|2/13||Class: Matauranga Maori|
|2/14||Class: Clean Water Myth|
|2/15||Climate Change and New Zealand’s Future|
|2/16||New Zealand’s role in the IPCC|
|3/12||Science communication and psychological biases|
|3/14||Art-Science collaborations and Climate Change|
|3/15||Creative Science Writing|
2/13 Mātauranga- Maori & Core Maori concepts
What struck me about today’s lecture is how integral language and stories are to the persistence of a culture and a people. In her lecture, Dr. Pauline Harris, an astrophysicist and Maori astronomy expert, outlined some core Maori concepts- including whakapapa (genealogy), mauri (life force), tikanga (protocols), tapu (sacred), and mana (power, authority). It seems wrong for me to sum up these values with one word translations, and that is the point I think. Language and values defy translation, and this is why the persistence of te reo is so important to the resilience of Maori culture. Without language, cultures risk becoming a translation, relegated and stuck in the past by outsiders who do not know better.
This lesson reminded me of my research last semester, specifically coming across the word kaitiakitanga and its use in environmental management legislation. In my research, kaitiakitanga is translated in legislation as simply stewardship. At first glance, it might seem that use of this word, and other Maori language is a sign of inclusive partnership and collaboration- an attention to Maori values in conservation. And yet, the critique of this use of a one-word English translation is that it easily leads to reduction of stories, history, and culture that contextual it. Kaitiakitanga means stewardship, but it also means reciprocal guardianship, community-driven, responsibility. Without this more holistic definition, the meaning is lost and its use for conservation is distorted. Holding decision-makers accountable with their use of language is important so that they do not slip into actions simply to make them look good. In order to hold these institutions accountable, continued and evolving use of language is important because it holds these stories tucked inside its words, just as Dr. Ocean Mercier said science is tucked inside traditional indigenous stories.
2/14 Class: Clean Water Myth
Mike Joy, a nationally famous freshwater scientist and activist, seems to be on a one man mission to hack away at New Zealand’s “clean, green” image. Not out of spite, but out of concern and passion. Combining his scientific expertise with an activist’s heart, Joy is a perfect representation of our science communication lessons in action. One of the readings for this class, on the value of humanities to science, was a perfect pair for his lecture and for our science communication class as a whole. This reading highlighted the importance of understanding the big picture. Scientists often don’t try to understand how problems connect to social systems. While scientific studies can unearth the mechanisms of a problem, they do not really present solutions, especially in the social and political world we live in. And so, this is this is where those who study humanities can step in. They can place the problem in its context, see how the problem came to be and imagine an alternative. A reading for another class discussed the power of imagination to suspend disbelief and come up with creative solutions.
Mike Joy seems to be able to do both, but just as in science communication (e.g. science journalism or art-science collaborations, discussed later), there is strength in having these roles separated. Joy is acclaimed for his activism, but he is also a controversial figure. Scientists often get flack for speaking out or speaking beyond their expertise. Joy is criticized for pushing against the status quo, trying to break apart the 100% Pure image- this is admirable, but is the criticism valid? Could Joy improve his communication to push progress forward even more. The lecturer for the proceeding class talks about the psychology of argument. It seems that Mike Joy’s passion could easily be mistaken for fanaticism, pushing potential allies away. A shift from knowledge-transfer (assuming one side has all of the correct knowledge and needs to educate the uninformed), to knowledge-sharing (both sides have valuable knowledge) could be a more effective strategy. Mike Joy is fighting for clean rivers, but the other side of that issue is dairy farming- not only New Zealand’s major economic export, but also many family’s livelihoods. Recognizing the position of the other side would allow Joy to work with them towards collaborative and innovative reforms.
2/15- CC and NZ’s Future
This lecture on the psychology of persuasion (in relation to climate change) was a really helpful precursor to later lessons on different forms of science communication, from science and art to science journalism to activism. Professor Rhian Salmon talked about different forms of knowledge exchange- knowledge transfer, knowledge sharing, and knowledge building. Knowledge sharing is the idea of filling a gap in someone’s understanding. With controversial subjects, however, confirmation bias tells us that people tend to actively reject facts that contradict their world-view. Knowledge-sharing, therefore, is not effective with controversial subjects, such as climate change.
