Monthly Archives: May 2010

Relating paradigms to a current, shifting reality.

This post is about me relating papers and articles I’ve found about 2009 realities of CC paradigms to 1962 Kuhn theory. I didn’t want to include it in the last post, so I could keep my relation of Kuhn’s paradigms to CC separate to ‘now’ information.

First up, a Dec 2008 paper from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Research by Fussal, called Adaptation to climate change: A new paradigm for action or just old wine in new skins? (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~fuessel/download/resil08_final.pdf). What he has to say is that adaptation and mitigation, as courses of action, are both necessary and important to governmental planning, but quite different from each other. Adaptation covers many measures already in existence and these mainly relate to risk and resource management methodology. However, Fussal argues that adaptation methodology is not simply mitigation methodology extended (or substituted), but changed and a new ‘paradigm’. This is because it shows signs of new methodologies, new ethical considerations, new opportunities for action and new stakeholders. These new facets come about because of the increased uncertainty and hazards involved in adaptation research.

For the greatest efficacy of new research, he recommends a lot of collaboration between scientists, communicators, policymakers, local people and so on. Suggested methods are: learning through forums, dialogues with stakeholders, mobilising public/private resources and serious efforts to look at the disparity between those responsible for/affected by CC.
Another idea of a paradigm shift I found was in a May 2009 article called Stalking the Emerging Climate Change Paradigm (http://www.worldwildlife.org/climate/blog/entry11.html), by John Matthews, who writes a Climate Change blog for the World Wildlife Foundation. He doesn’t speak of any adaptation/mitigation paradigms, but rather a restoration/preservation dichotomy. Restoration is when we try to take a degraded environment back to previous condition, and preservation is when we try to protect an area/species. Both have a similar long term goal but the short term implementation looks very different. John says that CC threatens both approaches because of our [old] view of ecosystems as ‘stable and static’.

He now believes we should be tracking the ‘new climate’ (a changing, worsening one), or better still, a paradigm that focuses on what we can or can’t control: whether…

…‘we should facilitate or resist climate-driven shifts. We can’t alter when warm temperatures arrive in winter and the onset of spring or the frequency of droughts. But we buffer places and species to some degree from very fast rates of change. Give them more space to move around. Help cities and farmers use water resources more efficiently. Ultimately, we need to think carefully about the kinds of ecosystem change we can manage to influence and those we must simply become accustomed to.’

He leaves a resolution of the article open though, simply by saying that this paradigm and its methodology are currently unclear (although being an aim).

Next: an old paper with an interesting link to another issue I’ve been thinking about. I’ll explain the paper first then what I feel it relates to. Back in 1996, Schneider and Root published a paper called Ecological implications of climate include surprises, in Biodiversity and Conservation (http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/42439/1/10531_2004_Article_BF00052720.pdf). They proposed that a new paradigm had emerged from research called ‘Strategic Cyclical Scaling’ (SCS), that focused on the need to anticipate ‘extreme events or surprises’. These outlier events, which are naturally less predictable, still need to have probabilities assigned to them so that government and emergency services can prepare. However, because of the wide range of experts they could see that would need to be involved, Schneider and Root saw that each set of experts work with very different scales within their work. Ecologists deal with differences and uncertainties of +/- 20m. Climatologists can work with +/- 200km.

They propose that proper interdisciplinary cooperation can reduce the impact these severe events will have on humans. Firstly, I find this interesting because of the many ways CC extends itself into so many disciplines and this is an example of forced cooperation (work-wise, not humans being nice-wise). Secondly, this is the early theoretical version of a very tangible issue raised at the Hot Air Symposium: government/councils needing to predict the unpredictable, as well as wanting more, and more accurate information to do so. This interdisciplinary approach includes scale and risk facets as wished for by policymakers. I know it’s a bit old now, because it’s obvious that that’s what councils/gov want and need, I just thought it was interesting that the researchers saw this cooperation as a paradigm shift.

