This guy Ravetz was onto something about climate science in 1973

Does this sound familiar? He didn’t know about climate science because it was yet to be invented but he could see the shape of it.

When an immature field takes on the task of expanding its research effort for the solution of some urgent (sic) practical problem there will be a tendency for the outcome of its labours to be a weighty argument establishing the conclusions that its sponsors and its public wanted all along.” J R Ravetz in Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems, 1973.

Summarising a bit more of his chapter on immature and ineffective fields of inquiry.
The term hypertrophy can be applied in a field where the rate of growth is so rapid that the mechanisms of quality control fail to work effectively…
In response to urgent calls for helpful research a clever mediocrity can build an empire and achieve power and prestige at the expense of those with more caution or scruples. In the absence of controls within the discipline or in neighbouring fields the worst excesses of entrepreneurial and shoddy science can occur…
Rapidly increasing volumes of research provides demand an expansion of institutional apparatus including academic places and there soon appears a structure of postgraduate and undergraduate courses , mostly vacuous in content and largely taught by a mixture of mediocrities, posers and entrepreneurs (of the wrong kind).
Graduates of such courses emerge as manpower units with spurious qualifications for taking their places as technicians, practitioners or experts in the growing industry of vacuous research and misconceived technical developments.

And much more of the same with a lot of historical perspective and innumerable case studies from most of the branches of science as they evolved in modern times.

Of course it is completely useless as a text for modern students who are not expected to read books and do not even need to come into contact with books or libraries as they are fed folders of snippets to supplement the lectures where they sit and do social media.

Check it out anyway, very cheap if you are in the US.

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3 Responses to This guy Ravetz was onto something about climate science in 1973

  1. John Smith101

    Ravetz, eh? Just happen to be completing the final draft of a book about the current state of world affairs, which includes sections on science and education.
    During the 1990s, Ravetz, along with Silvio Funtowicz, developed the concept of post-normal science (J R Ravetz, What is post-normal science? Futures, 31, pp647-653, 1999). Post-normal science is (paraphrased):
    The concept of post-normal science goes beyond the traditional assumptions that science is both certain and value-free…The exercise of scholarly activities is defined by the dominance of goal orientation where scientific goals are controlled by political or societal actors…Scientists’ integrity lies not in disinterestedness but in their behaviour as stakeholders. Normal science made the world believe that scientists should and could provide certain, objective factual information…The guiding principle of normal science – the goal of achievement of factual knowledge – must be modified to fit the post-normal principle [the narrative]…For this purpose, post-normal scientists should be capable of establishing extended peer communities and allow for ‘extended facts’ from non-scientific experts…In post-normal science, the maintenance and enhancement of quality, rather than the establishment of factual knowledge, is the key task of scientists… Involved social actors must agree on the definition of perceptions, narratives, interpretation of models, data and indicators…scientists have to contribute to society by learning as quickly as possible about different perceptions…instead of seeking deep ultimate knowledge.
    In other words, post-normal science posits that an undefined notion of quality (read the narrative) is the driver of post-normal science, rather than the knowledge gained through established independent and verifiable facts. For example, an online comment by Graeme Rodaughan, in Steven Goddard, MIT: Global Warming of 7°C ‘Could Kill Billions This Century’, Watts Up With That, 25 May 2009, he says:
    Over time (say the last 30 to 40 years) there has been the rise of Advocacy as a practice of science. Where Advocacy differs from the traditional practice of science is in the refusal to use destructive testing by experiment. Advocates instead defend their positions by highlighting “supporting” evidence and ignoring, and attacking contrary evidence. No advocate is “thrilled” by the prospect that their theory might be wrong, and that there might be something new to learn. Advocates substitute other theoretical constructs (i.e. Computer Models) for destructive testing. Theory ends up referencing theory in a closed loop. Advocacy = Bias.
    In the world of post-normal science with its reliance on circularly argued grey literature (unpublished or non-commercially published research, eg policy or issue papers) one climate scientist, Mike Hulme, The Appliance of Science, The Guardian, 14 March 2007, sums it up by saying:
    ‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking . . . scientists – and politicians – must trade truth for influence. If scientists want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy, they must recognise the social limits of their truth seeking and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity.
    Post-normal science or post-modern ideology? Readers can draw their own conclusions.

  2. Rafe Champion

    Thanks John that explains a cryptic comment from an old academic (91 years old) who I asked about Ravetz when I first started to read his book a couple of years ago. His reply was so cryptic that I didn’t understand what he meant – something that happened after that book. I was moving in a different direction and did not ask for clarification. Now I see that Ravetz moved in a very different direction! Rather like Polanyi’s “post critical science” that got him into a confrontation with Karl Popper!

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