Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Roll Over Walt Whitman

Make way for the International Poets of Climate Change (IPCC II).  Somebody is desperately seeking something.

'Are you an ECO POET? Climate science needs YOU'
'Creative writing and global warming formally allied'


Oh  model! Oh model!
Thou doth render fear
Or is it a case
Of scientific diarrhea?

OK, I'll take the course.

Stakeholder Stakeholder
What should you hear
There's a coming crisis
Now go live in fear



Werner Krauss said...

I am so sorry but you are a miserable poet compared to this one here:


Here my own opinion on your, Bishop Hill's and other "taxpayers'" attempts to ridicule Mike Hulme's idea of making use of eco-poetry.

I think, Mike Hulme is one of the most respected authorities beyond the natural / social science divide in the climate debate. His attempt to combine environmental sciences and humanities in a postgraduate climate course is in accordance with many climate scientists I have talked to; foundations for an interdisciplinary approach were laid already a decade ago by Hans von Storch and Nico Stehr, for example. I myself taught for many years (and still teach) undergraduate and graduate courses on topics like "the culture of climate change", and I also make use of poetry and creative writing in these classes; something which you do a lot in the humanities where you do not solve equations but learn to observe your environment and to express your observations, arguments and theories as eloquently as possible. That's what you learn in creative writing courses, for example, and that's what you can learn from good poetry.

I think the reactions from Bishop Hill, yourself and others are really extra-ordinary, especially in picking out "eco-poetry" as an anchor to ridicule and marginalize the idea of those courses at large. In doing so, you guys focus on what might considered as the most "soft" approach, compared to hard science or even sociological or anthropological approaches.

These reactions remind me of unruly boys in a school class, who make fun of "soft" and "girlish" stuff like poetry in order to prove their insecure masculinity. It is not by accident that in the link you posted, Dennis, there is a link to childrens' poetry; instead, that is what the author intends to say: poetry is "childish" and "girlish" and not a tool for tough climate scientists. Am I over-interpreting?

It is a reaction I never experienced for example with graduate students from the University of Texas, who came from disciplines such diverse as geology, physics, mathematics, American literature, or anthropology. Instead, they showed great interest and were eager to learn new forms to express themselves. Needless to say that Mike Hulme's "Why we disagree on climate change" is one of those books which really helped to establish interdisciplinary communication. I think it is a good education for a geologist to learn something about the cultural differences that shape climate debates in different nations, for example. It might even help them to perform better in their jobs.

I personally consider these reactions here to Mike Hulme's attempt as really frustrating. The only good thing is that ever more universities willingly embrace interdisciplinary climate courses and new generations of students will become more tolerant and flexible concerning experimental approaches to understand the climate debate.

Dennis Bray said...

Hi Werner

I have no problem with humanities. But is it really necessary to have a 'humanities of climate change' or 'eco-humanities'? People from the arts were writing about nature long before we even knew what CO2 was. We don't have any other hyphenated humanties as far as I know i.e. creative writing of clothing; nuclear-poetry, etc etc. So why the the eco or climate change prefix attached to everything?

Reiner Grundmann said...


is it really necessary to have CLIMATE science?

Heber Rizzo said...


That´s the problem.

Yes, we should have a little climate SCIENCE, instead of climate poetry.

But, seeing that Earth itself does not help OFFICIAL climate science, some are trying with poetry and its dreamed worlds. They are easier to forge.

Werner Krauss said...

Heber Rizzo,

thanks for your comment; your few lines serve well to demonstrate the usefulness of poetry and creative writing for the study of climate!

I appreciate for example your play with small and capital letters: just like Reiner, you make use of the simple poetic technique of writing words in capital letters in order to shift meaning; and in doing so, you create a different reality. You answer Reiner in just changing CLIMATE science into "little climate SCIENCE"!

Intuitively or not, you have fully captured the meaning of the word "poetry", which comes from Greek "poiesis" and means "making". You are making reality with words, too!

This is also true for your writing of "Earth" with a capital E; in doing so, you support its status as an animated being that you attribute to it. A being which is able to make decisions, obviously, because "it does not help OFFICIAl science", as you write.

And so on....There is no way out; even scientists finally have to write texts which can be read and interpreted. Or will your "little climate SCIENCE" communicate without words? Based only on the magic of numbers, like the Kabbalah?

