Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Empty Friendliness of Scientists

By Václav Klaus 
Many thanks for the invitation and for offering me the possibility to participate in the debate about “Structural Problems in Contemporary Science” so well introduced in Prof. Lindzen´s invitation letter. My approach to this issue builds on several, to some respect unique and not easily repeatable pieces of my own experience. I don´t consider their short explicit presentation right at the beginning of my contribution a mere CV of mine but an integral part of my argumentation. My thinking is based:
- on a very special experience gained under the communist regime where I was forced to spend almost two thirds of my life, where science was at the same time promoted and prohibited, praised and celebrated, manipulated and misused, and where a high degree of political correctness mercilessly ruled (long before the term itself was invented);
- on my being an economist who believes much more in standard mainstream economics than in its modern (or post-modern) alternatives, who tries to teach economic science and make use of it in real life and who is convinced of its
enormous and irreplaceable explanatory power for orientation in the world around us;
- on my being a politician for 25 years of my recent life; a politician in high positions who learnt a lot during this time.
- on being – for more than a decade – intensively involved in the world-wide, highly controversial and heavily manipulated debate about global warming and about the role of human beings in it. This controversy has evolved into becoming one of the fundamental characteristics of our era. We have to admit that climate alarmists succeeded in changing the way how people think and behave;
- and, finally, the following remarks are based on my frustration of being a subject of the European Union (I intentionally don´t use the term citizen), of being caught again – after only a short break – in the brave new world of a non-democratic, highly manipulative political and social system. I have been witnessing a U-shaped “progress” curve of freedom and democracy in the last decades (from non-freedom in the communist era to freedom in the 1990s and then again to a highly curtailed freedom now). My almost daily contact with  the current European (and not much different American) political elites tells me that they, together with their fellow travellers in media and academia, are more deeply hostile to the values of Western civilization than Marxism and communism ever was.
I condensed my remarks into seven groupings.
1. Post-democracy
The contemporary world can be called, labelled and described in many ways. To call it a post-democracy as I do is just one of its characteristics, for me, however, the crucial one. We may call it also a post-rational world, the era of relativism and of the disappearance of old truths, traditions, habits and beliefs, the age of disorientation, the era of deconstructivism and of competing narratives which replaced the old, traditionally built theories, etc. I see a big methodological problem especially in the social sciences and in the constructivelistically driven attempts to deal with complex systems (as the whole world or the global climate).
I prefer the term post-democracy because – in my view – it reflects better than other terms the current post-totalitarian (but not much less destructive) features of the Western political system. This arrangement leads to a high degree of political authoritarism and to the weakenning of the role of parliaments, elections and political parties. It leads to the loss of a free exchange of views and of the elementary respect to different opinions, as well as to all kinds of authorities. We see the end of the dominance of well-defined – however imperfect, biased and misleading – grand ideologies (or Weltanschauungen). They, with all their weaknesses, helped in the past to guarantee the legitimacy of different views (including scientific concepts, theories and hypotheses) and a respect to the holders of these views. This doesn´t exist anymore now.
The change of the Western political system – not so slowly undergoing but for many people still not sufficiently visible – influences also science. Undoubtedly, for the worse. Five years ago, in my first Erice speech, I spoke in a similar way about a “post-normal science” whose ambitions are connected with political activism.[1]
2. Science loaded with contexts
Science is, or should be, the incarnation of rational, systematic, organized knowledge. For many reasons, it is not always so. Science doesn´t happen in a vacuum and scientists don´t live in ivory towers. This is why, scientific theories are loaded with contexts – historic, locational, political, etc. – much more than it is generally assumed and admitted. It was always the case, with non-negligible historic variations, but it has reached new heights now, in connection with the debate about global warming.[2] We, economists, witness a similar underestimation if not denial of scientific standards in the discussion about the allegedly dangerously growing inequality in our societies – it was so convincingly demonstrated in the undeservedly glorified and celebrated book by Thomas Piketty.[3]
Science has been undergoing a special development both as regards quantity and quality. The ever-growing number of scientific (or at least professional) books and articles and the huge variety of presented and published views conceal a high degree of intellectual conformism (unknown for centuries), the post-modern intellectual monoculture, and even the emergence of a mono-ideological world.
