Author: Angela Cassidy – University of Exeter, United Kingdom


  • Karen Bickerstaff – University of Exeter, United Kingdom

This paper will consider long-running public scientific controversies – those in which scientific, social and policy uncertainties have been contested in the wider public sphere over several decades or longer. We draw on case studies of long running public controversies, including international debates over the siting and storage of nuclear waste; air quality; animal feeding; and bovine tuberculosis. By comparing across these cases, some common features become clear, including repeating cycles of built and broken expectations; the persistence – and elision of – memory; and the significance of place. We also observe such features in other long running science-policy-public controversies, including debates over fisheries management; flooding; pesticides; and climate change. They lead us to ask whether these commonalities are the simple consequence of a debate continuing for so long; or if we can identify factors driving the long term continuation of controversies. What roles are played by the public sphere, mass media, campaigners and publics? What are the consequences for research, policy and communication of the sciences involved? Is the prolonged nature of such debates linked to their environmental nature?

Drawing upon the literature on knowledge controversies, media and governance, we have developed a preliminary typology, drawing distinctions between controversies tapping into wider societal concerns; those about the implications of new scientific findings and/or technologies; and those in which scientific knowledge is itself ‘in the making’. Such an analysis contributes to longstanding questions about how public scientific controversies are created, intensifed, calmed and resolved; and how policymakers acti in the face of scientific uncertainty. We argue that looking back at the histories of such chronic, longterm controversies creates critical insights not only into how such controversies might be resolved in future, but also into broader problems in the interactions of ‘experts’, policy and society.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Time

Author: Angela Cassidy

The Science in Public (SiP) research network provides a central point of contact for anyone involved with or interested in academic research about SiP in the broadest sense. This includes any work which considers relationships between science, technology and medicine; ‘the public’/multiple publics; media and culture; and the broader public sphere. Science in Public fosters cross-disciplinary discussion and debate between researchers across the many fields and disciplines which address these topics, including science communication; science and technology studies; history of science; development, policy, media and cultural studies; and literature and the arts. In 2016 we celebrate our tenth anniversary, having grown out of an ongoing UK based annual conference of the same name. To mark this this and to celebrate the growth of SiP, we are formalising the organisation of the Network, much as PCST did in 2014. Our key aims are: i) To provide long term continuity for the annual Science in Public conference. ii) To give SiP research a more visible online presence via our web portal iii) To facilitate conversations between researchers and practitioners in this area. In this workshop, we invite input from delegates at PCST 2016 about the SiP network and its activities. What can we do for the science communication community in the UK and worldwide? How can we help bridge divisions between research and practice? How should we proceed as an organisation? Last summer, we co-located the PCST Summer School with our annual conference at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Should this interaction continue and how can we improve it? We are also issuing a formal Call for Participants: for people to contribute to SiP as members, Committee members, meeting hosts, website developers and writers, and any other ideas you may have. Please come along to find out more!

Author: Angela Cassidy

This paper will explore the escalation and polarisation of public debates in the UK over government policies to cull wild badgers (Meles meles) in order to control bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in domestic cattle herds, which have been ongoing since the discovery of bTB infections in badgers during the early 1970s. Over the past forty years, the UK has seen a repeating cycle of policymaking, research, controversy, expert-led policy review, and escalating disease rates. It has also transitioned from a localised and/or specialist policy debate into a highly polarised public controversy attracting widespread media coverage, particularly since 2010. Science has played a central role in these debates – as one of several core sources of knowledge about badgers/bTB, but also as a rhetorical resource mobilised by all sides in these debates. This paper will present work in progress exploring the contrasting and frequently unfounded expectations that actors in badgers/bTB have made – about science (that it would easily resolve the problem); about policy (that it would be directed by ‘the evidence’); about publics and about animals (that they would lack agency and sociality). I argue that these persisting expectations, combined with legitimacy struggles over expertise, have contributed to the long-term continuation of this cycle, a breakdown of relationships between key actors and ongoing policy failure. I also present data on how the badger/bTB issue has been covered in the UK media, illustrating the roles of specialist journalists and audiences, non-governmental campaigners and party politicians in driving the further polarisation and public visibility of the debate. This case study can inform wider questions of how public scientific controversies come about, by identifying the factors driving change over time and precipitating the movement and uptake of an issue into the wider public sphere.