Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Judith Curry Perfectly Describes a Bad Recipe for Tobacco Science


Judith Curry is a brilliant American climatologist and former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.  The author of over a hundred scientific papers, she served on many high-level government panels: the National Research Council's Climate Research Committee; NASA’s Advisory Council Earth Science Subcommittee; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Working Group; and the National Academies’ Space Studies Board and Climate Research Group. 

Professor Curry publishes a blog, Climate Etc., which “provides a forum for climate researchers, academics and technical experts from other fields, citizen scientists, and the interested public to engage in a discussion on topics related to climate science and the science-policy interface.”

Her recent blog entry, “A Bad Recipe For Science,” which addresses political corruption of science generally, perfectly describes the terrible recipe to undermine tobacco harm reduction that has been concocted by the World Health Organization and its partners.  Following are excerpts from the blog, with my added tobacco harm reduction-related emphasis and [note]. 


Politically-motivated manufacture of scientific consensus corrupts the scientific process and leads to poor policy decisions

An essay with excerpts from my new book Climate Uncertainty and Risk.

In the 21st century, humankind is facing a myriad of complex societal problems that are characterized by deep uncertainties, systemic risks and disagreements about values. Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic are prominent examples of such wicked problems. For such problems, the relevant science has become increasingly like litigation, where truth seeking has become secondary to politics and advocacy on behalf of a preferred policy solution.

How does politics influence the scientific process for societally relevant issues? Political bias influences research funding priorities, the scientific questions that are asked, how the findings are interpreted, what is cited, and what gets canonized.  Factual statements are filtered in assessment reports and by the media with an eye to downstream political use.

How does politics influence the behavior of scientists? There is pressure on scientists to support consensus positions, moral objectives and the relevant policies.  This pressure comes from universities and professional societies, scientists themselves who are activists, journalists and from federal funding agencies in terms of research funding priorities. Because evaluations by one’s colleagues are so central to success in academia, it is easy to induce fear of social sanctions for expressing the ideas that, though not necessarily shown to be factually or scientifically wrong, are widely unpopular.

Activist scientists use their privileged position to advance moral and political agendas. This political activism extends to the professional societies that publish journals and organize conferences. This activism has a gatekeeping effect on what gets published, who gets heard at conferences, and who receives professional recognition. Virtually all professional societies whose membership has any link to climate research have issued policy statements on climate change, urging action to eliminate fossil fuel emissions.

The most pernicious manifestation of the politicization of science is when politicians, advocacy groups, journalists, and activist scientists intimidate or otherwise attempt to silence scientists whose research is judged to interfere with their moral and political agendas.

The road ahead requires moving away from the consensus-enforcing and cancel culture approach of restricting dialogue surrounding complex societal issues such as climate change [and smoking-related mortality]. We need to open up space for dissent and disagreement.  By acknowledging scientific uncertainties in the context of better risk management and decision- making frameworks, in combination with techno-optimism, there is a broad path forward for humanity to thrive in the twenty-first century and beyond.




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