Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Ele Ludemann: Distinguishing science from activism

Ulf Büntgen writes on the importance of distinguishing climate science from climate activism:

I am concerned by climate scientists becoming climate activists, because scholars should not have a priori interests in the outcome of their studies. Likewise, I am worried about activists who pretend to be scientists, as this can be a misleading form of instrumentalization. . .

Motivated by the continuous inability of an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to tackle global warming, despite an alarming recent rise in surface temperatures and associated hydroclimatic extremes5, I argue that quasi-religious belief in, rather than the understanding of the complex causes and consequences of climate and environmental changes undermines academic principles. I recommend that climate science and climate activism should be separated conceptually and practically, and the latter should not be confused with science communication and public engagement.

While this Comment is not a critique of climate activism per se, I am foremost concerned by an increasing number of climate scientists becoming climate activists, because scholars should not have a priori interests in the outcome of their studies. Like in any academic case, the quest for objectivity must also account for all aspects of global climate change research. While I have no problem with scholars taking public positions on climate issues, I see potential conflicts when scholars use information selectively or over-attribute problems to anthropogenic warming, and thus politicise climate and environmental change. Without self-critique and a diversity of viewpoints, scientists will ultimately harm the credibility of their research and possibly cause a wider public, political and economic backlash.

That self critique and a diversity of views should apply is not confined to scientists nor to the issue of climate change. These are sadly missing from much of the media.

Likewise, I am worried about activists who pretend to be scientists, as this can be a misleading form of instrumentalization. In fact, there is just a thin line between the use and misuse of scientific certainty and uncertainty, and there is evidence for strategic and selective communication of scientific information for climate action6. (Non-)specialist activists often adopt scientific arguments as a source of moral legitimation for their movements6, which can be radical and destructive rather than rational and constructive. Unrestricted faith in scientific knowledge is, however, problematic because science is neither entitled to absolute truth nor ethical authority7. The notion of science to be explanatory rather than exploratory is a naïve overestimation that can fuel the complex field of global climate change to become a dogmatic ersatz religion for the wider public. It is also utterly irrational if activists ask to “follow the science” if there is no single direction. Again, even a clear-cut case like anthropogenically-induced global climate change does not justify the deviation from long-lasting scientific standards, which have distinguished the academic world from socio-economic and political spheres. . .

Furthermore, I cannot exclude that the ongoing pseudo-scientific chase for record-breaking heatwaves and associated hydroclimatic extremes distracts from scientifically guided international achievements of important long-term goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming16. . . .

There is a difference between weather and climate which escapes those chasing pseudo-scientific records.

In essence, I suggest that an ever-growing commingling of climate science, climate activism, climate communication and climate policy, whereby scientific insights are adopted to promote pre-determined positions, not only creates confusion among politicians, stakeholders and the wider public, but also diminishes academic credibility. Blurring boundaries between science and activism has the potential to harm movements of environmentalism and climate protection, as well as the much-needed international consent for sustainable growth and a global energy transition. If unbound climate activism results in widespread panic or indifference, people may think that it is either too late for action or that action does not matter. . .

In conclusion, and as a way forward, I recommend that a neutral science should remain unbiased and avoid any form of selection, over-attribution and reductionism that would reflect a type of activism. Policymakers should continue seeking and considering nuanced information from an increasingly complex media landscape of overlapping academic, economic and public interests. Advice from a diversity of researchers and institutions beyond the IPCC and other large-scale organisations that assess the state of knowledge in specific scientific fields should include critical investigations of clear-cut cases, such as anthropogenic climate change. A successful, international climate agenda, including both climate mitigation and adaptation, requires reliable reporting of detailed and trustworthy certainties and uncertainties, whereas any form of scientism and exaggeration will be counterproductive.

Neutrality, absence of bias and avoidance of any forms of selection are essential for trust and not just in science and scientists.

We need a media that follows this and clearly distinguishes between reporting and activism.

Ele Ludemann is a North Otago farmer and journalist, who blogs HERE - where this article was sourced.


Anonymous said...

Is climate science actually science? Does it follow the scientific method? Or like much of epidemiology is all based upon models that fail to predict anything in the real world? Virology doesn’t follow the scientific method. Anything that doesn’t isn’t science but rather pseudoscience by definition.

Basil Walker said...

Just abolish immediately the Ministries of Environment and Climate Change .
The 2024 Budget needs savings and these Ministeries are perfect solutions .

NZ - Sit on the fence and watch without spending and WASTING precious time and resources with opinions .

The sea level rise is negligible ,indeed nothing and the Methane alarmism is almost gone , indeed nothing therefore most suggested science is natural and indeed nothing.

Jim H. said...

Very astute distinction between scientific analysis and activism. I recall that this blurring was an issue in economic modelling and research years ago, but not brought to account.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Anonymous, much of conventional science doesn't follow the classical scientific method of hypothesis/experiment because of the problem of non-replicability (e.g. plate tectonics, cosmology, paleontology.....). Pseudoscience is quite another kettle of fish as it involves primary assumptions that are not empirically validatable e.g. astrology, homeopathy...... and PERHAPS certain aspects of climate science that have been politically hijacked.

Anonymous said...

direct all CC spending to resilience on stuff we need anyway.