Author Archives: klangbehn

About klangbehn

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

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 …

Water Governance: A viable alternative to water management?

This past week, I had the opportunity to meet with and learn from Drs. Pim Nijssen and Aline te Linde, consultants and water governance experts from the Dutch management and consulting firm Twynstra Gudde, who were visiting Miami Beach as participants in a knowledge exchange, “Resilient Miami Beach.” Additionally, they collaborated with academics at FAU, with civil engineers and landscape architects from a local engineering firm, Chen Moore, as well as the South Florida Water Management District about possibilities for responding to Florida/ the Netherlands’ shared challenges with water management and climate change adaptation planning. Throughout our conversations that week, Pim and Aline were extremely careful to emphasize to me that they were not here to prescribe “A Solution,” but rather to learn about the differences in Florida’s regional and political challenges, as compared with the Netherlands’ distinct challenges, in order to better understand how to develop policy responses for securing our regions’ economic, environmental, social, and political contexts.

The purpose of Resilient Miami Beach – a collaborative knowledge exchange between the Dutch Consulate, local city planners, architects, academics, and consultants, was to discuss how/whether Dutch planning/ management perspectives could be feasible for local policy and most importantly, to discuss how to take advantage of opportunities that we (Floridians) may not be aware of because of our proximity to our own problems. [as a side note: much academic research supports this perspective – that an outside expert’s opinion can be extremely beneficial in enabling insider-experts to develop creative and innovative solutions; see Lakhani et al., 2007, “The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving”]

The Dutch approach to adaptation policy – integrated, collaborative, and layered – is opposed to a U.S. approach, which is often fragmented, linear, and dependent upon what is explained below as the “prediction imperative.” The Dutch have had hundreds of years of experience with water management, and more recently, at least 60 years of experimentation with more modern approaches to water management technologies and policies (i.e. structural solutions and the coastal spine approach) and despite our cultural and political differences, learning about their approaches is likely to help us determine the possibilities for what adaptive strategies for south Florida may entail.

A few days before we were to meet in Miami for the seminar, Pim asked me to think about how to situate Florida’s unique regional challenges to adaptation and to about how the U.S. political system responds, or is deliberating about responding, to these challenges. What follows is my attempt at developing a clear answer to his question.

My answer is concerned with how to synthesize three core ideas: the economic value of this coastal area, the local and national attitudes toward climate risks, and alternative approaches for policy making under conditions of extreme/deep uncertainty. Synthesizing these concepts creates a narrative about this region that may help our Dutch experts to work with us in approaching our challenges with a similar type of “action-biased” policy making that has enabled both their short-term survival and long-term contingency planning.

Economic value and International Implications   

The economic value of Florida, and in particular the cities of Tampa and Miami, isn’t just important on a local scale, as a recent World Bank publication suggests. The findings of this study identify the 10 international cities most vulnerable to damaging floods, as a result of sea level rise. In terms of overall cost of damage, Miami is number two on this list; New York is number three, New Orleans, four, and Tampa, seven. Boston follows at number eight, meaning that U.S. cities constitute half of the world’s vulnerable coastal cities. The study warns that flood damage could rise to $1 trillion a year if cities don’t take steps to adapt – so the responsibility for adaptation in US isn’t simply a national issue; it’s an international risk. This study prompted much conversation between myself, Pim and Aline, regarding how to use economic analyses with public values analyses to create collaborative responses (*not solutions) to these risks. What are the possibilities for using economic data with local/ public values priorities to re-frame climate change communications and therefore elicit local/ public concern and action? As I learned this week, a major component of Twynstra Gudde’s approach to answering these questions depends on:

  1. Responding versus prescribing solutions
  2. Identifying local attitudes about risk versus relying on a universal “Public Value,” as is often assumed by U.S. climate change communications’ framing of adaptation strategies (see Nisbet, “Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement;

Furthermore, on a national scale, in terms U.S. response to sea level rise, what is the current situation of climate change adaptation policy? In some cases (e.g. Houston, TX “Ike Dike,” which I’ve been learning about from Arno Willems at Iv-Infra) it seems as though we’re learning how to begin responding; to start taking serious action first by accepting deeply uncertain circumstances and then figuring out how to see opportunities for responding – without ignoring the risks and uncertainties that currently exist, and are inevitable to arise in the future. In most others, though, it’s evident that we’re still engaging in vain attempts to predict certainty before responding; choosing only to react to risks rather than to learn how to begin preparing for them.

Response versus Reaction

The results of the World Bank study mentioned above recommends that protecting the cities it identifies as most vulnerable will take substantial investment in structural defenses as well as better planning. The recommendation for better defenses means that more people will be dependent on dikes and sea walls, and that losses when those defenses fail to protect the city will get bigger. Additionally, with better structural defenses, cities will also need better crisis management and contingency planning. This type of integrated approach – synthesizing technological capability with serious attention to attitudes about risk – is what I understand as reinforcing Twynstra Gudde’s stance on collaboration for mutually beneficial solutions: motivating strategies of response that take into consideration multiple stakeholders’ values, versus imposing management plans and universal mandates based solely on economic/ cost-benefits analyses. Theirs is an approach that takes into account technological feasibility, economic viability, and social robustness; synthesizing the priorities of multiple stakeholders. And although the description of this approach may seem straightforward, they would be the first to remind that it is the more difficult (although more rewarding) long-term approach.

This approach is initially more difficult primarily because it operates under a paradigm that is action-biased; risking action within uncertainty to take advantage of existing opportunities via the synthesis of a variety of contradictory stakeholder values. However difficult the approach is initially, though, I ultimately see it as preferred to our current method for managing (or avoiding the management of) deep uncertainties. Our current approach invests in “improving our understanding of the threat of global climate change,” allocating $2.7 billion (a 6.0 percent increase over 2012) for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to support research to improve our ability to understand, predict, mitigate, and adapt to global change.

Could that budget be better allocated toward the development of adaptation policies that are more genuinely reflective of public values (i.e. safety, security) and productive economic opportunities?

I will argue, in my dissertation, that our current approach appears futile primarily because deeply uncertain risks like climate change cannot be managed, as “older dangers” once were (Beck, 1992, p. 13). Contemporary risks, as will be explained below, cannot be managed as older dangers once were because they are networked, largely invisible, and often irreversible. They cannot be seen, contained; therefore, they cannot be managed. They must be responded to in the very context in which they exist: under conditions of deep uncertainty.

        The challenge facing government officials in the US today is investing in protection under these premises – before the type of damage that the World Bank is predicting for coastal cities actually occurs. In his presentation at Resilient Miami Beach, Dutch professor and researcher of urban water management and the development of climate resilient cities, Dr. van de Ven, addressed this very challenge and explained the rhetorical differences between responding versus reacting to risk. “Responding,” he explained, means designing an adaptable system, visualizing individual interests, and selecting a strategy that implements a multi-level safety approach (see “Alternative water management options to reduce vulnerability for climate change in the Netherlands,” in Natural Hazards, 2009, v51 i3).

