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ENGL 7030: Brian Wynne discussion

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Kirk Lundblade

on 25 October 2012

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Transcript of ENGL 7030: Brian Wynne discussion

Misunderstood Minsunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science May 1986: "It's raining Cesium-137!" Following the Chernobyl accident, areas of upland Britain suffered radioactive cesium fallout via rain
Scientists initially dismissed the effects as "negligible"
Six weeks later, a ban is placed on sheep sales from Cumbria region
Ban was later extended indefinitely for certain regions

Scenario Players: Cumbrian hill farmers, government scientists
Location: farms surrounding Sellafield, in northern England
Time period: 1986 (primary event), 1957-1986 (secondary events and interactions) Misunderstood misunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science Brian Wynne The Sellafield-Windscale Factor Suspiciously, the area of high radioactivity was focused around Sellafield
Sellafield: originally a producer of weapons-grade plutonium
At time of the accident, Sellafield focused on reprocessing and storing spent nuclear fuel
Many controversies have surrounded Sellafield over the years...
Scientific screw-ups in Cumbria continue After the indefinite ban was put in place, scientists told farmers Cesium levels would fall soon
Spoiler alert: they didn't "...and now for something completely different" Sellafield Controversies Alleged to be the center of excess childhood leukemia clusters (confirmed by official inquiry)
Accused of contaminating local beaches
Threatened with closure and safety audit after 1986 accident
1957 pile fire emitted radioactive fallout over similar area as Chernobyl
After 1987, reports detailing further "cover-ups" following the 1957 fire emerged
The scientists had made repeated assertions that had been proven false, and had not admitted mistake or fault of any kind.

"[The scientists'] exaggerated sense of certainty and arrogance was a major factor in undermining the scientists' credibility with the farmers on other issues such as the source of the contamination" -Wynne 287
The farmers' take: "The typical scientific idiom of certainty and control was culturally discordant with the farmers, whose whole cultural ethos routinely accepted uncertainty and the need for flexible adaptation rather than prediction and control" -Wynne 287

"The Cumbrian sheep farmers felt that their social identity as a specialist community with distinct traditions, skills and social relations was under fundamental threat." - Wynne 287 Clash of Cultures What public participation model did the scientists use in the 1957 fire? In the 1986 fallout incidents?

How could the scientists have better interacted with the hill farmers? Modeling interactions The farmers approached further interactions with one of two theories: the 'conspiracy theory' and the 'arrogance theory'
Arrogance theory: scientists believed in their own infallibility and refused to take into account local expertise
Conspiracy theory: scientists actively sought to hide the "truth" about the irradiated region and Sellafield
Conspiracy and Arrogance When farmers were asked about their skepticism to scientific reasoning, they talked about the 1957 Sellafield fire

"At first we did not see this as an answer to the question, but then we realized that it was-they were explaining the lack of credibility of the present scientific claim about the Sellafield-Chernobyl distinction as due to the untrustworthy way in which the experts and authorities had treated them over the 1957 fire, and the longer history of perceived misinformation surrounding Seallfield." Wynne -291 Public Belief and Private Dissent Driven by their lack of trust in present scientific institutions, farmers "entered the scientific arena" and attempted to draw their own evidence from viewing available scientific data and experimentation

With information on scientific procedure and its inaccuracies, the farmer's trust in the scientific culture diminished

"The farmers entered the 'black-boxes' of constructed, 'naturally determined' science, and saw its indeterminacies for themselves." -Wynne 293 Stand back, we're going to try SCIENCE! The credibility of the scientists had diminished greatly over the years: why?

Realization of the ignorance of scientists regarding local conditions/expertise
Belief that science had been subordinated to political needs
Institutional arrogance
Credibility: What Science Lacked Judging science Conclusions Risk communication is contextualized in the form of credibility and trust between social groups
Lay belief often incorporates uncertainty and ambiguity, unlike traditional scientific culture
These beliefs and social identities are open and malleable, and change over time in response to differing interactions with other groups
The culture of science lacks institutional reflexivity and the capacity for public self-criticism
Wynne chimes in "The intellectual properties of reflexivity or its lack are not independent of the institutional forms-of organization, control, and social relations-is not just an optional embellishment of science in public life, but an essential subject of critical social and cultural evaluation. It is a crucial missing part of the contemporary non-debate of science's social purpose and legitimacy." -Wynne 301

In order for scientific interactions with the public to improve, this institutional rigidity must be loosened to more easily include self-criticism, public acknowledgment of uncertainty, and diminish the scientific ethos of control .
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