Author Archives: klangbehn

About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550

Boundary Organizations and Science, Policy and Decision making

Adam Parris provides an extremely insightful perspective on the need for “boundary organizations” in science policy conversations. Rhetoricians of science approach boundary work with the same type of pragmatism that Parris describes is necessary for facilitating conversations between scientists and decision makers.

If we want science that is relevant to society, we need these types of experts – those who can negotiate competing vocabularies, environments, and motivations for collaboration and build mutually beneficial relationships between scientists and decision makers.

Regional Climate Adaptation to Sea Level Rise: An Opportunity for the Rhetoric of Science Policy

Earlier this week, Emergency Management published an article on Connecticut’s newly developed Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation, a joint project between UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA. The goals of the Institute follow a bottom-up approach, which as Miranda Schreurs explains in “From the Bottom Up: Local and Subnational Climate Change Politics,” is where implementation of national climate change policies and programs must occur (also cited: Bianci, Cruz & Nakamara, 2005). Additionally, she writes:

There is growing recognition of the need to focus both more practical and scholarly attention on the climate policies and programs of state (prefectural, provincial), regional, metropolitan, and local levels of government (Linstroth & Bell, 2007; Lundqvist & Biel, 2007; Ruth, 2006). Such research is also critical for improving our understanding of the obstacles preventing yet greater activity and effectiveness in local and state climate programs and measures.

In the Connecticut project, UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA are collaborating to work directly with property owners and community leaders to secure the tools, knowledge, and financing that is necessary to respond to SLR, storm surge, urban flooding, etc.

What’s most interesting to me, from a rhetorical perspective, is one of the Institute’s goals, to:

“create a climate-literate public that understands its vulnerabilities to a changing climate and uses that knowledge to make scientifically informed, environmentally sound decisions”.

One of the purposes of the (still-developing) sub-discipline of the rhetoric of science policy is to focus on problems inherent in the science-policy interface: namely, how scientific data ought to be communicated in ways that are customized to a particular public/community’s perspectives and experiences*. Essentially, the purpose of a researcher in the discipline of rhetoric of science policy is to analyze and construct scientific communication so that it is relevant and palatable to a particular public’s values, beliefs, and interests. Therefore, I see the Connecticut Institute’s goal – to create a climate-literate public … and to get this public/community to make informed decisions – as an example of the types of problems that the rhetoric of science policy seeks to provide solutions to. By identifying the specific perspectives, experiences and interests of a particular community (through the rhetorical method of audience analysis) messages about climate change can be carefully crafted – and customized (via rhetorical framing) – to match those perspectives and interests, so that ultimately they have more traction than less focused messages (because of ethical persuasion and use of powerful terms that resonate with a community’s values, beliefs, and experiences).


It’s often very difficult to explain exactly what a rhetorician of science policy does … and this goal provides an opportunity to clarify how to use a seemingly theoretical discipline pragmatically …


*Rhetorical theory follows that citizens tend to judge better when they consider matters related to their own ends – matters that are personally significant – than when they strive to take on a perspective detached from those concerns (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b29, 1140b11)

Time to Shift the Climate Change Debate

It’s time to shift the climate change debate. It’s time to move on from circular arguments about whether humans are responsible for causing climate change or not to more productive conversations about economic opportunities. But how can we achieve this type of bipartisan communication about productive responses to climate change effects?

My opinion is that the way to achieve better communication is to first, ignore the human-induced climate change debate. It distracts from the real issues and it doesn’t deserve a response because it is not a valid or productive argument; it is a circular debate and by responding to it, we become participants in the very argument that has the power to delay and prevent policy making that can enhance everyday life and provide increased safety, security, and economic opportunity. But simply ignoring the human-induced climate change debate is not enough. Therefore, instead of responding to arguments about human-induced climate change, we ought to emphasize the need to respond to what we can visibly see (e.g., in the case of South Florida, urban flooding, storm surge, sewer overflow, etc.) and emphasize the exorbitant economic costs of not responding to these visible effects (see this article by Christie Todd Whitman for an excellent, Republican perspective about the need to respond to climate change). I don’t think it will ever be possible to provide compelling enough evidence to a climate change denier (e.g., Governor Scott) to change his/her stance, but I do think it is possible to shift the language of the argument such that the same ends (adaptation and mitigation policies) are strategically achieved. The bottom line here is the need to respond to the problems that we can visibly see, not on the obligation to react to the ever-frustrating, back-and-forth of debate about whether human-induced climate change is a “fact” or not.

