I’ve been trying to come up with a pun about “Beeville” and “evil” (without casting any aspersions on Beeville) for the title of a follow-up article on the Beeville hoax story
. The best I can do is “Something Beeville going on” but that’s a reference to an obscure vintage blues tune that will mostly be familiar to people who listen to WHPK on Monday nights; it’s the theme song of the wonderful vintage blues program “The Evil Show”.
So I went trolling for quotations on “evil” and there are some doozies here
, unfortunately all of them somewhat obscure. One of the ones that sticks with me is this one:
The creed of evil has been, since the beginnings of highly industrialized society, not only a precursor of barbarism but a mask of good. The worth of the latter was transferred to the evil that drew to itself all the hatred and resentment of an order which drummed good into its adherents so that it could with impunity be evil.
THEODOR WIESENGRUND ADORNO
In other words, evil usually wears a mask of propriety and decency. This can be compared to the one about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. The additional feature is that hatred and viciousness remains hidden behind a mask of decency. These things usually begin with some core of positive intent. The original intent eventually fades, and yet reference to the original good intent is kept as a sort of a mask for truly heinous behavior with very malign consequences.
Whither Climate Audit?
It has now become impossible to engage with most participants in the “Climategate” clique, by which I mean the people who have somehow convinced themselves that the stolen CRU emails should somehow impact the climate policy debate.
What I’ve learned from my recent foray into their circles is that they have a shibboleth. You have to denounce somebody, preferably Michael Mann or Phil Jones, but Lonnie Thompson or Gerry North, apparently, will do in a pinch. Anyway, a denunciation of one of their betes noires
is like a passport to entry. We saw the same with some of the CA regulars’ visits to this blog: denounce Mann or no conversation is possible.
This of course means no conversation is possible. Scientists do not ordinarily denounce other scientists
on the basis of hearsay and casual Googling. It’s totally outside the realm of scientific skepticism to do so. Nothing is more extraordinary in science than to bring ad hominem conversation into substantive debate. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
In fact, such a statement pretty much never happens if there isn’t direct supervisory or editorial responsibility for the allegedly fraudulent material.
So even if I were to have some suspicions drummed into me by the incessant denialist drumbeat, I would as a matter of propriety avoid repeating them, never mind endorsing them. The same applies to anyone connected to the scientific tradition.
Thus we fail the litmus test and are summarily excluded from the circle of civilized communication as the Climate Audit community would have it. Consequently, the already weak communication channels between the “auditors” and the scientific community are severed, by the actions of the auditors, in a way that allows them to convince themselves that they are behaving ethically.
This is exactly how evil originates in the world.
The Real Problems that CA Addresses in an Ineffectual Way
This is all very unfortunate. There really are problems in science, including in climate science. I am pleased that Dr. Curry uses the word “anachronism” in a recent posting there. I am not sure whether she recently picked it up from me. But yes, the structure of public sector science is anachronistic, and this has severe consequences for its productivity and for its interface with the public. And in its early days, Climate Audit was at least somewhat in tune with those problems, and may have made some positive contributions to the open science movement.
At this point, though, CA has become a toxic ally for those of us interested in reforming science.
Under the pretense of a search for openness, it has become an umbrella for hostility to science; the presumption that climate science is devoid of meaningful content, that its practice is essentially conspiratorial, and its practitioners verging on criminal, pervades the atmosphere. Any attempt to engage requires denunciations of particular individuals or particular actions. Efforts to raise the underlying issues are treated as hand-waving. It’s become a misanthropist club.
The Connection between Science and Policy
This all matters more than it ought to. Nobody takes these people seriously except 1) journalists and editors and 2) staffers for very “conservative” politicians. (I can’t really remove the scare quotes: I don’t think their impulses are literally conservative; it’s become a very high-risk ideology, not only in environmental policy but also in international relations.) But those are some awfully influential groups.
This is all tied together by a wonderful lecture by a prominent New Zealand scientist and chief science advisor to the NZ goverment, Peter Gluckman, as reported in Hot Topic
. He says:
in an electronically connected world the tactics of those who reject the consensus, whatever their motives, can undermine confidence in the entire science system. In a world that is increasingly dependent on science in many domains, I cannot regard it as helpful to actively promote distrust and suspicion of the scientific process for political ends.
The issue here that concerns me is that of how to communicate complex science. The public has a right to understand these issues and in the end they determine how society will respond. However without responsible media it is not clear how this can be achieved.
Almost as if he were a regular reader of this blog! (More likely, the points he makes are just correct, so independent diligent observers come to the same conclusion.)
And so we come back to Climate Audit and its approach, which claims to respect and defend the scientific method, while simultaneously actually attacking it. By turning a demand for openness and statistical precision into a venue for vendettas and an excuse for know-nothing populism, it applies a very bad odor to calls for open science.
Steve McIntyre has a choice to make. He can encourage or discourage this antisocial behavior. From all appearances he has succumbed to the darker side of his nature, and his followers have duly followed.
He may have difficulty backing out of this position, and I sympathize. But if he doesn’t find the courage to do so, he will end up doing great damage, not just to climate science, and not just (as may be obvious) to climate policy, but to the whole alarmingly shaky enterprise of reason-based civilization.
Failing that unlikely outcome, engaging with the Climate Audit group is, I can report, not a promising prospect.
Update: Some major edits for clarity. I really liked this piece but it didn’t seem to get through to anyone else, so I’m trying again…
Further Update: Still trying to engage over there. Eschenbach seems to be trying to prevent it; he spent some effort going through this whole site to find comments that would be maximally irritating to McIntyre followers with some success. His last comment was a tad conciliatory though, so who knows. I really don;t understand those people very well, that’s for sure.
On the whole, though, I am still finding the environment there far more hostile and narrow than it was prior to the CRU incident. I am still trying to figure out what they are so worked up about from their own “climategatist” point of view. They find it hard to accept that I made some serious effort to figure that out in the past to no avail.
Image from Laughing Squid’s Flickr stream, (C) (CC) Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic