printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Science, Energy, and the National Strategic Narrative


Remarks
Dr. Mark Eberhart
Washington, DC
January 30, 2012

Share

Bill Colglazier: Well let me welcome all of you here today. We're glad to see you. My name is Bill Colglazier the Science and Technology Adviser here at State. First I want to announce there are two terrific lectures today if you have, if you'd like to hear even more just mention one in the afternoon that's on additive manufacturing, 3-D printing. The great title, "Can 3-D Printing Save the World?" So, if anyone's interested in seeing a demonstration of what additive manufacturing can do and hear about some of the policy issues, at least if you're in the State Department, it's at 2 p.m. in room 4477. If anyone's interested they can see me afterwards. But today, this morning you all are here for a Jefferson Science lecture. So it's my pleasure to introduce Mark Eberhart, the Jefferson Science fellow this year. He's working in the new energy bureau. He has a PhD in material science and engineering from MIT. He's worked for a number of years in materials division at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He went in 1992 to the Colorado School of Mines where he's been since then. He also still continues to do work at Los Alamos. Also, I'd like to point out that he's actually very adept at communication in science to larger audiences. He has two books of popular science, "Why Things Break: Understanding the World By The Way it Comes Apart," "Feeding the Fire," and -- oh excuse me, that was "The Way it Comes Apart," and the second book is "Feeding the Fire: The Lost History and Uncertain Future of Mankind's Energy Addiction." So, this morning, he's going to give us a talk about energy issues and we're very happy to have him here. Looking forward to his talk.

Mark Eberhart: So I am delighted to be here. The last six months have given me an opportunity to think about something which is very dear to my heart and that is science communication. And I think you'll notice as I going through my talk -- I'll start out with a little story and then as I go through my talk, I think you'll see that my attitudes have changed rather dramatically about what's involved in science communication. And this is kind of like carrying coal to Newcastle, I mean here I am in the land of where great strategic narratives of the past century, two centuries have actually been formulated and communicated to foreign publics and I’m here talking about strategic narratives. And so don't look at it as me trying to tell you something you don't know about strategic narratives, but what I've discovered and how it has impacted what I think about science communication.

So let me begin by telling this story. I was watching -- my father sent me, as he often does, sent me a YouTube video, a link to a YouTube video where a congressman was standing up, railing against the fact that we have now required everybody to make compact fluorescent lights, to use compact fluorescent lights. And my father was trying to tell me, "See how stupid this is that we do this." And here's this congressman was talking about how there's mercury in these lights and how we should be -- how when you break them you have to be very careful not to contaminate yourself with mercury. And going on and on and on. And I just wanted to go down and talk to him and say, "Do you understand that if we burn coal to run those lights we also make mercury? Do you understand risk analysis? Do you understand these things?" My desire was to convert this person to my way of thinking simply by giving them the facts. And that's my view, and I think it's a, it's a prevalent view of scientific communication.

So, with that as background, that's what I came in thinking and what I want to go through is the changes in my attitudes that have accompanied this. So let's start out. So looking at energy here. And I’ve put together a group of images, hopefully, that convey certain, kind of, visceral feelings. I don't want you think about this logically, I want you to think about what the visceral feelings are that accompanied this. Upper left-hand corner's clearly shows our dependence on gasoline, that we're so -- we're so tied to this that we're willing to line up and wait in large lines simply to get what we need for our mode of transportation. The lower left-hand image now shows an operating room. A typical modern operating room, and as you can see there are lights, there are all sorts of machinery, there are cords going everywhere. Our lives are literally dependent on the availability of electricity. And then you can see some other more negative images. In the upper left-hand corner, that says when I pull that off of Google images, it says it was Fukushima but I don't think it is because there was no fire Fukushima. I think what that is, is a refinery fire very close to the reactors.

And that's very interesting to me in its own right because we didn't hear much about the refinery fires going on there, we were concentrating mostly on the reactors. And what's interesting in that dark cloud of smoke going up there is carrying tons of pollutants with it, tons of carcinogens off into the atmosphere. And we didn't hear much about those but we heard a lot about the radiation. Of course, the poor polar bear down here in the lower corner, that's supposed to bring the image of climate change to your mind, polar melting, and we're going to lose that species. Far right hand -- far right hand, lower corner is a picture of the world at night. And what you'll see is Africa, unlike Europe and parts of Asia there that we see, Africa's largely dark. And without the access to electricity, they don't have access to the kind of things that we see here in the operating room. So, the idea here is that these -- this ambiguous imagery which brings both the conflicts and the benefits of energy together in one thing, that has a tendency to do something. It creates a certain tension in us, at least, it creates a tension within me. It creates a conflict within me. And also, a desire for resolution. I want to resolve these conflicts. And I think all problem-solving people look at those things and say, "What's the solution?" Which then, if that's the general idea, it brings us to an interesting question. Why haven't we resolved the conflict?

If you go all the way back to I think the first president that I was familiar with, there may have been one before this, was Richard Nixon, who said, "We have to do something about energy and our dependence on energy and what's going on." And we've done literally nothing. The problem has simply gotten worse. And the reason one might argue that that's happen is that it's simply too hard. This is an immense problem. Be one of the biggest problems we've ever tackled. It's too complex, it requires a great deal of sacrifice, at least that's the image that requires sacrifice. And we just haven't been willing to do that. But let me show you a clip, and you've all seen this clip before. So this is nothing new, but I want you to see how this clip where basically --

[video plays]

[applause]

And the point of this is the following. Kennedy's authority to ask us to bear any burden, to make sacrifice, his authority to do that came from our national strategic narrative. So, our national strategic narrative, which was formed under the Truman Doctrine basically, gave him the authority and gave the people of the United States, also just looked at that and said, "Yeah. That's what we're supposed to do." So, the idea that something's complex or requires too much sacrifice really isn't applicable in this case. The question is what's the narrative that's going to carry us forward into a secure energy future? We'll talk about it that way.

