Thursday, 25 July 2013

Responsibility at the Science-Publics-Policy Interface: What I learnt at the 2013 Science in Public Conference

The village of Onna, after the 2009 L'Aquila
earthquake. Photo: Darkroom_Daze (Flickr)
by Stephen Whitfield
DPhil Student, Institute of Development Studies

This year’s 'Science in Public' conference hosted by Nottingham University was excellent. I came away from two captivating days of presentations, discussions and (at times heated) debates having learnt a lot… and inevitably feeling frustrated in the knowledge that there was so much more to be learnt from the panels that I wanted to, but couldn’t, attend.

This is my attempt to summarise the ideas and messages from the conference that most challenged and changed the way that I think about science and society.

Science in Public

In 2012 this annual conference series, which was originally known as ‘Science and the Public’, underwent a radical name change, becoming, as it is today, the ‘Science in Public’ conference. OK, so it’s not a particularly drastic change, but this subtle alteration reflected an important discontent about the separation of science and public as distinct spheres of operation. Of course, such a distinction is neither straightforward nor necessarily appropriate, as I’m sure almost everyone at the conference would agree – with the possible exception of the keynote speaker Harry Collins (whose presentation was aptly described in the most popular tweet of the conference as ‘unusual’).

‘Science in Public’ – which gives a nod to Gregory and Miller’s 1998 book – although perhaps slightly clunky, makes more sense than the previous name. In fact, what was clear across the panels was that science operates within multiple publics; that publics operate within science; and that politics, policies and power pervade. But the organisers can be excused for not opting to host the “Science in Publics in Policy in Science in Policy in Publics in Science” conference, which in all but name the conference was.

Across the panels that I attended, a number of really interesting ideas were expressed about how the components of the science-public-policy nexus relate to each other.  I summarise some of those that I found more surprising here:
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Monday, 8 July 2013

Getting the facts right on land grabs: 5 new (free) articles

jps_green_grabs_250As part of its series on land grabs, The Journal of Peasant Studies has released a collection of 5 new articles on the problem of recording accurate and reliable information on global land deals. The edition includes a contribution from STEPS co-director Ian Scoones.

Here’s the description from the JPS:

“The recent ‘land rush’ precipitated by the convergent ‘crises’ of fuel, feed and food in 2007–08 has heightened the debate on the consequences of land investments.

This ‘land rush’ has been accompanied by a ‘literature rush’, with a fast-growing body of reports, articles, tables and books with varied purposes, metrics and methods. Land grabbing remains a hot political topic around the world, discussed amongst the highest circles.

This is why getting the facts right is important and having effective methodologies for doing so is crucial.

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Monday, 1 July 2013

New UK climate envoy, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, on climate change and conflict

Today's Guardian reports comments on climate change as a global threat from the first interview with the UK's interim Special Representative for Climate Change, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, since he took up his post.

"Morisetti's central message was simple and stark: "The areas of greatest global stress and greatest impacts of climate change are broadly coincidental."

He said governments could not afford to wait until they had all the information they might like. "If you wait for 100% certainty on the battlefield, you'll be in a pretty sticky state," he said.
The increased threat posed by climate change arises because droughts, storms and floods are exacerbating water, food, population and security tensions in conflict-prone regions."
As Damian Carrington, the article's author, mentions, the military has been making links between climate change and security for some time. It's a theme that was explored at a STEPS/SOAS symposium on the water, energy and food nexus last October.
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