TOP: Climategate IPCC and the legitimacy of public concerns

On: March 20, 2011
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About Elias van Hees
Elias van Hees is currently a MA student of New Media, he studied at the University of Rotterdam and received his Bachelor Degree in Information Technology and Communication (2009). Elias is a self-employed web strategist, more information is available on Interests: social media, research, politics, music, webdevelopment, seo, branding, concepting, user experience and usability.


In this session we focus on the contemporary connections between science, technology, and politics. The connections between these three domains are often neglected or unjust presented as complete seperated area’s. Bruno Latour speaks of matters that matter, by which a public around an issue (that matters) is created. Without a concern, there is nobody interested in a debate logically spoken. First we need a specific matter of concern, in order to find out which actors are involved in what Latour calls an “Object Oriented Democracy”:

“We might be more connected to each other by our worries, our matters of concern, the issues we care for, than by any other set of values, opinions, attitudes or principles.” (Latour 2005: p.18)

As a matter of global concern, i would suggest climate change issue which is often presented by the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The IPCC was established by the UN in 1988 and shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President of the United States Al Gore. The IPCC claims provides the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences, notably the risk of climate change caused by human activity. The reputation and reliability of IPCC decreased by what the majority the mass-media called the “Climategate”, a Climatic Research Unit email controversy which started in November 2009 when WSJ published an article in which the IPCC was accused of including their own views only while excluding others and als withheld scientific data researched by scientists.

Latour also speaks about the abusive difference between facts and assertions and that proof is always needed to be brought into the center of the debate (Latour 2005: p.22) in order to result in a relevant discussion. The question is though, if after the whole climategate, the reputation of the IPCC is still trustworthy and what happens to the matter of concern in this case.

What’s important to realize when it comes to the issue of climate change is that the public involvement in this controversy is enormous. According to Latour each object / issue “generates a different pattern of emotions and disruptions, of disagreements and agreements.” (Latour 2005: p.19) Representation is essential in the way a message is received by its public, and “parliament” is a technical term for “making things public” in a way that i would call transparent (Latour 2005: p.38). In Latour’s vision the current politics are way to “political” and need to find a way to overcome the multiplicity of ways of assembling in order to let “demos” (the population) and the objects be central again instead of the domination of the “demon of politics”. According to Latour the focus should be on the Object which will result in a politics no longer limited to humans but issues (like f.e. climate change) also.

How the debate of climate change will develop is difficult to predict, because matters of fact are not the same as matters of concern. Matters of fact are elusive, matters of concern are constructed. I think a course of action is needed when it comes to the debate of climate change, but to end with Latour’s words:

“Who can really be that open-minded?” (Latour 2005: p.39)

Latour, Bruno. “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public” in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Eds. Bruno Latour, and Peter Weibel. London: The MIT Press, 2005. 14-41.

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