PHYS/PHIL 261: Our Knowledge of Climate Change: What do we know and how do we know it?
Traditional theories of knowledge have concentrated on the actions and beliefs of individuals, and how they marshal evidence from the world to support or refute their scientific hypotheses. This traditional epistemological framework has been challenged by the developments of the modern era of Big Science, resulting in the development of new approaches to a social epistemology of science. Reflective of how science is done, this epistemological framework in turn can provide guidance for the robust prosecution of the scientific enterprise. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in climate science, where on the one hand the underlying dynamics of climate change pose an existential threat to our civilization, and on the other, there are active and well organized efforts to derail the scientific process and to denigrate the scientists.
This course will first develop classical notions of the epistemology of science, including the role of models and issues of uncertainty (statistical, systematic, and gross) as well as the challenges of developing a robust scientific process resistant to fraud. These issues will be illustrated by consideration of various classical experiments. The course will then expand the epistemological framework to the collaborative context of modern big science, illustrating the issues by examples from the field of high energy physics (which saw the development of the World Wide Web by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, to allow physicists from around the world to share and collectively analyze data). With this in hand the course will explore the history and current state of climate science in the framework of a social epistemology of big science. Students will develop a good understanding of the role of hierarchical models of climate science, the empirical basis for our current understanding of anthropogenic climate change, the role and development of international coordination of climate science and its implications for policy, and the challenges posed by hostile, well-organized efforts to disrupt the scientific process, the public understanding of the science, and ultimately the processes necessary for addressing the challenges of climate change.
Offered as PHIL 261 and PHYS 261.
For summer 2021, this course will be offered remote-synchronous. For more information, please reach out to the instructor.
Dates: June 1 - June 28, 2021
Session: 4 Week Session (1)
Time: MTWR 1:30-3:45
Instructor: Cyrus Taylor & Chris Haufe
Credits: 3 credits
Departments: Interdisciplinary, New 2021 Summer, Philosophy, Physics