Developing these sorts of responses is the work of scholars and researchers in the rhetoric of science policy. I firmly believe that yes, a rhetoric of science policy is possible, and it is the purpose and goal of my dissertation to analyze this debate using decision-making tools that can generate reports of argumentative analyses – the terms of the debate – that can then be used to develop productive political frames showing how to accomplish these goals … in order to answer the following question:


How can we shift the climate change paradigm to emphasize longer-term thinking and the development of robust, dynamic policies that take (inevitable) changes into consideration?



Taking Responsibility For What We Already Know About Sea Level Rise: Do We Want To Be Risk Managers Or Visionaries?

In a TBT article published this past Friday, Governor Scott re-affirmed his perspective on climate change and, in particular, sea level rise. When asked whether sea level rise will be a threat to his house, he responded:


I’m not a scientist, but I can tell you what,

we’re going to make sure we continue to make the right investments in the state

to take care of our environment.

We love living here.”

Previously, in 2011, he confirmed that he has

“not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change.”

Both of these statements prove just how illogical and disconnected the climate change debate has become: when asked about sea level rise, Scott responds with an unrelated, ambiguous assertion about environmental protection. “Taking care of our environment” is a downright illogical answer to the question of the effects of sea level rise: even though taking care of the environment is tangentially related, sea level rise has more to do with consequences like storm surge, urban flooding, power failure, etc. – and not directly about environmental protection. Assertions like Scott’s, which only add to a circular debate about whether or not humans are responsible for climate change, are completely unproductive and, in my opinion, completely irresponsible. Instead of responding to what we already know about the potential scenarios of how sea level rise will ultimately impact our state – and what is visibly evident in the form of flooding, etc. – Scott says he’ll react: stating that Florida’s emergency management division will handle any flooding problems. Right now, this type of reaction is working reasonably well (if we’re amenable to the ~$30,000 price tag on merely 4 inches of flooding in a ~2,000 square foot home). But this type of reaction is a short-term fix that will probably work out in his favor (his $11.5 million beachfront property probably won’t see sustainable damage from storm surge while he still inhabits it). And after all, that was the question he was asked (will sea level rise be a threat to your house). But this type of reaction is almost certain not to work out in favor of generations in the near future. Genuinely investing in the state means taking action now to ensure its viability – economically, environmentally, and socially – for future residents, which in this case, means prioritizing how we can respond to what we already know about the potential scenarios for how sea level rise will affect our state, as opposed to ignoring those scenarios because they haven’t been proven yet or because they won’t occur within his gubernatorial term.

If Scott genuinely cares about making the “right investments in the state” now, he would respond to the immediate and visible threat of storm surge as it is affecting Tampa and Miami, and invest in adaptations that will ensure that these areas are more resilient to sea level rise. It’s a matter of efficiency and responsibility – given what we know, how can we more efficiently respond to the circumstances?

Throughout the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the climate change debate – arguments over whether humans are responsible for climate change or not – and I’ve come to the conclusion that arguments on both sides hinge on responsibility and civic engagement. How we choose to act about what we know now. One side of the debate eschews responsibility by claiming that we do now know with certainty that humans have caused climate change. They use this claim (which is true) as justification for inaction. Since when have we required certain proof as a precondition for making a responsible decision? The other side of the debate accepts responsibility for the effects of humans’ actions on the planet’s climate, which isn’t to say that all of our actions have negative implications or evil intentions; it’s simply to admit to our degree of influence on the planet’s changing climate. Taking this side of the debate doesn’t have to be an admission of wrongdoing.  But admitting to our influence implies that we ought to be responsibility for the affects; responding to the visible effects of climate change (storm surge, urban flooding, power failure).

The way out of this debate is to decide between two options.

  • Do we want to be risk managers, who react and attempt to mitigate negative consequences – do we really want to wait for certain proof that humans have caused climate change before we take responsibility for its affects?
  • Or do we want to be visionaries, who use the (imperfect) knowledge that we have now to conjure up good enough scenarios and figure out how to make them happen in an economically viable and environmentally and socially responsible way?

The debate hinges on responsibility and how deeply and critically we feel a sense of responsibility for our long-term influence – however significant – on our environment. Scott says he “loves living here” but if he genuinely wants to “make the right investments in our state” he’ll take responsibility for considering how to invest in our state’s resiliency so that future residents can love living here as much as he does.

Is a rhetoric of science policy possible via a knowledge map?

In “Why Political Partisans Don’t Like Facts,” Sunstein cites research that argues that cultural cognition shapes our reactions to science (Kahan) and that “our values affect our assessment of purely factual claims, even in highly technical areas” (1). Additionally, in explaining the partisanship that exists over how to respond to climate change, he writes that “the most powerful economic interests (such as the coal industry) have far greater influence within the Republican Party” (2). As a rhetorician studying the implications of the science-policy interface as it plays out for the issue of climate change, I see two key rhetorical terms within these arguments: values and interests.

