If you define a climate scientist as a natural scientist that studies the climate, it is clear that such a scientist is not a policy expert. Thus when such a scientist has his science hat on, he is well advised not to talk about policy.
However, as private citizen also a climatologist naturally has freedom of expression; I will keep on blogging on topics I am not an expert on, including (climate) policy.
Other scientists may be more suited to give policy advice (answer questions from the politicians or the public on consequences of certain policies) or even to advocate particular policies (develop and communicate a new political strategy to solve the climate problem). Are hydrologists, ecologists, geographers and economists studying climate change impacts climatologists? They surely would have more to say about the consequences of certain policies.
Some scientists focus their work on policy. If that is mainly about climate policy, does that make the following people climatologists? They are certainly qualified to publicly talk about climate policy.
For example, Roger Pielke Jr., with his Masters degree in public policy and a Ph.D. in political science. I guess he will keep on making policy recommendations.
Gilbert E. Metcalf and colleagues (2008) studied carbon taxes in their study, Analysis of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Tax Proposals and probably did not do this to have their study disappear in an archive.
Wolfgang Sterk of the Wuppertal Institut suggests to change the global cap-and-trade discussion to jointly stimulating innovation towards a sustainable economy (unfortunately in German). Sounds close to my suggestion to break the deadlock in the global climate negotiations.
Science and politicsOne thing should be clear, science and politics are two different worlds. Politics is about comparing oranges and apples, building coalitions for your ideas and balancing conflicts of interest. Politicians are used to deal with ambiguity and an uncertain future.
Natural science is about comparing like with like. However, you cannot add up lives, health, money and quality of life. Science can say something about implications (including error bars) of a policy with respect to lives, health, money and maybe even quality of life if you define it clearly. The politician will have to weight these things against each other. Science is also about solving clear crisp problems or dividing a complex problem in multiple such simple solvable ones.
With some exceptions, scientists being used to solving completely other types of problems are likely bad at political advocacy. It is much smarter to do what you are good at and most scientists can best explain how climate change works and what are the likely consequences, if the chose to participate in the public arena at all.
I do not know whether I should write so, it sounds trivial, but may be it is part of the controversy: Naturally when a scientists advocates a certain policy, that does not mean that the politicians should slavishly follow, nor that they will do so. Good politicians will appreciate the advice and will get advice from many other sources. Then they will make up their own minds and do what is politically doable and fits their interests and hopefully the interests of the people who voted for them.
Scientists are not law maker, police, lawyer and judge in one person. Formulating this more poetically: As Doug McNeal writes: scientists are not the doctors of the planet.
Here is a thing that always comes up in these debates – the idea that climate scientists are like medical doctors for the planet. ... I think that this is a terrible comparison. ...If you are a climate scientist, you are not here to save the planet. It is incredibly arrogant to see yourself as some kind of planetary doctor, able to save the planet. You cannot save the planet. You can (probably incrementally) increase the sum of human knowledge about the planet. That is a good and extremely valuable thing.
Freedom of expression or lobbying?Much debate may simply be because people interpret the word advocacy differently. The definition of Oxford dictionaries is quite neutral.
public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.Many people probably notice the negative undertone of the term, described by the introduction of the Wikipedia article on advocacy.
Advocacy is a political process by an individual or group which aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or polls or the filing of an amicus brief. Lobbying (often by lobby groups) is a form of advocacy where a direct approach is made to legislators on an issue which plays a significant role in modern politics.In his post on the topic, Some random thoughts on advocacy, Oliver Bothe (a German climatologist), describes the next level: Stealth advocacy.
Stealth advocacy is a problem. It is something we should try not to do, but which may be hard to avoid sometimes. Stealth advocacy is, as Roger Pielke Jr puts it "when scientists claim to be focusing on science but are really seeking to advance a political agenda". The transgression from science to advocacy may happen or likely happens often subconsciously. We scientists should try to be aware of this and to be clear where we leave our expertise and voice "just opinions".It makes quite a difference if you are thinking about actively going out to explain the science in a neutral way or whether you are thinking of lobbying and using every dirty trick available to influence people. I expect scientific advocacy to be neutral in content, not to overstate their confidence and hope that this is not a matter of dispute. But I see no problem in actively seeking attention, publicly funded research is not done for a dark archive.
I guess the climate sceptics find advocacy of climatologist just as desirable as climatologists advocacy by climate sceptics and in that case think of the "Wikipedia definition". And if they think of advocacy by themselves, they likely think more about the "Oxford definition".
Which also points to a weird aspect about the discussion: why only discuss this for climatologists? You could say that Edwards talks about climatologists because she is also one herself. However, it does sound a little as if this is a special problem for climatologists. Which is another reason, I do not like the title.
A large part of economics papers ends with the policy implications of the work. And that for a science that still has large fundamental problems.
Personally, I would like to see much more advocacy by scientists, biologists and agricultural scientists working on (agricultural) biodiversity, social scientists and economists working on poverty and inequality, soil scientists working on erosion. I wonder whether they advocate too little or whether no one is willing to listening.
Other's posts on Advocacy
- What the Science Tells Us About “Trust in Science” by Liz Neeley at Compassblogs, Answering "So What?" in science communication. The science background. Next post on advocacy itself.
- The inevitable politics of climate science (part 1, part 2)
by John Rennie The Gleaming Retort. Scientists don’t have all the answers, but they have perspectives that deserve to be aired. Highly recommended!
- Scientists Have a Responsibility to Engage by Gretchen Goldman at The Equation, a blog on independent science + practical solutions of the Union of Concerned Scientists. I’ve seen what can happen when scientists are silenced, and it certainly doesn’t provide us with better policy outcomes.
- I have a confession to make by Sophie Lewis at Honeybees & Helium. Scientists are a humans.
- Conservative hostility to science predates climate science by David Roberts at Grist. What has happened over the past 40 years is a steady erosion in the trust conservatives hold in science and scientists.
- Some random thoughts on advocacy by Oliver Bothe at 14ter Stock, sciencemeteoblog? I had probably not started writing this post after reading Bothe's any more.
- Some more thoughts on advocacy in climate science by Doug McNeal. A very good post, amongst others on advocacy and bias.
- Okay, I'll bite...should scientists be "neutral"? by Sou at HotWhopper. With her experience on the science policy interface, she has no problem with advocacy.
- Science and policy at WottsUpWithThatBlog. Another excellent post with many new aspects.
- Scientists, sceptics, and advocates by Adam at Talking Climate, The gateway to research on climate change communication. Also asks: what counts as "advocacy"?
- Informed opinions: surplus to requirements? by David Wescott at It's not a lecture, issues and ideas online. He sees the essay as an example of climate scientists being figuratively beaten into submission.
- Should climate scientists engage in advocacy? by James Annan at James' Empty Blog.
- Two opinion pieces. Or three, if you count James. But that’s four if you count me. Oh hang on, I’ll come in again. by William M. Connolley at Stoat.
- Tamsin on scientists and policy advocacy by Judith Curry at Climate Etc.
- (Ir)responsible advocacy by scientists also by Judith Curry. Presents two articles that were an offspring of an AAAS conference on advocacy.