An Integrated Approach: Contextual, Institutional, Relational

Currently, progress toward the development of adaptation policies that respond by synthesizing research results and supporting decision making and risk management has been “inadequate,” per a recent national research council evaluation of US climate science (see Meyer, 2011, “The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US” ). Currently, U.S. research and development for climate modeling emphasizes that the production of data that is “better” because of investments in “faster computers” is the priority of the climate modeling enterprise – and therefore, it can be suggested that U.S. climate science is operating under the assumption that certainty (e.g. accurate predictions) is a valuable investment of federal dollars. If this is the case, then it seems as though we are continuing to put ourselves in a position of reacting to risks, versus taking advantage of the existing opportunities to develop more critical responses in anticipation of a variety of potential scenarios. In response to the assumption that accuracy equates with scientific (and public) values, new methods of analysis and planning are being developed as counterparts to this exclusively economic, cost benefits-driven policy justification. Two of the biggest proponents of these new policy methodologies are Dr. Wil Thissen, head of the Policy Analysis section at TU Delft, and Dr. Warren Walker, also of TU Delft, who have recently co-published an edited volume on new directions for public policy analysis (Public Policy Analysis: New Developments, 2013). Within this volume, Thissen & Walker articulate how a dynamic adaptive policy provides an alternative for short- and long-term decision making under conditions of deep uncertainty. Similarly, in the US, researchers at Arizona State University, at the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, have developed an approach to science policy called “public value mapping,” which I see as a viable asset to the dynamic adaptive policy developed by Thissen, Walker, Haasnoot and colleagues in the Technology, Policy & Management section at TU Delft.

This week, Twynstra Gudde described their approach to this theory to our audience at Resilient Miami Beach as an integrated approach that consists of three layers: 1. contextual knowledge, skills, and expertise 2. institutional realities (legislation and funding, etc.) and 3. relational/ social priorities (participation, cooperation, cultural proclivities, etc.). The mesh of these layers is “water governance,” which they describe as a decision making process that consists of:

‐          Accepting shared responsibility (e.g. policy makers aren’t held solely responsible for policy decisions)

‐          Accepting that the solution needs to be an integrative one (e.g. environmental, economic, social)

‐          Accepting the various roles, responsibilities and know-how (e.g. validity of economic analyses with public values analyses)

‐          Investing in a joint process that defines a shared challenge and ambition instead of a solution (e.g. the acceptance of “flexible” responses versus non-negotiable “solutions”)

Risk: Older Dangers versus Contemporary Risks

During our meeting with Chen Moore, the Americans at the table attempted to explain to our Dutch colleagues why such pervasive climate denial exists in the US. In my opinion, the underlying reasons explaining U.S. responses to science policy, and in particular, our perception of deep uncertainties like climate change, has to do with risk, and the ways in which we’ve traditionally been accustomed to managing risk. Contemporary risks, I suggest, cannot be managed; they must be responded to (see Beck, 1992, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity). There is a fundamental rhetorical difference to the implications of these terms, as used within the science policy interface. “Management” implies handling or controlling something successfully – and this is not the understanding within which a flexible, adaptive policy approach can operate. On the other hand, “response” implies a reaction: something done in deference to something else. Responsiveness, in my opinion, provides a more accurate and productive understanding of what a Dutch approach, and especially a Dutch approach for responding to real, widespread, and infinite uncertainties, really entails. Our understanding of and responses to contemporary risks must differ from our understanding and management of what Ulrich Beck calls “older dangers.”

In terms of policy making and the pressure on decision makers from various stakeholder interests, older dangers were risks that could hold some entity/ person accountable for the identified hazards; making it possible to compensate those whose lives had been touched by those particular hazards. Contemporary risks, on the other hand, are “consequences which relate to the threatening force of modernization and to its globalization of doubt” – they are politically reflexive (Beck, p. 21). We can no longer calculate risk as accurately as we may hope: today’s risks often result in systematic and irreversible harm, generally remain invisible, are based on causal interpretations, and thus initially only exist in terms of the scientific or anti-scientific knowledge about them … they can be changed, magnified, dramatized, or minimized within knowledge, and to that extent they are particularly open to social definition and construction. So, in response the question about the existence of climate change denial, I rely on Beck’s theory of the risk society, as it differs from a modern society in which the management of risks (older dangers) was possible and effective. Given contemporary risks, which are largely invisible and globally pervasive, the mass media and the scientific and legal professions in charge of defining risks become key social and political positions (Beck, p. 23) advocating – or denying – their existence.

As a result of pervasive – and successful – communication about climate change denial, one of the most intractable “qualifications” of useful information about the risks inherent in climate change in the US – i.e. urban flooding, sea level rise, storm surge – is the “prediction imperative,” the thinking that adaptation strategies require more accurate and reliable predictions of regional weather and climate extreme events before adaptive decisions can be decisively implemented.  At the moment, the projected 2014 Budget for “Improving our understanding of the threat of global climate change” proposes to allocate $2.7 billion (a 6.0 percent increase over 2012), for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to support research to improve our ability to understand, predict, mitigate, and adapt to global change. Could that budget be better allocated toward the development of adaptation policies that are more genuinely reflective of public values (i.e. safety, security)? I would adamantly say “yes,” and I believe that a Dutch approach (see Twynstra Gudde’s layered approach, above) would support this assertion. The challenge for the US, again, is to determine how we can make effective adaptation decisions in the absence of accurate and precise climate predictions (Lempert and Light 111).

     “The lack of climate predictability should not be interpreted as a limit to preparing strategies for adaptation” because if this is so, we’ll face some serious limitations – and economic consequences – in lieu of existing opportunities for responding with preferable, although imperfect, strategies.

Our biggest challenge is to learn how to adapt Dutch thinking – an integrated, collaborative approach – into our existing modes of policy making and to begin funding action (adaptation) versus chasing certainty. This situation is positive and hopeful because I know that we’re learning, however slowly, how to recognize alternative approaches for policy making under extreme uncertainties. Opportunities for knowledge exchange and productive, yet technical and policy-driven conversations, such as Resilient Miami Beach, are indicative of international support for the viability of Florida’s coastal cities as economic, environmental, and social assets.

Things I’m Thinking About Today:

  • Theda Skocpol’s “Naming the Problem: What Will it Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight Against Global Warming?”
  • Microwind power in coastal areas – in particular, offshore …

I’ve had Skocpol’s article on my bedside table for some time now and today was the day to make time to read it. Although it’s somewhat peripheral to my immediate focus right now – The Dissertation – it does fall into my “Sunday reading” category (i.e. relevant and interesting perspectives on cool stuff with renewable energies and technologies and adaptation opportunities in various parts of the world … like the potential for turning the Soder Torn in Stockholm into a “Strawscraper” that I wrote about a few weeks ago …).

Skocpol’s analysis is comprehensive – but I was particularly interested in the section titled “The Politics Next Time,” so that’s the focus of my perspective here. More than anything, her perspective brought to mind some really specific policy analysis questions regarding public adoption of widespread, consistent climate change adaptation measures. Some of the policy analysis questions that came to mind were:

  • What types of broad, popular (and consistent and strong) mobilization can policy analysts offer to the variety of environmental/renewable energy/ climate change advocacy groups in the US?
  • What does change in policy offer average/ordinary citizens in local and state constituencies?

Skocpol articulates two imperatives for what “the politics next time” ought to accomplish:

  • broad, popular, consistent, and strong public mobilization
  • balancing federal mandates/ laws with serious attention to local organization representing public/non-scientists’ opinions

Regarding the first point, broad, popular, and strong public mobilization: I couldn’t help but think of the absolute plethora of public organizations that represent extremely similar perspectives … meaning that support for similar causes is completely disparate and not as cohesive or strong as it may be if fewer organizations collaborated to refine the interests, values, and missions of the constituents that they represent … something to think about.

