Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Post Normal Science or Post Normal Scientists?

This started out as a response to Roger Pielke’s comment about my comment about post-normal science. My response got a little lengthy so I decided to turn it into a posting.


I basically asked just what is a post normal ‘situation’. Roger was not clear on the distinction between situation and science. Here’s Rogers reponse: ‘According to Funtowicz and Ravetz a post-normal situation (science) occurs when "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent." Normal science would thus be when fact are certain or values in agreement or the decision stakes are low. I'd elaborate this to say it is not simply the presence of uncertainty, but the managability of uncertainty and the presence of ignorance (where uncertainties themselves are ‘uncertain).Building an airplane or developing a vaccine is normal science. An oil spill is not,’

I know 'THE' definition of post-normal science. But, as Roger demonstrates, lately science and situation seem to have become interchangeable.  And,  just for the record, building an airplane is technology and an oil spill is an accident (in this case) not science.  Developing a vaccine I would have thought contained all of the necessary qualities, especially during times of impending epidemics.
Bet’s first take a look at his criteria for post normal whatever:
1. ...fact are uncertain

For climate science, - are they? I have heard many claims that the 'science is in', and 'there is a consensus'. But I think it would be safe to say that in ANY science there is never 100% certainty. But more to the point, but their very nature, facts cannot be uncertain, if they are, they are not facts.  (For the oil spill, it seems pretty certain there was indeed an oil spill.)

2. ... values in dispute

This is nothing unique for any branch of science. What we need to distinguish is whose values about what. I am never sure, are we talking personal values of scientists, political values of scientists,, social values of scientists, values of external politics, values of external interest groups? I'm not sure but I would think personal values of scientists have always had a considerable role in science (see STS). (Social values of the general populations, with a few exceptions, seem recently to tend towards apathy concerning global warming - is this a decline of the post-normal whatever?)

3. ... stakes are high

In climate science I would hazard to say that this statement itself is now in dispute. Who are they high for? But in science, at a personal level (career) stakes are often high. However, offering the benefit of the doubt I assume this to mean the stakes are high for some large portion of society (global, national, whatever). Who has decided this and where is there clear evidence? On the matter of logic, isn’t there some conflict. First, the facts are uncertain (a high level of uncertainty if I remember F & R). Then the values are in dispute. So how can we pronounce high stakes?

4. ... decisions urgent

In climate science, like high stakes, isn’t this urgency also now a matter of dispute? And who declares the urgency and, given the other defining qualities of PN Whatever, with what authority?

Now let’s look at a few other conundrums.

During the age of atomic exploration, facts were uncertain, values were in dispute, stakes were high and decisions were urgent. Was this post-normal science? Did it revert to normal science after Hiroshima?

During the more recent scares of SARs, bird flu, swine flu etc, claims were made that facts were uncertain, values were in dispute, stakes were high and decisions were urgent - were these cases of post normal science? If so, what are they now?

Values are still in dispute in the creationism - intelligent design - evolution debate. Depending on your perspective, there is also a lot of uncertainty. Stakes are high too, especially if you are religious. But, granted, there is not much urgency for a resolution. Can we have degrees of post normal whatever?

So, my questions are:

1. What are the unique features defining post normal (and I will limit myself to simply) science for fear of suggesting post-normality (cf. post modernity). Do we really need a new noun?

2. What are the dynamics of science that could return a situation to 'normal' or is it the case of once post-normal always post-normal?

3. Are we destined to see the number of cases of PN (so defined) science increase?  Claims of high risks, high stakes, scary stories are quite fashionable. Persuasive success is profitable in many currencies.

But if we are going to talk about post-normal science we should confine ourselves to the tenets of science and not include the resulting politics if we are to limit the discussion to ‘science’. Therefore the question is how to provide a comprehensive account of the characteristics of the science. Some of these characteristics might include:

1. Tangibility: Tangibility refers to how ‘close’ we are to the phenomenon. For example, string theory would not be tangible whereas climate change would be. It could also be measured on the level of abstractedness or whether the phenomenon is observable, measurable and if the time frame is past, present, future or of no consequence (natural law).

2. Costs: This is (all) costs in terms of what a failure of scientific resolution will herald and whether or not they are reasonably calculable. It could also incur human costs versus economic costs, or any other currency.

3. Time frame: This refers to the time frame we attribute to the phenomenon, when it occurred or when it will likely occur, or time is a relevant factor. It is relevant in epidemiology but not in particle physics.

4. Scientific assumptions: This refers to assumptions made in reaching a scientific conclusion.

5. Perceived risk: This is risk associated by science to the failure of the science to resolve an issue.

6. Risk assumptions: This is the assumptions by which science infers risk. High risk assumptions would logically result in polarized science but polarized science is not necessarily related to any measure of risk. It might simply be academic.

7. Perception of immediacy of resolution demands: This refers the urgency assigned to resolve the science. SARS for example would be more urgent than climate change.

Of course these would need to be refined and a metric established.

