Carving up the climate communication landscape

My guest post on Warren Pearce’s new blog Making Climate Social is now live. That blog is linked to Warren’s research project on the climate debate as viewed through social media. I took part in an interesting ‘Discovery Day’ with a variety of colleagues earlier this year, coordinated by designer and technologist Mathew Trivett, who describes the day here.

Taking inspiration from a typology of public participation in policy-making developed by Rikki Dean, I try to classify four ways in which individuals participate in discussions about climate change. These four ways of participating are characterised by their positions on ‘negotiability’ and ‘sociality’ dimensions (see Figure 1), and each has its own conventions and etiquette. Recognising and celebrating these different types of participation may(!) contribute to more constructive climate discussions.

Figure 1. A typology of climate communication (adapted from Dean, R.J. 2016. ‘Beyond radicalism and resignation: the competing logics for public participation in policy decisions’ Policy & Politics (early online view))

Read more on Making Climate Social… (and feel free to comment there, or here, if you have any thoughts on this!)

Truths from Grayson Perry at the PSA Awards

Last week, I attended the Political Studies Association annual awards ceremony (I was there to receive the W.J.M. Mackenzie book prize for the book I wrote with Christopher Hood 🙂 ). The final award of the evening was to Grayson Perry, for his contribution to Art and Culture.

Grayson Perry at the PSA Awards. Hilary Benn MP, who presented the award, is also pictured. (Photo: Ruth Dixon)

Grayson Perry at the PSA Awards. Hilary Benn MP, who presented the award, is also pictured. (Photo: Ruth Dixon)

Grayson Perry’s acceptance speech was remarkable, pointing out to the assembled politicians, journalists, pundits, and academics that for all their intellectual knowledge, they may be missing something important (the following extract is transcribed with minor edits from BBC iplayer starting at about 27 min):

“I think the word ‘truth’ is interesting. Because we’ve often talked about truth in terms of academic truth, statistical truth, empirical truth, scientific truth, but we talk very little about emotional truth. And I think that one thing that all of the experts here need to zhoosh up a bit is their emotional literacy. The liberal academic elite have let us down because they are not emotionally literate enough to really understand what fifty-two per cent of the population were thinking, or feeling, should I say.

“There’s a whole world out there that we need to have more empathy with, even if we don’t like the results those kind of feelings bring about. But I thank you for this award from the experts – and I hope that next year you are giving an award for ‘most empathetic’ politician of the year.”

Grayson Perry’s plea for empathy struck a chord with me. Terms such as ‘authoritarian populism’ and ‘post-truth’ are often used by academics and commentators to belittle those with whom the author disagrees. It is all too easy to raise a laugh in a seminar by saying something that disparages Brexiters or Trump voters. Although I voted ‘Remain,’ I feel very uncomfortable when such partisan attitudes are displayed by publicly-funded academics particularly when the targets of their derision are (directly or indirectly) among the subjects of their research.

Some academics have taken a more thoughtful approach. Bo Rothstein and Lennart Levi suggest that teaching ethics should be a priority for universities in order to improve the behaviour of university-educated elites. And Will Jennings and Martin Lodge argue that political scientists should seek a much deeper engagement with society to protect the ‘foundations of liberal democracy.’ While these approaches have much to recommend them, these articles give a somewhat de haut en bas impression, that if only academics communicated certain ‘truths’ better, public attitudes and policymakers’ behaviour would change accordingly.

This attitude has parallels with the ‘deficit model’ of the public understanding of science (that increasing public understanding of science will increase public acceptance of scientific advances such as GM foods or nuclear power). There is much research that suggests that this model is too simplistic, and that emotions and identity play an important part. So I suggest that political scientists need to question, with some humility, their own ‘deficit model’ of the public understanding of politics.

[update 12-12-16] While I have not seen the phrase ‘deficit model’ applied to public understanding of politics, there is of course plenty of relevant research. For example, greater factual knowledge about the EU does not correlate with positive feelings about it. And Bo Rothstein’s own research shows that ethical concepts such as corruption are understood in very similar ways across different cultures (the differences in levels of corruption are attributed not “to different moral understandings of the problem of corruption but to how different societies come to understand and value the difference between public and private goods and also what most people expect that most other people in their society will do when faced with opportunities for bribery.”)

Finally, and on a lighter note, if you would like to see the UK ‘elite’ at play, the PSA’s flickr album contains 250 photos of the award ceremony. Photos of Christopher Hood and me collecting our award are on p.2. We also wrote an article on government costs (updating the themes of our book) to accompany the announcement of our award. As well as the PSA itself, Sage and OUP also cover the awards.

[Update 20-12-2016] This post, with minor edits, was reposted on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog.

The Evolution of Legislation: a Bioinformatics Approach

About thirty major pieces of government legislation are produced annually in the UK. As there are five main opportunities to amend each bill (two stages in the Commons and three in the Lords) and bills may undergo hundreds, even thousands, of amendments, comprehensive quantitative analysis of legislative changes is almost impossible by manual methods. We used insights from bioinformatics to develop a semi-automatic procedure to map the changes in successive versions the text of a bill as it passes through parliament. This novel tool for scholars of the parliamentary process could be used, for example, to compare amendment patterns over time, between different topics or governments, and between legislatures.be it enacted Continue reading

Who’s Satisfied?

In a previous post (also published on the LSE British politics and policy blog) I showed that satisfaction with the leaders of the two main parties was a good predictor of electoral outcomes over the past 9 UK general elections. That measure, however, combines responses from people who support the party and those who don’t. So in this post I’m exploring leader satisfaction among party supporters as a way of measuring the level of ‘enthusiastic support.’ Continue reading

My Review of Nicholas Stern’s Book ‘Why Are We Waiting?’

Earlier this year I was invited to review Nicholas Stern’s new book, Why Are We Waiting? The Logic, Urgency, and Promise of Tackling Climate Change (MIT Press, 2015), for the Journal of Economic Psychology.

The published version of my book review is here (you can email me for a pdf), and a manuscript version is here.

In Why Are We Waiting? (a follow-up to his well known Review of 2006), Nicholas Stern assembles scientific, moral and economic arguments that rapid and radical reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are needed to limit global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures, and wonders why progress is so slow.

Stern book cover

In my review, as I summarise in this post, I criticise Stern’s book for selective use of evidence, over-optimism regarding the co-benefits of climate policy (for instance for public health), and no discussion of the risks of climate policy (as opposed to the risks of climate change itself). Continue reading