“Crisis Talk” in Crisis and Nuclear Scholars’ Responsibility to Imagine

By Anna M. Weichselbraun

In the run-up to and immediately following Trump’s election, commentators weighed in on what it would mean for Trump to be in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as commander-in-chief. The comments tended to fall into three camps: there were the nuclear abolitionists who took the horror of a Trump presidency to issue their usual call for total nuclear disarmament. The second group, the sensationalizers, was composed of establishment nonproliferation people (which include think tanks and NGOs) who expressed grave concern about Donald Trump’s capability to be a rational and responsible guardian of the nuclear arsenal, and used it to push for limited “realistic” measures such as taking nuclear weapons off high alert. Finally, the third group, the normalizers (mostly made up of arch-conservatives and military folk), praised Trump for promising to strengthen America’s nuclear arsenal and saw in this a return to a more secure homeland.

All three positions are examples of “crisis talk” described by Masco. Drawing on Roitman’s 2013 work, Masco diagnoses the present political and media logics of crisis as a “predominantly conservative modality, seeking to stabilize an existing structure within a radically contingent world.” In the article, Masco identifies the 1960s as an earlier moment of crisis when atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons led to widespread concern about radioactive fallout while civil defense was preparing U.S. citizens for a nuclear attack. This moment of crisis produced the Limited Test Ban Treaty and put in motion the process to negotiate the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. However, “in this cold War moment of existential crisis, the nuclear danger was managed rather than removed, stabilized rather than resolved, allowing the global infrastructure of nuclear war to remain firmly in place to this day.” The election of Donald Trump has precipitated a crisis that demands an intellectual transformation in order to be able to conjure, in Masco’s words, “non-utopian positive futurities.” In response to the crisis of nuclear weapons in the 21st century, the three identified positions are, however, merely engaging in crisis talk and therefore foreclosing opportunities for a radical shift.[1]

Continue reading ““Crisis Talk” in Crisis and Nuclear Scholars’ Responsibility to Imagine”

What Should Democracies Know?

By Sheila Jasanoff

Repeatedly over the past few months I’ve heard anguished cries from former students and junior colleagues asking how I might make sense of the strange time we’re in—a time in which so much we’ve valued about the making of robust public knowledge and critical understanding has been tossed overboard as if of no consequence to the conduct of the nation’s politics. How should we, as teachers of future citizens, respond to these calls, and what special obligation do we have as scholars of science and technology, with a professional commitment to understanding the role of facts and truth in society?

The “post-truth,” “alt-fact,” “fake news” era has drawn understandable outrage from thoughtful people. Some, especially in the mainstream media, assume that the line between truth and lies is clear-cut, and can be ascertained through careful fact-checking, as in a recent New York Times editorial on the real costs of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policy. Others, more historically minded and attuned to technological change, have called attention to social media and the ease of propagating claims that have not passed through the costly, messy processes of peer review or validation through experiment.[1] Still others have noted the rise of data as a substitute for tested facts, and how politicians’ reliance on mass measures of electoral sentiment may undermine the cultural habits of deliberation on real-world problems. All these are important arguments, with serious implications for public reason, but none have touched on the role of professors in this period of eroding confidence in the very meaning of evidence, facts, and truth. Yet, if ever there was a time to heed the Delphic mandate “know thyself,” surely for us in the academic business now is that time.

Continue reading “What Should Democracies Know?”

Trumpism in Denmark

By Peter Lauritsen & Lars Bo Andersen

Denmark is known for having a strong democracy. We have high election turnouts, political transparency, widespread and profound trust in the public system, and a lively political debate facilitated by strong and nuanced medias.

However, we argue that there is a growing breeding ground for Trumpism in Denmark and would like to point out two reasons why.

Research and politics

The first is a weak relation between research and politics.