OR

Is PN science simply an issues that involve a confluence of science, politics and society - i.e. PN science is science in a PN situation. And is a confluence of science, politics and society really anything new or unexpected - is it really post anything - (especially in the days of rapid and mass communications)?

Finally, does relabeling - from science to post normal science - really achieve anything? Is basic science conducted any different under conditions of so called post normal science? Perhaps the morals and ethics of some scientists are different, but I don't doubt that many similar cases could be found throughout history. Perhaps it simply refers to the politicization of science, but then again, I am sure history would provide many more examples. Has ontology changed? Has epistemology changed? Does being PN have any effect whatsoever on underlying scientific questions? Perhaps we simply have post-normal SCIENTISTS? (We definitely have some abnormal ones, so why not?)

42 comments:

Richard Tol said...

I repeat what I have said many times. Post-normal science was borne because Funtowicz and Ravetz did not read the preface to Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Post-normal science is the normal state of affairs in the social sciences. It spooks natural scientists, but that it because they are not properly educated.

Dennis Bray said...

Richard - you live post-normally dangerous!

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Hi Dennis-

Some thoughts on your questions:

1. What are the unique features defining post normal (and I will limit myself to simply) science for fear of suggesting post-normality (cf. post modernity). Do we really need a new noun?

RP: I tackle this in my book, The Honest Broker, and come out pretty much where F&R come out (and as Richard says, Kuhn before) ... where uncertainty is unmanageable and there is not a consensus on values. This sort of context needs a noun (whether new or not -- I defined the politics rather than the science, using the concepts of Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics) because of the pervasive attempts by some to define every situation as normal science.

2. What are the dynamics of science that could return a situation to 'normal' or is it the case of once post-normal always post-normal?

RP: Science cannot turn Abortion Politics into Tornado Politics -- or more simply, you cannot achieve a consensus on values by arguing about facts.

3. Are we destined to see the number of cases of PN (so defined) science increase? Claims of high risks, high stakes, scary stories are quite fashionable. Persuasive success is profitable in many currencies.

RP: Yes, we already have.

Werner Krauss said...

I understand post-normal in the context of other concepts characterized by the suffix -post. 'post-' demarcates a certain movement, a slight switch from one state of affairs to another. Social sciences try to capture these movements they observe in society and to give it a terminology. Post-something can be a state of mind, a situation, a project, a concept - it defines a moment that appears to be new.

For example:
post-modernity: a reaction to a modernity defined as permanent technological progress. Postmodern approaches try to open up this concept in order to show the complexity of modern situations.

post-feminism: a reaction to feminism. Feminism separated gender from sex and showed that gender roles are not defined by sex, but by culture (man on the street and women in the house, for example, does not result from biology but from culture). Postfeminism showed that even sexual identities can be cultural constructions (man / woman / heteronormativity are cultural constructs, too etc).

Post-Islamism: a reaction to classical Islamism that identifies Islam and nation state. Post-Islamism is a reaction to the failure of the Islamic nation states like Iran and to the migration of many Moslems to Western Europe. Post-islamists discuss positively (in contrast to classical Islamists) how to live as a Muslim citizen in a non-Islamic society.

post-environmentalism: they still want to protect soemthing previously called 'nature', but they do not believe anymore in the strict separation of nature from culture as did their environmentalist predecessors. Now, they try to protect maybe assemblages of human and non-human actors.

post-normal science: in a state of (idealized) normal science, the entities science, society and politics are more or less clearly separated. In post-normal situations, these boundaries necessarily are blurred - science turns into post-normal science. These post-normal situations are characteristic for 'risk societies' as defined by Ulrich Beck, for example.
The Gulf of Mexico oil-spill is a typical post-normal situation, because the boundaries between science, politics and society are indeed blurred. Science necessarily has to reflect on its own role in this process.

Each of these post-concepts tries to capture and to analyse a new situation, a societal switch from one state to the other. They are based on, of course, very abstract and idealized concepts (modernity, feminism, classical Islam) - the suffix 'post' serves to open up an ethnographic and analytical approach to something that is going on. It is also based on the asumption that out there are indeed happening new and unprecedented events.

Those concepts are easy to be ridiculed - Richard and Dennis show it in the old and loveable style of Statler and Waldorf (the old Muppet show guys on the balcony who comment critically on each and every thing on the stage). But on the other hand, it is really interesting to find out about the role of science in the oil spill case, for example. Defining it as a post-normal situation is an approach to do so.

ghost said...

I am thinking about this cartoon:
http://greenupgrader.com/files/2009/12/climate_denier_cartoon.jpg

what exactly is "post normal" in climate science or politics? Saving energy and/or building re-newable energy and so on do not cause high risks, IMHO. In the Ozone debate so-called "skeptics" claimed there are high risks in replacing CFCs. Well, they were obviously wrong. The same people claim the same thing now, too. They claim millions will be out of work, the economy will be destroyed, etc., etc.. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Why should I believe them? They were totally wrong before.