In any case, I think there is nothing wrong to teach students of climate about the power of language and rhetoric. We are not born with the capacity to decipher the difference between the reality construction of a scientific report, of the IPCC report, of a statement on the blogosphere, of a newspaper report and so on. It's a capacity which has to be learned. The art of rhetoric is not the opposite of science; it is a part of it.

Hans von Storch said...


yes, it makes sense to include into the curriculum of students a course on "about the power of language and rhetoric". But what makes students of climate special for this course? It would apply to all sciences, would it - ethnology as well als physics of the ocean? Which other courses are needed, and which to we included given the limited resource time? Differential equations - in or out? Sociology of knowledge? History of science? Thermodynamics? Radiation and clouds? Hydrography? since ethnologists learn something about the power and societal role of language, should they also take courses in physics of climate? why should only climate scientists should be prevented to talk nonsense about society, while ethologists may do so on the mechanisms of climate change?

The question is, why should we take away limited time for just this issue? What is the extraordinary significance of this issue just for climate research? Would it be that "language and rhetoric" may contribute to improve the utility of climate for political preferences? Of course special questions need to be raised in a clearly post-normal field, when you consider the frustration Mike Hulme is voicing?

In conclusion: I would strongly support courses which deal with the problem of climate scientists finding themselves in a heated arena of public attention, but the proper way for a scientist for surviving this arena is analysis of "the power of language and rhetoric" and not poetry.

Reiner Grundmann said...

It is interesting how everyone gets hung up about the role of poetry in this. I strongly recommend reading Mike Hulme's course description in full. It is here

This is an interdisciplinary Master's course, so there is no question about taking time away from other precious topics.

"The modules explore, firstly, the understanding and measuring of environmental change, using physical and historical evidence to put contemporary changes into context; secondly, how to deal with uncertainty and risk, analysing the practical and theoretical significance of these concepts; and thirdly, competing ideas concerning the value of nature and how those values might be reconciled, ranging from economic to aesthetic and ethical evaluation"

Bishop Hill had an allergic fit when he saw improper use of taxes for advocating social change, and could not suppress a sneer about certain art forms (despite him making liberal use of cartoons on his blog). The the machos on Klimazwiebel wade in, these are Welfare state machos, so no problem with taxes, but with poetry. Get real!
And well done Werner for being so patient and pedagogic.
The irony! It is a problem of literacy, education is the solution...

Werner Krauss said...


so many questions!

I remember your Nature article from 2001 (?) with Nico Stehr where you argued that humanities, social sciences and natural sciences should come together. It made sense to me, and it still does. If Mike Hulme offers a graduate course in this direction, I would recommend it to students who are interested in it. Mike Hulme is one of the best in this field, I bet.

Climate students who are not interested in it shouldn't go there. I think this answers most of your questions, right? Ethnologists interested in the physics of climate should attend one of your courses, maybe. I would recommend your courses. In case you would use Donald Duck to explain something, well, that's fine with me. And if you think students should learn statistics in this course, too - well, it's not my piece of cake, but you are the boss!

I personally would leave it up to you how you introduce ethnology students into the physics of climate; I think, one could trust instructors like Mike Hulme, too. Or even me. If Mike Hulme announces that eco-poetry will play a role in his courses, I would be curious to find out why. I wouldn't tell him what he has to do or not. As much as I know about him from his publications, he seems to be a man who knows what he does.

But it's funny to see how the simple mentioning of "poetry" is seen as such a threat to the integrity of climate science. Really amazing. I am sure poets will never have guessed to be so influential!

Dennis Bray said...

Hi Werner

Just a comment regarding your 'poetic' techniques. Capitaliszing the E in earth does not personify it, just a capitalizing the B in berlin does not make Berlin an 'animated person'. About 'poiesis', it does indeed refer to creative production, especially of art. In psychology it also refers the coining of neologisms, especially by schizophrenics.

Werner Krauss said...

Thanks, Dennis, for reading my comments and getting into detail.

There is just one thing I want to correct: I wrote that Heber R. "supports" (meaning: highlights) the animated status of Earth in writing it with a capitalized E; he already writes "that Earth itself does not help...", thus identifying earth already as an animated, active being.

I am not sure why you added the psychology definition; is there an underlying message? Or do you just want to cover all possible existing definitions of "poiesis"?

Dennis Bray said...

Hi Werner

I have heard of the expression 'lost in space' but now I feel lost in 'E'arth.