Now, before I go on then to look at what that narrative will be, we have to kind of define a few terms about narrative. Now, the important thing about a narrative, is it's a paradigm that postulates -- the narrative postulate actually, formulated by Walter Fisher, says that all meaningful communication is a form of story-telling. This postulate says we experience the world as a series of narratives characterized by conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles, and importantly ends. And that the whole world is experienced through that.

So we have these basically two postulates by which we, by which we interact with the rest of the world. One is the logical paradigm. The logical paradigm says that we are thinking beings, that there are series of logical problems that we go out and tackle. We make our decisions by argumentation. And the validity is incorporated within knowledge and understanding, the validity of our decisions. Under the narrative paradigm formulated by Fisher, we’re story-tellers. Human beings are story-tellers. They continually recreate the stories. We constantly see a story that was applicable 5,000 years ago, we find meaning in it today. The nature of those stories is confined in our history and culture. And we make decisions based on good reasons and what good reasons is, we'll come to see. Now, the power of narrative comes from what's called narrative transport. That means being carried away by the story. And we've all read a book, seen a movie, a television show, something where we've been carried into that story, where we became more than simply observers of the story, we became players in the story, we became actors in the story. And the effect to that narrative transport is to basically generate more cognitive response, more self-referencing, more positive evaluation of main character, more story-consistent belief in attitude changes. And that's crucial. And less tendency to counter-argue. So you've got a good story then you get people to say, "Yeah. Let's get involved in the story. Let's, I believe it. I understand it. I want to be part of it."

Now, basically there's a narrative hierarchy as far as the talk today's concerned. Narrative hierarchy is there's a master narrative. There's a master narrative, and we'll see some examples of that in just a few minutes. And that master narrative supplies kind of a context for what will be our strategic narrative. And the strategic narrative, actually what forms their personal narrative within the context of the strategic narrative. Now personal narratives are something that we all know about, we all know about our personal -- we've all formed these personal narratives. That is, you know, I'm going -- when I was a -- you know, growing up, it was, I'm going to go away to school, I'm going to become a PhD, I'm going to win the Nobel Prize, that one hasn't happened yet, but I'm still counting on it. And so, I formed this narrative which drove my entire live. My life was driven by this narrative. Not simply by the facts that happened, but actually by the actions I took to make my narrative come true. So that one, we're all familiar with. Let's talk more broadly about what a master narrative is.

Master narrative is a historical narrative that is culturally embedded. It's widely known by members of the culture, often based in history or religion, applies to a broad segment of a population and is often used in fragmentary form. Now the example that I've drawn from here is that of American exceptionalism. That's basically the master narrative that has driven the United States for at least since its founding, if not before. Since its constitutional founding, if not before. The term itself though, was actually first used by Stalin which seems strange. But nonetheless, what it does is, it doesn't -- it doesn't -- it doesn't basically -- it's not something of kind of an arrogance. What American exceptionalism is we as a nation, we as a people, have experienced something different than the rest of the world, that at the time of our founding, that was very much true, we were the first new country, the first constitutionally-formed country, the westward expansion. All of these things were things that other cultures hadn't experienced in many, many years if ever. So we had this exceptionalism, this different way of looking at the world. And that's our master narrative.

Now, what we're going to talk about more detailed today is a strategic narrative. A strategic narrative is a story that will be told, but I think this is key, the best -- the best explanation of what I’ve seen of a strategic narrative, is a story that will be told when some conflict is resolved. Now, we make that story up before the conflict’s resolved, but we say, "This is the story that I'm going to tell before the conflict's resolved." It's anchored in history. It often draws from the master narrative. It contains, importantly, actions in the present to bring about that future vision. It -- if it's a good narrative, it exploits narrative transport to basically get disparate groups to come together to work toward a common goal. Our, my examples are, the Cold War containment of the Soviet Union, that is the Truman Doctrine, that was an example of a strategic narrative. There's a masterful example of a strategic narrative where we have actions in the past, which were these injustices which were done, which were so vividly portrayed there in the very beginning of this. We have -- we have things that happen in the past. We have actions in the present, which we can march on Washington, we're going to register to vote, we're going to do those type of things. And then we have a vision of the future. And of course, nothing symbolizes the vision of the future of the Civil Rights movement as much as the “I Have a Dream” speech that Martin Luther King gave. So, here are basically the elements of a strategic narrative and I submit without that narrative, which was formulated before one that -- as a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Without that narrative, people could not have taken the steps that they need to take to achieve those ends, and that that was an important component of it.

Okay, so. If that's the case, then is there an energy narrative? Can we construct an energy narrative which will have the same influence as the Civil Rights narrative, the narrative of containment. Okay, first of all, it's got to be anchored in the past. Well, that's easy. Our quality of life is dependent on our technologies, our technologies require energy. So, our quality of life is dependent on a supply of energy. We discovered recently that one: that supply is not unlimited. And two: that using that energy is causing us to basically harm the world in various ways, various kinds of environmental harms. So there's the past. The past is us using the technologies that we have developed over the last 200, 300, 400 years. Actions in the present. Well, the White House put out March 30, 2011 a blueprint for a secure energy future. But what I want to do is run through just the table of contents for this. And I want to draw your attention to a couple of things.

