3 Scientific Knowledge, Public Knowledge,
andPublic Policy: How Genres Form and Disrupt
Knowledge for Acting about Anthropogenic
Abstract: Knowledge about anthropogenic climate change is produced, stored, and
accessed in specific genres associated with different activity systems. Alignment of
knowledge across spheres facilitates coordinated action among diverse groups. Our
knowledge of the environment has been created in recent history by the interaction
of discourses in military, scientific, public, political, corporate and governmental
spheres. These spheres do not always work in concert, with significant obstacles and
even resistances to communication of knowledge across boundaries. Citizen con-
cerns, expressed in public genres, have been crucial over the last sixty years in cre-
ating environmental knowledge, in contrast to governmental or corporate interests,
even though government has since taken on major responsibilities for the production,
dissemination, and authentication of environmental information. Those with a desire
to disrupt remedial action on the environment and more particularly anthropogenic
climate change have found disrupting the certainty of knowledge within governmen-
tal genres an important tool.¹
Cooperation on action to mitigate anthropogenic climate change requires the commit-
ted engagement of people of many countries with many different interests. Concerted
and effective action mitigating climate change requires that these many groups rec-
ognize that an urgent problem exists, that the problem has particular characteristics,
and that certain actions will likely be effective. Further they must agree that the situ-
ation is so dire and of such great priority that they will be willing to sacrifice other
valued goods and to make adjustments to well-established ways of life and business.
This alignment over the existence, urgency, and solutions to anthropogenic
climate change requires that each of these groups understand, trust, and accept
the importance of a series of scientific findings, theories, and projections. To under-
stand, trust, and accept this scientific work requires that they learn to engage with
and make sense of the many kinds of professional knowledge that have transformed
1 An earlier version of this chapter appeared in Linguagem em (Dis)curso, (2010, 445–463).
© 2020 Sune Auken and Christel Sunesen
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.
our view of the climate. Climate knowledge is grounded within, and gets evidentiary
warrant from certain citizen-oriented scientific genres. This knowledge is then taken
up (Freadman, 1994, 2002) and operationalized into public, government, and corpo-
rate action through other genres. The problems and solutions are only identifiable
and persuasive through the forms of evidence, calculation, and reasoning existing
in these genres. Insofar as people are not skilled in engaging with these genres they
are not able to build trust and engagement with the solutions, even if they accept
the authority of the texts and their authors. It is only through these genres that we
know, and it is only when we know that we can act with energy and conviction (for the
demotivating effects of uncertainty of climate change knowledge see Cook, Lewan-
dosky, & Ecker, 2017; Lorenzoni, Nicholson-Cole, & Whitmarsh, 2007.)
The case of anthropogenic climate change shows how knowledge is produced,
stored, accessed, and deliberated upon in specific genres within specific activity-ori-
ented social formations, and then how that knowledge may or may not be transmitted
into other activity systems. What is known in one activity system is not immediately
and automatically known in another. Genres must exist that allow for the transmis-
sion following specific procedures and criteria; further, writers must carry out that
work of translation in these intermediary genres (Tachino, 2012). Individuals or
groups with stakes in the deliberations of the receiving activity system may then seek
to control which knowledge enters into the new system and how it may influence
decisions to be made upon that knowledge by contesting the legitimacy of the trans-
mission (Bazerman, 2009, 2013).
The phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change itself cannot be directly and
reliably experienced by any individual, nor is it even directly visible from the inspec-
tion of typical local weather records (Moser, 2010). Seeing anthropogenic climate
change as a phenomenon, let alone recognizing that it poses a problem, requires a
kind of professional vision (Goodwin, 1994), seen through the lenses of scientific the-
ories and literature, aggregated planetary data, and computer models. Awareness of
our problem depends on projection of future conditions by those computer models, as
is identification of potential remedial actions. Without trust in those aggregated data,
models, and projections, climate change is hard to recognize. The problem anthropo-
genic climate change poses has gained widespread attention of the scientific public
only in the last four decades and of citizens and governments only in the last two.
