"Honest broker"?

This post is complex. You need to carefully read and refer to the context: RPs posts (and comments thereon) 5th April and 8th April if you want to understand the details (if you just want to know that I'm annoyed with RP, you can probably skip the context :-).

All this starts with RPs "Scientizers. This large and diverse group actively works to frame the climate issue as a scientific debate under the expectation that if you win the scientific debate then your political agenda will necessarily follow. This group is comprised mostly of scientists of one sort or another. I would include here the dueling science-cum-politics weblogs Realclimate.org and Climateaudit.org (we had an exchange with Reaclimate folks a while back). I would also include here CATO's Patrick Michaels..."

Naturally enough, various RC folks including me objected to being lumped in with the objectionable Michaels, not least because of comments RP himself has made about Michaels. And I object to the assertion that we're doing this because "...political agenda will necessarily follow". RP seems to have a real problem believing that things can be done for good science not for political reasons.

However, my real problems with RP are his response post, on 8th April. Much of this is to do with language, words and nuances. I think RP is spinning things. From my point of view, the language he uses is slippery, not straightforward, designed to lead you into his viewpoint rather than argue you into it. I find this hard to put into words.

1. RP starts with "Firstly, there is the honest broker who seeks to expand (or at least clarify) the scope of choice". At this point, all is fine: "honest broker" is a nice phrase, sounds good, not quite sure what it means and doesn't seem to fit the scientific context, but never mind. If you're making a choice - like, how should we consider our future CO2 emissions policy - then the scope of that choice can clearly be clarified by, say, better predictions. Ie, by science. But then, RP defends himself with I equate "scope of choice" with "openly discuss policy options". Which I find bizarre. Its just a complete disconnect. Words mean what I say they mean, humpty-dumpty stuff.

2. RP says I "wonders why I [RP] differentiate between RealClimate and Journal of Climate". No, of course I don't wonder that, because to differentiate us is easy. What I said was "Finally, your saying "there is plenty of discussion of climate science with no extra-scientific context. Just look at the Journal of Climate..." is misleading - you are using that to imply that RC isn't in that state, without ever presenting any arguments for why." (refer back to Gavins comment and further). I'm saying, RC is science - which it is - with no policy (or as little as we can manage). RP has created a strawman to avoid answering the point: which is contained in his response to Gavin: "You appear to be under the impression that no discussion of climate science can take place without having an explicit or implicit policy agenda." Of course I believe that there is plenty of discussion of climate science with no extra-scientific context - RP has now twisted this to try to exclude RC from the pure-science arena.

3. RPs My interpretation of the RealClimate blog is that prevailing opinion there is that the political debate on climate centers on science. Where on earth does he get this from? RC doesn't have a lot (anything?) to say on what the political debate centers on. Were you to ask me (about the US pol debate) I'd say that it has a distressing tendency to ignore the science (RPs post trying to paint Prez Bush as accepting the scientific consensus is more sleigh-of-hand).

4. His point 3 - the wide scope of the category he has stuffed RC into - just seems to be some kind of laziness. Or perhaps, RC is unique, and it really is the only climate-science blog out there.

5. RPs response to Stephan (number 2 in his list) is a travesty, and the quote from a previous post "[RealClimate] claims to be "restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science." This is a noble but futile ambition. The site's focus has been exclusively on attacking those who invoke science as the basis for their opposition to action on climate change shows this for me. RC has concentrated on presenting the science; and where we've been attacking people or positions we've been attacking the most obvious abuses of climate science. As it happens (and RP has nothing to say to this) the most obvious abuses of the science are coming from the septic/denialist side - which is unsurprising, because the weight of science is against them.

6. Response to Eric. Another travesty. If the folks at RealClimate think that the political debate about climate is in fact not about science then I'd be happy to be corrected. This completely misses the point: whether or not the political debate involves science doesn't affect whether the scientific debate involves politics. We're doing our best to stick to the science, to provide people - ordinary folk and policymakers too - with good information about the science. Who does what in terms of policy is not up to us. RP is obsessed with policy, presumably because its his bread and butter, but there is no need to drag everyone else into it.


James Annan said...

And he's even been removed from the "better blogs" list - ouch!

FWIW, I agree fully with what you say on the issue. RP seems to be full of semantic bullshit on this. Perhaps he can't abide the idea that scientific research, and indeed truth, can exist independently of "science policy research".

William M. Connolley said...