So let's go down the table of contents and first thing is to develop and secure America's energy supplies. We're going to expand safe and responsible domestic oil and gas development and production. Well anybody who's on top of the issue knows that in recent years, we've had a tremendous explosion in -- I shouldn't use the word explosion in the context of energy. We've had a growth in the amount of oil and gas we're generating within this country. That growth has come from various things having to do with extracting tight oil, gas, having to do with hydraulic fracturing. That is, there is a technological component to this issue. We're going to lead the world towards safer, cleaner, and more secure energy to supplies. We're going to provide consumers with choice to reduce costs and save energy. Now the way we're going to do that is with more efficient cars and trucks. Well, what's going to make those cars and trucks more efficient? It's going to be technology that's going to make those things more efficient. We're going to cut energy bills with more efficient homes and buildings. Well, what's going to do that? Well, it's going to be technology that does that. We're going to innovate our way to a clean energy future. We're going to harness America's clean energy potential and win the future through development of clean energy technologies. Well that's very obvious, I mean, how, that's going to be technology. And then we're going to lead by example, and the final example in here has to do with the United States government being more energy-efficient in its fleets and buildings, and that kind of things.

But what's important to point out is this plan, this blueprint for a clean energy future draws on technology repeatedly. It says the way we're going to achieve this is with technology. Now, let's look for the last thing. Is there a vision of the future? No. There is no vision of the future. There's kind of a vision. There's this vision of avoidance. If we do this, we can count on continuing to have gas that we can afford. If we do this, we might be able to avoid global warming. If we do this, these are the things, so it's a vision of avoidance. Let's avoid all of the horrible things which will fall upon us. And this is one of the things that if you look at the Gore movie, “Inconvenient Truth.” So one of the things that always bothered me about the Gore movie is that what he was saying is, "Look what's going to happen if we don't take action." Let's scare the hell out of us. And it was successful in a lot of regimes. Now, the reason I hypothesize that there is no future is because the future, really -- energy is a -- is a symptom. The real question is how are we going to exploit technology. How are we going to exploit technology in a meaningful way? And that's been a question that we've actually been confronted with for years and years and years. And for some reason it hasn't found its way into a strategic narrative. It hasn't become part of a strategic narrative. So I’m going to ask the question why? Why is it that we don't, we see this as a need for an energy narrative, not a need for a technology narrative?

So let's look briefly at the history of science and technology within the strategic narratives. And I submit that science and technology really entered the public consciousness, the everyday public consciousness as an important part of our strategic plans, the importance -- as an important part of our national security following World War II. The reason being that World War II was arguably won with technology. If it weren’t for the fact of technology, our technology, things could have been very different. Of course, the atomic bomb, which wasn't necessary to win the war, but certainly came into people's consciousness that this bomb had been created by scientists in some place off in the mountains, upon some buttes, secret buttes in New Mexico. That was important. Radar, sonar, rocketry, jet aircraft, cryptography, computing, the development of the research university began right after World War II. Integrated circuit, many, many more of these things became crucial to our -- to our security. But, what happened? Why didn't they become part of a national narrative? Well, let's take a couple of examples. Let's see how we picture then and now science and technology. So this next clip I'm going to show, again, you've seen this before, but what I want you to do while you're listening to this is I want you to be conscious of what your visceral feelings are to this picture. I would just quote it, but I’m not nearly as, you know, that won't illicit the same response.

[video plays]

[applause]

And so now I'm going to contrast that with another clip. But the important thing is that this was and still is seen as one of the premiere science and technology events of the 20th century. Now, for many of you this next image is iconic, for some of you, you may have seen it before but it won't be the same thing, but for those of my generation, this is an iconic image. Again, pay attention to your visceral feelings associated when you watch this.

[video plays]

Now, I don't know about you, but that hits me in the same place as Kennedy's speech, in exactly the same place. That is, Kennedy was applying -- was applying a narrative that was separate from technology. Yeah, technology played a place but he was applying this thing as separate. So, he basically cast it as a sporting event, as human drama. That's what he portrayed it as. And that's exciting. And that's the same thing as an athletic event. Human drama. It is no accident that we called it the "Space Race." That's what it was. An athletic event, more than it was a story of science and technology, the central character was the competition. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Let's go on.

If you get off the Metro near Pentagon, Pentagon City, you find these wonderful pictures and these wonderful posters, which I’ve taken pictures of, these billboards. And I don't -- you can make it out, we have two pictures, we have on over there of a series of F35s which is the, one of the only two fifth generation fighters going, the other one is the F22, no other country has one of these air superiority of the yin-yang to fight somebody who is gone. But we still spend lots of money on it. But look at the words, instead of talking about the incredibly technology that's invested in these things, this was an amazing story of how you can go from this early jet aircrafts to these things, the metallurgy that was involved, the material science that was involved, the electronics that was involved, it is incredible. We don't cast it in those terms. We cast it in enduring force. That's a nice narrative sense, I can get hold of that, enduring force. I like things that endure. I like force. Security in jobs. Security, that's important. Jobs, that's important.

