funded campaign against them. The truth is that their work has failed to persuade, even when backed up by vigorous activism and media exaggeration. If they don’t want the spotlight then fine – we’ve heard what you’ve got to say and the answer’s ‘no, your expertise isn’t good enough’. If they want people to act then improve the science. Don’t whine that what has already been presented is fine but has been sabotaged. Don’t pin your hopes that the next celeb or President will be able to present the evidence any better. Don’t think that silencing sceptics will make the questions and the resistance go away. And, having demonstrated a talent for lying, even by omission, the scientists should give up on being taken on trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Ben,

    you can’t behave like a prick, and then complain that being called a prick is ‘abuse’.

    That doesn’t mean that doing so isn’t abusive.

    I am absolutely free to ‘define what others assume’.

    You’re not free to be correct. My point – which I thought was obvious – is that if you give yourself this freedom, them you can almost always justify your abuse.

    Tiny,
    Reality doesn’t really care why the public is unpersuaded, assuming that they are.

    Like

  22. Unless of course their emissions and political demands are a reflection of what they believe.

    Like

  23. — > “you can’t behave like a prick, and then complain that being called a prick is ‘abuse’.”–

    — “That doesn’t mean that doing so isn’t abusive.” —

    Not really, since acting like a prick is ultimately the abuse. For instance, if you dominate a discussion by endlessly nitpicking about something you’ve confected, merely to poison the atmosphere… Or, for instance if some academic with a very high opinion of himself were to comment on the abilities of lay folk to understand complex issues that he in fact demonstrates no better a grasp of, to say that they should thus be excluded from decision-making processes… we can say that the epithet is restrained, in fact, since it applies to many experts, but gets applied less frequently.

    It might not be *helpful*. But then, if your point is that I abuse before I attempt an explanation, you’re demonstrably wrong. It was the mere fact of Nottingham Uni giving my view the oxygen that infuriated you and your fellow Consensus Enforcers, and caused them to descend there. (And everywhere else unauthorised opinion gets an airing). And then Hulme’s comment, and then Curry’s linking that enraged them further.

    — “You’re not free to be correct.” —

    I’m as free to be correct as I am free to ‘define what others assume’. It’s only the likes of Consensus Enforcers who believe that us evil deniers cannot be correct, and thus are not free to be correct.

    Like

  24. Ben,

    But then, if your point is that I abuse before I attempt an explanation, you’re demonstrably wrong.

    Possibly, but you descend into it pretty damn quickly.

    It was the mere fact of Nottingham Uni giving my view the oxygen that infuriated you and your fellow Consensus Enforcers, and caused them to descend there.

    I found it a little strange, but it certainly didn’t infuriate me – or anyone, as far as I’m aware. I just thought that most of what you wrote was rubbish.

    I’m as free to be correct as I am free to ‘define what others assume’.

    Sure, you can be wrong about both.

    It’s only the likes of Consensus Enforcers who believe that us evil deniers cannot be correct, and thus are not free to be correct.

    Oh, you seem to have interpreted me as suggesting that you can’t possibly be correct. No, that would be silly. I was suggesting that just because you believe yourself to be correct doesn’t make it so.

    Like

  25. Reality is affected by what humans think and do (unless you’re admitting that CO2 has no effect). To persuade people you need to meet their requirements not yours. The ‘I’m the expert’ argument only gets people to listen to you, it doesn’t get blind support. Current climate science is enough to get half the people to tick the ‘I’m worried about climate change’ box but not enough for it to get off the bottom rung of what people are genuinely worried about. Ghosts would probably score higher. The Remain side could have got 98% of people to admit they would be worried about the economy after Brexit but it wouldn’t outweigh their other reasons. David Cameron had no idea what the public were thinking about when we went into that election and clearly didn’t care until it was too late.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Tiny:

    The Remain side could have got 98% of people to admit they would be worried about the economy after Brexit but it wouldn’t outweigh their other reasons.

    This is a key crossover point between Brexit and climate, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Ken Rice — ” I was suggesting that just because you believe yourself to be correct doesn’t make it so.” —

    Indeed. Which is why I say the emphasis on expertise over democracy is toxic.

    But it is your own colleagues who claim to be able to probe minds to identify ‘motivated reasoning’.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. RICHARD DRAKE (13 Aug 16 at 1:22 pm)

    No Ouch intended. There were cultural references in the Delingpole article I didn’t get and didn’t care about, that’s all. Your overall point about the relevance of Brexit to everything else is important and necessarily and usefully leads to a a discussion of everything else. Delingpole’s way out defence of the vilest racism is to me simply odd and boring. To those who want to crush scepticism, it will be a handy weapon one day. It needs discussing.

    Like

  29. …AND THEN THERE’S PHYSICS (13 Aug 16 at 4:54 pm)

    ..given what is the norm here, it’s not clear that transparently abusive and ill-informed attacks would be accepted as such by all.

