Science Body Politic

Interesting link from Sam (at Elizaphanian) by Judith Curry “Climate Change – no consensus on consensus“.

The issue is to escape the denial, and simply recognize the big science decisions – to agree or criticize with “findings” are not scientific, they are political, tactical, strategic, etc … value-based.

The key IPCC consensus finding from its latest assessment report is this statement:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

The IPCC consensus findings on attribution have been echoed in position statements made by many scientific organizations. The IPCC consensus is portrayed as nearly total among scientists with expertise and prominence in the field of climate science. The idea of a scientific consensus surrounding climate change attribution has been questioned by a number of people, including scientists and politicians. Much effort has been undertaken by those that support the IPCC consensus to discredit skeptical voices, essentially dismissing them as cranks or at best rebels, or even politically motivated ‘deniers’.

That is, both sides need to recognize that they are politically motivated. It discredits science when scientists claim to be being scientific when they are clearly (and quite rightly) not.

How to reason about uncertainties in the complex climate system and its computer simulations is neither simple nor obvious. Scientific debates involve controversies over the value and importance of particular classes of evidence as well as disagreement about the appropriate logical framework for linking and assessing the evidence. The IPCC faces a daunting challenge with regards to characterizing and reasoning about uncertainty, assessing the quality of evidence, linking the evidence into arguments, identifying areas of ignorance and assessing confidence levels.  An overarching concern is how the issue of climate change is framed scientifically and how judgements about confidence in complex scientific arguments are made in view of the cascade of uncertainties.

Given the complexity of the climate problem, ‘expert judgements’ about uncertainty and confidence levels are made by the IPCC on issues that are dominated by unquantifiable uncertainties. It is difficult to avoid concluding that the IPCC consensus is manufactured and that the existence of this consensus does not lend intellectual substance to their conclusions.

No, but it’s practically useful trust and authority they are meant to create, not “intellectual substance”.

So, ultimately, I don’t actually agree with the conclusions of the paper, that somehow because the IPCC consensus on climate change was “manufactured” and had unintended “denial” consequences, the consensus creation was therefore wrong. No, what is wrong is the expectation that consensus (on “wicked” as opposed to “linear” or “tame” questions) is anything other than manufactured. It is always about establishing some political authority on practical decision-making. Only the weak-minded confuse that with imposing “dogma” on science. The science goes on.

As with any politics its about trusting those you entrust with authority and the checks and balances your system has. There is no “solid evidence” to back judgements, however much the scientistic fundamentalists demand evidence-based policy.

17 days no post

That’s some hiatus, due mainly to travel and work pressures. New York, San Diego, Washington, now Brisbane and next Perth … Out on the streets, in a bar, seeing a band on only one night in the whole – PiL at the Hammerstein NYC.

Been reading a lot in travel time – though not as much as usual.

Finished Salman Rushdie’s autobiography Joseph Anton. Actually did blog a mention earlier, but no detailed review so far. See Nigella Lawson in a different light.

Since reading Kauffman (previous post) I have read Stanley Hauerwas Hannah’s Child – A Theologian’s Memoir. Fascinating. Big fan of Wittgenstein and MacIntyre, even Zizek – wow. Sophisticated theologians and sophisticated atheists are not far apart. Detailed review needed. (I came across a review of this book a couple of years ago, and blogged a reference or two – pre-ordered but forgot to actually buy it until recently. Theologians talking sense, here and here.)

Reinventing the Sacred

Mentioned earlier I was reading Stuart Kauffman, and was impressed by his extending the story of life beyond the ubiquitous focus on DNA and genes. After that it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster, as this biologist covers psychology, philosophy and fundamental physics in his quest of Reinventing the Sacred – a common fault I find. Someone with “my theory” out to prove anyone else’s theory  is wrong by comparing the narrowest definitions of theirs with the broadest of his own. Cultured human nature these days in this world that focusses on disproof by criticism and fault-finding. Winning arguments by defeating the other. So sad.

Anyway, despite that stylistic complaint, the story does take a turn for the better – I’m about 3/4 through. Essentially he admits after a superficial review of everyone else’s theories – (and how more or less possible these seem to him – he’s betting on some quantum decoherence mechanism in brain functioning, for example) – that in fact most of these are immaterial to his main thesis, that continuing in the direction of physical reductionism is fundamentally misguided.

Evolution is not causally described, defined or determined by physics, not biological evolution, not conscious-mind evolution, not human intellectual-social-cultural-economic evolution. None of it. End of.

Evolution is essentially co-creative non-predictable natural-emergence process involving both upward (reductionist, Weinbergian) and downward (emergent, god-like) causation. There are no scientific laws where if X then Y will be the outcome in real human life.

