CFI Highlights

Melissa Lane Lane’s research addresses the broader relationship between scientists, policymakers and the democratic public. In November-December 2020, her book on climate ethics and political theory, Eco-Republic (Princeton University Press, 2012), was the subject of a videotaped lecture subtitled in Italian for the Festival del Classico, Torino (Turin) – online as of 29 November 2020, and she was interviewed in the national Italian newspaper La Stampa on 29 November 2020, by Paolo Mastrolilli.

Michael Oppenheimer Oppenheimer’s research focuses on expert assessments and the ways in which scientists organize and present their understanding within those structures. A major research product was the book Oppenheimer co-authored, Discerning Experts: The Practices of Scientific Assessment for Environmental Policy, published in 2019 by The University of Chicago Press. His co-authors are Naomi Oreskes, Dale Jamieson, Keynyn Brysse, Jessica O’Reilly, Matthew Shindell, and Milena Wazeck. The book examines the role of major scientific assessments from an inward-looking perspective: asking how experts deliberate and negotiate the decisions (consensus-based or otherwise) on the state of knowledge which is reflected in the final product.

Robert Socolow Socolow’s CFI research focuses on the framing of the public conversation about climate change science and solutions. His essay, “Witnessing for the Middle to Depolarize the Climate Change Conversation,” has appeared in the fall 2020 issue of Daedalus. The essay explores the broadening of the concept of witnessing to include “middle-building” efforts that broaden the conceptualization of a problem and engage additional players. For climate change, he proposes two topics for middle-building: 1) building the case for more ambitious climate science, and 2) making conditionality more salient in evaluations of purported solutions.

The Daedalus issue as a whole, edited by Nancy Rosenblum (Harvard), grew out of a May 2018 conference held in Princeton, “Witnessing Professionals and Climate Change,” co-hosted by Melissa Lane and Rosenblum and co-sponsored by CFI. The conference explored the obligations of expertise in the face of the potential catastrophe of climate change, the limitations and constraints of professional ethics and enforcement by professional associations (and variation across fields), conflicts of obligation, and how to think about effective ‘witnessing’ in a democracy. The other sponsors were the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy; Princeton Environmental Institute; Social Science Research Council (SSRC) through its Anxieties of Democracy program; and University Center for Human Values, with support from the Carnegie Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation.

The publication of a paper in Nature Climate Change, by Socolow and four psychologists, tested the hypothesis that acknowledging uncertainty in the communication of results enhances trust in the findings. The paper has its origins in the predecessor to CFI, the University’s “Communicating Uncertainty” Project, supported by PIIRS and led by Robert Keohane. Two of the co-authors, Ezra Markowitz and Jon Krosnick, were visitors to that project.

Teaching: CFI has had and will continue to have a significant impact on teaching. Notably, Stephen Pacala’s undergraduate “Environmental Nexus” course (ENV200), first taught in the Spring of 2017, was taught for the fourth time in the Fall of 2020. The ethics modules of the course, initially developed by Melissa Lane, were taught by Mintz-Woo and Ewan Kingston (lectures and precepts); the social analysis modules were taught by Marc Fleurbaey, through 2019. The course has transformed the campus conversation among students about their civic responsibilities in the face of the coming intersection of environmental crises.