No Nature: Uncertainty, Agnotology, and the Science of the Environmental Crisis

Below is a slidecast on science, uncertainty, and agnotology. It is based on a series of thumbnail sketch case studies surrounding the politics of knowing and regulating mercury pollution since World War II, but concentrates on a variety of problems associated with knowledge-making in the public arena.

I “borrowed” the title, “No Nature,” from the poet Gary Snyder. It’s a theme I keep coming back to, with its play on “know” and “no,” especially as it relates to our understanding of the physical environment and how knowledge both creates and confuses that understanding and the kinds of stories we tell. To draw on William Cronon’s notion of environmental historians writing stories about stories about nature, I think “No Nature” offers a particularly intriguing perspective for that kind of exploration.

I gave a variant of this talk at McMaster’s Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis in November 2011, and converted it to a slidecast in preparation for an interdisciplinary workshop I’ll be giving at the University of Western Ontario in April. In some sense, this provides a thematic overview of the mercury book, “Modern Alchemy: Knowing and Regulating Mercury in the Global Environment,” and I hope it provides some departure points for discussion at the workshop.

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