Post normal science?
…a new type of science – ‘post-normal’ – is emerging…in contrast to traditional problem-solving strategies, including core science, applied science, and professional consultancy…Post-normal science can provide a path to the democratization of science, and also a response to the current tendencies to post-modernity.
From the perspective of Anglo-American liberalism it seems easy enough to…point out that the old predictions of the British Marxist J.D. Bernal about the triumph of basic research under socialism have proved hopelessly wrong, and that the demands of J.R. Ravetz of the University of Leeds that science be made instrumental and moral will destroy the enterprise whatever its short-term benefits.
…the puzzle-solving approach of ‘normal science’ is obsolete. This is a drastic cultural change for science, which many scientists will find difficult to accept. But there is no turning back; we can understand post-normal science as the extension of democracy appropriate to the conditions of our age.
For us, quality is a replacement for truth in our methodology. We argue that this is quite enough for doing science, and that truth is a category with symbolic importance, which itself is historically and culturally conditioned.
…climate change models are a form of “seduction”…advocates of the models…recruit possible supporters, and then keep them on board when the inadequacy of the models becomes apparent. This is what is understood as “seduction”; but it should be observed that the process may well be directed even more to the modelers themselves, to maintain their own sense of worth in the face of disillusioning experience.…but if they are not predictors, then what on earth are they? The models can be rescued only by being explained as having a metaphorical function, designed to teach us about ourselves and our perspectives under the guise of describing or predicting the future states of the planet…A general recognition of models as metaphors will not come easily. As metaphors, computer models are too subtle…for easy detection. And those who created them may well have been prevented…from being aware of their essential character.
The theory of Post-Normal Science…needs to be renewed and enriched…The time is not ripe for a modification of PNS, and so the best move forward is to raise the issue of Sustainability. For that I sketch a theory of complex systems, with special attention to pathologies and failures. That provides the foundation for a use of ‘contradiction’ as a problem incapable of resolution in its own terms, and also of ‘characteristic contradiction’ that drives a system to a crisis. With those materials it is possible to state the characteristic contradiction of our modern industrial civilisation, and provide a diagram with heuristic power.
Situations Vacant: Three Lecturers in Climate Change at Tyndall UEA
These new academic staff appointments at UEA have been created as a result of substantial new investments in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. The posts offer excellent opportunities for continuing, or developing, internationally outstanding research careers.
[The] chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recently urged the media to focus on the “scientific rationale for action” rather than the political aspects of climate…I disagree…In the end, politics will always trump science…we need better politics, not better science.
The concept of post-normal science (PNS) has been developed as a potential approach to addressing wicked issues…As such, the ‘science’ in PNS is not limited to a conventional understanding of the word…
[Normal] Science is a logic inductive process leading to theory formulation, while all the way put through critical tests that have been deductively derived from the theory; Popper’s critical rationalist concept of science is an objective progression toward the truth…The term normal science refers to the routine work of scientists within a paradigm; slowly accumulating knowledge in accord with established theoretical assumptions…The paradigm is enlarged and frontiers of knowledge and techniques pushed forward.The exercise of scholarly activities is defined by the dominance of the Mertonian CUDOS norms of science. They include:
(C)ommunalism – the common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which scientists give up intellectual property rights in exchange for recognition and esteem;
(U)niversalism – according to which claims to truth are evaluated in terms of universal or value-free criteria;
(D)isinterestedness – according to which scientists are rewarded for acting in ways that appear to be selfless;
(O)rganized (S)kepticism – all ideas must be tested and are subject to structured community scrutiny.Post-normal science
A new concept of science was introduced by Funtowicz and Ravetz during the 1990s…The concept of post-normal science goes beyond the traditional assumptions that science is both certain and value-free…The exercise of scholarly activities is defined by the dominance of goal orientation where scientific goals are controlled by political or societal actors…Scientists’ integrity lies not in disinterestedness but in their behaviour as stakeholders. Normal science made the world believe that scientists should and could provide certain, objective factual information…The guiding principle of normal science – the goal of achievement of factual knowledge - must be modified to fit the post-normal principle…For this purpose, post-normal scientists should be capable of establishing extended peer communities and allow for ‘extended facts’ from non-scientific experts…In post-normal science, the maintenance and enhancement of quality, rather than the establishment of factual knowledge, is the key task of scientists… Involved social actors must agree on the definition of perceptions, narratives, interpretation of models, data and indicators…scientists have to contribute to society by learning as quickly as possible about different perceptions…instead of seeking deep ultimate knowledge.
