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Tuesday
Mar202012

What the Gang of 32 at Science got wrong--and what they got right...

So Chris Mooney devastatingly tags the authors of the "World Government" Manifesto in Science for ignoring science -- the vast body of empirical work on effective science communication.  CM criticizes the Gang of 32 (by my count) for failing to think about how the manner in which they framed their argument radiated the very egalitarian-communitarian cultural meanings that provoke suspicion and distrust of climate science on the part of a large segment of the population in the US, the UK, and other democratic nations.

I couldn't have said it better -- indeed, couldn't have said it nearly as well as CM, b/c I merely study science communication, an activity that is in fact quite different from communicating science (including the science of science communication)-- something that CM is a master of. 

But I think there is something that the Gang 32 got right, too, and I want CM & other master science communicators to make this part of their message about the Manifesto's shortcomings.... So let me try to get the point out in my own way of putting things, at which point they can do what they do (assuming they agree with me).

As I did in my initial post, I want to juxtapose the Gang of 32's World Government Manifesto with last week's Parliamentary testimony by UK scientists in support of geoengineering research. Their "frame" included one element in common with that used by the Gang of 32  -- viz., the assertion that we really need to do something radical, because incremental regulation by treaties etc. just isn't going to work. 

Granted, the UK scientists were sticking to what they know: the need for & feasibility of a technological intervention to counteract climate change. Good for them.

But the geopolitical issues for their geoengineering proposal are also staggering. The UK -- or the US & UK -- can't possibly expect the world to stand by passively as they unilaterally implement technologies for self-consciously regulating the climate of the earth! Ain't gonna happen.

Thus, at the same time that natural scientists are applying their unique expertise to identify dramatic but technologically and ecomomically feasible strategies for ameliorating the risks we face, other experts are going to have apply their special knowledge and methods to steer us toward some pretty significant and dramatic breakthroughs in global governance. So we better get smart about that too -- about what's possible, about what sorts of things we should communicate, & how, on the need for appropriate kinds of coordination. Otherwise, the science that can help us deal w/ the problems we genuinely face will be wasted.... 

So sure, criticize the Gang of 32 for being naive, for lacking humility, for ironically not being very scientific in holding forth in this way (I'm sure a lot of political scientists are cringing too). But they are actually right in substance.

What their misadventure really illustrates is that enabling democratic societies to protect themselves from risk -- environmental ones, but lots of others too, e.g., those associated with terrorism and with infectious diseases -- demands the effective integration of natural science with the sciences of public administration and science communication. 

That's the message that science communicators like Chris Mooney are uniquely situated to help everyone get! So get to it, CM!

And of course, I mean just keep it up, since CM & many other of today's excellent science communicators clearly do get this!

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