– How do you explain the rise of antiscientific thinking and “alternative facts”?
– To have common facts, you need a common reality. This needs to be instituted in church, classes, decent journalism, peer review. … It is not about posttruth, it is about the fact that large groups of people are living in a different world with different realities, where the climate is not changing.
The second science war has at least freed us of the idea that science and technology can be separated from policy. I have always argued that they can’t be. Science has never been immune to political bias. On issues with huge policy implications, you cannot produce unbiased data. That does not mean you cannot produce good science, but scientists should explicitly state their interests, their values, and what sort of proof will make them change their mind.
– How should scientists wage this new war?
– We will have to regain some of the authority of science. That is the complete opposite from where we started doing science studies. Now, scientists have to win back respect. But the solution is the same: You need to present science as science in action. I agree that’s risky, because we make the uncertainties and controversies explicit.
The Australian public ethics professor Clive Hamilton has proposed another line of defense named “strategic essentialism”—stating that the science is indisputable for strategic reasons. This sounds reasonable, but in the long run we need a more realistic image of scientific knowledge. Also, given the state of the dispute and the current lack of confidence, we can’t just go back and state that climate change is “just a fact.”
– Isn’t it?
– No, science is more complex and messy than to understand how the climate works. It is an illusion of certainty to state that we fully understand it, a remnant of the ideal of science.
– But climate change doubters use the uncertainty strategically, too.
– That is true. But the uncertainty is no legitimate reason to block or postpone policy. And certainly, it is no reason to defund the research. That is the real crime: defunding research which might produce unwelcome results. By the way, calling it “skepticism” is an abuse of the term.
Bruno Latour, interviewed by Jop de Vrieze. In Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/bruno-latour-veteran-science-wars-has-new-mission