When is a Scientist Not Really a Scientist? When He’s a ‘Post-Normal’ Scientist

Some people will do anything to save the Earth… except take a science course.

P.J. O’Rourke

Last Saturday, the Daily Sceptic drew attention to the lack of traditional science qualifications among many of the authors of the latest IPCC climate report. But we missed the point. In the post-normal scientific world, everyone is a scientist, whatever their qualifications and expertise. Everyone has a view on the climate. The hard stuff that hardly anyone liked at school – physics and chemistry – can be safely declared ‘settled’, and any irritating debate likened to Holocaust denial. What is it with this CO2 gas anyway? Temperatures went up a bit in the 1980s and 90s, so did emissions. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. Climate emergency, end of. Send the press release to the BBC.

The arrogance of this view is vividly on show in a recent article written by past IPCC lead author Bruce Glavovic. He is a professor at the School of People, Environment and Planning at Massey University, and his article called for a climate research strike. Governments are said to have agreed since 1972 that the “science is settled” – an interesting take, since that date was actually the start of the once fashionable global cooling scare. He added: “For climate change, the science-society contract is broken. The failure to arrest global warming is an indictment on successive governments and political leaders of all persuasions.”

Global warming has in fact ‘been arrested’, with the trend running out of steam for about two decades and a current 88-month standstill in progress. And, of course, temperatures have risen by just over 1°C since 1800, seemingly without any catastrophic consequences. In fact, many scientists point to numerous beneficial effects. Far fewer people die of heat than cold, and slightly warmer growing conditions, not to mention extra CO2, which helps crops grow, has helped alleviate famine in many parts of the world.

But it is not really about science. Professor Glavovic explains: “Advances in alternative research approaches, such as post-normal science, have similarly sought to identify and reconcile the political and governance issues that may affect the incorporation of science into policy and practice.”

The concept of post-normal science started to be developed from the work of Thomas Kuhn. In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he argued that the evolution of science was in part socially determined, and was subject to sudden “revolutions” that replaced orthodox theories. Kuhn’s ideas, of course, owe much to postmodernist thought.

These interpretations differed from the views of the great science philosopher Sir Karl Popper, who held that scientific hypotheses must be falsifiable, e.g. it must be possible to prove them wrong with empirical data. Under this rigour, scientists cannot to this day claim to know that humans cause all or most climate change because the hypothesis is unfalsifiable. Neither can they state that any single weather event is caused by human intervention. Blaming ‘extreme’ weather on such interventions cannot be falsified, so it is mere opinion, not scientific fact.

Post-normal science was given a name by Funtowicz and Ravetz in a 1993 paper quoted by Glavovic. It describes areas of science where high cost decisions are at stake, but there is considerable uncertainty over the relevant scientific facts. A “democratisation” of scientific knowledge was sought through the incorporation of “local knowledge, values and interests” in an “extended peer community”. The authors felt that these perspectives, and “other forms of knowledge”,  had been unfairly excluded from science.

Under post-normal criteria, science comes to the aid of hypotheses about the natural world initially rooted in value judgements. During the last two years, post-normal scientists helped governments enforce rigid lockdowns by wildly overstating the risks (particularly for anyone under 70) and glossing over the initial paucity of scientific data and disagreements among scientists. The U.K. population was cowed into compliance. This included most journalists, who limited themselves to asking why harsher measures were not brought in sooner. The views of post-normal scientists were supported by epidemiological models that produced constantly inaccurate predictions.

The same modus operandi is at play in the climate business. Glavovic is a clear fan of the Covid experience. “Despite a lack of science or uncertainty about the impacts of action verses inaction, governments acted on the warnings of scientists, even when they could only provide partial answers to the pandemic,” he writes.

Dr. Roy Spencer of Alabama University, who compiles the accurate satellite temperature data that shows the 88-month standstill, notes that climate scientists simply assume that without humans, the climate system has been in perfect, long-term, harmonious balance. “This is a pervasive, quasi-religious assumption of the Earth science community for as long as I can remember,” he wrote. “But this position is largely an anthropocentric statement of faith.”

Genuine scientists are no longer in charge of the science narrative for Net Zero, if they ever were. Across the world, universities are stuffed full of academics calling themselves climate scientists and promoting social, economic and cultural change. If the narrative is inconvenient and doesn’t fit the pre-ordained line, it is ignored and its authors punished, as in many other parts of academia. Countless ‘Save The World’ qualifications in climate change, of little economic value, are sold to the young, who are encouraged to pay for them with massive debt. This money, along with vast private and government grants, helps fund an ever-expanding climate gravy train. Inevitably, the increasingly doom-laden IPCC reports are a product of this world.

Meanwhile, Professor Glavovic says that given the “rupture” of the science-society contract, it would be “wholly irresponsible” for scientists to participate in further IPCC assessments. There should be “moratorium” on future climate research.

Does that mean fewer doom-mongering prophecies from post-normal scientists? Finally, something on which we can all agree.

Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic‘s Environment Editor.

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June 2022
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