Regarding the second point, as Skocpol explains, in the U.S., “lawmaking power is divided between the executive branch and a sovereign Congress run by disparate committees … and legislators often respond to local and interest group pressures more readily than to their own party’s leaders …” which I see as THE strategy for creating and implementing climate change adaptations … LOCAL values that determine the traction of climate change adaptation strategies. If a particular “public” or localized group (knowledge collective) can agree on the iteration of climate change adaptation that works best for their particular region – and one that meshes with their particular ideology – then adaptation strategies seem much more realistic and manageable, albeit in various iterations and NOT universally homogeneous. In this way, a top-down plan that doesn’t allow for “transparent legislation [or] deliver concrete benefits to millions of regular American citizens” (Skocpol p. 130) neglects to provide challenge appraisals that incite the type of deep creativity that is necessary in order for localized groups to develop adaptation strategies that work best for the nuanced conditions and challenges of particular regions and value preferences.

My thoughts about microwind power are motivated by James Stafford’s “Real Pragmatism for Real Climate Change: Interview with Dr. John Abraham,” but also because of my recent delegation to the Netherlands, where I saw a tremendous number of wind turbines first-hand … and of course, began to think about whether or not wind energy is a viable technology for Florida … or better yet, particular parts of the Florida coast. More on that in a moment.

I initially found Stafford’s article because of dissertation research … and I was immediately interested because of Abraham’s “pragmatic” position. In the article, though, I was confused about whether his position is in fact pragmatic … or whether it was more of an “economically pragmatic” ideology (if ‘economically pragmatic’ is even a category) because of this comment:

“One outcome of being pragmatic is that I search for efficient and low-cost solutions to our problems. If someone were to show me that adaptation would be cheaper than mitigation, I would support adaptation. If someone were to show me that the “solutions” to climate change are more expensive than just ignoring it, I would opt for ignoring it …”

Abraham continues to argue that he does, in fact, support adaptation, however his extreme pragmatism – economic pragmatism – is focused exclusively on economic cost/benefit; it is not an approach that values “the practical” over idealism, more broadly, or experience over reasoning … and again, although this comment is certainly not representative of his entire interview/response, it is still troubling. It’s troubling to me because it perpetuates what Stafford refers to as the “camp” element of climate change communications. Climate change adaptations aren’t going to be negotiated on one camp’s agenda – we all know this – but our words, our responses, and our arguments don’t always reflect the fact that we know this. When our responses spout facts and accusations about the human impact (i.e. “the human impact was likely about 8-10 inches of the storm surge … Sandy took an unusual turn westward because of pressure zones caused by the loss of Arctic ice, so were it not for humans, Sandy may never have hit the US at all!”) they further polarize the camps and work against what Skocpol suggests is the way out of climate change contentions: collaboration of inside-outside links that coalesce around different strategies that ultimately push broadly in the same direction. The important question, though, is the subsequent question: how? How can policy analysis and political scientists like Skocpol provide strategies and tools for enabling this sort of collaboration? That’s a question I intend to take up in my dissertation .. however, I think a lot of it has to do with parsing the “adaptation” agenda into localized, meta-adaptation plans that relate with meta-publics’ priorities and interests. For instance, if Tampa, Florida residents were largely resistant to offshore microwind power, for instance, what other creative and equally effective alternatives are they willing to consider? Maybe residents of St. Petersburg Beach, nearby the Tampa area, are keen to offshore wind farms? Maybe no one is –  but the point is that the values of meta-publics (I intend to think of an easier + better way to articulate this …) ought to determine the types of adaptations they adopt. We don’t know what these may look like yet, but we haven’t taken this approach yet, so it may be worth some serious consideration and experimentation. In the end, I’m suggesting that we become flexible enough to take into serious consideration the variety of creative adaptation solutions that may be appealing to diverse publics and start to determine what those solutions look like by fist eliminating undesirable possibilities, in order to determine the values and proclivities of particular groups. Then, we can respond by isolating and communicating solutions that more accurately match the values and ideologies of the constituents who will be adopting them … so that ultimately, we can strategically provide attractive solutions that work collectively toward the larger/national/international goal of addressing climate change in a genuinely meaningful and substantial – sustainable- way.


contemporary risks, political reflexivity, and adaptive governance

Beck (1992) argues that contemporary risks are different from what he calls “old dangers” because contemporary risks are largely invisible – the effects of climate change on the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, for instance. When these risks do reveal themselves, in times of crisis, they are in extreme form (for instance, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, etc.) and last long enough to incite fear but not long enough to provoke deliberation about adapting – preparing more efficiently for future risks of the same kind. We seem to rush in, rescue, rebuild, and then we seem to forget. Many believe that crises like these superstorms are what we “need” to motivate the development of management plans for responding to future/similar risks. But is that it? If so, then why is water management and adaptation a contested policy issue in coastal cities, like New York and New Orleans, that have been severely – and visibly – affected by contemporary risks? Is it possible that a significant part of the problem is that these events are being framed as issues of crisis instead of as issues of crisis balanced with information about effective actions (what Brulle calls “challenge appraisals”)? If superstorms and other contemporary scientific risks are only framed, and therefore understood, via threat messages, then the perception of these dangers exceeds citizens’ perceptions about their abilities to cope. Challenge appraisals, on the other hand, are responses to danger that address specific coping strategies, with the goal of mobilizing “interested”/affected citizens to act positively in response to the context of the crisis.

Kuypers offers a solution for articulating such challenge appraisals, rhetorical framing, which is a methodology for understanding how news narratives affect actions and reinforce particular themes over others.

Is it possible that aligning existing frames about disaster response with related frames about suggested remedies (Brulle’s “challenge appraisals”) will produce frame resonance (Benford, American Sociological Review, 1986) that will motivate more productive/sustainable management of these crises?

In order for frame resonance to be successful, though, it seems as though it must consider the larger issue of risk itself, and how publics’ understandings of risks aren’t conducive with Beck’s “risk society” quite yet …

The  management of contemporary of scientific risks is so elusive primarily because, as Beck writes, these risks are different in kind: they are largely hidden, invisible, but they’re also “politically reflexive,” and are characterized by:

•  systematic and often irreversible harm

•  causal interpretation (i.e. the scientific/anti-scientific knowledge circulating about them)

•  changeability (they are magnified, dramatized, or minimized within the knowledge circulating about them; meaning they are open to social construction and definition)

These risks are what I refer to as “networked” risks – exponentially more pervasive and complex than “old dangers.” Networked risks require a different mode of governance than traditional risks/old dangers: for example, adaptive governance.

Adaptive governance provides a possible solution for the management of contemporary scientific risks because it allows institutions to respond to the needs and desires of the community, given the context of a changing environment (see Brunner & Steelman in Brunner et al., 2005). In other words, a mode of management that facilitates and reinforces public values in a context of uncertainty. This mode of management is practiced in water management sectors in the Netherlands, for instance, where large consultancy firms operate using a “water governance” approach (i.e. Twynstra Gudde) that embed social measures (“soft” science), link tasks, ensure support for and structure the decision-making process (see The crux of my research pertains to this last point: structuring the decision-making process, via a Public Values Mapping methodology (see ASU Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes) that informs the development of frames that have the rhetorical potential to connect with, reinforce, and persuade public values about science, risk, and adaptation policies …

The ‘Strawscraper’: An Energy-efficient Alternative… but how?

Transforming the Soder Torn into a … strawscraper? just published this article, highlighting the possibility of transforming the Soder Torn, one of the tallest residential high-rises in Stockholm, into a “hairy” skyscraper. ["Strawscraper," as the idea is referred to throughout most of the article, seems remarkably more appealing to me than "hairy," but maybe that's just me.] The point is that this ‘Strawscraper’ seems to be a phenomenal and large-scale solution to infrastructural energy efficiency. The “hairs” or straws that are affixed to the building capture wind and use it to produce electricity for the building, transforming the building into a large-scale urban wind farm. Undoubtedly, this is impressive and intriguing, but how can it become a reality? What are the barriers/challenges to adoption and implementation and most importantly (for my research, at least) how can those barriers be addressed and overcome so that sustainable solutions for energy efficiency are developed and embraced by the public?

