by Judith Curry
Michael Lowe posted this comment on the Disagreement thread:
Wouldn’t it be great if more science was like this – hundreds of interested bloggers, laypeople and scientist interracting, arguing, disagreeing, learning. Maybe this is the real postnormal science!
This immediately triggered something in my head, a true clarification of the goal of Climate Etc. What Michael Lowe describes is Jerome Ravetz’s extended peer community in action, but with an added twist.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with Jerome Ravetz, postnormal science, and the extended peer community (I wasn’t until relatively recently), read his essay at WUWT.
The “manifesto” for extended peer communities is described in Ravetz’s essay as:
“In traditional ‘normal’ science, the peer community, performing the functions of quality-assurance and governance, is strictly confined to the researchers who share the paradigm. . . We have argued that in the case of Post-Normal Science, the ‘extended peer community’, including all affected by the policy being implemented, must be fully involved. . . Detailed technical work is a task for experts, but quality-control on even that work can be done by those with much broader expertise. And on issues like the definition of the problem itself, the selection of personnel, and crucially the ownership of the results, the extended peer community has full rights of participation.”
“The task of creating and involving the extended peer community (generally known as ‘participation’) has been recognised as difficult, with its own contradictions and pitfalls. It has grown haphazardly, with isolated successes and failures. . . To have a political effect, the ‘extended peers’ of science have traditionally needed to operate largely by means of activist pressure-groups using the media to create public alarm.”
“As we see from the ‘open source’ movement, many people play an active role in enjoyable technological development in the spare time that their job allows or even encourages. Moreover, all over IT there are blogs that exercise quality control on the industry’s productions. In this new knowledge industry, the workers can be as competent as the technicians and bosses. The new technologies of information enable the diffusion of scientific competence and the sharing of unofficial information, and hence give power to peer communities that are extended far beyond the Ph.D.s in the relevant subject-specialty.”
“But now the extended peer community has a technological base, and the power-politics of science will be different. . . The new technologies of communications are revolutionising knowledge and power in many areas. The extended peer community of science on the blogosphere will be playing its part in that process. Let dialogue commence!”
The “radical implications of the blogosphere”
The new technologies facilitate the rapid diffusion of information and sharing of expertise, giving hitherto unrealized power to the peer communities. This newfound power has challenged the politics of expertise, and the “radical implications of the blogosphere” (Ravetz) are just beginning to be understood. Climategate illustrated the importance of the blogosphere as an empowerment of the extended peer community, “whereby criticism and a sense of probity were injected into the system by the extended peer community from the blogosphere” (Ravetz).
From Climate Etc.’s Welcome statement: Social computing has unrealized potential to facilitate understanding of complex issues, drive public policy innovation, provide transparency, identify the best contributions, increase the signal and filter out the noise, empower the public and policy makers to identify and secure their common interests, and maybe even reduce polarization.
Extended peer communities seem essential to me in grappling with both the intellectual and practical challenges associated with climate change. Blogs such at Climate Etc. (which in my own biased opinion represents the high mark in such discussions) may be the best hope for enabling the highly multi- and interdisciplinary investigations required to understand and address the climate change challenge and to enfranchise the public to secure its common interest.
Another development that interests me is cross-talk among bloggers in terms of investigating different aspects of an interesting idea. On a technical issue, we saw interesting cross over and synergy with the Air Vent on discussing Makarieva’s paper. The climate hawk is another interesting example. My Disagreement post was stimulated by an email conversation among about 20 different bloggers about the climate hawk issue, bringing a different angle to that discussion than the more policy-oriented bloggers.
So the challenge is how we can continue and enable this process, at Climate Etc. and more broadly in the blogosphere? I am definitely sold on the blogospheric potential, I have learned an enormous amount in the 6 weeks of Climate Etc.’s existence. I have an interesting benchmark for this: the paper on Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster that I submitted for publication in mid August. When the time comes to revise that paper or submit a new paper on the subject to Climatic Change, the maturity, difference, and overall development of my ideas on this subject will have resulted from the additional effort I made to develop these posts at Climate Etc. (each of which is one or two subsections in the original paper), the comments and ideas posted here, and the dialogue that has ensued.
But the potential of the blogosphere is almost certainly still unrealized. I look forward to your ideas and suggestions.