Advertisement

Minerva

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 411–431 | Cite as

Alternative Facts and States of Fear: Reality and STS in an Age of Climate Fictions

  • Joanna RadinEmail author
Article

Abstract

In the decades since the Science Wars of the 1990s, climate science has become a crucible for the negotiation of claims about reality and expertise. This negotiation, which has drawn explicitly on the ideas and techniques of science and technology studies (STS), has taken place in genres of fiction as well as non-fiction, which intersect in surprising ways. In this case study, I focus on two interwoven strands of this history. One follows Michael Crichton’s best-selling 2004 novel, State of Fear and its reception by neo-conservatives as a commentary on the mis-uses of facts to stoke fear about anthropogenic climate change. The other considers Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s 2010 publishing success Merchants of Doubt as the inverse, a demonstration of the forms of disinformation that have been used to undermine scientific consensus around climate change. I show that both Crichton’s as well as Oreskes and Conway’s approaches were critiqued by academic STS even as their accounts constituted the most high-profile performances of its stakes and the politics of knowledge since the Science Wars. In highlighting the STS practices deployed by each, as well as how those practices were differently linked to accusations of fear-mongering and a perversion of the purity of STS, I demonstrate the need for a reflexive history of STS. Such an approach, I argue, can better consider the social life of STS ideas and practices amidst calls for more politically-engaged approaches to knowledge production.

Keywords

Alternative facts Post-truth Symmetry Climate fiction Climate change Politics Fear STS History of STS 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Thank you to Susan Gaines and David Kirby for the invitation to first speak on this topic at the 2017 Narrating Science Conference in Toronto, Canada organized by the Fiction Meets Science groups at the University of Bremen and the University of Guelph. David, along with Peter Weingart, Doug Bruce, and anonymous reviewers provided valuable advice in developing the argument into the present paper. I could not have finished it without Deanna Day’s expertise and encouragement. Henry Cowles and members of the STS community at the University of Michigan provided a gracious and stimulating forum for feedback at a critical moment. Elizabeth Karron and Beans Velocci performed exemplary research and editorial support.

