Hydraulic Fracturing: Toward Better Deliberation

When the conversation opened up on the second day of our November workshop, after my presentation on acceptable risk, the project team and the invited participants spent much of the remainder of the morning developing and jotting down ideas for fostering better, more informed and more constructive public deliberation about hydraulic fracturing.

Our initial ways of phrasing the questions were rough, and many of them were likely to be perceived as biased against one group or another, playing on stereotypes, say, of engineers or of some of the more strident individuals who might show up for a public hearing.

In the weeks that followed, the project team at Georgia Tech revised the list, and reconsidered it, and revised it again.

The end result is a set of questions that will frame the work of our second workshop, now scheduled for early April: Continue reading

Hydraulic Fracturing: Risk v. Acceptable Risk

I have said that the first day of our workshop on hydraulic fracturing, in November, brought out a long list of risks related to hydraulic fracturing and, indeed, the engineers and scientists who participated were quite adept at identifying such risks and possibilities for mitigation.

Something else came out during those first sessions, though, which I found troubling.

What I heard was simply a repeated assertion or implication that those who oppose hydraulic fracturing are moved to do so only by emotion, especially by fear. The assertion was reinforced with reference to certain bad actors in the public arena who engage in campaigns based on misinformation, distortion and possibly even fraud to manipulate the emotions of an uninformed public.

The underlying assumption of such claims, I think, is that there is a clean distinction between reason and emotion, and that only those who base their decisions on the methods and findings of the sciences have reason on their side.

Beneath this is a still deeper assumption that quantitative analysis is the essence of rationality. Continue reading

From the Archive: On Expertise

As I’m on holiday break, I’m relying on the archives of my other blog, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth, to keep things moving along with this new blog. I will resume the development of new posts soon.

Today’s entry, from May 27, 2011, takes up a question that is still of concern to me, especially as i think about the meaning and the uses of this new blog: Is there such a thing as expertise in philosophy? Of what does that expertise consist?

Note that “the book” referenced in the first paragraph is my book, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth (Continuum 2010).

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On Expertise: A Reply to King

The first published review of the book has come out, in the Spring 2011 issue of the journal Environmental Ethics. The review was written by Roger J.H. King.

It is certainly gratifying to read a sympathetic and largely positive review. King seems to understand the main intent of the book, which is to provide, as he puts it, “a propaedeutic” to ethical inquiry, that is, a kind of preparatory exercise. In other words, this is not, as he puts it, “a theoretical book.” (p.100)

The central mission of the book is to demonstrate the complexity of everyday judgments and decisions, and to encourage citizens and decision makers to uncover and analyze this complexity. (p.99)

So far, so good. This really is the mission of the book, as I understand it. It is clear, though, that King is not entirely satisfied with the book: he wishes I had taken on a different and more ambitious mission. Continue reading