Sunday, January 22, 2017

Trump: the Defeat of Science

Minutes after Donald Trump took office as President, the page on climate change of the website of the White House disappeared. This may be just a result of some internal protocol, but also the first stage of a coming "purge" of climate science and climate scientists. In any case, the election of Trump is a major defeat for science and we need to understand what mistakes we made to arrive at this point. I am writing here something that probably won't make me popular with my scientist colleagues, but I thought I had to write it.

Defeats are supposed to teach people how to do better; in theory. In practice, it often happens that defeats teach people how to become masters in blame-shifting. With some exceptions, this seems to have been the main result of the recent defeat of the Democrats in the 2016 presidential election, where we saw a truly spasmodic search for culprits: Putin, the Russian hackers, the Fake News, the Rednecks, the FBI, Exxon, the aliens from Betelgeuse, and more. Everything except admitting one's mistakes.

Even less soul searching has been performed by those who turned out to be among the major losers in this story: science and scientists. In particular, climate scientists saw their field wiped out from the White House Website minutes after President Trump took office. That may have been simply a question of protocol, but surely it is not a good omen for the future.

So far, scientists have reacted with appropriate outrage to possibilities such as Trump repudiating the Paris climate treaty. However, on the average, scientists seem to be completely unable to even imagine that there may be something wrong with what they have been doing. We may have here a good illustration of the principle expressed by James Schlesinger that "people have only two modes of operation: complacency and panic". Even though some scientists are starting to show symptoms of panic, most of them seem to be still in complacency mode.

Yet, for everything that happens there is a reason and if you invaded Russia in winter it is no good to blame the snow for the defeat. So, what did scientists do that led them to a situation that may turn out to be even worse than the retreat from Moscow for Napoleon's Grande Armée?

One problem, here, is that if scientists had wanted to present themselves to the public as a priesthood of acolytes interested only in maintaining their petty privileges, they succeeded beyond the rosiest expectations. Yet, I don't think that this is the problem. Overall, science is still a sane profession and very few scientists have been directly involved in financial scandals. The public perceives this and normally rates scientists as much more trustworthy than - say- journalists or politicians. And modern climate science, as part of the field of Earth sciences, is nothing less than a triumph of human knowledge. Truly a major advance of what we know on the way our planet and our ecosystem work.

The problem, in my opinion, is a different one. It goes deeper and it is not related to individual scientists or to specific scientific fields. It has to do with science as a whole and, in particular, with the inconsistent messages that scientists are beaming to the public. According to the results reported by Ara Norenzayan's in "Big Gods" (Princeton, 2013), people have a built-in "lie detector" in their minds that works by a heuristic algorithm: people will evaluate the truth of what they are told on the basis of consistency. Not only the message must be consistent in itself, but also the messenger must be consistent with the message carried. This is a fundamental point: people don't normally care about data and factual evidence: they care about the consistency of the message in their social environment; it is something that Dan Kahan has shown in a series of studies on the public perception of climate science.

So, if your local prophet tells you that you must be chaste, he'd better be chaste himself. If he tells you that you must make sacrifices and accept poverty, he'd better be poor himself. And chastity/poverty must be acceptable in your social environment. These are things that Francis of Assisi understood already long ago. Then, think of Donald Trump: why was he elected? It was, mainly, because Trump's political message was consistent with Trump himself. Trump was telling people that he would make America rich and powerful and that was perfectly consistent with the fact that he is rich and powerful himself. Because of this, Trump's message didn't trigger people's lie detector and Trump the unthinkable became Trump the unavoidable.

Getting back to science, the message of climate change is intimately linked to the need of making sacrifices. We are asking people to reduce their consumption, reduce waste, travel less, and the like. It is a perfectly legitimate message and many religious groups have been carrying similar messages successfully. Of course, it would never work if Donald Trump were to propose it; but why can't scientists propose it successfully? Scientists are not Franciscan monks, but normally they are not rich. I often tell my PhD students that they are exchanging three years of starvation for a lifetime of unemployment. I don't really need to tell them that: they know that by themselves.