Lastly, a 2008 paper from Leo Dobes at the Australian National University in Canberra (http://www.crawford.anu.edu.au/pdf/staff/leo_dobes/dobes_agenda_15_3.pdf), called Getting Real about Adapting to Climate Change: Using ‘Real Options’ to Address the Uncertainties. Mr Dobes, who doesn’t deny anthropogenic CC but doesn’t necessarily support it, is an associate professor from the faculty of Economics and Government, which helps me to understand his ‘slant’ a little better. His paper is about adaptation and mitigation policy and outcomes being very different. Mitigation efforts, like a ‘green’ lightbulb, are ‘certain’ and can produce knowable outcomes. Adaptation, however, has a lot of uncertainty attached to it, with few specific predictions and thus responses by government could (and Mr Dobes says basically WILL) be either inadequate or an unnecessary waste of resources.

He proposes working towards a ‘real options’ orientation, where government holds off on doing anything until they have more information (sound familiar?). He suggests that otherwise, they will be tempted to spend too much too soon. I believe this to be very untrue – if this is what an eager Australian government looks like on CC, I’d hate to see a reluctant one! An example: ‘Rather than building ‘worst-case scenario’ sea walls, for example, strong foundations can be laid — so that walls can be built (or not built) in future to match actual climatic conditions without incurring unnecessary upfront expense.’ That said, I am not so naïve as to believe that our government or councils can act, free of financial considerations no matter how urgent we believe this issue to be.

Advertisements

Evaluating CC with Kuhn’s framework.

I know we are meant to be done with Thomas Kuhn’s framework now, but I wanted to wrap up CC with his frame. I have since finished the book (and notes) and just wanted to put my thoughts down. Sorry if it’s excruciatingly boring J (and sorry, in hindsight, about the length).

I feel that maybe CC doesn’t fit incredibly well into the whole Kuhn frame, perhaps because CC has so many other variables (akin to the SCoT theory), like social, economic and political causes and effects. It’s just so broad and less specialised than I see Kuhn’s theory applying.

So if a paradigm is a set of methods/laws/theories/applications, examples of how CC fits in here could be (respectively):

– methods: the tools scientists have developed in many fields (ecology, reefs, temperature, weather mapping, measuring light from space).

– laws: I don’t know if there are any hard and fast established (or anyone trying to establish) rules or laws about CC. Different models using different algorithms to measure facets of CC come up with so many different answers, depending on the variables used.

– theories: this is where CC really does fit in – and I feel that in this part, we appear as if we’re in the pre-paradigm area of Kuhn’s controversies. There are many theories, and versions of them, floating around – it’s like we’re testing them all out at the same time.

– applications: I think these examples can fall into the categories of adaptation and mitigation inventions. The mitigation inventions are ones we are using to reduce our emissions now (and are still being developed), whereas I would think the majority of the mitigation technologies are still heavily in development and it will be a while before laypeople really see these.

I think the idea of normal science definitely can apply to CC, even though maybe we haven’t unequivocally decided on a paradigm. A scientist could still work towards one of the three aims (determine facts, match fact and theory by prediction, articulation of theory), although I believe it could be pre-paradigmatic in that a lot of data is being recorded without specific direction, or really knowing where it will be used in future. One of the other reasons I don’t think there’s a solid, articulated paradigm for CC (as Kuhn would have it) is that CC isn’t a rigidly defined field yet. Maybe it is as Kuhn says: in pre-paradigm times, we might end up defining schools of CC (ie. mitigation, adaptation) with their own methods/theories, instead of them being seen as different paradigms. To me, they’re like two sides of the same coin.

I think CC would have little trouble fitting as a ‘puzzle to be solved’ ala Kuhn – there are discoverable answers to every problem tackled – excepting the specific answers of what will happen, or how hot will it get? Can we measure higher temps? Yep. Can we make a machine to capture methane? Yep. They’re all niche puzzles. It’s how these fit into society, and how they’re marketed and produced that is the larger problem that scientists can distance themselves from.

Insofar as paradigms pave their own way for finding anomalies, I think CC is no exception – the more scientists have tried to pin this ‘slippery fish’ down, the more [scientific] uncertainty has been revealed. Error bars of different climate models spanning huge amounts – it’s a denier’s dream! However, although CC is controversial, I don’t know if I think it’s reached a crisis as such. I don’t see professional insecurity, or questioning the whole theory/ies of CC, or wanting to throw out a paradigm on the basis of conflicting data.. Would you guys agree with that, or do you think it’s in crisis?

