The empiricist army out to rescue ‘proper evidence-based science’ from the theorists

So the weather in Britain has been a bit extreme recently, right? Well actually, argues Christopher Brooker, a quick perusal of the facts shows nothing of the sort:

On the belief that Britain has recently experienced unprecedented rain, for instance, look at the analysis of the Met Office’s England and Wales rainfall data sets on Paul Homewood’s website, Not A Lot Of People Know That. There is no upward trend in our rainfall. Even January’s continual downpours made it only the sixteenth wettest month since records began in 1766. Even if this month’s rain adds a further 200mm (8in) to the December-January figure, the resulting 650mm would still be way short of the 812mm (32in) recorded between November 1929 and January 1930.

The problem is that “all true science … has here been thrown out of the window”. In a political environment dominated by ‘anthropogenic global warming’ (AGW) flat-earthers with their absolute lock on the institutions of science and the media (apart from the ones the critics of AGW write for that is) the responsibility falls on right-thinking empiricists like Christopher Brooker to rescue ‘the facts’ from the scientists responsible for their ideological distortion. As he explains, “for proper evidence-based science these days one has to step outside the hermetically sealed bubble of warmist group-think and look to that array of expert blogs and websites that provide the data necessary to thinking straight”.

So what is “evidence-based science”? It’s empiricist science. It’s positivism of a peculiarly unsophisticated sort. Data speaks for itself. All it requires is a mind free from distortion to identify the constant conjunctions indicated by the data. On this view, theory entails a retreat from ‘evidence’. What intrigues me about this proto-positivism is its capacity to be both naive (the ‘facts’ speak for themselves) and paranoid (disagreement is reduced to a plot to distort the ‘facts’). If one were to look psychoanalytically at this cultural trend, we might point to ‘the facts’ as a fetish object for critics of AGW. They are imbued with magical powers, able to dissolve complex arguments into self-evident truths which illustrate the path forward for humanity amidst a 21st century almost constitutively dilemmatic. But ‘the facts’ are also made by those very scientists who are conspiring to undermine such clear-thinking: meteorologists and climatologists produce the very data sets upon which this empiricist army of keyboard warriors depend to rescue “proper evidence-based science”. They are dependent upon the scientists yet simultaneously repudiate this dependence. They want the power of ‘the facts’ but refuse the dependence which would ensue from exercising this power. And this is how people who, though loathsome, are not idiots end up saying things like this:

Or perhaps he is just an idiot. He’s an “interpreter of interpretations” who repudiates the professional establishment he’s interpreting. You see what I mean? As a cultural formation ‘AGW-criticism’ is really interesting.

2 responses to “The empiricist army out to rescue ‘proper evidence-based science’ from the theorists”

  1. I agree, the process of the proposition, defence, acceptance, denial of AGW is very interesting. I think of it more in terms of meaning and knowledge than culture… but I am splitting hairs I guess. It occurs to me that for many people the work of ‘scientists’ is an abstraction in itself and they are unable to read the first hand accounts, not because they are unable to understand them (in some circumstances) but because the relationship they have with the scientific communication is one that can be characterised as a ‘leap’ in understanding. We know that taking paracetamol will help the headache… but we have no idea how.

    The decision to come down on one debate or another will be down to a number of systematic choices that are made in the way they deal with knowledge, who they take that knowledge from and how they process that knowledge (make it their own). There is benefit in sticking to a particular side or view in a debate, even though you can be shown arguments that go against your own, especially for such a politically minded individual as the one above. There could be a host of other connections and reasons for his decision that we are unaware of and that particular clip you show is heavily edited – there could have been subtleties to his position that would have made it more understandable, if enduringly inaccurate.

    I think there are only a few of my friends who are capable of reading all of the literature on AGW and making an informed ‘scientific’ decision on what they think and they are all environmental scientists. Many other scientific people I know are able to read various different levels of scientific writing on the subject, but most of these are not first hand scientific papers but ‘interpretations of interpretations’, as the BBC Horizon program would be. Many other people I know, great proponents of ‘science’ have not read a scientific paper in their lives, yet have strong feelings and would greatly argue using ‘facts’ about the effects and possible outcomes of AGW. I know other people who refuse to have their children vaccinated, but I don’t think their views on climate change are relevant for this debate right now.

    The knowledge and affective spread/ acceptance or denial, of AGW is a suitable area of study, we just need to make sure we have a spread across the all types of people making such mistakes with data and scientific facts – those that deny AGW but also those people making passionate claims calling for interaction action on climate change, who are also making similar mistakes with the way they use/ manage information. Just because they are getting the same answer we are, it doesn’t mean that their method was accurate.

    Anyway… I’m just spit-balling here.

  2. “It occurs to me that for many people the work of ‘scientists’ is an abstraction in itself and they are unable to read the first hand accounts, not because they are unable to understand them (in some circumstances) but because the relationship they have with the scientific communication is one that can be characterised as a ‘leap’ in understanding.”

    But this is about specialisation in general rather than scientists/non-scientists, surely? I may be more able than an ‘average’ person to locate climatology papers and (institutionally) gain access to them but I don’t think I have any capacity to understand them. I think the cultural system in late modernity is intrinsically dilemmatic in this sense and that someone like Delingpole represents a particularly extreme psychosocial response to a constellation of challenges which we all face when we’re not equipped to draw informed conclusions about accumulated scholarship on issues of widespread importance. I dislike him for all sorts of reasons but I’m definitely not attacking him for being anti-science – rather I’m really interested in the contradiction he faces as someone trying to intervene authoriatively in public debates as an ‘interpreter of interpretations’.

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