Being part of a team, a community, can be a rewarding experience. When everyone focuses on the same goals and supports each other’s efforts, great things can be accomplished.
But there’s also a dark side to group dynamics. At the extreme end we find mob violence. In the heat of the moment, normally law-abiding people can behave in profoundly anti-social ways if those around them are setting a bad example. More typically, though, our imaginations are merely prescribed and constrained by commonly-held beliefs.
Lots of smart people used to think that masturbation caused blindness. Many otherwise decent men once argued that women aren’t intellectually equipped to handle money. Indeed, it’s impossible to read about other historical eras without concluding that much of what people now fervently believe to be true will be dismissed as nonsense by our descendents (see the book, The Experts Speak) .
I find it peculiar, therefore, that no government bodies, research institutions, or scientific organizations have paid attention to the role that group psychology or team dynamics might be playing in the climate change context.
Before they began promoting the idea that human-caused global warming is a planetary emergency shouldn’t the authorities have done a bit of due diligence? Shouldn’t they have gone to some trouble to assure themselves that this conclusion wasn’t a case of groupthink within the relatively small, relatively insular climate science community?
Which brings me to a paper still-in-progress authored by Arthur Rörsch, a former Dutch professor of molecular genetics (backup link here). He has examined the current draft document written by the science section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The final version of that report isn’t expected until 2014. Nevertheless, he sees few signs that the IPCC has learned anything.
Rörsch’s paper refers to “post-modern science” in its title. From his perspective, the people writing the latest IPCC report share a common, flawed mindset. In his words:
rules of logic are applied only within the context of a chosen cultural paradigm based on a given thought system.
Accordingly, he alleges that:
All fourteen chapters of the IPCC report start from the assumption that atmospheric CO2 is a dominant forcing agent for global temperature.
Rörsch is further appalled by the IPCC’s habit of presenting conclusions on an opinion-based probability scale. At one end is exceptionally unlikely. At the other is virtually certain. In his words:
This procedure results in the application of subjective judgment by groups of scientists, who in effect reach their verdict by a “show of hands”. Such a process is the domain of social and political science, and should play no part in a true, traditional scientific report.
In Rörsch’s view, the scientific literature the IPCC plans to cite in its next report
is selective towards papers that support the [dangerous human-caused global warming] hypothesis, and even the papers that are included are then selectively analyzed towards the same end.
Here’s another zinger:
establishing that [dangerous human-caused global warming] exists requires a scientific assessment study that weighs the evidence both for and against the hypothesis. That assessment should not.merely proclaim the merit of the.hypothesis. [my bold]
The IPCC draft report only makes sense, says Rörsch, if one concludes that its authors are operating within an “unchallengeable thought system.”
In other words, the next IPCC opus seems unlikely to tell us anything we haven’t heard already.
A hand-picked group of people will once again produce a document that reveals a great deal about their own worldview. Once again, they will ignore some of the most obvious and difficult questions.