However, another however J, despite it not being a crisis in my mind, it does resemble that in that there are loosened rules for the puzzle solving. New ideas to measure global warming (http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abstracts/2001/Hansen_etal.html) and coral reef warming (http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/11/24/light.pollution.offers.new.global.measure.coral.reef.health) by night-time light, as two examples. So I think that CC could be that instance of Kuhn’s where he says that persistent anomalies or counterinstances don’t necessarily have to lead to crisis. And I hope that although there doesn’t seem to have been a revolution, that switches in perception, about how to see problems, may happen anyway because of the relaxed puzzle solving rules, because of the ‘messy’ collection of theories and ideas about CC among scientists.

It just hit me that all this time, I have been talking about scientists and how they relate to their knowledge and indirectly, controversies, and this really comes back to my original remark about Kuhn and how CC is neglected a little in this framework. None of my relating CC to Kuhn’s theory takes into account society at large: politics, economy, ‘the people’!

Just a word about testing paradigms against themselves or nature: as Kuhn says, testing paradigms against nature is impossible, and I think another demonstration of how there aren’t multiple ones to compare against each other yet. This is shown by the idea that no two CC paradigms are in competition. I would like to discuss falsification in the next blog, so I’ll leave that out here. I don’t want to discuss in detail the CC deniers and how they form a group of scientists that don’t believe – but I would be interested in their reasons and how much that is mitigated by their personalities (ie. if it’s not based on their scientific beliefs). I also find it interesting to think about, given what Kuhn says about scientists’ work needing peer group acceptance/review, their struggle to communicate CC science to the world because of its urgency, when maybe they’ve been ‘brought up’ in science to believe they would only need communicate and be accepted by other scientists. CC is forcing all of them onto a world stage with very bright lights and loud voices..

Finally, I think that Kuhn’s idea of information being a ‘from’, not a ‘to’ objective, fits perfectly here. There is no end in sight for CC research/communication/controversy, because of its long timescale and great depth of problems, so the puzzles will remain open for a very, very long time without a ‘shut the book’, ‘we’re finished’ kind of moment.

Hot Air Symposium thoughts, part II.

Another part of the symposium that I connected with, were the communication rules for CC. I apologise, I can’t remember for the life of me, who was saying this (Dr Jan Green? Peta again?).

–          clear and consistent explanation

–          communication sustained over time

–          partnered delivery (combining messages that come from different organisations, that can both have impact and novelty)

–          government policy and communication must be consistent

–          targeting the ‘usual suspects’ (term for the 30-50% of the bell curve that are waiting for someone to tell them what to do, who think that CC is real and can be curbed)

–          targeting conscious and unconscious behaviours by looking at active and passive choices

I suspect this will all be a little more meaningful when we look at the risk communication stuff, again.

Another speaker that day (sorry!) was discussing government and council response to CC. They emphasised that knowledge doesn’t equal policy change for government necessarily. Government needs to:

–          think through the issues carefully (effects on values, resources, rights, lots of affected ppl)

–          predict unintended consequences

–          have confidence in the community’s ability to change

–          THEN change legislation

This is complicated by the fact that CC is often presented as uncertain, risky and complex – but that the definition of scientific uncertainty is not the same as legislative or policy uncertainty. Councils often convey a wish for more and better information (NOT scientific information, but for different audiences), proof and more community involvement. The ‘information’ spoken of can be policy, local and scientific – all with very different presentation, emphasis and uncertainty terms. It was suggested that numbers/explanations of risk, consequence and the scale of these for different audiences would empower these groups to make more confident decisions. It was mentioned that many smaller councils were waiting on large city councils to take action and then they could follow suit.

And because of the current framing of these issues – of scientists and policymakers at the highest levels discussing CC research and measures – lay-people are excluded from not only information, but from feeling like they have agency in this situation and therefore from personal behaviour changes. Abstract ideas about CC measures were discouraged, in favour of constructive behaviours and initiatives that community members could see and touch.