While there is high agreement in the scientific community and strong consensus
that action is needed (see, for example, Cook et al. (2016) and the introduction to
this volume), agreement and action consensus among citizens is uneven although
increasing as a result of extreme weather events now commonly attributed to climate
change (Moser, 2016). Further, cooperation among governments is only recent, and
corporate engagement is only sporadic and subordinate to perceived interests. Our
future hangs on gaining more consistent engagement with scientifically based knowl-
edge and its policy imperatives.
35 Scientific Knowledge, Public Knowledge, andPublic Policy
Knowledge Resides within Genres 36
This essay examines that process of social learning and alignment to relevant
scientific knowledge, from a genre and activity theory perspective. In this essay I will
be bringing together the work of a number of my prior studies where more detailed
evidence and analysis are available (Bazerman, 2001; Bazerman, Little, & Chavkin,
2003; Bazerman & de los Santos, 2005). These studies are based predominantly on
events and evidence from the United States, but given the US role in science and in
the international economy along with the recurring episodes of US governmental and
corporate recalcitrance, the harnessing of US political will is an important element
in global negotiations on addressing climate change. Thus, this story is of more than
local interest. In addition, because cooperation of people and organizations in every
nation is essential for effective global climate cooperation we need similar under-
standings of the formation of politics and policy in each nation and region.
3.2 Knowledge Resides within Genres
Theoretically, the studies in the present volume are grounded in the idea that knowl-
edge is inscribed, reasoned about, stored, and accessed in specific genres. Bakhtin
noted that each genre is associated with a specific time and space, or chronotope,
populated by expected types of characters, objects, scenery and other elements,
which then are part of an expected set of unfolding of events (Bakhtin, 1981). Some
genres in fact exist with the specific aim of producing, warranting, evaluating, or
distributing specific forms of knowledge (Bazerman, 1999). Engaged and knowledge-
able participants in activity systems know where relevant knowledge is to be found.
This is an extension of the observation that most of what we consider knowledge
is embodied in linguistically produced artifacts, typically in a written, rather than
purely spoken form. Different kinds of knowledge are produced, warranted, and used
by particular groupings of people who are bound together by series of publications
and related communicative forums in which the typical genres of the groups are pro-
duced, rehearsed, and discussed (Bazerman & Rogers, 2008). Further productions are
intertextually linked to prior texts and the knowledge produced therein. Evidence,
including empirical evidence gathered from outside the textual world, must be gath-
ered and inscribed by methods and forms that are accepted within the knowledge-
producing social group. Only then is the evidence available for evaluation and as
warrant for further knowledge claims. This production, collection, and mutual articu-
lation of knowledge and evidence within disciplinary or professional forms create the
basis of coordinated future action.
When actions require cooperation across many groups of people, it is important
that knowledge is taken up from one sphere of coordinated knowledge to another. This
is a consequence of the fact that different communicative spaces – particular genres
within particular activity systems – gain the attention and belief of different groups
of people, and knowledge does not readily flow from one to another. For example,
the rules and purposes of evidence within the law are very different than those of
science. If scientific knowledge bears on a court case, elaborate procedures for car-
rying information across the boundaries transform the nature and particulars of the
knowledge as well as their operational effect, often leaving scientists unhappy with
what knowledge gets to the courts (see Bazerman, 2009). Thus, large group actions
involving many people in many different roles and configurations must somehow
coordinate their different kinds of knowledge to share recognition of a problem to be
addressed; otherwise, the groups will not be able to act with mutual clarity, convic-
tion, and commitment.
