Philip Kitcher, philosopher of science and pitcher for climate alarmism

As the rolling blackouts in South Australia provide a warning the Green renewables future, with the same prospect impending in Victoria, another factor has come to mind in the witches brew of influences which caused the failure of climate science. This is the academic teaching of the philosophy of science and the theory of knowledge at large. Another dot in the picture of climate science, previously sketched.

Just to give the flavour, Philip Kitcher is arguable the most decorated and published philosopher of science going around at present. This is his take on warming and the role of CO2 and the consensus. This runs over an hour but you only need a couple of minutes to find where he is coming from. OMG he is still promoting Mann and the hockey stick. I thought even the IPCC got over that.

This comes from 2015, another hour and a half that you don’t need, from a Communist party forum to explain that capitalism is the problem. I am gob-smacked that Kitcher was prepared to talk to this forum about the science, I thought he was an ordinarily decent but misguided social democrat. After all he has written books about democracy.

People who don’t like the sound of his voice can get the story from this book review.

He is now on the verge of phased retirement after a stellar career, starting with logical empiricism (mentored by the leading light of that field, Karl Hempel) and moving on to the post-positivist phase with mentoring from Thomas S Kuhn who is often regarded as the leader in that shift. Lately he has moved on to revive pragmatism a la John Dewey whose progressive politics he shares.

I don’t think scientists take much notice of the philosophy of science, any more than economists follow the large literature of philosophy and methodology of economics. Richard Feinman expressed utter contempt for philosophy (and the soft social sciences). He obviously never encountered Karl Popper which is a shame, although he didn’t really need to because he channelled Poppers approach; guessing – testing and relentless criticism to look for weak spots in the story.

My concern about the logical positivist/logical positivist – Karl Hempel – Carnap – Kuhn – Kitcher mainstream in the philosophy of science is that it has nothing useful to say to working scientists because their main concerns were: Explication of concepts – endless refinement of terms, after few useless decades spent on the meaning of meaning itself. And Confirmation Theory and Inductive Probabilities – trying to put probability values on theories.

None of that relates to the daily work of scientists. But countless tens of thousands of students have passed through mainstream courses in the philosophy of science since it became a thriving academic discipline. The main contents of the courses offer no sense of the critical process that drives science.

The critical rationalism of Popper offers an alternative view which speaks to working scientists, which explains why he is favourably regarded by scientists who are aware of his ideas – the likes of Einstein, Medawar, Eccles, Monod and the soil scientists and agronomists who attended his adult education courses in New Zealand. However Popper’s ideas, like those of the Austrian economists, are marginalized in their respective disciplines.
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15 Responses to Philip Kitcher, philosopher of science and pitcher for climate alarmism

  1. Half way thru Bruno Latour’s book on the philosophy of science Pandora’s Hope. As a follower of Popper’s ideas, I am finding it interesting and thoughtful.

  2. struth

    There’s a few minutes I won’t get back.
    No offence.

    What I mean to say is these academics take themselves way too seriously.
    What he needed to realise after all this study and teaching on the taxpayers teat, is how you can be so thick as to not think you should get out into the real world before preaching philosophy on any subject.
    Another hack trying to muddy the waters by talking shit to ensure he got to stay on the taxpayers special funded persons list.
    Sack them all.
    F..k them off.
    They are more harm than good.
    Here’s the philosophy of science.
    It’s actually the rules, as there is no such thing as the philosophy of science.
    Do a frigging experiment.
    Verify the results
    Record the results.
    Question the results.
    Let other scientists see and question the results.
    Do not tamper with the results to gain funding and recognition.
    The end.
    That’s it.

    Really.

  3. Brian

    Science is not self authenticating. It sits on a philosophical foundation often used and seldom acknowledged.
    It assumes the world it is examining is orderly and predictable, subject to laws that can be tested and then subsequently relied on.
    That particular assumption has rarely held sway in mankind and is tightly bound up with one’s view of where the world came from.
    You do not have to understand that philosophy to use the scientific method, but it is essential to the long term preservation of the scientific method.
    Hence the rise in modern universities students of all kinds of superstitions from astrology to magic to crystals and the infusion of human characteristics into natural objects such as trees and landforms [eg John Williamson – “Uluru has power”]. Idolatry is actually a common state of fallen mankind as they seek to fill the void created by their rejection of their creator.

  4. Bass Strait and the English Channel were formed from dry land within the period of human settlements and even towns. Now we’re supposed to act surprised that sea levels and temps are still changeable? They certainly don’t change like they did between the depths of the Younger Dryas to the peak of the Holocene Optimum less than eight thousand years ago…but you still have have to expect change, even the odd jolt. Chill, Philip.

    But I guess it’s still the job of pious and orhtodox temple priests like Kitcher to shield us from this this new-fangled observation thingy that leads so many into doubt and loss of faith.

  5. OneWorldGovernment

    Rafe,

    Couple of years ago I started a degree course in Philosophy at a University in West Australia. The lecturers, no doubt gifted and intelligent folk, all burst out of ‘the box’ in their first lectures telling me, basically, what they were going to wash my mind with, whether agw, feminism or the end of capitalism, and I chickened out and just walked away.

    Lasted 3 days.

    What I would like to ask, and propose, what if we did nothing about Global Warming.

    What if we said yes you have a good argument but so what?

    When has the Earth environment been any different?

