Michael Oppenheimer on Scientists’ Engagement with the Public

Geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer, who is the director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at Princeton University, and one of the authors of the latest IPCC report, gave a talk at the American Geographical Union meeting about the prospects and challenges that scientists who want to engage with public issues relating to their research face.


Science and the Media: Upside-Down Pyramid Thinking

This is the second post to appear in our new section called “quick thoughts.” The aim of this section is to raise an issue for comment in more detail than the weekly roundup does, but in a more succinct format than our longer 1000 word posts. We hope that this section will turn the spotlight onto those that choose to comment, rather than the author of the post.

I’ve been reading Naomi Oreskes’ book Merchants of Doubt, which I will review for Spontaneous Generations and post here on the Bubble Chamber as well. I will save my comments for that review, but the book, and a recent lunch conversation with philosophers and HPSers, has me thinking a lot about how the media reports on events within the scientific community.

While I was a master’s student, I was course instructor for “Phil120 – Introduction to Logic,” which was interestingly enough a required course for the school of journalism (I have a hot chili on ratemyprofessor.com, in case you were wondering). The second and third year journalism students, who constituted a majority of my class, did not understand why they needed to take the course, and they were vocal about it. As a response to this, and to low marks across the board, I gave an extra credit assignment: Use your journalism skills and interview a professor or administrator responsible for the inclusion of this class in your course requirements. Respond to this interview with your own arguments, either for or against the position presented.…

Climate Change: Should We Speak of Consensus?

In a recent lecture, Naomi Oreskes, a distinguished historian of science from the ‎University of California, San Diego, has argued that there is and has been a scientific ‎consensus that human-caused global warming is occurring. She persuasively shows that the ‎sceptical claims about human-caused global warming have not originated from within ‎the scientific community, but rather from politically motivated external ‎actors who, consciously and one would even say cynically, have been artificially ‎manufacturing controversy on the subject.‎

What are we, however, to make of this claim? On its own, the existence of a scientific ‎consensus does not indicate that the consensus view is correct. Oreskes does have a ‎point about the consensus being initially shared by people of different political views. But ‎it seems that for her – in this lecture at least – politics affect only one side of the debate. ‎Doesn’t it need to be shown that, at least once the climate debate became politicized, ‎similar political influences have not affected the other side as well?‎


Naomi Oreskes: Answering Climate Change Skeptics

Combining numerous academic accolades with newspaper editorials and public lectures, Naomi Oreskes is an exemplar of the public intellectual. In this March 2010 lecture at the University of Rhode Island, Oreskes discusses climate change and her new book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.