(There is of course of good deal of mind-matter duality discussed in the middle-part of the book, and whilst Kauffman does buy free-will and self-conscious aspects as real and emergent in the way described (as I do), whatever the underlying levels of classical or quantum mechanisms involved, he does still seem to baulk at qualia remaining mysterious and undefined – the “how and what is the me doing the experiencing” aspect. Dennett is acknowledged in the foreword, but there are no actual references. Odd that he doesn’t buy the line that “reductionism is OK in moderation, but not too greedy it’s not the whole story” or the other Dennett view that “we are our memes”  …. yet …. reading on.)

(Also, he is very anti-algorithm and anti-game theory too – but in very narrow senses – wonder what he’d make of Hofstadter’s creativity too. Games where despite very small apparently reductionist algorithms, creative behaviour really does emerge. Unpredictable pre-adaptation is Kauffman’s main clinching argument, but this is identical to Hofstadter’s “Tabletop.)

BTW – to state the obvious. The “sacred” is that mysterious god-like emergent creative self-organization of complex reality, not explained by scientific laws and causal logic (nor less by an actual personal agency god) but nevertheless real, reasonable and rational in the broad sense. The same “gift/master” ignored by the “servant/emissary”, to use McGilchrist quoting Einstein and Nietzsche.

[Post Note to Self – really must get to grips with how Supervenience differs from Emergence. Post post note : If Wikipedia is to be believed then Supervenience is in fact just the technical term for reductive (Weinbergian) causality – where all properties in a higher level of existence are determined causally by the state of properties in a lower level. Doh! I’m sure others – including Chalmers for example – had more subtle intentions. Anyway – this physical state view of ontology totally ignores any process view – the history of how something emergent at a higher level depends not only on the state of lower levels, but also on the process path it was arrived at. The key point being that that history in any one level can be influenced by higher level events as well as lower level states. Causality is two way – positive-feedback, auto-catalytic, physics-envious, etc …. see Ulanovicz after reading Kauffman …. why do the scientistic miss such common sense ? New post soon. Interestingly – close to finishing Ulanovicz – he says Supervenience has become so overloaded it is very confusing what people actually mean by it – he coins Suprafacience – more later. Also ultimately positive about Dennett’s, cranes upon cranes without Skyhooks, though he prefers his own less mechanical, more organic Vine analogy. History allows you to pull up the ladder, once you’ve made the new level stable and sustaining – looking back, archaeologists would struggle to find evidence of how you got there.]


In his own words, a very crude and primitive thesis from Steven Pinker. Maybe OK for purely “scientific” prose, but woeful on classic communication – rhetoric reduced to rules – Objective truth, you know, your reader doesn’t. Wonder what Pirsig would make of that?

(Strange critique of Strunk & White. Good rules – simple heuristics – always have paradoxes and exceptions – to be interpreted by wise people, not implemented by foolish automata.)

His Catch 22 – talking as if clear objective model and facts, without caveats, qualifiers or hedges is fine so long as your audience does indeed understand the headlines are just slogans and not actually objective facts. Cross-culture this can be deadly. Scientist to scientist – OK, contingency is built in. But, economist to policy maker ? The headline may be catchier, but the caveats matter. Similarly “the curse of knowledge” is the opposite of treat your reader as an equal – you always have to put yourself in the mind of your audience.

Some good points – the serial interface of language in relation to the semantic web of ideas. Ordering of subject before new / key information emphasis to finish. Lovely that he stumbles on is own words, recognising that the passive voice point is simply one of balance. ie Rules are good, just don’t apply them all the time. Rules are always flouted by the best writers – tacit evolving conventions, as he says.

The Q&A are very telling too. People are sceptical about the rules, they know quality is more than this. And, as he admits, simply evidence of caring counts for a lot. This is pure Pirsig.

Day Job Meets Philosophy

Interesting piece by two Russian colleagues Anatoly Levenchuk and Victor Agroskin interviewed for “Studia Humana” on Libertarian philosophy and activity in Russia. ISO15926, the core of my day job these days, gets an interesting mention.

Some day we hope to use .15926 software for conceptual modeling of a general praxeology framework to obtain a model good for theoretical studies and for education. Engineering is a good starting point for the study of complex human systems. And it is possibly the only area where definitive scientific results are within our reach, compared to social and government domains.

And also we pay special attention to the problem of social engineering. Specifically we always teach people that systems engineering or engineering management recipes are not good when you are working with public systems and systems of state rule. These methods are developed for private entrepreneurial domain and for artificial systems, and should remain where they belong. Humans are not a substance for engineering and their wishes and preferences are not the same as engineering requirements.

Interesting. Of course part of my thesis is that even in engineering (human ingenuity), the human social factors are at least as important as the scientific technology aspects.

[Studia Humana is the multi-disciplinary peer reviewed journal of the Polish University of Information Technology and Management,  publishing valuable contributions on any aspect of human sciences including : analytic philosophy and philosophical logic, political economy, political science and sociology”]