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More on Motive vs. Content

December 4, 2009

This National Journal interview with Judy Curry, an accomplished and respected climate scientist, is very insightful, and touches on the issue of motive vs. content, which I wrote about the other day. Here’s a snippet:

NJ: Is the outside scrutiny from the skeptics making the science stronger?

Curry: Scrutiny from scientific skeptics makes the science stronger, either by identifying problems that can be addressed or by increasing confidence when problems and errors are not found. Scrutiny from [politically motivated] contrarians and deniers and the noise generated by such people do distract scientists from their real work… The scientists involved in the CRU emails are dismissing certain people as skeptics, assuming that they all have political motivations. Well, the motivation of the skeptic isn’t really the point. The point is whether or not they have a valid argument.

NJ: Is the science community served well by ad hominem criticisms of the skeptics?

Curry: Absolutely not. Scientists should criticize the argument, not the person making the argument. The other fallacious criticism is “appeal to motive,” looking for some link of the skeptics to the oil industry or advocacy group…. You [should] have to declare this, but it does not in any way disqualify you from doing research or publishing your papers.

Mann was on “The Diane Rehm Show” yesterday [Nov. 30]. He was very eloquent, but he was defending [an e-mail in which he suggested boycotting a journal that published an article questioning climate change by saying] it was a bad paper and besides, those people were affiliated with the oil industry. He really believes that’s right, but medical research would stop if anyone who got their funding from the pharmaceutical industry could not publish their paper.

We don’t really know how to behave in this politicized environment…. I don’t think any of those scientists involved are out to be bad people. They think they have the moral high ground. Scientists just don’t know how to behave in this politicized environment… and we really need advice from the social psychologists, historians and philosophers on how we should be dealing with this situation.

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