- JoNova - https://www.joannenova.com.au -

Consensus Police: 101 “motivated” reasons not to be a skeptic

Skeptics are often accused of being ideologically motivated to find reasons to “deny” the threat posed by man-made Global Disruptification (or whatever it is now called). Which begs the question of what ideology motivated Jo-the-former-Green, along with all the other former believers, to convert. It certainly wasn’t the money (we know from first hand experience). Could it be that damn truth-seeking ideology?

Judith Curry points out that “motivated reasoning” also applies to believers (to which I would add, yes, double-yes, and more-so — follow that money). When grants, careers, junkets, book sales, and offers to sit on golden-commissions are on the line, it doesn’t take much motivated reasoning to find excuses to believe your work is “science” even as you ignore opportunities to follow data that doesn’t quite fit, or delay publications of inconvenient graphs, while you double check, triple check, and invite like-minded colleagues to help find reasons the graphs are not important.

Some scientists are so motivated that they call opposing scientists petty names, and toss allusions they must be “funded” by vested interests, even as they ignore the billions of vested interests funding the name-callers. Meanwhile, all the silent so-called scientists in the tea-rooms that let the one-sided insults go unopposed are complicit in the steady corruption of a once noble profession.

This is about the power of the tea-rooms of research — the places where scientists test out their ideas, not just to see if it holds water scientifically, but to see how the cultural climate will receive it. Who wants to be vilified? Step right up “Denier”.

There are many ways human foibles can slow scientific progress and keep zombie science alive. When research turns up results that will have a negative effect on your colleague’s careers (as well as your own), why would a scientist treat it exactly the same way as the opposite results? Some scientists rise above and overcome the peer pressure, but it takes a special kind of moral fiber to go against the crowd.

Curry discusses the conflict between a scientist’s loyalty to their colleagues and their institution, their loyalty to the public, and the loyalty to the endless quest for understanding. She talks about how scientists ask whether they should release awkward results, and is amazed that most other scientists not only think it’s a reasonable question but say “No” because ” it would only provide fodder for the skeptics”. She describes how she has been ostracized, and how even sympathetic colleagues stay silent, and are deterred from speaking because of her experience.

I have been told examples in Australia of outright intimidation of skeptical scientists by colleagues in senior and very influential roles. I have the names, dates and details. I keep them strictly confidential to protect careers. Please email me if you have a story, or post an invitation in comments, and I’ll be in touch. It is worth sharing your experience. Even anonymized, these details help decision makers understand how corrupt institutional science is. I will not publish anything without express permission.

It can be a lonely place being a scientist. All credit to Judith Curry for rising above — despite the price. May she be rewarded in the long run.

Some selected paragraphs from Scientists and motivated reasoning:

Were [these] just hardworking scientists doing their best to address the impossible expectations of the policy makers?  Well, many of them were.  However, at the heart of the IPCC is a cadre of scientists whose careers have been made by the IPCC.  These scientists have used the IPCC to jump the normal meritocracy process by which scientists achieve influence over the politics of science and policy.  Not only has this brought some relatively unknown, inexperienced  and possibly dubious people into positions of influence, but these people become vested in protecting the IPCC, which has become central to their own career and legitimizes playing power politics with their expertise.

The red carpet and rewards are rolled out for those with fewer scruples. It includes not just scientists, but organizations and journals:

When I refer to the IPCC dogma, it is the religious importance that the IPCC holds for this cadre of scientists; they will tolerate no dissent, and seek to trample and discredit anyone who challenges the IPCC.  Some are mid to late career middle ranking scientists who have done ok in terms of the academic meritocracy. Others were still graduate students when they were appointed as lead authors for the IPCC. These scientists  have used to IPCC to gain a seat at the “big tables” where they can play power politics with the collective expertise of the IPCC, to obtain personal publicity, and to advance their careers.  This advancement of their careers is done with the complicity of the professional societies and the institutions that fund science.  Eager for the publicity,  high impact journals such as Nature, Science, and PNAS frequently publish sensational but dubious papers that support the climate alarm narrative.

The meme will turn against the apostate even more than the always-skeptic — it has too, in order to dissuade  others that leaving the meme:

This issue was made very explicit by the title of the Scientific American article entitled Climate Heretic:  Judith Curry turns against her Colleagues.  Of all the issues raised by Climategate and the points I had been trying to make about overconfidence and uncertainty, transparency, engaging with skeptics, etc., the main issue of interest in all this was construed as me turning against my colleagues?  It was hard for me to understand this at first, but then I realized that by talking about uncertainty and engaging with skeptics that I was following the playbook according to the merchants of doubt meme.  So talking about topics that I regarded as efforts that were needed to rebuild the credibility of climate science was regarded by my ‘colleagues’ as damaging to the consensus.

Early on in my statements about Climategate, I became aware that my statements were looked upon very unfavorably by some scientists, particularly those that were vocal advocates of the IPCC and UNFCCC policies. As an example, Peter Webster related a conversation at a professional meeting in 2010 with a young scientist who said something like: ‘You know, Judy is REALLY unpopular among the scientists at lab.  I’m not sure, but I think she might be right.  I can say that to you but of course I wouldn’t dare say that at the lab.’

I soon realized that by doing this, I was pretty much destroying any chance I might have had for further recognition/awards by professional societies such as the AGU…

Many who are skeptical stay silent:

Last June, I encountered at a meeting an elected official of one of the major professional societies, who was not unsympathetic to my positions.  He asked me:  ”I have wondered what possessed you to break loose from the mainstream opinions of the community, with potentially adverse professional consequences.”…

My ‘ostracism’ from the IPCC advocacy ’tribe’ has been noted by other scientists that are quietly sympathetic to my position.

Scientists are human and subject to peer group pressure too:

What is at issue here is a conflict between the micro ethics of individual responsibility for responsible conduct of research and larger ethical issues associated with the well-being of the public and the environment.  Most such examples are related to suppression of evidence including  attempting to stifle skeptical research (particularly its publication and dissemination to the public); the Climategate emails provide abundant examples of this.

On scientists who justify withholding “awkward” results from publication:

In my view this comment exemplifies a problematic attitude not only in climate science but in the social sciences as well. The good cause which allegedly motivates much of the research puts the researcher in a special position. It allows them to dispense with essential standards of professional conduct. It is perhaps not remarkable that we see a ‘leading figure’ in the philosophy of science defend questionable practices which have been modelled (not by accident I suppose) after the famous climategate affair.

The risks for the credibility of science (no matter which branch or discipline) are clear. Anyone who comes across such commentary will take this as confirmation that science can be twisted according to the will of scientists (or elites); that science is constructed (in the vulgar sense of being ‘made up’ and ‘fake’); and that scientists preserve the prerogative of making judgements which data are for public consumption and which are not.

The full post: Scientists and motivated reasoning

There is no such thing as an uncorruptible human institution.


H/t Climate Depot and Tom Nelson

9.4 out of 10 based on 100 ratings