References

  1. Adams, John Joseph (ed.). 2015. Loosed upon the world: The saga anthology of climate fiction. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  2. Aronova, Elena. 2012. Studies of Science Before ‘Science Studies’: Cold War and the Politics of Science in the U.S., U.K., and U.S.S.R., 1950s–1970s. Unpublished PhD thesis, History, University of California at San Diego.Google Scholar
  3. Baker, Erik, and Naomi Oreskes. 2017. It’s no game: Post-truth and the obligations of science studies. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6(8): 1–10.Google Scholar
  4. Balmford, Andrew, Andrea Manica, Lesley Airey, Linda Birkin, Amy Oliver, and Judith Schleicher. 2004. Hollywood, climate change, and the public. Science 305(5691): 1713.Google Scholar
  5. Beck, Colin. 2007. On the radical cusp: Ecoterrorism in the United States, 1998–2005. Mobilization: An International Quarterly 12(2): 161–176.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk society: Towards a new modernity, vol. 17. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Bell, A., and W. Strieber. 2004. The coming global superstorm. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  8. Benjamin, Ruha. 2013. People’s science: Bodies and rights on the stem cell frontier. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Besel, R.D., R.S. Besel, and B.K. Duffy. 2012. Michael Crichton, Narrative Critique, and the Boundary-Work of Scientific Expertise. StoryTelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative 12(1): 15.Google Scholar
  10. Bijker, W.E., T.P. Hughes, and T. Pinch (eds.). 1987. The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bloor, David. 1991. Knowledge and Social Imagery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bowles, Scott. 2004. The ‘Day After Tomorrow’ heats up a political debate. Storm of opinion rains down on merits of disaster movie. USA Today, May 26, 2004.Google Scholar
  13. Boyle, Danny. 2017. Iceberg four times the size of London breaks off from Antarctica ice shelf. The Daily Telegraph, July 12, 2017.Google Scholar
  14. Busselle, R., and H. Bilandzic. 2008. Fictionality and perceived realism in experiencing stories: A model of narrative comprehension and engagement. Communication Theory 18: 255–280.Google Scholar
  15. Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton: Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
  16. Chylek, P., et al. 2004. Global warming and the Greenland ice sheet. Climatic Change 63: 201–221.Google Scholar
  17. Clark, Pilita. 2013. Global literary circles warm to climate fiction. The Financial Times, May 31, 2013.Google Scholar
  18. Coen, Deborah. 2014. Historical futurology. Public Books. 1 Jan. https://www.publicbooks.org/historical-futorology/
  19. Collins, Harry M. 1983. The sociology of scientific knowledge: Studies of contemporary science. Annual Review of Sociology 9(1): 265–285.Google Scholar
  20. Collins, Harry, R. Evans, and M. Weinel. 2017. STS as science or politics? Social Studies of Science 47(4): 580–586.Google Scholar
  21. “Conway: Press Secretary Gave ‘Alternative Facts’” Meet the Press, 22 Jan 2017. https://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/conway-press-secretary-gave-alternative-facts-860142147643. Accessed 8 March 2018.
  22. Crichton, Michael. 1969. The Andromeda Strain. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  23. Crichton, Michael. 1990. Jurassic Park. New York: Ballantine.Google Scholar
  24. Crichton, Michael. 2003. “Environmentalism as Religion” Remarks to the Commonwealth Club. http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/environmentalism_religion.pdf
  25. Crichton, Michael. 2003. “Aliens Cause Global Warming” Caltech Michelin Lecture. 17 Jan. http://www.statlit.org/pdf/2003-Crichton-Aliens-Cause-Global-Warming.pdf
  26. Crichton, Michael. 2004. State of fear. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  27. Crowley, Michael. 2006. “Jurassic president: Michael Crichton’s scariest creation.” New Republic, March 20, 2006.Google Scholar
  28. Dahlstrom, M.F., and S.S. Ho. 2012. Ethical considerations of using narrative to communicate science. Science Communication 34: 592–617.Google Scholar
  29. Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. 1994. The Image of Objectivity. Representations 40: 81–128.Google Scholar
  30. Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. 2007. Objectivity. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  31. De la Bellacasa, Maria Puig. 2017. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  32. Fleck, Ludwik. 1979. Genesis and development of a scientific fact. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  33. Fuller, Steve. 2016. Embrace the Inner Fox: Post-truth as the STS Symmetry Principle Universalized. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. https://social-epistemology.com/2016/12/25/embrace-the-inner-fox-post-truth-as-the-sts-symmetry-principle-universalized-steve-fuller/#comments
  34. Fuller, Steve. 2017. Is STS All Talk and No Walk? EASST Review 36(1). https://easst.net/article/is-sts-all-talk-and-no-walk/
  35. Furedi, Frank. 2002. Culture of Fear: Risk-Taking and the Morality of Low Expectation. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  36. Gordin, Michael D. 2012. The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  37. Gore, Al. 2006. An inconvenient truth: The planetary emergency of global warming and what we can do about it. New York: Rodale.Google Scholar
  38. Gross, Paul R., and Norman Levitt. 1997. Higher superstition: The academic left and its quarrels with science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Haraway, Donna Jeanne. 1988. Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies 14: 575–599.Google Scholar
  40. Harding, Sandra G. 1986. The science question in feminism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Harding, Sandra, and Merrill B.P. Hinitkka (eds.). 1983. Discovering reality: Feminist perspectives on epistemology, metaphysics, methodology, and philosophy of science. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  42. Hess, David J. 2013. Neoliberalism and the history of STS theory: Toward a reflexive sociology. Social Epistemology 27(2): 177–193.Google Scholar
  43. Hilgartner, Stephen. 1997. The Sokal affair in context. Science, Technology, & Human Values 22(4): 506–522.Google Scholar
  44. Howe, Cymene. 2017. Post-truth/fake-posts. Or, the truth in beta mode. EASST Review 36(1).Google Scholar
  45. Inhofe, James M. 2005. Climate change update, Senate floor statement by U.S. Sen James M. Inhofe (R-Okla), January 4, 2005.Google Scholar
  46. Jasanoff, Sheila. 1990. The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policy Makers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Kahneman, Daniel, and Amos Tversky. 2000. Choices, Values, and Frames. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Keller, E.F. 1982. Feminism and science. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7(3): 589–602.Google Scholar
  49. Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  50. Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. 1979. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  51. Latour, Bruno. 1987. Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Philadelphia: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Latour, Bruno. 1999. Pandora’s hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Latour, Bruno. 2004. Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry 30(2): 225–248.Google Scholar