3.3 Knowing the Environment
So how do we know the environment? While we may walk through forests and enjoy
the sounds of birds and refreshing breezes, when we talk of the environment we are
more likely to have in mind things we have read – in public media drawing on specific
scientific literature. Indeed, until recent decades we would not even be likely to refer
to ambient nature as an environment, let alone as an interdependent system. Even
among scientists the concept of environment was an invention of the mid-nineteenth
century (Jessop, 2012) and ecosystem of the 1930’s (Willis, 1997). Both remained of
limited attention and interest until the latter half of the twentieth, circulating only
in a limited set of genres within some biological specializations. Few scientists, let
alone policy makers or citizens, had reason to turn to the pages of journals where the
Within the US public sphere, Rachel Carson’s drawing together of the work of
researchers whose work had not formed a coherent body of knowledge marked the
introduction of the idea of environmental threat as she publicized the problems
created by DDT and other pesticides. Earlier concerns about pollution, such as air pol-
lution from industrial and vehicle emissions were seen more as problems of direct con-
tamination rather than systemic degradation. Carson herself was a government natu-
ralist, who had written a number of popular books of nature appreciation. In writing
Silent Spring (1962, 1995), she created a compelling public account that changed the
public’s ways of viewing their actions as potentially having long-term systemic con-
sequences on the conditions of our life as ramified through complex interdependent
processes (see Waddell, 2000 for useful contexts and analyses of Carson’s book). The
wide circulation of Silent Spring created political and policy discussions leading to
government regulation of pesticides. This pesticide legislation differed from earlier
food and drug regulation by controlling small amounts of chemicals that, though not
immediately destructive, would have long range aggregate consequences. This kind
of reasoning and the need to have associated regulation gave rise to new scientific
specialties such as ecotoxicology that statistically calculated long term results under
field conditions in contrast to the controlled laboratory experiments of traditional
37 Scientific Knowledge, Public Knowledge, andPublic Policy
Knowing the Environment 38
toxicology (see Bazerman & de los Santos, 2005 for a study of the divisions and recon-
ciliations that impeded and eventually allowed evidence to travel between genres of
these specialties). We can also see the continuing effect of the communicative model
Carson created in the introductory comments of Al Gore to the 1995 reissue of Silent
Spring, indicating the direct genre genealogy of Earth in the Balance (Gore, 1992).
For me personally, Silent Spring had a profound impact. It was one of the books we read at home
at my mother’s insistence and then discussed around the dinner table. My sister and I didn’t
like every book that made it to that table, but our conversations about Silent Spring are a happy
and vivid memory. Indeed, Rachel Carson was one of the reasons I became so conscious of the
environment and so involved with environmental issues. Her example inspired me to write Earth
in the Balance, which, not coincidentally, was published by Houghton Mifflin, the company that
stood by Carson through all the controversy and that has since earned a reputation for publi-
shing many fine books about the environmental dangers facing our world. (Gore introduction
to Carson, 1995)
Concurrently, another set of events was creating a related set of genres at the intersec-
tion of science, public issues, and government policy (Bazerman, 2001). We can pick
up this story with the Manhattan Project, which developed the atom bomb under con-
ditions of the highest secrecy. Under the exigencies of WWII, academic science, which
had been used to the free flow of information, acquiesced to the military discipline of
a restricted flow of knowledge. After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic detonations
and the end of the war, scientists exerted pressure to allow open access to the scien-
tific findings (Smith, 1965). Advocates of civilian monitoring and democratic decision
making also wanted the science to be publicly available. The rapid emergence of the
Cold War created new pressures for secrecy, so that major restrictions remained (mon-
itored by the newly-formed Atomic Energy Commission) keeping much of the knowl-
edge about nuclear weaponry and its effects within classified military documents.
However less than a decade later, after atmospheric testing of hydrogen weapons
produced radiation fallout, public pressure increased for more detailed information
about the effects of fallout, particularly strontium 90 (Wittner, 1997). Strontium 90
was chemically similar to calcium, thus fallout onto grasslands was ingested by cows
and concentrated in milk. Children drinking milk from contaminated cows would
then further concentrate the strontium 90 in their bones and teeth.
After government and military sources remained vague on details about fallout
and its effects despite public pressure, an alliance between academic scientists and
citizen groups formed in St. Louis to make knowledge available and pressure for limit-
ing testing and the associated nuclear fallout (Sullivan, 1982). The St. Louis Citizens’
Committee for Nuclear Information began producing newsletters called Information,
then Nuclear Information. Those newsletters provided scientific knowledge from the
perspective of public problems, though presenting the political message only by impli-
cation. The selection and organization of the texts, nonetheless, clearly made evident
governmental actions were putting citizens at threat by disrupting the safe environ-
39 Scientific Knowledge, Public Knowledge, andPublic Policy
ment for human life. The organizers of this movement were self-conscious about
advancing citizen science in the public interest, and were gathered by scientists who
considered themselves as citizens, rather than being in the employ of government,
military or industry. Such scientists would develop their research questions from
public need rather than the internal dynamics of science. The direct linkage between
this movement and the environmental movement is indicated by the name changes
of the newsletter as it transformed into a journal. Nuclear Information became retitled
Scientist and Citizen and then Environment. Even as the articles became more techni-
cal they kept the focus on public problems (Bazerman, 2001).