In many situations, it has become perfectly legitimate for politicians to ignore firmly established knowledge and to refer only to their ‘gut feeling’, when accounting for political measures. This is not a new trend. Many consider former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s 2002 New Year’s address a milestone in this regard. In the speech, he announced that there was too many ‘taste panels’ for politics and that neither the people nor their politicians should allow themselves to be subdued by ‘lifted fingers’ from the ‘tyranny of experts’.

Continue reading “Trumpism in Denmark”

“Let the bullets fly for a while”: an allegory from China

By Mei Zhan

Let me begin with a fiction.  Let the Bullets Fly, a Chinese “action comedy,” was wildly popular upon its release in 2010.  Witty, gory, at times bawdy, and determinedly absurd, the plot centered around the confrontation between Zhang Mazi, a fictitious Chinese Robin Hood impersonating a county governor (whom, upon being captured by Zhang, impersonated the governor’s secretary in order to survive) and his nemesis Master Huang, a mobster boss who turned out to have a body double.  The opening scenes of the film featured what appeared to be a steam-engine train, only to reveal a few seconds later that the train was pulled along the rail tracks by horses and the white steam arose from an impossibly large hotpot around which the governor and his entourage were dining and singing.  Zhang and his bandits took aim and fired several shots.  As the train continued roaring on, one bandit asked, “Did we miss?” Zhang calmly replied, “Let the bullets fly for a while”.  Neither horse nor train was hit.  But the train soon stopped as the horse reins came undone.

Although unable to pin down the historical and allegorical references in the film, many Chinese viewers understand it to be a political satire.  They marvel at the fact that it not only circumvented government censorship, but also generated a slew of catchphrases widely used in everyday discourse. “Let the bullets fly for a while” in particular has acquired an effervescent afterlife on Chinese social media, which is saturated with sensational news of all natures and scales: natural and human-made disasters, political scandals, abuse of police power, medical malpractice and violence against doctors and nurses, illegal trade and consumption of wild life, celebrity extramarital affairs, and so forth.  These dramatic events often unfold through multiple rounds of disguises, revelations, and revisions.

Continue reading ““Let the bullets fly for a while”: an allegory from China”

Anti-regulation Discourses, Nuclear Safety, and the Role of STS

By William J. Kinsella

Despite the proliferation of issues marking the turbulent beginnings of the Trump presidency, many important questions have received little or no public attention. One question involves the future of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), whose stated mission, proclaimed on a banner at the top of the agency’s website, is “protecting people and the environment.” As anti-regulation discourses become increasingly normalized and budget priorities shift, actors in both government and the nuclear industry may soon be seeking changes that could impair that crucial mission. Perspectives from the field of science and technology studies (STS) may help anticipate and respond to the challenges ahead.

Following the 2011 disaster at Fukushima, critics pointed to regulatory laxity as a key factor in the meltdowns that followed the Tōhoko earthquake and tsunami. In Japan, those events are widely known as the “triple disaster” of “3-11.” For STS scholars, they demonstrate a convergence of environmental forces, technological vulnerabilities, and human failures. As we observe the sixth anniversary of Fukushima it is appropriate to ask: could such a thing happen in Trump’s America?

Continue reading “Anti-regulation Discourses, Nuclear Safety, and the Role of STS”

Do Historical and Societal Circumstance Still Have a Place in Law Enforcement?

By Tiffany Nichols

On February 9, 2017, US law enforcement officially began its shift from crime prevention and investigation to ensuring the safety of law enforcement itself through the Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers. The Executive Order makes no mention of crime prevention or investigation and instead focuses on the enhancement of “protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”

A similar attempt was made by former President Lyndon B. Johnson in the wake of the Watts Uprising of 1965. Over 35,000 adults “active as rioters” and over 72,000 spectators were involved. These riots resulted in 34 deaths (mostly Blacks), 1,000 injured, 4,000 arrests and $200 million in property damage within the Watts-Willlowbrook district of Los Angeles. The Watts Uprising can largely be attributed to the exclusion of Blacks from the movie industry after the Hollywood Red Scare, slow presence of the effects of the Civil Rights Movement in Los Angeles, the rise of Black Nationalism paired with White fear thereof, and the exclusion of Blacks from unions, among numerous additional factors. To many within the city, the Uprising was seen as inevitable due to these imbalances. Although later disproved, psychologists blamed the increase of unrest on the heat in August of 1965, while others blamed the full moon. [1]

Continue reading “Do Historical and Societal Circumstance Still Have a Place in Law Enforcement?”