As for Herber R, can we rest assured that 'E' vs 'e' is not simply a typing error, or a gramatic rule? It seems to me the interpretation you apply is simply that, your interpretation. Herber also starts 'T'hey with a capital letter.
That is one of the problems with interprative work, it is possible to apply any interpretation that suits your needs.
So, the psychological meaning of poeisis can be interpreted - maybe - as a double entendre - i.e. interpretive work might be a little schizophrenic (demonstrating a breakdown in relations between thoughts feeling and action and sometimes acompanied by the occurance of delusions). Anyway, that's my interpretation.

Anonymous said...

Writing poetry is maybe to ambitious for scientists - altough Dennis first try is not that bad.

But how about writing a stage play?

Sort of a montage of the contributions and comments here at Klimazwiebel and elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Not necessarily a tragedy, more Dada style maybe or following Brant's "ship of fools".

Would be great to see it on stage performed by lecturers and students!

No therapeutic effects intended ; -)

V. Lenzer

Werner Krauss said...


Yes, it's your "personal interpretation": to diagnose methods and approaches which you don't like / understand as pathological / mentally ill. In doing so, you declare humanities as insane, too, as large parts of them are based on interpretive approaches. I think this is the lowest level of argumentation imaginable. Great job, Dennis!

Hans von Storch said...

Don't you think that you made it too easy just now with your response to Dennis?

I am much in favor of a stage play, as V. Lenzer suggests; I am very much in favor of art as a means for getting people looking at issues from very different angles, also through different value lenses. All fine. But there are also other ways, arts are used - mostly openly so - namely as support for a preconceived "agenda" or even ideologies, forming mainstream and demonizing "enemies".

In post-normal situations, a critical reflection of the different roles of arts and, if you wish poetry, is most helpful - and I would expect that that is what Mike Hulme has in mind - but in the context of overcoming frustration among climate scientists, who ask for help how to transform their understanding into political action, I would have strong reservations.

You can of course, like Georg Hoffmann, argue that scientists are just plain and normal citizens and should act accordingly - with the label "scientists/experts" attached. But then, it is a very reasonable question if society wants to finance such an effort; NGOs (like Greenpeace; or others funded by coal industries) are cheaper, open in their intention, and better in overcoming frustrations.

The old question: which societal function expects society that (climate) science is fulfilling.

This debate has not yet seriously begun. It will; my personal concern is that this may happen AFTER our activist scientists have consumed the capital of science, which is the trust of the public that we at least try to behave kind of Mertonian.

Werner Krauss said...


okay, this is my last comment on this thread. I'm done.

Me, making it too easy? I just want to remind you that this thread wouldn't exist without me waisting my time here reading mocking poems; learning that my methods are a little schizophrenic and making a fool out of myself defending positions nobody else seems to share (except Reiner). Thanks for the flowers!

Are the sensibilities of climate scientists in post-normal times really the greatest problems concerning climate change? To judge each and every other discipline from this perspective; to judge light-heartedly who follows which agenda, and to decide generously who maybe deserves to modestly serve climate science, is in my eyes a) pretty arrogant and b) a waste of all the knowledge those disciplines can offer.

But I have to admit, my experience is that climate scientists are the center of the world; that climate scientists are the only ones who have the authority to speak about climate, and that everything else has to be judged through their lenses; and when even someone like Mike Hulme does not stand their incredible high standards, no one outside of climate science ever will.

hvw said...

The quality of the "climate debate" would improve if only contributions that rhyme were accepted from now on.

Rap for Werner
"Climate scientists are the world's true center":
I'm not sure that I get what you meant there.
The bulk of the crowd is a kitchen sink
of people who in their own fields stink.
No balls hard enough to forecast the weather,
no brains to grasp math for theoretic work either,
they suck in the lab, in the field they get sick,
and their mantra is 'Yes, our code looks like shit!'

As scientific appendix, what can you do
to get ya the tenure, stop people laughing at you?
Find you a field where the standards are low,
publish in Nature also Science just so.
Your hypotheses weak, your predictions not right,
you don't give a shit: No falsification in sight!
Judging by Popper you are bottom feeders
not worth my attention neither that of the leaders
of the brainy elite at the intellectual frontier
and that includes poets, and Werner's métier.

Dennis Bray said...

Werner Werner Werner

We work in a world where critique and criticism are part and parcel of being here. It would be a very humorous work place if everyone had a ‘stampfen’ each time they received criticism. You, yourself, would be responsible for people stamping their feet throughout many hallways. Don’t take criticism so personal! And thanks for making this thread possible (?). But I do feel hurt that you find my poems mocking. That is very insulting – how do you know I did not write them with good intention. They were a serious attempt to capsulate the essence of the climate change issue. Again, our interpretations differ, likely as a result of context and personal persuasion.