Per Stern in The Economics of Climate Change, the obstacles to the adoption of opportunities for improving energy efficiency are market barriers and failure (248). This proposition reflects much of the traditional literature about the implementation of climate change adaptation technologies… that “the” barrier is economic; however, this assumption is changing, due to research such as the STIR initiative at the Consortium for Science & Policy Outcomes @ Arizona State University. STIR, Socio-Technical Innovation Research, is founded on the premise that although economic costs/benefits are an important component of scientific and technological innovations re: climate change adaptation, economic factors aren’t the only barriers, and therefore, this research is founded on the premise that perceiving of sci/tech challenges holistically, from the inception of these projects, ensures more “responsible” innovation (innovation that uses public research dollars for science/technology in ways that address public values).
Is it possible that initiatives like STIR can make sustainable/energy efficient architecture like “strawscrapers” a reality? I believe so, or at least from my perspective as a rhetorician of science, I believe that a holistic perspective about the management of scientific and technological uncertainties is necessary for moving science into policy in more exigent ways. The research of applied rhetoricians of science has very similar goals to initiatives like STIR, and has much to contribute to its purpose because of its foundation on the core of how these challenges are discussed, framed, and embraced/rejected.
Applied rhetoric of science is founded on an analysis of language, in order to trace how the implications (affects, results) can be better controlled so that the language used to communicate scientific and technological risks is more directly appealing to particular audiences. The usefulness of a rhetoric of science is in methods such as rhetorical framing analysis (as one example) where the terms of the debate are mapped to show their efficacy for targeted constituents. Such mapping is then used to develop rhetorical frames, to be used by decision-makers in communicating more effectively with their constituents, promoting the audience’s understanding of the risks, as opposed to their outright rejection of them because of their lack of “interest” or experience with the particular risk. Rhetoricians and public policy analysts call this strategy “situated judgment,” where an audience’s judgment of a particular issue is enhanced by the communicator’s ability to talk in terms of the audience’s “real” interests and investments. This mode of persuasion is ethical – and effective- because it ultimately enables the audience to make up their own minds as to whether the proposed risk is valuable to them, in the end, or whether such a risk doesn’t mesh with their values.

Innovative and impressive sustainable developments, like turning the Soder Torn into a strawscraper, deserve a fair chance at becoming a reality, but will require interdisciplinary strategies for negotiating the frames in which they can be communicated to “interested” parties, such as the residents of the building. Although such a strategy may seem trivial to the architects that developed the idea, researching and reinforcing public values is proving to be an inherently valuable component in overcoming the barriers to adoption and implementation of sustainably developed alternatives.

What can rhetoric contribute to public policy?

In this essay (written for my the historical rhetorics component of  PhD Comprehensive Exams) I connect the concepts of contemporary risk, rhetoric, and deliberation to argue that re-purposing historical rhetorical theories is useful for informing rhetorical deliberation about issues of scientific and technological contingency.

Risk, Rhetoric, and Deliberation:

Re-purposing Classical Rhetoric for Public Policy

Theories of deliberation from the disciplines of rhetoric, political science, and public policy can collectively provide a reinvigorated and useful heuristic informing the management of contemporary scientific and technological risks (Danisch, 2010; Garsten, 2006; Grabill & Simmons, 1998; Hauser & Benoit-Barne, 2002; Keranen, 2008; Sauer, 2003; Scott, 2006). Within this essay I offer an interdisciplinary argument reflecting J. Blake Scott’s (2006) position that, “as the rhetoric of science confronts the issue of [contemporary] risk, the classical categories of rhetorical theory become both tools for critical analyses of risk and objects of revision in light of social theories of risk” (p. 116 ). In response to Scott and others (Danisch, 2010; Garsten, 2006; Grabill & Simmons, 1998) the priority of this argument is to show how an interdisciplinary perspective (rhetoric, political science, public policy) is useful for justifying the application of a re-purposed classical rhetorical theory for the (re-)development of citizens’ capacities for deliberation about issues of scientific and technological contingency. The crux of this argument hinges on a critical analysis of classical rhetorical theories, in particular Aristotelian rhetorical theory, including:

  • a re-purposed contingency theory
  • phronesis
  • situated judgment
  • deliberative partiality

Additionally, this argument analyzes the Ciceronian rhetorical concepts of:

  • prudential reasoning/practice
  • firm moral conviction

The purpose of tracing the components of these ancient theorists’ positions on deliberative rhetoric is to show how their theories can continue to be useful when re-purposed for informing the development of practical strategies for managing risks in a contemporary context.

The second part of my argument uses Grabill & Simmons’ (1998) argument in “Toward a critical rhetoric” to suggest that because contemporary risk is socially constructed, technical communicators are most capable of responding to and participating in ways of managing deliberation about issues of scientific and technological contingency. The authors explain that because researchers/scholars in technical communication “possess the research and writing skills necessary for the complex process of constructing and communicating risk,” (1998, p. 420) they are best situated for the development of strategies and tools for the project of deliberative democracy: (re-)developing citizens’ capacities for judgment about issues of scientific contingency. Furthermore, they succinctly assert that “risk communication explicitly takes technical communication into the realm of civic discourse” (1998, p. 435). I conclude this essay by briefly defining a uniquely rhetorical tool – public value mapping – that articulates how Grabill & Simmon’s theoretical claims about the usefulness of a re-purposed classical rhetoric

can be positioned to encourage the development of particular publics participation in deliberative democracy (Grabill & Simmons, 2006, p. 429 for distinction between the public and publics), specifically as this deliberation pertains to the management of The scientific contingency of this era: climate change. I suggest that this rhetorical tool has the potential to inform more critical deliberation about and decision-making supporting climate change adaptation policies in US.


Classical Rhetoric and Rhetorical Politics

In Saving Persuasion (2006) Garsten presents a thorough argument for how and why classical rhetoric is useful for informing policy designed to manage and respond to contemporary risks. He argues that classical rhetorical theories provide alternative ways of seeing contemporary scientific and technological controversies because they enable us to “free ourselves” from the post-Reformation perspective that continues to permeate political theory (p. 18). Essentially, Garsten argues that post-Reformation patterns of thought continue to unduly influence our thinking about political theory, preventing us from “exploring the question of how citizens’ capacities for judgment can best be engaged in a politics of persuasion” (p. 17). 

If we accept Beck’s (1992) theory of risk and the implications of living in a risk society, an alternative way of understanding political theory is necessary for affecting successful decision-making, given the context of risk. The pivotal difference of Beck’s risks,

“contemporary” risks, is that they cannot be managed as “older dangers” (Beck, 1992, p. 21) once were. Contemporary risks are inherently uncertain, contingent, and global, and they can only be managed with a rhetorical politics that provides strategies for responding to issues of contingency. In chapters four and five, “Drawing upon Judgment: Aristotle” and “Conviction and Controversy: Cicero,” Garsten (2006) shows how Aristotelian and Ciceronian rhetorical theories (when re-purposed for application in contemporary political contexts) are appropriate for guiding deliberation and decision-making about the policy for managing contemporary risks.  Aristotle and Cicero, he suggests, are particularly useful to this project because: the writings of these authors sought to contain demagogy without eliminating the politics of persuasion altogether … rather than attempting to rule rhetoric out of political debate, they tried to show under what conditions it might become a means of facilitating a more deliberative sort of controversy. (2006, p.18)

Because the conditions under which political debate occur in a contemporary context are a priori contingent and uncertain, as they are in a risk society (Beck, 1992), re-purposing classical rhetorical theories about such conditions seems to make sense for facilitating a theory of deliberative democracy.