Values, in terms of the study of rhetoric (and in particular, the rhetoric of scientific communication and policy) are determined through a rigorous analysis of the discourse, texts, and communication that an audience considers significant for informing a particular topic. For instance, in order to determine the values held by South Florida residents on the issue of climate change adaptation, I would analyze texts like the Southeast Florida Climate Compact’s Community Planning Act, a document that details how Broward County/ Ft. Lauderdale will identify areas that are most vulnerable to sea level rise, severe flooding, etc. and then prioritize funding for infrastructure that will make these areas more resilient. Analyzing this policy/text would require that I identify unique and frequently used terms that characterize this debate, so that if I were to organize an argument directed to this particular community about the issue of sea level rise and flooding, I would be sure to leverage those same terms because they resonate with the values of my audience. The importance of values, in terms of rhetoric, is that they are what I call “pivot” terms; terms that any relevant and logical argument ought to revolve around. Additionally, values are community-specific – they are articulated differently given different communities’ perception of the challenges and opportunities that exist within their existence.

Interests are related to values; they are more specific iterations of how an audience’s values play out in reality. As used by rhetoricians, an audience’s interests – for example, Sunstein’s explanation of the Republican Party’s economic interest in the coal industry – are powerful for creating an argument that “appeals to peoples’ partial and passionate points of view” because doing so can “draw out their capacity for judgment and draw them into deliberation” (Garsten, 2006).

While discourse and textual analyses are traditional rhetorical methods for analyzing and drawing implications about audience’s values and interests, a (fairly) new tool – the knowledge  map – can be extremely useful for developing responses to political partisanship (and therefore stalemate) about climate change. If we want to extend Kahan’s extensive research on cultural cognition and the claim that values significantly affect our assessment of scientific findings, can we use a knowledge map as a rhetorical tool for tracing and then negotiating productive responses to climate change?

Wilson and Herndl’s (2007) study experiments with knowledge maps as rhetorical tools for facilitating interdisciplinary cooperation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and finds that mapping relations and exposing connections between seemingly contrasting interests allowed their participants to see and understand that other participants’ knowledge and institutional language emerge from and are adequate to the different contexts that make up the map. Essentially, by exposing connections between seemingly contrasting interests, the knowledge map provides a terrain for negotiating a response that is logical and productive …  is a more effective and productive rhetoric of science policy possible via the interface of a knowledge map?

In Climate Change Debates, different people have legitimately different views … or do they …?

Recent debate on FiveThirtyEight about whether climate change is the cause of natural disasters is interesting – and necessary for critically interpreting climate modeling data. However, ultimately, such a debate doesn’t bring us closer to negotiating a response to the problem. In fact, despite the nuances of the argument that Pielke makes in his article, his agenda concerning climate change communications and policy is to contribute to climate change conversations for the purpose of moving “beyond exhortation to actual development of policy options” like adaptation and mitigation. Arguments about the cause (whether they’re about the cause of climate change itself or, in this case, the cause of increased incidents of natural disasters) ultimately engage us in the meta-details of differences among our perspectives, disciplinary backgrounds and approaches, and therefore distract us from what’s really important – figuring out how to collaboratively negotiate these differences in perspective in order to develop a viable response.

Emanuel’s main point in counter-arguing Pielke’s claim that “climate change plays no role in increases in damages from natural hazards… [and that] recent costly disasters are not part of a trend driven by climate change” is that increased occurrences, and the subsequently increasing costs, of natural disasters are the direct result of climate change. She provides support for her argument by citing her research with Yale economist Robert Mendelsohn and colleagues: global hurricane damage will about double owing to demographic trends, and double again because of climate change. This point is valid, interesting, and powerful, but it doesn’t offer ground for negotiation of how to respond to its implications … at least not as it is discussed here.

In his argument, Pielke relies on support from the IPCC’s most recent report, Assessment Report 5 (AR5) which explains that there is little evidence of a spike in frequency or intensity of floods, drought, hurricanes, or tornadoes [because of climate change] to argue that the notion that climate change is the direct cause of an increase natural disasters is false. Not once in this article does Pielke suggest that climate change is not a real or significant issue warranting serious attention toward the development of solutions. He simply criticizes this particular argument, citing its inaccuracy, as a way of warning against fallacies like this that could potentially threaten public confidence in and support for climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.

So there we have it – two strong, distinct arguments about climate change data – from two legitimate, well-respected sources. As Pielke has explained in previous publications, “different people have legitimately different views” … however, that is not the case if we review the commentary of each article, almost all of which starkly advocates one view and flagrantly criticizes the other.