It is no accident that Richard Lindzen writes about the perpetuation of “group think”, that Wolfgang Kasper speaks about “climate fraternity”, and that Fred Singer mentions “the camaraderie of being part of an international scientific effort”. I find the resulting empty friendliness of scientists dangerous and counterproductive. It contributes to theherd instinct of scientists and to their conformism. I have always had problems with using first names (or “Du” in German) in my political and academic career.
3. The Role of politicians
The current post-democracy facilitates and accelerates the transmission process from ideas to public policy. Traditional checks and balances are turned-off. (Whenever there may arise a problem, Constitutional Courts come to help.)
Politicians – usually without any scientific background (and without reading and systematically educating themselves) – are superficial, aprioristic and utilitarian. They maximize short-term effects (connected with their own political career) and, at the same time, loosely and irresponsibly speak about the future.[4] They are interested in visible outcomes of their policies only (and underestimate the ever-present law of unintended consequences). Richard Lindzen in his 2015 Oslo speech[5] stresses that the politicians are not – usually – the authors of problematic ideas. He says “that politics is always opportunistically seeking some cause that fits its needs” (p. 10). This is their political rent-seeking. His idea of “the iron triangle of alarm” is refreshing.
The politicians are not omniscient and are no benevolent despots – in this respect the public choice school of economics made a mortal blow to the ever present idealization of policy makers. Not just individual politicians, but the whole governments are neither omniscient nor benevolent. They are no guarantors of the neutrality of the funding of research and science. The more post-democratic the system is, the worse the problems become. The European Union is in this respect the most exemplary case. The distance between the demos and politicians there has reached a new level (in the past known only in empires).
The ideas can very rapidly turn into policies, the substantial debate in governments and parliaments practically disappeared. Especially in the European parliament.
4. Government grants
A special role is in the current world played by government grants. The amounts of funds redistributed from tax-payers to scientists (or science organizations) are enormous. There is a high pay-off. It is, however, not easy to understand the complicated procedures in the games of grant-seeking, grant-giving and grant-getting.
Public choice theorists have been dealing with grant (rent) seeking for a long time. There is nothing to add. The evidently negative, counterproductive and efficiency diminishing process of rent-seeking has been widely discussed (and became a textbook knowledge). We don´t, however, study sufficiently the grant-giving where the whole problem starts. Its voluntarism and non-impartiality are even more destructive.
Massive grant-giving is a natural outgrowth of the ever-increasing government activism which is another, exceptionally harmful feature of our times. The government grants represent a very efficient method how to influence science and through influencing science the reality of the world.
An important role is played in this process by “scientists” who are appointed as “scientific advisors” to politicians. Most of them are not scientists in a narrow sense. They are often the people who either ceased doing science long-time ago or never did science at all. They just move in the vicinity of the scientific community. Some of them may possess elementary professional knowledge with the ability to read technical texts and use scientific terminology but that is all.
They are usually fighting for a special cause, for a special interest, for a special idea or ideology. Very often, they act more as activists than impartial advisors. In addition to it, we see a simple relationship: the bigger the role of governments, the more influential they are. The more politicized the issue, the more they take the lead and the title role. The softer the related science is, the more principal part they receive and occupy.
This creates a special bias in funding, in grant-giving. The relatively short history of global warming alarmism brings many examples of it. They should be carefully studied. Funding, together with setting agendas, has become the main vehicle for “shaping” science by politicians (and their advisors). The more and more funds available for a specific research finally results in some pieces of “evidence-based science” which are then used as a basis for political decisions with far-reaching consequences. The ridiculous claims as regards “climate science consensus” prove that.
I fully agree with the argumentation of a group of scientists in a recent article that “the alleged consensus about climate is nothing more than an agreement that temperatures have warmed in the past 300 years, and perhaps an agreement that human activities may have played some role”. The authors warn, however, that “the degree and causes of warming are hotly debated among climatologists”. There is no consensus as regards “the degree and causes”. I can´t compete with the analysis presented by David Legates, professor of climatology at the University of Delaware, quoted in the above-mentioned article, that “only 0.3 % of 11,944 peer-reviewed articles on climate and related topics, published from 1991 to 2011, explicitly stated that recent warming was mostly manmade”. To speak about a consensus is absurd.
