Wednesday, October 17, 2012


As I’m reading the Beck article, I keep being reminded of Paul Moorcroft’s lecture on Tuesday, which neatly exemplified some of Beck’s early points. Near the end of class, someone asked Moorcroft a question that I can’t remember but that I think was something to the effect of what should be done with the results of these models. Moorcroft responded by emphasizing his status as “just a scientist,” implying that he could not make ethical judgments or recommendations from an “expert” position (though he did note that as a “member of society,” he of course had opinions). This response (which I wish I could remember more accurately) is a perfect example of Beck’s point that “there is no expert on risk” (29). Scientists prize objectivity, and their process depends on it, but this emphasis allows little room for meaningful risk assessments, since, as Beck says, “one must assume an ethical point of view in order to discuss risks meaningfully at all” (29).  The ethics and value judgments (“how do we wish to live?”) implicit in talking about risk seem to be beyond the purview of science. Hence, the disconnect between social movements and scientists. Barry’s response also provides a space to think through how value judgments necessarily inform risk assessment—his (/our) point of view is based on the assumed consensus global warming is what we don’t want, and that, though we do want big business, its short term benefits should not outweigh the long term concerns.

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