Yes, I did remove him... and I even pressed the "republish entire blog" button, so he is airbrushed out of history too. I did this with some regret because he does have a number of sensible things to say too.

Good to hear you agree with me, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I do not get this honest broker stuff that the guy at Prometheus is going on about. I thought a broker was a person who stood between two parties and helps them to reach an agreement. He is not one of the parties. How could he be and still be called a broker? You go to a broker, honest or not, to buy stocks and you hope he does not have a personal interest in the stuff he tells you to buy. So you want a broker who does not have an interest in any particular outcome, he is neutral, will preserve confidentiality and will help you get a good outcome between you and the seller (market). You go to a marriage broker in some old fashioned communities and you go to a broker in some legal contexts. But in no case can the broker be one of the two parties who are to be assisted to make some kind of agreement. And it is pretty important that the broker have no interest in either outcome desired by a party, and that he will not tell anyone afterward how it was done.

In climate matters we have the ordinary people (helpless duffers like this writer), the guys at Real Climate, and the Deniers. I see that the guys at RC ar scientists, people who study and work at the stuff that they write about, who have the papers to show that they have the right qualifications. Then there are the Deniers, some of whom are also scientists, who are busy saying that all this talk about climate is greatly exaggerated and anyone who claims otherwise has probably made some big mistake in their material.
In this situation how can anyone possibly think the RC guys are supposed to be brokers, honest or not? The only possible parties in this set up are the RC guys, the Deniers, and the Duffers. I suppose you could say that someone should mediate between the first two and the third, but each Duffer can read what the RC guys say, or the Deniers
nay saying and reach their own conclusion. What is there to be mediated? Neither the RC guys nor the Deniars want to settle their differences, they each want to express them to the Duffers. What would a mediator or broker do? It would not be to explain global warming, for example, since that is just what the RC guys and the Deniers want to do directly to the audience of Duffers.
And who could be a mediator between the RC guys and the Deniers: surely not one of their own in either case since each would have a strong interest in particular outcomes. The Duffers have an even stronger interest since it is their world that is either getting beaten to pieces or else is quite alright.
Since none of these three can be a neutral party on climate issues, none can be any sort of broker.

Then there is this really confusing talk on how we must forget about Popper and how science works because, you see, objectivity is not really possible. So anyone who says they are really doing science is mistaken because that is not possible. I propose to ignore that one because if it is true we have lost the only game in town and no one can play rational outcomes. This is the kind of thing that the rich love to say because they have the system set up in their own self interest and they do not want anything to change. But if the RC guys cannot do science, the the Deniers cannot do rational statements either, and there is no fun in a game no one can play. We do have to say that everyone has a deep interest in global warming so no one can be a true broker, but the problem of setting up rules to deal with a lack of neutrality is an old one the scientists know how to handle. That is something that is done, I belleve, between consenting adults deep within research facilities.

So I come away thinking the honest broker analogy has no application here and just tends to confuse things. However it does lead to the idea that the RC scientists are supposed to take off their scientist badges before they speak about anything in their field of study unless they are just describing the outcome of science work in a totally dry, technical and remote way. But if they did that most of us Duffers would not understand it so we would not go to RC to get some understanding of
these matters. They can't be brokers, but that does not mean they should not be allowed to use the education they have acquired for the benefit of us Duffers whose taxes built the educational system.
Who else could be the honest broker in climate science explanation? The guy at Prometheus might have a yen for that title on his hat as a sort of CHIEF SCIENCE BROKER (very honest). But who is he going to mediate between? RC and the Duffers; Deniers and the Duffers; or RC and the Deniers? RC does not need a broker for the first function; the Deniers wold not want one for the second; and as for the third, RC and the Deniers are both trying to talk to the Duffers and they each one want to get to that audience and do not want to put someone between it and themselves.

So talking about how the RC guys must be honest brokers or else they must bear the shame of being publicly branded as single issue advocates is a non starter. They can't be brokers . Once that tag is dropped, it can be noticed that the RC guys do not claim to be advocates for any particular outcome, except truth, and surely no advocate of falsehood will spring up demanding mediation. They say they are explaining the science they are trained to do. Well, ok, that is needed. And then the Deniers say the same thing. So no brokers need apply and each of us Duffers can sample at the smorgasbord and take what we will.

Or maybe not. Mired deep in my advanced Dufferdom I could have got it wrong. After all, they are still making pencils that have erasers on one end. I would like to get to correct on this, so if I can't get there from here, maybe someone can tell me where to start. Deepest regrets if spelling errors persist.