Scientism: A problem at the heart of formal public engagement with climate change
Keywords:Public engagement, climate policy, scientism
One response to political contestation over climate change is to promote formal public engagement to address diverse social values, encourage behavioral change and foster support for regulatory initiatives. Scientism, a normative stance that grants implicit authority to scientific and technical experts to define the meaning of public issues, limits the democratic potential of such efforts. Current manifestations of scientism result in a disproportionate emphasis on fixing public knowledge and attitude deficits and a concomitant lack of scrutiny of the values and assumptions at play in the framing of public policy issues. Confronting scientism involves approaching climate policy as necessarily informed by science but not necessarily reducible to quantitative and statistical frames of reference. Critical geographers and scholars are well positioned to challenge scientism by opening the value commitments obscured or denied by technical approaches to climate change to scrutiny and debate. Such critical interventions are increasingly necessary in an era in which policy discussions are polarized and consensus-based action-oriented approaches advocated. More work is needed to bridge the gap between critical research and the professionals and citizens who orchestrate public engagement with climate change.
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