    But it doesn’t matter, because we don’t censor. The only discussion of deleting comments I can remember were about off-topic comments from an ardent sceptic.

    Appeals to authority are pretty weak.

    And this from the author of a paper of a paper stating that the 97% consensus is strong and getting stronger? It’s good to have it from one of the authors that the Cook-Nutti-Rice Paper is pretty weak.

    Liked by 4 people

  30. Richard: I look forward to your further thoughts on expertise. Just bear in mind that medicine—while informed by science—is not itself a science. It’s a techne or art, and the act of diagnosis is no different (in principle) from panel-beating or chick-sexing. As such it’s not defined by the ignorance of experts in the way science is.

    Like

  31. Geoff,

    The paper was not only pretty weak but scientifically worthless, which is why, when challenged, neither Ken Rice nor John Cook can justify the taxpayers’ money they were paid to write it.

    As you say, we don’t practice censorship here. But if, for some reason, you ever do want to make ATTP flee headlong from a given conversation, you need merely ask him what the scientific, academic or other scholarly purpose of the paper was.

    It didn’t have one. The money was embezzled. And Ken knows it.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Geoff:

    Delingpole’s way out defence of the vilest racism is to me simply odd and boring. To those who want to crush scepticism, it will be a handy weapon one day. It needs discussing.

    Yep.

    Brad:

    Just bear in mind that medicine—while informed by science—is not itself a science. It’s a techne or art, and the act of diagnosis is no different (in principle) from panel-beating or chick-sexing. As such it’s not defined by the ignorance of experts in the way science is.

    But isn’t it from these ‘lesser’ forms of expertise that the ones we rightly question get so much of their kudos? The policeman I met on Tuesday knew a lot about training and looking after dogs and could not I assure you be easily mistaken for either Mann or Lewandowsky, who have never achieved anything remotely as useful. We sceptics see the great value in many, variegated, distributed forms of expertise. Where we question we do so for good reason. Bless Michael Gove for taking the spurious heat from those unable to make the right distinctions and propelling this issue to front and centre in the UK politosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. But it doesn’t matter, because we don’t censor.

    I had a commented cut by Paul Matthews, so that is not entirely true.

    Like

  34. Geoff,

    But it doesn’t matter, because we don’t censor.

    Huh? How does this imply that everyone would agree on what was an abusive and ill-informed attack. I realise that you seem proud of your supposed lack of censorship (although I don’t really think moderation of blog comments really qualifies as censorship), but most would probably agree that allowing obviously libellous comments is ill-advised. YMMV, of course.

    Tiny,

    Reality is affected by what humans think and do

    By what we think? Unless our thoughts actually lead to some kind of change in what we do, then I think this is probably not true. If we expect “y” to happen if we do “x”, “y” won’t not happen just because we think really, really hard about it not happening.

    Like

  35. Now, now Brad, if pointlessly wasting public money was a crime, we’d have to lock up a lot of people… hmm savour that thought for a moment….

    Seriously it pains me how many important issues are left unattended and how many pointless thumb twiddling work gets done. No wonder so many people are terrified of Brexit. It might see the end of the gravy train, destination time wasting.

    Having had three relatives die recently I was depressed how much work goes into not curing people, making them comfortable or helping their relatives. The majority seemed tasked with documenting decline and creating a data mountain of no practical value. There was a team whose sole task was to determine if people were unable to eat solid food anymore but nobody to feed the poor sods condemned to a puree diet, let alone make food that was anything but vile. For those with dementia there are entire departments geared towards observing the effects and declaring the condition but they have zero advice or plans for those who suffer.

    How many times have we had expensive long running enquiries that could probably have pinpointed the main causes in a day? How often do any of the important findings get acted upon? For every person engaged in useful work there must be at least one other measuring the details of the effective work and another examining the results and trying to see if parts of the effective work could be scrapped. Those two other people will be paid more than the person doing the real work. We are the B Ark.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. ATTP, you’re nit picking. You want to change how people act, you either have to make them, or change how they think. A lot of the time people act and don’t think much at all about CO2. Like ticking that ‘I’m worried about climate change box’. That doesn’t require a lot of thought.

    Like

  37. TinyCO2,

    sorry to hear about your experiences with the health system.

    “if pointlessly wasting public money was a crime, we’d have to lock up a lot of people…”

    The difference is, scientists have to at least pretend their funded research adds something to human knowledge, and it’s impossible to make that claim with a straight face when it comes to the Consensus on Consensus paper. Hence Ken Rice’s studious avoidance of the question no matter how many times it’s asked, or how embarrassingly obvious his evasions become. He knows perfectly well that he and his fifteen co-authors defrauded the public, but is understandably reluctant to admit it. Better to allow himself to be made to look like a coward time after time than to confess to embezzlement in writing.