The increasing public concern for the environment became a major political issue
to which Congress responded with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. The
perceived lack of information available on which to base policy led to the requirement
that an Environmental Impact Statement be produced for any government action that
might affect the environment. The adequacy of this new genre created by fiat has been
a matter of debate; nonetheless, the genre both monitored actions from the citizen’s
perspective and expanded the market for the production of such information. Further,
it identified governmental agencies as responsible parties for the collection of such
information, taking some of the impetus away from grassroots citizen groups (Bazer-
man et al., 2003).
So in less than twenty-years we had new communication channels that fostered
public attention and access to certain kinds of scientific information viewed as rel-
evant for public well-being, particularly because the normal conditions of life were
under threat by human actions. These new communicative channels created a market
for scientists who would adopt a public interest perspective. These channels in turn
fostered new developments within more purely scientific and political communities.
3.4 Knowing about Global Warming
Among the issues taken up in these new communicative spaces was global warming,
as it was then called. Awareness of global warming also had begun in military spon-
sored science. While the concept of greenhouse warming of the atmosphere was first
proposed by Fourier in the 1820’s and revived by the engineer Callendar in 1850, it
initially gathered little attention, and little evidence suggested its reality. Military
interests in the Cold War period, however, led to monitoring of the oceans and atmo-
sphere as potential sites of military engagement. Working for the Office of Naval
Research, Roger Revelle in 1957 noted that recorded ocean uptake of excess CO2 was
less than anticipated, which meant that atmospheric CO2 produced by hydrocar-
bon combustion would be increasing (Weart 2003, 2008). To track this and similar
data the National Center for Atmospheric Research was founded in 1960. In 1970 this
agency was reorganized under a new National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administra-
tion (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce. Most of the foundational research on
Knowing about Global Warming 40
global warming at that time and since has been done by governmental agencies or
under related government funding, often tied to national security concerns, though
increasingly with attention to the potential disruption of everyday life of citizens in
the US and elsewhere. James Hansen, perhaps the leading figure in global warming
science, was employed at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York
City from 1972 to 2013 and was its director from 1981 until he left the Institute. NASA,
although an independent government agency, has been from its founding deeply
intertwined with military interests; nonetheless, it has increasingly addressed more
general citizen concerns.
Much of global warming research has been based on computer models of global
and regional climates, with historic data and projections forward, looking to climate
impacts and turbulence, as well as impacts on sea level, agriculture, and other climate
sensitive phenomena. Recognition of this broader view of the complex impacts of
increasing greenhouse gases has led to the current preference for the term climate
change, with the even more recent preference for the term anthropogenic climate
change, recognizing the role of humans in producing greenhouse gases. Even today,
nonetheless, all three terms are in use by different participants, and in the following
historical account I will follow the usage of each participant I am discussing.
Climate models always have a degree of speculation, extrapolation, and simplifi-
cation so authoritativeness and certainty was an issue from the beginning, with many
competing models and projections, using both different data collections and different
algorithms. Nonetheless, by the mid 1980’s, an increasing numbers of reports raised
alarms about potential harm (see http://www.globalwarmingarchive.com/Timeline.
aspx). In particular governmental reports from the Environmental Protection Agency
in 1983 made public concerns that climate change would begin to be evident in the
1990’s with serious consequences for food production and sea levels. The New York
Times article describing this report had to provide not only an introduction to the
scientific principles of greenhouse warming, and a survey of the evidence, but also a
discussion of the nature of the computational models with their uncertainties (Sha-
becoff, 1983). The public needed to be educated into the scientific issues and given a
primer on atmospheric science in order to understand the issue, evidence, and spe-
cialized form of argument.
