Friday, December 4, 2009

Parallels Between Climatologists and Archaeologists?

The release of hacked e-mails between climatologists has raised some serious questions about how the powers that be in that discipline have approached the debate about climate change. See

Having spent over 10 years interacting with members of the archaeological community over cultural property issues, I personally feel strong parallels exist between how leaders in both groups have approached the issues. In my opinion, archaeologists need to become far more cognizant of the "peril of trying to spin science" and, with it, supporting the suppression of information adverse to a preconceived position. Climatologists certainly have had to confront these issues because of this scandal-- even if at least some of their number appear to be more interested in tracking down the hackers than in reconsidering their methods.


Wayne G. Sayles said...

Shades of Déjà Vu! Sadly, I doubt that this "revelation" will have much impact on either science, or on the spin that emanates.

Voz Earl said...

Interesting story. Reminds me of a panel discussion on C-SPAN the other day. A professor from Stanford was talking about the use of deliberation in democracies and highlighted the need for scientific sampling of a population to bring together citizens from all viewpoints of a given issue to deliberate and generate consensus.

He stated that the problem that arises when people come together to deliberate ON THEIR OWN is that they tend to do so with those who SHARE their viewpoint, with the result being that the group actually moves further toward an EXTREME viewpoint because they are simply reinforcing their previous view without any input from the other side. I certainly think this has happened in the US with both political parties for instance and I think it has happened on both sides of the archaeologist/collector debate.

The professor also noted experiments which have been carried out showing that true deliberations engaged in by a body chosen via scientific sampling of a population tend to do more to change opinions then either top of the head public opinion polls or, obviously, "deliberating" only among those of the same opinion which actually tends to be counterproductive.

Voz Earl

Wayne G. Sayles said...

Hi Voz;

My first instinct after reading your post was to agree and to wonder if maybe we have not been open-minded enough. Then, all the memories of past efforts and rejections flooded into my consciousness. The polarization that exists is not merely a lack of reaching out for input from "the other side". It is based on philosophical differences that reach the very core of our being. No scientific sampling, even by a Stanford professor, is going to convince me that I must lay my cultural heritage in the hands of a steward who knows nothing about me and cares even less. Peter, in this post, has pointed out a methodology of repression. I can't feel any guilt by opposing that.

Best regards,


Voz Earl said...

Fair enough Wayne. It may be worth noting, however, that the Stanford professor did not take credit for the idea:

"In ancient Athens, deliberative microcosms chosen by lot made a number of important public decisions. The law courts with juries of 500 or more selected by lot would deliberate for a day and then vote. The nomethetai, or legislative commissions chosen in the same way would make the final decisions on some legislation. The graphe paronomon would allow trials by a randomly selected microcosm of those who made illegal proposals in the Assembly. The threat that this process might be invoked may have provided incentives for the debates in the Assembly to be more responsible."

So if one subscribes to the notion that Western "cultural heritage" originates with the Greeks, then I suppose a case could be made that such deliberation IS PART of our cultural heritage.

Of course, as the professor also noted, the same Athenian democracy was responsible for the execution of take it for what it's worth I guess.

Actually, I share no illusions that such a deliberative solution to the question at hand will be found anytime soon, mainly because there is nothing forcing the two sides to sit down and come to terms (although, isn't that basically the idea behind CPAC?). I was mainly struck by the observation that deliberation which takes place only among those of the same opinion almost invariably leads to polarization. Obvious, when you think about it, but it had never occurred to me before; the idea that such deliberation may not only be unproductive but actually COUNTERPRODUCTIVE to arriving at a workable consensus goes a long way toward explaining why so many issues get hashed and rehashed endlessly without moving one iota closer to resolution.

Voz Earl