Thursday, August 14, 2014


For a workshop  "Better together? Reconciling the supply of, and demand for, climate knowledge in adaptation decision-making" in September 2014 in the UK, Hans von Storch and Nico Stehr have prepared a contribution.

The introduction of "知己知彼百战不 -  a precondition for a successful climate communication?" reads:

"In this Chinese proverb “Precise knowledge of self and precise knowledge of the threat leads to victory.”  Perhaps we could replace in a less ambitious sense “threat” by “challenge”, and “victory” by “achievement”. Then the saying implies we need to know our own limitations, our own blind spots, or the assumptions of our knowledge claims, before being able to enter into a meaningful communication with individuals and groups outside the scientific community. Such communication may or may not lead to changes in the social world. If persuasive and therefore effective, the communication will not only change the social world for our partners, as they act upon it but also for us scientists. But the proverb refers also to “knowledge of the challenge” – which means that we have to recognize that the production of scientific knowledge is a social process as is the communication of scientific findings and that our partners may well their own ideas and knowledge with respect to similar features of the world. In fact, their claims that may be in conflict with current scientifically constructed and accepted knowledge.

For a successful communication it does not only need a clear and understandable language, good images and pedagogical skills as well as the attentiveness of the intended recipients but the recognition of the presence of a competition of knowledge claims in guiding societal decisions, in explaining how the world functions. Such a competition for relevant knowledge is not automatically “won” by those with more scientific arguments.

In a nut-shell, this is what we want to convey with our presentation. Implications for regional climate servicing are added in the end.

But before we enter the discussion about knowledge competition and its consequences of climate change communication, we should clarify the meaning of “knowledge”, as we use it here. We follow Nico Stehr’s (2012a) definition, according to which “Knowledge may be defined as a capacity for action". Our use of the term “knowledge” as a capacity for action is derived from Francis Bacon's famous metaphor that knowledge is power ( scientia est potentia. Bacon suggests that knowledge derives its utility from the capacity to set something in motion; for example, using modern examples, new communicative devices, new forms of power, new regulatory regimes, new chemical substances, new political organizations, or financial instrument. Thus, knowledge has no connotation such as “right”, “accurate”, “scientific” or “truth”, but no more and no less than making sense of a complex situation, which allows drawing conclusions about what can, or should, be done about it.

Also, the term “communication” may need an explanation. In the past, “communication” was an euphemism for “teaching”, “informing”, “explaining” to less-knowledgeable people, for a one-way communication. Here we refer to exchanging knowledge between scientists, who have a complex, often abstract but in most cases specific and often narrow understanding of elements of a multifaceted system, and practitioners, who tend to an equally specific understanding of problems based on the circumstances that govern public discourse of the day, on the contingencies of everyday life and the various interests that govern the life-world. Exchanging ideas and knowledge claims requires a dialog, as opposed to providing a portal which provides numbers and Q&A sections."