The problem is that there exists another side of science where scientists are beaming out exactly the opposite message of that of the need of making sacrifices. It is the side of the "gee-whiz science" or, maybe, "Santa Claus Science", scientific research still operating along the optimistic ideas developed in the 1950s, at the time of the "space age" and the "atomic age". The message that comes from this area is, "give us some money and we'll invent some magic device that will solve all the problema." It is a message that's ringing more and more hollow and the public is starting to perceive that the scientists are making promises they can't maintain. Not only the various scientific miracles that were promised are not materializing (say, nuclear fusion) but many pretended scientific revolutions are making things worse (say, shale oil). Still, many scientists keep making these promises and a certain section of society accepts - even requires - them.

So, the name of the problem is inconsistency. Scientists are taking two different and incompatible roles: that of doom-sayers and that of gift-givers. And "inconsistency" is just a polite way to say "lie." White scientist speak with forked tongue. Ye can't serve God and mammon.

The result is that not just Donald Trump despises science; it is a consistent fraction of the public that just doesn't believe the scientific message, especially about climate. The fraction of Americans who think that climate change is a serious threat has remained floating around 50% - 60%, going up and down, but not significantly changing. It is trench warfare in the climate communication war. Things may get worse for science under the Trump presidency. It already happened at the time of McCarthy, why shouldn't it happen again?

At this point, good manners dictate that when you write about a problem, you should also propose ways to solve it. Of course, there are ways that could be suggested: first of all, as scientists we should stop asking money for things that we know won't work (the "hydrogen-based economy" is a good example). Then, science badly needs a cleanup: we should crack down on predatory publishers, fight data fabrication, establish transparent standards for scientific publications, provide for free results of science to those who pay for it (the public), get rid of the huge number of irrelevant studies performed today, and more. Personally, I would also like a science that's more of a service for the community and less of a showcase for primadonnas in white coats.

But, as we all know, large organizations (and science is one) are almost impossible to reform from inside. So, where is science going? Difficult to say, but it may need a good shake-up from the outside (maybe from Trump, although he may well exaggerate) to be turned into something that may be what we truly need to help humankind in this difficult moment. The transformation will be surely resisted as much as possible, but change is needed and it will come.

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else. he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24)


  1. So far, scientists have reacted with appropriate outrage to possibilities such as Trump repudiating the Paris climate treaty.

    Let's be honest though -- what difference exactly will that make? Or stated in slightly different terms, is the Paris agreement substantially better than no agreement, "substantially" being the key word? When you look at what's actually in it, it is basically an official agreement to do nothing.


  2. Dear Ugo
    Stacy Herbert, of the Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert show on RT, opines that the question the Democrats should be asking themselves is ‘How did we lose to an imbecile?’. The last interview with the apparent new leader of the Democratic National Committee showed her doubling down on the notion that Putin somehow stole the election.

    May I suggest that failing to tell the whole truth finally catches up with people. For example, just before the recent election in the US, the percentage of people who thought that the US economy was headed in the wrong direction was 65.2 percent, while 29 percent thought the country was headed in the right direction. Sanders and Trump capitalized on the discontent, while the Republican mainstream and the Clinton campaign tried to tell the public that everything was fine. Perhaps the explanation that one can lose to an imbecile involves telling people things that they simply know are wrong.

    Obama likes to quote statistics about how many jobs were created in his administration, but his own economists admit that almost all of the net gain were sub-standard jobs.

    The failure to tell the whole truth emerges again in Obama’s Science article (which was ghost written by John Holdren and Brian Deese:

    For example:
    'energy-related CO2 emissions in 2015 reveals that emissions stayed flat compared with the year before, whereas the global economy grew (3). The IEA noted that “There have been only four periods in the past 40 years in which CO2 emission levels were flat or fell compared with the previous year, with three of those—the early 1980s, 1992, and 2009—being associated with global economic weakness. By contrast, the recent halt in emissions growth comes in a period of economic growth.”

    Yet if we examine the CO2 measured at Mauna Loa, we find:
    CO2 at Mauna Loa has increased by 2.3 ppm, on average, over the last 5 years.
    CO2 at Mauna Loa increased by about 2.65 ppm in 2016

    The great majority of climate change articles, whether by scientists or politicians or green business people, assure the public that growth can continue while emission decline. Only writers like Alice Friedemann tell people that when the Trucks Stop Running, people are going to starve.

