Special to the Post-Normal Times Although the concept of Post-Normal Science (PNS) was a major source of inspiration for The Post-Normal Times (PNT), I was as surprised and baffled as anyone else at turns taken by Jerry Ravetz ever since he posted an essay back in February 2010 at the climate “skeptic” blog WattsUpWithThat (WUWT). The essay, which has long since been published as a journal article, appears to accept what has become the “Climategate” myth at face value. It was followed by a workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate, held January 2011 in Lisbon, for which Jerry was the lead organizer. The agenda of that workshop was to discuss points of agreement and disagreement on some scientific issues, such as the Hockey Stick, regarding which there is little if any actual disagreement within the scientific community and which are well supported by peer reviewed literature, but that are often contested from outside of the normal scientific process, following a very different set of rules. As if all of the above were not confusing enough, there have also been some non-sensical interpretations of PNS, made not only by the Heartland Institute at its 2011 Sixth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC6), which have little to do with the concept as it was defined by Funtowicz and Ravetz in 1991. These essentially blame PNS for the “abandonment of the scientific method” which presumably led to “Climategate.” Another incident was the Civil Investigative Demand filed by Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, who went so far as to allege that Michael Mann committed fraud because he did not disclose the post-normal nature of climate science in a grant application. That case was ultimately dismissed by the court on a technicality, with prejudice, without ruling on whether this claim might be considered a valid cause of action. For anyone just tuning in, PNS has come a long way since the term was coined in 1991, and is now recognized even in the journal Nature, where a recent editorial about a workshop in Hamburg states: “Science becomes ‘post-normal’ when facts are uncertain, stakes high, values in dispute and decisions urgent; in such cases, societal needs must be taken into account to avoid costly mistakes.” As I started graduate school in 1993, after having worked at both the National Academy of Sciences and the former Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, I found that the concept explained a lot with respect to what has been a dysfunctional interface between science and policy, and still does. However, without some common understanding of the term, it could become a meaningless one. When I started the PNT in 2005, Jerry became an advisor and occasional contributor - and although I have discussed this subject with him, he has not contributed to PNT since he changed course. As for the future, we will just have to see where this discussion goes. For reasons of practicality, I decided to focus this blog on post-normal “times”, I.e., the context or situations, rather than on what can easily become obtuse discussions of science philosophy that don’t lend themselves very well to the blog format. However, In this very long and long overdue post, I am going to revisit the basic definition of PNS, at least as I understand it, and the role of “extended peer review” as a basis for public participation in science-based decision-making. In the process, I will address a few questions that were raised in the course of these events, that I refrained from commenting on because I did not have pithy answers:
- Is PNS “tailor made for the denialist crowd because it speaks of science in negative terms”? ( as was suggested by the Policy Lass) or
- Has PNS simply been hijacked? (as was suggested by Deep Climate).
- distinguish a “good faith negotiation” from a sham – in the context of science for policy,
- identify cranks, and
- evaluate the quality of scientific information when cranks are at the table.