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Values and Climate Science: Who Needs A Consensus Anyway? by Kristen Intemann (Montana State University)

Date: 3:30pm - 5:00pm PDT January 31 PST Location: JRHH 202

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JRHH 202

There has been much concern about the problem of “manufactured doubt,” where powerful corporations and think-tanks appear to have funded research aimed at generating doubt about climate change and stall regulatory policies (Michaels 2008; Oreskes and Conway 2010; Brulle 2013).  In response to climate skeptics, scientists and science studies scholars have emphasized the existence of a scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change (Oreskes 2004; Lichter 2008; Doran and Zimmerman 2009; Cook et al. 2013).  Moreover, the IPCC has adopted practices aimed at consensus-building (van der Sluijs 2008).  I argue that the focus being placed on consensus is problematic for several interrelated reasons.  First, consensus strategies neglect the ways that values play a role in scientific decision-making and (as a result) can require agreement about, or masking of, the underlying values at stake which is problematic.  In particular, it gives disproportionate power to scientists in endorsing particular values that may neglect the interests of some stakeholders. Second, insofar as the public becomes aware that reasonable disagreements (particularly about the values involved) exist, such strategies undermine rather than increase public trust in climate scientists.  Finally, such strategies reinforce the false assumption that consensus (or lack of disagreement) is necessary for rational public policy decisions.   Implications are considered for how we might more successfully address climate skepticism and build public trust in climate science.
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