Well I am very late in posting this at my own blog; bar 1 minor correction (old retained as strike-through) it is repeated below exactly as it appeared at Watts Up With That, the most viewed climate site on the planet, on 27th January. There is useful discussion in the comments there.
Posts at WUWT have often featured scientific papers that are clearly impacted by a cultural bias towards CAGW. Given the impressive reach of WUWT and the likelihood that a number of folks from academia will be peeking here, some examination of the impact upon conclusions, and also how bias has occurred for particular scientists or organizations, not only keeps alive healthy skepticism in science but hopefully might result, one day, in a reduction of the CAGW bias. In that spirit, this post revisits ‘Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change’ by Lianne M. Lefsrud and Renate E. Meyer, LM2013; It is not pay-walled. An article at Forbes plus the Investor’s Business Daily on the paper, triggered a WUWT post here. Unfortunately however, the former articles misfired into a tangent that was not well considered, greatly distracting from a deeper look at the paper; hence also from something that I believe is valuable, plus deeply ironic for the authors.
The post is adapted from supporting material in my essay The CAGW Memeplex summarized in a WUWT guest post here. However, no particular memetic insight is invoked here and none is needed to see how the authors of this paper have fallen victim to bias and ended up with unsupportable conclusions; just an appreciation (from history) that social narratives can acquire an inertia of their own, a kind of insistent culture that sometimes dominates events while leaving facts far behind. This can happen not only where the narrative is long-lived and wide in scope, e.g. mainstream religions evolving over many generations, but also where an original narrative is narrow in scope, e.g. Lysenkoism. Such narratives and counter narratives compete in our social space and may do so via strong or weak alliances and wider coalitions, for instance Lysenkoism was strongly coupled to Stalinism in the USSR, and the culture associated with Eugenics was loosely allied to
right-wing various politics in various countries, later becoming strongly coupled to Fascism especially in Germany. Religions have often found alliances within shifting maps of state and regional politics. The increasing number (and depth) of comparisons between CAGW and religion (e.g. see the varied selection: UK MP Peter Lilley , blogger John Bell, Michael Crichton via blogger Justice4Rinka [Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07am], Richard Lindzen, blogger BetaPlug, philosopher Pascal Bruckner, blogger sunshinehours1 [cult], professor Hans Von Storch [prophets], Evangelical skeptics, and a Climate Etc post discussing this area, plus very many more), acknowledges that CAGW is a (successful) social narrative, an ‘insistent culture’ that has indeed left reality behind.
With the above in mind, the approach of LM2013 seems at first to be admirable. For instance social coalitions (termed ‘discourse coalitions’) are understood to be important entities backing the survival / growth of competing ‘storylines’ within a contestable narrative space, where coalition members attempt to ‘frame’ the debate so as to promote their storylines while trying to ‘break the persuasiveness’ of competing stories, a process within which apparent truths are relative (‘…experts construct interpretive packages or frames that stand in for the ‘truth’.’) It is also recognized that these ‘frames’ are intimately linked to the legitimacy and identity of the framers: ‘Besides defining the issue, framing is also the means by which professionals draw from broader values (Hulme, 2009), construct their self-definitions and expert identities.’ The latter is consistent with literature (e.g. the concept of the ‘The Social Mind’ by neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniger) essentially saying that our thoughts and identities are in some part formed by the societal entities we’re embedded in. This concept not only helps with understanding the motives of the players, it also helps regarding awareness of one’s own social embedding and hence the attempt to distance oneself from personal bias, as presumably the LM2013 authors would wish. Ultimately the authors appear to grasp that it’s a narrative war out there, in which ‘the truth’ may not always win out.
So what’s not to like? Shouldn’t a paper that recognizes these principles be robustly impartial? In trying to analyze the various ‘storylines’ shouldn’t the authors have attempted to position themselves, at least so far as is possible, outside of all of the relevant narratives? Well, unfortunately not…
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