This lesson reminded me of my Climate Science class in which we had to have an in-depth conversation about climate change with someone who disagreed with us. In preparing for this assignment, we learned about climate communication in museums, and about effective strategies for correcting misunderstandings in climate science. This information, however, was more within the knowledge-transfer model, not very effective for those who do not agree with the presumed knowledge. With this new knowledge, I know that facts are not effective in convincing someone of your argument, but then what is? At this point, I think the best place to start is just to listen and try to understand. It seems this is the first step in knowledge-building.
2/16- Climate Change- Dan Zwartz
Meeting with Dan Zwartz, New Zealand representative to the UNFCCC and contributor to the IPCC, felt slightly like meeting a global celebrity only less paparazzi. Because of my Climate Science class, I have been steeped in IPCC reports and have come to know those facts and figures very well. Meeting someone who helped to make them was beyond exciting, and he really cemented the importance of science communication for me.
Something that really struck me was how painstaking the figure making process in those reports turns out to be. The process is not only scientific, but political and social, and with real impact. Presenting global data, about distribution of effects or vulnerability, is difficult with inherent power hierarchies between countries. Because of this, Zwartz revealed that the creation and revision of graphs and figures takes hours and days. This anecdote alone demonstrates the power and responsibility of effective science communication.
And yet, the IPCC reports are essentially unreadable for a layperson audience. For the authorities on climate change, is this kind of unaccessible communication acceptable? Our Adam Corner reading for the class talked about how the level of trust for scientists is dependent on speaking authentically and with personal experiences. The IPCC reports may be very authoritative but it is not necessary relatable. This seems like a place for improvement for this institution.
- Communicating the science is a much-needed step for UN climate panel Adam Corner
- “By and large, scientists are highly trusted because of their independence, specialist expertise, and credibility. But trust is also about speaking authentically, as a relatable individual, with personal experiences and perspectives (not just a compelling grasp of the data).”
- “Biggest uncertainty in any climate model is human behavior”
2) Handbook for communicating IPCC 6 principles- authentic voice, facts are necessary but not sufficient, connect with human impacts, lead with what you know, effective visual comm
3/12 – Science communication
The need for science communication and a scientifically literate society does not sound ostensibly controversial. However, our lecture today from Dacia Herbulock, Director of the Science Media Center, brought to light the very many points of conflict that exist in this endeavor. One main cleavage that struck me was the divergent values and processes that plague communication between scientists and journalists, as well as the ways that changes in each field affects the other. For example, threats to journalistic integrity from ever tightening budgets and changing media landscapes means less specialist science journalists and decreasing institutional memory about what sources and leads to trust. Scientists, therefore, have less media relationships and less opportunity to coherently share complex research affecting the public. The article, “Science, the Media, Public Communication of Science” discussed other differences, such as journalists seeing news as dramatic and dynamic while scientists see it as long-term and vetted. Despite these differences and challenges, there is still a large demand for science reporting and publically available scientific research. Ultimately, the goal is the same- inform the public, continue learning- despite the opposing methods and values that inform that process.
One question that comes up for me when learning about these problems- is there conflict between being a good scientist and a good science communicator? Should one person play both parts, or should we think of them as separate roles (i.e. journalists and scientists)? I have come to the conclusion that we do need trained reporters bringing scientific news to the public just as much as we need scientists with their eye towards sharing their work and ensuring an informed society.
3/13- Environmental History
New Zealand is a Polynesian country, as we’ve learned from our previous lecturers in the STS course, but it is not the tropical climate one would expect from a country of this category. Our Environmental History lecture explained how this shift from a typical tropical climate to the more temperate regions of New Zealand meant climatic limitations and adaptation for the newly arrived Polynesian settlers. I found these adaptations very interesting, especially extending patterns to what we see today in the country’s ecology.
