Author: Padraig Murphy – Dublin City University, Ireland


  • Rodrigo Costas – Leiden University, Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Netherlands
  • Jonathan Dudek – Leiden University, Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Netherlands
  • Marina Joubert – Stellenbosch University, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology, South Africa
  • Daniela Mahl – University of Hamburg, Institute for Journalism and Communication Studies, Germany

There is little information uncovered so far about John Edmonstone. Our main source is Charles Darwin. He wrote in his Glasgow memoirs from his time as medical student about this “kind and intelligent man”, his paid teacher. Darwin learned from John how to trap, kill and stuff wild birds. And much more besides. All pivotal to Darwin’s field studies many years later in the Galapagos.

There is increasing academic interest in this freed Guyanan slave who inspired Darwin. There is a book here and this is one possible output. But historians are looking for missing pieces of the jigsaw of his life.

Could we develop a screenplay to fill in the gaps? Much of the action takes place down the road around the University of Edinburgh, where Edmonstone was employed as lecturer. The characters are there. Was the central character, John, stoic, deflecting British racial prejudice of the time, using objective reason and ordering of ornithology and botany to de-politicise, with science the Great Leveller? Darwin was then a young medical student who rebelled against the “horrors” of medical training and became inspired not just by stories of the natural world but of John’s own story, igniting his reported interest in emancipation. And the most interesting of all: the woman that historical records called ‘Princess Minda’, of Guyanan royalty, wife of Edmonstone’s former master, but an independent woman residing in Glasgow. What stories had these immigrants?

The themes: the conflict of naturalists both in love with its pastoral beauty yet killing birds for scientific understanding: the human preoccupation of “taming nature;” people of colour’s exclusion from the story of science; immigrants shorn of identity, enriching a nation.

The plot writes itself. Or perhaps a few people can join my talk as we continue the story of John Edmonstone and discuss science, history and screen storytelling.

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

Presentation type: Insight talk
Theme: Transformation

Author: Padraig Murphy – Dublin City University. Ireland

Between the years 2015-2018, Ireland went through a time of significant social transformation that brought about the legalising of same-sex marriage, the removal of the Eighth Amendment in the Irish constitution banning abortion, and also uncovering of many historical institutional abuses of women and children, for which the Irish state was complicit. Any health policy intervention requires renewed public trust.

These changes are subpolitical with risk subjectivities occurring from outside traditional science and politics (Beck, 1992; Slovic, 1987). It is also the biopolitics of Foucault, as recent STS scholars such as Rosa Braidotti or Nik Rose have explored. When applied to healthcare, there are questions of women’s rights and the rhetorical use of scientific and other evidence. Wynne and Irwin, in the early days of PEST, applied risk perception theories to communicating science. However, intersectional theoretical areas of politics, educational argumentation, risk and feminist STS rarely meet in science communication discourse.

What globally can be learned from an engaged healthcare policy in this time of change in a country moving towards perceived liberalisation? What methods communicating science accurately yet inclusively apply to other countries?

This paper draws from a study of policy documents, news coverage and social media in three areas that have become major Irish political issues: the raising of awareness of HPV vaccination, the CervicalCheck scandal and access to information to abortion and other reproductive services post- 8th Amendment.

The study found the enduring power of deficit-model rhetoric. Government and advocates used conflicting communication mechanisms that demonstrate ‘patient care’, ‘patient as bio-object’, ‘paternalism/misogyny’ and ‘state control over individual’ where: 1) the state enacted biopolitical action for the health of a population; and 2) the state was accused of enacting biopolitical action against individuals or groups. Using STS approaches, the solution offers propositions of humility, bridging Wynne/Slovic, argumentation and feminist biopolitics.

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

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation

Author: Padraig Murphy – Dublin City University, Ireland

Norah Campbell – Trinity College Dublin
Cormac Deane – Dàºn Laoghaire Institute for Art, Design and Technology

When watching a video about a new technology how closely do you listen to the sounds or voiceover? There is little research on how audio is represented in nano-products or research.

Research institutions that explore nano-enhanced innovations and companies that develop and market them are part of a lucrative global nano-industry. A report by IndustryARC predicts that the global revenue of the nano-industry will grow to 13 billion USD by 2021.

‘Nanotechnology media’ is defined here as either a low-production promotional video from a nanotechnology research facility; or a high-end advert for a product with nano-enhancement; or simple lab techniques, with accompanying graphics for learning purposes; or infotainment, either directly using, or adopting techniques from, Hollywood and the gaming industries.

We draw from a Nature Nanotechnology paper by the authors where 100+ nanotech media samples from advertising, outreach promotion, education and entertainment were reviewed(Campbell, et al, 2017). We subsequently extended our analysis to focus on sound effects in nano-related computer games.

We categorised sound first on the basis of the spatial, music soundtrack, voiceover and the concept of synchresis (the extent of whether or not sound FX matched onscreen action). Within this schema we looked at room tone, gender voice, electro-sounds, the choice of electronica or orchestral. What results is a continuum from the familiar to the strange and alien. Analysis is informed by theories of embodied cognition, film studies and sonic branding to look at the paradoxes of fear and awe produced by sound.

Concerns persist about nanotechnology based on safety, security, ethics and societal impact. Science communication practitioners will find our typology of sound useful when considering promotional soundtracks. Researchers will see further evidence of a new technological landscape and discourse capable of playing with our emotions, making the familiar strange and vice versa.

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

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice