Symposium S103: Gaining it/losing it/regaining it(?) – Knowledge production in climate science, status anxiety, and authority across disciplines

Climate change discourse is not, and perhaps never was, “owned” by the climatological science community. Given the recent and heated “climate wars,” it is fruitful to examine the status anxiety in this field from historical and science studies perspectives.

The symposium addresses “knowledge at work” through case studies of knowledge-making, loss and regaining of knowledge-use, and dissent and authority in climate science and, by comparison, in other discourse communities.

The symposium begins by focusing on “Gaining It”—that is, on concerted attempts to apprehend climate change, stake out authoritative positions, and forge climate “consensi” from Antiquity to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Throughout history understanding of climate change has been built on layer after layer of authority, prestige, data, experiments, theory, modeling, technology, and consensus.  Does this dynamic also apply in different cultures and in other disciplines, for example in economics?

This is followed by case studies of “Losing It”—how atmospheric scientists lost control of the grand narrative of scientific interdisciplinary and technological progress central to their field.  Historically, climate (understood mainly as a cultural agent) followed the dominant Zeitgeist.  Aristotelians, Enlightenment philosophes, colonial agents, and others linked their theories to larger trends in political and popular culture, specifically to their views on geography, race, and health. Is climate a world narrative or a Western narrative?

In recent years new voices from the press, the public, the state, and the environmental movement have flooded the literature adding polarizing voices, while venerable but vulnerable practices of peer review and journal publication have taken back seats to the new electronically facilitated “peer-to-peer” review and ubiquitous blogs, tweets, and quacks. A division of climate labor has not produced a unified product – instead it has generated interdisciplinary status anxiety.

A final session, involving scientists and STS scholars will look at “Regaining It,” that is the path forward (if any) toward a coherent perspective on climate affairs.  Do the histories of climate science, the related social science, and popular perceptions of climate change follow parallel narratives?  If not, what are the major differences?  Are definitions of climate as agency and climate as index two separate entities, or is there some common ground?

List of individual papers and abstracts:


Jim Fleming – Science Technology and Society Program, Colby College, 5881 Mayflower Hill, Waterville, Maine 04901

Vladimir Jankovic – Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, Simon Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL UK,