Thursday, May 17, 2007


I absolutely agree that this is something SLIS can and should take a leadership role in ... although I'm a bit annoyed that this campus-wide initiative is only happening now that it's politically safe for UW-Madison to take the "controversial" stand that global warming is (a) happening, (b) largely human-generated, and (c) potentially disastrous and as such worthy of serious political and economic action.

One of the things we're good at here in SLIS is considering how information disparities both mirror and magnify other social/political/economic disparities. So perhaps we could initiate a discussion of both (a) what kind of information resources are important for convincing citizen, corporate, and political actors of the more developed, energy-intensive and militarily dominant nations that global warming deserves action, and (b) what kind of information resources are important for enabling citizen, corporate, and political actors from the less developed, subsistence-stretched but often resource-rich nations to build a higher standard of living and safety under environmental and energy uncertainty.

The links between information studies and environmental science are many. A quick MadCat search yielded the following examples of texts which might fit well in SLIS courses or reading groups:

- Helmut Breitmeier, Oran R. Young, and Michael Zürn, Analyzing international environmental regimes: From case study to database (Cambridge, MA. : MIT Press, 2006).

- Virginia Baldwin, ed., Online ecological and environmental data (Binghamton, NY : Haworth Information Press, 2003).

- Fernando Elichirigoity, Planet management: Limits to growth, computer simulation, and the emergence of global spaces (Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, 1999).

- Arno Scharl, Environmental online communication (London ; New York : Springer, 2004).

- US Government Accountability Office, Environmental information: Status of federal data programs that support ecological indicators (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2005).

If we think the univeristy is serious about promoting this discussion, we ought to ask Dean Sandefur for a teaching buyout for one of our faculty so they can put together a "First Year Interest Group" on "information studies and climate change," linking together, say, LIS 450 with an environmental studies course. A graduate course on the same topic, team-taught with an environmental scientist, would be a great opportunity as well -- again, if we could get some extra resources to pull it off.

Finally, I would suggest inviting Paul Edwards from the University of Michigan School of Information to give a talk at SLIS next year (STS might be convinced to co-sponsor). He is completing a book on global computer modeling and remote sensing and how cyberinfrastructure allows holistic environmental understandings of global processes to be scientifically possible and politically viable. (Similar to many arguments that Geoff Bowker made in _Memory practices in the sciences_ but more historical and more accessible, I think.) He's also a great speaker and a very nice fellow.

OK that's a bunch of brainstorming so I'll stop now.


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