Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ways to fight back - Climate Deniers 101

On a fairly regular basis, the red headed wife sends me articles about science policy that are worth reading. Which is to say that, while everything she sends me is worth my reading, there exists a subset of articles that are worth reading by everyone. Pasted below is one such article:

Synthesizing Science and Politics

By Alexis Madrigal February 17, 2008 12:18:02 PM BOSTON, Ma -

Climate change highlights the interesting relationship that the political world has with science. While almost all scientists say that climate change is occurring, the policies of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the United States, continue to make the problem worse, flying in the face of the best available science. Lawrence Susskind, an MIT professor, presented an easy answer for why this is happening at talk here at the AAAS annual meeting. "We know that politically motivated stakeholders reject scientific analysis that challenges their policy positions," he said. "They reject the science, not just the policy."

Wish as we might, those political motivations aren't going away, so he suggests, we have to learn to deal with them. From the largest resource problems like climate change to much smaller decisions like protecting a wetland while incorporating a suburban development, everyone recognizes that increasingly complex science has not translated well into the public sphere. Susskind, however, thinks that he's developed a framework for making science not just useful but usable in the public sphere. Stakeholders, and that probably means environmentalists and businesses, need to be brought into the very design of a scientific study. Susskind argued that only if major stakeholders agree that the right questions are being asked will they be willing to accept the answers that come back. He calls the process of incorporating stakeholders from the beginning, joint-fact finding.

To execute on this so-called joint fact finding Susskind recommends bringing a new type of person into the normal debates about science: the neutral. Neutrals are mediators who all stakeholders agree can act as an honest conduit between, say, Chinese coal plant owners, American energy companies, and Greenpeace. As someone who writes about climate change regularly, this sounds like the worst job imaginable.

His basic prescription for the broken system is to make it a little more like collective bargaining. He's initiated a pilot program with the US Geological Survey called the MIT-USGS Science Impact Collaborative. Dryly, he said, "The acronym is MUSIC because we're trying to harmonize science and policy."

(A quick peek at the website revealed some interesting papers. I've added Alexis Schulman's "Bridging the Divide: Incorporating Local Ecological Knowledge into US Natural Resource Management" to my reading list.)

Regular readers here, and elsewhere will know that I've been advocating a different approach to climate change policy, and specifically denial of climate change, for some time. Simply put, we can't deal with the science, because those who don't want to change economic, transportation, and/or energy policy to prevent further climate damage either ignore the science, or they manipulate the data in ways that say something that it doesn't. So I definitely like the article's suggestion that we invite them to the table at the beginning.

There is, however, one major flaw in this plan - most folks who deny the impacts of AGW, and misrepresent the science in the process, do not actually care about science. They care about economics, or energy generation, or capitalistic markets, or ending regulation, or . . . . anything but science. They just use science as their excuse or their hiding post from which to attack the real issues. It's intellectually dishonest at best, and I don't think having them at the table would change that.

SIDE NOTE - If you were to design a process to do this, might I suggest the often successful NEPA Scoping process?

POSTSCRIPT - Yesterday I asked for a link to the original article. Lucky for me. Mr. Madrigal's Google Alerts is working, and he supplied it himself in the comments section. SO I've added it to the title in case you want to go to the source. Thank you sir!


Alexis Madrigal said...

Hello. Saw this pop up on my Google Alerts.

Here's the link:


Zach said...

do u have bf?