I think that think tanks have the potential for stimulating interdisciplinary discussions on major policy issues that are difficult to undertake in an academic or university environment.
At Climate Etc., I have had numerous posts on the issue of scientists engaging in advocacy:
The real issues for scientists engaging in public policy debates (whether or not they are advocates) are even more complex than the simple choice to advocate or not. Some recent comments illustrating the conundrums facing climate scientist who engage with the policy process and politics:
Bengtsson tells the Mail: “Some people like my views, other people don’t, that is the way when it comes to science.” That’s precisely the point. Science is a methodical process of open inquiry. Those who enforce orthodoxies and engage in name-calling aren’t doing science, even if they’re scientists.
Steve McIntyre: Bengtsson’s planned participation in GWPF seemed to me to be the sort of outreach to rational skeptics that ought to be praiseworthy within the climate “community”.
Johanna Haigh: “Whatever anyone’s views are on the role, motivation and integrity of the GWPF in this matter, it is up to individual academics whether or not to associate themselves with it.
“It is regrettable that perceived political stances on the climate issue are apparently so affecting academic activity. The Grantham Institute at Imperial has always opposed such behaviour, believing that scientific progress requires an open society. We try to engage with a wide range of figures, some with radically different views on climate change.”
“The outcome in this case is probably a reflection of the ‘us and them’ that has permeated the climate science debate for decades and which is in part an outcome of – and reaction to – external pressure on the climate community.
Tweets from Tamsin Edwards @flimsin: I understand why some think disagreement makes science look less reliable, but I believe masking it makes it look worse. I disagree with people being judged by who they talk to, rather than by what they say. For those asking me I can say some general thoughts: I think it’s better if sceptical organisations have access to mainstream scientists
Tweet from Ryan N. Maue
So senior scientists want to be involved in climate politics but not get dirty in the process?
In his resignation letter, Bengtsson stated: It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. Is what is happening to Bengtsson ‘McCarthyism’? Well, there are insufficient details to tell exactly what kind of intimidating emails Bengtsson has been receiving. An article in the National Review entitled Science As McCarthyism has some interesting comments on this issue:
Especially significant was a tweet from Gavin Schmidt, a leading climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute, who for many years worked alongside James Hansen. “Groups perceived to be acting in bad faith should not be surprised that they are toxic within the science community,” Schmidt tweeted. “Changing that requires that they not act in bad faith and not be seen to be acting in bad faith.”
Evidently the right to practice and discuss climate science should be subject to a faith test. It is an extraordinarily revealing development. Fears about unbelievers’ polluting the discourse, as some academics put it, illustrate the weakness of climate science: The evidence for harmful anthropogenic global warming is not strong enough to stand up for itself.
Climate McCarthyism has been described in a post by the Breakthrough Institute entitled Climate McCarthyism Part I: Joe Romm’s intimidation campaign. I have been ‘McCarthy-ed’ by Joe Romm, having been frequently referred to as ‘the most debunked climate scientist on the planet’, ‘anti-science’, etc. For a recent example, recall the treatment of Roger Pielke Jr’s 538 article.
So what is the impact on a scientist of the so-called climate McCarthyism? As a result of smearings by Romm, Mann, et al., I am excluded from serious consideration for administrative positions at universities, offices in professional societies, consideration for awards from professional societies, a number of people won’t collaborate with me, and anyone who wants to invite me to be a keynote speaker has to justify this in light of all the cr*p that shows up if you google ‘Judith Curry’. Does any of this really ‘matter’? I’ve convinced myself that it doesn’t (well not as much as my own conscience and integrity), but I suspect that such things would matter to most scientists.
Joe Romm engaging in such practices is reprehensible, but it is an issue of much greater concern when other scientists do it (notably Michael Mann). Bengtsson’s concern was raised over his treatment and the reactions by his so-called ‘colleagues.’ Having dirt thrown at a scientist as part of the political process is one thing; when their own colleagues start throwing the dirt, then this becomes a frightening situation for science.
Is it appropriate to call this ‘McCarthyism’? I don’t know, and that’s not really the point. The key concern is attempts stifle open scientific inquiry and policy debates on the topic of climate change. Bishop Hill perhaps more aptly describes this as ‘The bigotry of the consensus.’