Archive for May, 2009

Radio 4 goes STS?

By Jon Agar, on 23 May 2009

Intriguing announcement at the top of the new series of BBC Radio 4’s Leading Edge broadcast on thursday 21st May:

 

“We’ve performed a bit of alchemy. For the past decade this programme’s principal concern has been with the products of science with its findings whether a freshly disinterred fossil, or a distant galaxy, a recent observation or a new theory. Starting this week we are shifting the focus from the findings themselves to the process by which they are found. Instead of treating science as an accumulating mountain of facts we will look at the who, the why, the what and the how. Who does the work? Why is it done? And how scientists operate as people who are more than the sum of their scientific publications”

 

Well that sounds like STS to me. It’s great to hear, of course. But what has prompted the change in direction, and why?

 

The first episode centred on a long interview with the government’s chief scientific advisor, John Beddington. It will be interesting to see where the programme goes next…

When will the sheep safely graze?

By , on 12 May 2009

The Guardian today reports that restrictions are still in place on 369 hill sheep farms related to contamination from Chernobyl. A farmer in North Wales describes how “”I remember a meeting with civil servants at the time [1986] and got the impression they thought it would be short-lived. No-one had any idea it would go on this long.”

In the early 1990s, Brian Wynne wrote a series of defining pieces in the ‘contextual’ public understanding of science research discussing Chernobyl fallout and sheep farming in Cumbria. He described how local knowledge of farming conditions was ignored by mainstream scientific advice to government and farmers about the persistence of contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (Wynne 1992). Wynne describes how assertions from government scientists that the problem would clear up in weeks contradicted farmers’ own knowledges about the contingenices of farming in the Lake District, and took no account of the idiosyncratic features of area. The ‘one-size fits all’ model adopted by the scientists undermined the status of local lay knowledges, and created disillusionment with scientist’s ability to predict and manage risks. The study forms the basis for the ‘contextual public understanding of science’, in which public reception, perception and use of scientific knowledge are seen as not only related to the public’s formal understanding of its content, to “the forms of institutional embedding, patronage, organisation and control of scientific knowledge” (Wynne, 1992:42).

Wynne, B. 1992. “Misunderstood misunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science.” Public Understanding of Science 1:304, 281.

Wynne, B. 1996. “May the sheep safely graze? A reflexive view of the expert-lay knowledge divide.” Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology 44–83.

Best laid plans…

By , on 5 May 2009

As the poet Robert Burns aptly put it: ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley’(1)
So it has been with my intention of witnessing the parliamentary second reading and debate of the proposed Broadcasting (Abolition of Licence Fee) Act 2009.

The Broadcasting (Abolition of Licence Fee) Act 2009 was presented to Parliament on the 26th January 2009 where it received its first reading(2). It was assigned bill number 44 for printing purposes and scheduled for its second reading on Friday the 27th February.

The bill was duly printed(3) but was not read and debated on the 27th February due to a lack of time left during that day’s parliamentary business. It was re-scheduled for the 27th March.

I attended this re-scheduled date of Friday the 27th March for the second reading and debate so that I could report the proceedings here on the STS Observatory. After spending a long and somewhat tedious day in the House of Commons public gallery – which at one point contained more spectators than MPs in residence – listening to a very long winded debate on Royal Ascension(4) the Broadcasting (Abolition of Licence Fee) Act 2009 was not read and again re-scheduled for Friday the 24th April.
Once again another long day at Parliament was experienced to no avail. The second reading and debate of the Broadcasting (Abolition of Licence Fee) Act 2009 was objected to – due to the time restraints – and once again re-scheduled, this time for Friday the 8th May. To date, my experience would indicate that bills due to be read on Friday’s are constantly subject to re-scheduling!

Whether the Broadcasting (Abolition of Licence Fee) Act 2009 will actually have its second reading and debate on Friday 8th May remains to be seen? The process of following parliamentary acts appears to require patience and perseverance (which are not bad character traits) so I will endeavour to improve these facets of my character by attending the House of Commons, once again, in the hope of being able to report on the second reading and debate of this bill.

(1) Burns, Robert, The Collected Poems Of, (Ware, Herts: Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994) p108
(2) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090126/debtext/90126-0004.htm#0901264000008
(3) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmbills/044/09044.1-i.html
(4) Royal Marriages and Succession to the Crown (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2008-09