    I suggest that it is time for a Churchill to arise. Not to promise us that the party can continue, but that blood, sweat, and tears are in our future.

    Don Stewart

    1. I would think the Churchill you mention would find it easier to arise if the people voting for him would have some easy to understand examples of climate related hardship happen around them. Right now the people who caused the least climate problems are the most affected and cause and effect are separated by 10-40 years and some rather complex system. I would bet we will be trying to play catch up until the bitter end.

    2. Anonymous
      Yes, if Americans had to set out across the North Sea in small boats to rescue troops off the beaches at Dunkirk, with shells exploding all around them, things might be different.

      We actually had about 48 hours of awakening following our 9/11 experience. People were shaken, and looked for explanations. I was not surprised at the attacks. A few months earlier I had watched Colin Powell walk out of the UN over some 'outrage' between Israel and the Arabs and I said to my wife...'we will have to pay for this'. For 48 hours, Americans searched. Then they went back into La-La Land and have not come out again to this day.

      Don Stewart

  3. One suggestion for a way to do science that could improve its effectiveness:

    1. An interesting viewpoint, a novel analogy. A thought-provoking read. But the analogy is like a tired horse; it doesn’t carry one very far. First, the use of sacramental rites is not common across religions or even within a given religion (e.g. in Christianity, some branches are largely or entirely rite-free, like the Evangelical; some are heavily dependent on ritual, like the Orthodox. But a deeper breakdown of the analogy is that the rites themselves tend to have purposes other than the mechanistic demonstration of temporal functionalities. (Please be patient with my wooden, clumsy wordsmithing.)

      Nevertheless, the essay is interesting and helps one focus on an important problem.

  4. I must reply to Don Stewart,

    "Blood, sweat, and tears" went into the political dustbin with the election of Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter. Both Reagan and Trump prove that Americans are suckers for Pollyanna's "glad game". "Morning in America" and "Make America Great Again" have always prevail over reality.

    Americans are still far too fat, dumb and happy even when they are really pissed off. Public opinion will stay under that Pollyanna spell until reality eventually prevails over America. By then it will be far too late for any American Churchill. The result of this stupidity will certainly be that, as you point out, "people are going to starve".

  5. Agree with a good lot of what Ugo Bardi says (consistency/inconsistency), however from my "non scientist" (and more of a "concerned citizen” and kind of “social/degrowth activist") perspective I would comment on the following from the article:
    "At this point, good manners dictate that when you write about a problem, you should also propose ways to solve it. Of course, there are ways that could be suggested: first of all, as scientists we should stop asking money for ideas that we know won't work (the "hydrogen-based economy" is a good example). Then, science badly needs a cleanup" (…)]
    as follows:
    ...well, what if this (CC) is an aspect of a more complex/global "predicament" that cannot be "solved", especially by science (alone)?
    If the "consistency" part plays a role but since we are in this global predicament as a civilization, there are so many other intertwinned/interconnected elements that impede the message to go through, properly and trigger some different, mass-wide responses from the current ones that are especially driven by corporations and their politicians-servants?
    After all, CC science itself is delivering its due outcome and supporting it consistently: as far as I know almost 100% of scientific studies recognize CC and its human origins ... what causes failure in this delivery to me is the very "core" of the (unsustainable, fossil fuels driven, neoliberal, values corrupting) system we ("addicted" to it are all in ...

  6. Excellent Ugo. Did you read the chapter on science in John Michael Greer's Dark Age America? He makes some good observations on the faults of modern science.

    1. Yes, the Archdruid is always worth following!

  7. JimK:

    Sorry, recasting science as a religion with the sacraments of Michelson-Morley being repeated ad infinitum just kind of makes me physically ill.

    The real problem with science is that it has already made itself into a priesthood. It's practitioners have education and status above the hoi polloi and does everything it can to defend and expand the perquisites.

    A temple of science could lead to some very bad places.

