I wasn't planning on posting anything until next week, but I just happened upon something so ridiculous I had to talk about it. The scientist and blogger Judith Curry was recently interviewed for an article with the attention getter: "I was tossed out of the tribe." This provoked a post from the blogger Anders which made what might qualify as the most idiotic argument ever:
David Rose has a new article about Judith Curry called I was tossed out of the tribe. Well, here’s problem number one. There is no tribe. If you’re a scientist/researcher, then you should be aiming to do research that is honest and objective, the results of which should not depend on who you regard as being your contemporaries. If you think there’s some kind of tribe to which you need to belong, then you’re doing it wrong.
Yeah, that's right. Anders says science isn't about tribalism, therefore tribalism doesn't exist in science.
I don't think anything more needs to be said, but I can't help myself. It's too funny. Anders says tribalism in science would be a bad thing. Judith Curry frequently says the same thing. Initially she didn't though. Initially, she said this in a guest post she wrote for the blog Climate Audit:
2. Climate tribalism. Tribalism is defined here as a strong identity that separates one’s group from members of another group, characterized by strong in-group loyalty and regarding other groups differing from the tribe’s defining characteristics as inferior. In the context of scientific research, tribes differ from groups of colleagues that collaborate and otherwise associate with each other professionally. As a result of the politicization of climate science, climate tribes (consisting of a small number of climate researchers) were established in response to the politically motivated climate disinformation machine that was associated with e.g. ExxonMobil, CEI, Inhofe/Morano etc. The reaction of the climate tribes to the political assault has been to circle the wagons and point the guns outward in an attempt to discredit misinformation from politicized advocacy groups. The motivation of scientists in the pro AGW tribes appears to be less about politics and more about professional ego and scientific integrity as their research was under assault for nonscientific reasons (I’m sure there are individual exceptions, but this is my overall perception). I became adopted into a “tribe” during Autumn 2005 after publication of the Webster et al. hurricane and global warming paper. I and my colleagues were totally bewildered and overwhelmed by the assault we found ourselves under, and associating with a tribe where others were more experienced and savvy about how to deal with this was a relief and very helpful at the time.
Her experience with this very post contributed to an evolution in her views on the tribalism issue, as seen in her interview:
Curry’s independence has cost her dear. She began to be reviled after the 2009 ‘Climategate’ scandal, when leaked emails revealed that some scientists were fighting to suppress sceptical views. ‘I started saying that scientists should be more accountable, and I began to engage with sceptic bloggers. I thought that would calm the waters. Instead I was tossed out of the tribe. There’s no way I would have done this if I hadn’t been a tenured professor, fairly near the end of my career. If I were seeking a new job in the US academy, I’d be pretty much unemployable. I can still publish in the peer-reviewed journals. But there’s no way I could get a government research grant to do the research I want to do. Since then, I’ve stopped judging my career by these metrics. I’m doing what I do to stand up for science and to do the right thing.’
It's likely one could trace something of an evolution in her views over the years between these two pieces, but even in her guest post five years ago she showed she was realizing the dangers of tribalism:
After becoming more knowledgeable about the politics of climate change (both the external politics and the internal politics within the climate field), I became concerned about some of the tribes pointing their guns inward at other climate researchers who question their research or don’t pass various loyalty tests. I even started spending time at climateaudit, and my public congratulations to Steve McIntyre when climateaudit won the “best science blog award” was greeted with a rather unpleasant email from one of the tribal members....
In summary, the problem seems to be that the circling of the wagons strategy developed by small groups of climate researchers in response to the politically motivated attacks against climate science are now being used against other climate researchers and the more technical blogs (e.g. Climateaudit, Lucia, etc). Particularly on a topic of such great public relevance, scientists need to consider carefully skeptical arguments and either rebut them or learn from them. Trying to suppress them or discredit the skeptical researcher or blogger is not an ethical strategy and one that will backfire in the long run.
Judith Curry has talked about the tribalism issue for half a decade now. She has talked about her personal experiences with the matter and published many posts at her site for people to discuss the subject. Some of those posts, such as this one, are examinations of what other people have to say on the subject.
And Anders dismisses all this. Why? Because scientists' work and actions "should not depend on who [they] regard as being [their] contemporaries." That's it. Scientists shouldn't be tribalistic, therefore they aren't.
It's the dumbest argument I can imagine. I imagine Curry would agree with Anders when he says:
If you’re a scientist/researcher, then you should be aiming to do research that is honest and objective, the results of which should not depend on who you regard as being your contemporaries.
I imagine she wishes that were the case:
If you think there’s some kind of tribe to which you need to belong, then you’re doing it wrong.
So that people didn't have to worry it might hurt their career to hold the "wrong" views. But wishing doesn't make it so. Saying tribalism shouldn't exist doesn't magically make tribalism not exist.
Unless you're Anders or one of his friends. Then it does, and anyone who says otherwise deserves mockery and scorn. Because clearly, there are no tribes.