fbpx STS Circle: Deborah Coen on "What's the Use of Climate Science? Towards a History of the Usable Turn" | Harvard Kennedy School
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Date and Location

February 22, 2021
12:15 PM - 1:30 PM EST


STS Circle: Deborah Coen on "What's the Use of Climate Science? Towards a History of the Usable Turn" Photo

​Certain members of the scientific community have recently framed
anthropogenic climate change as an invitation to reimagine the practice
of science. These calls to reinvent science coalesce around the notion
of “usable” knowledge, signaling the impulse to ensure that research
will serve the needs of those impacted by climate change. But how novel
is this concept? I will argue that usable science cannot be equated with
nineteenth-century “useful knowledge” nor twentieth-century “applied”
or “planned” science. It is indeed new, but it is not as new as
scientists today would have us think. In fact, usable climate science is
contemporaneous with the formulation of the “CO2 problem” as such in
the late 1970s. Efforts to make climate science usable have generated
robust exchange and intellectual convergence between natural and social
scientists over the past forty years, but the benefits have not been
equally distributed. This history holds lessons, both hopeful and
cautionary, for Science Studies scholars concerned with the problems of
the Anthropocene today.

Speakers and Presenters

Deborah Coen is professor of History and Chair of the Program in History
of Science & Medicine at Yale University, where she is also a
member of the steering committee of the Environmental Humanities
Program. Her research focuses on the history of the modern physical and
earth sciences and the intellectual and cultural history of central
Europe. She is the author, most recently, of "Climate in Motion:
Science, Empire, and the Problem of Scale," and "The Earthquake
Observers: Disaster Science from Lisbon to Richter."


Additional Organizers

​Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Weatherhead Center for Internationl Affairs; School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.