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"What is the 'science of science communication'?" (new paper)

A short essay that tries to tie some bigger themes together...

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Reader Comments (7)

@ Dan Kahan said:

In order simply to live -- much less to live well -- individuals need to accept as known by science much more than they could comprehend or verify on their own.

"To live" and "to live well," isn't that the choice which is causing the existential crisis which plagues utilitarianism, utilitarianism being the moral alpha and omega of modern culture?

In order to "live well," the burning of hydrocarbons must continue. But in order "to live," or at least for future generations to live, the burning of hydrocarbons must stop.

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Stehle

@ Dan Kahan said:

Polarization dissipated, however, among subjects who had first been exposed to information on plans to study geoengineering. This technology resonates with the values of cultural groups whose members prize the use of human ingenuity to overcome environmental limits. By affirming rather than denigrating their cultural identities, the information on geoengineering dissolved the conflict those individuals experienced between crediting human-caused global warming and forming stances that express their defining commitments.

Could this be so because those on both sides of the ideological divide share a common underlying ideology?

As Reinhold Niebuhr explains in The Irony of American History:

The idea that men would not come in conflict with one another, if the opportunities were wide enough, was partly based upon the assumption that all human desires are determinate and all human ambitions ordinate. This assumption was shared by our Jeffersonians with the French Enlightenment. "Every man," declared Tom Paine, "wishes to pursue his occupation and enjoy the fruits of his labors and the produce of his property in peace and safety and with the least possible expense. When these things are accomplished all objects for which governments ought to be established are accomplished." The same idea underlies the Marxist conception of the difference between an "economy of scarcity" and an "economy of abundance." In an economy of abundance there is presumably no cause for rivalry. Neither Jeffersonians nor Marxists had any understanding for the perennial conflicts of power and pride which may arise on every level of "abundance" since human desires grow with the means of their gratification.

However, as Niebuhr goes on to warn:

When the frontier ceased to provide for the expansion of opportunities, our superior technology created ever new frontiers for the ambitious and adventurous. In one sense the opulence of American life has served to perpetuate Jeffersonian illusions about human nature. For we have thus far sought to solve all our problems by the expansion of our economy. This expansion cannot go on forever and ultimately we must face some vexatious issues of social justice.

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Stehle

You're getting quite the reaction over at WUWT. :-)

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

thanks. admiringly I'm sure ...

February 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


Popper kicks Niebuhr's ass.

And if you don't believe me, check out this great example of what the science of science communciation is capable of.

February 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

An interesting reaction from Anthony Watts, and certainly worth taking under one's belt.

Why did Watts go ballistic?

My reading is as follows:

1) Geo-engineering is a tacit acknowledgment that AGW does exist and that it is a problem. This is an unacceptable conclusion for climate skeptics like Watts.

2) When it comes to the climate debate, Watts is one of the leading conflict entrepreneurs. Anything that might cool things down is a challenge to what he is trying to do. I think you will find the conflict entrepreneurs on the other end of the climate debate spectrum just as hostile to geo-engineering as Watts is. I seem to remember seeing something along those lines from the group in SMA. I'll see if I can find some examples and post them. To conflict entrepreneurs of both stripes, anything which might ameliorate the conflict is anathema.

3) The fact that discussion of geo-engineering has been empirically demonstrated to work with "normal people" to assuage their concerns and allow them to accept the existence of AGW poses an additional threat for those of Watts's ilk. It highlights the fact that he is an outlier, and is not the average bear.

4) The fact that discussing geo-engineering ratchets down the conflict doesn't surprise me at all. It does, after all, allow people a way of accepting the existence of AGW while at the same time allowing the carbon party to go on. One of the commenters to the post on Watts's blog put it this way:

February 11, 2015 at 10:27 am

One group was provided a set of symptoms and a cure presented as being a magic bullet with no impact to their life style. The other group were provided symptoms and a cure which involved changing their way and quality of life.

Let me see now, which group could possibly be more polarized on AGW?

5) Geo-engineering is a highly futuristic, pie-in-the-sky fix for AGW. As David Shukman concludes here: "Geo-engineering has long been one of the most controversial aspects of the debate about solutions to climate change and few experiments have been conducted in the field." In that same article, Prof Steve Rayner of Oxford University is quoted as saying: "We don't know enough - we have a few islands of knowledge in a sea of ignorance and it's absolutely worth knowing more. There is the potential that some of these technologies may be part of a broader tool kit of ways in which we can better manage climate change."

6) The prospect of a technological solution to AGW, farfetched as it might be, fits nicely within our reigning Modernist-Enlightenment ideology. This may help explain its broad appeal. As Hannah Arendt notes in The Origins of Totalitarianism, the Western world has been obsessed with science "since the rise of mathematics and physics in the sixteenth century," and "totalitarianism appears to be only the last stage in a process during which 'science [has become] an idol that will magically cure the evils of existence and transform the nature of man'." (Arendt here is quoting Eric Voegelin, "The Origins of Scientism," Social Research, December, 1948)

7) And, as Arendt goes on to observe,

The scientificality of totalitarian propaganda is characterized by its almost exclusive insistence on scientific prophecy as distinguished from the more old-fashioned appeal to the past....

Totalitarian propaganda raised ideological scientificality and its technique of making statements in the form of predictions to a height of efficiency of method and absurdity of content because, demagogically speaking, there is hardly a better way to avoid discussion than by releasing an argument from the control of the present and by saying that only the future can reveal its merits. However, totalitarian ideologies did not invent this procedure, and were not the only ones to use it. Scientificality of mass propaganda has...been...universally employed in modern politics.

The language of prophetic scientificality corresponded to the needs of masses who had lost their home in the world and now were prepared to be reintegrated into eternal, all-dominating forces which by themselves would bear man, the swimmer on the waves of adversity, to the shores of safety.

February 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Stehle


Veeeeeeery interesting. Need to think about that. Hadn't anticipated.

One alternative explanation: Anything I say must be wrong b/c I'm from Yale & 'accept' climate change. that usually is how things go -- resulting in amusing contortions in how right-leaning sorts react to my views since in fact the things I'm saying don't fit neatly into their little boxes.

But who knows. Life is filled with surprises. Thank goodness.

February 12, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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