Some examples of these adaptations include the longer period of nutrient cycling which made farming more difficult and led to more intensive use of swidden and large areas of landscape change. The adaptations to resource scarcity after an initial period of abundance is also recorded in archeological and oral records. Changing behaviors include diet shifts from marine mammals and moa to kai moana (seafood), and settlement shifts from kainga (open) to pa (fortified villages). Protocol about temporary tapu and enforcing deities are also partially a result of this scarcity.
These stories challenge the often told narrative of indigenous people as part of nature without agency or ability to control the land around them until white settlers arrive to teach them. As we already knew from the extinction of Moa, and we now know with the evidence of fire farming, Maori certainly had the agency and ability to interact with their land in a multitude of ways- including exploitation and extraction.
3/14- Art- Science Collaborations and Climate Change
Many of the lecturers we’ve had in this STS module have helped me understand how strong interdisciplinary work is often intrinsic, connections do not have to be forced they are there just beneath the surface. We saw this with Pauline Harris’ Maori astronomy research, and with the psychology of science communication and argument. Today’s lecture about Science-art collaborations and climate change is another example of these seamless dialogues through which both parties are strengthened. As discussed in the lecture, politics and science is necessary but potentially paralyzing. Using emotion, art can move people beyond this point. Good art can engage “radical imagination”, allowing viewers to question and challenge and conceive of alternatives immensely useful for the political and scientific communities.
Like the challenges of science communication, where the values and methods of journalism and science can clash if communication breaks down, art and science are not ostensibly compatible. Science has a goal of objectivity, of bringing people out of their environment to see a ‘truth’, while art aims to be subjective, to confront people with their environment to gain a ‘truth’. This is where the bridge between the two is difficult but also necessary, and it brings me to ask what is the point of art-science collaborations? Is it to explain complexity in a more digestible visual way? Is it trying to use science as a theatrical backdrop? Is it trying to capture people’s curiosity to dive deeper? The art we saw in class today, from performances around scientific trench sites to audio and videos of glacial melt, pointed towards theatricality and capturing attention. They, in a sense, were an “illusion”, as one of the artist’s articulated, that does not depict with scientific accuracy but points to something larger. This serves a purpose, as does art-science collaborations in museums that serve to help viewers understand the science, not just inspire interest. Our lecturer ended class by posing that perhaps art is not the solution, but it sure can be part of it.
3/15 Creative science writing
Again, with today’s class, I began thinking about the purpose that art-science collaborations serve. Creative science writing takes many forms. We read exploration notes, personal travel journals, creative first-person point of view accounts from sea creatures, and poems. They all served different purposes, and not all of them well- from humanizing the scientific process and distant natural phenomenon, to understanding complex scientific facts better. Creative science writing seems to be a combination of our lessons in science journalism and science-art collaborations. Just as in these discussions, creative science writing can serve a very useful purpose of humanizing scientific processes and making them more relatable. I think this practice is just as useful as the science itself.
After discussing this with a classmate, he brought up the idea of environmental writing and the U.S. history of this field. The environmental history lectured covered the romanticism and reverence that accompanied the early preservation movement, where nature was seen as awe-inspiring, pristine, and fearful. This early period of writers and advocates, such as John Muir, did not escape the traps of preciousness, earnestness, and reverence that Rebecca warned about in class. Perhaps it is because they started these trends. The crimes go beyond cliched writings however, viewing nature through a lens of preciousness and reverence can blind onlookers to what is really in front of them- not pristine, but a web of the biophysical natural world and world with human influence. Even in the farthest reaches of “nature” it is impossible to escape this web simply because if you seeing it there is a human presence. Creative science writing, and by extension environmental writing, must work hard against this dangerous tendency of erasing humans in nature. As we can learn from early environmental writing, this trend can lead to real people and cultures being displaced from their “pristine” homelands or stripped of agency as “ a part of nature”. On the other hand, however, creative science writing has the power to right these wrongs by unveiling truthfully the world they really see in front of them, unearthing imagined romanticised realities. This can be its role regardless of the diverse forms it takes.