Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Post-Normal Science

I've just discovered "Post-Normal Science" [hereafter, "PNS'], thanks to this essay by Jerome Ravetz at WattsUpWithThat. On the one hand, it's a lovely discovery--I finally have the categories I need to describe the politico-scientific maelstrom of Global Warming. Wikipedia defines it thus:
Post-Normal Science is a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, attempting to characterise a methodology of inquiry that is appropriate for cases where "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent". It is primarily seen in the context of the debate over global warming and other similar, long-term issues where we possess less information than we would like.
On the one hand, we desperately need a well-thought out, mutually agreed-upon approach to such cases. On the other hand, Ravetz seems to be working hard to justify action in the absence of certainty--and since his primary example of post-normal science is the global warming debate, it's hard to tell whether PNS is a real step forward in the sociology of science or just another skirmish in the global warming wars.

Ravetz makes one suggestion that seems very useful--he calls for an "extended peer review system" that includes all "stakeholders" in the process, whether or not they share the dominant scientific paradigm. This is a timely suggestion, given the growing power of the "blogosphere." A mob of "bloggers in pajamas" exposed forged political documents in 2004 and quickly picked apart the mass of "Climategate" emails. This "Army of Davids" (to use Glenn Reynolds' phrase) is here to stay. We may as well build them into any future plans for science and public policy!

1 comment:

Cedric Katesby said...

Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.

Although all public relations professionals are bound by a duty to not knowingly mislead the public, some have executed comprehensive campaigns of misinformation on behalf of industry clients on issues ranging from tobacco and asbestos to seat belts. Lately, these fringe players have turned their efforts to creating confusion about climate change. This PR campaign could not be accomplished without the compliance of media as well as the assent and participation of leaders in government and business.

The world’s best-qualified scientists agree that climate is changing and that the burning of fossil fuels is mostly to blame. Although there is no debate in peer reviewed science journals, the well-funded and highly organized public relations campaign has left the impression – in mainstream media – of a lively and continuing scientific controversy.

Scientists from within the fossil fuel industries’ own organizations raised red flags about climate change as early as 30 years ago – and they specifically dismissed the credibility of deniers by 1995. Yet the fossil fuel industry has continued to support efforts to subvert the science, attacking real scientists and promoting a cast of “skeptics” in their place. DeSmogBlog looks behind these deniers to test their credentials and to search out their source of funding.

People have a right to know who is paying the deniers. It is difficult to deceive or confuse a well-informed person. DeSmogBlog exists to clear up the PR pollution around fossil fuels and climate change.