When I was thinking about how this fit into the frameworks we were looking at today, I was wondering about an artefact that CC can use, to relate to this ‘community, tangible action plan’. I remember the four minute shower timers and think that they might fit in here. This artefact has connections to a community see/touch behaviour change (I remember they generated sooo much discussion at the time, and water-saving races), as a driver of this change. It also is tangible so can more easily stimulate behaviour awareness, if not change. It has links to economic outcomes, environmental outcomes, government action, response by the community, and definitely as a strong strategy for use in future.

All of the thinking about the water saving measures came from my group facilitation where I worked with several people close to those issues. I explained in class the challenge my group presented, but just a snippet of written thoughts I took away:

–          how do we engage a confused public?

–          is the controversy now about targets or are there still deniers?

–          each stakeholder group most probably needs a different communication strategy

–          communication and decisions by councils etc. needs to be open to all options (acknowledging the deniers’ opinions too)

Hot Air Symposium thoughts, part I.

Unfortunately this collection of thoughts from the symposium won’t be evidence based, but I’ve tried to relate them to controversy frames (risk and tech-based). They’re things that really set my brain on fire.

Peta Ashworth from CSIRO was talking about CC and how it relates to risk communication – I would like to go deeper into this when we do the ‘Mother’s Milk and Mad Cows’ bit. She emphasised that CC seems to have bypassed people’s feeling of risk and therefore decisive action on the issue. According to The Centre for Risk Communication (http://www.centerforriskcommunication.com/home.htm), the feeling of risk relies on three principles: feeling threatened, feeling vulnerable and potential personal impact. Their website has a great collection of links and readings on this.

The CC issue short-circuits these feelings of risk by seeming to (1) not be immediate, (2) not creating any particular vulnerability for most people, and (3) having little personal impact for us [so far]. I understand that change in behaviour would require a shift in people’s feelings on the matter. However I believe that reporting CC as catastrophic, immediate and foreboding will not only turn out to be untruthful but further desensitise people to requisite action.

This desensitisation was also mentioned by Emma Marris (a very successful freelance science journalist), but in the context of reporters. She said, in a nutshell, that reporters were tired of writing about CC and often presumed/incorporated it into many of their stories. At the time, and in the conference, objections about whether readers had heard enough about it were raised. This also had links back to headlines about adaptation increasingly overriding those about mitigation (reducing emissions) – and worry that readers will accordingly, think less of mitigating.

However, the knee-jerk reaction for journalists of reporting on ‘CC is bad, stop emitting CO2’, was warned against too. Emma said that scientists often had ‘cryptic interests’ that the public couldn’t easily see, and because of this, reporters shouldn’t just use a fear rhetoric to ‘propagandise’ CC.

Another speaker, our very own lecturer, had me thinking about some points too. She raised an idea of ‘over to you’ TV content, regarding ‘greening’ your life. That it’s for consumers to research, choose and implement their own CC measures, and that it will be a difficult and extreme adjustment. Because of the catastrophe frame that I feel has been perpetuated for CC for so long, combined with this ‘hardship’ idea of greening one’s life, I feel like many people would feel like that the problem is too complex and too far gone to make meaningful changes. Not surprisingly, as soon as the risk factors become more real to people (threat, vulnerability, impact), there will be a scramble to reverse the consequences.

Joan also mentioned the gulf between specialist programming/reporting/policy and common people’s media use: ‘Do they join up?’ Given this hardship ideal of the mass media’s method to become more CC conscious, I would say not so much. Many people at Hot Air didn’t appear have the ‘too little, too late’ attitude and were focused on continued communication to lay-people about mitigating their impacts. In the panel discussion afterwards (I think), someone spoke of using the [uncommon] step of scientists’ emotionality in reporting to engage people more. This would, I think, stop that apathy about CC reporting, perhaps for the journalists and put a human face to the urgency most scientists feel about CC. In the same way, using a human face to tell the CC story (I will expand on this in another blog post about the human rights part of the CC issue).

The rest of the deniers’ story.

Back to the ICE and another weapon against CC, competing for the public’s apathy to do nothing. A conservative think tank of scientists in America joined the fight, the George C. Marshall Institute. This well-respected institute had much the same effect as the individuals co-opted to create controversy but with a much louder voice, and one that could be heard in significant political circles also. They and others knocked down bill after bill in government for positive CC change from industry.

