In Memoriam

Posted February 17th, 2005 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in What this is about

Among the many sources of inspiration for The Post-Normal Times, are three people listed in the side bar under the heading In Memoriam – James Kay, Douglas Adams, and Gregory Bateson. We have now finally added text that explains some of the ways in which we are beholden to them, as follows.

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Error Correction

Posted February 9th, 2005 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in What this is about

2 issues have been brought to my attention, via comments on Prometheus:

1) That the comments function on this site were not working – they should be now.
2) That the quote widely attributed to James Watt, that “after the last tree is felled the Lord will return” (used in the text on the page “About the Post-Normal Times” ) is something he never actually said, at least not in a Senate hearing. Grist, the Washington Post, and Bill Moyers have all issued retractions. Bill Moyers also issued a public apology and conceded that he made a mistake because he used it without doing his homework.

The Post-Normal Times herewith also retracts the statement, has revised the page and thanks those who take the time to point out errors. While care is needed, it is not possible to fact check every quote we use – but we do indicate our sources. Those trying to create a bandwagon to criticize Bill Moyers over a mistaken quote that has been retracted, should look into coverage of the WMD issue.

The page now references the more ambiguous statement that James Watt did make in a Senate hearing, that “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” This statement has also been widely circulated, most recently by James Watt himself, who forwarded the transcript of his testimony to John Hinderaker at, to suggest that he has been taken out of context. Perhaps he is referring to those who claim he said it to justify dismantling of the department and the giveaway of public lands at firesale prices – as is suggested in this article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. According to, he meant the opposite. So I took a closer look at the context, as posted on

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Welcome to Post-Normal Times

Posted February 5th, 2005 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in What this is about

This website was inspired by the film Adaptation, in which, Charlie Kaufman, portrayed by Nicholas Cage, is hired to write a screenplay about a book, The Orchid Thief, and faces the problem of how to include the standard features of a Hollywood film – a sensational plot, chase scenes, sex, and a happy ending, in a book that is about obsession with flowers. Instead, though convinced it would end his career, he wrote the screenplay about his own dilemma and was subsequently nominated for an Oscar.

One evening, in the Zoo Bar in Washington DC, asked my opinion about the movie, I explained to a few fellow science and policy wonks, that it illustrates a dilemma similar to that faced by those who provide scientific advice to policy makers. Science and policy reports are expected to provide decision-makers with a script that tells them what to say at the next meeting, and templates they can use to understand what they can actually do – “at 9 a.m. on Monday morning,” with science that backs it up, so they can avoid the dirty work of actually making decisions. Complex problems in which uncertainty is unavoidable, rarely if ever have simple, technical solutions that are also acceptable.

Finding an acceptable solution often requires new ways of framing a problem, and multiple perspectives, that go beyond science, and that may open up new options. In other words, it is about how decisions are made, and about flowers and songbirds, and the places where we live. However, explaining this to policy makers has been known to jeopardize careers.

It was suggested I write a column – or something…. The next morning I registered the domain name for this site, to provide a place for all of the important and relevant information that doesn’t fit into formal reports or lend itself to being packaged into what has come to be regarded as “news.” After a very long incubation period, it has finally come into being.

Addendum, June 27, 2005
If you happen to be Charlie Kaufman and have found this site, note that you have an open invitation to be a member of the Post-Normal Times Advisory Board and, of course, to be a contributing writer to this site. A letter to your agent has not been answered. Please e-mail me! ( Thank you.