by Steven Mosher
In the last episode of “Craven Attention” I recounted some of the things Greg Craven said during a panel discussion after Oppenheimer’s lecture of the role of scientists. [GC33D The 2010 Stephen Schneider Global Environmental Change Lecture (Webcast)Moscone South, Gateway Ballroom, Room 103, 1345h–1440h Scientists, Expert Judgment, and Public Policy: What is Our Proper Role? Presented by M. Oppenheimer, Geosciences, Princeton University]
Greg seemed to take issue with my characterization of some of his comments.
I have no problem with analysis and criticism of my presentation, but I do feel strongly that the facts of it be correctly conveyed, as I have already been significantly misquoted. I expect that you do not appreciate having your statements mischaracterized or misquoted either…
But I believe some of your characterizations of what I said to be misrepresentative. You are of course free to give your assessment of my presentation, demeanor, or state of mental health. But everyone in the debate says “look at the facts and let them speak for themselves.” I ask that you do the same thing and limit yourself to quoting my actual words, criticizing them and myself as you will, without taking upon yourself to characterize what I said. I am painfully aware that I am a pathological overtalker and can’t be succinct to save my life.
I do not expect you to agree with my words or me. But I do expect you have the discipline and principle to convey the speech accurately, rather than settling for your interpretations and summaries of what I said (as you did in the “Basically it goes like this…” set-out). I’m sure that you’ll agree that characterizing your opponent’s words yourself does no service to forwarding the discussion.
And he seeks to vindicate himself by posting a transcript of the episodes.
And my remarks have already been mischaracterized and misquoted, to further malign the AGU. In the interests of accuracy and truthful reporting, I will post an audio file and transcription of my presentation as given at www.gregcraven.org as soon as I can.
He has now posted a transcript of a different presentation he gave earlier in the day. Huh? Strangely the audio that produced that transcript is still not available. The problem is my piece covered a different episode. He posted a transcript of the meeting at 1020 AM on the 15th and I covered the panel that followed Oppenheimer who spoke at 13:40-14:00. Still, we can note some things and see if it’s possible that I got the gist of what Craven was saying correct. That is, by looking at the first transcript we can see that my characterization of the second speech is not implausible. Let’s just say the second presentation was a good model for the first.
First lets note this. The Craven who cares about being misquoted had this to say; take special care to note his definition of the meaning of communication below:
my message to you now is that you must stop communicating as scientists. You must begin communicating as citizens, as a father, as a mother, with whatever feelings are in your heart, with your fears, speak to them of your hopes, let them know about your befuddlement at the divergence. And tell them frankly, forthrightly, sincerely, about any terror that you are ignoring…..
You say you want to have an effect on the public? If you trod a journey at all similar to mine, think, visualize, take five minutes to meditate on the impact it would have if you took off your goddamned scientist hat for just a moment, and put on your citizen hat. And said frankly to the public through the largest mouthpiece you can: “As a scientist, here’s my understanding. As a citizen, here’s my hope, my vision. And as a mother, here’s my contingency plan, here’s my lifeboat.”….
If you obliterated your comfort zone and the hard line of purity of your scientific sensibilities–that you do cling to, with the faith of a god–and you actually went forth as an actual advocate, a sentiment normally anathema to the constitution of a scientist, imagine if you went out into the fray bearing your heart, with your emotion and the authority of your understanding as your weapon. For what you’ve been giving them as a scientist up to now is information, and with that increasing divergence between public and scientific opinion…
You must stop selfishly pursuing your pleasure in finding things out. To be frank: f*** your research. We. Need. You. I know I am almost certain to outrage you with my impertinence and the audacity of my message. And my word choice, for substituting ‘f*** for ‘screw’. [Mild laughter.] And that’s the lesson you must absorb into the fiber of your being, for the meaning of communication is not what you intend, or the information. The meaning of communication is the response it elicits in the listener. And that’s where we have failed. So while you may be likely to forget the details of my rant, you will always feel the emotional aftertaste of it. And that is the purpose of communicating the science of climate change to the lay public. To give them an emotional aftertaste.
Your role, your job–the one we have assigned you and gladly supported–has always been to stand on the hill overlooking the bloody battlefield and give reconnaissance and convey information about what’s ahead. But there comes a time in the last stand for every single support troop, no matter how far removed, to pick up a weapon, come down into the fray, and fight to the death for what they stand for. To charge into the face of annihilation itself and fight with their teeth, tearing out the jugular of their enemy with their bloody mouth if they have no weapons left. That time is now.
If you do not believe that, if you do not feel that, I challenge you to be intellectually honest–that part of you that you hold up as better than any other profession, and I support you in that opinion–you are the only rational thinkers on the planet. Beware, psychological research shows that people don’t generally make decisions rationally. If you don’t agree with this–that this is the time to radically challenge your comfort zone, and your traditional mores of never letting feelings or opinions on policy pass your lips–I’m not going say “If not now, then when?” I’m going to say: detail an operational definition of a test to test whether a situation would merit that extreme action or not. Come up with the characteristics. And then I defy you to compare them to the situation now. If you do that, forget everything I’ve said. I absolve you. That’s all I ask. But if your intellectually honest operational definition tells you that the time is now. . . .
These snippets are from his earlier speech. However, in the panel after Oppenheimer’s talk he gave a similar version of the “comfort zone” challenge. The “emotional aftertaste” I was left with after I forgot the details of his second rant was this:
Craven took charge again and argued the “if not now, when” argument.Basically, it goes like this. As a scientist you have to decide at some point that enough is enough. You have to put your scientific commitment to the discipline of doubt aside and “blow past” your boundaries. Say what you feel, not what you can prove….
Steve Easterbrook, thankfully, asked the only intelligent question. On one hand we have Oppenheimer telling us take care when going beyond our expertise. On the other hand we have Craven, saying “blow past” your boundaries. Oppenheimer tried to paper over the difference, and Oreskes, who seemed to be shooting me looks as I sat there laughing, agreed that there was a difference between these views. Craven, breaking his promise again, read what he had been scribbling. Some sort of challenge to climate scientists that he promises to post.
I apologize if I got it “wrong,” but on Greg’s view my emotional “aftertaste” IS the meaning of what he said. I guess those years of studying Stanley Fish and Roland Barthes came in handy. Personally, I want scientists to keep their science hat on at all times. Others can panic without any practice or education. To be fair to Greg and to present his argument a bit more precisely and rigorously he seems to want scientists to speak emotionally about policy while retaining their objectivity in science. Except, for the ” f*** your research part” which is a bit hard to square with things. Craven thinks scientists research because they take pleasure in it. Removing doubt and uncertainty is an equally likely motivation. So there he seems to be saying they should put their desire to remove doubt and uncertainty aside in favor of passion. Oppenheimer’s point, on the other hand, was this: as an expert you have a problem. People make take your positions on policy to be expert scientific opinions, when they are not. And my point would be this. The passion for policy is part and parcel of the problem of trust in climate science. For Craven, the “understanding” drives the passion. But for many of the people that need to be convinced the displays of passion undermine trust in the science. That’s their emotional aftertaste.