    Naomi Oreskes, lacking Ken’s guile, proudly advertises the scientific uselessness of the study every time she tweets about how she wishes she didn’t have to write another consensus paper. (As I tweeted in reply, “You don’t.”) These people have been doing ecneics so long that they don’t even remember how to pretend to be scientists. They say “this study tells us exactly what we already knew” as if it’s a GOOD thing. The problem is endemic to alarmist climatology in general. They actually BOAST that their belief system has remained unchanged for two hundred years, or since Arrhenius, or since radiative physics was discovered—the exact period varies from apologist to apologist—oblivious to the implication if that’s true: that all modern climate research is therefore an utter waste of time and money, and they should all be forced to join the unemployment line.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Brad — “… all modern climate research is therefore an utter waste of time and money, and they should all be forced to join the unemployment line.”

    It would be useful to know how much climate research is climate change research, and how much is climate research. I wonder too, though, if it can live up to its claims even then. Or whether, like ecology, it will prove extremely limited in its power to explain what it set out to understand.

    I find it particularly interesting that it is from these fuzzy sciences… ecology, climate, social psychology… we get the biggest claims, which most appeal to the contemporary ‘policymaker’. The analogy is with the racial sciences in the early-mid twentieth century. Eugenicists’ insight hardly made the world a better place, and yet it hasn’t caused much reflection amongst scientific institutions on how best to exclude politics from its standing orders.

    Even when cybernetics and ecology came crashing down around the feet of all those who predicted the C20th would end in famines, war, plague and pestilence — rather than historically unprecedented abundance — it didn’t cause reflection. The promises and threats merely stopped up a notch.

    Let’s not single climate science out. Many more experts need to do something useful with their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Tiny,
    It’s not a nit-pick if it is the point. You said:

    ATTP, the climate scientist excuse for failing to persuade the public is that sceptics have conducted a well funded campaign against them. The truth is that their work has failed to persuade, even when backed up by vigorous activism and media exaggeration.

    whether this is true, or not, what actually happens in reality is not going to depend on whether or not scientists did fail to persuade the public, or why. Whether or not the consequences of emitting a further x GtC is going to turn out to be something worth avoiding really does not depend on the ability of scientists to persuade the public, whether or not there was a well-funded campaign, and whether or not their was vigorous activism and media exaggeration.

    Like

  40. So ATTP what you’re saying is that climate scientists are pointless. They can’t persuade anyone with their work, so what use is it? Are they just documenting what happens? Is that what those billions spent on models is all about? No. Their work is and should be about informing decisions. At which it is largely failing. Research shouldn’t be a well paid creche for people too qualified to do something useful.

    Like

  41. Ben,

    You’re right of course that climatologists don’t have a monopoly on the practice of parasitic oncoscience, but since we’re not blogging at Ecoscep.net or Socialpsyscep.org… 😉

    Besides, last time I checked, the world’s worst scientists have never been clueless enough to call themselves the world’s best until now. It’s hard to deny that there’s something special about the tragicomedy that is clisci. Surely a bit of singling-out is warranted!

    Incidentally, I trust everyone has noticed how ATTP continues to avoid any acknowledgement of the issue of the scientific bankruptcy of his CoC paper.

    Like

  42. When Greenpeace asked Dana why he was bothering to take on the sceptic (Ben PIle) writing at a Nottingham university blog, he was worried because of he credibility Ben’s article had by appearing at Nottingham University… the ususal tactic of complaining to organisations for giving sceptics a forum/credibility (Mike Hulme liked Ben’s article.)

    @dana1981 I admire your tenacity, but clim8resistance? If Neil replies, keep it going, but don’t get diverted into debating no-marks.

    @GPUKNews My concern is that it was posted on the U of Nottingham site, and thus worth responding to.

    Prof M Hulme heavily criticised Cooks (and Dana’s |) 97|% paper.
    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/7/25/hulme-slams-97-paper.html?currentPage=2

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Brad –” we’re not blogging at Ecoscep.net or Socialpsyscep.org” —

    No, but we are talking about Brexit and experts.

    The reaction to Brexit has caused much handwringing from those who presuppose themselves to be ‘the world’s best’, largely out of fear that they will be denied funding once the unwashed angry masses have finally torn down the gates to the ivory towers. The view of the public that has emerged from that camp is comparable to the condescending view that the climate camp has.

    I don’t know if climate change is unique in that respect. There’s a lot of it about, and the parallels shed light: the preoccupation with doom; the emphasis on supranational institutions; the isolation of the ‘community’ and remote political elites; the limited faculties of the non-expert/public; contempt for democracy; and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Barry, yes, that’s why I had to stifle a giggle when Ken said he and his chums weren’t livid that MSP had dared to publish a denier. Of course they were! They’re a very emotional lot.

    Liked by 1 person

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