- The Politics and Environment Blog

Main menu:


November 2013
« Oct   Dec »




Site search

Please visit


Nature Photographs


Disclaimer: The inclusion of a blog or website in this list should not be taken as an endorsement of its contents by me.

Same Information: Different Opinion. Part 2, The Tragic versus Utopian Vision of Climate Science

WE know that General Circulation Models underpin the theory of anthropomorphic global warming, rely on supercomputers, are expense to run and mostly output nonsense [1].

Earlier this year I sat in a seminar as a UK climate scientist acknowledged all the limitations of General Circulation Models, but then went on to claim that they had to be the future of weather forecasting because they were grand and incorporated all that was grand about science and that one day they would be better at predicting the weather and the climate.Steven Pinker

The Professor suggested that statistical models, including artificial neural networks, were just pattern analysis. He stated that even if statistical models could forecast rainfall in Australia, for example, better than the best General Circulation Models, these statistical models were so limited and so ordinary that this is not where science should be investing.

This professor perhaps sees grandeur, where I see waste and hubris.

Steven Pinker has suggested the right-left political axis aligns an astonishing collection of beliefs that at first glance appear to have nothing in common [2]. He then goes on to suggest that these collections of beliefs can be traced to whether the person has an inherently Tragic Vision or Utopian Vision.

In the Tragic Vision humans are inherently limited in knowledge, wisdom and virtue, and all social arrangements must acknowledge those limits. In the Utopian Vision, psychological limitations are artifacts that come from our social arrangements, and we should not allow them to restrict our gaze from what is possible in a better world. Its creed, Pinker suggests, might be “Some people see things as they are and ask ‘why?’: I dream things that never were and ask ‘why not?’.”

Pinker writes:

“The two kinds of visionaries thereby line up on opposite sides of many issues that would seem to have little in common. The Utopian Vision seeks to articulate social goals and devise policies that target them directly; economic inequality is attacked in a war on poverty, pollution by environmental regulations, racial imbalance by preferences, carcinogens by bans on food additives. The Tragic Vision points to the self-interested motives of the people who would implement these policies – namely, the expansion of their bureaucracies fiefdoms – and to the ineptitude at anticipating the myriad consequences, especially when the social goals are pitted against millions of people pursuing their own interests. Thus say the Tragic Visionaries, the Utopian fails to anticipate that welfare encourages dependency, or that a restriction on one pollutant might force people to use another.”

In the context of climate science perhaps the Utopian Vision fails to see that climate science was never meant to be about morality and politics, while the Tragic Vision fails to expect an improvement in the skill of the weather and climate forecast despite such a large investment of public funds over many decades.


1.The Nature of Inclusive Climate Science

2. Steven Pinker in ‘The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature’, Chapter 16, page 290. Penguin Books. 2003.


57 Responses to “Same Information: Different Opinion. Part 2, The Tragic versus Utopian Vision of Climate Science”

Pages: « 1 [2] Show All

  1. Comment from: jennifer

    Hi Beth,

    Can you please provide me with the complete reference and/or link to the text actually written by Kuhn that you are referencing and/or the basis of your understanding of Kuhn’s thesis?

    Also, the two issues raised by Palmer and Watkins were ignored by me in the link you provided, because they are a total misrepresentation of Kuhn’s work. If you want to state the two points in this thread, so others can understand what you mean, and I can look a fresh at the statements, then I will respond to them here.

    I would prefer to discuss what Kuhn actually wrote, and his ideas which I think have much application particularly to understanding and slaying AGW.

  2. Comment from: jennifer


    Thanks for your comments.

    To answer your last question first… because Kuhn saw science as something different to the social sciences, because it deals with real world physical phenomena that can be proved or disproved… To the extent that a better theory usually emerges because it can better explain and/or predict real world phenomena Kuhn would argue that we make progress and we can see beyond our own paradigm.

    Indeed in understanding Kuhn, I feel better able to structure my scepticism.

    A lot of your other commentary in this thread seems to be about how science should be reformed. Kuhn would agree with many of your recommendations. But the problem is, that science is undertaken by mere mortals and they tend to corrupt whatever they get their hands on.

    So we need to put in place systems were there is more accountability, as you suggest.

    At the moment, however, we are stuck in a non-productive paradigm when it comes to climate science, we are stuck with AGW. It now dictates what is, and is not a legitimate question to ask within that discipline. It has the endorsement of all the key academies and royal societies, and in Australia both sides of politics.

    How do we overthrow it, how do we bring on the revolution?

  3. Comment from: BethCooper


    The first source ‘Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge’ I Lakatos &
    A Musgrove, Cambridge Uni Press was a text for Philosophy of Science
    which I bought when I was studying Philosophy of History at Melbourne
    Uni in the 70′s. Sorry I can’t debate further, pressed fer time. bts

    The second source here.

    You might like to read Popper’s ‘Papers In Objectice Knowledge’ that
    i’ve cited on Serf Under_ground journal, numerously ) BC

  4. Comment from: jennifer

    Hi Beth

    Thanks for your reply.

    Your first source is a book edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Mugrave. Is there a chapter in that book written by Thomas Kuhn… or is it simply the academy of philosophers attacking what they don’t want to admit?

    Your second reference is to an article by Frank Pajares, that claims to be a synopsis of Kuhn’s book.

    Again I ask, have you actually read a paper or book by Thomas Kuhn?

  5. Comment from: Beth Cooper

    I mentioned to you that there was a chapter Jennifer, Chapter 1
    Its title is ‘Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research.’ pp1 -23.
    Also pp231 Reflections on my Critics. pp 231-278.

  6. Comment from: Larry Fields

    If I’ve understood correctly, your solution to the rampant fraud in climate ‘science’ is a paradigm shift. If you were the Benevolent Dictator fo Life of the scientific world, what would your replacement for the current Climate Change paradigm be?

  7. Comment from: jennifer

    Hi Larry

    In a article published in the latest IPA Review, I write:

    “The history of science provides some insight into how to respond effectively. It suggests that the overthrow of an established paradigm only occurs when there is competition. Competition can manifest as something wholly political and strictly within the scientific discipline, or it can be about the evaluation of a theory based on its utility to those external to the discipline. Indeed if skillful medium-term rainfall forecasting was a goal of climate research, then evaluating the relative skill of competing theories could be an objective measure of their respective utility and by extension we would argue, their essential truth.

    In short, those skeptical of AGW theory may be able to help precipitate its overthrow by demanding better medium-term rainfall forecasts. At the moment, however, there is no understanding that such a choice potentially exists.

    The BOM is a taxpayer-funded monopoly that, with the assistance of CSIRO and participating universities and cooperative research centers, enforces a particular paradigm. Indeed in Australia, and the west more generally, unless significant political pressure is brought to bear, entire research and development budgets will continue to be spent on POAMA and other GCMs with limited utility beyond politics simply because they are modern climate science.”

Pages: « 1 [2] Show All