Virtually no discussion is about the consequences of grant-getting. It changes the way how scientists think and work and what kind of research they do (and try to publish). The scientists are – like all of us – “utility maximizers”. It is not always directly the issue of money. These days’ scientists compete with other celebrities for prime-time moments on TV channels. To appear there requires special topics and results (as well as the ability to “perform”). They are invited there only when their results reflect either popular or government demand and when the results are politically correct. Government grants help in this respect.
5. Science and political agendas
Consciously or unconsciously, with the lack of modesty, without sufficiently admitting the uncertainties of their own results, without stressing all the necessary caveats about complicated interconnections and indirect effects, scientists in their public assertions very often help to promote political goals which may not be originally on their agenda. Some climatologists perhaps did not want to be the vehicles for suppressing world-wide economic growth (especially in developing countries), for inspiring and defending global governance (of unelected bureaucratic bodies instead of elected politicians in nation states), and for redistributing wealth. They are not fully aware of the fact that the widely contested international agreements (such as the Paris Accord) are in principle not about a climate change. The alleged climate change is used as a way to undermine the liberal (in the classical European sense) order world-wide. Is unawareness of it dishonesty or ignorance?
6. The beauty and dubiousness of too simple theories
There is, undoubtedly, some sort of magic (and seductiveness) in straightforward and uncomplicated theories but they are usually not true. It is, of course, elementary, that the simpler the theory is, the more powerful it is. It has its limits, however. Scientists should a priori reject simplistic, too easily presentable theories about complex systems (like climate). The simple global warming hypothesis about CO2 and temperature is such a case.
It is not tenable to assume that the small portion of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere (0.04 %) could be the primary cause and main mover behind the warming since the Little Ice Age. Nevertheless, it is so postulated and the whole green propaganda is based on it. It is believed to be so even though a simple and stable relationship between carbon dioxide and global temperature evidently doesn´t exist – neither in the long run, nor in recent years. It has also been proved many times that there are long lags between the movements of these variables. In spite of that it is believed that the climate change (or global warming) can be stopped by reducing the CO2 emissions. It has no connection with science, or as Richard Lindzen put it, it represents “a serious threat to the credibility of science”.
7. The optimal level of precaution
In my first book on global warming[6], I devoted the whole chapter to the issue of excessive precaution under the title “Cost-Benefit Analysis or Absolutism of the Precautionary Principle?”. It is difficult to add anything. The economists think in terms of costs and benefits and stress the importance of proper discounting. They disagree with the low discount rates used in global warming models because it harms the current generations (especially the poor in the current generations) vis-à-vis much more affluent future generations. Even disregarding the intergenerational redistribution of wealth, there is, undoubtedly, a limit to the level of precaution humans can afford and base their behaviour on. The exponents of the global warming doctrine don´t take this limit into consideration which is an intellectual defect. Someone should tell them.
We should be much more explicit about it all.
Václav Klaus, World Federation of Scientists meeting, the session on “Structural Problems in Contemporary Science”, Erice, Italy, August, 2017.
Václav Klausis a Czech economist and served as the second President of the Czech Republic from 2003 to 2013.

[1] Klaus, V., “The Manmade Contribution to Ongoing Global Warming Is Not a Planetary Emergency”, “Magisterial Lecture” at the International Seminar on Planetary Emergencies, organized by the World Federation of Scientists, Erice, Sicily, Italy, 20 August 2012. You can find the text here: The speech was also published in the book Klaus, V., “The Never-Ending Struggle for Free Society”, publication No. 14/2014, The Václav Klaus Institute, Prague, 2014.
[2] See my recent book “Zničí nás klima, nebo boj s klimatem?” (Shall we be destroyed by climate or by our fight with climate), Grada Publishing, Prague, 2017. In Czech only.
[3] Piketty, T., Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2014.
[4] In my previous Erice speech I argued that “by assuming a very low, near-zero discount rate the proponents of the global warming doctrine neglect the issue of time and of alternative opportunities”(p. 210 in “The Never-Ending Struggle for Free Society” – see above).
[5] Lindzen, R., S., The language of alarm and the irrelevance of science, University of Oslo, May 18, 2015.
[6] Klaus, V., Blue Planet in Green Shackles. What Is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington, D. C., 2008.

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