Isn't it frustrating when scientists confidently announce a new paradigm, when all they are really (unknowingly) doing is drawing attention to something sociologists had already described under a different label? A case in point: British sociologist Anthony Giddens introduced the concept of "reflexive modernization" to denote how everything has become subject to human decision-making, including nature itself. According to him, this means it is now impossible to speak of nature in pristine terms that imply its separateness from "society". This is exactly the kind of precursor that is not acknowledged by middlebrow publications such as The Economist, which blandly informs (ahem) us that it was in the year 2000 (i.e. some years after Giddens's pronouncements) that:
"Paul Crutzen, an eminent atmospheric chemist, realised he no longer believed he was living in the Holocene. He was living in some other age, one shaped primarily by people. From their trawlers scraping the floors of the seas to their dams impounding sediment by the gigatonne, from their stripping of forests to their irrigation of farms, from their mile-deep mines to their melting of glaciers, humans were bringing about an age of planetary change. With a colleague, Eugene Stoermer, Dr Crutzen suggested this age be called the Anthropocene—“the recent age of man”.
Before continuing on its merry way:
"The advent of the Anthropocene promises more, though, than a scientific nicety or a new way of grabbing the eco-jaded public’s attention. The term “paradigm shift” is bandied around with promiscuous ease. But for the natural sciences to make human activity central to its conception of the world, rather than a distraction, would mark such a shift for real. For centuries, science has progressed by making people peripheral. In the 16th century Nicolaus Copernicus moved the Earth from its privileged position at the centre of the universe. In the 18th James Hutton opened up depths of geological time that dwarf the narrow now. In the 19th Charles Darwin fitted humans onto a single twig of the evolving tree of life. As Simon Lewis, an ecologist at the University of Leeds, points out, embracing the Anthropocene as an idea means reversing this trend. It means treating humans not as insignificant observers of the natural world but as central to its workings, elemental in their force."
Try telling me then that there is no disciplinary division of labor, and then ask yourself why it is so easy for natural scientists to get traction in the media, while social scientists struggle to make any impression at all? Such is the hegemonic effect of the "expertise" associated with scientists. It doesn't hurt either of course when initiatives such as Public Understandings of Science forums can help out the cause by handling the PR side of things. Ditto for a sponsor's generous funding. Personal experience has taught me as much: I can still vividly remember attending a meeting chaired by a chemistry professor who dropped an anecdote about the time he had to sit on a panel with a feminist philosopher of science. Rather than acknowledge the potentially critical ramifications of her work for his own practices though, he chose instead to make a dismissive comment about the (comparatively) small size of the grants she had previously won to support her research (usually around $2, 000 each time): "I don't get out of bed for anything less than $15, 000."
Or try following the money trail that has helped prop up one particularly prominent science popularizer: Richard Dawkins. Two former Microsoft executives have linkages to Dawkins and the concept of memes. Former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi has funded the endowed chair at England’s Oxford University first occupied by Dawkins, the originator of the concept of memes. Another interesting Microsoft connection is Richard Brodie, a formerMicrosoft executive who wrote the first version of Microsoft Word, and who was Bill Gates’s personal technical assistant. After retiring from Microsoft, Brodie wrote Virus of the Mind:The New Science of the Meme.
I can't see that my argument is necessarily invalidated by pointing out how Giddens offered policy advice to Blair and Clinton. That kind of access to the halls of power is hardly representative of the public profile of the majority of social scientists. I know that in Australia for example, the government appoints a "Chief Scientist", while the best a sociologist can hope for is to be voted president of their members' association (i.e. the Australian Sociological Association). Besides, what does it say about the long-term nature of the "influence" of a sociologist like Giddens, when the meaning of his central concept is already seemingly forgotten--or rather, remains unknown--even in the Anglosphere? Indeed, how is it possible already for historical amnesia to have set in, ironically, when Giddens sits in the House of Lords for Labour? Debate the relative merits of his "third way" policy proposals all you like; it still doesn't change the fact that reflexive modernization is not destined to attain the status of a "meme" to the same extent as the anthropocene no doubt eventually will-- notwithstanding the crossovers between their respective scientific implications.
And by the way, Brian Eno, you failed to challenge this sad state of affairs by namedropping "anthropocene" on your Small Craft on a Milk Sea album...in fact, you merely kowtowed to the powers-that-be...