Some More Thoughts on Science and Planned Social Change

Now is a good time to say more about the three “scientific planning” tips I posted last time. First, here is the tip I left out last time: Know the factors that seem to contribute to the problem. Exploiting an opportunity works the same way, in the sense that you need to know what factors contribute to the situation you would like to create in the future.

Consider the example of climate change. How can we use science to exploit an opportunity related to climate change. Let’s ride the wave of public concern over climate change and promote the diffusion. Do you want to see all of the public buildings in your city using solar power in some way? What factors (call them variables if you wish) will influence the potential for success? You may already know what factors are relavant and how, or some research and some consulttion with experts could be in order.

Facts and figures – Know the numbers that are most relevant to your subject, and know the source too! If you don’t know the relevant facts you MUST know where to get them. How much will solar power equipment cost for various buildings? How much energy can you generate with each square meter of solar photovoltaic cells? How much money can be saved by getting a certain percentage of electricity from solar power?

Theories and concepts – First, remember that a theory is not a guess. Theories are statements about the measurable relationships between related phenomena (not a precise and complete definition but good

enough to work with). What theories or concepts from social science research might help us to do a better job of selling people on solar power?

Data on trends – You need to know what the trends are, or at least where to get that information. What are the trends in use of solar power? Maybe hard numbers will help make “going solar” into a more

normal or respectable thing to do. Trend data may also make solar designs more economically attractive to developers. Data on current conditions – You also need to know what’s going on now. Seems obvious, but the devil is in the details. What numbers are most relevant for your cause/goal/objective? What is the context?

What social reality is reflected in these numbers? So what if 10% of DC homes have solar panels on the roof and 40% of home owners say they are very interested in using solar power for their homes?
Why all this rationalism? Well, there is nothing wrong with passion or with emotional commitment per se, it is just that emotion can displace a concern with getting the best results for our available resources. Arguably, that situation cannot be allowed to persist because of the world’s many problems. And don’t forget opprtunities too; people spend too much time dwelling on problems.

COMING SOON: I think I will actually, finally, start systematically applying the many ideas in these posts to a social issue. The issue is TBD but might be “social pollution.”


~ by chetdavis on November 7, 2007.

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