  8. Scientists are people, subject to human frailties; expecting more from them is delusion. As Dr Bardi pointed out, this tends to bring massive risk of overpromise and underdelivery. The demagogue grinding his axe can mislead, stating that in science, truth is a matter of opinion. Some people with science credentials can further this misperception. Hamlet pointed out, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Act 2, Scene 2). One can paraphrase, substituting “true or false” for “good or bad.”

    President Trump’s utterance lead me to suspect that he believes his saying something makes it true. His erratic jumps from saying “A” to saying “~A" are thus, to him, noncontradictory. The “problematic” is why & how he gets away with it.

    A helpful story is found in the legend of Belshazzar’s Feast. King Belshazzar is upset by “the writing on the wall” which is explained by the Hebrew prophet Daniel. The king does not like the message and ignores it, trying to get back to his booze-athon. Bad move. Well, we are all a tad like Belshazzar: we’d rather ignore truths that are not to our likings.

    Altho the Bible is not explicit on this point, I suspect we can accept (at least for the sake of the story) that Daniel was consistent with his message… and even so, his message was rejected; it was not what Belshazzar wanted to believe.

    And this is a message, a warning, that I am uncomfortable with. Not only that, I am unaware of any straightforward and proper response to it.

  9. Dear Ugo, I fully agree with your statements and you may be surprised…..but even president Trump I think would consider just right most of your ideas.

  10. Degringolade: don't be put off too much by my language - you can see that science already has taken on some of the flavor of a religion, anyway. Religion is a broad category that covers a range of practices, and so is science. It is not so clear that these ranges don't largely overlap. Maybe religion is just a name for old science. And our young vibrant science of today might just start getting old before too long, as budgets are cut etc. So maybe it is going to become more and more like religion whether we like it or not, and the challenge is to steer it toward some healthier sort of religion.

    We already do experiments over and over again. Maybe Michaelson Morley is a bit too extravagant. But e.g. the Millikan oil drop, or Cavendish weighing the earth, etc. Today there are two main contexts for this: the university and the museum. The university is a bit like a seminary: it is reserved for elite training for the priesthood. Museums are open to the public but tend more toward displaying miracles rather than sharing the secrets. So my proposal is to make museums more like universities, to make museums more of a doorway toward deep understanding, rather that just superficial displays. Sure, museums today often include some hands-on displays, which is a step in the direction I am proposing, but I would like to see the public invited to repeat the full experiment, calibrating the equipment and analyzing the data.

  11. To me, at least, "science" self immolated on the altar of corporate profits. For those of us who follow any issue, we can see clearly that the "results" of various studies part like the red sea depending on who funds the studies. If you've had the latest greatest prescription meds you know they work less and have more side effects, and that's when they aren't outright useless junk. Better software? Nope, slower and full of unwanted memory and battery sucking tracking systems. Food? Pretty much toxic waste now. Planned obsolescence breaks your equipment and your budget. Is the newest whatever safe? Who knows, they get rubber stamped by "scientists" working for corporate masters who build in a certain amount of lawsuits from grieving relatives into their operating budget. I believe climate change is mostly man made, but the key word there is "believe." You literally cannit quote a scientific study as evidence of anything at all anymore. People just roll their eyes. Science has lost all credibility in the public square. And they did it to themselves, crying wolf about products being unsafe (because they compete with the corporate version) and turn a blind eye to dangerous things because the donors/investors said to. How do you expect people to think that they suddenly got objective and impartial on this one subject? There is no such thing as partial credibility. Either they have it or they don't. And they don't.

  12. It's not the defeat of science, Professor Bardi, but the defeat of another Marxist conspiracy to destroy freedom and steal our property.

    Let's assume that climate change IS a major threat to human civilization. Why does it automatically follow that we must enlarge the state, raise taxes, and cede sovereignty to transnational organizations rife with despots and socialists hostile to liberty and private property?

    Leftists usually run into a wall here because 1) it's anathema to collectivism to even hint that businesses and individuals can adapt to climate without coercion from the state 2) they recognize that going down this path will expose the ruse, i.e., climate change alarmism is just the latest conspiracy to empower the state they worship so much. (As an aside, it's amazing to me that proper risk management conversations happen so rarely in the *public* conversation wrt climate change, but that requires a capitalist mindset, no?)