My argument here is that if you read Pielke’s argument for what it really communicates, you can see the value in his criticism. Emanuel’s response reads into the meta-details of cause, which is actually not the most important argument of Pielke’s explanation. Pielke’s article, from my perspective, is simply – but boldly – arguing that the promise that mitigating climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters is not valid and therefore, ought not be used in making a case for climate change policy. To make this even more clear: Pielke is simply challenging the 1:1 ratio being drawn between causes of natural disaster and climate change. In no way is he challenging the real issue, that “human-caused climate change is real and requires attention by policymakers to both mitigation and adaptation.” He is simply criticizing the way in which this debate is being crafted and framed, implicitly suggesting that it is being used to advance a personal/political agenda. Emanuel’s response focuses on whether climate change is the primary factor causing increased natural disasters and therefore increased recovery costs, and doesn’t address the wider implications of the data itself. Such arguments are important and productive, to an extent, but what I believe is more valuable is re-focusing the fervor and intellectual energy we are seeing here on collaborative, trans-disciplinary, alternative approaches for responding to the problem, whether the problem is natural disasters and recovery costs or that climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries.

Emanuel is right, “those who wait for actuarial trends to emerge at a 95% confidence level before acting do so at their peril.” But Pielke is right too, that recent costly disasters are not necessarily part of a trend driven primarily by climate change. Unfortunately, the competing arguments that their data incites are not compelling concerned citizens to admit both Emanuel’s and Pielke’s validity … which is why I believe that arguments about cause, when deliberating about anything that has to do with climate change, are so very dangerous and unproductive. Arguments about cause inevitably turn to debates of micro-scale differences in interpretation of the same data … which keeps the cycle of debate circling around an inevitably unproductive point.

If we really want to address solutions to the effects of climate change, we’ll start by exercising the maturity involved in making our perspectives, research findings, and personal agendas completely vulnerable to others’ productive criticism, because doing so is the only way to begin negotiating how to move forward in responding to the circumstances we’re being faced with. Holding defensively to our nuanced arguments is not going to enable us to move beyond exhortation toward the development of policy options, as Pielke wisely recommends.

The “anti-growth” perspective and implications for longer- range global policy

My brief comments below are in response to an insightful post by Roger Pielke, Jr., titled “What Does it Mean to be Anti-Growth?” In this argument, Pielke re-defines “anti-growth” by organizing it into three emphases:

  • anti-labor growth
  • anti-capital growth
  • anti-productivity growth

His purpose here is to expose the implications of these stances on poor/developing countries’ longer-term economic viability, as “82% of economic growth will occur in what are today considered to be “poor” parts of the world …” Are those who object to growth fully aware of what they’re actually advocating, longer-term?

Identifying the real terms of the debate about economic growth, as Pielke has done here, unravels it so that we can more fully understand what we’re really talking about when arguing pro- or anti-growth. The real value is that by exposing the rhetorical consequences of an anti-growth perspective, Pielke re-focuses our attention on the (ironic) longer-term implications of these perspectives. Namely, that taking an anti-growth stance, in essence, will ultimately limit or prohibit (now) poor countries’ economic opportunities because it is those (now) poor countries that are ultimately going to be responsible for nearly 80% of future economic productivity.

I see multiple, valuable connections between this argument and with the agendas of institutes like RAND’s Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition. For instance, in accordance with your emphasis on the rhetorical implications of an anti-growth stance on the longer-term opportunities for (now) poor countries’ future economic progress, I also wonder about the rhetorical distinctions, and consequences, of using the term “development” instead of “growth.”

Is it possible that by re-framing the anti-growth debate as “development,” we could more accurately communicate the real intentions for supporting the economic viability of (now) poor countries’ future opportunities?  Could using the (alternative) term “development” be a way of disengaging from the pervasive and popular anti-growth perspective? I’m suggesting this because of Lakoff’s extensive work on framing and cognitive linguistics, which argues that, “using your opposition’s terms reinforces their definition of the issues” and neurally activates the very associations you’re attempting to challenge or change.  In contrast, re-framing the issue – in this case, anti-growth- as “development” (or using another term that is similar in meaning but different from “growth”) has perhaps better potential for exposing the real, longer-term implications of an anti-growth perspective. The challenge, of course, is the consistent, persistent use of this new frame in conversations like Pielke’s, that insightfully trace the real, rhetorical implications of more general/seasoned debates … But the ways in which we’ve already begun – with the rhetorical parsing of “anti-growth” as Pielke has shown here- seem to imply a readiness for a new, more powerful type of political debate …


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