Eventually, the Kyoto Protocol was enacted and the IPCC’s second report was published, both of which dealt blows to deniers everywhere, as it seemed more people supported more of the evidence that was coming out about CC.

I’m interested to find out more about the progress of other scientists in the ‘conversion’ most have had from hearing about CC to accepting it. Above is an example of a large group of scientists, and more individuals exist, willing to stake their careers on their assertions of the falseness of others’ research and beliefs. I understand the idea of conservatism within science – but in the reading I’ve done so far it seems most jumped ship to the CC boat quite quickly. Or am I wrong?

During the Bush (both of them) administration, apparently most senators and policymakers had industry experts and denial scientists in their ears about the excusability of inaction on CC. A famous report, The Truth About Denial, published in Newsweek in 2007 (http://www.newsweek.com/id/32482/page/1) asserts that most of the scientists recruited for the denial campaign weren’t typical research scientists and mostly commented on others’ work.

It would seem, with mounting evidence of each of the parts of those three points about CC (at the start), that real deniers are changing their tune on each point. They’ve moved from saying “it’s not happening”, to “it’s from natural causes”, to “it won’t really make much of a difference in the world”. Where will the last bastion be, that they fight from to say it’s not real and immediate? I puzzle over what they will come up with next. Next couple of blogs I’d like to look at the take on CC as a human rights issue…

Meanwhile, it makes me really sad and angry to think of the denial that was going on in the ‘80s and ‘90s when so much could have been done. Knowing that some heads of industry deliberately worked against the world’s interests, and now we’re stuck with an accelerating problem…

This is the article about the letter from Britain’s Royal Society to ExxonMobil: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2006/sep/20/oilandpetrol.business

But to finish on a different note: art meets awareness. http://kawanotakeshi.blogspot.com/2007/11/blog-post_30.html It’s called We’re Melting.

Deniers and the lessons we take from them.

A break from the theory and introduction! I don’t want to focus on the denial of CC in these next 29 posts, but after reading about a controversy within a controversy, thought some interesting ideas came out of it, relating to the controversy in general.

So, the controversy among scientists who may seem like deniers centres on the three premises. 1) The average surface temperature of the earth is rising, 2) this rise is attributable to human activity and 3) if it continues, temperature will continue to rise, sea levels will rise and extreme weather patterns will prevail. Basically: the climate is changing, it’s of man-made origin, and bad things will happen if it doesn’t stop. Three points on which to disagree or be sceptical about.

Interestingly, 2007 and 2008 Gallup polls showed that awareness of CC doesn’t always coincide with the belief that the problem is man-made, or anthropogenic. One can be aware of CC but not believe humans had anything to do with it. And another, more important facet that has been pointed out to me: someone who doesn’t believe one or more of the three points above, or has problems with them, isn’t necessarily a climate denier. They may be what is called a climate sceptic.

This blog post, however, is about the deniers and industry’s hand in creating and helping them. I backtracked to read about the 2007 letter from Britain’s Royal Society to ExxonMobil, criticising them for their financial support (or goading I would even say) for groups and individuals who would introduce doubt into the CC debate using their professional standing.

According to ABC News (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Business/story?id=2767979&page=1), ExxonMobil paid $16 million out in these payments between 1998 and 2005. 43 groups and 16 individuals benefited from this money to seed dissent and doubt.

In the ‘80s, when CC was just becoming a hot topic (excuse that pun), a coalition of energy and coal companies formed the Information Council on the Environment (ICE). This council and others like it were used to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” (http://tinyurl.com/p9v5hc), and create controversy. They emphasised that CC should be treated with precautionary principles – similar to the actions of the tobacco industry’s before everyone agreed that smoking was bad.

This doubt in the science/evidence for CC, because of apparent division in scientific ranks, was used as an excuse for inaction. I find it interesting because what was clearly an economic controversy, where big business was clamouring for freedom from proposed mandatory carbon-cutting measures, was swiftly transformed (by them!) into a scientific controversy by setting up very loud dissent between scientists. If I didn’t find it so repulsive I would almost call it clever. Further, this scientific controversy which stemmed from economic concerns segued into a social controversy very easily after that.