So, these things technology and science is being seen as kind of, well, I'll move right onto it. They're not characters. Science and technology, they're props. Maybe a bit better term would be, if anybody knows what, in a Kabuki theater, the guys who are all in black, what's that called, who are they called? Anybody know? The guys in black, the stagehands in black who, you know, move everything around. And you're not supposed to see them because they're dressed in black. That's, maybe that's a better analogy, is that science and technology is just in the background, it's moving things around, but we don't look at. We don't pay attention. Now, the question is why. As a scientist, this offends me. I'm angry. We did this. The world today is the result of what we did, and I’m angry. If I take a second, I’ve got to take some responsibility. So let's do this where it belongs, take some responsibility here. Let's go back to this.

We have this logical paradigm and as scientists and engineers, we're taught to live in that logical paradigm. Basically, why. Why do we live there? We stay away from the narrative. Now, there's a reason we stay away from the narrative. We understand, or have experience with the fact that narrative is so powerful. It can lead you to believe things which aren't true. For instance, here's a very good narrative. The world was created in six days. And you all know what follows from that. That's a very powerful narrative. And still today, we combat that narrative. Evolution doesn't -- you know, there is no evolution. We combat that narrative. Many scientists have, you know, been whatever, hung on that narrative. And so what scientists do is the practice of science is nearly narrative-free. And let me just prove this to you. Here's an abstract. I went through and I looked for -- I looked through the various climatology journals looking for something that would be interesting that I could put up here.

So this is just a sentence that I’ll take from that and I’m going to read it aloud. "We argue here that their analysis is seriously flawed and they significantly overestimate the fugitive emissions associated with the unconventional gas extraction, undervalue the contributions of green technologies to reducing those emissions to a level approaching that of conventional gas based their comparisons on gas and coal on heat, rather than the electricity generation. Almost the sole use of coal, and assume a time interval over which to compute the relative climate impact of gas compared to coal, that does not capture the contrast between the long residence time of CO2, and the short resonance time of methane in the atmosphere." That's a page turner, isn't it?

[laughter]

Man, you can really get into that. That has the potential for narrative transport.

[laughter]

Now. This is great. We also teach what we preach. We teach what we preach. And for the following clips, I'm indebted to the American Clinical Society, but the American Chemical Society went out at a conference and basically asked students what they do. What their research project is. And let me show you what we've got.

[video playing]

The point is, about 20 years ago, no one would have even recognized this enough to tell them to this differently, to actually tell them to speak simply. And the reason they speak like that is because they're rewarded for speaking like that. It wouldn't have made any difference if we had gone out and grabbed professors from the ACS and said, "Oh, you're here for the conference, tell me what you do," you would have gotten the same gobbledigook. Right? What's happened here is that we have been so cautious about narrative, we don't write in narrative, we don't speak in narrative, we do nothing in narrative because we are so afraid of it. And in that process we've cut ourselves off from the way most people think, at least the way they think a lot of the time. And it's a perfectly good way to think. And it's because of that that I, in the story that I told you at the very beginning of the talk, I wanted people to change. I wanted them to know what I know. Well, the first thing I learned when I got to the Department of State and I was talking to people in strategic communication is, no you don't ask people to change. It's great, we're going to go over and ask al-Qaida to change. No, that's not the way you do it. You take their form of communication, their imagery, and you try to adapt it to carry your message.

So that's the question. Can we do that? Now, can we do that? The fact that we don't use narrative in the practice of our discipline does not mean that we cannot put our discipline within a narrative context. And that's what I'm going to try to do. So, the narrative of science. Let's look at the three characteristics we've got to have. It's got to be anchored in the past, steps in the present to achieve a future vision. Now, here's my little drawing of the history of science. And science of course -- and I shouldn't say history of science, I should say history of technology which has two component parts, science and engineering. And we as a -- as humankind probably began somewhere around -- you can -- it's a fuzzy line, but I draw -- I pick 50,000 years ago when there really was an explosion in engineering in an attempt to understand. But these two things are quite different. Science and engineering were quite different. And they begun to come together into what I call science-based engineering, and I'm not the only one who uses that term. Science-based engineering in the mid-1800s. Again, this is a fuzzy line when they actually start to happen. But I pick 1850 as when this confluence began because the first time people recognized the laws of thermodynamics governed the steam engines they had been making for a hundred years. They had been making steam engines without understanding what made them more efficient. And with the confluence and the coming together of thermodynamics, they began to understand the science, the why behind the things that they made. And now they can make more efficient steam engines.

So I call that point 1850. And I say how far are we along this curve where we're coming together to bring science and engineering together into science-based engineering. And I say we've hardly moved at all. Now, a lot of people don't believe this so I have my favorite example. My favorite example here is de Havilland Comet which was the first passenger jet, a beautiful airplane put up in 1952 thereabouts. And it was crashing. It was crashing, and no one could understand why it was crashing. The engineering approach to this would be, "Let's build another one, put it up. If it doesn't crash, we got the design right." Okay? That's the engineering approach. Unfortunately, this becomes really hard to get people to fly. But at the time, scientists began to look at it. I mean, the engineers had thought of everything, they said it was the wings, it was the -- you know, it was everything. Scientists began to look at it for the first time with impetus that came from things that had happened during the Second World War. And you'll notice that on that -- if you can see it, you'll notice the shape of the windows in the fuselage. They're square. When was the last time you were on an airplane that had square windows? If you are on an airplane that has square windows, get off.