Are climate science and policy decisions actually high risk decisions? I think, there is a lot of alarmism, esp. from "skeptics", but also from "alarmists" (one more common thing). Maybe some calm would be nice coupled with a steady progress in "climate protection".

Zajko said...

PNS has given me trouble for a while, and I've resisted the use of the concept for some of the reasons given in the original post here.

I fundamentally like Werner Krauss's take on it above, but am still left confused. Indeed I see many similarities between PNS and other "post" projects, but there is a big difference between postulating the "post" as a new situation (or "societal switch from one state to the other"/the development of "new and unprecedented events"), than as a new understanding or state of mind. I would think the difference between these two definitions is so great that it is confusing to subsume them both under the same concept.

Take Latour's postmodern book "We Have Never Been Modern" for example. While Latour does trace the development of new historical situations, the main insight here is that modernity is a state of mind more than a historical period. The "postmodern" in this case is not the development of some new period after modernity, but the recognition that modernity never really existed in the first place.

Maybe this is what was meant in Krauss/4 above? (I'm still not sure) - how new situations can help us see the limitations of previous concepts and approaches? However, this is markedly different than saying that new situations call for new concepts and approaches to understand them, and that we need new these new understandings because somehow the world has changed.

I'm inclined to use PNS as a means of questioning rather than answering/classifying. It is demarcated largely in opposition to a scientific ideal that never truly existed. The F&R definition of PNS might apply more to some situations and sciences than others, but it will never draw a clear line between some new state of affairs and what was once "normal", not only because the definition is inherently fuzzy, but because the "normal" was always somewhat of a myth.

ingno said...

The terms "post normal science" and "normal science" (in the Kuhnian sense) is not science at all. It is more of a post modernist view of science. So, don't take it seriously. The term "politicized science" is a much better name for parts of climate research today. Or "research in a political context".

As pointed out by Dennis Bray, big uncertainties are always present in science, stakes are always high for some. How can it be otherwise if we are talking about ongoing work on the frontiers of knowledge?

Ingemar Nordin

sil_beck said...

Hi all,
There is an interesting paper taking up all these issues:
Kjetil Rommetveit, Silvio Funtowicz, and Roger Strand "Knowledge, democracy and action in response to climate change," Ch. 17 in Roy Baskar,et.al eds Interdisciplinarity and Climate Change: Transforming knowledge and practice for our global future, (New York: Routledge, 2010):149-163.
Available at http://www.hks.harvard.edu/sdn/articles/

Werner Krauss said...

@Zajko 6
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. In general, I agree - even with your confusion.
Yes, it's true, Latour argues against post-modernism because for him modernity is just a myth. On the other hand, he might agree that the oil spill can be seen as a new situation. We actually cannot predict where this story will end and what the consequences will be. Latour's general approach is actor-network-theory; through the oil spill, all actors involved (the gulf of Mexico, the coastal dwellers and fishers in Louisiana or Florida, the birds, the fish, the scientists, the tourists, NOAA, Obama, government, administration, BP etc) have to interact. Some of them will be heard, others not; some will be included, some excluded; power constellations might shift. As social scientists, we are interested in this process.

I was simply stunned by the fact that it is even unclear whether there is still oil in the water or not. Will science come up with an objective result, a final truth? Can science be an arbiter in a case where so many different actors are involved?

The outcome of this case might also have severe consequences for future drilling projects, such as the project of BP in the Mediterranean (Lybia). Science is in the middle of it, not outside of it. Their assessments indeed will be immediately politicized, whatever the results will be. Do scientists need to reflect this situation? How to act in case there is not only one, but many truths with different consequences?

Post-normal science in a post-normal situation - in my opinion, this can serve as a preliminary concept to characterize the situation. I do agree, maybe it helps more to ask questions instead of explaining what is going on.
My attitude is to embrace the concept and find out where it will lead us to. In my experience, it serves as a bridge between different disciplines which normally don't interact. It enables reflection across disciplines and thus might help to shed some new light on this dark affair. Of course, critical analysis of the concept is necessary, such as presented by Dennis and Richard. But critique should not be used to shut off the conversation about the case. In my previous post, I used the term 'post-normal situation' not to start a new discussion about the concept, but to start one about the oil spill and the fuzzy role of science.

@ingno7 (Ingemar Nordin)
What kind of argument is this: 'It is more of a post modernist view of science. So don't take it seriously'. This sounds like a familiar argument from the natural sciences, but it does not sound very scientific in my social scientists' ears... Anyway - if it is only business as usual for the soldiers of science working 'on the frontier of knowledge' - what do you think about the confusion surrounding the oil spill and the role of science?

ingno said...