All in all, the notion of “post-normal science” seems like a complete contradiction in terms or a perversion of the standard definition of science as commonly understood. It appears to be an elaborate and dishonest attempt to pass off the preferences of a single group as some kind of pseudo-science. There’s a much simpler term for this dishonest phrase: politics. Post-normal science is nothing but a cheap and lying term for a political diktat; for the rule of the self-appointed over everyone else. Whatever truth “Global Warming” may contain it has surely been damaged by its association with this disreputable and vile concept which brazenly casts aside the need for any factual basis and declares in the most unambiguous terms that whatever values it chooses to promote constitutes a truth unimpeachable by reality and a set of values that none dare challenge.
Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs…where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken.
It has been labelled “post-normal” science. Climate change seems to fall in this category. Disputes in post-normal science focus…on the process of science – who gets funded, who evaluates quality, who has the ear of policy…The IPCC is a classic example of a post-normal scientific activity.
Within a capitalist world order, climate change is actually a convenient phenomenon to come along.
The largest academic conference that has yet been devoted to the subject of climate change finished yesterday [March 12, 2009] in Copenhagen…I attended the Conference, chaired a session…[The] statement drafted by the conference’s Scientific Writing Team…contained…a set of messages drafted largely before the conference started by the organizing committee…interpreting it for a political audience…And the conference chair herself, Professor Katherine Richardson, has described the messages as politically-motivated. All well and good.
The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow…exchanges often reduce to ones about scientific truth rather than about values, perspectives and political preferences.
…‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth-seeking…scientists – and politicians – must trade truth for influence. What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy.
Climate change is telling the story of an idea and how that idea is changing the way in which our societies think, feel, interpret and act. And therefore climate change is extending itself well beyond simply the description of change in physical properties in our world…
The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved…It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change – the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals – to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.
There is something about this idea that makes it very powerful for lots of different interest groups to latch on to, whether for political reasons, for commercial interests, social interests in the case of NGOs, and a whole lot of new social movements looking for counter culture trends.
Climate change has moved from being a predominantly physical phenomenon to being a social one…It is circulating anxiously in the worlds of domestic politics and international diplomacy, and with mobilising force in business, law, academia, development, welfare, religion, ethics, art and celebrity.
Climate change also teaches us to rethink what we really want for ourselves…mythical ways of thinking about climate change reflect back to us truths about the human condition…
The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.
…climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences…climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes…climate change has become “the mother of all issues”, the key narrative within which all environmental politics – from global to local – is now framed…Rather than asking “how do we solve climate change?” we need to turn the question around and ask: “how does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations…?”
We need to reveal the creative psychological, spiritual and ethical work that climate change can do and is doing for us…we open up a way of resituating culture and the human spirit…As a resource of the imagination, the idea of climate change can be deployed around our geographical, social and virtual worlds in creative ways…it can inspire new artistic creations in visual, written and dramatised media. The idea of climate change can provoke new ethical and theological thinking about our relationship with the future….We will continue to create and tell new stories about climate change and mobilise these stories in support of our projects. Whereas a modernist reading of climate may once have regarded it as merely a physical condition for human action, we must now come to terms with climate change operating simultaneously as an overlying, but more fluid, imaginative condition of human existence.
We always said that Climate Change was a belief system, and there you have it. It has abandoned the pretence of objective science. As Hulme reveals, it is a postmodern narrative and the IPCC is a “classic example of a post-normal scientific activity”.