This made me think about Kuhn’s ideas about the process of normal science and puzzle/problem solving. He says that the scientific community wants problems that will have answers, and that one of the beauties of a paradigm is that it will insulate scientists from socially important problems that won’t fit with the concepts or tools that paradigm gives them. He says that normal science progresses rapidly because of these choices of problems. Perhaps that’s part of what makes CC so very difficult. This issue has to be broken into tiny parts that scientists feel they can work on and achieve answers to – but CC seems so complex and uncertain to begin with.

I almost feel that scientists would be well-congratulated to come up with any answers, given the enormity of the task, especially since they are predicting events and trends with little data about the future. I particularly feel like it seems unavoidable that scientists are divided, given the uncertainty about how to measure and predict climate within a long and continuing history of the world**. In this case, I don’t think the fact that there are no easy answers absolves scientists nor protects them from scrutiny – maybe this is a what precedes a revolution for the fact that so many people are in the ‘creating’ method/theory mode.

More in part II of this.

** I don’t really like creation debates, but as an illustration, it would be like saying, “There’s so much debate about God – that must mean he definitely does [or doesn’t] exist.” It’s ridiculous to draw that conclusion!

The beginning of the world, and its climate worries.

(FIRST POST in an older series of mine about communicating a controversy)

In light of the INTECOL Conference coming up, and also because it’s something I don’t know enough about, I’ve chosen climate change, like Michelle. I will refer to it as CC from here on in.

To introduce CC from the basics: CC is a long-term change in an area’s long-term weather patterns (weather is an area’s short-term temperature, humidity, wind, rain and air pressure). The size of an ‘area’ can be small or huge. CC has occurred to both heat and cool the earth over millions of years, but now hearing the words ‘climate change’ probably will refer to recent global warming.

The earth is heated by energy from the sun. Gases like water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases in the upper atmosphere absorb this energy and release it, warming our lower atmosphere and surface.

The main thrust of the man-made CC argument is that the burning of fossil fuels, precipitated by the industrial revolution in the mid-20th century, has released of massive excesses of these greenhouse gases, which increase that absorption/release (called radiative forcing) process. In doing so, this warms the earth further. A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates increases of 36% carbon dioxide, 148% methane, 18% nitrous oxide and 36% ozone, since pre-industrial times (http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/recentac.html).

Proponents of man-made CC say this change in earth’s climate will lead to higher temperatures, more extreme weather patterns, a rise in sea levels, more severe droughts, expanding deserts, and generally significant negative effects for life on the planet. Agricultural yields will change, climate-related disease progress will change and oceans may lose dissolved oxygen.

Additionally, because of the oceans’ capacity to store heat more efficiently than land and being slower to release it, even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases now, the earth would still warm. This slow reaction of oceans (and other indirect changes) is called climate commitment.

So how much will the world’s temperature change? That’s the million-dollar question, and just one of the reasons CC is such a huge controversy. As Kuhn from our readings describes, there are two types of controversy and CC fits both of these.

CC is a scientific controversy, in that scientists disagree about the cause, effects, magnitude, models for prediction, variation in regions … and so on. CC also becomes a controversy based on science – it’s a science-based political, economical and social controversy. Questions arise like: why don’t scientists agree? What should be done? How much will this affect humans? Can we stop it? Who is responsible? What’s the actual threat?

Solutions fall into three categories: mitigation (lessening our impact), adaptation (learning to live with it) and geo-engineering (reversing it). The Kyoto Protocol (http://unfccc.int/essential_background/items/2877.php) is an example of an agreement between countries to all have less of an impact than before. Another meeting about the Protocol is happening in December 2009 in Copenhagen, and as of June this year only the US had not agreed to the protocol.

I’ll sign off here. More to come.

Blogging about controversy

I’m going to publish some blog posts that I wrote some time ago.

I was blogging as part of a class assignment – on scientific controversies. Our brief was to write for fellow science communication students. We weren’t looking so much at the content of the science, but its communication and how the controversy itself is/was handled.

In that vein, my posts are relatively informally worded, and I’ve tried to make it interesting for my fellow students. At that time, I wasn’t blogging properly, and they are, I guess, only slightly more interesting weekly writings, as opposed to actual blog posts.

