I recently submitted a paper that was somewhat against the mainstream climate change conclusions, and needless to say the paper was rejected. It was submitted to a sociological journal which I assumed might be less partisan. But this is not sour grapes about rejection. I have come to view journals like clubs. If you don’t agree with the rules of the club then you don’t get membership. If you can’t find a club to join, start your own and seek like minded souls. But this is not about trends in academia, it is about one single comment made by a reviewer.
As the conclusions of the political decision makers differed from the scientific advice, one of the goals was to explore the sources of knowledge used by the decision makers. As with most of my work, data was collected using questionnaire survey methods. To try and capture some sense of understanding the political decision makers were asked what I thought was a straight forward question: “How much do you use the following sources of information in shaping adaptation decisions and policy?” There was a list of possible choices from which to choose. The top three sources chosen were television, newspapers and radio. This seems quite clear and quite simple to me. You ask someone what are the sources of their knowledge and you would assume they would have an idea of what sources they use. “Not so!” I have been told.
A reviewer made the comment: “You can’t just ask people how much information they have received from various places, as that assumes that people know where they heard stuff – a dangerous assumption.” Well, first off, I did not ask them how much “information they received”, I simply asked what sources they used to attain information, not how much they took away from it. But that too is beside the point. The point is the claim made by the reviewer that people have no idea where they hear things. (I, myself, have taken to wearing a tinfoil helmet as protection against misinformation – it has an advanced misinformation filter.)
Let’s take two scenarios of persons on the street:
A: “Do you know what the score was for the foot ball game last night?”
B. “2 to 0”
A. “How do you now that?”
B. “I watched it on TV”
A. “How do you know you watched it on TV?”
B “Go f*%k yourself.”
C. “Do you know that the climate is getting warmer?’
B. “I have heard about it.”
C. “Where did you hear about it?”
B. “Television, radio, newspapers.”
C. “What about scientific journals or scientific conferences?”
B. “Go f*%k yourself. I drive a truck for a living”
Going back to the reviewer’s comment, I guess we know more specifically where we don’t get information. And I guess our knowledge is more specific if we observe the event first hand. The trouble is, it is not so easy to observe ‘climate’ change. We can observe the weather first hand though. And even then, data suggests, for weather, at least, that this is open to interpretation. If I look out of the window today and see rain I know it is raining. If someone asked me if we had more rain this spring than last spring, I could only guess, or repeat what I have been told. This is obvious in the data with some political decision makers claiming summers have gotten warmer and some political decision makers claiming that they have gotten cooler (all claims for the same small area of the German Baltic coast). And they claim to have received most of their information from public media. Does this reflect that some of the respondents are locked into a simplified linear warming projection and some being shaped by the more recent increased variability claims? Are they instructed to perceive change? Do they want to perceive change? Woe and betide those who are controversial. So how do we match sources and consequences for perceptions of climate change? According to the reviewer we can never know where people get their information so I guess we should stop here. Hmmm EVER THE ETHER.- a common dictum in contemporary social science. But if we did want to explore it ...
Oldies but goodies
So how could address this for a better understanding. It seems that climate change has permeated just about all academic discourse in one way or another, but I can find no reference (if anyone is aware of any, please let me know) to an application of Goffman’s work on social interaction to things climate change. (His concepts related to Frame Analysis, published in 1974, dealing with how conceptual frames structure perception, are often employed without much in terms of acknowledgement.).Overall, Goffman argues that our actions are dependent upon time, place and audience. Perhaps our problem could be addressed from the perspective of what Goffman calls front stage versus back stage; do we see one thing but tell people what we think they want to hear? Is that the case of the regional decision makers? Do we follow the lines of political correctness?
Now, I think it has been established that most climate scientists are only human. As they are human and scientists, we can logically assume they participate in social interaction with other humans when informing audiences of the prospects of climate change. (As of yet, I have heard of no information sessions being held at animal shelters- just a caveat, one must be careful these days; some scientists are naturally better than others, leading to bigger stages and bigger audiences). If this is the case then perhaps it might be fruitful to analyze the performance.
(Taken directly from Wikipedia on Goffman – this is one blog posting borrowing from another so I assume it is ok)
There are seven important elements Goffman identifies with respect to the performance:
1. Belief in the part one is playing is important, even if it cannot be judged by others. The audience can only try to guess whether the performer is sincere or cynical.
2. The front or 'the mask' is a standardized, generalizable and transferable technique for the performer to control the manner in which the audience perceives him or her.
3. Dramatic realization is a portrayal of aspects of the performer that s/he wants the audience to know. When the performer wants to stress something, s/he will carry on the dramatic realization.
4. Idealization. A performance often presents an idealized view of the situation to avoid confusion (misrepresentation) and strengthen other elements (fronts, dramatic realization). Audiences often have an 'idea' of what a given situation (performance) should look like and performers will try to carry out the performance according to that idea.
5. Maintenance of expressive control refers to the need to stay 'in character'. The performer has to make sure that s/he sends out the correct signals and quiets the occasional compulsion to convey misleading ones that might detract from the performance.
6. Misrepresentation refers to the danger of conveying the wrong message. The audience tends to think of a performance as genuine or false, and performers generally wish to avoid having an audience disbelieve them (whether they are being truly genuine or not).
7. Deception refers to the concealment of certain information from the audience, whether to increase the audience's interest in the user or to avoid divulging information which could be damaging to the performer.
Now if we couple these with McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message” (Marshall McLuhan, 1967) which, simply put, considers the effect that each medium has on perception, and consider scientists along with TV and Newspapers, etc., as a medium, then maybe we would get a clearer understanding of how climate change is being communicated
(Both Gofmann and McLuhan were from western Canada although I don’t think either of them played ice hockey)