We live in an age of consumerism. A basic idea is to sell goods, goods and more goods. Could it be that some aspects of science have bought into this? Science is though, somewhat of a strange market model. As far I can ascertain, it is the only entity that produces goods (journal articles) to either give away or even pay to give away (publishing costs). And it is not often, to my knowledge, that a presentation by a scientists receives the same fee as say a presentation by Bill Clinton or Al Gore. So could it be, admittedly tied up with recent rage to ‘communicate’ science, that scientists have devised (likely unknowingly) a new currency on which to judge success in a world gone mad with consumerism? Has climate modelling transmogrified from a science to a technology, shifting the tendency even more towards consumerism?
Is the currency of science status, fame and/or notoriety? Is this what is hoped to be received from the ‘consumers’ of science for payment of goods Is there a quest to produce science ‘good, goods and more goods’ for the consumer? Also, is there a tendency to package consumer science in ever more attractive packages? Has there not been the creation of marketing departments - i.e. science-stakeholder communications groups or institutes? Is this blog a form of marketing? These, of course, were all probably created out of good intention, but, nonetheless, if we view science as being on the consumerism band wagon, these are marketing branches of science, ‘selling’ the wares of science.
There is one more thing that might be an indication that perhaps consumer science is coming in vogue. This is what (some) science does. There has always been a tendency for technology to lend to the consumer market. What is invented or developed usually finds its way to the market place. This is (very often at least)the purpose of the process: from automotive to pharmaceutical. There has also always been distinctions between science and technology. Without going into a long diatribe, one distinction has been between decoding and encoding. Science decodes, technology encodes. Very, very, simply, science seeks the finite principles of a complex whole. Technology rearranges, combines, etc., the principles in the production of a product that has utility.
Now let’s take a look at climate change. In the early days there was Arrhenius and Brueckner for example. They lent themselves, if not completely then almost completely, to decoding aspects of climate phenomena. A hundred or so years later modellers began to encode, they started to put the pieces together, they made models. The question is, does this encoding smack of technology? The model is a tool, is it not? The output of the model, if viewed in the light of consumerism noted above, is a product, to be marketed by various strategies and to be consumed by a public.
Now, if we accept Foucault’s definition of technology, referring to the ‘technologies of the self’ then we are talking about the methods and techniques (‘tools’) through which human beings constitute themselves, through which we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. Technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge giving rise to strategies that 'permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality' (Foucault, M (1988) Technologies of the self. In L H Martin, H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press). Isn’t this what the output of climate models eventually leads to?
So I ask once again: Does climate modelling produce a consumer product? Is climate modeling science or technology?