Werner Krauss: I have the old-fashioned (”modernist” if you whish) view of basic or pure science that it is a human enterprise aiming at finding out the basic truths about nature, society and man. It is defined by this goal and by its rational methods for achieving it. The “post-modernist” view of science conflates to social and political aspects of science with science itself. When, for example, I read many of the Climategate letters is see scientist preoccupied with presenting the “right” view; with how to stop other scientists from getting published or being a part of the IPCC-report; with achieving “consensus” etc. And I cannot see this as a part of science at all. It is a political activity, with political goals and with a political rationality. I agree that it is a bit special since it makes use of science, and leans heavily on the authority of science. But it is not an entirely new phenomenon. To put the name “post-normal science” on that activity is just confusing.

The oil spill is much less interesting from a philosophical or sociology-of-science point of view since there is no basic science involved.

By the way, to do “post-X” usually means that your activity is later than X. A better name, if you whish to describe something beyond the normal, would be to call it “paranormal X”. Would it not?

Ingemar

sil_beck said...

I would use the term 'post-normal' in order to describe the changing (framework) conditions for both science and politics (= post-normal context or conditions, as Dennis suggests).
In my experiences, the concept of “post-normal science” is not taking into account the complexities of the interactions between science and politics.
The idea of a post-normal science, as indicated by Roger, reminds me of what Alan Weinberg called “trans-science”, the idea that there are questions of fact that can be asked of science, but cannot be answered by science (1972).
• Science/ advisory bodies such as the IPCC face novel challenges – like producing policy relevant (interdisciplinary, international and intergovernmental) knowledge (demand side).
• On the supply side - what “science” can offer- , these demands/ expectation also indicate challenges to existing scientific tools, methods and models (and mechanism such as quality control) and to underlying assumptions such as the linearity of knowledge production (more knowledge = more certainty … = rationalizing politics).
• Although inside the IPCC, substantial debates have occurred over how to “manage uncertainties” or how to assess “social costs of life", IPCC representatives continue to express their support for the relevance of neutral expertise, “normal” science, call for “business as usual” and present these challenges as „manageable“ and „under control“.
As STS scholars have pointed out, these self-descriptions as “normal” or “neutral” can be explained as form of purification that responds to its observable politicization and the potential loss of authority (Guston 2001). These forms of purification (Latour) - knowingly or unknowingly/ intentionally or not - perform the function to maintain the stability of the boundary between the IPCC and the political bodies under the FCCC and thus the “authority” of the IPCC.
There is also a growing demand for simple, “normal” input such as “give me one number for one world”, (see Schellnhuber in the Spiegel-Interview):
„That's because politicians and society want the clearest, most unambiguous answers possible. And if we can't provide those answers, many people simply stop listening to us. They're basically saying: Don't bother us with your models and counter-models. Get back to us when you have all the answers.” (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,712113-2,00.html).

These trends result into the paradoxical situation, the more science is operating under post-normal conditions, the more the expectations for “normal” science will be reproduced.
The e-mail controversy demonstrates how these oversimplified and idealized notions of “normal” science make the IPCC/ climate science vulnerable to a backlash of public criticism. It renders both policy and its supporting science vulnerable to the dogmatic amplification of doubt (Wynne 2010). And the debate who is doing proper normal science will continue on …. Social scientists will observe changes that indicate features of “post”- ….

sil_beck said...

This discussion on PNS reminds me of the paradoxical situation of (social) scientists.

Although (social) scientists questioned it at an early stage, to some extent the idea of “normal” science and the linear model of expertise (scientism) still dominate perceptions among climate scientists, policy makers and advisors.
The current debates on “climategate” reveal that these oversimplified and idealized version of science as a 'truth machine' renders both policy and its supporting science vulnerable to the dogmatic amplification of doubt. The case of climate change exemplifies many of the practical difficulties highlighted by science, technology and policy scholars with this ideal of sound science as a foundation for policy.
But what kind of politics are we left with, then, if ‘the closure of scientific and technical debates’ about matters such as climate change is to be regarded as a socially contingent (and thus deconstructable) achievement (as Dave Demeritt puts it)? Are climate skeptics using the same arguments as social scientists or their arguments misused by skeptics? This is a serious question about the philosophical and political implications of social constructionism? It also opens up the discussion about the legitimate role of social scientists in climate policies and last but not least about a standard or criteria against which legitimate expert practices can be evaluated.

Hans von Storch said...

I may have a somewhat different perspective of this matter - the reason likely being that I entered the field (oceanography, meteorology) in the 1970s when there was no obvious political or public dimension for "us" (in Hamburg, but maybe for others elsewhere). There was uncertainty, sure, otherwise we would not have dealt with issues, most of you others would hardly relate to: construction of digital filters, disentangling the global atmospheric energetics, designing schemes to overcome the ill-posedness of the limited area problem or the predictability of blocking events, characterizting the space-time varability of synoptic events. Scientists competed in these fields, but there was no echo in the public, no echo in policymaking or politics. No social scientist would have thought our efforts interesting. Also today, we have many efforts of that sort; many scientists (in Roger's terminology: pure scientists) who dislike to speak about their work on public occasions. (Dennis, in our first survey we had a question, how often people would have contacts to media or politicians - maybe you can show this here? - most had none.)

