Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
In this chapter, Edwards explains how to build a stable, reliable body of knowledge on climate change, a process that he refers to as infrastructural inversion: “constantly unpacking, re-examining, and revising both historical evidence and predictive models” (Edwards 2010:398). This involves: 1) making knowledge work – testing it, making it trustworthy by getting the consensus of experts, and translating it to non-experts; 2) distributing the knowledge; 3) having the knowledge useful for everyone – impact. The IPCC, the international body that assesses the science related to climate change, is the structural highpoint of infrastructural globalism and the backbone for the climate knowledge infrastructure. The IPCC concludes that anthropocentric global warming has consensus of the scientific community. Note well that consensus does not mean that everyone agrees on the details, nor are all the details solved.
The American debates on climate change are inevitable because of the openness of both political and scientific discourse. Science and politics in America are structured in a way that features cycles of ‘challenge-response-revision’ that multiply the effects of science on politics (as well as politics on science. Edwards argues that science has an ambiguous role in US political culture; for example, while science is seen as apolitical and unbiased, it can still command political power:
“Science is held up as universal and impartial, but scientists are treated as proxies for interest groups. Stakeholders-especially economically powerful groups seeking to avoid taxes or regulations, such as (in this case) the fossil-energy industry-are well aware that they can delay the closure of debate by challenging key scientific results or, sometimes even more effectively, simply by raising the level of certainty expected of scientific knowledge” (Edwards 2010:407).
Doubt on science cast by raising level of certainty expected of scientific knowledge. Stirring up scientific controversy is a time-tested strategy by particular stakeholders (for a historical example on impact of smoking on health, famous statistician Sir Ronald Fisher asserted that correlation does not imply causation, and that conclusion that smoking causes lung cancer is problematic (in the 1950s)
Media also creates problems: “the “balanced” journalistic coverage of global warming-the majority of all 1988-2002 articles in the “prestige press” -in fact represented biased coverage, because it presented skeptical views lacking scientific support on an equal footing with more credible scientific opinion” (2010:410-411). “If we cannot trust models without evidence, neither can we trust evidence without models” (2010:412) – read the microwave sounding unit, University of Alabama–Huntsville example in Edwards.
Citizen science is the incorporation of non-scientists in scientific knowledge production. There are many benefits of citizen science, especially when seen as a form of science education; as people gather data or participate in some way in a scientific venture, they become more deeply aware of both scientific methodology and knowledge on the specific phenomenon being studied. For those involved in citizen science, it can also help shape their attitude towards nature, and increase awareness of particular global issues through local action. Citizen science, when done rigorously and sustainably, can gather wider ranges and amounts of data than previously possible, and add temporal depth.
Attributes of research projects ideally suited for citizen science, especially relevant to environmental science
- Data collection is labor intensive
- Data are collected from field situations
- Quantitative measurements/observations are needed
- Protocols are well designed and easy to learn and execute
- Spatial and/or temporal extents are broad
- Internet-accessible data submission and results acquisition are possible
- Guide materials and/or professional assistance are available
- Large data sets are needed
But citizen science also needs data validation, something that takes time and staff away from scientists in order to properly train participants. In citizen science, clear protocol development is important for success. Edwards talks about this as “a new form of friction-perhaps we could call it “inclusion friction”-that slows the knowledge-production process, generating heat and damage as well as, sometimes, light” (2010:427).
Model-data symbiosis and the construction of knowledge
“If engineers are sociologists, as Michel Callon and Bruno Latour have taught us, then climate scientists are historians” (Edwards 2010:431).
Because of the public debate on possible responses to climate change, these issues of global climate models (unlike weather forecasting) will constantly expose the infrastructure of weather and climatology as politicians, scientists, and activists continue to ‘invert the infrastructure’ to debate the numbers again and again. So the lessons that can be learned from the constant re-exposure of the infrastructure can be applied to all kinds of infrastructure that is out there, shaping our lives daily. As Edwards has tried to show throughout this book, global climate models (and the scientists that make and use them) are bound by the social and political conventions that created the infrastructure that makes the generation of scientific knowledge possible. This is the true issue behind the ‘social constructivist’ perspective on science:
“Social constructivism correctly asserted that, whatever the power of scientific methods, scientific knowledge also depends on norms, values, aesthetic principles, and mechanisms of persuasion, challenge, agreement, and evidentiary standards. Such things can’t be reduced to mechanically applied methods or technical apparatus. They are inherently and deeply social” (2010:437).