Estimates by crowd scientists of attendance at events on Friday and Saturday and how they calculated it.
The hot debate over crowd size at the Trump inauguration, versus the first Obama inauguration and yesterday’s Women’s March on Washington, turns out to be relevant to how we define environmental engagement (see here for a post introducing this new course). The reason is that we consider environmental engagement to involve three components: environmental scholarship, certain people, and some means of bridging the two; and in the context of scholarship, the issue of what counts as true is, of course, highly significant.
Sadly, environmental scholarship is often communicated, and perceived, as a bunch of settled truths; thus, for instance, Al Gore’s book and lecture series of a decade ago, An Inconvenient Truth. For many scholars, however, what really matters to us is more the how than the what, the process than the outcome, the means by which we arrive at the truth than the truth itself. We are, at best, sticklers on methodology, whether this involves debates over the use and abuse of statistics among scientists, or feuds over historiography and literary theory among humanists.
In this respect, the NYT article linked above presents a truth-assertion as its title: “Crowd Scientists Say Women’s March in Washington Had 3 Times as Many People as Trump’s Inauguration.” That’s the what. But the real scholarship, the how, is nicely summarized in the article as well, as it describes the process by which the scientists arrived at their estimate (e.g., via density maps such as shown on the featured image). The scientists even attempted to explain why President Trump thought there were possibly over a million people attending his inauguration, by showing that his visual perspective would only encompass a portion of the Capitol grounds—and that, based on this perspective, Trump would have seen roughly the same density of crowds as would have Obama in 2009.
What I’m suggesting is that, if we wish to engage with others over what Latour calls matters of concern, we need to find ways to do more than proclaim settled truths. This makes environmental engagement, for instance, a whole lot different than simply “educating” people about global warming and biodiversity loss and the like. Of course it’s much simpler to talk about the what than the how: for instance, one can readily promulgate the infamous hockey stick graph showing a recent rise in average global temperatures, though the measurements and statistics behind it are complicated. But that’s the direction we need to go if we truly wish to bring scholarship into engagement—and, perhaps, ultimately to restore greater trust in the process of science.