The EPA report indicated that by 1983 strong scientific consensus had already
emerged that serious climate change would be occurring because of human produced
carbon dioxide, though there were some differences on timing and severity. A series
of UN sponsored scientific panels also tracked the solidifying scientific consensus. In
1988 the World Meteorological Organization and UN Environment Programme formed
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (http://www.ipcc.ch/). The
first assessment report of the IPCC in 1990 expressed some differences and uncertain-
ties about the specific scenarios that might unfold, but confirmed the importance of
the issue and established a framework for addressing the climate change issue and
gathering data for future reports. The second assessment report in 1995 confirmed
with confidence the existence and magnitude of global warming and offered specific
projections. This report formed the framework for deliberations of the Kyoto Proto-
col in 1997. The third assessment in 2001 presented strong evidence that change had
already occurred, examined the mechanisms of the change, and offered options for
intervention. The fourth assessment in 2007 noted substantial effects that had already
occurred and will be continuing, and offered scenarios that might mitigate the conse-
quences. The fifth assessment in 2014 reported that human activity had raised emis-
sions of greenhouse gases to the highest in history, already impacting human and
natural systems, with greater impacts and risks to come, even if emissions were to be
stopped immediately. The assessment identified some pathways for mitigation and
adaptation to reduce the worst risks, and became a central background document
to the Paris Agreement of 2015. The sixth assessment is scheduled to be completed
3.5 Knowledge for Policy Action
It is quite unusual for adjudication panels to be formed in science, as codification of
knowledge is usually left to implicit processes of review, citation, and incorporation
into future work, reviews, and textbooks (Bazerman, 1991). The EPA and IPCC reports,
based on panel judgments and circulation among wide numbers of scientists for their
approval, indicate firstly the intersection with policy and public concerns and sec-
ondly that governmental action and intergovernmental cooperation require a high
degree of sharing of knowledge considered authoritative and trustworthy. A citation
count or review of the literature is not an adequate sign of scientific agreement for
governmental policy action. Rather a governmentally or intergovernmentally autho-
rized body must authenticate findings with the explicit comment of a wide sample of
the authoritative scientists in the area.
But scientific consensus, even government-authorized adjudication of consen-
sus, is not enough for concerted action. The knowledge needs to gain the belief and
commitment of segments of the population and institutional groups who will have to
cooperate with the action. Earlier citizen engagement with environmental knowledge
had already spread through journalism, specialized reports, and non-fiction public
problem policy books by the 1990’s laying the grounds for public knowledge and sub-
stantial public consensus that climate change was occurring. By 1992, 68% of the
US public believed that global warming was real as a phenomenon – a number, that
despite a dip in 1994 – has since only increased to around 75% with under 20% skep-
tical. Recent polls indicate that concern about global warming continues to increase
along with belief that effects are already being seen (Saad, 2017). Curiously, however
beliefs about scientific certainty lagged behind with 28% of the sampled public
believing that there was scientific certainty in 1994, 46 % percent in 1997, 61 % in 2001
and 65% in 2006. The bulk of the other responders, however, rather than exhibiting
41 Scientific Knowledge, Public Knowledge, andPublic Policy
Interfering with what Publics and Governments Know 42
belief that scientists were not convinced rather stated they were unsure (58% in 1994,
37 % in 1997, 30% in 1991, and 29% in 2006). This indicates that the overwhelming
certainty among scientists, expressed in the 1983 EPA and 1995 IPCC reports was not
being communicated clearly to segments of the public, even though awareness of the
phenomenon had. In 1994 there was a 29% disparity between citizens’ own certainty
and their estimate of scientific certainty, 21 % in 1997, 16% in 2001 (Nisbet & Myers,
2007). More recent polling, however, indicates greater public awareness of scientific
consensus (Saad, 2017).
Government under the Clinton administration also expressed strong alignment
with knowledge about global warming, evident in reports, websites and other docu-
ments, as did the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment reports in the early
1990’s (though Congress eliminated the agency in 1995). The Clinton Administration
was also active in negotiating and supporting the Kyoto protocols in 1997. Vice Presi-
dent Al Gore in particular advanced many environmental initiatives and advocated
for the Kyoto Protocol.
3.6 Interfering with what Publics and Governments Know
Republican control of Congress in 1994 and the Bush presidency in 2001 changed the
stance of branches of government and their role in the knowledge process, follow-
ing the interests of the corporate sector. The corporate sector generally resisted the
emerging consensus about global warming and did its best to disrupt communica-
tion and alignment of knowledge within the public and government. This is the story
behind the Republican Congressional opposition in the 1990s, the Bush positions,
and the curious anomalies in the public perception of science.
