Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Climate-change lore and post-science policy deliberations.

The Oxford Dictionary (1993) defines lore as ‘A doctrine, a precept; a creed, a religion.’  Lore includes, among other things, legends, oral history, beliefs and stories.  It can be argued that climate-change ‘lore’ plays a significant role in the formation of climate change policy in the German Baltic coastal region and  this has potential consequences for the science-policy interface, leading from post-normal science to post-science policy deliberations.

It should be noted that this is not the first case of lore intervening in the German science-policy interface. The example of the German Kur demonstrates how lore (perhaps combined with traditional knowledge but lacking in demonstrated efficacy) has previously impacted on science and policy in Germany.  The Kur, although having its origins long before the völkische Bewegung (which had its origins in the Romatic nationalism of the 19th century), has no doubt been sustained by lorific sentiments.  According to Pietikäinen (2000: 524) the völkische Bewegung was a loosely organized social movement that was unified by ‘a cauldron of beliefs, fears and hopes’ often drawn from romantics’ notions of folklore and the organic world.  Life was to be lived in a mystical, lorific relationship with the land. The Kur can be located within this context. The history of the integration of the kur movement and alternative medicine into allopathic medicine is well documented and suggests a template for the fate of the climate change issue.  Is this a template for defining the evolution of the issue of climate change in Germany?

‘Modern’ lore is often referred to as an ‘urban legend’ (Dorson, R.M. 1968: 166).  An urban legend is a narrative that does not address the veracity of the story being told.   According to Zacher (2010) urban legends often take the form of a cautionary tale or take the form of a moral message, both of which are plainly evident in climate change discourse.   Based on urban legends, it is not uncommon for public media to issue warnings concerning the threat presented in the narrative (Gross, 2010).  According to Mosier (2005) these narratives both construct and reinforce worldviews in populations in which they circulate and ‘provide us with coherent and convincing explanations of complex events'.  Typically an urban legend is disseminated by news stories, television reports, e-mail and, as was traditional lore, by word of mouth.  Since the conception of the global warming issue, newspaper headlines, television headlines, internet, big screen theater and environmental NGOs have all offered a plethora of apocalyptic scenarios related to climate change.  Those who question the urban legend are often confronted with outrage by proponents of the urban legend (Best and Horiuchi, 1985; Davis, 2002).  Skeptics are charged with promoting urban legends that denounce the popular consensus and alarmists are charged with promoting exaggerated scenarios of the future.  Spencer (2009: no page number)  ‘contend[s] that the belief in human-caused global warming as a dangerous event, either now or in the future, has most of the characteristics of an urban legend.  […] But skillful storytelling has elevated the danger from a theoretical one to one of near-certainty.’    Lore differs from science in that it is often based on memories and accounts (real or imagined) of first hand experiences rather than the recorded measurements of scientific apparati.  Lore becomes common knowledge as information is passed informally from person to person and might come to suggest a perceived future that differs from scientific projections.  The implications of the development of such lore, or urban legend, for the science-policy interface have remained mostly unexplored.  It is possible that the climate change issue will lead to  post-science deliberations, where climate-change science becomes, at best, an indirect effect on political decisions, and is either used or discarded as seen fit. In such an event, climate-change lore becomes the main driver of policy.
This is a brief summary of a recently peer reviewed manuscript, 'Climate-Change Lore and Its Implications for Climate Science: Post-science deliberations?'  Dennis Bray and Grit Martinez, 2015 . The full article (unedited at the time of this posting) concerning the development and role of lore in German climate-change policy is available at:  


Anonymous said...

Sehr interessante Studie mit volkskundlichem Blick!

Das Beispiel Kur/und Gerücht ließe sich deutlich erweitern, der völkische Aspekt und das Anheizen von Gerüchten gegen und mit "Wissenschaft" spielte auch bei Daniel Jütte: Tierschutz und Nationalsozialismus bzw. Joachim Radkau, Frank Uekötter (Hg.): Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus, 2003 eine Rolle.

Eines der folgenreichsten Gerüchte "auf falscher wissenschaftliche Spur" in der BRD war die lange verbreitete Vermutung, die später auf Thalidomid zurückgeführten Missbildungen seien die Folge der Atomtests der 50er.

Zitat "Aber die Experten erhoben ihre Daten exakt bis zum Beginn der Katastrophe. Danach sahen sie den „Wald vor lauter Bäumen“ nicht. Sie vertrauten ausschließlich auf die „harten Fakten“ der Epidemiologie und die langjährige wissenschaftliche Statistik."

Man hat sich aber nicht getraut nachzufragen, ob denn in den USA etwa ähnliche Missbildungen auftreten. . Das Arzneimitel war weder in der DDR (dank Friedrich Jung), noch in den USA (dank Frances Oldham Kelsey) oder Österreich rezeptfrei zugelassen worden.

Noch was für Plattfüße: Andreas Hilger und Armin Müller: „Das ist kein Gerücht, sondern echt.“Der BND und der „Prager Frühling“ 1968, 2014

Grüße Serten

Hans von Storch said...

Jerry Ravetz asked me to post this comment:

The term ‘lore’ has been used to good effect in discussions on Klimazwiebel. I would like to argue that ‘lore’ and science may be more closely related than we might have thought. I have in mind the example of ‘germs’. For something like a century it has been accepted that ‘germs’ are bad, dangerous, that they make you sick, and they must be destroyed and banished away from humans if we are to be healthy. I remember the advertisements for household disinfectants, warning us that germs are lurking in our kitchen waste pipes, only a few inches from where we prepare our food! Of course there was a scientific base for all this, but the ‘germ theory’ definitely became lore. We can appreciate this historical point now that we have discovered microbiomes, and are even advised to get our hands dirty in the garden so as to enrich our personal micro-ecosystems. So the lore served to popularise a particular scientific ‘paradigm’, and doubtless influenced the criteria of value and adequacy by which scientific publications and projects were assessed. If one were to look for examples, there would doubtless be plenty in the human/behavioural sciences, but it is useful to be reminded that lore can be present and important in medicine, and so perhaps also in any discipline studying systems that are complex and of direct human concern.