Post date: Mar 7, 2014 5:05:52 PM

I just returned from a session in the NEXUS conference where Jacqueline Kerr was talking about the rhetoric of hydrofracking. It was an interesting experience, both in the topic and format. Most notably to me was how the session was formatted.

  • It was a panel session, but one with only two panelists.
  • Both panelists read directly from printed out notes, which was odd to me since in EEB we're expected to give a performance rather than simply (and more effectively) reiterate our work. I guess when your focus is rhetoric, you want to make sure you get the words just right.
  • Both panelists gave fairly long (~20 min) presentations, whereas my own experience with panels is they are quite short introductions.
  • No questions were asked directly after each panelist.

I was also a bit intrigued by the topics. Both panelists talked about the rhetoric of charged environmental issues (climate change and hydrofracking). I missed almost all of the first one, but made it for all of Jacqueline's. I cant begin to adequately paraphrase her talk, but the major thing I got out of it was that both sides (and there shouldnt be only 2) of the hydrofracking debate use scientific uncertainty in a way that prevents consensus on the issue. That should hold some really important lessons for scientists. We normally think of Science as lending weight to an argument that is based on both scientific and non-scientific principles. In this case, however, scientific evidence is serving only to hinder the debate. I believe this could be the case whether Science is certain one way or the other, but it's made that much easier when there are conflicting conclusions from scientific studies. Does that mean Science has no place in policy and social movements other than as a tool for misdirection? Or is the purity of Science and scientists being bastardized in a way that obscures its value?