Towards a Sociology of Digital Controversies: Climate Change and the Cultural Narratives of Evidence

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:42
Oral Presentation
Michael CHRISTENSEN, Saint Mary's University, Canada
As the political discourse of climate change moved online it raised important questions about the value of scientific knowledge when it must compete with “alternative facts” in a sea of informational noise. In recent years, it has become clear that the propositional knowledge of scientific experts (i.e. assertions about atmospheric warming) can be challenged effectively by individuals and organizations decrying the “controversial” assertions of climate scientists and environmentalists by appealing to a supposedly universal principle of reasoned “skepticism.” While the consensus among climate scientists regarding the anthropogenic sources of climate change remains overwhelming, I argue that the cultural narratives emerging from this digital controversy have had an outsized influence on climate change policy, especially in countries like the United States. To understand the digital discourse around climate change, this study combines formal topic modeling, field analysis and discourse analysis. One of the key findings of this study is that participants in this debate rely on multiple moral grammars to frame and justify arguments about how or whether issues climate change should be addressed in public policy. Such a finding has important implications for the ways that we understand the power of digital controversies.