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Science in international negotiations

The Climate Change Convention: a load of hot air?

By Peter Hulm

A cobweb model, modified

This cobweb model needs to be supplemented in two crucial directions, however, to be functional in this, as in many other spheres. The minor amendment is that the cobweb model is not taken to imply a "world society" that is differentiated from a more primitive world of international relations (ibid): it can deal with a "broken cobweb" in which parts of the global polity cannot be described as part of global politics.

More substantially, post-realism (accepting the contributions of liberal-pluralism and Marxism to political theory) requires analysts to specify the dynamics of the links between the strands of the "cobweb". To use a biological analogy, it tries to move global politics forward from taxonomy towards ecology without getting stuck in natural history.

Both Boehmer-Christiansen (1995:7) and O'Riordan (1995:6) note the legitimation role of science for political decisions, which seems to place this special community outside the control of normal political actors, even when it "extends science into the world of politics, commerce and social change" (O'Riordan, 1995:11).

Through the issue of global climate change, Boehmer-Christiansen suggests, "the global R&D enterprise discovered a new value-free, fundable paradigm[...] Opportunities to address 'policy-makers' proved to be an irresistible invitation for research leaders to tell governments how little knowledge they actually possessed and how much more would be required for rational policy" (1195a:3,11)

Rom Harré has pointed out that the class-permeated theories of straightforward Marxism offer "too general a thesis to be convincing as an explanation for the origin and spread of specific scientific ideas" (Harré, 1985:193). However, David Bloor, arguing from a neo-Marxist perspective in Knowledge and Social Imagery (1976, cited by Harré), has suggested that scientific preferences lead to the appearance of certain sorts of ideas which, looked at rather broadly, will be seen to be correlated with the class interests of the scientists involved (ibid:194). This argument is treated more sympathetically by Harré. However, it does not presuppose a dualistic Marxist view of class. The Weberian view of class as a collection of similar interest groups seems equally valid.

References

Summary

Introduction

The scientific consensus

The problems of consensus

The politics of consensus

The threshold of danger

The politics of science

Knowledge-based communities

'Greenwash'

Buying scientific credibility

Science and the three paradigms

A utilitarian hypothesis

A cobweb model, modified

Conclusion

What the Panel Said


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11 December 2000 Webmaster