    This might come as a surprise to Europeans who think 50% of output should be allocated to the public sector, but Americans -- at least the liberty-loving ones -- are in no mood for more treaties, more UN involvement, or subjugation by a group of tenured academics teaching at institutions infested by Marxists and who receive their livelihood predominantly from a state that always wants more, more, more.

    The climate changes -- so what. People will figure it out. Leave us alone.

    1. Which is, more or less, what I said, although from a different point of view.

    2. Seriously, Rich, don't think I don't understand you. We, as scientists, did everything wrong and this is the result. Perhaps we can learn from our mistakes. I hope, at least....

    3. rich p. yes lets assume global warming is a major threat, because it is a scientific fact. not sure? maybe you have got access to some knowledge greater than science that you want to enlighten us with. anyway, if that doesnt take down industrial civilization, energy decline certainly will. on a finite, non magical planet, theres only so many biscuits in the tin for robber barons to burn.

      moving on. i agree we should leave the industrial world completely alone to adapt to the shit storm it is creating, giving capitalists and industry the liberty to adapt or die when they screw things up. im all for it. its the law of the jungle, evolution in action. but on the proviso they also get zero aid from the state like they do all the time, most notably in 2008. seems the anti marxism neoliberalist capitalist brigade, on facing the grim reaper eschewed its hard man winner takes all ideology and sold out to marxism when it was about to expire. the capitalist libertarians really didnt mind being propped up by the state and public purse then. we need to purge these dirty marxists from the business world and banking, let capitalists pay ALL the economic, social and environmental costs of doing business. lets see how they get on then. this is real liberty.

    4. Here's a concrete example: New York City is planning to construct a gigantic wall -- the "Big U" -- around lower Manhattan as flood protection against rising sea levels. That happens (no doubt by pure coincidence) to be where Wall Street is. So are Wall Street firms going to bankroll the project?

      As far as I can tell, no. Funding so far has come from the federal government ($511 million from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) and from the city government ($305 million.) As usual, the people are footing the bill for the protection of the financial elite.

  13. Thanks for the reply Prof Bardi. FWIW, I live in a state teetering on financial disaster, full of "limousine liberals," the kind of folks who'll pass an ordinance to shrink your trashcan but still take 3 unnecessary trips overseas per year, dumping tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the process. The hypocrisy to those with less disposable income -- the kind of people who are bled to death by plastic bag taxes, etc. etc. -- is astounding, and engenders an immense pushback based on "F U" as much as anything rational.

    So while my original post is...fiery, I do think political activism from the academy and government benefactors (e.g. we want *this* outcome, so let's use the research to get us there) has done a disservice, as you've said in your own way.

    As for the role of the state in all this, I think immense benefits can be derived from "non-intervention," e.g., in the USA, stop subsidizing people to live near coastal areas prone to sea level rise and hurricanes. The risk management professionals in the insurance and re-insurance industries price insurance best on the best-available data, and that "real" price must be borne by owners, not distorted by the state.

    1. You said it right: we ask people for sacrifices and we keep flying. I don't know how we could focus so much on the message and so little on the messenger. We have a lot of work to do to try to mend the wound - if will ever be able to.

  14. Ugo, while I generally agree with your comments, I am concerned that the focus on what scientists have done (or not done) rather overlooks a more significant factor in the erosion of trust in science: a broad and accelerating trend in current Western (especially U.S.) society which is progressively devaluing and deriding the very idea of relying on evidence and fact-based reasoning to make decisions. In place of evidence based reasoning "we" appear to be turning to wishful fantasy ("oil and other resources will always be abundant") and reliance on authoritarian fiat ("it was the hugest inauguration crowd ever - believe me not your lying eyes"). That is a much darker and scarier source for the devaluation of science (as opposed to scientists simply having over-promised or having poor communication skills, which scientists presumably could correct) - the idea of somehow reversing the trends remaking our society into an increasingly "post-evidential society" is rather overwhelming. Best regards.

    1. LC, I am surprised myself by what I am saying in this post. But the more I think about it, the more I think it makes sense. People NEVER relied on evidence and fact-based reasoning over history. It is a peculiar modern illusion. The basic epistemological mechanism for the great majority of people is not the factual basis of the message but trust (or lack of trust) in the messenger. So, there is nothing really new in what's going on. People don't trust scientists anymore because, because.... well, why should they?