But before we go into the specifics of the activities of the corporate sector, par-
ticularly the energy sector, we need to look at the underlying causes of the stance they
take toward the environment from a genre and knowledge perspective. Businesses
typically have a short to middle range time horizon on making financial decisions to
enhance profitability and growth in the foreseeable future, usually from one to eight
years (Das, 1987; Naylor & Schauland, 1976). The uncertainty of long range, or even
middle range, economic forecasting also mitigates against longer planning. What
planning does occur has to rely on historic conditions and trends. Thus, the genres
that collect knowledge for decision-making and then attempt to extrapolate forward
consider the future much like the past. Projections beyond the immediate upcoming
quarters and years fade from view, particularly futures that might incorporate radical
changes in conditions. In publicly held companies, further, maintaining or increas-
ing stock prices through growth of quarter-to-quarter profits keeps calculations even
more in the near term. This short time frame has been further tightened by the tying of
executive compensation to stock prices through options and bonuses. In this short to
middle time frame, climate change does not turn up substantially in past or projected
balance sheets and thus does not seriously enter into calculations. Losses through
extreme weather and other natural disasters are covered by insurance. At worst,
increased risk of climate induced disasters turns up as increased casualty insurance
premiums – in most industries not a significant cost. It is only when predictable
changes in sales might occur as a result of changing consumer needs and desires
(such as a cultural preference for green products) or changes in production costs
(such as caused by climate-related agricultural shortages) would the climate really be
worth taking into account. Government regulation and other mandated adjustments
might put greater pressure on the business model, and thus concerted government
action on climate change would be more of a threat to projected profitability (the core
goal in corporate economic planning) than direct loss from global warming.
The insurance industry, however, has for centuries had a longer time frame for
data gathering and planning. Since its business is built on balancing current income
against rarely occurring events, the insurance industry since the seventeenth century
has developed actuarial tools of determining long-term costs and risks and match-
ing that to current income and profitability. Accordingly, the insurance industry has
developed genres for displaying the long-time frame and calculating profit within
it. Even more directly, climate-induced disasters incur direct business expenses and
cannot be laid off to anyone else, except maybe the large reinsurers. Therefore, it is
quite understandable that insurance, with the reinsurers leading the way, was the
first industry to recommend action on global warming. By early 1990s some European
insurers became concerned with global warming’s impact on their industry (Mollin,
1993). Large reinsurers such as Munich Reinsurance Company hired their own mete-
orologists and climatologists to prepare internal reports (Mills, 1998). Indeed, the
industry began encouraging eco-friendly behavior and basing investments on envi-
ronmental and sustainability audits (Hoeppe & Berz, 2005).
But for most industries, action to mitigate climate change was calculated to be
more costly than the effects of the change itself. Climate change action might even
require a fundamental restructuring of industry and restriction on business. The oil,
coal, and electrical power industries, in particular, began to pay worried attention
to predictions about global warming as early as the late 1970s before any substantial
public, political, or public policy awareness had emerged. But as scientific knowl-
edge gained activist, political and even government attention, suppressing informa-
tion about global warming became less possible. Instead, the energy sector adopted
a strategy to disrupt the confidence and direction of the emerging public discussion
of what, if anything, needed to be done. This tactic, called agnotology (Proctor &
Schiebinger, 2008, see also Michaels, 2008) – the active production of uncertainty –
was first developed by the tobacco lobby to maintain the appearance of “controversy”
which undermined certainty of knowledge with its imperative for action. The strategy
was carried out by producing the appearance of scientific disagreement through mag-
nification of minor differences and the sponsored production of legitimate seeming
but questionable research that appeared to contradict more independent and solid
43 Scientific Knowledge, Public Knowledge, andPublic Policy
Interfering with what Publics and Governments Know 44
work. Then, on the basis of this manufactured appearance of uncertainty, lobbies
could argue for more research, delays in action, or simply avoiding action that might
appear as an expensive and unnecessary gamble.
One of the key organizations for this production of disruptive knowledge about
global warming became the George C. Marshall Institute, which had previously been
engaged in arguing for Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, known as Star Wars.