    Why not do nothing except continue on the path we have evolved over 100’s of years to utilise fossil fuels?

    After all, if agw doesn’t kill us then something else will so what is the point?

  6. Aynsley Kellow

    Rafe,
    You are correct. Most scientists have no idea of the philosophy of science, and it shows most clearly in climate science, which probably could not function without the word ‘could’. As I put it to a friend recently, they were all conjectures and no refutations.
    There is much committing of the fallacy of bringing evidence to the theory (evidence is ‘consistent with the model’) and there is never a specification of what evidence would ever falsify the theory. This moves its propositions from A.J. Ayers category of ‘synthetic propositions’ (subject to empirical falsification) to ‘metaphysical’ or ‘ethical’ propositions, although sometimes they seem like ‘analytic propositions’ (true by definition).
    It is not remarkable then that we find explanations that defy the laws of physics: once The Pause was acknowledged (before Karl et al ‘disappeared’ it), we were expected to believe that the heat was hiding in the deep oceans. Can anyone think of a mechanism by which heat could get into the depths of the ocean (and then reappear later) without violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

  7. Rafe Champion

    Aynsley my point is that the scientists would not be more critical if they did undertake courses in the mainstream of the philosophy of science. And the people who do the courses and take on board all that stuff about explication of concepts and confirmation theory are not equipped with the critical approach that is required to call the scientists to account. They are trained to think in terms of consensus. Kuhn even went so far as to say that a science reached maturity when criticism stopped.

  8. Aynsley Kellow

    Rafe, you are probably right, but philosophers of science such as yourself can do the world a favour by calling them out. Beyond Kuhn, Feyerabend pointed out that scientists lie and cheat for their ‘consensus’ to prevail. I always thought that both Kuhn and Feyerabend were more sociologists of science – describing how scientists operate. When we wish for guidance as to how we might assess science, we cannot go past Popperian falsification. The US Supreme Court reached essentially the same conclusion in Daubert v Merrill Dow. Any decent ambulance chasing attorney with any knowledge of logical fallacies would have a field day with anyone using Kuhn’s views as some kind of truth test!
    I do confess to having heard Popper when he visited Otago when I was a student. It was a good department under Alan Musgrave, with a lively Arts Faculty tea room – Jim Flynn beginning his work on race and IQ (on which I worked very briefly as an RA), Jeremy Waldron as a tutor.
    On the Austrian School, Robert Formaini’s ‘The Myth of Scientific Public Policy’ is a good (if difficult) read – especially for it’s critiques of CBA and Quantitative Risk Assessment. As I recall, it tells the tale of the 1970s Swine Flu panic, which killed only about 42, but the vaccine they rushed in was disastrous.

  9. OneWorldGovernment

    Aynsley Kellow

    Great stuff.

    But in the words of the failed American democrat Presidential nominee “at what point does this make a difference now?”

    You think you have the clever stuff all covered when in actual fact unless you can do an Einstein type thing the globul warming idiots are just sucking the pollies on a piece of string.

    Happy to debate you any time, any where.

  10. JohnA

    Lately he has moved on to revive pragmatism a la John Dewey whose progressive politics he shares.

    If by this you refer to the John Dewey of Columbia University, who launched the seismic shift in the theory of education from the transmission of knowledge, skills and attitudes to the conduct of social engineering experiments upon students, then this

    ” Philip Kitcher is arguably the most decorated and published philosopher of science going around at present. “

    is missing a /sarc or at least a sic.

  11. Aynsley Kellow

    OWG,
    I’m not sure we have much to debate – we’d probably be in furious agreement!
    We are currently running the experiment that might falsify the theory, and those of us who are ‘lukewarmers’ are looking a bit better than the ‘alarmists’ who are calling us ‘deniers’ in a cheap rhetorical attempt to liken us to Holocaust deniers – while altering the data to make it look like The Pause isn’t ‘real’ after all.
    If the alarmists are wrong, as I suspect they are, the real questions will be about the price we have all paid – and whether there will be any price for those who have traduced the scientific method to advance their cause and they careers.
    I should add, that I am the first to admit that I might be wrong – but it will be evidence that proves me wrong. Rhetorical tricks, groupthink and a command of the heights of the scientific academy will not do.

  12. Combine Dave

    The critical rationalism of Popper offers an alternative view which speaks to working scientists, which explains why he is favourably regarded by scientists who are aware of his ideas – the likes of Einstein, Medawar, Eccles, Monod and the soil scientists and agronomists who attended his adult education courses in New Zealand. However Popper’s ideas, like those of the Austrian economists, are marginalized in their respective disciplines.

    The ideas that results need to be reproducibe and evidence based (no magical thinking!) in order to be scientific has been marginalised in science? WTF?

    Not good, not good at all.

    I am assuming that this is not the case in the hard sciences? Lest we see frigates “propelled” by happy thoughts and submarines manufactured from good intentions made in Australia…

    As the great man once said (according to Google):-
    “Non-reproducible single occurrences are of no significance to science.” —Karl Popper

  13. Rafe

    Well the US Pacific fleet was supposed to be moving towards green power. I expect the new regime will do something about that.

  14. stackja

    Rafe
    #2298174, posted on February 16, 2017 at 10:25 am
    Well the US Pacific fleet was supposed to be moving towards green power. I expect the new regime will do something about that.

    Add extra solar panels?

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