Epistemic Rift

Riffing on the notion of the ‘metabolic rift’ David Hess suggests

The emergence of climate science denialism in the United States provides a challenge to STS theories of the relationship between scientific expertise and public policy because a situation of epistemic rift occurs: the capacity of scientific consensus to establish the grounds of political debate is broken, and the standard circulation of expertise from the scientists and funding from the state is interrupted. Three mechanisms for the containment of scientific expertise are studied: direct intellectual suppression of climate scientists, industry support of contrarian scientists and policymakers, and cutbacks on government research programs that support climate change. This situation politicizes climate scientists, who are drawn into the public sphere as a counterpublic to the effort to contain the circulation of their knowledge in the political field. Although the strategy of contained expertise has been effective in blocking climate legislation at the federal government level in the United States, it may be losing effectiveness, and an emergent alternative strategy based on adaptation may be coming to replace it. Factors that affect the reduction in the capacity to contain the circulation of scientific expertise are also analyzed.

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