Interestingly, two of the key players in this organization as it turned its attention
to energy had long experience with the production of quasi science for the tobacco
lobby. S. Frederick Seitz, chair of the Marshall Institute, was a consultant to tobacco
company RJ Reynolds until 1989. S. Fred Singer, who authored 35 Institute-sponsored
articles and books questioning global warming, had also learned this strategy through
tobacco research (Oreskes & Conway, 2010). As part of the same strategy, ExxonMo-
bil beginning in 1987 sponsored a series of misleading public statements question-
ing climate change (Supran & Oreskes, 2017), and after the negotiation of the Kyoto
accord funded the “Cooler Heads Coalition” to argue against US ratification.
The energy lobby found its allies in the political sphere where they brought the
knowledge disruption tactics first to Congress and then to the Bush administration, so
government deliberations also could not be carried out in an atmosphere of scientific
certainty. Frank Luntz, a chief Republican political strategist, in a 2002 memo urged
the Republicans to “make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue” (Burkeman,
2003). Republican Senator James Inhofe, who since his election to the Senate in 1994
had called global warming a fraud, in 2003 became chair of the Senate Committee
on Environment and Public Works and organized hearings to make that case. When
George W. Bush became president, his administration almost immediately announced
it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol. Further, the White House then began to
participate in the disruption of public certainty about scientific knowledge. Previ-
ous reports were expunged from the EPA website, and new scientific reports were
edited by a lawyer Philip Cooney who had previously been a lobbyist for the American
Petroleum Institute. His handiwork typically involved adding words such as perhaps,
maybe, or uncertainty at key locations in scientific reports that had originally been
drafted with full certainty (Revkin, 2005). The US National Assessment on Climate
Change, mandated by the UN, was near silent on global warming. The 600-page draft
of the 2003 report had only six paragraphs on climate change; the White House then
deleted five and added a reference to an ExxonMobil-funded study disputing the
global warming hypothesis (Revkin, 2003). So as to further disrupt the flow of sub-
stantial scientific information, James Hansen, still head of the Goddard Institute, was
ordered not to speak publicly on global warming issues. Only under court order, in
its closing days, after a four-year delay and too late to influence any policies, did the
Bush administration release a legislatively mandated report of the impact of global
warming (Revkin, 2008).
The new Obama administration in 2009 realigned with scientific knowledge, with
new government reports, websites, and proposals acting in consonance with science.
Extensive scientific data was made publicly available through the websites. The
administration supported legislation to decrease carbon dioxide through cap-and
trade – which creates economic incentives by setting emissions allowances which
can then be traded on a market. Gaining congressional approval, however, presented
a challenge and no law emerged, as will be examined in the next chapter in this
volume. Nonetheless, the Obama administration engaged in international negotia-
tion in Copenhagen in 2009 and Paris in 2015, resulting in the Paris Agreement, to
which the US committed by executive action, avoiding Congressional deliberation.
Despite congressional resistance to the accord, the Obama administration began
implementing the commitments through his previously initiated Presidential Climate
Action Plan and Clean Power Plan.
The election in 2016 of Donald Trump, however, again reversed direction.
While Trump earlier in his career had, prior to the Copenhagen climate conference,
co-signed a paid advertisement in The New York Times on December 6, 2009 calling for
action on climate change (Adler & Leber, 2016; Davenport & Lipton, 2017), as a candi-
date he repeatedly claimed climate change was a hoax for the benefit of the Chinese,
scientists, and other interests. Immediately upon his inauguration, the EPA and other
governmental sites began to remove climate change data or make it less accessible
(Davenport, 2017; Mooney & Eilperin, 2017). In anticipation of the Trump’s admin-
istration’s attempt to change the public record on climate change, scientists began
to preserve on independent servers the data from US government websites (Dennis,
2016; Holthaus 2016). Trump also withdrew Obama’s Presidential Climate Action
Plan and Clean Power Plan (Davenport & Rubin, 2017) and announced his intention
to withdraw the U.S from the Paris Agreement. While the Trump administration has
obscured where it stands on climate change and climate change denial has regained
force with the political right (Davenport & Lipton, 2017), local jurisdictions such as
states (Bromwich, 2017), cities, universities, and corporations have aggressively regu-
lated greenhouse gases and invested in green energy and other technologies. Con-
sortia of these local jurisdictions are forming to coordinate their efforts (Tabuchi &
Fountain, 2017) and have the potential of entering into international efforts in lieu of
national US withdrawal (Hernández & Nagourney, 2017).