Contemporary Risks versus Older Dangers

Contemporary risks, as distinguished from older dangers, are “consequences which relate to the threatening force of modernization and its globalization of doubt; [t]hey are politically reflexive” (Beck, 1992, p. 21). Because of the tremendous success of scientific research and technological development (Danisch, 2010, p. 173) risks have become globalized, inherently uncertain, and infinitely contingent. As Beck explains, “along with the growing capacity of technical options [Zweckrationalitat] grows the incalculability of their consequences” (1992, p. 22). Beck’s conceptualization of the “risk society” provides a framework for thinking-through the implications of contemporary risks, which exist on an “unprecedented scale because they cannot be delimited spatially, temporally, or socially” (p. 178); their consequences cannot be made certain and cannot be controlled exclusively by experts.

Beck’s “risk” is “a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernization itself” (p. 22). Contemporary risks are politically “reflexive” because they are characterized by:

  • systematic (and often irreversible) harm
  • invisibility
  • causal interpretation (and thus initially only exist in terms of the scientific or anti-scientific knowledge about them)
  • changeability (can be magnified, dramatized, or minimized within knowledge and to that extent, are particularly open to social definition and construction) (Beck, 1992, p. 22-23)

One of the most significant political implications of this perception of contemporary risks –  in particular, the reflexivity of these risks – is that these contingent issues require deliberation and rhetoric, albeit not in the intended manner – or context – in which classical rhetorical theorists, like Aristotle and Cicero, developed them.

The Contingency Thesis, Phronesis, Situated Judgment, and Deliberative Partiality

Aristotle’s approach to rhetorical deliberation can be traced to his contingency thesis, which consists of two categories: “the contingent” and “the necessary.” By definition, the contingent category defines – limits– the role of rhetoric to serving the discursive means of deliberation (Danisch, 2010), intending for it to provide a method for inquiring into and communicating about the realm of the contingent, where this realm yields opinions of variable validity, but no certain knowledge. These judgments, Danisch (2006) explains, are understood to be bound by context and therefore not universally valid (certain). Because of this handicap, the contingent was understood to be inferior to Scientific knowledge (the “necessary”) which was/is demonstrated to be certain – superior – as it was produced through experiments by experts.

In the contingency theory, Scientific knowledge, as well as the domain of philosophy, was categorized as “necessary.” The necessary pertained to certain knowledge, knowledge that was statistically predictable, the result of technological experts’ control over nature. In “Reflections on Rhetoric,” (2002), Hauser & Benoit-Barne connect the Aristotelian idea of “the necessary” to contemporary political science, suggesting that political decision-making is driven by the marketplace model of rational choice, which holds that “individuals make political choices as much as they do economic ones” (p. 262). This one-to-one prediction of human behavior esteems rationality while delimiting discursive practices as peripheral to decision-making about public values. The problem with this model, they argue, is refuted by classical rhetoric, which contends that: “since the Athenian polis … democratic politics must be a public activity open to all and distinct from the private preferences expressed in commercial transactions” (p. 263).

In light of this position about democracy and citizens’ participation in the process, Danisch (2010) uniquely re-purposes Aristotle’s contingency thesis in light of Beck’s position, so that it can be used in contemporary thinking about rhetoric, risk, and deliberation. Most importantly, he highlights the political implications of managing contemporary risks, all of which are contingent in a risk society. He writes:

the reason that risk assessment and risk analysis can only produce contingent propositions is that scientific and technical work stopped describing the natural world and started intervening in it. This led to the production of contingent events. Risk assessment and risk analysis describe these contingent events. But all scientific and technological development carries with it the production of contingent events – events that could possibly happen. Thus once we see scientific and technical work not as a descriptive enterprise but as a productive enterprise, we begin to understand science as an enterprise that manufactures both contingent events (unintended consequences) and contingent propositions. (p. 187)

Understanding the contingency thesis from within the framework of Beck’s risk society is “essential for understanding politics and public culture in contemporary society and a way of extending work in the rhetoric of science” (Danisch, 2010, p. 180). More immediately important to this essay’s argument, though, is the implication of re-purposing the contingency thesis as the appropriate method informing the management of scientific and technological risks. As Aristotle observed, “political issues and decisions are in the realm of the contingent, and contingencies are not entirely explicable in rationalistic terms” (Hauser & Benoit-Barne, 2002, p. 265). The implication of a re-purposed contingency thesis for the development of public policy about science presents a problematic notion; however, if scientific work is negotiated, contingent, and uncertain, it is a form of persuasion.

Accepting the sciences as rhetorical and persuasive reinforces Beck’s risk society thesis: namely, that society has moved from industrial modernity to late modernity, implying that we ought to conceive of the social significance of scientific and technological controversies as rhetoric, and secondly, that we ought to more critically consider the local contexts in which these controversies constitute public cultures and public spheres (Danisch, 2010, p. 183). As Garsten argues in Saving Persuasion, political theory is still operating under the influence of post-Reformation Science and Policy (Beck’s “industrial modernity”) despite a context of inherently intractable scientific and technological contingencies (Beck’s “late modernity”). When/if we accept Beck’s premises and their implications for political theory and policy-making, we not only acknowledge that Science isn’t infallible, we also acknowledge that expertise isn’t entirely certain or statistically predictable, and we validate the judgment of “common” citizens’ common sense and practical wisdom. Aristotelian classical rhetoric provides another valuable insight that informs how we ought to cultivate the (re-)development of citizens’ practical wisdom: phronesis.


Danisch (2010) defines Aristotle’s phronesis as “prudence,” simply, a citizen’s ability to deliberate well about what is good and bad. Historically, Aristotle distinguished the type of wisdom inherent in phronesis from theoretical wisdom and craft knowledge; this capability was specifically/only used to deliberate about particular, contingent matters by relying on practical experience and virtue (Danisch, 2010). Again, if the dynamics of contemporary scientific and technological risks, as a whole, are understood within the framework of the risk society, this implies that all such “matters” are contingent, meaning that phronesis – re-purposed – provides a theoretical tenet informing contemporary deliberation and public engagement. If, as Aristotle claims in his theory of deliberative rhetoric (Nicomachean Ethics) we do not deliberate about things we cannot control or about matters that are wholly in the hands of others, then motivating a deliberative democracy requires two revisions. First, it requires that the “control” exerted by experts be re-positioned as flexible (even adaptive) modes of “management,” as in the management of uncertainties (versus the control over nature, as in a post-Reformation, rational choice model of policy-making). Secondly, a deliberative democracy requires that the concept of expertise – again, an influence of post-Reformation ideology on policy-making – be opened up so as to validate practical wisdom, phronesis, as this reinforces a basic understanding of democratic politics: that it must be a public activity which must remain open to experts and non-experts, from which contradictory positions can be deliberated about to determine the public values that ought to be prioritized in policy.

Garsten (2006) reinforces Aristotle’s deliberative rhetoric and the concept of phronesis succinctly: we deliberate about what we can do ourselves:

Practical judgment understood in this way is closely linked to the activity of deliberation. We only deliberate about how to respond in situations where there is no clear or definite answer, where we can control our response to some event, and where certain responses seem to be better than others. (Garsten, 2006, p. 8)

When all scientific and technological situations are inherently contingent, as they are in the risk society, we are forced to deliberate about them; because deliberation requires practical judgment, phronesis (the wisdom developed from one’s experiences) a re-purposed Aristotelian deliberative rhetoric provides a theoretical foundation for the type of disposition that is necessary if we are to accomplish a deliberative democracy.

Situated Judgment and Deliberative Partiality

Garsten identifies the Aristotelian concepts of situated judgment and deliberative partiality as suggesting the “surprising idea that rhetorical appeals to peoples’ partial and passionate points of view can often be a good means of drawing out their capacity for judgment and so drawing them into deliberation” (13). For Aristotle, when judgment was situated in deliberation, citizens tended to judge more critically. When they were able to consider matters as they were connected to their own values, as opposed to considering an argument unrelated to their values (Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b, 1140b11) they tended to judge “better.” Judging better meant that they weren’t as easily persuaded – in the sense of being convinced, indoctrinated, or brainwashed – but rather, that they maintained their own perspectives while remaining open to and engaged with others’ arguments. As a result of this “true” or “critical” persuasion, citizens were then induced to change their own beliefs and desires in light of what was argued (Garsten, 2006, p. 7). As it pertains to the contemporary risk of climate change and the persuasive arguments crafted to legitimize or deny it (discussed in more detail, below) Johnson argues that climate change communication ought to leverage these available means of persuasion (Aristotle), suggesting that such a strategy:

emotionally tap[s] core identities and concerns of the audience, [which] may be more effective than expertise-based messages about the benefits and harms of carbon capture and sequestration … this way of contextualizing the debate could widen potential audiences, including some climate neutrals and deniers not otherwise open to persuasion. (2012, p. 979)

“Deliberative Partiality” pertained to the component of Aristotle’s deliberative rhetoric which accepted and even protected and encouraged citizens’ “rights” to their own perspectives about particular experiences. This component is closely related with Aristotle’s notion of situated judgment, because if citizens “judged better in deliberative settings, where they were situated in their own perspectives and experiences and where their opinions and feelings about what would be good for them were relevant to the question before them” (Garsten, 2006, p. 119) then they would likewise be inclined to engage in deliberation where they simultaneously defended their personal views and maintained a vested interest and openness to the relevant concerns of others.

Further informing a deliberative rhetoric, Aristotle suggested that citizens’ partialities could provide starting points for political deliberation (Garsten, 2006) and, in terms of the persuader, enable a relevant and compelling starting point from which the persuader could frame an effective argument.

Prudential Reasoning and Firm Moral Conviction

For Cicero, “orators will not be persuasive without philosophic knowledge;” (Garsten, 2006, p. 157) therefore, in deference to Aristotle’s “contingent” (i.e. rhetoric) and “necessary” (i.e. philosophy) he linked rhetoric with philosophy. The primary implication of this strategy was that expertise in public opinion was somehow related to philosophic knowledge:

the point is simply that he did not subscribe to the stark separation between opinion and knowledge that had divided the sophists from Socrates and that later thinkers … would invoke in their condemnations of rhetoric … Cicero’s view of rhetoric required orators to concede their dependence on philosophical knowledge. (Garsten, 2006, p. 162)

Prudential Reasoning

Cicero positioned prudential reasoning as a form of practical wisdom grounded in experience participating in Roman cultural institutions, combined with an interest in and commitment to the study of theoretical learning/philosophy (De Oratore). For the purpose of re-using this historical/rhetorical position in a contemporary context, I suggest that this linking of rhetoric and prudence can enable us to recover a theory informing a deliberative model of civic participation from the influence of the post-Reformationist ideological positions about Science, expertise, certainty, and public values that still permeate our thinking about and responses to contemporary risks. As with the re-purposing of Aristotle’s categories, Cicero’s prudential reasoning is a historically contingent category, meaning that in order for it to serve contemporary policy appropriately, we have to make it flexible enough to continue to respond to a variety of increasing and networked scientific and technological risks.

Perhaps the biggest “reach” of a contemporary Ciceronian prudential reasoning about scientific and technological contingencies is that citizens would need to begin to see scientific reasoning as a special case of practical reasoning and have some training in that form of reasoning. As Danisch (2010) argues:

rethinking the category of prudence from within the world risk society thesis is a difficult challenge. If this is something that can be taught, rhetorical theorists must face the challenge of articulating all the aspects of a scientific prudence and then engage in the task of promoting the teaching of that skill for the improvement of the public sphere and the return of judgment to common citizens. (p.189)

(The possibilities for developing scientific prudence are discussed in theTechnical Communication and Civic Discourse section, below.)

Firm Moral Conviction

Because today’s culture of rules and codes eliminates the risk of imprudence and the responsibility that breeds prudence, (Garsten, 2006) citizens’ capacities for deliberating about, articulating, and defending their moral convictions have atrophied. Cicero’s position about citizens’ firm moral convictions led him to a political approach that respected the partial truths of partisan opinions, (Garsten, 2006) thus validating non-expert opinions/knowledge. If we reconsider Cicero’s position in a contemporary context, it has the potential to inform more effective communication about matters of scientific/technological contingency, such as climate change.

Concerning climate change communications, Johnson explains a type of re-purposed Ciceronian advocacy for publics’ firm moral convictions within the following suggestion:

Climate change communicators ought not impose their values on their audience but rather accept citizens’ moral convictions and reframe existing high-priority non-environmental values for climate and energy action that don’t require explicit, intense promotion of environmentalist values. (2012, p. 977)

Technical Communication and Civic Discourse

Danisch’s (2010) challenges rhetoricians, not sociologists, to lead the development of a deliberative democracy for engaging citizens in the management of contemporary uncertainties, arguing that rhetorical theory must develop a form of prudence capable of guiding publics’ deliberation about scientific and technological contingencies. Grabill & Simmons (1998) provide specific reasons that further inform and contextualize Danisch’s resolute position about the responsibility of rhetoricians in more critically developing a deliberation-based political framework. Extending Danisch’s “call” that rhetoricians take up the challenge of motivating citizens’ engagement in deliberation about scientific/technological risks, Grabill & Simmons first contextualize how previous approaches to risk assessment have been arhetorical (1998, p. 416) suggesting that they have been unsuccessful primarily because of their lack of consideration about two significant factors:

  • context
  • social factors

“Too many of these approaches to risk communication have … typically decontextualize[ed] risks and fail[ed] to consider social factors that influence public perceptions of risk” (Grabill & Simmons, 1998). Next, they show how these technocratic/arhetorical approaches have failed to engage “The Public” in decision-making about contemporary risks. They argue that these approaches (mis-)understand “The Public” as one, cohesive entity, whereas a rhetorical approach that seeks to  contextualize and localize risk sites and processes (1998, p. 428) is, in their opinion, far more successful in persuading more widespread participation, and therefore policy that more accurately represents the publics’ values. This position reflects a historical/rhetorical position on phronesis (Aristotle) and prudential reasoning (Cicero) because it operates under the premise that citizens are the best judges of their own interests. When citizens aren’t interested/invested in public policy deliberations (as a result of the exclusivity under which public policy operates as a result of its emphasis on expertise and the validity and reliability of Scientific/Technological factors at the exclusion of social values) they defer to experts to make decisions on their behalf, what Hauser & Benoit-Barne (2002) describe as the “procedural model,” which:

is prone to reducing deliberation to exchanges among an epistemic elite credentialed to engage in critical rational deliberation … [which] rules out the impact of attachments [social factors] which motivate citizens to become involved in political issues and partake in deliberative processes. Political issues and decisions are, as Aristotle observed, in the realm of the contingent, and contingencies are not entirely explicable in rationalistic terms. (p. 265)

In recognition of this problem, Danisch (2010) asks how we ought to cultivate common sense in citizens – how to interest citizens – about rendering judgments about scientific/technological contingencies, in the absence of expert knowledge. Most significantly, he warns that “no simple transition moves the locus of judgment and authority [from experts] back to the community of common citizens” (p. 188); therefore, in extending this challenge, he asks how “we” ought to begin negotiating non-experts’ opinions and values into the management of scientific/technological contingencies, enabling a “truer” deliberative model of democracy.

