In  this  paper  I  present  findings  from  a  research  project  on  the  protection  of  the  ozone  layer  which  is mainly based on interviews with atmospheric scientists. I look at the role advocate scientists played in the process.  I  will  focus  on  their  rhetorical  strategies,  especially  the  invention  of  the  metaphor  ”ozone  hole” which alarmed the public world-wide and contributed in a decisive way to stringent international controls of ozone depleting substances.


Before  the  metaphor  ”ozone hole”  came  up,  experts and  laypersons  from  the  mid-1970s  to  the  mid-1980s  were  concerned  with  a  possible  future  ”thinning  of  the  ozone  layer”.  The  difference  between  the two metaphors is evident. While the thinning metaphor evokes the picture of a tissue which is threadbare,the  hole  metaphor  evokes  the  picture  of  a  balloon  which  is  punctured  and  blows  up  or  loses  its  air.  This metaphor clearly was designed to capture the element of drama. Before 1985, everyone expected an ozone loss of  maybe 10  or  20%  in one  hundred years.  After  1985,  there  was  an  observed actual  ozone  loss  of about 50%.


One of the most active and outspoken atmospheric scientists, Sherwod Rowland, coined the term ozone hole in November 1985, shortly after data on abnormal large losses over Antactica (collected by a  British team of researchers) had become available. Although the metaphor ”ozone hole” quickly was picked up by the  media,  it  took  more  time  before  it  was  acceptable  in  scientific  publications.  A  paper  which  used  the term ”ozone hole” in its title and which was submitted to Nature in 1986, had to appear under a different title  (Stolarski  et  al.,  ”Nimbus  7  satellite  measurements  of  the  springtime  Antarctic  ozone  decrease”,Nature  Vol.  322,  28.8.1986).  It  took  two  years  before  the  term  ”ozone  hole”  became  acceptable  for  the scientific discourse (Solomon, ”The Mystery of the Antarctic Ozone Hole”, Review of Geophysics, vol 26:131-148).


Advocate  scientists,  using  alarmist  language  and  metaphors  like  the  ozone  hole  metaphor,  played  an important  role  in  getting  international  public  attention  for  the  problem  and  were  also  instrumental  in indicating solutions by making suggestions for regulatory action. But this success poses a problem for their credibility. They have to bring together their active political role with the ”ideal of the scientist”. The latter is  neutral  and  objective,  and  reports  only  the  facts.  Scientists  who  participated  in  the  controversy,  found themselves  unable  to  avoid  making  explicit  or  implicit  judgements  about  almost  every  one  of  the essentially non-scientific value questions, no matter how much they tried to ‘stick to the facts’, as Brooks put  it  some  time  ago.  Therefore,  they  had  to  devise  some  kind  of  purification  strategy  (Latour  1987), stressing the scientific consensus about key issues.
 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Environment, risk, and the role of advocate scientists

Reiner Grundmann   Aston University

In  this  paper  I  present  findings  from  a  research  project  on  the  protection  of  the  ozone  layer  which  is mainly based on interviews with atmospheric scientists. I look at the role advocate scientists played in the process.  I  will  focus  on  their  rhetorical  strategies,  especially  the  invention  of  the  metaphor  ”ozone  hole” which alarmed the public world-wide and contributed in a decisive way to stringent international controls of ozone depleting substances.


Before  the  metaphor  ”ozone hole”  came  up,  experts and  laypersons  from  the  mid-1970s  to  the  mid-1980s  were  concerned  with  a  possible  future  ”thinning  of  the  ozone  layer”.  The  difference  between  the two metaphors is evident. While the thinning metaphor evokes the picture of a tissue which is threadbare,the  hole  metaphor  evokes  the  picture  of  a  balloon  which  is  punctured  and  blows  up  or  loses  its  air.  This metaphor clearly was designed to capture the element of drama. Before 1985, everyone expected an ozone loss of  maybe 10  or  20%  in one  hundred years.  After  1985,  there  was  an  observed actual  ozone  loss  of about 50%.


One of the most active and outspoken atmospheric scientists, Sherwod Rowland, coined the term ozone hole in November 1985, shortly after data on abnormal large losses over Antactica (collected by a  British team of researchers) had become available. Although the metaphor ”ozone hole” quickly was picked up by the  media,  it  took  more  time  before  it  was  acceptable  in  scientific  publications.  A  paper  which  used  the term ”ozone hole” in its title and which was submitted to Nature in 1986, had to appear under a different title  (Stolarski  et  al.,  ”Nimbus  7  satellite  measurements  of  the  springtime  Antarctic  ozone  decrease”,Nature  Vol.  322,  28.8.1986).  It  took  two  years  before  the  term  ”ozone  hole”  became  acceptable  for  the scientific discourse (Solomon, ”The Mystery of the Antarctic Ozone Hole”, Review of Geophysics, vol 26:131-148).


Advocate  scientists,  using  alarmist  language  and  metaphors  like  the  ozone  hole  metaphor,  played  an important  role  in  getting  international  public  attention  for  the  problem  and  were  also  instrumental  in indicating solutions by making suggestions for regulatory action. But this success poses a problem for their credibility. They have to bring together their active political role with the ”ideal of the scientist”. The latter is  neutral  and  objective,  and  reports  only  the  facts.  Scientists  who  participated  in  the  controversy,  found themselves  unable  to  avoid  making  explicit  or  implicit  judgements  about  almost  every  one  of  the essentially non-scientific value questions, no matter how much they tried to ‘stick to the facts’, as Brooks put  it  some  time  ago.  Therefore,  they  had  to  devise  some  kind  of  purification  strategy  (Latour  1987), stressing the scientific consensus about key issues.
 

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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