[laughter]

Because what happens is those square windows act as stress concentrators and that was why they were breaking. And they made the -- they made the correction. And the -- and the Comet flew, it still, there are still a Comet or two out there flying. And you'll notice that the windows are now round, they're portholes. It was science that taught us that. It was the science of fracture mechanics. This was 1952. That is, we had all the engineering skills to build this thing but none of the scientific knowledge to understand that it wouldn't fly. That was 1952. It was only 60 years ago.

So we are indeed just moving. I shouldn’t come over here, I’m losing you. We are just now coming to that period of time where science and engineering are coming together. And my contention is that that's an act of maturity, that science and engineering are maturing. Well, if we look at it that way, then let's figure out where we are. Let's figure out where we are now. What are the ages of technology? What are the stages of our maturation? Well, we discovered 50,000 years ago, and in that period, that we can do things. We can make cave paintings. We can cut down forests and use the wood to burn and scare off the lions. We learned that we can have an effect on the world. We didn't pay much -- pay attention to the fact that there were consequences to that. We really didn't recognize it. And in terms of human equivalent, they made us something less than three years old.

As time passed, we began to learn that there are consequences to what we do. If I slam a door and I get my hand stuck in it, I go, "Oh." When I’m very, very young I don't recognize that there was a consequence that it was going to happen. So I go over and go, "Careful. Don't slam your hand in the door." And I’m proud to say that in my recent life I haven't done it in a long, long time. And I remember as a child doing it a lot. So we learned that there are consequences. Again, fuzzy lines. But the book “Silent Spring,” recognition of the ozone hole, global climate change, these are all examples of basically maturing and recognizing that. And in a human equivalent would be about the age of five or six. Less than five or six when you begin to realize these things.

Then there's the point in development where you anticipate the consequences of our actions. Now I claim that anticipation is the same word as science. That is, when we can begin to say, "Ah, we do this, it will result in that." That's the point where you begin to integrate science with engineering. And the point where we begin to anticipate that is through the age of adolescence. Then we reach this -- some of us do, some of us don't, you reach this marvelous age where we take responsibilities for our actions. And that's when you become an adult. As separate from when you reach the age of adulthood, that's when you really become an adult, when you accept the responsibilities. And then there's another age that lots of people don't reach which is where you avoid actions with adverse consequences. You anticipate them. You say, "I'm not going to do that." Or, "I'm going to figure out another way to do that." And those people are not only mature and adult, but they're wise.

So, my suggestion is that this forms a narrative for science and engineering. We were in technological infancy. That's our past. We want to get to technological maturity. We need steps in the present to do that. Here's where I claim this is the meat of my talk. If you’re asleep, wake up. The scientific community should embrace our history and acknowledge or lack of maturity. It should become a part of every scientist and engineer's personal narrative. We are scientifically immature. Once it becomes a part of our narrative, it opens up a whole set, and it changes the world in a dramatic way. As soon as every scientist and engineer says, "I am immature," it brings something else to bear. It says, "Mistakes will happen." We expect a three-year-old to spill their milk. We expect that. And that's what happens. As soon as I say that then we can expect accidents. They happen. Hiroshima happened. Three Mile Island happened. These are all things that happen because we are immature. You don't tell a child who spills their milk, "No more milk for you." I mean, some people do. But that's not the best way to do it. You say, "Let's take this opportunity and realize that you got carried away and you were throwing a ball across the table and these things happen. Let's not do that in the future. Let's learn it as an event." Okay. If you admit that you're -- if everybody who is in a technological position accepts as their core being, as their personal narrative, that they are immature and their goal is to obtain maturity, it provides a certain kind of rational now for saying what are the limitations we put on our immature characters who are playing part in our narrative.

For instance, BP plays a part in our narrative now. What are the limitations we put on it? It is a six-year-old. What limitations should we put on it? Because it is a child. Now, those limitations are what we have to come up with. Those are the steps we have to come up with. Now, now those very limitations now are the things that propel us to grow up. Or they're an inducement to grow up. I wanted to drive. I really didn't want to drink, but nonetheless I didn't want to drive. I wanted to enter into contracts. I wanted to make people take me seriously. So there are a number of things which drive you to adulthood, drive you to maturity. And part of it is the limits we place on people who haven't demonstrated that capability or shouldn't have -- you know, there's a problem with age and actual demonstration, but nonetheless, you understand what I mean. So these limitations provide the means to grow up.

So, this is basically the heart of it. This is what I say is our narrative. Narrative is to begin, to recognize that we're immature, to teach that to all of our students, to spread that to the world, to give them a vision of what it means to be a technologically mature society. And within the context there to provide an environment to help us grow up. Now, we're hampered by one thing there. At least when we're children, we can look around to other people and say, "That person is a good role model, I want to grow up and be like them." Unfortunately, we don't have that. We don't have a role model. It would be great if the Vulcans were to come down and set down on our planet and say, "This is -- You want to be like us." I'm not sure we would, but nonetheless they don't use narrative at all. But nonetheless, we don't have a role model.

So here, here's our problem. How do you, how do you basically form a vision of the future without a role model of what it would be? That's the great task that I think confronts scientists is to convey that and communicate it to the public at large. So, that's where I am with my thinking process. I want to thank -- as I said, this has been an amazing opportunity to have this opportunity, this six-month opportunity to think about these things in great depth. I want to thank everyone at staff, especially Bill Colglazier and Lawrence Lin. I want to thank Andy Reynolds, all the current Jefferson Fellows, thank you so much for coming. Everyone at the ACS who’s been very supportive of me over the years and everyone else who I bombarded with these thoughts when they were still ill-formed and sounded really stupid. Not that they sound better now, but they have -- well they do sound better now. But at one point they sounded really strange. So I want to thank those people who looked at me and said, "Yeah. That has some merit." So thank you very much.