Grabill & Simmons (1998) respond to this challenge by asserting that technical communicators are skilled at:

insert[ing] the audience/public/citizens directly into risk assessment processes through usability testing … contextual interviewing and observation practices … working with audiences in the construction of knowledge. (p. 431)

More adamantly, they claim that “risk communication explicitly takes technical communication into the realm of civic discourse” (p. 435) thus identifying the “we” above as rhetoricians, and subsequently positioning rhetoricians/technical communicators as primarily responsible for (re-)producing citizens who are interested in and capable of deliberating about matters of significance to them, as various publics, representing various and localized priorities.

Public Value Mapping

Very briefly, I want to explain the rhetorical method of Public Value Mapping (PVM) and to suggest that such a method provides a strategy for extending theoretical claims about the necessity of a deliberative democracy for the management of contemporary scientific/technological contingencies/risks. In particular, I want to highlight Meyers’ research on the public values failures of climate science in the US, identifying 5 public values related specifically to climate science communication, and suggesting that thinking “small” (i.e. local) may lead to desired progress in connecting science and public values.

In “Public Value Mapping of Science Outcomes,” Bozeman provides an overview of the PVM model:

PVM includes concerns not generally addressed in research evaluation … research outputs, impacts, and organizations are considered in terms of their role with the environment for research … including other researchers and research institutions and their work, but also such contributors as funding agencies … other stakeholders … the PVM approach, thus, considers the capacity to do research, including especially the pool of ‘Scientific and technical Human Capital’ (S&HC) available and deployed by the research unit and the impacts of the research unit and activity on the development of further S&HC … it examines as part of a knowledge value collective not only those who themselves produce scientific knowledge but the long chain of institutions and actors who enable the transformation of knowledge into uses and social impacts. (2003, p. 16)

Meyers identifies five public values that he claims have contributed to the public values failures of climate science:

  • useful information
  • high quality Science
  • coordination and collaboration
  • transparency and communication
  • stakeholder participation and support

He ultimately suggests that for the management of scientific contingencies, we ought to ask ourselves what kinds of knowledge would lead to desired progress toward public values, and what kinds of institutions are needed to facilitate that process; essentially, we need to ask how we can develop goals that connect science with publics values. Could thinking “small”/ local enable incremental progress for climate change policy and, in particular, policy pertaining to adaptive measures? (2011, n.p.) If, as is the premise of this essay, we agree with Meyer that the identification of local values and the subsequent engagement of a particular public in supporting those values is an effective model for deliberative democracy, then the usefulness of re-purposed classical rhetoric for the development of a more mature and comprehensive theory of deliberative democracy can be further legitimized (Hauser & Benoit-Barne, 2002). Most significantly, though, it further validates and extends Beck’s risk society thesis, necessitating a paradigm shift in our dispositions about productively managing our contemporary scientific and technological risks. In particular, this new paradigm revalidates the underlying motivation of a critical and deliberative rhetoric: the capacity for “true” persuasion. Garsten concludes:

part of what we might gain from renewed attention to [classical rhetoricians’ philosophies of deliberative democracy] is the ability to articulate precisely what is lost in a politics without persuasion: a feel for how to render moral and political principles psychologically attractive, a prudent sensitivity to the particular passions and interests of different audiences [public values with the sciences]; and a decent respect for the knowledge of probabilities enshrined in common sense and ordinary experience. (2006, p. 22)


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Pidgeon, N. & Fischhoff, B. (2011). The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks. Nature Climate Change, 1, 35-41.


Sauer, B. (2003). The Rhetoric of Risk: Technical Documentation in Hazardous Environments.

Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Scott, J.B. (2006). Kairos as Indeterminate Risk Management: The Pharmaceutical Industry’s Response to Bioterrorism. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 92(2), 115-143.

Managing Uncertainty: the Responsibility of Rhetoricians with Scientists

-making decisions for climate change adaptation strategies in coastal cities-

 from “Understanding the Economics of Adaptation” in The Economics of Climate Change:

The Stern Review

Adaptation is the “only way to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change to which the world is already committed, and additionally offers an opportunity to adjust economic activity in vulnerable sectors and support sustainable development” (458). Adaptation operates at two levels: planning, or building capacity, and implementation, or delivering actions. Tampa Bay is one of many coastal cities, like NYC, that remains vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because adaptation is still largely at the building stage; the stage in which scientists and policy-makers are “creating the information and conditions that are needed to support adaptation.” For example, at Resilient Tampa Bay, dubbed “a knowledge exchange with Dutch experts,” ( scientists, local policy-makers, Dutch and local environmental engineers and risk analysts, as well as rhetoricians (Herndl, Santos, Zoetewey, myself; discussed the potential impacts of climate change in the Tampa Bay area and (the Dutch) suggested options for adaptation (i.e. undertaking impact studies and identifying vulnerabilities; Stern p. 458-9). The next steps for Tampa Bay, post-knowledge exchange, are to pilot specific actions and accumulate the resources necessary to implement actions. Implementation, or delivering actions, is the second phase of adaptation – and one that, for coastal cities like Tampa Bay – necessitates investing in physical infrastructure, like resilience engineering, to protect against specific climate risks like floods and managing sea level rise and storm surges.

In addition to the science/engineering of climate change adaptation strategies, like resilience engineering, economics is – of course – a major factor influencing building capacity and delivering actions in response to climate change. “Decisions about the timing and amount of adaptation require that costs and benefits be compared” (462). The problem, at least at the moment, is that in a cost- benefit analysis, “the adaptation route that is chosen should yield the highest net benefit, having taken into account the risks and uncertainties surrounding climate change” (462). In order for risk analysts like Arno Willems (Resilient Tampa Bay; to advise city planners about a specific/projected cost, given speculated risk, they must decide on a “good enough/safe enough” projection of the certainty of climate change impacts. As Stern argues, more quantitative information on the costs and benefits of economy-wide adaptation is required. “Additionally, for coastal cities, some studies indicate that efficient adaptation could reduce climate damages substantially” (464). In order to move forward building adaptive capacity in Tampa Bay, we need this data; we need the best-possible estimates and projections, especially in the context of uncertainty about climate change. Moving forward building adaptive capacity doesn’t mean fast-forwarding to investing in physical infrastructure (i.e. resilience engineering) to protect against specific climate risks (storm surge, sea level rise, urban flooding). It does mean moving forward by first articulating the options for adaptation and undertaking impact studies and identifying vulnerabilities; where the Resilient Tampa Bay knowledge exchange left off. In my opinion, this is where we ought to focus climate change research/funding– on the development of risk management frameworks that map costs and benefits as sufficiently as possible, given that uncertainty can’t ever be eliminated from climate change, or any other, sciences.

Stern argues that barriers to adaptation can be summarized as three reasons: uncertainty and imperfect information, missing and misaligned markets, and financial constraints. The remainder of this posting will address the first reason, uncertainty and imperfect information.