    2. Ugo
      I think the problem of climate change and then behavior change is even more complicated than you might think. For example, here is Rick Hanson, PhD, on the subject of Neuroplasticity for Healing.
      (Click on the Hansen audio. Less than 5 minutes)

      We know that the human brain exhibits plasticity, and, more broadly that the mind, as defined by Dan Siegel to include our interactions both within the body and with our society and the larger universe, is plastic. Yet in the relatively straightforward context of a visit to a psychologist for advice which a person believes they need, it is easy for the psychologist to induce a good feeling, but very likely the patient will return the next week without having made any lasting changes...what Hanson calls the Dirty Little Secret of psychotherapy.

      The mind of a particular patient is the way it is for a constellation of reasons. Those reasons don't change in response to a visit to a psychologist. It takes a carefully calibrated program to get the patient out of their rut.

      If we compare changing a mental bad habit to something requiring as far-reaching changes in behavior as climate change, then the problem for the therapist gets much worse. As everyone agrees, even climate scientists continue to behave much the way everyone else who has enough money behaves. They go on vacations and fly to the tropics. They eat grapes flown in from South America from the grocery store.

      Hanson says that the correct way for the therapist to tackle the problem is to figure out what sort of behavior you need to encourage and work backwards from there. Reverse engineer the therapy plan. So, for example, one early behavioral change would be to get all the climate scientists to live essentially carbon-free lives AND to enjoy that carbon-free life. If the scientists can't have fun without burning carbon, then why expect that other people could do it. If we can't make a credible program for the scientists, then we are certainly not going to make a credible program for the average person.

      If we can't make a credible program for either the scientists or the average people, then our only hope is collapse...which may not be too far off.

      Don Stewart

    3. This is a good point on which I can add some personal observations. Scientists are supposed to be creative people and creativity would seem to involve a plastic brain and the capability of changing one's behavior. But, in reality, in my experience scientists seem to be totally unable to show plasticity in their behavior. They are completely stuck in their deep belief that the way science is done is the good - and the only - way of doing science.

      This is, I think, the real problem. Not so much that scientists take planes and eat imported strawberries in January. People don't object on firemen using diesel powered fire trucks (and maybe eat strawberries in January) because we know what firemen do and why. But people question why scientist fly overseas for a conference: is this really needed? For what reason? Why should people pay for these trips with their tax money? What are scientists giving back to society in exchange for the this money?

      We need to think about that: I don't think that science is useless, not at all. But scientists have been behaving in a truly reckless way. That has to change, one way or another.


    4. Ugo
      Relative to 'eating strawberries in January'.

      Ten years ago this research was published:

      A couple of years later the Journal of Nutrition in the United States published some greenhouse gas costs of various kinds of food. If I remember correctly, a grape from Chile flown to the United States has 25 times the GHG cost of some lettuce grown in the back yard garden.

      Climate scientists should be aware of these things. Do they still think it is OK to eat strawberries in January and to put on the table flowers grown in Kenya and air-freighted to Rome or Paris or London?

      A decade or so ago I was at the Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina. My wife was a student, and I had been camping in the mountains. When I arrived at Penland to pick her up to go home, I happened on a class where the teacher was essentially teaching 'how to live well with little'. One of the most amazing exhibits to me was the banquet centerpieces which the students had constructed. They walked around Penland and the surrounding woods and fields and gathered stuff and constructed centerpieces. Everything from scrap metal and glass to rocks and tree branches. The centerpieces were beautiful.

      I was impressed. When I arrived home, I was due to host a dinner party. The guests were typically one male and one female. I asked them to divide themselves into two groups. One group was assigned to scavenge in the neighborhood to find stuff with which to construct a centerpiece for the table. The other group was assigned to the cooking. I had instructed every group to bring one item for the dinner. The item should ideally be from their garden or purchased from a farmer. I did not tell them what to bring.

