Post-Normal Claws, Teeth, and Slime

As the memories of the Soviet Union and Mao's China fade, a new generation of Marxists has materialized.  Still-living members of the old generation are keeping the faith. 

How can anyone be a Marxist given the Marxist horrors of the 20th century?  It could be jealousy, rebelliousness, primordial archetypes, indulgent child-rearing, or a college education.  Ask a shrink.

Marxists use front groups and front causes to hide their true intentions.  This is like the movies, where aliens disguise themselves as humans until they expose their true bodies -- bodies that feature claws, teeth, and slime.  That brings us to Post-Normal Science.

The promoters of trendy Post-Normal Science present it as a necessity for dealing with the greater complexity and the higher stakes that science allegedly faces in the modern world.  Jerome Ravetz, born in Philadelphia in 1929, is the foremost proselytizer for Post-Normal Science.  Ravetz had communist subversive problems in the 1950s and emigrated to Britain, where he became an academic.  He is often referred to as a Marxist historian.  Ravetz has written a handy little book titled The No Nonsense Guide to Science, published by the New Internationalist press.  The publisher describes itself as a promoter of "[p]eople, ideas and action for global justice."  The cover of Ravetz's book contains a promotional blurb from Howard Zinn.  Howard Zinn is the author of the infamous A Peoples History of the United States.  One reviewer said: "If you've read Marx there's no reason to read Howard Zinn."

According to Ravetz, old-fashioned science was akin to puzzle-solving, presumably carried on by geeks in drafty rooms at universities.  Call this the feudal stage of science.  The next stage was carried on by more cosmopolitan scientists who gave advice to government and business when they occasionally stepped away from their laboratories.  Call this the capitalist stage of science.  The contradictions of capitalist science will apparently lead to the more advanced Post-Normal Science. 

Ravetz defines Post-Normal Science as a kind of participatory science.  Everyone will have a thumb on the scale -- for example, investigative journalists and an extended peer group.  If you translate this from Ravetz-speak, Post-Normal Science is science larded with politics.  I suspect that when Ravetz came up with Post-Normal Science, he had it in mind that his friends on the left would be best organized and most successful in taking control of the Post-Normal Science dialogue.  But it hasn't worked out that way, especially for climate change and energy policy, where an extended peer group of conservative and climate-skeptical bloggers have a very big voice. 

Ravetz depicts today's science as sinister and out of control.  He says: "Giant corporations and giant state bureaucracies have their own agendas; what is right for Monsanto or the Pentagon is not necessarily right for the rest of us."  This is a straw man argument.  Monsanto is heavily regulated and constrained by law.  The Pentagon is directly controlled by our democratically elected government.  Ravetz likes conspiratorial environmentalism, such as the idea that we are being poisoned by all kinds of chemicals.  Ravetz seems to be trying to establish a popular front with the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund.

Despite his Marxist orientation, Ravetz is a slippery character, disarmingly reasonable and engaging.  Ravetz's writing is erudite, but wordy and slow to get to the point.  One blog comment on a Ravetz essay said: "I can't believe I had the patience to read this complete article.  I think I will take a crack at actually listening to my girl friend the next time she starts talking."

Post-Normal Science aims to change people's consciousness so that they will  accept politicized science.  An example of politicized science is the Stern Review, a climate policy study commissioned by the British government and led by Sir Nicholas Stern.  Sir Nicholas considers skeptics of global warming ridiculous and akin to flat-earthers.  Economists use a technical number called a discount rate to compute the amount we are justified in spending now, rather than later, to prevent a future problem, such as global warming.  The discount rate is expressed as a percentage and is generally around 6%, depending on circumstances.  If a lower discount rate is adopted, it becomes more justifiable to spend money now to prevent a future problem.  The Stern Review turned orthodox economics upside-down by using an abnormally low discount rate of 1.4% -- a more convenient number for people suffering from an intense desire to cover the landscape with dubious windmills that are supposed to fight global warming expected in 100 years. 

Michael Hulme, is a climate scientist at the British University of East Anglia and a promoter of Post-Normal Science.  He is part of the group of climate scientists at that university who were the source of the climategate email scandal, a scandal that revealed climate scientists cooking science for political reasons.  Hulme says he is a democratic socialist with orthodox Christian beliefs.  Hulme has written a 392-page book explaining his thinking concerning climate change and Post Normal Science.  The book title is Why We Disagree About Climate Change.  But his book never tells us why.  He avoids mentioning the names or arguments of the people who disagree with his advocacy of global warming alarmism.  So he seems to be punching at the air.

Hulme has the strategy of advocating both sides of  issues so that he will always be at least partly right.  He tells us that economics often makes wrong predictions and that there is an "even greater multitude of ways in which economic analyses can be performed."  But he also tells us that the Stern Review articulates a "powerful economic case for strong global climate policies."  If the Stern Review picks its methodology from the multitude of ways in which economic analyses can be performed, how do we know that it picked a methodology that is to be trusted and not a methodology chosen to support a predetermined conclusion?

Book-cover blurbs are fawning advertisements, but they still tell you something about the author's ideological supporters.  Hulme's book sports a blurb from Fiona Fox, currently the director of the Science Media Centre in London, but formerly a member of the British Revolutionary Communist Party.  The members of that party employed the conspiratorial custom of using aliases.  Fiona Fox was Fiona Foster (after William Z. Foster, the general secretary of the American Communist Party for many years?).

At this point we have to recall the difference between true Marxists and confused followers (aka democratic socialists).  For real Marxists, politics is all about seizing power.  If they openly advocated their beliefs and intentions, the general populace would be repulsed.  Anti-capitalist though they may be, Marxists are great marketers, who deftly advance their cause using innocent-sounding bourgeois causes.  For Marxists, environmentalism is a flag of convenience.  Today's Marxists have more delusions of grandeur than chances of seizing power.  At least we hope so.  Perhaps Ms. Fox has given up Marxism, or maybe she sees Hulme as one of the useful idiots attributed to Lenin.  I don't know, but the possibilities are entertaining.

What is the justification for wheeling in the foggy machinery of Post-Normal Science, running a global scare campaign, and demanding that the source of 85% of civilization's energy be phased out?  It is a way for post-normal climate scientists and their fellow travelers, the environmental organizations, to reach their real goals of glory: wealth, power, and, perhaps, revolution.

Norman Rogers is a senior policy advisor for the Heartland Institute.  He maintains a website