[applause]

Are there questions? If you could go to one of the microphones down here so they can pick you up.

Male Speaker: So, I would assume from a senior narrative as science is growing into maturity. We would place science currently somewhere in the adolescent stage, near the adolescent stage. So, I think as someone listening to this narrative, the obvious thought, question is what can we expect from science during her rebellious teenage years?

Mark Eberhart: [laughs]. You know, I thought of that question myself and I don't have -- I don't have the answer to that. I think that the key thing here is if we as a community adopt this picture, then as a community we won't be rebellious. There will be people, there will be individuals, individual scientists, but as a community we'll be kind of a damping influence. I think it will bring a certain amount of humility to basically stand up and say, "I'm immature." Not "I'm immature" but science is immature, and won't it be great to get to that point where it is mature? And what does that mean? But I do understand what you're saying, and I can't give you a specific answer. Other questions? Yes.

Eric Maltzer: Hi, I'm Eric Maltzer from the climate change shop, just want to thank you. I think you really have laid out very clearly why scientists and engineers, who've been working on climate change for 30 years and proven more and more conclusively how serious it is, have failed to connect on a broader level with public opinion, with the exception of maybe the Al Gore moment when we had a spike in action and belief. But my question is, you know, these other instances, you know, post-World War II and post-World War II where we connected science and technology with national action, the national strategic narrative. Those science development were tied in with some sort of human -- great human struggle, you know, we were shining as an enemy or national defense or security. How do we tie into climate change and energy security to some sort of grand human struggle? Because right now people associate it with the weather.

Mark Eberhart: Yeah. And, to me the way you do that is as soon as you have the scientific community as a whole saying, "We are immature," then the next response is, "Well, grow up." How do you do that? Then you change your funding scheme. You change so much that we're driven right now to goals-oriented instead of growing-up-oriented. And my feeling is climate change and energy are simply symptoms of this immaturity. And what we're doing is try to focus on the symptoms instead of the immaturity itself and saying, "How do we grow up?" So, I don't think you want to tie energy -- and, it's very important, but I think you want to tie it to the future of the human race. That is, if we don't learn how to deal with this problem, we're never going to deal with any of the great problems that are coming along, and the world will be better when we know how to do that. So, my feeling is what happened here is you haven't tied things, or we haven't tied things to a future vision, a compelling future vision. There was a compelling future vision in the space race, I mean, "We're going to win." There's a compelling future vision in the process of containment, the Cold War, security, jobs, the only future vision people have given in the climate change and energy is, "We don't want to end up there." Don't do that. Give us a compelling reason to move forward. People don't line up to buy the next generation of iPhones because it gives them the same thing their current generation gives them. It's got to be a compelling vision that this is a better place to be. And I think that compelling vision is we as humans are growing up. And that as soon as we accept that and make that known to everybody in the world as part of our, as part of our personal narrative, that there will be a push, let's get there. That's my personal vision. That didn't answer your question, exactly, but nonetheless.

Male Speaker:

All right, I’ll let other people...

Mark Eberhart: Could you -- go ahead. Yeah. They want you to go over there. Oh, I see. I've got people waiting. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Karen Laughlin: Thanks. I'm Karen Laughlin from EPA and I come from the biological science world. And I know within that world, there's, you know, a pretty broad recognition across the disciplines within biology that we're just getting to this point where things are starting to explode and go forward. And I think that that's true across other scientific disciplines. But, and I may use your narrative parlance in the wrong way here, because I’m not that familiar with it. However, it strikes that within the American public we tend to hear -- I mean, I hear from my family and others that we're kind of at this apex that our technology, whether it's medical or biological, or energy is just amazing. And even when you're talking about the development of renewable energy, I think the general public's like, "Oh, yeah, we've discovered how to really do solar [unintelligible], so that means we're at this amazing point." and I’m wondering how, or if you've given thought as to how you marry this messaging of, "We're still maturing" with what I think science has done is really convince the public, "Hey, we've hit it. We're there." How do you, how do you change the messaging aside from just, you know, only convincing within the scientific community, "Hey, we're actually not as mature as we pretend ourselves to be."

Mark Eberhart: Okay, so. I agree with you personally that the -- that the scientific community has said, "We're there." Look at that. Now part of the reason we've done that is to say, "We need funding." You're not going to give me funding to say, "I want to turn from five to six." Come on. So, that's part of the reason we've said we're there. And people believe it. "Oh yeah, we're there." All of this is exploding. The way you first do it is the scientific community adopts some humility. It says, "No, we're not. We're just barely cracking the surface." And this maybe goes to the other question that was asked, is at what age were you when you thought you had all the answers? I remember, I thought when I was like 14, "Wow. I'm there. I have all the answers." And then I got to be 30 and I said, “No I didn't.” It took me a long time. And I think that's where we are as a scientific community. We're there saying, "We've got all the answers." Again this also goes back to the problem of role model. If you've got no role model to point at and say, "Now, they have the answers." We look at ourselves and all we can see is where we've come, we can't see where we need to go. This is a very hard question that you asked, but the pertinent question. This is the pertinent question.