It’s unfortunate that in current climate change conversations, “high-quality” information = “certain” or “perfect” information; the only type of information that is considered useful for articulating the costs and benefits of investing in adaptation. If “high-quality” means “certain/perfect,” and it is unlikely that certain/perfect information will ever exist, then how it is possible for productive conversations about climate change adaptation, like Resilient Tampa Bay, to move forward in building capacity and investing in physical infrastructure to respond to coastal cities’ vulnerabilities to climate change? If certain (Scientific)* information doesn’t exist, then will it continue to be difficult/impossible for individuals/firms to “weigh up the costs and benefits of investing in adaptation” (466). Stern is hopeful: “The uncertainty will never be resolved, but should become more constrained as an understanding of the system improves” (466). Just how it can “become more constrained” isn’t articulated; however, from my perspective, as a rhetorician, a key strategy for “constraining” uncertainty about climate change lies in linguistic framing and in rhetoric about scientific issues of contingency, of which climate change is arguably #1. Lakoff (“Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment”; Environmental Communication 2010) writes that introducing a new frame is successful (only) if it makes sense in terms of the existing system of frames, if it works emotionally and if it is introduced in a communication system that allows for sufficient spread over the population, sufficient repetition, and sufficient trust in the messengers (Lakoff 72) . What, then, are the possibilities for re-framing uncertainty in order to constrain it and – therefore – enable risk analysts to develop “high-quality” models of costs and benefits of climate change adaptation strategies, like resilience engineering, that will be attractive and achievable?

Climate change adaptation isn’t a Science (solution)* it’s a strategy for managing uncertainty, what I perceive as the foundational ethic of practicing the sciences; managing uncertainties. Stern emphasizes that it is important to recognize the limits of adaptation … it cannot by itself solve the problems posed by high and rapidly increasing temperatures, etc. (469). If the most paralyzing aspect of climate change is its identity as “uncertain,” then rhetoricians of science have a responsibility in managing uncertainty, too: a responsibility for improving the terms of the debate. Even more explicitly, they have a responsibility for re-framing “uncertainty” with a frame that has the power to motivate the implementation of adaptive strategies. If the terms of the debate with scientific/engineering strategies can enable decision-makers’ confidence in moving forward with delivering adaptation technologies, then the imperative of the sciences as the management of uncertainty can be accomplished as the negotiation of ecological and social priorities that shape policy in responsive, flexible, and economically productive ways.

*My interpretations of “Science” and “the sciences” are motivated by a Latourian way of understanding “the sciences” as an alternative approach to “Science.” To explain, whereas the goal of “Science” is to eliminate uncertainty, the sciences value the capacity to debate in respect of uncertainties, and to negotiate ways of using the terms of scientific debates as ways out of the paralysis that has resulted from demanding certainty from Science.

Brick Walls: “The Uses of Difficulty” and the “right” obstacles

The Economist has just introduced a few phenomenal articles from its sister publication, Intelligent Life, free to DL @ morning, I enjoyed reading “The uses of difficulty,” which I was excited to see has direct correlations with the research I’ve been most recently engaged in re: writers’ uses of technology, the organization of pedagogies informing those uses, and the development of new and innovative strategies for synthesizing writing, technology, and rhetoric to achieve significant and sustainable affect.

I strongly agree with Bill Hart-Davidson, that “writing isn’t just writing anymore, it’s networked and therefore a different composing process, a product with different implications.” Writing occurs in far more spaces, with far larger audiences, and with extremely rewarding, and unfortunately sometimes extremely dire, consequences. Writing is fast, pervasive, affective, powerful. All because of the media through which it occurs – the media that enables its agency to DO things – to do things faster, bigger, stronger.

But not without implications … as Hart-Davidson argues.
The implications I’m most concerned about, from the perspective of my research and pedagogy pertaining to writing center theory/practice and, more casually, writing mentoring, can be traced to teaching and the ways in which the use of technology as a primary tool for writing is imbued with consequences that are immediate (i.e. the “real-time” nature of web publications) and much farther-reaching (“open”: available to any user with Internet access).

From Hart-Davidson’s position,

teaching [writing] can’t continue to occur as it does currently, in a way that is
detached from the reality of a networked mode of writing; teaching needs to
respond to the (vastly different) rhetorical aspects of technological writing and the much
more vast audience which constitutes the digital scholars’ audience (Hart-
Davidson, Bill et al. “Why teach digital writing? The WIDE Research Center
Collective.” Kairos 10.1(2005): n.p. Web. 10 Oct. 2012).

Because we (writers/writing researchers/writing professors) see the value in using technology to enhance writing, researching, and teaching, what’s most important is that we do so based on a solid theoretical foundation of theory that reinforces its intelligent use and challenges its practice. This is where the Economist‘s article, “The uses of difficulty” comes into play for me.

As someone who has almost exclusively – until October of this year – composed on paper (using a laptop literally as a tool for formatting, editing, and communicating my writing) I was initially conflicted to read Ian Leslie’s argument that:

As the brain attempts to force the unsteady hand to do its bidding, the tension
between the two results in a more compressed, psychologically denser
expression … handwriting activat[es] more of the brain than keyboard writing,
including areas responsible for thinking and memory … our brains respond better
to difficulty than we imagine (4).

Leslie’s argument matches my own (former) reasons for handwriting my work for so long … so the question, now, after I’ve just committed to composing on-screen … is does it work? Can I write as effectively – densely, as Leslie would have it? If the difficulty involved in the act of handwriting produces “better,” more critical writing, then why would I or anyone else (Hart-Davidson, in particular) advocate composing on-screen?

I’ve found that composing on-screen enables distinct advantages for: space, time, and most importantly, appropriation of a “real” (digital) audience.

Concerning space, what I’ve enjoyed most about transitioning to digital composing is my access to research – whether it’s via the university library, or a link posted on Twitter, composing on-screen enables me to access and then think-through and analyze many more resources than if I were to copy and then write-through this analysis by hand. Leslie’s counter-argument to this point would likely be that, yes, maybe it’s more efficient to access research and compose writing in the same space, but that doesn’t ensure that I’m thinking-through that research/composition as deeply as if I were to write-through it by hand. Possibly. But what about the possibility of having access to more perspectives to think and write about? What about the benefit of researching more, faster, and thus extending the usefulness of “prewriting” and drafting?

Regarding time, for me, composing onscreen enables my writing to “keep up” with my thinking … and it allows me to use my time more efficiently because as I write, I talk aloud to myself … rehearsing my writing, conversing and arguing about meaning, etc. The ability to type as quickly as I can think/speak narrows the gap between thinking and writing in a very positive way, at least for the way in which I write/communicate.

Lastly, and most importantly, is Hart-Davidson’s argument that digital composing as it’s then produced/dispersed digitally (given that most publications are available online) ensures that the documents produced are “appropriate to the global and dispersed reach of the web”. Essentially, Hart-Davidson is arguing that teaching technological modes of writing prepares students for the reality of writing in a networked world. This is a large-scale change, he argues, in the “rhetorical situations that we ask students to write within, the audiences we ask them to write for, the products that they produce, and the purposes of their writing.” If we are to really engage in teaching students writing, we must respond to the pervasiveness of technology as it is used for writing in the “real” world. This isn’t to argue that writers of the “real” world aren’t using pen and paper. But it is to argue that writing in the 21st century is networked writing … Whether that involves pen and paper at moments throughout the composing process, or whether composing takes place exclusively on-screen would be at the discretion of the writer, I suppose. But I would argue that although the act of pen-and-paper writing is incredibly useful primarily because of the difficulty involved in coordinating thinking and writing, so is the process of typing, the skill involved in researching, and the writer’s attention to the rhetorical -networked- situation they’re composing in.


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