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Three Faces of Environmental Politics

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  1. Three Faces of Environmental Politics Science, Ideology, and Office-Holding

  2. I. Controversies in Environmental Politics • Are Navy sonar tests worth the environmental costs?

  3. I. Controversies in Environmental Politics • Are Navy sonar tests worth the environmental costs? • Should SUVs be held to the same standards as cars?

  4. I. Controversies in Environmental Politics • Are Navy sonar tests worth the environmental costs? • Should SUVs be held to the same standards as cars? • Will more nuclear power help or harm the environment?

  5. I. Controversies in Environmental Politics • Are Navy sonar tests worth the environmental costs? • Should SUVs be held to the same standards as cars? • Will more nuclear power help or harm the environment? • Can humans prevent climate change?

  6. I. Controversies in Environmental Politics • Are Navy sonar tests worth the environmental costs? • Should SUVs be held to the same standards as cars? • Will more nuclear power help or harm the environment? • Can humans prevent climate change? • When should we punish people for harming animals?

  7. The Core Problem • Real environmental controversies have scientific, moral, and political elements • But we are… • Nonscientists who must learn to evaluate science • Humans who must find a way to assign value to nature • Citizens who must evaluate the policies of office-holders • How can we accomplish this?

  8. II. What is Science? • This question is not trivial: it is a major argument on many environmental issues • My approach: Recount the history and philosophy of science in order to discover “rules” for • Separating science from pseudo-science • Comparing two scientific theories or explanations

  9. A. Ancient Science • Plato – World of ideas vs. World of senses • World of Senses = Unreliable – Analogy of shadows on a wall; everything we see is imperfect and incomplete in some way. • World of Ideas = Truth. Only logic can reveal the true nature of the world. Idea of perfect “Forms” which are more real than anything we see.

  10. 2. Aristotelian Science • Rejection of Platonic epistemology – Aristotle believes that nature is real and must be studied, using a deductive method • Rejection of experiment – goal is to understand what is “natural” and changing nature is not “natural” • Method = Look for categories in nature and deduce “essence” of things.

  11. Example 1: Aristotelian Biology • Aristotle observes that male sheep, goats and pigs have more teeth than females • Aristotle argues that men have more vitality than women (hotter “essence”) • Aristotle therefore concludes that men have more teeth than women, “by reason of the abundance of heat and blood which is more in men than in women” • Men and women have the same number of teeth (on average) – Aristotle never bothered to check

  12. Example 2: Aristotelian Gravity • Earth is the center of the universe • Objects made from the earth naturally attempt to return there (i.e. fall to the ground) • The heavier an object is, the more it desires to be in its natural state • Objects actually fall at the same rate, regardless of mass

  13. d. Ptolemy: Facts  models, not the other way around Example: use math to estimate positions of the planets, not to describe their “real” motion. Justification = many models describe identical data (apparent motion of planets)

  14. B. The Enlightenment: Essentialism Rejected • Rediscovery of ancient texts – reveals ancients didn’t know all the answers (example: Ptolemy’s orbits aren’t accurate) • Belief in progress – As economic growth and technology advanced, people came to believe that we would know more in the future (vs. wisdom of the ancients)

  15. 3. The Copernican Revolution • Heliocentrism: Copernicus argued that planets revolved around the sun – simpler system than Ptolemy, but not (initially) better at predicting planets’ positions

  16. b. Scientists compare models: Cumulative knowledge • Observations undermine idea of “heavenly spheres” – Tycho Brahe observes comet passing through planetary orbits • Galileo observes phases of Venus (predicted by Copernican model but not by Ptolemaic model) and moons of Jupiter (not everything revolves around Earth) • Kepler discovers that geometry (ellipse) describes planetary motion (theory: sun/God animates the universe) • Newton theorizes that simple mathematical laws of gravity might explain Kepler’s model of planetary motion

  17. C. Logical Positivism • Positivism: 19th-Century idea that scientific knowledge is the only authentic knowledge. • Logical positivism (early 20th century): Only statements proven true through logic (deduction) or observation (induction) are to be accepted. Fact vs. value distinction. • Process: • Induction: Prove statements true through observation, then… • Deduction: combine these statements to make new predictions

  18. 4. Problems of Logical Positivism • The Inductive Fallacy – How many observations does it take to “confirm” a theory?

  19. Inductive Fallacy Will always get fed at 9 AM Christmas at 9 AM Fed at 9 AM everyday for the past few months

  20. Inductive Fallacy (continued) • How many functions (explanations) will perfectly explain the data? • An infinite number, making dramatically different predictions

  21. 4. Problems of Logical Positivism • The Inductive Fallacy – How many observations does it take to “confirm” a theory? • The Demarcation Problem – Empirical observation and attempts at confirmation don’t separate science and pseudo-science

  22. Who uses empirical methods? • Astrologers: Mass of horoscopes, biographies, star charts

  23. Who uses empirical methods? • Astrologers: Mass of horoscopes, biographies, star charts • Phrenologists: Thousands of skull measurements

  24. Who uses empirical methods? • Astrologers: Mass of horoscopes, biographies, star charts • Phrenologists: Thousands of skull measurements • “Scientific” racists: One recent author tabulates 620 separate studies of average IQ from 100 different countries with a total sample size of 813,778 to confirm hypotheses of racial differences

  25. C. Falsificationism • Karl Popper: Stop trying to confirm theories and try falsifying them instead • Method: Make novel predictions with theory that prove the theory false if they fail to occur (critical experiments) • Result: Scientific theories are never proven true. Science consists of conjectures (theories which haven’t failed yet) and refutations (those which have failed)

  26. 4. The Demarcation Problem • Allows us to reject astrology, etc as pseudo-science: Astrologers rarely make testable predictions, and don’t give up astrology when they fail • Popper argues that Marxism and Freudianism are both pseudo-science (example of “false consciousness” in Marxism) – enough ifs, ands, and buts allow them to “explain” anything after the fact, but predict nothing novel

  27. 5. Problems of Falsificationism • The ceteris paribus Clause – Theories are tested “all else being equal” but it never is. • Virtually all useful scientific theories had “anomalies” when first stated (Copernicus, plate tectonics, etc) – strict falsificationism is a recipe for ignorance • Popper’s solution: require a replacement theory that explains everything the old one did, plus something else, before abandoning old theory (may mean we retain pseudoscience…)

  28. D. Social Models of Science • Kuhn’s “Paradigm Shifts” • Idea: Science is a social activity that proceeds under a “paradigm” of unquestioned assumptions about the world and a set of problems considered to be critical (value decision) • Every interesting theory has anomalies – things that seem inconsistent with the theory. • “Normal science” is puzzle-solving; unexplained anomalies are simply assumed to be unsolved puzzles – scientists usually suppress novel explanations if they can retain their paradigms (Tycho Brahe believed in an earth-centered universe, plate tectonics was rejected for decades, etc)

  29. d. Scientific Revolutions • When enough anomalies start piling up (especially ones that get in the way of practical uses of science), new explanations begin to receive a hearing • At some point, the new explanation becomes the “expected” explanation – a new paradigm • Note that this is a social process – we cannot be sure the new paradigm is any “better” or more accurate than the old one. It’s just…different.

  30. 2. Lakatos: Research Programs • Goal: Retain idea of falsification while acknowledging that scientists do not actually reject theories when anomalies are found • Objections to Kuhn: • Kuhn offers no way of comparing paradigms – but science often looks like it has “progressed” over the past centuries • Most fields have multiple “paradigms” at the same time

  31. c. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programs • Research programs rely on multiple theories to identify problems and solve puzzles • Each scientific research program has a “hard core” of unquestioned assumptions and a “protective belt” of auxiliary hypotheses (i.e. attempts to “save” the program from falsification) • Evaluation: Look for “progressive” research programs (making new predictions and discoveries) and reject “degenerative” ones (simply adding to the protective belt without offering new knowledge)

  32. Example: Neptune • Astronomers discovered that the orbit of Uranus didn’t match Newton’s predictions • They did NOT give up Newtonian physics • They DID add a new item to the protective belt: something else must be “perturbing” the orbit of Uranus • This turned out to be Neptune: Progressive change to research program • What if…no Neptune? Could hypothesize that some unobservable force acts only on Uranus  no new predictions = degenerative shift

  33. d. The Demarcation Problem • This was the assigned reading by Lakatos • How do we know pseudoscience? • It critiques science without offering an alternative set of predictions • It continually invents new hypotheses that explain its previous failures but do NOT make new, falsifiable predictions

  34. E. Conclusion: Standards for Evaluating Science • Every model must be tested against another model • Simplest model = random chance (systematic studies of astrology usually show it fails this test) • It takes a model to beat a model – Where an existing theory outperforms chance, critics are obligated to suggest a better explanation for the facts

  35. 2. What makes one explanation better than another? • Progressive vs. degenerative research programs – A theory or set of theories that keeps making novel, falsifiable predictions beats one that keeps adding new assumptions just to explain what we already know or generates untestable hypotheses • Utility – Since we cannot be sure theories are True or False (ceteris paribus problem) they need to be useful. Preference for parsimonious theories using observable variables.

  36. III. Ideology • Ideology defined: A connected set of beliefs about what the world should look like • Preferences between states of the world • Rationality: Connected and transitive preferences

  37. B. Science vs. Ideology? • Science cannot “disprove” ideology – because they address different questions! • Prediction vs. Prescription – “Taxes stifle growth” vs. “Taxes should be cut.” • Ideology adds the “should” • Ideology may cause people to make empirical statements (i.e. taxes and growth) but the statement is not a necessary part of the ideology

  38. 3. Styles of argument • Science: Hypothesis-testing and theory-comparison using data • Ideology: The “lawyer” style – Starting with a conclusion and building a case from confirming evidence • Implication: Scientists can also be ideologues – “CO2 increases average temperatures” vs. “Global warming must be stopped”

  39. C. Activism: How ideologues work • What do Americans think about the environment? a. The importance of salience: relative weight of different issues

  40. C. Activism: How ideologues work • What do Americans think about the environment? • The importance of salience: relative weight of different issues • General sympathy for environmental movement (activists)

  41. C. Activism: How ideologues work • What do Americans think about the environment? • The importance of salience: relative weight of different issues • General sympathy for environmental movement (activists) • Perception of environment as distant problem

  42. 2. Tactics of environmental activists • Raising the salience of the environment • Time pressure: Argue a “brink” in the near future • Irrevocable damage: Argue that environmental damage is different from economic damage, i.e. cannot be repaired • Magnify impacts: Argue that environmental damage is worse than other problems, i.e. risks human extinction or other catastrophe