Norma Allewell: Hi, I'm Norma Allewell and I'm one of Mark's colleagues as a Jefferson Science Fellow. Mark, I wanted to make, if I could, a comment and then also sort of raise a challenge. And my comment is I think there are some role models there, so first there were the people involved in the development of the atomic bomb who became enormously concerned and developed for example the Union of Concerned Scientists. But in the biological realm to get back to that, there are some more recent examples, so the very serious discussions that took place when recombinant DNA came along and led to a slowing, actually, of the scientific process for a while, but at the same time avoided what could have been disastrous consequences and more recently the story of the avian born, avian flu that was to be developed in ferrets and so on, and it has led to an almost unprecedented 60-day moratorium in that research it for -- to give people about it.

So, I think those examples actually would create a vision that other people might be drawn to. The point I -- the other point I wanted to make is that I think that your narrative has to be strongly positive. And I'm not sure that this narrative is because, well, it's great to mature, you know, you're likely not to make mistakes that will result in a shortened lifespan. Shortly after maturity, comes beginning to grow old and so there isn't this acceleration of energy and power which really drove the Civil Rights movement and the race to the moon and so on and so forth. And taming energy, if which is sort of implied in some of the language that is used today is just not an exciting prospect. I'm wondering, as I was standing here, I was thinking it could be reversed and we could talk about the world being forever young if we stop abusing it in the ways that we are through the ways in which we're creating energy resources these days.

So those are my thoughts, so I do think that talking about maturing and acquiring wisdom just isn't going to do it in this modern world and we have so many example in politics where a negative message just doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't work to tell people that they're bad and they should be better and so on and so forth. It may work within the scientific community, but we have a political problem of capturing the public's attention and basically winning their support and I think that takes, as I say, enormous energy and so on and so forth.

Mark Eberhart: Well, I agree. I agree that one needs a compelling vision and so what I've formulated here is a straw man in the sense that if you can come up with a more compelling vision, let's go for it. And the examples you gave, the examples you gave of recombinant DNA and this kind of thing, I thought of all of those as examples and where do you put those on the maturation, where do you begin to say, "Oh, I'm going to do something, I better think about what's going to happen before I do this." Well, that, you begin to do that in your late childhood. So that's basically what's going on now. Those questions are questions not of mature people, but of people in their late childhood, which I would say apply to the people who were building the atomic bomb, apply to the people who are saying what are the consequences of recombinant DNA. All of those things, I would put them at that age. Yeah.

Wes Reisser: Hi. My name is Wes Reisser. I work here at the State Department and I teach energy resources across the street at George Washington University. A note and a question for you. I actually think that there is a narrative vision being presented for our energy future and it's one I've written about which is actually quite concerning because of its impossibility. And that is one that is brought to you by the people of America's oil, natural gas and coal corporations which is a vision of quote "energy independence" that the U.S. can mine and drill our way out of needing to get energy resources from other countries, and this has become the driving energy narrative within our society. How, as scientists as educators, as policy makers, can we shape a new positive narrative that will allow us to do what you're pointing to, to allow funding to move in other directions rather than to a series of what look like easy answers, but actually don’t solve any of our problems.

Mark Eberhart: And there's -- there are a number of ways that, as I said, the narrative has to get one involved in narrative transport. And there are a number of ways that people evaluate the quality of the narrative. How faithful it is to what they know and what their experiences are and a number of other things. Now if that narrative is flawed, then it's our job to make sure that they understand that narrative if flawed. If they are being sucked into a narrative which is untrue, why? What's wrong with it? What's the counter-narrative that sets that apart? And that's why it's interesting to be here at State because so much of the work that goes on in strategic communications here at state is specifically countering other narratives, countering the narrative of al-Qaida, countering the other narratives. So, the question you ask is the one I hope to spend part of what remains of my Jefferson Science Fellowship trying to figure out how to answer. That is, what is the form that the strategic communication that one wants to put forward in order to counter these narratives, to build a stronger narrative? I don't know the answer to it, but that's something that I want to work on. Yes.

Male Speaker: There's a book by a guy named something like Watts Wacker called “Tell Me Your Story." And in it, he discusses the importance of story-telling to the modern corporation. I was curious as to whether you've heard of his book, read it, if it had any influence on your thinking?

Mark Eberhart: I have heard of the book. It was one of a number that I now have stacked up to read. [laughs]

Male Speaker:
[laughs]. Okay. It's good to know that.

Female Speaker: Hi Mark. Thanks, this was very

Caroline Trupp Gil: Hi Mark. Thanks. This was a very thought-provoking presentation I really appreciate it. I'm Caroline Trupp Gil [spelled phonetically] from the American Chemical Society. You mentioned strong voices that have added to our national narratives, you mentioned Martin Luther King and President Kennedy. As you look forward and think about the narrative that you’re proposing that needs to be out there, are there voices out there already that you think could add to that narrative? And is it possible that some of those narrators might be out from outside of the science community?

Mark Eberhart: So, this is interesting because I -- one of those people that I talked to who listened and made comments about how I may present this said, "You know, what so many of these things are driven by is a charismatic person." Who is that charismatic person? Well, it's not me. [laughs] So the question is, who would that person be, and how would we formulate this? And that's the issue. How do we do this, how do we find that people, how do we find those spokespeople, I do not know who they are. It could come from people outside of the sciences. I believe it, I believe it could come from people outside of the sciences. But it's important to find that group of people or that person, or that voice to carry that message forward. Again, another thing on the horizon to figure out how do you do it.

