Fellow 2023/2024Taylor Dotson

Fellowship Term: 01/2024 – 07/2024

I am Associate Professor of Social Sciences at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in the United States. My research focuses on the intersection of science, technology, and politics, specifically on public issues involving large-scale or global risks. I study how democratic societies fail or succeed to collectively solve the problems they face, focusing on the barriers posed by polarization, public mistrust of expertise, and the failure to recognize and appreciate uncertainty and complexity. A recent interest of mine is the politics of biodiversity change. I have earned degrees in both Mathematics and Science and Technology Studies, the latter a PhD from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In addition to writing peer-reviewed articles, I have published public facing scholarship dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic and other technoscientific controversies in The New Atlantis, Salon, The Conversation, and the Washington Post. I have given media interviews for TV Ontario, Radio France, and other outlets, and have served as an invited expert on Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies. In 2022, I was a Fulbright Scholar, hosted at The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) in Leipzig, Germany. My first book, Technically Together (MIT Press, 2017) dealt with the intersection of technology and community life, and my second, The Divide (MIT Press, 2021), examined the role of scientific and commonsensical truth in a democracy. My CAPAS Fellowship research intersects with the topic of my third book that focuses on biodiversity politics, examining the democratic limits of apocalyptic political rhetoric.

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In the spotlight: Taylor Dotson

Image Taylor Dotson

Science, Storytelling, and the Apocalypse: The Epistemological and Policy Limits of Political Catastrophism

This project interrogates the epistemology and political consequences of apocalyptic rhetoric from the vantage point of democratic theory and science and technology studies. I will examine the presuppositions undergirding the translation of simulated or predicted catastrophes into the often fanaticizing languages of authoritative fact and moral common sense. Such an examination forces a reappraisal of the relationships between apocalyptic truth and the political as well as between science and propaganda. Focusing on potential environmental cataclysms, namely climate and biodiversity change, I characterize the past, present, and potential future of apocalyptic politics. How has political catastrophism shaped policy, political interactions, and members of democratic societies as political beings? Which new stories and metaphors might better reconcile the challenges posed by complex, uncertain, and potentially catastrophic environmental challenges with the conditions of possibility for democratic politics? And how might societies more productively accommodate broad disagreement regarding both the character of “nature” and the place of human beings within it?