Toward the end of class, we began discussing Fraccing with Two C's, a student blog dealing with hydrofracturing. We talked about the title--not only what it means, but what meanings it might connote--and also about the tone of the initial posts. When the team labeled their blog "Fraccing" they did so in order to note that this is the correct spelling of the abbreviated form for hydrofracturing (I've also seen a lot of industry folks spell it fracing). The media and anti-hydrofracturing activists, on the other hand, tend to use the spelling "fracking," both because it's more phonetically familiar and because it looks like a swear word, with that emphasis on that hard "k" sound at the end (google the term "What the Frack?" to see what I mean).
After class, this very interesting article by my colleague Adam Briggle (he's at the University of North Texas" popped into my inbox. The article is called "The Religiosity of the Fracking Debate," and in it Briggle argues that although the debate over fracking is a scientific one, those involved in the debate make their argument about the "facts" with a fervor bordering on the religious:
"It is reminiscent of a time when religious factions tore through Europe, each certain that it knew the will of God and the proper order of things. What was truth for one faction was heresy for another."Doesn't that sound like fights over fraccing, or abortion, or stem cell research? Controversial science debates start to look a lot like religious debates, sometimes.
Briggle goes on to argue that, really, there is a whole lot of uncertainty in the science about the effects of fracing, at all its various stages, than either side wants to acknowledge. Supporters of fracking argue that it is 100% safe and risk-free, while opponents paint fracing as typical oil-and-gas exploitation of health and environmental loopholes. Briggle argues that instead of polarizing in this way, we would all do well to acknowledge where uncertainty exists as we move forward with our policy decisions.
This isn't easy to do, as we discussed in class today.
So, our Fraccing with Two C's group has a choice to make: 1) Decide that theirs is decidedly a pro-fraccing blog, and that their mission is to defend fracking as best they can against the misunderstandings of the ignorant public and "fracktivists." This will simplify their mission tremendously, give their blog focus, and probably key them into a ready, if small, audience of people who are also interested in defending fraccing.
OR, they can 2) decide to adopt a less "religious" stance as Briggle suggests, and instead try to understand the uncertainties around fracking as best they can, interpret those uncertainties using their training and knowledge, and invite a much larger audience into dialogue with them. This option is much riskier, they might make mistakes, and they might have to get out of their comfort zone a bit. But the payoffs, in terms of audience and personal growth, might be bigger.
In case it's not clear: I don't think you can do both. I don't think you can strongly advocate for one position in a controversial science debate and be seen as a trusted, impartial expert, interested in "educating" the public about the issue in general terms.
But I'm always ready to be proven wrong.
I'll be writing about other blogs over the course of the semester as important issues arise. I'm grateful to our Fraccing group for their brave posts and their willingness to accept feedback in class today. Nice work!