Ryan Kerney: My name is Ryan Kerney, I'm a AAAS fellow at DOE and I have a question about your perspective in the narrative on technology. And just, if you could compare and contrast it with the environmental movement as it stands today, and its view of technology. And maybe this has to do more with your visions of the future, but the way I see it in the existing environmental movement, there's much more sort of Luddite perspective and, maybe that's not the wrong way to put it. But it's something that's more driven by the writings of like Bill Joy and “The Future Doesn’t Need Us” or E.F. Schumacher “Small if Beautiful.” And seems to be kind of at loggerheads with what you're presenting as technology fixes.

Mark Eberhart: Right. First of all, I'm not presenting a technology fix. Okay. What I'm suggesting is that we judge our technology from the perspective of being mature. That is, we look at BP and what they did to the Gulf was outrageous and horrible. But we look at BP and say, judge them as if they were a mature entity. If you start from the perspective that they are immature and everybody who works for them starts with the perspective that they are immature, that develops an ability to question what you're doing. That is, as a child I can go to somebody and say, "I'm just a kid. Should we be doing this?" As an adult, that's less acceptable. So, what we have done in this process, to which I believe the environmentalists have contributed, is put these companies and these entities in a position where the -- where they are unable to question their own actions because we don't say mistakes will happen. Let's be open about this, let's proceed as a world community to an end. And let's understand that we all have to grow up and that to me is the crucial point of my message that the whole narrative isn't formed, but that is the crucial point. If we accept that as a basis, it allows us to question our actions much more readily than the current time. So if there's one takeaway message, that's it.

Female Speaker: Hi Mark.

Mark Eberhart: Hey there.

Female Speaker: So, this is what we were talking about over those beers.

Mark Eberhart: That's it.

Female Speaker: Nice. I serve in the STAS office and I had a comment and then a question. The comment is it's too bad there's nobody here from NASA in the audience, because if anybody's figured out how to communicate complicated topics in a compelling, even inspiring way, it's those guys. The question I have was in looking at the maturity index, one of the things I'm worried about now that I kind of understand what you're thinking, is for an adolescent who now understands the impact of their actions, one of the underpinnings of great science is a wide open attitude about risk. So, how do you make it through that phase which you posit we are entering, where we're now aware that there's some impacts and side effects of the work that we do. How do you not sort of get folks pulling in their horns if you will? And not taking those risks to try and understand the next frontiers of science?

Mark Eberhart: Well, there are personal risks and there are broader risks. That is, I can do -- we may discover the Higgs Boson and discover something amazing to do with the Higgs Boson. That was a huge risk in doing the investment in the -- in that kind of thing. But taking the next step and say, "What are the broader implications of what I have discovered and what will happen if I take what I have discovered and apply it in some way?” That takes tremendous maturity. The people who were involved in the Manhattan program, they attempted to do that. They attempted to, but they didn't see clearly, they didn't see everything that had to do with it. And what I’m suggesting is scientific maturity will give us this ability to see clearly what we're supposed to do. There is also the tendency as you get older to take less risk, isn't there? So, that's an interesting point, we want to have people who are developing, who are at that point to take risks but they're supervised by very smart people who say "Maybe we shouldn't go there right now." That's all I can think of. Okay? Very good question. I think just one more.

Gil Brown: Thanks. Gil Brown. I'm a Foster Fellow and a very stimulating, provocative talk about the different narratives and to the subject of risk, I mean, 10 to the minus six and saying safe. And those are the two different narratives that run parallel and the scientists tend to stay in 10 to the minus six and the narrative, the public narrative, the Washington, the policy narrative is safe. And I think the overarching term struck me seminal book or pamphlet was of a concept of acceptable risk and how do you translate that into societies, into society. And I think, I know you didn't mean it, but we don't ever know everything. And that's the flaw in the thinking. And that was you know, that's a bad paradigm. We'll always be in the space of uncertainty, whether it's in nanotech, or bio-tech, or nuclear-tech, or what have you. So I leave you -- or my take-away, and I would roll out, and I think you said it without saying it, the word hubris. This is an old concept. And I think the best we can do is to have some humility for what it is we're doing and what we think is the right thing, because clearly the narratives change. We could not do the Westford -- the Westford, that's my hometown -- the westward expansion in today's narrative environment, for example. So, knowing that things change and knowing that the best we can do is the best we can do is a degree of humility. In other words, not knowing at all. So we close with the “Ascent of Man” which you may be familiar with, Jacob Bronowski is brilliant. And these -- the chapter I'm most familiar with is the chapter of uncertainty. And that's a very humility-driven chapter and that's maybe where we should start from, as we say we know it all and we're going to make the world a better place.

Mark Eberhart: And Bronowski was a great spokesperson, a great voice. And many of those people who provided the kind of voice that we're talking about are gone, and no longer -- the public no longer pays attention. There was a time when people knew who Salk was. And understood, revered science and technology and turned to these people with respect and listened to what they said. I think that time has largely passed.

Gil Brown: And I don't think he was a very public figure, he was for us.

Mark Eberhart: He was just a great voice, yes.

Gil Brown: Yeah. Carl Sagan might be one of these guys that transitioned from science to being the narrator for science.

Mark Eberhart: [affirmative]. Yes. I think we're done. Thank you very much everybody.

[applause]



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.