On Feyerabend, or…With AGW Believers Like These, Who Needs Climate Skeptics?

Curious choice of preferred “philosopher of science” for Real Climate’s Gavin Schmidt: Paul Feyerabend.

Who he? According to Schmidt:

Feyerabend had what I consider a better appreciation of how science actually works and the difficulty of trying to assign a methodology to what it is that scientists actually do

Why Feyerabend? Most likely, because Popper can’t do. Climate models cannot be falsified, you know. Much easier to stick with them if one believes that “science is an essentially anarchistic enterprise“…

But there’s plenty of more surprises behind Schmidt’s statement (why limit oneself to Wikipedia…). In a 1983 article on The New York Times (“New Attack on Galileo Asserts Major Discovery Was Stolen“), William J Broad writes:

In his 1975 book ”Against Method,” Dr. Feyerabend argued, using Galileo’s grand eloquence and reputed corner-cutting as key examples, that all progress in science depended not only on rational argument but on a mixture of subterfuge, rhetoric and propaganda.

Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth, in a letter by Feyerabend, published on The New York Review of Books on Oct 11, 1979:

Discussing the rise of Western rationalism I pointed out that the transition created more problems than it solved, that most of the problems are still with us, that they do not occur in Homer, that Aristotle was aware of this advantage and therefore adapted philosophy to common sense.

That letter is a scathing attack against a June 28, 1979 review by David Joravsky of several books, including two by Feyerabend: “Science in a Free Society” and “Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge” (the one mentioned by Broad above). Joravsky replies himself quoting from “Against Method”:

[Feyerabend writes that] “Galileo the mountebank” used “deception,” “trickery,” and outright “lying” to promote views he knew he could not prove by rational argument with available evidence; and that’s the way that science develops.

Finally, two excerpts from a website allegedly publishing the whole Analytical Table of Contents from “Against Method:

[…] Galileo prevails because of his style and his clever techniques of persuasion, because he writes in Italian rather than in Latin, and because he appeals to people who are temperamentally opposed to the old ideas and the standards of learning connected with them […]

[…] Thus science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favour of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without having ever examined its advantages and its limits. And as the accepting and rejecting of ideologies should be left to the individual it follows that the separation of state and church must be supplemented by the separation of state and science, that most recent, most aggressive, and most dogmatic religious institution […]

In summary: it can be argued that according to Feyerabend’s “appreciation of how science actually works

  1. Science relies on a mixture of subterfuge, rhetoric and propaganda
  2. Rationalism should be adapted to common sense
  3. Science commonly develops with deception, trickery and lying, especially when one doesn’t have rational arguments or evidence to promote one’s views
  4. A scientific point of view may as well prevail through persuasion and by becoming more fashionable
  5. Science is inherently superior only for those ideologically believing in it
  6. State and Science should be separated

Yikes! Points #1. #3 and #4 describe what many have accused RealClimate of doing. Points #2 and #5 refute the prevalence of climate models over real-world observations. Point #6 is incompatible with the very existence of the IPCC as intergovernmental entity in charge of assessing the science of climate change.

Is that really the way Gavin Schmidt wanted to describe his field of work? Perhaps he should have checked one thing or two about Feyerabend first. Because with AGW believers like these, who needs climate skeptics?

ps no, I do not think all of Feyerabend work was incoherent rubbish