Sometimes I refer to readings that we had been looking at. I’m posting a list of these readings below so that if you’re actually interested in the content of the readings, you can check them out. GREAT readings, by the way, on controversy. Particularly Mother’s Milk and The Golem.

Reading list:

  • Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
  • Bijker, W.:  Bicycles, Bakelite and Bulbs:  Toward a Theory of Socio-Technical Change
  • William Leiss: Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk
  • Ulrich Beck: Risk Society
  • Alan Gross: Scientific Controversy:  Three Frameworks for Analysis
  • Collins and Pinch: The Golem

Talk, talk, talk: communicating climate change; networking

How do we get across the science of climate change? It seems there’s a lot of misinformation and denial rumour around about it all.

Although I’ve perhaps built up the possibility of a blog post about it – sorry, it’s another self-indulgent reflection on my new career.

What’s absolutely kick-ass is that today I have been given a task to do with drafting a document that gives lessons in best practice about communicating it! Might have my name on it, too, and this document will be heading around the country to all science communicators, journos, and policymakers. Veeery exciting!

All this career-building stuff that I’m doing at my placement is unbelievably exciting for me. I can’t say how exhilarating it is to finally be in a career, after years of a pre-emptive ‘sea change’. Yep, at 26, I did the sea change thing early. Quit an office job I hated, and worked (loving it, mind you), in an outdoors store.

When an accident cancelled plans of seeing the world for an indefinite period of time (both the travel and the cancellation), I had to find something to do with my time that didn’t involve lying in a bed recovering. Though I’ve not returned to work in the same capacity as before (and never will), having a career that also exercises some of my talents is an ‘arriving’ feeling.

With that in mind, and recognising the importance of the ad-hoc nature of science communication in this country (small community and young profession here), I am keenly aware of even-fleeting opportunities with other science communicators who I might meet.

For instance, a person at another business in the same building as my placement mentioned me to her boss, based on the hearsay from a mentor at this placement! How nice! And it turns out that her boss remembered me from one meeting because I made sure to email her after meeting her at a symposium last year. Fortuitous!

Ahh. Another excellent week and some more website resources edited, article written, and multiple ones volunteered for!

Synapses sparking

Over the last months, I can feel myself learning. Perhaps it’s the placement I’m in, and the reflective document I’ll create for that (even unbidden; I want to examine progress).

Perhaps it’s that I’m so immersed in my [future] field – like being on a choir camp or the like. Perhaps it’s that I’m so busy, so professional expansion is a natural reaction to that.

Whatever it is – I can feel the changes in my brain. Unfortunately, they aren’t as widespread nor as automatic as I’d wish for; nevertheless they are there.

Vague? Why, yes. So what am I learning?

  • A deeper level of professional conduct
  • More etiquette skills
  • Actual collaboration methods
  • Editing experience
  • A slightly more critical eye for information
  • Audio and (self-taught) video editing            (and getting down to what I think are the most important skills)
  • To write more succinctly
  • To write every day, and not to imbue writing with such a sense of ‘specialness’ that it’s an ordeal or ritual to sit down and do so
  • To balance tasks of writing, organisation, planning, and editing
  • That I, without doubt, and unbeknownst, love the Oxford comma (oh dear!)
  • Media skills – talking to scientists and journalists, from both sides of the fence
  • Writing in different genres (articles, media releases, profiles, education materials)
  • Presentation skills and PowerPoint do’s and don’ts
  • Not to be precious about editing and tearing up of my (see, even that is wrong) – a – piece of writing
  • Deeply examining edits on writing and using constructive criticism
  • To dive in, even if I’m frightened about a situation
  • Networking contacts

This is SO exciting. I don’t want this period of learning to recede – I don’t want the tide to go out. I want to keep the fullness of my brain bursting with a spark from something I’ve happened upon.

I want to come home and rave to TheBoy about everything fascinating. I can see that he’s learning about science communication, too, from my (very friendly) rants and overflows of speech.

Oddly enough, I think most insights come totally organically, too. Like I haven’t had to think about them – my subconscious must be burning up – like they just appear, pre-formed, in my head. And I think, ‘Well, yes, that’s right.’

I feel like a kid who’s just discovered paint, or the stars.