Post-Truth and Zambia’s King Cobra

By Marja Hinfelaar and Tinenenji Banda

While ‘post-truth” was dubbed Oxford Dictionary word of the year in 2016, for those who have lived under populist and authoritarian regimes, the concept felt simply like a déjà vu. Having been an integral part of our political DNA long before the term was popularized by recent happenings in the West, we were startled at how Western academia and the media misread the situation. Yet, many studies were at hand. Is it a sense of exceptionalism that blinded them to the potential benefits of comparative, but also historical knowledge? It appears that these commentators could not comprehend beyond the teleological lens of what is expected and defined as a modern and rational society.

This tunnel vision has not only affected the U.S., but also determined how the rest of the world has been perceived, most notably ‘developing’ countries. Zambia is a case in point. Its history has largely been cast through a developmental lens. Continue reading “Post-Truth and Zambia’s King Cobra”

Making Way, True or Not, in Jakarta

By Rika Febriyani and AbdouMaliq Simone

In a region of thirty million people, what would residents stake their futures on? How would they decide where and on what to devote their time and their, for the most part, limited resources? Readings of the landscape, in all of its multifaceted physical, social and political dimensions, would of course be replete with cues and trajectories. Certainly vast alterations of the built environment with their implications for where and how people reside, socialize, and operate economically to reinforce an intensive individuation of livelihood, obligation, and accountability. In a city where how the world was to be interpreted largely was contingent upon the everyday pragmatics of residents coordinating markedly heterogeneous backgrounds and ways of doing things within dense, collectively-evolved quarters, the ongoing disentanglement of these everyday relations attenuates the accompanying structures of interpretation.

Continue reading “Making Way, True or Not, in Jakarta”

I Will Build a Great Swamp, and Nobody Builds Swamps Better than Me

By Sergio Sismondo

Individual corruption is when government officials take bribes or use their positions for personal enrichment. Little can be more incendiary, can more reliably anger voters and taxpayers, than charges of this kind. That’s why “Crooked Hillary” was such a powerful phrase during the 2016 election— however well or poorly founded the accusation. With characters like “Crooked Hillary” in mind, Trump promised to “drain the swamp.”

Corruption still carries some of its slightly archaic stench of rottenness, infection and decay, moreso when the whole body of an institution becomes infected or is decaying. When old-fashioned corruption extends beyond isolated cases, or when it structures government actions from the top, a swamp emerges that takes on a different character. The creatures living in it look less dangerous than the swamp itself, with its (to borrow from Milton) “Vapour, and mist, and exhalation hot; Corrupt and pestilent!”

Continue reading “I Will Build a Great Swamp, and Nobody Builds Swamps Better than Me”

“Reoxygenating” Research

By Laura G. Goetz

In a world in which politicians and media outlets are spreading “alternative facts,” detached objectivity may be an elusive and undesirable basis for a scientific gold standard. Context matters, both for the questions we ask and the answers we obtain. Separating science from society is no longer an option, because knowledge loses its power if people do not care about it. In Meeting the Universe Halfway, STS scholar Karen Barad asserts, “Matter(ing) is a dynamic articulation/configuration of the world.” Mattering requires explaining the world in a way that can move within the world. Scientific researchers need to think about the questions that matter and how to disseminate their results beyond the confines of academic journals and indices. Against calls for greater isolation, science should generate evidence-based knowledge that can travel more widely.

Continue reading ““Reoxygenating” Research”