• Simone Schleper

    Hans asked me to comment on his post with the aim of starting a discussion. Agreeing with him in all points raised, my comment will however constitute an addendum to his post rather than a reply. In particular I would like to stress the second and third field for action Hans proposes for us PhDs: setting examples and informed activism. No doubt, where possible, we as PhDs and teaching assistants should make students aware of the absurdity and dangerousness of climate change deniers. However, I think our most substantial strength lies elsewhere. As young employees of universities and research institutes, in academia and its organisation(s) we can have the biggest impact. With ‘Divest Harvard’ Hans named one excellent campaign. Of course we must individually make responsible choices about our means of transportations. But we can also push our line managers or departments to support travels by train inside Europe or to think twice about whether to fly in scholars from other continents for smaller workshops and the like. Writing op-ed articles and blog entries are great means to inform audiences outside academia. See for example Naomi Oreskes’s TED talk from March 2014 (http://goo.gl/TC4kQH) in which she uses excerpts from the history of science to combat skepticism on climate change (science). Additionally however, and especially as most of us lack Oreskes’s academic track record, we could possibly achieve a bigger effect if we could somehow, from the inside, persuade the authoritative entities for which we work, namely the Dutch universities, to take a stance against climate change denials. While we need to start with ourselves, collectively our chances for making a change will be higher.

  • I read Schouwenburg’s article with great pleasure. The uncertainty surrounding climate change is a relevant problem, though taking a closer look, it should not be. There is scientific consensus on climate change being anthropogenic. I want to endorse Schouwenburg’s conclusion to call young scholars for action. The latter deserves more attention, since it has wider implications for the relationship between science and society, one that needs more thought and discussion.

    I agree with Schouwenburg that social science scholars, young ones in particular, should take their responsibility to society more seriously. Translating their research findings into socially relevant action, picking up on the current global challenges by integrating research with education, calling for a greater say in and more attention to the way universities forge ties with other sectors in society, such as certain business sectors. Similar calls for more public intellectuals have been made by others before, and I do not want to repeat their argument here.

    Rather, Schouweburgs call for more scientivism in the sense of an attitude to engage in systematic knowledge production and to “promote, impede, or direct social change” (Maartens, 2012), deserves more thought. Considering decreasing government funding for research and education , the pressure for scholars to publish in scientific journals and the need for them to acquire money through grant applications, there seems to be little time for more action in and through research. These are the practical obstacles to more societal engagement, but there is more to it.

    Some scholars would despise Schouwenburg’s call for action out of principle. They see the alleged impartiality of science at stake, or at least the image thereof. However, STS scholarship has worked at length to show how facts and values cannot be that neatly set apart in scientific inquiry. Indeed, facts and values are intertwined closely in the work of scholars. Merely describing the fact-value conflation will not re-erect the boundaries that were never there. In contrast, the next step for social scientists (and that includes far more than our respectable historians of science) is to take this finding a step further.

    I agree with Schouwenburg on the need for more action that is informed by research. Although I want to take his call for taking our social responsibility as scholars more seriously, we need to do that carefully. We should take action whenever and however we can to contribute to discussions about social development, may it be about which technologies to employ to cope with climate change, or how to support the communities most affected by it. At the same time, we need to be careful not to become advocates of partial positions. Instead we need to speak to policy makers, ‘stakeholders’, to our students and to the wider public to enable a more balanced, democratic, other-regarding discussion. We need to clearly show how scientific findings are used and abused, how scientific uncertainty gets instrumentalised; that is where our strength lies in analysing and contributing to ongoing debates about social and technological change.

    Andreas Mitzschke is PhD candidate at the Department of Technology and Society Studies at Maastricht University

  • Hans Schouwenburg

    Simone and Andreas,
    Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think Simone’s point about changing the structure and management practices of the university from the inside is a very valuable one. It also nicely ties in with Andreas’ involvement in the alternative opening of the academic year. One of the goals of the Platform Hervorming Nederlandse Universiteiten (H.NU) is to make it easier for scientists to contribute to socially relevant public debates. So hopefully that initiative will make it easier for us to participate in scientivistic activities. I hope that they will include the issue of climate change in their programme.

    Andreas argues rightly that, at this very moment, ‘there seems to be little time’ for extracurricular activities. I agree that there is ‘little time’, but not in Andreas’ sense. Global warming is a very dangerous problem. We simply need to act now if we want to prevent irreversible change. There is no time to waste. So I would say that ‘little time’ is a matter of choice. The time we have depends on our priorities. And climate change should be our top priority.

    Andreas argues that ‘we need to be careful not to become advocates of partial positions’. ‘Our strength’, he continues, ‘lies in analyzing and contributing to debates’. In similar fashion, Simone states that our best hope is to ‘push our line managers and departments’. These two statements show why efforts to combat global warming always fail: we always point at others, we never look at our own behavior. Discussions are nice if you have time. The point climate scientists try to bring home is that we don’t have any and that we – governments, managers, and individuals – need to stop talking and act. I therefore think that we can make the biggest difference by changing our own behavior. It sounds Spartan, I know, but every piece of meat we eat, every kilometer we drive in our car, and every trip we make by plane adds more CO-2 into the atmosphere. How can we ever say we take the problem of global warming seriously of we keep increasing it.

    In sum, I think that we need to do both. We need to look at ourselves as well as the doing the analyzing and pushing our line managers. Speaking of the latter point: when do you guys want to start?

  • Floor

    Naomi Klein just published her This Changes Everything, which provides us with more food for activism. The Dutch online platform De Correspondent published this article inspired by Klein’s book:

  • Pingback: The Times They Are A-changin’: Academia in the Age of Open | Shells and Pebbles()

  • Floor

    On February 13-14 2015, it is Global Divestment Day to call for divestment from fossil fuels. In Amsterdam a communal event is organised at 2.00 PM on Saturday February 14. Let’s be there, to get our voices heard.
    On Global Divestment Day, see: http://gofossilfree.org/divestment-day/
    On the Amsterdam February 14 event, see: http://act.350.org/event/gdd/9883

  • Pingback: Activist history of science and its philosophical implications | Shells and Pebbles()

  • Ilja Nieuwland

    I took the freedom of posting my own reply here: http://www.hydrarchos.org/activist-tigers/.

  • Pingback: The Collapse of Western Civilization – satire against climate change deniers | Shells and Pebbles()