But we have now a large chunk with a direct or indirect link to policymaking; many scientific answers have got a political utility, wanted or not. This is because the field is in a situation, which I prefer to name “post-normal”, following F&R’s terminology, to which I was incidentally introduced by Dennis Bray, from whom I learned a lot. Being trained as a mathematician, I accept a definition as given, for example by Roger, for PN without paying attention what ”post” may implicitly convey to some. If you wish we could call it “H” – for me PN (H) science is science in a PN situation; it is not a new phenomenon, Lysenko or Waldsterben were likely a stark example of H, while the search for the ether or the development of data assimilation for allwoing better weather forecasts was likely no or negligible H.

Now, you could say – fine, almost all science is H. There is possibly no strict case of Non-H. Fine, but for conceptualization the fuzzy definition is good enough – a wake-up call for science itself to pay attention that it operates in a PN-situation, which likely has severe repercussions on the practice and quality of science. A science operating in a PN situation changes; it becomes H (or PN, if you allow me). How a science de-H’s (“dePNs”) is another question. The Lysenko-case may give us a hint.

For you social scientists, I would have the advise – engage yourself a bit with non-H cases; not the big ones, you read about in the newspapers (then, they are H), but those nobody outside of the lab is interested in or even understanding it. Such as - Is the critical velocity a useful concept for parameterizing the stability of bottom sediments? Does the practice of a scientist dealing with an H-problem differ from a scientist’s dealing with a non-H?

For “us” natural scientist, the question of PN or not PN has a practical dimension; we have to confront the challenges associated with a PN situation.

----------------------------

Pointing out to Richard that Kuhn failed to read Fleck before publishing his work is likely a useless and silly footnote.

Richard Tol said...

@Hans
Good points all.

The key distinction between economists and meteorologists is that the former have always been deeply engaged with policy and politics.

Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Thomas Friedman all switched back and forth between scholarly research, policy advice, and political activism.

The chairman of the Federal Reserve is the ultimate post-normalist: An academic who controls a crucial variable in the system he used to study. The meteorological analogue to Ben Bernanke is putting Mojib Latif in charge of ENSO -- not in charge of studying ENSO, but in charge of ENSO.

Therefore, young economists are trained to know the difference between facts and values -- and it is impressed on them always to present facts as facts and values as values. As imperfect as this may be in practice, it is a crucial part of the education.

Richard Tol said...

Should have added that while Smith, Keynes and Friedman are generally recognised as scholars first and activists second, Karl Marx too is generally recognised among the greatest economists of all times.

Hans von Storch said...

Richard,
a problem with the education of physicists, meteorologists and oceanographers as well as mathematicians is/was that most/many of them have no training in philosophy of science. The word "value" - in its cultural sense - is/was rarely used during the training. I remember vividly a retreat with the Max-Planck Institute, where most of us where really surprised to learn that Martin Heimann had not only been confronted with these issues, but that he actually related this knowledge to our own practice.

Hans von Storch said...

Richard, when you list Karl Marx (fine with me - I read Das Kapital I), you may wodner if you could also mention Heinrich-Friedrich von Storch from St. Petersburg, who had no much sympathy by Karl Marx, but he is at least mentioned in Das Kapital (als Schwachkopf, ahem). - Hans

Werner Krauss said...

@Hans
You write:
"Being trained as a mathematician, I accept a definition as given, for example by Roger, for PN without paying attention what 'post' may implicitly convey to some."

Really? Do you really believe that a defintion of 'post normal science' or 'honest broker' is the same as a definition in mathematics? That might become dangerous, don't you think so? I remember having learnt from your articles woth Nico Stehr about the implicit dangers of for example Huntington's definitions of climate determinism etc. You definitively do NOT accept definitions from social scientists at face value, without having a close look at them.
And why do you hide behind the anonymous 'us' or 'we natural scientists' instead of arguing as someone who has read Fleck, for example? What about the social construction of knowledge, for example in climate science - just read Silkes comment. Doesn't that relate to post-normal science, too?

My advise to natural scientists: engage in discussions about '-post' or the social construction of knowledge etc. in case you are really interested in the role of science in society. This might be a lesson from Lysenko or Waldsterben, too.

Hans von Storch said...

Ok, Werner, I will use H instead - better? You may add later post-H :-)

Werner Krauss said...

No problem, Hans! And I will rename climate determinism as X, so I still can use the concept! You can add your critique of X later on with Nico -:)

Richard Tol said...

@Hans
Exactly my point (cooption of discussant). Courses in the philosophy of science and the role of science in society are increasingly offered to geoscientists, but these courses are optional (opinion expressed as empirical fact). They should be mandatory (value judgement plus recommendation).

Werner Krauss said...

@Richard 13
oh you happy economists! Maybe the last of the social sciences in which facts are still facts and values are still values! Or are economists natural scientists? Then of course you have the license to be in denial of the social construction of facts...-:)

Reiner Grundmann said...

The problem with 'post' is that it has a temporal connotation, as 'that which comes after' something. This poses the problem of chronological demarcation: when did we enter the 'post'-situation? It turns out that this is difficult to establish and in some sense were were always 'post' and the attributes (uncertainty, values in conflict etc) are nothing new. Here I agree with Richard, the social sciences always knew this. But they drew a different lesson: many saw this as a sign of weakness. They wanted to become 'non-post', normal, serious science. Remember the eternal charge of naive (perhaps better: old fashioned) scientists against the social sciences and humanities: 'What you do is not science!'

As a result social scientists tried to exorcise the PN elements in order to arrive at respectable science. I have used the terms 'hybridization' and 'purifcation' (after Latour) to describe this double process.

Others have happily accepted the charge and celebrate the intermixing of facts and values.

All this shows that it is less a matter of historical reconstruction (when did we enter the post-situation?) but a matter of professional identity and the striving for credibility.

Richard Tol said...

@Werner
I know (and I hope my fellow economists do too) that it is sometimes hard to distinguish fact from value. Microbiologists tell me it is difficult to demarcate life. For most applications, however, it is pretty obvious what is fact and what is value. In 20 years of climate research and policy advice, I have never encountered a situation where the distinction was both relevant and difficult.

Werner Krauss said...

@Richard
Yes, you are right, in climate research it might be not a problem. There is the fact that (anthropogenic) climate change is (not) real, and all the rest is about values -:)

Dennis Bray said...

To Werner
Sorry to take the attention away from spilled oil!

Dennis Bray said...

To Roger
Here I would like to point out a little bit about specificity. Mathematics (and offshoots) tend to adhere to claims of specificity 1 + 1 always = 2. The discursive versions of social science have always be accused of the opposite, to the point that at the height of ‘deconstruction’ often the author seems to lose track of what he or she was speaking about. Science tends towards measurement.
Definition and measurement of course share some functional similarities: they both lead to a relationship which place entities in order with respect to one another. Science tends to choose measurement, discursive discourse, definition. As we are talking about discourse, I will focus on definition. Here we are discussing ‘post-normal’ as a definition, and if we accept it as a definition - for the use in discursive science, then it should set an entity (science) in unambiguous relation with one or more entities of the same group (science). In this case I can only envision ‘normal science’ and ‘post-normal science’. All I ask is the establishment of an unambiguous relation between the two. By unambiguous I mean that no other entity shall enter into the same relation - i.e. be mutually exclusive.
Anyway, enough of the definition of definition, and back to Rogers comments I fail to understand how Tornado Politics (class = politics) or Abortion Politics (class = politics) is situated in any relation to ‘normal science (class = science). Therefore, as Roger states Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics cannot return to normal science. On this I would most definitely agree. My cat went out this morning and came back a apple? I realize Roger states his intention was to discuss politics even though the argument here is sometimes convoluted, but this posting is about post normal (in the context of science - or maybe Rodger is talking about politics in a post normal situation???)

Dennis Bray said...

to Werner again
‘I understand post-normal in the context of other contexts characterized by the suffix [sic] post. No malice intended - is today Thursday, or post-Wednesday? But you go one to state that ‘post’ is used to define a situation that is ‘new’. I have no problem agreeing with this, what I want to know is what is new with post normal science, or post normal situation? Look at your ‘For example’ ... ‘Post modern approaches try to open up this concept [post modernity] in order to show the complexity of modern situations. So we use a post modern approach (whatever that is) to demonstrate the complexity of modern situations (whatever that is). It seems to me that much of the ‘post modern’ discourse is simply the promotion of subjectivist and relativist philosophies that are inconsistent with producing a realist analysis of society, often at the expense of truth, reason or objectivity, often relying on no more than epistemological charity, where there is often confusion between ‘belief’ and knowledge’. Skip ahead. Werner says ‘ The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a typical post-normal situation, because the boundaries between science, politics and society are indeed blurred ... [and under such conditions] science turns into post-normal science.’ From up here on Sattler’s and Waldorf’s balcony, I imagine that science will still be undertaken in the normal manner. And when did oil spills transform from normal to post normal situations, with the advent of post normal oil spills? When did the distinction between normal oil spills and post normal oil spills occur, or have all oil spills resulted in post-normal situations, and if that is the case, does the size of the oil spill matter? Was Love Canal (not an oil spill) a post normal situation? It seems to me that in pre-post-normal situations, it was old fashioned objective science that told us what would harm us and what would not, not some post modern discussion. Finally, if objectivity goes out of the window under post-modern-conditioned-science, should we assume, leaving off the prefix, that climate analysis is conducted less than objectively or that there are two approaches to studying climate, objective and non-objective (science and post-normal science)?
Ingemar Nordin - finally, a discussion I can live with, now if you can just explain to those who dispute your statement what is meant by a post-modernist view ... . To me, it seems to represent confusion in the understanding of term relativism: science deals with cognitive relativism (relativism about truth and knowledge) whereas the post modernist view is concerned ethical or moral relativism (what is perceived to be good / or bad)
Werner again
I think I have discussed at least some of your points above but I would like to spend a little time on one in particular: ‘How to act in a case [where] there is not only one, but many truths with different consequences’. Here, again, I would like to point out the distinction between truth and belief. There are many beliefs granted, but only one truth. Ideally, or ideal-, science would seek to discover this truth. Again the accommodation of many ‘beliefs’, true false or otherwise, unsubstantiated in many cases, is simply a case of epistemological charity. You also say ‘My attitude is to embrace the concept and find out where it will lead us’ - welcome to the 15 year old quagmire. Also, the comment about the ‘familiar argument from the natural sciences (not to take the post modernist view serious)’. Werner, I would think the majority of the social sciences would also agree not to take pomo too seriously.

Dennis Bray said...

to Sil-beck
Would it be simpler to say, no matter what the science, scientists might lie if is serves their own self interests. As much as some might find it hard to admit, they are, after all, just humans with all of the human follies.

Dennis Bray said...

Hi Hans von StORch (there is a reason)
You point out a lot of things social scientists might not be interested in. These are precisely the things (i.e. construction of digital filters) that STS used as study material. For example, Merz and Knorr Cetina (1994) provide an interpretive ethnography of theoretical physicists at CERN in which their mathematical practices are assimilated by virtue of analogies to Derrida’s notion of ‘deconstruction’ in literary theory i.e. physics is not so dissimilar from literary theory. Lyotard (1989) , discussing ‘elementary memory’ and ‘temporal filters’ (whatever they are, he gives no reference) tells us of a new notion of time in the theory of relativity. In all likelihood, the digital filter, if one were to look, would be a means of male dominance, but I am only guessing. But I would agree, these things caused no public echo. In the case of the physical sciences, there was no controversy beyond the boundaries of science, in the case of the STS analyses, there were no consequences beyond confusing undergraduate students and the marked increase in the sale of black turtle neck sweaters for the cafe-intellect culture.
I do agree though that sometimes scientific answers breed political interest - but - I do not think this is new. Therefore, this is nothing unique or post anything. Or, how about post-Holocene science? Couldn’t it just be that big P and small p politics now just grasp something to use as their own - something fathered or mothered from science - and run with it, and some scientists run with them? Finally, why do we need a ‘fuzzy’ definition where none is needed. The question is: How to impose objectivity and accountability on scienTISTS (science - a method - is itself neutral) and to do so without the risk of killing scientific curiosity? Perhaps it is not a matter of scientific practice but a matter of science communication - maybe post-normal journalism or politicized scientists.

Stan said...

Dennis,

I agree. To put it in blunt laymen's terms, beware the politician who "Never lets a crisis go to waste". There's always someone who wants to justify shortcuts in quality standards because "it's a crisis."

The scientist who falls for this siren song inevitably harms himself and science.

itisi69 said...

I'm missing here the name of Richard Feynman in this discussion, especially with regard to his cargo cult science because some argue that there's little difference between the two (cargo cult and post normal science. I wonder what the alumni on this forum think about that?

Richard Tol said...

@Werner
There is a distinction between intelligent and well-informed people disagreeing about what it all means; and people trying to muddle the debate for political ends.

Werner Krauss said...

Dennis,
finally I have to admit that you are right and I am wrong. 'Post' indeed is a prefix and not a suffix!

Richard Tol said...

@Dennis
Every Thursday is simultaneously post- and pre-Wednesday -- and pre- and post-Thursday too!

itisi69 said...

"Never lets a crisis go to waste"

Fear against the common enemy is the perfect catalyst for unpopular sanctions. However, there has been poured so many doom scenarios over the poor hoi polloi that they became immune beacuse many did not materialized or just were wrong. The consequence is that even more catastrophic prophecies have to be communicated in order to get the attention. It's like a drug addict needing bigger doses over the time. This I believe has been described already by Dr.Von Storch years ago.

The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself.

Anonymous said...

On german TV we see many global catastrophy shows, some of them are really refreshing (with Mr Von Storch), some of them very alarmist.

Some german scientists try to find out what happens to ocean life if there is more Co2 in the near future. In the arctic sea Co2 is pumped into tanks to simulate the future with more and more Co2 (10, 20, 30 ... 100% more for the different tanks).

One scientist explained that there will be winners and loosers, but the speaker of the broadcast explained that its dramatic and that we probably won't see these animals (whales) in the future (if we don't ...).

Later we see the boat that carried the scientists. It belongs to Greenpeace. The speaker explains that there was no other boat available and that its very expensive.

I was VERY curious about the exact results of this work and asked myself if most ocean life would not get used over time to the more acid waters. But we were told nothing at all.

This scientific work is extremely expensive and one wonders why this can't be done in germany?

Changing the acidity is nothing very magic and happens all the time in the real world.

I was very disappointed about this TV show. Not only were we not told what they found out exactly, but we must doubt that the scientific result is not biased by the sponsor (Greenpeace).