So, we are now in a position in the US where different groupings of people know
different things, with different collections of knowledge visible within their systems
of reasoning, justification, and calculation. This is despite almost all other countries
now being in agreement as signatories of the Paris Agreement and implementing
related domestic policies, including China, India, and the EU. In the US however,
the efforts of different groups pull in different directions and remain uncoordinated,
lacking a common understanding of the problems facing society as a whole, let alone
how they can pursue their separate interests and concerns within a shared set of facts.
The state of knowledge within each of these systems is the product of ongoing epis-
temic work of creating effective speech acts or contesting the speech acts of others, to
45 Scientific Knowledge, Public Knowledge, andPublic Policy
Final Comments 46
leave sets of facts standing, obliterate others, or create uncertainty to weaken the will
and focus of action.
Within the uncertainties that face us as the material, political, and economic situ-
ations unfold on the global stage, one thing seems certain: what people do depends
on what the social and institutional groups that they participate in know, and that
what these groups know is the result of active rhetorical work to represent and justify
the knowledge which is the basis of problem definition and action. That struggle for
which knowledge gets represented with the certainty that demands action will not
end until the problem is considered resolved or moot for all interested parties. For
example, at one time the genealogy of various European royal families was a major
concern to establish legitimacy of regimes, but now it is mostly moot as political
changes have made claims of royal lineage matters mainly for the social register. Sim-
ilarly, complex identification and parsing of various sins and their place in various
circles of hell are no longer much of a theological concern. But the facts of climate
change are currently very much of a concern, with impacts for all and needed engage-
ment of all in solutions.
3.7 Final Comments
This chapter highlights how certainty of knowledge comes about through coordinated
information within key knowledge genres in each sphere, how certainty expressed in
the genres of one sphere does not necessarily translate into certainty of knowledge in
others, how alignment of knowledge across the genres of different spheres is neces-
sary for coordinated action on complex matters, and how disruption of knowledge
translation can be disruptive of action. With respect to the environment the case of
anthropogenic climate change has highlighted the centrality of science as a producer
of authoritative knowledge; the necessity and difficulty of getting other spheres to
attend to and understand the scientific consensus in order to incorporate the find-
ings into their reasoning; and the power of disrupting that process of shared knowl-
edge construction and deliberation. Further, this case has highlighted the role of the
federal government within the US system has taken as a central gatherer, authorizer,
disseminator, and site of action calculation – and how disrupting government pro-
cesses of knowledge can disrupt action initiatives, even when science and the public
remain convinced of anthropogenic climate change, and the disruptive insertion of
distracting claims and inappropriate doubts is transparently obvious to all players.
Not only does disruption of government knowledge stall the internal deliberations
and actions of the US government, but also places major obstacles within interna-
tional climate negotiations.
Finally, while national governments play such a central role in the production,
sponsorship, authentication, and dissemination of knowledge as well as its direct use
for deliberation on action, we should remember that all governments are beholden to
many forces and pressures. While the US government took on some responsibility for
the citizens’ need for knowledge and action, citizens as citizens are not its only client.
Actions in the name of citizens can often be betrayed or hijacked by other interests,
so that citizens must maintain citizen genres of knowledge production and evalua-
tion of knowledge from other spheres. They must then monitor government knowl-
edge and actions within certain genres of inspection and evaluation, and must mount
political pressure through various communicative genres to hold the government to
its responsibility for maintaining and acting on solid science in the public interest.
However, when government defaults or draws back, disrupting what is known from
scientists, other actors, such as industry, activists, individuals, and other political
jurisdictions can attempt to step in. These in turn may become political forces that
will impact the government, as political knowledge is the specialty of governments,
and it cannot deny the facts of political forces as long as a semblance of democratic
procedures remain. Vote counting, fundraising, actions of other government bodies
in a distributed federal system with separation of powers among branches – these
form facts that are noted and calculated within democratic governments whether
climate knowledge is viewed to be firm or uncertain.
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