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Embedding Philosophers in the Practices of Science

I serve as Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) of the NSF-funded transdisciplinary research network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM, The 11.9 million-dollar grant links a transdisciplinary team of scholars at 19 universities and five research institutions across six nations to answer the question, “What are sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient, and ethically defensible climate risk management strategies?” The question transcends the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines as well as between academia, industry, government, and NGOs. Choosing a strategy to respond to climate risk involves complex tradeoffs across a large range of temporal and spatial scales (Adger et al. 2005; Solomon et al. 2010). This is a problem imbued with deep uncertainty, often resulting in modelers and decision-makers disagreeing about the appropriate problem framing, model structure, parameter values, and objectives (Keller et al. 2008; Garner et al. 2016).

One of the unique features of SCRiM is the integration of philosophical analysis throughout the work of the network by means of research collaborations between scientists and philosophers as well as between members of our team and stakeholders and policymakers. Through the deployment of coupled epistemic-ethical analysis, philosophers have worked closely with climate scientists to identify epistemic value choices within climate models and to examine the impact, both epistemic and ethical, of those choices (Tuana 2017b). As SCRiM is dedicated to decision support science, this philosophical lens also plays an important role in helping to ensure that decision-makers are provided with the knowledge they need to make responsible decisions. One way in which we represent our network can be seen in Figure 10.1.

Diversity, Education, and Outreach

Integrates across all research areas

> provides INPUT to • - - ■> provides METHODS for . . . provides INSIGHTS for refinement

figure 10.1 The Components of the Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management


GCM: General Circulation Model—a type of climate model.

DICE: Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model—an integrated assessment model developed by William Nordhaus.

RICE: Regional Integrated Climate-Economy model—a variant of the DICE model.

FUND: Climate Framework for Uncertainty, Negotiation, and Distribution—an integrated assessment model of climate change.

GCAM: Global Change Assessment Model—an integrated tool for exploring the dynamics of the coupled human-Earth system and the response of this system to global changes.

iESM: Integrated Earth System Model—an earth system model with a fully integrated human systems component.

A signature of our transdisciplinary research is the inclusion of coupled epistemic—ethical analyses. Epistemic value decisions, such as simplicity and empirical accuracy, that are embedded in research models and methods often go unquestioned and unappreciated. However, these choices can have ethical import, particularly in the context of decision support. They can also be epistemically significant regarding what is and is not known. Such value choices and their complex implications are significant in multiple dimensions of the process of designing climate risk management strategies, from the models that are deployed to project future climate impacts, to the selection of particular climate risk strategies (types of adaptation practices, for example), to the incorporation of stakeholders into the decision-making process.

Stakeholders and decision-makers in turn bring their values to bear when making decisions about how best to manage climate risks. These values can range from ethical considerations—e.g., distributive or intergenerational justice dimensions, views on rights and duties—to things that they value, such as particular places or aspects of well-being (Tschakert et al. 2017; Tuana 2017a). In SCRiM, we have developed techniques for identifying such values and examining their ethical and epistemic significance. These techniques have been developed in large part through embedding philosophers in transdisciplinary teams where philosophers function as participants in all aspects of the work of the team, from choice of model parameters to design of stakeholder engagements.

To gain a sense of the nature of our work and the synergies among the components of our network, consider our efforts working with stakeholders in New Orleans to co-produce resources for decision support regarding the design of flood-risk management strategies. Our commitment was to co-produce our work with the community of New Orleans. We began with the City of New Orleans Master Plan ( which itself had been informed by stakeholder engagements. However, our goal was to expand and enrich the range of stakeholders through a series of interviews with a diverse group of community members who were insufficiently represented in the original Master Plan.

Philosophers, working together with social scientists, developed a way to code the Master Plan and the interviews for value dimensions, both ethical and epistemic. But we realized that we also needed to understand the values of the modelers in order to ensure that the subsequent models provided the range of knowledge needed given the values of the stakeholders. To do this work we developed a new method, which we labeled value-informed mental models (ViMM) (Bessette et al. 2017; Mayer et al. 2017). We then used insights derived from the ViMM analyses to inform the design of scientific models as well as decision support tools within the SCRiM network (e.g., Diaz and Keller 2016; Oddo et al. 2017). The insights from these models, in turn, provided the foundation for coupled epistemic-ethical analyses (Vezer et al. 2018).

The insights from the decision analyses catalyzed new research in the areas of Earth science and statistics, e.g., about the ability to detect warning signs (Ceres et al. 2017). This research led the team to refine the decision-analytical approach and to develop new tools, e.g., how to identify dynamic adaptive pathways in the face of potential threshold responses (Garner et al. 2016; Quinn et al. 2017). Throughout the process, one of the most important roles of the embedded philosophers was to ensure that the ethical and epistemic significance of the work of the team was always at the forefront of our collective considerations. This type of work, as I explain more fully in the final section of the chapter, requires deep and long-term collaborations between the scientists and philosophers involved, where philosophers are seen as key contributors to all aspects of the scientific practice. It extends as well to relations between decision-makers and stakeholders, where, indeed, the philosophers are often an intermediary between stakeholders and scientists in terms of identifying values trade-offs.

To build on the work of the team, we expanded our partnership through a second NSF grant, a coupled natural and human systems project on the topic of forest futures and sustainability in the context of a changing climate—Visualizing Forest Futures: How Biodiversity and Human Values Shape Decision Making under Climate Change (ViFF, A key dimension of this work is an enhancement of our SCRiM partnership with the Menominee Nation. The project included a renewed commitment to co-produce knowledge relevant to the Menominee people’s forestbased economy and ways of life. To carry out this project we needed to incorporate both traditional knowledge practices and western knowledge practices. Once again, the team recognized the importance of being alert to embedded values and transparency in relation to those values. ViFF has devoted substantial resources to embedding philosophers in its team to do this important work.

Our partnership with the Menominee Nation and the Menominee Tribal Industries emerges out of the recognition that while the impact of a changing climate on the Menominee forest will likely be economic, the impact is not limited to economic factors. It will also likely erode ways of knowing and relating to the forest. Loss of economic revenues from forestry management could have reverberating impacts throughout the Menominee community as, for example, fewer members of the tribe would be able to continue to live on or near tribal land, and the ability of the community to provide sendees such as their wellness and job training programs would be challenged. Mixed with these challenges is the risk of loss of cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge and lifeways. These can result in non-economic losses such as individuals experiencing depression or anxiety, and the erosion of a sense of community and shared culture.

A changing climate is negatively impacting Menominee Tribal Industries’ commitment to the sustainable management of their forest through the practice of sustained-yield management ( A central aim of ViFF is to collaborate with tribal members to provide resources for climate risk management. In order to augment the processes involved in decision-making regarding the Menominee Nation’s forestry adaptation practices, the study is designed to bring together such diverse factors as knowledge of the forest and forest management, projections of forest change due to climate change, cultural values and customary practices, and visualizing strategies designed to augment decision support regarding the forests of the Menominee Nation. Our project involves a series of questions, including: (1) What are the values and customary practices that influence preferences in sustainable forest structure and function?; (2) Do these preferences differ among members of the community?; and (3) What are the best ways to engage projections of future climate impacts on forest species composition and productivity for responsible decision support in recognition of values trade-offs? While our work on this project is still in its early stages, philosophical contributions concerning coupled epistemic—ethical analyses and values-informed mental models are a key feature of the project.

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