Thursday, May 12, 2011

postnormal science workshop: nature editorial

Scientist in search of the public
Quirin Schiermeier summarized some arguments from our Hamburg workshop on postnormal science in an editorial in the most recent edition of  nature. His focus is on the role of climate research in a democratic society and the social return of science projects:
Value judgements: The scientific endeavour needs to deliver public value, not just research papers.

He puts the Hamburg workshop into context with a recent publication of Minerva , in which a series of articles discuss public participation, transparency, targeted information etc in scientific projects. His conclusion is pretty disillusioned.

First, Quirin Schiermeier reflects on a series of articles in the new edition of Minerva, which is edited by political scientists Barry Bozeman and Daniel Sarewitz:
the journal presents case studies that analyse a broader way to measure returns on investment: public values. These public values include not only the commonly discussed knowledge and economic criteria, but also information useful to decision-makers, participation in agenda-setting by stakeholders and communication to the public in general.
In one of the articles, Meyer analyzes critically a global warming research project in the US, which failed to produce information and public participation, as initially intended:
The notion that society considers any advance in knowledge to be inherently good — even if the science fails to meet the objectives and priorities it was meant to address — cannot be sustained, says Meyer.
Schiermeier sees a direct link to the Hamburg workshop on postnormal science, where philophers of science and climate researchers came to a similar result:
Science becomes ‘post-normal’ when facts are uncertain, stakes high, values in dispute and decisions urgent; in such cases, societal needs must be taken into account to avoid costly mistakes. Climate research certainly fulfils this definition. But, according to the workshop participants, most climate researchers continue to act as if purely scientific values are, and will always be, adequate to set the agenda.
 Public and stakeholders are needed to define research priorities. Even more, those directly affected by climate change, need
to have a greater have a greater say in the kind of services and knowledge that they expect publicly funded researchers to produce.
Schiermaier concludes on the Hamburg workshop in establishing an agenda:
The agenda here is to broaden rather than restrict climate research: to ensure that, alongside studies driven by the priorities of creative scientific imaginations, research also enhances public confidence in society’s use of science. A fuller consideration of these issues will also maximize science’s public value, in the form of successful collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, delivery of information useful to stakeholders, and transparency and well targeted communication.
The focus of this editorial is clearly on what we called at our public event during the workshop: "Climate science in a democratic society". Together with the reviewed series of articles in Minerva, Schiermaier ends with a serious warning towards science:
More importantly, these studies highlight a significant deficit in current typical appraisals of science and technology outcomes. They should serve as cautionary tales about the danger of scientists’ interests, deliberately or otherwise, becoming too dominant in determining outcomes. And they introduce ways to assess failures in social returns on investment that, one can only hope, will help to improve science’s public value.


Hans Erren said...

Would you trust a bank that won't let the auditors in?

If you want trust there is only three words you need:

Transparancy, transparancy and transparancy.

OBothe said...

Reading of Daniel Sarewitz, he has a new piece in the early online view of WIREs Climate Change "Does climate change knowledge really matter?" DOI: 10.1002/wcc.126