Later in another TV show there was another scientific team in the arctic (I think about glaciers) and they were also travelling with Greenpeace.

I don't know if one can call this post normal science, but I can't help to have the feeling that nearly every science today is influenced by activists. Some of them are leading scientists themselves.

And that's the exact opposite of what I was expecting from science 40 years ago.

Yeph

Dennis Bray said...

Werner

You always manage to deconstruct things to address the finer points of the discussion. :-)

ingno said...

Dennis Bray #27,
” now if you can just explain to those who dispute your statement what is meant by a post-modernist view ... .”

Well, I am not sure that a blog is the right forum for such entangled discussion. But let me try to give my view in short: The classical “modernists” are realists (there is an objective world out there), had some trouble in making this methaphysical view compatible with their positivist view of science (only what is observable is scientifically meaningful – the verificationist criteria of meaning). But essentially they where realists concerning macroscopical objects (there are facts and truths about them) and absolutists concerning epistemology (we can know things for certain, or at least with a high probability).

Encountering the philosophical criticism of the 20th century of the possibility to prove natural laws inductively, complemented with the view that observations are always interpreted (and hence uncertain), they reacted in various ways. Some of them became instrumentalists (science does not describe, it is just a technological instrument for DOING things), others became relativists (there are no truths, just language games, discources, pardigms, social constructions and so forth). Post-modernism have rejected the realist approach to science and accepted a relativistic view. In their view, science is therefore just another power game, and the interesting thing is not what scientific theories try to say about the world but how it works socially and politically. From a philosophical point of view the morass of relativism is a dead end. It is self-defeating.

I remember reading the post-modernist work of Latour & Woolgard, “Laboratory Life”, in the beginning of the 80th. I have seldom been so frustrated and disappointed. The explanatory value of what the researchers were doing was null, zero, nada. And it all came down to one thing; nothing was said about what the scientist were struggling with intellectually, their problems, their theories, or their arguments.

I am a realist myself, and therefore "old-fasioned". But I accept the view that science cannot prove anything definetly. Science is in a flux, filled with uncertainties. But it may present us with their best theories so far, without any guaratees. Politicians will have to settle with that.

Ingemar Nordin

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Dennis-

Have a look at Figure 4.1 in The Honest Broker, hopefully that conveys the relationship of normal science (left side) with post-normal science (right side) in the context of decision making, it can alsoi be used to distinguish cats from apples. ;-)

ingno said...

Dennis Bray #27,
” now if you can just explain to those who dispute your statement what is meant by a post-modernist view ... .”

Well, I am not sure that a blog is the right forum for such entangled discussion. But let me try to give my view in short: The classical “modernists” are realists (there is an objective world out there), but had some trouble in making this realism compatible with their positivist view of science (only what is observable is scientifically meaningful – the verificationist criteria of meaning). But essentially they where realists concerning macroscopical objects (there are facts and truths about them) and absolutists concerning epistemology (we can know things for certain, or at least with a high probability).

Encountering the philosophical criticism of the 20th century of the possibility to prove natural laws inductively, complemented with the view that observations are always interpreted (and hence uncertain), they reacted in various ways. Some of them became instrumentalists (science does not describe, it is just a technological instrument for doing things), others became relativists (there are no truths, just language games, culture, discourses, socially defined paradigms, social constructions and so forth). Post-modernism have rejected the realist approach to science and accepted a relativistic view. They have also accepted the extreme positivist (sometimes called idealist) view that WE make the world by our observations, beliefs, language, concept formation etc. In their view, science is therefore just another power game, and the interesting thing is not what scientific theories try to say about the world but how it works socially and politically, and indeed, how we make the world. - From a philosophical point of view this morass of relativism is a dead end. It is self-defeating.

I remember reading the post-modernist work of Latour & Woolgaar, “Laboratory Life”, in the early 80th. I have seldom been so frustrated and disappointed. The explanatory value of the book of what the researchers were doing was null, zero, nada. And it all came down to one thing; nothing was said about what the scientist were struggling with intellectually, their problems, their theories, or their arguments. It was programmatically void of any content, and just a naïve positivist (or should I say behaviouristic) collection of recordings of the physical behaviour of the scientists.

I am a realist myself, and therefore “old-fashioned” or “modernist” in a sense. And I think that science is aiming to describe what is out there. But I also accept that there is no method (inductive or otherwise) that will give us certainty about the outer world. Science is always in flux. However, science can give us their best theories so far. But without any guaranties. And science can tell us what is not rational to believe in, and what not to act upon. Politicians (and technologists) will have to settle with that.

Ingemar Nordin

greg said...

@ghost #6 and cartoon within:

I'm always even more skeptical when I hear this argument as it may clear the way for worse (global) political actions by spoiling fundamental democratic principles;
see: if there are so many good and reasonable points on the side of changing our energy policies (and they really are there!), then why do politicians and politicized scientists need the alarmist scenario to persuade the world?

i think this should make any intelligent person at least a bit wary.

cheers,
greg