As for humanities, thanks for telling me what I ‘really meant’ – i.e. that I ‘declare humanities as insane’. I looked but can’t see any where I actually said that. It must be your interpretation. If I was going to make such a declaration, insane would not be a word I choose – inane in many cases perhaps – but not insane. Humanities includes some excellent work – take history for an example - interpretive, different schools of thought, enlightening and insightful. But other areas could be declared as little more than entertaining at best.

Now let me make a little personal disclosure. My first degree was in ethnographic anthropology. I came to the conclusion that it was a matter of laying my framework/categories (even in participant observation) over something I knew little about – i.e. foreign cultures. I could document what I saw, but interpreting these things according to my own plan seemed a little arrogant. Then there was the discrediting of (in)famous Margaret Mead. So I moved on – to ‘modern’ ethnography. For my masters degree I employed what I had learned in the previous degree, added Merleau Ponty’s phenomenological methods to my repertoire and chose retired military personal and their re-adaptation to civilian life as a topic of study. Such an approach was a little more systematic. After all, one of the tenets of ‘good’ research is that it be repeatable. But even so, I felt that someone using the exact same case study could easily produce yet a different interpretation and this could continue ad nauseam. And I also foresaw a diminishing number of lost tribes for my unit of analysis. Also, in an attempt to ‘modernize’, sociology was tending towards the interpretive and adopting the methods of the modern French School of Neologism and adding to this the technique of literary criticism, and I knew this was not for me. Thank you Sokol. (Actually, I was somewhat angry with history: had it been the 60s, a weeks supply of LSD and two record album covers and I could have been Dr Dr in record breaking time - pardon the pun.) So for my PhD I switched to statistical sociology. Of course, this too has many weaknesses, but the methods are repeatable and the exact units of analysis can be reassessed.

Now we would all agree that no science is perfect and the more complex the issue the greater the imperfections. By being able to repeat a study we are able to address these imperfections – i.e. the incremental growth of knowledge. My question is, given your interpretation of my pervious comments, MY intent of the previous comments, and the interpretations of everyone else that read the comments, how can we determine which account approximates any form of truth and perhaps provide some utility or insight?

Mathis Hampel said...

Hans, you write "that we at least try to behave kind of Mertonian".

Being disinterested, promoting communsim, universality, etc. (if this is what you mean) is very gentle, noble etc. but it can equally be viewed as agnostic, if not as cowardly if it denies scientists' moral responsibilities. Mertonian norms so reinforce an agnostic Kuhnian history of science whose hype has done more harm than good, in my view.

btw. there are some great poems and paintings in the IPCC reports

Happy Easter!

Reiner Grundmann said...


you raise an interesting question. What do you think are the moral duties of a scientist?

simply backlinks said...

my unit of analysis. Also, in an attempt to ‘modernize’

Mathis Hampel said...

Reiner, I think a 'moral duty' for a scientist would be to read the history and philosophy of science, some sociology of science and science studies. There is no question that scientists need to be honest and all that.

Mathis Hampel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mathis Hampel said...

Reiner, let me expand on my comment on a scientist's moral duty:

The moral duties or actions of a scientist (honesty, humility, reflexivity etc) are ideals which despite an increasingly divided academic labour should be left to the scientist herself. No need to reinforce Merton and employ integrity advisers etc.

Had scientists always conformed to these idealist expectations, there would have been no role for external sociologists, for every scientist-citizen would be constantly doing the critical work they do.

The proposal of sociological, historical, philosophical education (maybe not ANT) for young scientists would not only have the interesting side effect that some of them would/might turn sociologists/historians/philosophers (the more the merrier:) but also that criticism could again find a place inside organised science (I m sure there is).

And since you can find these courses in any university scientists who took these would show great morale and in my view justify the social reputation science and scientists enjoy.

if only I was secretary of education ;-)

Reiner Grundmann said...


this sounds a bit too idealistic for my taste. What if scientists do not have the opportunity to attend history and sociology of science lessons? There are many universities where this is the exception rather than the rule. Where such courses exist they tend to be electives, not compulsory.

But let's assume that some scientists in fact do attend such courses. They may come to the conclusion that there is one lesson to draw: if you want to be successful, you have to be ruthless.

Or do you think you can get your ethical message across, somehow? So that everyone behaves in the way you envisage?