Abstract: This talk examines the history of environmental data systems in the context of the Trump administration’s assault on environmental science. Tracking and understanding environmental change requires “long data,” i.e. consistent, reliable sampling over long periods of time. Weather observations can become climate data, for example — but only if carefully curated and adjusted to account for changes in instrumentation and data analysis methods. Environmental knowledge institutions therefore depend on an ongoing “truce” among scientific and political actors. Climate denialism and deregulatory movements seek to destabilize this truce. In recent months, with the installation of climate change deniers and non-scientist ideologues as leaders of American knowledge institutions, wholesale dismantling of some environmental data systems has begun. These developments threaten the continuity of “long data” vital to tracking climate change and other environmental disruptions with significant consequences for both domestic and international security.
Speaker bio: Paul N. Edwards is William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at Stanford University (from July 2017) and Professor of Information at the University of Michigan. He writes and teaches about the history, politics, and culture of information infrastructures. Edwards is the author of A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2010) and The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (MIT Press, 1996), and co-editor of Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance (MIT Press, 2001), as well as numerous articles.