  54. Latour, Bruno. 2010. On the modern cult of the factish gods. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Leiserowitz, Anthony A. 2004. Day after tomorrow: study of climate change risk perception. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 46(9): 22–39.Google Scholar
  56. Lindee, M.S. 2005. Moments of truth in genetic medicine. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Longino, Helen E. 1987. Can there be a feminist science? Hypatia 2(3): 51–64.Google Scholar
  58. Lowe, Thomas, Katrina Brown, Suraje Dessai, Miguel de França, Kat Haynes Doria, and Katharine Vincent. 2006. Does tomorrow ever come? Disaster narrative and public perceptions of climate change. Public Understanding of Science 15(4): 435–457.Google Scholar
  59. Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. 2018. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. New York: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  60. Marshall, George. 2014. Climate fiction will reinforce existing views. The New York Times, July 29, 2014.Google Scholar
  61. Martin, Aryn, N. Myers, and A. Viseu. 2015. The politics of care in technoscience. Social Studies of Science 45(5): 625–641.Google Scholar
  62. McCright, A.M., and R.E. Dunlap. 2011. The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010. The Sociological Quarterly 52(2): 155–194.Google Scholar
  63. McGilligan, Patrick. 1979. “Ready When You Are, Dr. Crichton” American Film, 1979, in Golla.Google Scholar
  64. Mellor, Felicity. 2007. Colliding worlds: Asteroid research and the legitimization of war in space. Social Studies of Science 37: 499–531.Google Scholar
  65. Michaels, Patrick J. 2004. ‘Day After Tomorrow’: A lot of hot air. USA Today, May 25, 2004.Google Scholar
  66. Milkoreit, Manjana. 2016. The promise of climate fiction: Imagination, storytelling and the politics of the future. In Reimagining climate change, eds. Paul Wapner and Hilal Elver, 171–191. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  67. Mirrlees, T. 2018. The Alt-right’s Discourse on “Cultural Marxism”: A Political Instrument of Intersectional Hate. Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice 39(1): 49–69.Google Scholar
  68. Mooney, Chris. 2014. How Western civilization ended, circa 2014. Mother Jones, July 18, 2014.Google Scholar
  69. Ngai, Sianne. 2005. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Nisbet, M.C. 2009. Communicating climate change: Why frames matter for public engagement. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 51(2): 12–23.Google Scholar
  71. Norton, Andrew, and John Leaman. 2004. The day after tomorrow: Public opinion on climate change. London: MORI Social Research Institute.Google Scholar
  72. Nuzzi, Olivia. 2017. “Kellyanne Conway is a Star.” New York Magazine. March. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/03/kellyanne-conway-trumps-first-lady.html. Accessed May 14, 2018.
  73. Oreskes, Naomi. 1996. Objectivity or heroism? On the invisibility of women in science. Osiris 11: 87–113.Google Scholar
  74. Oreskes, Naomi. 2004. The scientific consensus on climate change. Science 306(5702): 1686.Google Scholar
  75. Oreskes, Naomi. 2005. Fear-mongering Crichton wrong on science. SFGate, February 16, 2005.Google Scholar
  76. Oreskes, Naomi. 2006. Testimony before the Committee on Environment and Public Works of the United States Senate. 6 December. https://web.stanford.edu/dept/cisst/ORESKES.Senate%20EPW.FINAL.pdf
  77. Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. 2010. Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  78. Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. 2014. The collapse of Western civilization: A view from the future. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Pinker, S. 2018. Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  80. Powell, James Lawrence. 2011. The inquisition of climate science. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  81. Radin, Joanna. 2019. The Speculative Present: How Michael Crichton’s Fiction Colonized the Future of Fact. Osiris. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  82. Ray, Dixie Lee, and Lou Guzzo. 1992. Trashing the Planet: How Science Can Help Us Deal With Acid Raid, Depeltion of the Ozone and Nuclear Waste (Among Other Things). New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  83. Revkin, Andrew C. 2004. New climate thriller: Scary, but is it science? The New York Times, December 14 2004.Google Scholar
  84. Rich, Nathaniel. 2014. Three divergent visions of our future under climate change. The New York Times, September 22, 2014.Google Scholar
  85. Richards, Robert J., and Lorraine Daston (eds.). 2016. Kuhn’s ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ at Fifty: Reflections on a Science Classic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  86. Robin, Corey. 2004. Fear: The history of a political idea. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Rose, Hilary. 1983. Hand, brain, and heart: A feminist epistemology for the natural sciences. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 9(1): 73–90.Google Scholar
  88. Ross, Andrew. 1996. Science wars, vol. 46. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Seaton, Jean. 2017. “Welcome to dystopia—George Orwell experts on Donald Trump.” The Guardian. 25 Jan. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/25/george-orwell-donald-trump-kellyanne-conway-1984. Accessed November 27, 2018.
  90. Shapin, S., and S. Schaffer. 1985. Leviathan and the air-pump. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  91. Silverman, Chloe. 2011. Understanding autism: Parents, doctors, and the history of a disorder. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Simmons, Dana. 2016. Repair work. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 2: 237–241.Google Scholar
  93. Sismondo, Sergio. 2017. Post-truth? Social Studies of Science 47(1): 3–6.Google Scholar
  94. Sokal, A.D. 1996. A physicist experiments with cultural studies. Lingua Franca 6(4): 62–64.Google Scholar
  95. Smith, Rebecca K. 2008. Ecoterrorism? A critical analysis of the vilification of radical environmental activists as terrorists. Environmental Law 38: 537–576.Google Scholar
  96. Tallbear, Kim. 2013. Native American DNA. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  97. Todd, Zoe. 2016. An Indigenous feminist’s take on the ontological turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism. Journal of Historical Sociology 29(1): 4–22.Google Scholar
  98. Traweek, Sharon. 2009. Beamtimes and lifetimes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Trexler, Adam. 2015. Anthropocene fictions: The novel in a time of climate change. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
  100. Ullrich, J. K. 2015. Climate fiction: Can books save the planet? The Atlantic, August 14, 2015.Google Scholar
  101. Wagner, Travis. 2008. Reframing ecotage as ecoterrorism: News and the discourse of fear. Environmental Communication 2(1): 25–39.Google Scholar
  102. Wasserman, Steve. 2004. A techno-thriller, with a neo-con point of view; State of Fear a Novel. The Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2004.Google Scholar
  103. Winner, Langdon. 1993. Social constructivism: Opening the black box and finding it empty. Science as Culture 3(3): 427–452.Google Scholar
  104. Wolfe, Audra J. 2018. Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  105. Woolgar, Steve. 1991. The turn to technology in social studies of science. Science, Technology, & Human Values 16(1): 20–50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of the History of MedicineYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations