Between Scientists & Citizens

Listening to what can’t be said

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Judith Curry’s characterization of last week’s PBS report “Climate of Doubt” as “predictable” pretty much captures it. It takes a pretty short memory to think that in 2007 the forces of climate good were on the verge of political victory, snatched from them only by the might of the evil Koch brothers supplemented by the covert work of a host of political operatives (who, by the way, interviewed rather well). I was sorry that the counter-narrative Matt Nisbet’s group put forward in the Climate Shift report hasn’t gotten any traction.

There was one interesting moment, though:  something that wasn’t said.

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Written by jeangoodwin

October 27, 2012 at 10:04 am

Happy birthday, Climate, Etc.!

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A year ago today Judith Curry wrote her first post Climate, Etc.  We should all celebrate the fact that her blog is still more than flourishing.  She has paid consistent attention to issues of communicating science–of course, that’s likely to warm a communication theorist’s heart.  But more importantly she’s been practicing what she’s been preaching.  Comment threads on her blog are among the only places where those with various views of climate science actually talk with each other.

Why not look back and consider how Climate, Etc. has managed to construct and maintain a fragile community?  What kinds of communication practices are making the site work?  At the beginning, Curry aimed for discussions in three different styles.  Did that work out?  There’s at least one rule that didn’t:  limiting comments to 250 words!

Written by jeangoodwin

September 2, 2011 at 12:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

“Burden of Proof” #1: Managing our own thinking

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In the discussion over at Climate Etc. a couple of weeks ago, there was a particularly clear instance of a move I see a lot–in the blogosphere, and in regular arguments:

I think most people who like science and are interested in climate science would welcome more “skeptic” arguments that meet the above criteria. It is a relief, even when disagreeing, to have some sort of a common language and set of expectations. Without that, argument is pointless, or to put it another way: The first thing you need to prove to me is that your ignorance is something that concerns me.

That’s exactly what I decline to do. The hockey stick needs no defense. Rather, you need to find some cogent explanation of why your ignorance of paleoclimate concerns me.

The writer here asserts that his position “needs no defense”;  it’s up to his opponents to produce reasons–or in other words, they have the burden of proof.

Of course, both sides can make this move.  Another writer comes back later in the discussion to assert that it’s the “hockey stick” [graph] that needs the defense:

There is no basis for discussion about AGW that starts with “the Hockey Stick is correct and unassailable”.

The true statment is  “the Hockey Stick is part of a very large con game and until the AGW side acknowledges that and apologizes, nothing they say should be believed.”   [Later:]   AGW is discredited until it confesses its fraud.

And this argumentative move–“MY position stands until YOU meet your burden of proof”–isn’t just confined to the climate debate.  Should genetically modified crops be presumed to be safe, until there is definitive evidence that they are harmful?  Or by the precautionary principle should this kind of new technology be considered dangerous, until it is shown to be safe?

To straighten out what’s happening in these moves, I want to distinguish between (a) the way people are using “burden of proof” to manage their own, personal thinking, and (b) the way they are using it to manage the debate they are having with other people.  For more on (a), proceed below;  (b) will follow in the next post.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 29, 2011 at 12:32 am

Posted in discourse analysis

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Conference: Assessing expertise in policy controversies

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Readers of this blog may be interested in a conference we are organizing here at Iowa State University next summer;  see the conference website for full details.

Between Scientists & Citizens: Assessing Expertise In Policy Controversies

June 1-2, 2012
Iowa State University, Ames, IA

Keynote speakers:

  • Sally Jackson, Communication, University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana
  • Massimo Pigliucci, Philosophy, Lehman College, CUNY

We are increasingly dependent on advice from experts in making decisions in our personal, professional, and civic lives. But as our dependence on experts has grown, new media have broken down the institutional barriers between the technical, personal and civic realms, and we are inundated with purported science from all sides. Many share a sense that science has lost its “rightful place” in our deliberations. Grappling with this cluster of problems will require collaboration across disciplines: among rhetorical and communication theorists studying the practices and norms of public discourse, philosophers interested in the informal logic of everyday reasoning and in the theory of deliberative democracy, and science studies scholars examining the intersections between the social worlds of scientists and citizens. For this conference, we invite work on expertise in policy controversies from across the disciplines focused on argumentation, reasoning, rhetoric, communication and deliberation.

Written by jeangoodwin

August 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm

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How to insult

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Judith Curry has recently brought up both the Bard and insults–a thought-provoking intersection.

Once upon Shakespeare’s time, the art of disagreement was pursued with elegance.  Degrees of challenge were measured out by the book, as one of his characters explains:

as thus, sir. I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous.  If I sent him word again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would send me word, he cut it to please himself: this is called the Quip Modest.  If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he disabled my judgment: this is called the Reply Churlish.  If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the Reproof Valiant.  If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would say I lied: this is called the Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

As You Like It V.4

Alas, we’ve mostly lost that art, especially in the blogosphere.  Disagreements proceed pretty quickly to the Lie Direct.  That’s dull!  Let’s review the wisdom of Touchstone the Fool to recover more sophisticated practices.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Some communication principles for an e-salon

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There are going to be a thousand diverse ways to run a worthwhile blog on a controversial topic.  As long as the blog community is willing to try things out, reflect on their experiences and then enforce their own standards through modeling and (civil) correction, I think they’re likely to come up a with their own workable practices.

Judith Curry in 1688?

Still, it’s not like the online world is completely separate from the world of face-to-face communication, and the blogosphere can draw from communication skills already well-developed and understood in “meat-space” contexts.  I’ve done a series of posts, for example, on how debate can work online (here and here).

Similarly, in a very interesting post, Judith Curry has identified her objective on her own blog as translating an old communication activity into a new setting:

I am striving for something different, sort of an e-salon where we discuss interesting topics at the knowledge frontier.

Three hundred plus years ago, another prominent woman wrote extensively about salon communication;  let’s see what we can learn from her.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 5, 2011 at 11:28 am

Posted in in theory

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Making arguments expensive

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Back in the golden age of the climate controversy–say, about 18 months ago–there was a time when everybody was challenging everybody else to debate. I suppose you couldn’t click more than a few links before tripping over a gauntlet.

What does a formal debate offer that the ordinary disorderly flow of arguing in the blogosphere doesn’t?  To pick up on a theme from my last post:  a formal debate allows the participants to control  what they are taking responsibility for–and to force others to take responsibility, too.  Roger Pielke, Jr. is a masterful debater, and his recent challenge to critics of “climate pragmatism” shows this strategy at its finest.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm