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Session Overview
RN24_03a: Science and the public I
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Bernhard Wieser, TU Graz
Location: UP.3.213
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road

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Research Communication in Magnetic Fields: Pitfalls and Strategies

Mette Andersson

University of Oslo, Norway

This paper analyses the challenges of research communication in thematic fields of political contention and polarization. Migration and diversity here serves as an example of a more general category of such thematic fields, ‘magnetic fields’. I use the term ‘magnetic field’, a central concept in the natural sciences, as a sensitizing concept and as a metaphor that may aid the analysis of research communication in social science thematic fields such as migration and diversity. Magnetic fields are recognized by that public opinion is strong and polarized, themes are high on the political agenda and central for voters in elections. Thematic fields can become more and less magnetic over time, depending on political circumstances, media trends, developments in the Academy, and local and national cultures of public communication. The paper builds on empirical data from depth interviews with 31 Norwegian migration and diversity researchers of different ages, gender, and social science disciplinary background. The analysis focuses on the complexity of researchers’ own reactions to reception of their research communication, and on their strategies to overcome or avoid reactions they understand as variously hate, ridicule and politicization. In the concluding discussion, I scrutinize the references to the concept of magnetic field by comparing research communication about migration and diversity with research communication about other similarly controversial themes

Travelling Beyond the Barriers of Germline Genome Editing To Belong

Amarpreet Kaur

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Within a frame of globalisation and nationalism, this paper draws upon findings from a representative, online, mixed-methods survey to share public attitudes towards travelling outside a country of residence to access germline genome editing. The paper questions the acceptance and feasibility of travelling beyond borders in the hope of achieving reproductive desires, and the repercussions that could ensue. The findings reveal how the wider public understand, relate to, and prophesise the scope of science and technology through the context of germline genome editing via human embryos in the United Kingdom (UK). Collectively, the questions and discussions raised in the paper highlight senses of belonging and how identities are (re)imagined through the pragmatic scope of germline genome editing, both within the UK and beyond.

Experience Narratives as Acts of ‘Public Engagement with Science’

Kia Kaarina Andell

University of Turku, Finland

The paper discusses the relationship between experiential and scientific forms of knowledge, which has been widely problematized in contemporary ‘post-truth’ western societies. In particular the empirical focus is on certain kinds of bodily, sensuous experiences that contradict the scientific-technical worldview and biomedical conceptions of human body/mind Drawing on autobiographical narratives of extraordinary sensory experiences like voices, visions, precognition, and telepathy, I interrogate the formation of experiential knowledge and its effects on people’s perceptions of scientific knowledge and expertise. The research material consists of an archive of letters that were spontaneously sent by Finnish people to an interdisciplinary research project Mind and the Other after the project gained visibility in the Finnish mainstream media. The narratives are thus analyzed as acts of ‘public engagement with science’ through which the writers seek to make their experiences understandable and justify them in the eyes of a scientific audience. Particularly I focus on narratives from writers who, along their experiences have come to practice alternative treatments like channeling or energy healing. The narratives question simplifying accounts of alternative health practices as building on ‘false beliefs’ by making visible the complex experiential basis of individuals’ conceptions of mind/body. They also problematize the prevailing hierarchical relationship between scientific-rational and experiential, affective, and intuitive ways of knowing as they discuss the social consequences of such hierarchy. I analyze how the relationship between experiential and scientific forms of knowledge becomes politicized through the practice of narrating one’s personal experiences to researchers, and what kind of public engagement does it call forth?

Defamiliarization And Refamiliarization: Literary Techniques In The Service Of Scientism In Contemporary Popular Science

Daniel Lars Helsing

Lund University, Sweden; University College London, United Kingdom

The construction of science in publicly accessible texts—from Mary Somerville’s On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos—is an integral part of the construction of science itself. While all scientific texts can be said to deploy literary techniques to some degree, many of the most successful and influential public texts rely heavily on techniques like narrative and metaphor to convey/construct science. Since the late 1970s, it has been common for popularizers to convey/construct science in such a way that it aligns with scientism—i.e., the view that science is inherently superior to all other forms of knowledge and should therefore permeate culture and provide the intellectual foundations for all research. In this paper, I analyze literary techniques that some of the most influential contemporary popularizers use to convey/construct science. I show that the expansionism of scientism is incorporated already in the ways in which certain literary techniques are used, i.e. already in the narrative structure of the texts. In particular, I show that popularizers like Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson use an interplay between defamiliarization (presenting familiar objects as unfamiliar) and refamiliarization (placing the objects-made-unfamiliar in new narratives) to convey/construct science. I go on to show that the resultant construction of science is fraught with ambiguities. I argue that an analysis of the use of literary techniques in popular science contributes to critical perspectives on present-day scientism and constructions of science in society.

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