      A Greek-American named George Mateljan had recently published a cook-book called The World's Healthiest Foods. It emphasized quick and simple cooking to preserve the maximum of the life-giving nutrients in the food. Each couple also had to bring a knife suitable for chopping. It took us 30 minutes to prepare the uncoordinated food they had brought into a good, healthy meal and we had an attractive centerpiece.

      Now my point is that people really don't have to have fresh flowers from Kenya and they don't have to have grapes in January from Chile. They also don't have to spend hours in the kitchen cooking, and they don't have to eat bad food from the supermarket. And they can have fun in a communal atmosphere.

      Young MDs are notorious for eating their lunch (a candy bar) in the elevator in the hospital. Why don't climate scientists use what they should already know to set an example?

      By the way. I am more sympathetic to travel than some other people. The point of travel is to meet people and to broaden one's perspective. If a climate scientist has to get in a car to go to a dinner like the one I described above in order to learn in their synapses and in their sinews what the alternative feels like, it is carbon well spent.

      Don Stewart

    5. Don,
      Unfortunately Kenyans needs to send those fresh flowers, and Kenyan doctors equally need to resupply their medicine supplies in the same pace. Chileans need to send grapes, and equally Chilean dam engineers need spare parts in the same pace. The problem of flight is, it is both useful and vital. Asking scientists to conform is like forcing a Young MD have her hand chopped of to convince the patient the necessity of amputation.

  15. Excellent discussion. Thank you Rich P and Professor Bardi for bringing up air travel. It was the first thing I thought of when I started reading your post and I believe is a perfect symbol for the disconnect between actions and advice. Scientists, and nearly all other groups, collectively travel untold miles in airplanes for conferences, annual meetings, pleasure, etc, while often loudly sounding the alarm about CO2 levels and climate change. It is an elitist act. I get the same feeling when I read an excellent article on climate change or the environment in the New Yorker, then flip to page to see advertisements for luxury, worldwide travel and expensive, carbon-intensive products marketed to its well-heeled readers.

  16. The fact is no one wants to talk about this. Systematically this has been ignored and many countries paid the price for doing it in history in past centuries. What will you do with climate change with Radical Islam will wipe the world in 30 years!

  17. Some months ago I listened to Jacques Caplat speaking about eco-agricultural techniques. He said that what he calls "traditional agriculture" is "productivist" and "reductionist". Productivist means you produce the most food per hour of human labor, reductionist means you reduce problems out of their context and look for a silver bullet solution. Eco-agriculture techniques attempt to find systemic solutions to problems.

    For example when one learns that plants need nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous to grow, a reductionist solution is to produce nitrogen from fossil fuels, with phosphorous and potassium coming out of mines. This is a systemic disaster because it destroys the chain of life that recycles these nutrients in natural systems and results in soil degradation and C02 emissions (agriculture is responsible for almost 1/4 of greenhouse gas emissions while all of transportation is only 17%). Eco-agriculture is a different kind of science which looks for systemic solutions. There can be immense sustainable biomass in a forest without artificial additives. Properly managed, one can grow more food per unit area, improve soil quality, while improving the life of wild species with eco-agricultural techniques (the price is more labor). Improving soil quality is very important with respect to climate change because the primary indicator of soil quality is the amount of carbon it contains. Estimates are that the soil could store between 3% and 100% of human carbon emissions.

    The reason I mention this is that it seems to me that this is one of the distinctions between reductionist, silver bullet science which seeks to solve problems through technological solutions and systemic science, such as climate science which tries to understand how systems work so that the solution does not cause unwanted secondary effects.

    There are many examples of superior systemic solutions to problems. For example 20 years ago Iceland had an extremely high rate of adolescents abusing drugs. The reductionist approach which has failed miserably around the world is to throw drug abusers in jail. Using systemic solutions, Iceland has reduced drug abuse to a very low level. Some have linked their youth programs (encouraging sports) to their victory over England in the European Cup.

    1. Correct: there is a deep divide between systemic science and reductionist science. As long as we don't resolve this difference, scientists will be perceived as double-standarders, aka, liars.

      Ian, why don't you write a post on this subject for Cassandra's legacy?

    2. Ugo

      i remember one of my experience with a friend who was a theoretical physicist. We were outside and the sun was low in the sky, I told him that the sun's circle would touch the horizon in about four minutes. He said it couldn't be this fast, I told him to watch and wait and it did touch the horizon at the time that I told him. He was amazed that I've predicted this correctly and I was amazed that with with all his training he could couldn't do a simple problem in applied geometry. Made me think of the popular stereotype of the scientist with his head full of fancy knowledge but who who lacks common sense and fumbles around in daily life.

      One of the things that struck me during my times at university was the degree to which scientists have ceased to philosophize, most of them are simply hoarders of "facts" and treat the worldview by which they sift and orders these facts as simply being another "fact".

      Now that worldview as far as I can see, is an extreme Cartesian-Laplacian materialism, in its essentials its the 18th century Clockwork Universe mythos, with the view of consciousness being that of De La Mettrie "L'homme machine" [1748]. Now these positions are philosophical propositions, they do not constitute "facts" to go unquestioned. Now what if these propositions are actually false and/or incomplete? That would mean the data collected is ordered according to a faulty map and good data discarded because it conflict with the accepted worldview. Perhaps the image that science presents of the universe has increasingly turned into an artfully constructed fantasy supported by intellectual hubris, a dead end that blocks genuine improvements in our understanding.

      I think the dilemna is we do not need more "science" or "scientists", we need a rebirth of Natural Philosophy carried out, not by collectors of "facts" but by real thinkers who consider how this could be ordered and on what premises accompanied by an intellectual culture that is truly pluralistic, not an intellectual monoculture were all divergent thoughts are labeled quackery and peer reviewed into oblivion. But none of this will come out of current institutional science.

    3. Ugo
      I endorse your suggestion to Ian. An article on examples of the superior systemic approach would be very valuable.

      There are examples of agricultural systems that retain or build carbon in soils despite the disturbance of cultivation. Industrial civilisation has given itself a tricky problem, urbanisation. The USA provided a prime illustration in the 20th Century. I have been quoting Cunfer, (2005): "They applied manure as it was available, rotated legumes when it was convenient. But they had no strategy for the very long term. By the 1930s, Rooks County fields had been planted, cultivated, and harvested sixty times without rest. Soil nitrogen was about half what it had been at sod-breaking and crop yields declined steadily. And now no western frontier remained. From the vantage of 1930s, crop agriculture in Kansas does not appear very sustainable. All the arable land in Rooks County - and in the nation for that matter – had been identified and plowed. Soil nitrogen and organic carbon drifted steadily downward, and with them yields and profits. Faced with this dilemma, farmers implemented a dramatic innovation in soil nutrient management. Rather than adopt one or more of the ancient strategies, farmers (and the industrial nation behind them) created a new option. They appropriated abundant cheap fossil-fuel energy to import enormous amounts of synthetically manufactured nitrogen onto their fields."…” page 219, ‘On the Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment’ Cunfer, 2005

    4. Ugo and Phil,

      Thank you for your invitation. An interesting idea which I hadn't thought of, but I will. Indeed, I think this is an important topic to discuss and writing posts is an excellent way to clarify ideas.

  18. Policy Science closely adheres to funding models that emanate out of contemporary Macroeconomics. With the advent of Thermodynamic economic collapse & disequilibrium taking over markets from equilibrium economists in March of 08 we see nothing but the corollary of systemic chaos on all fronts that are dependant upon government funding of scarce resources. The dissemination of lies, God-damned lies, and statistics, is par for the course in a Western world of QE Infinity, an imploding European Union, and a $2 quadrillion dollar USD dark pool derivatives universe, plus a pending Thermonuclear Hot World War Three on the doorstep. Disinformation and government run PSYOPS campaigns are today's norm, and tertiary education is handmaiden to government. If governments need institutional liars they have them at their beacon call 24/7/365. Science, and scientists in tertiary education, long sold out their souls to the Corporatists that decide who gets funded for what, and where. The almighty dollar has infiltrated the discipline of Science & Empiricism to render it neutered, and bastardized beyond that which appears to be rational to the trained eye.

    p.s. I love this blog, but I come from Experimental Psychology/Personality Theory/Clinical Psychology & Historiography. Please don't shoot me!




Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)